60,000 retail outlets, over 10 million customers served in 6 years. Creating ‘Suvidhaa’ for Indians
redBus and Flipkart are names from the Indian entrepreneurship ecosystem that are well-known globally. What is common to these two ventures is that they became successes solving problems, which are very specific to India. So if redbus makes bus ticketing easy, Flipkart made product shopping easy for Indians across the country. Both these companies have been written about and everyone knows much about them. If I personally think there is another company which has the potential to grow as big as these two names, then its Suvidhaa. You may not have have used their services, because we are among the privileged segment of Indian society with broadband connections and who can transact online. But there is a much larger segment of customers in India, who continue to be baffled by technology.
However, you may still want to use Suvidhaa to pay your insurance premium or book railway tickets, next time you go shopping to your neighbourhood kirana. Suvidhaa, which means convenience in Hindi, is a startup that helps you pay your utility bills, book your rail & air tickets, pay your premiums and do many other such transactions at a retail outlet near you. Founded by Paresh Rajde, they have over 60,000 outlets across the country and work with 300 service providers. We recently met the founder to map his journey so far.
Born and brought up in Kutch, Gujarat, Paresh came to Mumbai to do his CA course and has since then turned into a fan of the city. After completing his CA, Paresh practised the profession for 10 years, before the entrepreneurial bug bit him. Paresh started DhanDhanaDhan, an online lottery company which he eventually sold to Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry. Suvidhaa is Paresh’s second venture and his reason for starting is very similar to Phanindra Sama of redBus. “I thought of the concept in later part of 2006, when I was having some trouble buying railway tickets. I thought if we educated people are having so much trouble, then probably the common man faced more difficulty in getting access to such things,” says Paresh. After some research and asking around, Paresh realized there were no options existing in India which could help make things easier and less painful for people.
With this idea in mind, he first went to the railways with his proposition; and although the IRCTC site was already functional, railways didn’t see much booking coming that way. “Call it lack of awareness or unwillingness to use the platform, but most people were booking tickets still by standing in a queue at the reservation counter,” says Paresh of the scene in 2007. Suvidhaa offered Indian Railways the setting up of a backend where the IRCTC site could be effectively used to book and distribute tickets. “So that’s how the whole thing started and then when we thought, if we can offer railway tickets let’s also offer other services. Now we have created a platform where we can keep adding various services to our platform and on the other end the retailer can be the interface to help customers do various kinds of things. It is an assisted model and surely something that the Indian customers want,” says Paresh proudly.
The Suvidhaa model
Suvidhaa works with existing retailers – like a grocery store, a PCO or travel agent, who already have a brick and mortar presence. Once a retailer agrees to become a partner, he has to invest in computer hardware and internet connectivity to get going. Also they have to pay a deposit to Suvidhaa, including some amount in cash, which is the credit pipe that Suvidhaa gives to the retailer. So in a month if the retailer expects Rs 30,000 worth of transactions, he has to pay that money upfront to Suvidhaa. Then whenever a customer comes and transacts with the retailer using the Suvidhaa platform, the retailer’s balance is deducted from the amount he has deposited.
“As the retailer is handling the entire system, the customer need not be bothered about anything. They can transact just like they would have transacted with the service provider directly. They don’t have to bother with the entire technology headache, it’s easy and convenient for them,” explains Paresh. India is still largely a cash economy and therefore the opportunity that Suvidhaa is looking at is immense. While he doesn’t have any official figures to quote, Paresh pegs 92% of India’s economy to be cash dependent and transacting in cash.
The retail customer doesn’t have to pay anything to entail Suvidhaa’s services, it is the service provider who pays Suvidhaa. “It works well for the service provider, because through Suvidhaa they are able to reach a much larger number of customers without much investment on building physical infrastructure,” says Paresh. Suvidhaa mostly chooses retailers who are well located and have a large number footfalls coming into the shop. Today most Suvidhaa outlets are located in Tier 1, Top 20 cities.
And because the retailer is someone the customer is already transacting with, not much is spent on advertising or marketing the services. However some amount of local activities -- focused around the area of the retailer -- is done to spread awareness. Newspaper inserts and other branding collaterals are provided to the franchisees to drive engagement. Service providers also publicize their partnership with Suvidhaa, which further improves customer awareness. “When a service provider joins us, we tell them to create awareness among customers, because it is useful for them also to benefit from this alliance. The efficiencies of our system is very high, because once a customer pays us, it reaches the service provider the same day or next day, without any hardships of collecting payments that they would have to otherwise undergo,” says Paresh.Best of all worlds
Suvidhaa has todate received $25 million in funding from Shapoor Pallonji Mistry, Norwest Venture Partners (NVP), Reliance Venture Asset Management Ltd, International Finance Corporation (World Bank Group) and Mitsui & Co – a Japanese investing major. Paresh considers this a good achievement in itself. “Getting such big names to invest in your idea and back your venture is a proof of success in itself,” he says. And on the financials side, Paresh says they have grown 100% YOY since launch.
Besides the funding, Paresh says the 250 member team at the startup has been an important contributor in the success. The day-to-day affairs at Suvidhaa are managed by Haresh Bhatija, who is the CEO and a board member. Haresh was the founding member of Reliance Venture Asset Management and besides Suvidhaa, serves on the board of four other ventures. A lot of learnings at Suvidhaa still comes from Paresh’s earlier online lottery/gaming business. “We have changed the product line, but the processes and methods are all still similar,” he says. Infact the information they printed in their brochure when Suvidhaa started six years back, continues to be relevant.
Talking about the innovation ideology at Suvidhaa, Haresh says innovation at Suvidhaa mostly happens on the technology front. “At Suvidhaa, we are leveraging emerging technologies like cloud to see where we can invest proportionately to reduce the cost efficiencies per transaction. Externally we are always focused on what the consumers want, what are his pain areas and how we can convert them into an opportunity,” explains Haresh.
While the venture is currently focused on expanding its reach and growing within the country, they also have plans to engage and reward end customers using the Suvidhaa platform to transact. “We have been so far focused on our first line of customers, which is the retailers. So we have a lot of incentive programs for retailers. Having said that we have a rich data of customers visiting our outlets and what they have done at outlet. We are now analyzing this data, then looking at what kind of profiling and targeting that we can do -- to deliver incentives, rewards, marketing relating communications to our target audience. We will target our end consumers in the near future,” shares Haresh. Recently in partnership with Central Bank of India, Suvidhaa launched a open loop prepaid card, called the ‘Channel Card’ – targeted at traditional retailers.
The future looks busy for Suvidhaa, as it continues to expand its service within the country. And as long as India’s romance with cash continues, Suvidhaa seems to have no reason to worry. We wish them all the best!