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Saturday, 13 August 2016

The Man Who Brought Social Inclusiveness to a Forgotten Village in Uttarakhand

Priya Krishnan Das recently visited Kalap, a small gram panchayat located 200 km from Dehradun in the Tons river valley. She was amazed to see how a once-forgotten village has been magically transformed – all thanks to Anand Sankar and Kalap Trust.

It was around three years ago that I first stumbled upon the website of Kalap. The home page said, ‘Untouched Garhwal’, and I knew that I had to visit this place. That wish came true in June this year when I got an opportunity to be part of a trekking group for the Nomad’s trail led by Anand Sankar, the founder of the Kalap Trust – the man who brought social inclusiveness to the otherwise forgotten village and its people. For the uninitiated, Kalap is a small gram panchayat with a population of around 500 people, located 200 km from Dehradun in the Tons river valley. The nearest road is an 11 km trek away, in Netwar. It takes around five hours of trekking in winters and about eight hours in summers to reach Kalap from Netwar. Lack of connectivity meant that the village lacked electricity, education and basic medical facilities until 2013, when Anand Sankar decided to adopt it and change the lives of the people for the better.

Visiting Kalap is like stepping back in time – with traditional wooden houses, cattle and sheep in every household, and smoke curling up above the roof tops. I asked Anand how he chose Kalap, a village far away from Bengaluru where he then lived.
The former photo-journalist said that he had first visited the village in 2008. The untouched beauty of the place and the simple people struck a chord with him. He ended up making subsequent visits and eventually fell in love with everything there.

But the more he visited Kalap, the more he realized how socially isolated the village was. On one of his trips he met an old woman burning with high fever. He gave her a paracetamol and when the fever came down, she literally fell at his feet. He then got to know that no doctor had ever visited Kalap, realizing that the many things we take for granted in the cities, are hard to come by in Kalap. He arranged for visiting doctors and set up the first ever health camp in Kalap in 2014. It was disturbing to know that many villagers were diagnosed with tuberculosis during the health camp.

That’s when Anand decided to do something more long term to improve the lives of people there. He set up the Kalap Trust in September 2014. And a lot has changed for the good since then. A free clinic has been set up to deal with two chronic health issues affecting most people there– tuberculosis and nutritional disorders. The clinic’s focus is on the vulnerable population – children, pregnant women and the elderly.

Friday, 12 August 2016

A Tiny Naga Village Has Been Spearheading Women’s Rights & Sustainable Farming for Almost a Decade

“Every great idea, accomplishment, product or service started out the same…as a seed that needed to be planted, nourished and loved.” – Debbie LaChusa

A small village in Nagaland’s Phek district, Chizami, has been scripting a quiet revolution in terms of socioeconomic reforms and environmental protection for almost a decade. A model village in the Naga society, Chizami is today visited by youth from Kohima and neighbouring villages for internships in the Chizami model of development. This model focusses on health issues, women’s rights, community programmes, food security, and environmental conservation.

What is unique in the Chizami model of development is that economically marginalised women have played an important role in bringing about this transformation that is rooted in traditional practices of Nagaland.

The Chizami village is perched in the upper reaches of the densely forested hills of Phek district in Eastern Nagaland. It has around 600 households with a population of 3,000 that is largely involved in Jhum cultivation, a slash-and-burn type of agriculture that is traditionally practised in the hilly terrains of north-east India.

Chizami’s village council comprises of six khels (the Naga word for clans within the same community) who have equal representation in the council. The council plays an important roles in the village governance. The village council prohibits hunting and trapping of birds and animals and imposes strict fines on those violating norms as proclaimed by a sign board at the entrance to the village.

The seeds of socioeconomic and environmental reform in Chizami were planted back in the late 1990s. In 1994, Monisha Behal, women’s rights activist and founder of North East Network (NEN), landed in Nagaland to improve women’s health standards in the state. Noticing the collective strength of women in the Naga society, Behal decide to use it to do something about the deplorable health and sanitation environment that prevailed in the state that time.
In 1996, Behal met Seno Tsuhah during a workshop on organization building, reproductive health, tackling alcoholism and community development in Pfutsero town. Seno was a representative of the Chizami Women’s Society (CWS) and worked as a teacher at the government primary school in Sumi, a village adjacent to Chizami. Their interaction developed into a partnership that developed into a partnership that set up the Nagaland chapter of the NEN.

