Hello dear startups, here is your customer speaking!


Dear startups – especially the B2C ones trying to simplify my life.

I look a lot like your target customer – an educated, digital-savvy, globe-trotting, middle class working woman with a disposable personal income. I have young children and I manage a busy urban household. I own a smartphone and use apps. I also happen to live in the fabled suburb of Bengaluru – the startup hub of India. So I am constantly being wooed by all kinds of B2C startups to become their customer. I appreciate the hard work that you are putting in and thank you so much for that! I know many of you could get significantly easier jobs with significantly better salaries and yet you choose to be startup entrepreneurs, which is quite praiseworthy. It is just that I feel you would benefit a whole lot by talking to me at times – not just ‘me’ of course, but the actual real customer on the ground.

Online grocers: I need a lot of grocery and fresh produce – I have a six-member household. I have tried your services. Unfortunately, none of you measured up to the convenience level of my friendly neighbourhood grocer. He delivers what I want, whenever I want and takes extra care to somehow procure what he does not have in stock. He also manages to get the lesser known region-specific grocery items or branded snacks. The milkman has been delivering milk at dawn for years. There is a cart that comes round every day at the same time temptingly laden with beautifully fresh, seasonal produce at reasonable prices. The seller knows what vegetables and fruits I normally buy and also gives good recommendations on buying fresh seasonal produce.

On your sites I struggle – I do not know if you spell my staple dal as tur/toor/arhar. It takes me ages to scroll through the endless options of brands and pack sizes. At times with branded items such as cereals, I cannot figure out whether I am ordering a large pack or small looking at the picture. There is no big price advantage either. I find ordering grocery online is time-consuming and tedious, made worse by the endless scroll, my fat finger syndrome and the perpetual battle with poor connectivity (yes, even in the startup hub of India!). Contrast that with picking up a phone and simply dictating my order in under a minute! Can you give something to entice me and my 60-year old mum to change our buying behaviour?

On-demand services: I do need a plumber, a painter, an electrician, a carpenter, tailor, and assorted repairmen – but maybe once a year? For me to have your app installed, trust the person who will be inside my house and repeat business with you – a long cycle, wouldn’t you say?

One service that my friends and I use frequently is that of a beautician and a lot of you tried delivering this service to me at home. But I like going to a salon and a spa because of the ambience – there are bright lights, mirrors everywhere, purple orchids in the corner, pleasant music, familiar scent, a lady who fusses over me with a cup of green tea. Would I rather have a service delivered inside my same old house with a pile of dishes in the sink and the phone ringing away? Maybe not, unless I have a broken foot or a newborn baby sleeping in the next room!

Then there is laundry. Most of my friends, neighbours, and I have washing machines at home and ironing fellows who come round. Maybe you are better off marketing to businesses like hotels or singles sharing PG accommodations. I am sure you already do, but I do feel bad about throwing away your fliers landing on my doorstep every single day.

Now comes my pet peeve – on-demand home cleaning services. Who in India does not clean the house every day but only occasionally? The environment around us demands a daily sweep, mop, and round of dusting. We Indians employ maids on a monthly wage basis. On-demand maid service works in America because of their lifestyle. In India, could you please provide household help as a regular service? I would be happy to see my maids being employed by a company like yours that gives them assured income and employment benefits. As a customer, please give me a maid reliably at the exact same time for the exact same round of chores every day. Please handle her leaves, weekly offs, and other issues at your end and just provide me a dependable service every single day! Do you know how many working women will thank you from their hearts for this kind of reliability?

E-commerce sites: I know my friends in Tier 2 cities love you because you are ready to deliver the world at their doorstep. Earlier, they used to buy their brands on their trips to the metro cities. I have managed to buy only highly standardised products such as airline tickets, books, and pen-drives from you. No clothes, shoes, or appliances. Do you know how many of my friends first try the stuff at their local stores, select and then look it up online? If you are cheaper, which in most cases you are because of the discounts, they order from you and the seller does not even get registered in their minds! At times, I also worry about the carbon footprint when I ask you to deliver a tiny something and the packaging that comes encasing the tiny something makes me ashamed of the garbage I leave.

Cab services: You are now successfully entrenched in my system. I may have minor complaints occasionally such as a driver saying neither does he know the route to the airport nor is his map working due to poor signal and I spend the next hour guiding him to reach the airport. But I still feel that you have solved a huge problem for me and I am unlikely to get back to driving through potholes and bad traffic in Bengaluru.

To cut a long tale short – dear startups, I love you and wish you well. Occasionally, I wonder how you will take on Sowbhagya Traders in my neighbourhood who seems to be doing a roaring business selling assorted everything under the sun and is getting wiser every day. Please do not underestimate him! At times, I worry about your unit economies, scale, cash burn, etc. I should not because I am the beneficiary, but I do worry because I care about you. Please live another day to make things better and easier. Maybe if you spent lesser time on making ads and more on heart-to heart talks with me, if you walked a mile in my shoes, if you lived through my day – you would know exactly where my shoe pinches and you might become the indispensable savior of my day! And then guess what, I may save the day for you when it matters the most!