This Startup from Mumbai is helping kirana stores to turn E-retailer
21st, February 2018 - Tech Startup
300 million out of 1.2 billion people have internet access in India. There are over 40 million SMEs and nearly 98% of retails are small and unorganised, with the largest share being of the corner retail stores also known as Kirana stores. The scenario is fast changing though, with over billions of dollars invested in Indian eCommerce marketplace, with the likes of Amazon, Big Basket, Nature's Basket among others are leveraging the power of technology to thrive at scale in retail business. In doing so, they are disrupting the conventional business model of kirana stores.
It is then only a matter of time until the division between the internet's have-s and have not-s deepen to completely wipe out the kiranas. Or the kirana stores will have to find a way to adapt, a way to stay relevant to customers moving online and not lose out to well-funded rivals due to lack of technology. After all it is a matter of their livelihood and right to do business too.
How can a kirana store do more than just survive the big technology and ecommerce wave that's coming? This thought was over powering like a mountain of challenge and a sea of opportunity for Mr. Viral Thakker, the founder of eBZaar.com.
The local Kirana stores have grown on the foundation of trust. Their customers become like their extended family members and few of them also avail unsecured credits. Today's internet business still lacks this kind of trust.
Mr. Viral Thakker, the founder of eBZaar is a Chartered Accountant by qualification. After completing 3 years of internship as part of his Chartered Accountancy training, he worked for 13 years in banking and financial services sectors.
The corporate experience encompasses financial services and banking including retail and wholesale banking, capital markets, trade finance and cash management. His last role was as an Executive Director with J. P. MORGAN, where he served for almost 7 years, selling structured and classical trade finance and cash management services to Fortune 500 companies and largest of Indian Conglomerates and PSUs. His work has won him recognition and accolades for his deals - both in-house and external. He has previous stints with HBSC Bank and ICICI Bank. He has experience working in complex, matrix organisation structures, navigating through multiple stakeholders and working with people from diverse cultural and geographical backgrounds. His work has also made him travel extensively both within and out of India, something that he relishes as extensive network with people from different backgrounds. Viral also holds a Certification in International Cash Management from ACT, London.
The corporate experience was preceeded by over 2 decades of experience in the family milk and grocery business - first hand handling of all operations - procurement, tracking margins, manning the store, cash counter and tracking financial records. This experience has been a big push when setting out to work on his entrepreneurial journey. When not reading about businesses and global personalities, he likes to undertake trekking and biking excursions, blog about life experiences and pen hotel reviews. He is ranked amongst top 1% of most read TripAdvisor reviewers globally for the year 2012 and also has been amongst the 2% most popular reviewers from Mumbai for close to 2 years now.
Entrepreneurship was always lurking as part of his aspiration as much as Banking as a career. "I wanted to grow our family business manifold in to a big organised set of retail stores - it may be fed by mix of fiction novels with deals, acquisitions and M&A being a central theme and, the fact that as a Gujarati, business is in my DNA" says Viral. As a young executive director & being a banker for most part of 13 years, the next part was to set on a journey for the other aspiration he cherished. The eco system, back in late 2013 and early 2014 seemed just right along with a bit of savings that could be put to use as a bootstrapped capital for the venture. And that aided the decision to do it then back in early 2014 when he decided to quit in Jul 2014.
"At a personal level, I have had a very humble beginning" says the founder, starting from a tiny packaged milk retailer, to a milk wholesaler. The next major step was a dairy product's wholesaler finally leading to a reasonably decent grocery operation i.e. a Kirana Store, over a 2 decade plus journey. A network of friends, professionals and clients, built over the past 13 years had been a huge support. However, reflecting upon the research and his experience, it was clear that local kirana stores and supermarkets had not evolved at the clip when compared to the consumers. The consumer was moving online while retailers largely remained offline.
It was then that he found his calling in going back to where he had started, it was a moment of inspiration. After all he could relate to them and their need to stay afloat even in the tech enabled world. "The obvious question was: What if I could add a layer of technology to create convenience on top of the existing trust and goodwill already built by the local kirana stores?" Thus eBZaar was conceived.
eBZaar.com sells fruits, grocery, mithai, cakes, flowers, meat, sea food etc. eBZaar.com makes daily shopping easy and rewarding for the consumer. Local shopping has many inconveniences and despite that customers love their local stores. eBZaar provides a free of cost digital store to local supermarkets so that they can have a quick online presence while customer gets to see all of them at one place and in an online avatar. In other words, it empowers customers to shop from a real world store without the need to visit one.
It empowers the end consumers to shop online from real world stores without the need to visit one. It also prevents the local supermarket from going obsolete due to changing dynamics of technology. eBZaar thus marries the conveniences of online shopping with the comfort of getting quality groceries from real world stores. It is poised to have a great positive impact for these offline stores, it allows them to retain their unique strength - which is being on top of their supply chain and procurement expertise; and retain the customer bonding and customer's business even when the customer has moved. "We are working hard to further deepen the proposition for both consumers and retailers to change the way the grocery shopping is done so far. Watch the space!" adds Mr. Thakker.
The rate of technology adoption by consumers has been much higher compared to local stores. eBZaar realises that the retailer has failed to keep pace in the embracing technology and hence wants to bring parity between the tech savvy online consumer and the lesser evolved local stores, connecting them both on a single online platform. India has 14 million retail outlets, while this segment accounts for 55%+ of the $600bn Indian retail market - showing the scale of the opportunity at hand. eBZaar aims to make a positive impact in life of their users, helping them lead happy life, spending more time with their families. eBZaar wants to be the customer's preferred destination when it comes to "local online shopping" and to the retailer, eBZaar should be their preferred online channel partner to help them "sell more, sell better". eBZaar provides a free digital store to each and every retail store they onboard. They do charge a commission everytime they generate a sale for the customer. Higher the sales higher the revenue that eBZaar will make. This ensures that stores have confidence on adopting technology and in collaborating with them. eBZaar is live in Grocery, Indian Sweets, and Meats. They have services live across Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and pockets of Surat.