At that time, Nagaland was coming out of conflict after six long decades. Behal and Seno knew that the main challenges ahead was to engage and empower the youth to bring about socioeconomic change. After initially focussing on improving health, sanitation and nutrition, they expanded their work to other areas as well.

NEN, working with CWS, started skill enhancement programmes such as bamboo craft, food processing, organic farming, rooftop water harvesting and low-cost sanitation. Discourses on governance, women empowerment human rights issues were also organised.

It took eight years for Seno to convince the village council to accept that women are entitled to equal pay as men in unskilled farm labour. In January 2014, in a landmark move, the village council passed the resolution for equal wages in agricultural labour and next year, another milestone was achieved with the induction of two women as members in the Enhulumi village council.

In Naga society, women work largely in the unorganized sector that includes farming, food processing, and weaving, a skill that is omnipresent in every Naga household. Though Naga shawls and the traditional mekhela(wraparound) enjoyed cult status in the apparel market, traditional weaving in the villages was languishing due to the lack of viability and entrepreneurship.

In 2008, NEN started Chizami Weaves, a decentralized livelihood project to create sustainable livelihood opportunities for the marginalized women in the district as well as preserve the unique textile tradition of Nagaland.

Starting with seven weavers, Chizami Weaves today has a strong network of more than 300 women in Chizami and 10 other villages in Phek district. Realising that it was time to look beyond shawls, the weavers have diversified into products such as stoles, cushion covers, belts, bags, mufflers, coaters, table mats and runners that are now shipped to emporiums in New Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Mumbai. The team has also got experts from Delhi and Mumbai to help them develop new products and also to infuse new colours into the products apart from the traditional Naga red, black and white.

‘Chizami Weaves’ also promotes textiles made by one of the oldest looms – the loin-loom or the back-strap loom – that is still traditionally used by the Chakhesang Nagas and other tribes of the North East India.

The portable loom gets its name from the strap pulled around the weavers’ back that holds the whole structure of the loom with the required tension and enables a sturdy weave pattern. Due to the nature of the loom, the width of a fabric is normally woven at one time and do not exceed more than 18-20 inches. Smaller strips are stitched together to make larger pieces of fabrics.

The project has also helped bring in new perceptions of gender justice to women. Not only do the weavers support their families through their weaving, they are also making their presence felt within their homes and in community’s public spaces by raising their voices on issues of health, livelihood, and environment.

NEN is also working to address another major concern of the villagers – food security. The fragile mountain ecosystem in Nagaland has been increasingly experiencing the wrath of climate change with irregular rains and rising temperatures. Traditional farming practices have also declined in Nagaland with the advent of the more lucrative cash crop mono-culture, which gives better economic returns.

NEN is now working to revive millet-based biodiverse agriculture in the villages of the district. An integral part of Naga culture, millets are highly climate-resilient and nutritious crops.

Among crops, millet is the only one that is edible even after 30 years of storage and can provide nutrition at the time of drought. Efforts to raise awareness have resulted in 150 farmers from eight villages coming forward to participate millet-based farming.

Interestingly, a group of female farmers are spearheading sustainable agricultural practices by managing traditional seed banks in Chizami. These women can recognize indigenous seeds from other hybrid or inferior varieties. Not only do they select and store the best seeds for future use, they also share their knowledge with other farmers who approach them for help.

Chizami has also revived Ethsunye, a five-day millet festival, as step towards bringing the focus back on millets. Several other steps to revive and enhance traditional agricultural practices have also been taken. Alder trees have been planted in jhum plots to enhance soil fertility. The jhum farms grow paddy in the first year, millets in the second year is for millet and rice beans, or Kholar in the third year. Mixed cropping of leguminous and leafy vegetables that are a part of traditional Naga cuisine, such as edible ferns (Riikiga, Thenipiiga and Thusiigakhu), curry leaves (Gasii), and leafy green (Tsiiga), have also been planted.

The efforts of the NEN-CWS partnership to bring about a positive change in society have been recognized by the central government. The Ministry of Women and Child Development awarded Seno with the Stree Shakti Puraskar in 2004, 2005 and 2006 for her “dedicated and selfless work in the field of women development and empowerment in the face of extreme difficulties and challenges”. However, Seno believes that it is more important for the farmers to receive some kind of state recognition for practising sustainable agriculture.

