[Startup Bharat] This all-purpose courier service beat Kashmir’s internet blackouts and curfews, delivering 1 lakh orders

Srinagar-based logistics service FastBeetle adapted to landline systems and low-speed 2G internet to deliver food, groceries, medicines, gifts, documents, etc. to 70,000 customers. It recently raised angel funding, which local entrepreneurs termed a “breakthrough” in Kashmir’s startup ecosystem.
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It is not easy to be a tech entrepreneur in Jammu & Kashmir. Besides the longstanding socio-political instability in the state, difficult terrain, adverse climatic conditions, and frequent internet blackouts serve as major hindrances to business.

Add to that, the lived experiences and intergenerational trauma of Kashmiris that often pull them back from pursuing non-conventional careers.

“Career prospects are very different for people here. While growing up, we’re told that our lives are limited. You have to become responsible even before you can,” a local entrepreneur told YourStory.

In view of this, what FastBeetle has achieved is commendable.

The Srinagar-based courier-and-parcel delivery startup launched in May 2019, less than three months before the state’s longest internet shutdown following the Indian government’s scrapping of Article 370.

Internet and phone services remained cut off for nearly a year, until 2G was restored in May 2020. (High-speed 4G services resumed in February 2021, after 18 months.) 

Even though FastBeetle was meant to be an app-based service for hyperlocal delivery of packages, it soon had to adapt to a phone-based system to avoid obliteration. When 2G services returned, co-founders Sheikh Samiullah and Abid Rashid optimised their mobile app so as to make it function over low-speed internet. 

FastBeetle founders

However, business was still bruised. “We saw a 40 percent drop in sales due to the internet shutdown. But we were able to cope,” Abid tells YourStory.

FastBeetle found a unique use case in times of adversity. As curfew-stricken farmers were stuck with produce, Abid and Sami worked their way through landline phones, informal tie-ups, and motorbike deliveries of farm-fresh goods across the state. 

Sami shares, “We delivered 15 tonnes of apples in and around Srinagar. Now, we have requests for deliveries from places like Delhi and Mumbai.”

In essence, FastBeetle is not a run-of-the-mill logistics operator like DHL, Delhivery, Ecom Express, Blue Dart, and other pan-India players — all of which struggled in the aftermath of Article 370. By being niche, hyperlocal, and tailored to the unique needs of Kashmiris, it has been able to service a region disadvantaged historically, socially, politically, and geographically. 

This is the story of its rise and acceptance in India’s tech ecosystem. 

FastBeetle delivers in 300+ villages across 10 districts in Jammu & Kashmir

The ‘everything’ delivery service

Prior to launching FastBeetle, Co-founder Sami had worked in supply chain management at Kashmir Box (an ecommerce marketplace) for nearly two years. 

During his stint, he had witnessed upfront the urgent need for technological adoption in the state so that thousands of its local micro entrepreneurs and home-business owners could survive. 

He says, “We analysed many businesses and realised that people got stuck with the logistics. Everything was manual, there was no tech frontend, no last-mile delivery, no manpower. Local entrepreneurs who would sell online had to request their friends and cousins to deliver parcels to customers. Even though there were a few operators in Srinagar, they wouldn’t pick up stuff from homes. And some areas like Baramulla, Anantnag, Budgam, Sopore didn’t even have any service.”

Hence, from the very outset, FastBeetle had to become the ‘everything’ delivery service in the Kashmir Valley. "Today, we cover 300 villages in more than 10 districts of the state. We deliver up to the Uri border. We are also starting an office in Ladakh besides our three offices in Srinagar, Baramulla, and Pulwama,” Abid reveals.

FastBeetle has fulfilled 100,000 deliveries for 70,000 customers

There’s nothing that FastBeetle doesn’t pick and deliver door to door.

From food, grocery, and medicines to gifts, flowers, and official documents to items purchased online or from physical shops, and any other critical shipments and packages — the startup ferries everything inside Kashmir safely, quickly, and affordably.

In essence, it is both a Dunzo and a Delhivery in the state. 

Abid says, “Jammu and Kashmir has a $10-billion logistics market. Our focus is on last-mile delivery. We’re involving more local operators and also tying up with ecommerce players. We’ve started mapping the smallest of roads to make the delivery routes more effective. Our in-depth geographical knowledge is a plus.”

Growth and business model

FastBeetle has completed over 100,000 deliveries to more than 70,000 customers.

It works with over 700 micro and small enterprises and has crossed a GMV of Rs 10 crore, mainly driven by online orders serviced by women entrepreneurs who run home businesses in handicrafts, shawls, crochet items, photo frames, etc.

“Almost 70 percent of the businesses we work with are run by women,” Abid states.

Besides servicing MSMEs, FastBeetle also has a customer-facing app that lets people request a rider with a single click. Users have to enter pick-up and drop locations, and select a type of vehicle (truck, minivan, bike) based on which they are charged. 

FastBeetle rates vary between Rs 80 and Rs 150 per order. “If the package doesn’t fit on a bike, we charge Rs 699 for delivery,” Sami reveals, “All deliveries within the state are done on the same day. Inter-state deliveries can take 3-4 days.”

FastBeetle charges Rs 80-150 per delivery within the state.

The app not only fulfils requests and manages invoices for businesses, but also provides an end-to-end order tracking system. It is servicing 15,000 orders a day.

Post-pandemic, FastBeetle has also partnered with Flipkart and Amazon to expedite ecommerce deliveries outside Srinagar, where pan-India operators like Blue Dart, DHL, etc., have failed to reach.

“We have also tied up with banks to deliver cheque books and ATM cards to people outside Srinagar,” share the founders. 

The startup claims to be growing at 50 percent year on year. By FY24, it is targeting 700,000 orders at a GMV of Rs 30 crore, and a topline of Rs 4 crore. 

Funding and J&K’s startup ecosystem

Earlier in May, FastBeetle raised an undisclosed angel round from Kartik Desai of Asha Impact and Anuj Sharma of Alsisar Impact. It plans to use the funds to ramp up its team, delivery fleet, and expand operations outside Kashmir.

Several media reports suggest that FastBeetle is now the fastest-growing startup in the Kashmir Valley, inspiring other local entrepreneurs too. 

Jibran Gulzar, Founder of Gatoes (a Srinagar-based food delivery platform), told YourStory recently that FastBeetle’s fund-raise has offered a ray of hope to all startups in the Valley. “It was a breakthrough in Kashmir’s startup circuit and can change things for many of us,” he said.

FastBeetle is focusing on last-mile delivery in the $10-billion logistics market in J&K.

This is because VCs have traditionally shied away from investing in Valley startups. The cost of frequent internet shutdowns can be massive on online businesses.

Pan-India food tech operators Zomato and Swiggy, for instance, had to halt services post the 2019 internet blackout. Even ecommerce giants like Amazon and Flipkart have been able to service only a handful of pincodes in the states in all these years.

Add to that, the perennial political instability that has driven away millions of dollars from the state. “Investors are not very big on J&K startups most of the time because not many startups have come up and made big in this region,” Siddarth Gupta, Founder of SID07 Designs (another Valley-based startup), told YourStory last year.

 

“For someone to invest in a startup, they would expect basic infrastructure and facilities. For [the rest of] India, curfew is happening now because of coronavirus. But in J&K, it is a very normal thing and can happen once or twice every month,” he said.

How then did FastBeetle manage to attract funding? 

Abid says, “We are a cash flow-positive company, which is what convinced them. Also, they are social impact investors, who are looking for such opportunities.”

In a region torn by strife, this could well be the start of a turnaround. Only time will tell.


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Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

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