Purba Kalita, Co-founder of online marketplace SaleBhai, says the platform was launched to meet the rising demand among the diaspora for region-specific consumable goods.
The world thrives on nostalgia. As people migrate from towns to cities, and even abroad in search of bigger and better opportunities, nostalgia keeps them rooted.
Often, the things that are dear to us and keep us connected to our roots are those that remind us of where we came from.
It may be a favourite food from a local shop, handicrafts that represent a culture or even a piece of art – in essence, everything that reminds one of home.
Driven by the back-to-roots philosophy, Purba Kalita, Pramod Rao, and Vishwa Vijay Singh launched Salebhai.com in 2015. This ecommerce marketplace focuses on the requirements of diaspora communities across India and abroad. It offers products sourced from over 350 select vendors in 100 cities, especially hometown specialties directly from sellers in different regions. It is also a one-stop solution for those who want to discover regional products from across India.
We profile Purba Kalita, one of the Co-founders and also a driving force behind SaleBhai’s operations. Purba was a journalist for 12 years with the Times Group before she moved to business communications and worked closely with the team that launched Flipkart Marketplace.
Hailing from a risk-averse family of white-collar professionals, Purba never thought of being an entrepreneur. “SaleBhai made me step out of my comfort zone and take risks to build a business,” she says.
“The marketplace rose out of two important factors – nostalgia, and need. India has been witnessing a steady rise in migration both within the urban and rural demographics. Living in a new city naturally makes people yearn for things that are synonymous with their hometowns. There is a rising demand among the diaspora for hometown foods and other region-specific consumable goods. Thanks to migration, there’s an opportunity for every regional product to reach big cities,” she says.
An ecommerce website, Purba believes, ‘is the only way we can bridge the distance, say, Malihabad and Mumbai or Guwahati and Bangalore. The digital platform allows people to buy from anywhere in the world; this is impossible without technology”.
Ahmedabad was a natural choice with two of three co-founders based in Gujarat. Also, the year it was launched, the World Bank had placed the state at No. 1 for ease of doing business with a score of 71.14 percent.
SaleBhai works on the following principles:
- Offering the buyer special and genuine local products from different communities and cultures.
- When a product is selected, the three best sellers offering it is scouted.
- Since it’s a marketplace, sellers create special offers, packages, and discounts without subvention from SaleBhai.
- Salebhai sells advertising space to sellers and cross-promotes their brands and products.
- Each product is displayed with a detailed description, including ingredients, popularity, benefits, region of origin, and usage and high-resolution pictures are uploaded from every angle possible for a clear view of the product.
- There are also special packages to address the needs of people living away from home, such as puja packs for various occasions.
“Salebhai does not hold any inventory, warehouses, or logistics. As soon as a customer buys a product, the order flows into the seller’s panel. When the seller generates an invoice on the platform, a trigger goes to the logistics company for pickup and delivery. Salebhai.com operates at a healthy average margin of 27 percent and makes a positive per unit sale. All discounts and offers are designed by sellers,” Purba informs.
Like with any other niche startup, SaleBhai also had its fair share of challenges to break into the market. “The initial challenges included getting sellers to understand the business model and its benefits. We had to convince them on the margin and how we were different from others. Logistics and making available all the online features were other stumbling blocks,” Purba says.
SaleBhai had received substantial investment from high net worth customers, and a major boost from Brand Capital of Times Group. The company achieved operational breakeven within a year, hitting a GMV of 70L in October 2016. It operates with a team of 30 with expertise in IT, marketing, content development, innovation, disruptive thinking, channel management, logistics, and customer support.
Purba finds it heartening that the startup space allows both men and women opportunities to grow.
“Companies such as Salebhai.com are becoming launch pads for women entrepreneurs, who in turn are empowering women by generating employment opportunities. We are moving towards an inclusive economy that will see women grow at the grassroots level as well as in leadership roles. With technology as the vehicle, the startup ecosystem is on a journey of discovering disruptive ideas and creating impactful businesses with women playing significant and decision-making roles.”
The company has ambitious plans for the future. “We plan to increase another 400 unique sellers by the end of 2018 and, with repeat-buying and sales through web personalisation and market automation, penetrate deeper into the market. We aim to target over 16 million Indians living abroad with our offerings, and go to interior towns for sourcing products.”
Nostalgia? I’ll settle for banana chips and a bottle of chilled coconut water from my hometown.
Bring it on!