Today, Chizami is at the forefront of championing women’s rights, supporting sustainable livelihood and restoring traditional food systems and agricultural practices in Nagaland. The NEN resource centre in Chizami, built in 2005. is a beacon of development and change in the state. The village also celebrated Chizami Za (day) for the first time on 8 January 2015 under the aegis of the Chizami Village Council. The colourful fiesta had a theme which reflected the aspirations of the model village – “Recognizing history, celebrating the present, and inspiring the future”.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

How this real-estate startup founder moved into fintech to help people invest better

Investments in India are rarely planned, unless you happen to be one of the uber wealthy. While there are several investment platforms today, few people are even aware of them, and fewer still make use of them. This is one of the reasons why 32-year-old Aditya Agarwal started Wealthy. It is an online investment service that makes it easy for everyone to invest like a pro.

Aditya the IIT Bombay alumnus says: We are in the business of making people ‘Wealthy’ by helping them take smart investment decisions with even as little as Rs 5,000. We have also made it super easy to invest and our unique paperless process has made investing an Amazon-like experience.
From real-estate to fintech

The idea of Wealthy came to Aditya while he was running his real-estate investment platform getSquareFeet. While he personally was a part of several angel investing groups, he realised that most of his friends were struggling to invest their monthly surplus; they didn’t know where to invest the money and it would end up lying idle in their bank accounts.

“The problem was prevalent across different age and income groups in my social circle. My parents were also reliant on my brother-in-law for advice on their savings and investments,” says Aditya.

Team @ Wealthy
Looking at this clear need, Aditya ended up discussing the problem with his friend of 13 years Prashant Gupta, who was working at Morgan Stanley. It was Prashant who suggested the idea of automating the investment advisory and continuous portfolio management, thus making it available to retail clients across India. He had seen this being used by banks across the world for their wealthy clients.

Nuances of setting up a fintech startup

Once they tested the feasibility of automating advisory, they began working on a paperless method of KYC and onboarding. This, Aditya says, helped them set up an internet-only financial services firm in a short period of time.

After locking-in on the core services that Wealthy was to offer, the next big task was to find the right team to build the product and company. Aditya says that old networks and startup-focused platforms like were of great help in finding the right team.

As a financial services provider, they also needed to comply with several regulatory requirements that came in with onboarding customers. Aditya says:Here, Prashant and my prior experience in dealing with regulators and lawyers helped us sail through. Our angel investors were also of great help, especially in connecting us to the senior leadership of large mutual fund companies. Because of those connections, we were able to launch our paper-less and instant KYC process in less than four months.

The core team now comprises of Somit Srivastava, a former Ola employee, Mohit Srivastava, a former MIT Senseable City Labs Singapore employee, and Tarun Khera, a BITS Pilani alumni.

Product workings

“Wealthy works in a simple and efficient manner, beginning with asking the user about the amount of investment they want to make. Basis plans are customised and provided to the user, and if they agree on it, they proceed to open an account with us using their email or social logins,” says Aditya.

Post that, users have to provide their PAN number along with some very basic personal details. Once their KYC status is ascertained by the system, which happens almost real-time, they can proceed to make their investment online.

The entire process takes less than two to three minutes. Post the online payment, investment folios are opened typically in less than 48 hours. Details of the investment are then available on a dashboard. Users can also make withdrawals directly from their Wealthy dashboard.

The differentiators

With over $285 million already invested in fintech startups within this year, especially in the lending segment, different startups are beginning to focus on the investment management space.

There are other platforms that work towards helping individuals choose different investment options like Policy Bazaar,, and even ICICI Bank, which has ventured into goal-based investment with iWish. There is also Rajasthan-based Goalwise, which focuses on investments. Wealthy, Aditya says, focuses on continuous management of the investor's portfolio.

In the next offering, the code will maintain asset allocation for each investor at all-times and dynamically re-balance the portfolio as and when the market conditions affect the allocation.

Wealthy's investment plans include different kinds of mutual funds, which are also selected using a rule-based system to eliminate human-bias in selection.

He adds that their focus is on automation. Aditya explains – In order to build a business that can penetrate deep into India and stay focused on retail investors, we need to have our cost structure right from day one.

Funding, revenue and future plans

For every rupee of investment that the team manages for their clients, they get a fee from the product manufacturers. The revenue model is akin to SaaS (Software as a Service) businesses, where they earn a subscription-like fee as long as the client continues to use the product. The difference is that the manufacturer pays Wealthy that fee instead of the client.

The team went online mid-February and claims to have processed more than 500 orders since then. Wealthy has raised investment from angel investors like Zishaan Hayath, Abhishek Goya, Rohan and Arjun Malhotra of Investopad, and some senior bankers.

