There are approximately 36 million Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in India, a segment so large that no new-age tech company -- especially those operating in the B2B space -- can afford to ignore.
Yet the greatest challenge for these micro, small, and medium businesses remains how to become a part of the digital growth story.
Developing an app or a website is expensive for them, and often they do not have the wherewithal to develop one.
Increasingly, small businesses have taken to engaging with customers and selling on Whatsapp. It is convenient, they say; perhaps in the absence of a better alternative.
When Bengaluru-based Shrihari Srinivasan quit Yahoo in 2013, he started an 'express groceries' business, but by the end of the year, he pivoted to be an omni-channel business selling groceries both online and offline. “At this point, we rebranded as Eezykart. We were (and even now) mostly funded by family and friends and couldn't afford our own app,” he says.
Shrihari, who has 18 years of experience in the IT industry (mostly in the area of operations and customer services), says he burnt a lot of cash trying to build his own app.
Having spent 12 years as a software engineer in large corporations, Prateeti Shukla had had enough. Her passion was food and she had always harboured a dream of setting up a food business. In 2014, she took the plunge and started Art Blend Café in HSR Layout in Bengaluru. “I wanted to give my customers something more than just food. I wanted my café to be a place for families and friends to hang out, read, learn a new craft, and spend quality time instead of wasting it in a shopping mall,” she says.
Art Blend Café runs regular art and craft workshops and provides space for artists and photographers to display their works. Two years down the line, Prateeti felt the need to expand her business and draw more people to her café. “I had done no marketing. It was all word-of-mouth and our Facebook page. But I also wanted to have our own app,” she says.
Experts say that smartphone users are plagued with what they call ‘app fatigue'.
“It is not possible for people to download every other app they come across,” says Nithin Chandra, Co-founder of Goodbox, which is a Whatsapp-like app for MSMEs where they can connect directly with customers and also enable payment transactions.
Bengaluru-based Goodbox has over 3000 merchants and business that include grocery, bakery and cafes, canteens, newspaper delivery, television cable providers, and more. “We have over 80,000 customers and at the moment, we are concentrating in Bengaluru city alone.
“We liked their business model and immediately agreed to sign up,” says Eezykart's Shrihari. “The best part of this model (unlike some of the other marketplace models operating today) is that we have a direct connection with the actual customer and vice-versa. The customer knows exactly where he/she's buying from and what they can expect in terms of product quality and service,” he adds.
He claims his revenues have increased and they have been able to expand to more than five-kilometer area and grow their customer base as well. Prateeti, too, believes that being on Goodbox “is like having my own app.”
According to Nithin, small businesses face unique challenges. For example, a newspaper vendor has to collect payments himself at the beginning of every month from customers because there have been cases where the person they had deputed to do so ran away with the money. By being on Goodbox, Nithin says, such situations are avoided.
With the proliferation of mobiles and smartphones in India, people are transacting more and more through their handsets, and the sooner small businesses realise this, the better their position in the digital growth story.
Camera person: Rukmangada Raja
Video editor: Anand