Entrepreneurship is tough enough, but imagine starting up in a small town with none of the 'ecosystem support' that a big-city entrepreneur takes for granted. Google had changed its search algorithm to make offline link building useless, and Abhilash Pillai and his team in Latur were suddenly out of business.
Abhilash along with his two friends had set up Spiderroost Technologies, a web development and SEO company, in 2006, and had to shut it down as it wasn’t doing well. Even the Global SEO contest they won didn’t save it. It was like, all of a sudden, audio cassettes were replaced by MP3’s and then nobody would buy the old cassettes.
Entangling the Spider web
“The new algorithm required much more skills for the team and we were not prepared for this. Finally, I dissolved the partnership firm and decided to go for web designing as I could work as a freelancer on my own and earn money,” says 39-year-old Abhilash.
Though born in Kerala, Abhilash and his family moved to Latur when his father had started businesses in the town. His father had migrated from Kerala to Mumbai, and later was asked to take charge of a construction contract at Latur by a company he was employed at in Mumbai. He then decided to start his own business in Latur.
Abhilash finished his schooling in Latur. He then went to Pune for his CA and returned to Latur to look after his father’s business. With deep interest in computer science, Abhilash used to spend most of his spare time to learn web designing, SEO, graphics, and animation on the Internet.
After shutting down Spiderroost Technologies, Abhilash started to learn a lot more about web design. He approached few hotels and asked them whether they needed a website done. “I did my first website for Rs 1,500, and the client was very impressed with my work. I then did a few more at a lesser cost. It was pretty hard to educate people about websites and took lot of time to convince them. Then came the TV ads showing websites for Rs 100, which made marketing web design business harder,” adds Abhilash.
Bringing the offline online
He soon decided to wait for the customer to show up and demand a website. He kept taking on freelance web design and services projects. With time, he was able to establish his next company Rinisha Web Services, started in 2010. Abhilash adds,
“The most painful thing for an entrepreneur is to begin something from the start. I tried on various freelance sites, but without a minimum number of reputation online (reviews) it was hard for me to get orders.”
However, Abhilash saw that the scope of Rinisha in Latur was limited. He found that he had to create speed draw videos, graphics and other small freelancing jobs in freelance sites to get some extra money. He realised that the revenues were just enough to meet his expenses. Rinisha got one client in Latur, and two companies in Pune and Mumbai.
Abhilash wanted to create a company that not only had a presence in smaller towns but could reach across the globe. And he felt that e-commerce was the perfect answer. So, with the need to do something bigger, he decided to start Kots a fashion e-commerce platform in October 2015.
E-commerce in Latur
After a lot of research, Abhilash decided to build Kots. The site is in its beta version, and the payment gateway is pending. It is an online portal that sells men’s apparel. It is a venture of Rinisha Ecommerce Private Limited, founded by Abhilash and his wife.
For t-shirts, the team is creating graphics in house, while the manufacture and shipment of the products is being executed by 99 Prints Tirpur. The team at Kots has an arrangement with the company, where the orders placed on the website will be designed in-house in Latur, but will be manufactured and shipped to the consumer from 99 Prints.
For the other apparel like trousers and jeans, the team has tied up with local manufacturers in Latur who don’t have an online presence and are looking to sell their products online.
To back up the project, Abhilash has started a retail outlet as well to support the online business until it picks up steam. While Rinisha Web services exists, with Kots, Abhilash believes that he can reach a wider audience and even showcase the web development and digital marketing skills of Rinisha.
Apart from funding, Abhilash is looking for partners in specific areas like logistics, traditional or offline marketing, legal and finance and artificial intelligence. Currently, two final year BCA students Sumeet Jadhav and Anup Dabadgavakar are part of the team. There also is Shubhangi Kadam and Priya Vibhute who work as graphic designers.
The growing e-commerce market in Tier II cities
The Tier II and III city markets are becoming big in the radar of both local players as well as bigger players like Amazon. The e-commerce giant reported that it has witnessed massive growth in Tier II cities, reaching 50 per cent, from the 36 per cent a year ago. Many believe that an undeniable advantage in Tier II cities is that the market is unorganised compared to Tier I cities.
Speaking about why Latur, Abhilash says that, “Many people say I am the right person in the ‘wrong city’, probably signifying that I have a better future in bigger cities. But I choose to stay back as I want to do something different and bring about some kind of Internet revolution in Latur. But in these 9 to 10 years, I have realised that if you are a tech person living in a small Tier III city you will understand how difficult it is to do business without venturing into other cities.”