“We want to build Wealthy as a service that can help put our users onto a financial path that gives them confidence about their future. Our next offering is a step in that direction, where we would be able to help an average saver invest his money smartly without needing to pour over financial data,” says Aditya.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

How Gurgaon-based Deyor Camp is helping landowners monetise their assets

Earlier, a trip anywhere would hinge on friends or family staying in that place, who would host you, and take you around to explore all the tourist trappings. But now, visiting offbeat destinations has become one of the latest trends in the tourism sector in India. The lack of information had previously posed a hindrance for people who wanted to embrace adventure travel. The scenario has however changed in the past few years with the evolution of online travel industry.

When four friends Dheeraj Jain, Chirag Gupta, Gautam Yadav and Aakaar Gandhi conducted a small pilot in a handful of sites in North India, they discovered that the adventure travel market is very fragmented and unorganised, despite a 200-percent year-on-year growth. They were inspired to launch Deyor Camp in April 2016 to enable travellers to discover various forms of alternative accommodation, verify details for each campsite, and help campsites to build trust with their potential customers.

(L-R) Gautam Yadav, Aakaar Gandhi, Chirag Gupta and Dheeraj Jain
The idea behind Deyor Camps is to make the process of discovering, verifying and booking a campsite a seamless process. It was created to address the needs of this ever-growing class of campers, trekkers and adventure enthusiasts,” says Chirag (23), a commerce graduate from University of Delhi. He successfully finalised four investments in the startup space in India, through Redcliffe and has been associated with NGOs like Naz Foundation, Friendicoes and Happy School Project.

Gurgoan-based Deyor Camp is a marketplace connecting campsites, lodges, cottages with customers interested in booking alternative accommodation. The startup is backed by Deyor Rooms, an aggregator of budget hotels founded by Chirag and Dheeraj in October 2015, and is valued at $50 million. Deyor Rooms and Deyor Camp are two separate entities.

Initial days

Recalling the early days, Chirag says that the operational challenges were similar to what other online travel agencies face when they enabled hotel bookings on their platform across all hotel categories – poor coordination between camp owners and managers, lack of a scientific inventory and pricing management mechanism and inadequate customer management.

Moreover, their experience in building Deyor Rooms (which is also in travel space) helped them deal with the initial hiccups with Deyor Camps. They have received a number of queries from land owners across the country through social media to help them set up campsites on their properties and thus help monetise their assets. Deyor Camp does not invest money in building campsites and follows a marketplace model.

The team first conducts a recce of the property before shortlisting locales. The team then builds content, in collaboration with the local activity provider of that destination.

Deyor Camp has set up over 100 campsites across more than 40 locations, including Ladakh, Dharamshala, Rajasthan, Lonavla and Munnar, and will push it up by 70 more by the end of this year. The company provides tents, Wi-Fi, food, transportation and other leisure activities at these campsites. The company says its cluster managers are always on the ground across cities to ensure quality of the location, food and basic amenities. Now, Deyor Camp is planning to explore in Northeast region. Currently, the startup has 15 employees.
Setting up campsites

Deyor Camp has achieved a revenue of Rs 45 lakh in the first quarter of operations, with a gross margin of Rs 6.5 lakh. It has sold to over 3,500 customers and it charges a percentage on every transaction. The startup has an order book of Rs 1.2 crore, gains a margin of 18 percent per transaction, and is expecting the figure to go up to 22 per cent by 2017. It plans to open 200 campsites that will charge Rs 1,000-4,000 per person per night.

Deyor Tent
There are between 500 and 600 campsites in India, while our research indicates that the adventure travel market size is approximately between Rs 800 and 1,000 crore, and is increasing by 200 percent year-on-year. We are already in talks with operators in Nepal to expand into the adventure travel market there and by mid-2017, we intend to start expanding into Southeast Asia,” says Chirag.

The startup is planning to automate the whole website, allow users to discover the campsites by location, accommodation options, verify campsites and book in real time and find amenities.
Opportunities in travel industry

The overseas travel industry is growing at 40 percent CAGR year-on-year. The leisure travel market in India as of today is about $80 billion annually, which is set to grow to $150 billion by 2024. According to a KPMG report, the travel and tourism sector contributed Rs 1,92,000 crore to India’s GDP in 2012, and is expected to reach Rs 6,81,800 crore by 2023.