Their registered customer base is in four digits and their current solution is oriented towards reputed & curated stores by invitation. They are also working out a retail solution for mom&pop stores which will help in creating a true revolution when it comes to retail stores. Wait & watch for this says viral. Yamini India private limited is the legal entity that runs and operates eBZaar.com.This sector has seen major competition from well establised players and entrants as well.
But, they are not overly worried about competition. If anything, the competition aids in expanding the market of online customers. The funded biggies provide all the discounts and attract more customers online. "We believe in finding our niche space and creating a valuable proposition for our customers, we are good." says the founder. The others as organizations are into retail technology & marketing space, which is different from a pure play ecommerce business. Their long term plan is oriented towards creating an impact through intersection of tech & marketing. In this way, they are different from their competitors and they believe that they can co-exist. And then co-existence is not an issue when you know the market is as large as $400bn per year where as the online market is hardly a billion dollar till date.
The market response, when looked at in the context of the budget being spent on marketing and some of the challenges faced on consumer marketing aspects & technology, they are content. "If we have to measure response in the context of where we have reached in terms of traction vis-a-vis what competition is doing, ofcourse we have a much more to do in front of us. We recognize that and are working towards it." says Viral Thakker.
What always keeps entrepreneurs going is an army of loyal and faithful customers. "Our customers have made tens of orders and do come back week after week, month after month telling us that we are doing a lot of things right. We are working hard to understand these things, and ensure that we take these things to more people in a way which is easy for them to understand and relatable." says eBZaar founder. They are also working on launching a mobile application at the earliest as a significant number of visitors come to the platform through mobile.
Nothing worth having comes easy. There have been a lot of challenges too during this run. Right from finding a good office to having the first bank account opened."Yes, KYC for first bank account is much more tougher!!" recollects Viral. Hiring the first employees to getting a shop & establishment license, setting up processes and putting checks and balances in place to ensure the operations move smoothly - they have gone through a learning curve there. Likewise, building the product platform and continuous iterations to improve the platform based on feedback from users. The most difficult of these challenges is team building - getting the right talent and keeping them motivated. Viral humbly admits that he is still learning this. The second most difficult challenge is customer acquisition,though they have made a key hire to ensure they get professional support on this aspect.
Being an Entrepreneur, Viral expresses that this government is working for startups. Personally, while eBZaar is definitely yet to benefit from government's policies in terms of their investments in Funds of Funds, they have been beneficiary of some other aspects from being a DIPP approved startup - for instance, they got one full year of free professional package from Zoho suite of enterprise apps for free and that does hold a lot of value for them. Likewise, the Government of Maharashtra is finally coming up with a startup policy for the state and they do have expectations from it. There are some definite steps to ensure ease of doing business & compliance for startups. They recently heard the announcement that companies incorporated prior to 2016 would also get relief from Angel Tax for investments upto Rs. 10 crore. Further, doubling of allocation to DST for the coming financial year is also a welcome move - hopefully a lot of this incremental allocation finds its way to the startups, nudging them to spur innovation. This is a very welcoming move. Similarly Government is recognising the power of new technologies like AI and Government has also announced formulating a National Program to be run by Niti Aayog to direct Governent's initiative to use AI in national development. These are interesting times. Likewise, the announcement on crypto currencies as not being a legal tender is impacting many crypto currency exchanges and their investors adversely.
eBZaar on the look out to hire couple of core team members to join them along the way - more specifically in technologically (CTO/Tech Leads) and consumer marketing. They already have one professional director on the board, who brings immense experience from a related industry; as also a consulting Chief Marketing Officer helping them with the scale up plan. "People joining us now will get to take some challenges head on and will get an accelerated career path. And yes in the long run, wealth creation beyond what they can think of now." adds Viral.
They also intend to grow to a sizeable and a sustainable scale in the next 6 to 9 months. They have a blue print ready as per which they have started to execute. Lastly, they also intend to test their next product for mom & pop out in the market fairly soon. The learnings from building eBZaar have proved immensely useful now that they are working to launch their next product. Besides, they are also looking to raise their seed round from Angel Investors and would love explaining what makes them a compelling story to partner with. Just to quote a few of their achievements -
They are currently bootstrapped. They received a Sponsorship from Govt of Maharashtra to represent state as 1 of 60 startups at Indian International Trade Fair 2017.
They were recognised as a TOP 15 CHANGEMAKER by Catapooolt & Economic Times- 2017. They were the top 25 finalists at eBay Startup Cup Mumbai - 2017. They were also in the top 25 startups at a PitchCity Jaipur 2015 - a pitching event by Headstart Foundation. eBZaar is a startup approved by Department of Industrial Planning & Policy (DIPP) of Governement of India. It is incubated at Sardar Patel Tech Buss. Incubator approved by DST, GOI and run by the famous Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. They are also a part of IBM Global Entrepreneurship Program & Microsoft BizSpark.
On being asked about the logistic issues., Viral said "We are not trying to reinvent the wheel. We believe the local stores are best equipped at doing deliveries in their own local areas and we believe in leveraging their strength. Having said that, if we really love a local store and they do not undertake deliveries in their day to day business, eBZaar would certainly help them tie up with a third party logistics provider. After all your favourite stores needs your support to understand the importance of digital revolution underway."
At the end of the day eBZaar is here to assist Kirana stores to keep pace with the digital revolution.
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