How Bluerickshaw is helping India’s small traders cut a bigger slice of the global e-commerce pie
Mohammed Shakeel Hizbi came to Jaipur from Moradabad over 35 years ago to make something of himself. He started by setting up a shop to manufacture leather journals with recycled paper.
While Mohammed was doing well, he often lamented not being able to expand beyond Jaipur despite the booming market for Indian handicrafts globally and due to tight finances. Small traders like Mohammed also shy away from global markets due to regulatory compliances and challenges in finding the right buyers for their products.
However, he soon got to work towards the dream too when Delhi-basedapproached him in 2021 with a unique proposition. The company would sell Mohammed’s products on an online platform for international buyers and take care of logistics while ensuring that he got a fair deal.
Once he partnered with Bluerickshaw, it wasn’t long before orders started pouring in. Working with a team of just 25 artisans in a small workshop, Mohammed is now wooing clients across the world.
“We have been receiving multiple orders since we have partnered with Bluerickshaw, even during the lockdown. The company assures seamless transactions and takes care of everything, right from quality checks and payments to regulatory compliances,” says a beaming Mohammed.
Established amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Bluerickshaw was launched by fashion designer-turned-entrepreneur Akshay Wadhwa and Krishan B Chandak. Krishan is the CTO of the company and has over 23 years of experience in the IT industry and the Indian startup ecosystem. He is credited with developing the first flight information display system (FIDS) which is being used by the Airports Authority of India.
Meanwhile, Akshay’s high-end label has been featured in many Indian stores and his collections have been showcased in several international shows. They are joined by Jay Narang and Shreya Narang, who are heading Bluerickshaw’s business development and engineering divisions respectively.
Journey from being a fashion designer to an entrepreneur
Akshay first thought about starting a platform like Bluerickshaw when he was touring and researching for one of his shows in North America in 2019. “I was trying to get my label showcased at outlets of retail chains like Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s. I used to visit several offices just to get five minutes of an agent’s time,” recalls Akshay, who is also the CEO of the company
While struggling to get the attention of a global exporter for his label, he realised that like him traders across India might be facing a similar problem.
"I saw this as an opportunity to catalyse the largely unorganised supply chain for small and medium businesses in India and let the world access and export quality goods from India, seamlessly," says Akshay.
He discussed the idea with Krishan. Given the promise of the opportunity, it didn’t take a lot to convince Krishan and he was ready to give the business idea a try. With Akshay leading the operations side, Krishan brought the business idea to life by building the core technology team and ensuring that the platform went live in a short span of time.
With Bluerickshaw, Akshay and Krishan sought out to solve several challenges sellers face while working with international buyers. “International buyers tend to be distrustful of Indian suppliers due to their past experiences with poor quality products, delayed shipments and quality issues. Hence, the verification process is often long-winded, thereby delaying the payment cycle.”
Even those with an established business face logistical hurdles in terms of quality control, transparency of processes, shipments and licenses. “Amidst the confusion, small traders tend to lose out on both time and money. Bluerickshaw was created to ensure buyers across the world can access all that India has to offer and make it easy for them to do business with one another,” says Krishan.
Doing the heavy-lifting for both buyers and sellers
The Delhi-based company takes care of regulatory compliances, logistics management, offers reliable payment methods, reduces transaction cost and solves the problem of lack of market intelligence for vendors.
For buyers, the platform provides them a credible channel to source products directly from Indian sellers and avoid delays, miscommunication, and regulatory issues. The company ties up with a seller after assessing the quality of products, market viability, price and the minimum order quantity they can supply.
The platform allows sellers to upload their products, manage orders and negotiate with buyers. For buyers, it ensures access to thousands of high-quality products from multiple sellers across India with the least minimum order quantities.
The platform helps sellers use technology-driven solutions to ensure seamless deals.
Meanwhile, the buyers can track the entire transaction, right from placing the order to delivery of the package.
“We aspire to make Bluerickshaw a complete ecosystem for global trade,” says Krishan
In over a year, Bluerickshaw has been able to add over 143 sellers to its network, all with a 23-member team. Apart from a conventional range of products, the company's website has on display arts and crafts that Indian cities are famous for. From block printed fabrics, copperware and leather products from Rajasthan and warli art from Maharashtra to clay pottery from Khurja and products made out of Merino wool from Uttarakhand, there is little you won't find on the Bluerickshaw website.
After an inhouse quality check, the seller proceeds to send the products to Bluerickshaw’s warehouse, where a team of experts assesses the product quality again before shipping them to the buyer.
Talking about the company's payment mechanism, Bluerickshaw receives an order from a buyer, it gives the seller a 20 percent advance as working capital. The seller gets 30 percent more after they send us the product and the products are checked internally. They get the remaining 50 percent after the products are sent to the buyer," he adds.
On the other hand, buyers have the option of either paying 20 percent of the amount in advance and the rest later, or pay the entire amount at once. "We have also partnered with Tazapay to provide an escrow and upto 25,000 in trade credits for buyers across North America," he adds.
The name says it all
Incidentally, Akshay isn’t the first one from his family to venture into entrepreneurship. In 1957, Akshay's grandfather migrated to Delhi and bought a rickshaw to ferry and sell fabrics to traders across Delhi. "He painted it bright blue as he believed that it would make the rickshaw stand out and let vendors know from far away that he was in their street," says Akshay.
Later, his father too got into dealing fabrics and set up a chain of stores across the national capital. When Akshay decided to follow in their footsteps, he decided to name his new venture 'Bluerickshaw' as a homage to his roots. And, the bluerickshaw bought by Akshay's grandfather still sits proudly at the company's headquarters as a proud remnant of the family's rich history.
How Bluerickshaw tackled the pandemic challenge
Launching a business when companies across the world were suffering due to a global pandemic might not have been wise, but the Bluerickshaw team managed to make it work. "We opened when the second lockdown was in full swing and almost every city was shut. While we started receiving orders from countries like Canada and the US, most of our suppliers weren't operating and managing logistics was tricky. Logistics cost went up by 5X due to limited international flights," says Akshay.
The team got in touch with flights ferrying expats and international citizens from India to Canada and the US. “The plan worked and we started taking more orders. We helped our suppliers get the required permissions to start operations, while following safety guidelines," the co-founders add.
The road ahead for Bluerickshaw
They started with 12 orders and by July the number had doubled. By August 2021, Bluerickshaw had secured 148 buyer registrations and grown by around 150 percent since March 2021.
Combining industry experience in fashion, design and manufacturing with technology, Bluerickshaw is leveraging its expertise to build a platform that solves challenges faced by both buyers and sellers. Akshay and Krishan said that over the next few years, Bluerickshaw would be building a SaaS platform that offers end-to-end buying solutions for retailers while empowering marginal sellers. "We also want to create a B2B2C channel where retailers in North America work with an inventory-less model," they add.