Though biggies like MakeMytrip, Cleartrip and Yatra have witnessed phenomenal growth, a lot of trip-planning startups have also made their space in the travel industry. iXiGO trip planner equips user with all the possible information associated with a trip,TravelTriangle allows users to build personalised holidays at an affordable price, HolidayIQ helps users research and plan their trip, Traverik provides a 'social' angle, wherein people can share their itineraries and collaborate, Holidayen deals with planning trips once a user is at the destination, and Elan Adventures helps with planning adventurous trips across India.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

How Getmyuni helps youth discover their dream college

When it has become the norm to whip out our phones to check online reviews for everything—be it for a new restaurant or the latest Bluetooth speakers, the process for college search and discovery is still done the traditional way. Youngsters whittle down their list of colleges to apply to from magazine rankings or from what their peers are saying. They spend hours on end doing research work, making the whole process tiresome and time-consuming.

Hardik Thakkar and Upneet Grover found themselves in this exact situation when they were looking to pursue their post-graduate degrees. Friends since their days in Infosys, the duo would always discuss ideas and were sure that they wanted to start a company together.

In June 2014, they finally decided that they needed to start something that worked as a social college search platform. They launched Getmyuni last February to help students choose the right college through exhaustive reviews and peer ratings, engaging forums and alumni connect.

Team @ Getmyuni
Bringing in the peer connect

While choosing colleges for their PG, both Hardik and Upneet struggled to get relevant information from peers and also to communicate with fellow students/alumni to understand the pros and cons of each college.

There was scattered information available on different forums and they mostly had to rely on personal connections to get peer information. Thus they wanted to primarily focus on the social connect aspect of Getmyuni.

The duo started Getmyuni after substantial groundwork. Hardik has moved on from the team, which now has Nirmanyu Arora, who has plenty of hands-on experience with creating products in the edutech domain, Manish Gupta, an MBA in Business Analytics, and Tushar Mehta, a BE from NSIT.

The initial challenges for the startup included the difficulty in sourcing user-generated content and getting students to write college reviews without having to spend money on it.

“As a result we created campus ambassador programmes, strong referrals and in product marketing programmes and were lucky to have a good word-of-mouth going around. We were surprised by the number of students who were willing to help aspirants and hence wrote long, unbiased reviews,” says 29-year-old Upneet.
Breaking the market

He adds that they came up with a new revenue stream where they were enabling brands and companies to reach out to students via competitions.

“We were making enough money to support the business till we finally got the funding of $50,000 from Tlabs. With that funding plus our revenues increasing month-on-month we’ve been able to scale to a million users per month on the platform, something we are incredibly proud of,” says Upneet.

Apart from classified platforms like eShiksha, HT Campus and the India Today review, there also is CollegeDekho, a platform that helps students connect with colleges. It had raised a seed funding of $2 million from Man Capital, and also raised funding from GinarSoft.CollegeDekho has over 22,000 colleges listed.

However, Upneet believes that the classifieds space is tradition and has been built purely to generate leads. There isn’t much peer information.

“We saw a huge opportunity in the user-generated content space in education, given that there were clear winners in other industries and they all had one thing in common – they had UGC at their core, for example, Zomato for food, Tripadvisor for travel and Glassdoor for jobs,” explains Upneet.
Numbers and future

Getmyuni claims to have over 11,000 colleges listed and over 40,000 student-written reviews on its platform. Since its inception the team claims to have over one million sessions, growing at 60 percent month-on-month.

Their revenue run rate is at Rs 10 lakh. The revenue model of the platform includes generating and selling high quality, verified student leads to colleges that are the right fit, and also ads and student enrollment.

The team is looking for its next round of funding. The aim is to fortify its position as the best college search destination and kickstart sales for domestic colleges.

Getmyuni is also looking to tap into the market for students wishing to study abroad.

“We aim to build the strongest college recommendation tool. We believe that currently a lot of students are being misguided by offline consultants to suit themselves, and if there is a fair portal, which bases a student’s background, marks and abilities, using advanced algorithms, to present them with the right set of college recommendations, that product will be a super success,” says Upneet.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

From Re 1 to a Rs 450 cr revenue company – the legacy of Agarwal Packers and Movers

Ramesh Agarwal just had Rs 1 after he quit the Indian Airforce in 1987 as he had donated all his earnings. With zero capital, while Ramesh was wondering what to do, Subhash Gupta, an officer of the Indian Airforce, suggested the idea of starting a packers and movers service.

