Meet the Mavericks: Two entrepreneurs who are empowering local kirana stores to build a better India

No guts, no glory! In the seventh episode of Season 2 of Mavericks, we talk to Karthik Venkateswaran and Ashish Jhina on how Jumbotail is betting big on local mom and pop stores to propel India’s growth story.
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A maverick is a person of incredible vision — someone who challenges the norm and forces people to think beyond the ordinary. YourStory goes behind the scenes to uncover the inspirations and secrets of the ultimate maverick in the business world: the entrepreneur. Watch YourStory’s latest Mavericks Karthik Venkateswaran and Ashish Jhina, co-founders of Jumbotail, who are aggregating kirana stores on their app to connect them with suppliers, provide doorstep delivery, and boost their sales through branding.

As COVID-19 ravaged businesses, hit revenues and forced many units to shut down, it was time for businesses of the essential services sector to rise to the occasion, especially local mom and pop stores, aka kirana stores. The pandemic reinstated their status as an important backbone of the essential services framework, and a testament to this fact has been the venturing of several companies, both startups and well-established brands, into groceries delivery to diversify their bouquet of offerings.

But Karthik Venkateswaran, a military veteran and Ashish Jhina, a third-generation apple farmer, were firm in their belief in the humble kirana store. And it is this attitude and strategy that helped Jumbotail, India’s leading wholesale goods,grocery, and new retail platform, become a success story.

Case file

With a vision to empower the local entrepreneur and build an efficient food supply chain, Jumbotail caters to the supply and demand side of these businesses.

On the supply side, the marketplace aggregates several kirana stores on its platform and then connects them with brands, producers and traders etc. Besides this, the company has a complete supply chain stack that offers deliveries to storefronts in a span of 24-48 hours. They also bring fintechs on board to help such stores with access to credit for liquid cash requirements.

“We observed that 55 to 60 percent of the volume of sales for such stores were from staples. And to procure the supplies of staples in any part of the country, even today, means actually going to a wholesale market, which takes up a few hours. It involves visiting each store that sells particular commodities and the kirana store owner has to organise transportation and one ends up holding 10-15 days worth of stock as you cannot go there every day. This ends up blocking a lot of money for the store owner,” Jhina tells Shradha Sharma in Episode 7 of YourStory’s Mavericks Season 2, powered by Lenovo.

The timely delivery of Jumbotail’s services, which starts by the kirana store owner placing an order on their app, helps shops to keep the inventory at an optimum level rather than oversupplying it. They also on board fintechs on to their platform to facilitate credit offerings to kirana stores to solve their working capital needs.

Meanwhile, the demand aspect of Jumbotail’s business helps stores with branding — through its in-house brand, J24 stores — along with providing in-store technology, point of sale (POS) mechanisms, and the integration of the POS framework with their marketplace. Along with this, the startup also helps stores serve customers through omnichannel retail platforms such as Dunzo, Swiggy etc.

The idea behind ‘Jai Dukaan’

Reiterating their vision to empower kirana stores, Jumbotail’s Karthik Venkateswaran lists out a few advantages for such entrepreneurs.

“With Jumbotail, there is a consistent availability of relevant products which he (the kirana store owner) can stock his shop with. You also don’t have to wait for a company’s distributor to arrive or go to the wholesale market because of reliable deliveries in about 24-48 hours. We also have very healthy fill rates of more than 96 to 97 percent against an industry average of 60-65 percent,” Kartik says.

All this, he says, helps in empowering the kirana store and makes their life easier, helping them adhere to their tagline of Jai Jawan, Jai Kisaan, Jai Dukaan. “The store owner only has to deal with one entity instead of 150 suppliers.”

Besides, he says, the company helps in democratising the food supply chain and establishing transparency.

“Entrepreneurs will be aware and will be able to utilise schemes offered by big brands to boost sales. For a brand or wholesaler too, this serves as formal data to understand customer behavior, plug leakages and get feedback.”

A customer-centric approach

Jumbotail swears by its customer-focussed model, and addressing their problems has been the bedrock of their services.

While speaking with potential customers, the founders realised the dire need to have a formal and tech-enabled supply chain for consumer staples. This combined with their framework with a smooth, ‘real-time’ returns experience has helped in the startup’s success.

The delivery of goods and the settlement of any returns is done on the ground by their staff immediately on delivery. So, the customer just has to pay the difference of the amount after accounting for the returned goods value.

Even the payment mechanism, Kartik says, has created an environment of convenience for the customer. For instance, if the bill amount is Rs 10,000, the kirana store owner is free to pay it through any platforms, or split the payment between varied platforms such as cash, electronic wallets or using their credit line etc.

These features help in enhancing trust between the entities and build long-term relationships with such partners. Jumbotail also tends to save up on acquisition costs as the store owners recommend using their app to buy their store supplies.

Tech focus

For these services to run smoothly, a major part of the company’s backbone has been its strong tech team. While it consists of just about 20 people, Karthik and Jhina said it’s a combination of self-motivation, and the culture of invention and innovation in their ecosystem that keeps the team going.

“For instance, our supply chain works on a throughput of products that don’t have a barcode. We’ve used a computer vision here where a mobile phone camera is pointed to the product to identify it. We’ve invested in building these… (solutions),” Kartik says.

In fact, he said, these solutions came from the team itself and was not a top-down instruction. “Our engineers are responsible for outcomes and in such a case, they are incentivized to think how to use tech to solve this.”

While the company experienced supply-side disruptions during the nationwide lockdown, their tech innovations and constant communication to assuage fears helped it recover quickly and as a result, it became the one of the first retail suppliers to begin operations within days of the first lockdown announcement. The company used technology to change route planning algorithms and ensure any roadblocks were dealt with.

The Jumbotail Maverick move

Looking back, the Jumbotail founders say their decision to start the company and bet on survival of kirana stores amid a bombardment of online groceries was their big maverick move.

"At the time of inception of the company, a lot of money was flowing into the B2C segment. We thought that is not the area to be focusing on and we had to be indispensable. During our research before setting up the firm, our interactions with kirana stores showed that supplies of big brands were not an issue for them, it was more about not getting staples such as dal and chawal. That is when we decided to look at staples," Kartik says.

Doing it ‘right’

Jhina and Karthik stressed on the larger vision of the company being a big contributor to setting up an efficient food supply chain that would help the country. They look forward to a day when food supply chains are efficient, there’s less wastage or leakages and people are paid fairly. “Do the right things and yet operate at profitability,” Karthik says.

And the company is in this for the long haul with an aim to be for 100 years. And with competition in the space heating up, both Karthik and Jhina are glad because it helps in establishment of a formal ecosystem through collaboration.

“We don’t want to be first movers, but we need to be last winners,” Karthik signs off.


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