How this Doctor-turned-entrepreneur is empowering women to be financially independent with GlowRoad
Dr Sonal Verma is not your run-of-the-mill medical professional. She also wears many other hats, including one of a successful woman entrepreneur who is enabling and empowering other women to be financially independent with.
Set up in 2017 by Dr Sonal Verma, Kunal Sinha, and Shekhar Sahu, along with Nitesh Pant and Nilesh Padariya, GlowRoad is a social reselling platform that gives users access to a digital inventory, an online shop, as well as provides sellers with payments and shipping facilities. At the core of this venture is the mission to empower people, primarily women, by helping them earn from home in a secure system with zero investment, and at the same time, giving manufacturers and suppliers a sales network reaching every district of India. As of today, GlowRoad has 10 million downloads and has received upward of Rs. 150 Crores in funding from top investors such Accel, CDH, Vertex and Korea Investment Partners.
“After having two kids, I started participating in some mom communities on Facebook. There I saw several women trying to sell apparel and jewelry to other group members. In fact, moderators seemed to be constantly struggling with the deluge of buy and sell posts. This made me realise that there is a large number of women who are trying to earn money by running home-based businesses, and that they are now taking to social media to get customers,” Dr Sonal told YourStory, adding that this realisation sowed the seeds for GlowRoad.
From medicine to entrepreneurship
For her, the move from the world of medicine to entrepreneurship started early on in 2008 with her first venture, HealthcareMagic - a consumer-centric health company that enables people to get real-time medical advice from doctors. It was later acquired by Ebix (a US headquartered public listed company) in 2014 in a Rs 100 Crore plus deal.
“Even as a doctor, I wanted to bring about bigger changes at larger levels. So after my MBBS, I chose community medicine for my MD. I was all set to join the World Health Organization. Entrepreneurship happened quite by chance and primarily because of being married to Kunal (one of the co-founders). He had sold his first venture and was keen on doing something in the Healthcare space. Being a doctor and party to the initial idea of HealthcareMagic, I just became a part of it.”
After the acquisition of HealthcareMagic, the co-founders were bouncing off some potential business ideas. Driven by her obsession with women empowerment, Dr Sonal put forward the thought of doing something to create earning opportunities for women with the help of technology. While she had apprehensions that her co-founders would brush off the idea as it was focused on women, to her surprise, all showed zealous interest in building something to help women earn by selling products in their social circle. Thus began the journey of GlowRoad.
While the core function of the company was connecting suppliers with people who were willing to sell their goods in their social circle, for the sake of security and putting all members at ease, the company initially limited membership only to women resellers and suppliers. However, soon, this proved to be difficult as there aren’t too many women-run businesses around and the co-founders realized that a lot of male suppliers wanted to sell through the reseller network. So they decided to open the platform to men as well.
“Initially we allowed group members to directly connect with each other, and as a result, the bulk of transactions took place off the platform. To better control the experience, it became necessary to push the transaction to the platform and offer logistic services. Customer support was always there for resellers as well as suppliers and that continued. Over time supply was evolved to bring in a lot of high quality exclusive products,” she said.
While Dr Sonal and her co-founders had considerable experience and expertise in running a doctor-patient network and mediating transactions on it, the reseller-supplier interaction proved to be somewhat different in nature. The degree of moderation and control on processes required was much higher. “Perhaps we should have mandated payment on the platform and used our logistics services earlier than we did. Cash on delivery is a necessary evil if you want to do any format of e-commerce. We were trying to make do without it, so that only the genuine people stayed on the platform, but eventually we had to offer it.”
“At the time of founding HealthcareMagic, I heard of things like quick experiments and minimum viable product from my more experienced co-founders, but I don’t think I actually understood it. Also, because of belonging to the medical domain, I had very high expectations of quality, which takes time. You cannot have perfect processes and quality on day one, but the gap made me extremely restless. At GlowRoad, I am much more comfortable delegating things and being more patient in general,” she said.
Celebrating and enabling women empowerment
Every time a woman says that she made the first earning of her life as a GlowRoad reseller, it is a special moment for the co-founders, Dr Sonal says. “One of our resellers, who is married into a conservative business family in a small city, used to be mocked for her rural and economically weaker background. But now people are in awe of her because she is making money, something that no other woman in the family had done before.” Inspired by her, Dr Sonal says the reseller’s sister-in-laws have also taken to reselling and look up to her as a mentor. “Then there’s a single mother in her twenties who was full of doubts when she started. Now she has considerably scaled her business and earns a sizable sum in margins. She confided that everyone was upset with her for not ‘adjusting’ with an abusive husband. But now that she is financially independent, everyone says she took the right step,” Dr Sonal says.
GlowRoad is one of the very few start-ups in the e-commerce space to show growth with profitability and Dr Sonal is raring to make it happen.