When did you last visit a temple? Or better, when did your mom last shout at you for not accompanying her to the temple for a puja! Well, we just discovered something that you will love if you hate going to temples. Just go to Saranam.com, chose the temple of your choice and order a puja online. Yes, it’s that simple. In a few hundred rupees, you would be able to get a puja done at the temple of your choice. Saranam will send its representatives to perform the puja on your behalf and send you the offerings (only the non-perishable ones).Anisha Mehta from YourStory.in speaks to Mahesh Mohanan, founder of Saranam.com to understand his business better.
Hi Mahesh, tell us about yourself and how you started your dotcom venture.
After graduating as a mechanical engineer, I worked for a company which was manufacturing adapters and chargers. Later, I moved into sales in a chemical company before starting up a software development venture with a schoolmate.
The idea to start a service to facilitate rituals at temples was born when I undertook a pilgrimage. Those days, I was involved in developing e-commerce websites for my clients. Once I got back from the pilgrimage, I felt that there is a huge market for providing spiritual services. And the response we received was positive. We were surprised when we had about 50 requests in the very first month after the launch and we were wondering how to take it further. This was whenN Kumarof the Sanmar Group expressed interest in investing in this venture. Once we were funded by him, we were able to afford a team to travel and set up a network to service various temples acrossIndiaand also enhance the website. We had invested roughly Rs 16 lakhs when we launched the service.
So what all services does Saranam offer and who are you target customers?
Our services range from facilitating worship in temples across India, performing homams (fire rituals) on behalf of our customers to astrology services and spiritual products such as lamps, deity idols and rudraksha beads. Our aim is to make Saranam the most comprehensive and unbiased source of information related to Hinduism, to create awareness and dispel myths about Hinduism. People who want access to rituals at temples are our target audience. Although we know that our business can cater to only a select number of people, I believe that we still can sustain our business with this limitation.
What’s the traction and customer feedback been like since you started?
We receive about 200 to 300 requests per month. Over time, our customer base has increased and now we have about 8000 regular (who order at least once a year) customers in total. Most of our services and products are designed and created according to customer needs. For instance, when many of our customers wrote and told us that they would like to participate in homams but could not afford them frequently, we introduced the concept of group homams.
How do your operations work? Which logistics provider do you work with?
For conducting pujas in temples, we have a network of representatives around the country who travel to the temple and have the puja performed at the temple, pay the fee and purchase the materials required for the puja on behalf of our client. Once we receive an order, we forward the details to our representative. Once the puja is performed, he sends us the offerings through courier and we in turn pack and ship it to the devotee who has requested the puja. We also offer homam services using our team of well-trained priests. For both pujas and homams, we send only non-perishable items to the customer. Perishable offerings like fruits are distributed to the poor at the temple. We use FedEx for overseas shipments and DTDC for local shipments. We also use India Post for free shipments abroad.
For our astrology services, we have a team of astrologers who analyze horoscopes and prepare reports with predictions and remedies that are sent to our customers who order them. The reports are sent through email.
How big is your team and what are you current challenges?
We run operations with a team of three at our Chennai office. We have outsourced development and our franchisee network works on per order basis. We have a team of 10 priests also works while our astrology team comprises of five people.
In terms of challenges, initially we found it hard to build trust with our customers. We are involved in providing services that are carried out remotely and where nothing tangible is sent back to the customer. Also, sourcing funds and hiring the right people are the challenges we face.
What are your expansion plans?
We yearn to increase our temple network. We have recently launched pranic healing services and a new version of our website. We now plan to add more content on Hinduism and introduce more spiritual services.
Go to saranam.com for further details!