The journey of Agarwal Packers and Movers started in an office space in Secunderabad, costing Rs 250 per month. From making four shifts for the Indian Airforce, using Airforce trucks, this 30-year-old logistics company works towards shifting close to 82,000 to 83,000 homes across the country.

With a team size of over 5,000 people, Agarwal Packers and Movers has 103 branches across the country. The company has more than 1,000 trucks, hires over 1000 trucks, and has over 2,000 locker facilities, which is expected to touch 10,000 in the coming year. It generates close to Rs 450 crores in revenue every year.
Working with the Indian Airforce

Being an officer of the Indian Airforce, Ramesh, 54, knew the difficulties the officers face, especially when they have to regularly shift base. When Subhash suggested the idea, Ramesh began working on setting up the organisation.

He says: “I thought of the idea and felt it made sense, I knew there were different nuances in play. You need to have invoices, bills, consignment notes and list of items. So beginning with taking a photocopy of a regular transporter from a fellow officer, I started this service for the Indian Airforce officers.”

With zero capital, Ramesh was challenged with the task of marketing this across the Airforce base. Roping in his brother Rajendra Agarwal, Ramesh decided to give his number in the calendars that were a rage, which costed him Rs 4,000.

However, his friend Vijay Kumar’s mother came to his rescue and agreed to provide the capital, but in exchange for Vijay to be a part of the founding team. However, later Vijay decided to pursue his career in politics and exited Agarwal Packers and Movers.

The initial cost of their office space was given with the first four shifts they made. Ramesh says that they made a profit of Rs 8000, of which they returned Rs 4,000 to Vijay’s mother and the remaining money was pumped into operational expenses.
Ramesh Agarwal (Left) training the early staff in 1990
Building an emotional carrier

Starting from an era that was very different from today’s world of mobile apps and technology, Agarwal Packers and Movers has been able to differentiate itself from every other player in the market.

Today, there are several players in the home services and shifting market, but Agarwal Packers and Movers still claims to be in a leading position. There is Boxme that creates locker facilities and Mumbai-based BoxMySpace for people when they want to shift, and hyper-funded startups like UrbanClap.

Ramesh adds that one of the biggest differentiators he has been able to create is to work as an emotional carrier. Explaining this, he says

Shifting a home isn’t about shifting goods or it isn’t about the money. A person is shifting their memories with these goods, and memories always have emotions associated with them. If a home owner has a 30-year-old radio that isn’t working, it probably has zero costs to it. But it is still valuable enough to have packed, maybe because it was his father’s or grandfather’s. It is important that your team realises its value and gives it due respect.

He believes that no matter how advanced technology gets or what apps you use, emotions need to be ingrained into the team and the ground staff who actually do the shipping and moving.
Building a strong foundation

The task of hiring the first 10 people who can spearhead and bring that culture is difficult, but after that it becomes easier. The first 10 people is who matter, believes Ramesh. He roped in the first forerunners from his friends, people from Airforce and his village.

“It is a pleasant surprise when the packers behave in a cordial manner and treat your product the way you want them to be treated. They listen to what you need, and it is not a mindless rush,” says a 40-year-old banking executive, who has used Agarwal Packers and Movers services.

The team had procured their very first truck with the help of Cholamandalam Finance. They had approached Agarwal Packers and Movers with a truck that someone else had procured and hadn’t been able to pay for.

In 1993, GE Capital helped Agarwal Packers and Movers procure more trucks, and soon the fleet size began to expand and grow.

Present Core team at Agarwal Packers and Movers
Addressing every pain point

When they initially started, the market only had open bodied trucks. The team of packers had to climb on top of the truck and wrap it in a canvas cloth and rope.

It wasn’t a very efficient way of transportation and no matter how much they tried, the goods inside would move.

Thinking of an effective way of combatting this problem, Ramesh decided that they needed to build a complete steel enclosure. So in 1994, Ramesh with the help of a friend constructed a steel bodied enclosure for his trucks. This brought in a change in the way thelogistics business was done.

The team also found that the wooden boxes they used to pack were causing some damage due to hammering the box while while shifting.

Locker Cube Facilities
It was then the team decided to make portable boxes with hinges and have an insulation of 18mm sized thermocol sheets. The packaging innovations also drastically brought down the cost of the freight charges.

They replaced cartons that costed Rs 72 per carton with easy to use bags, which got down the cost to Rs 38 per bag. Flexible thermocol sheets were used instead of corrugated sheets, which reduced the cost to Rs 2.5 from Rs 7 per sheet. Air packed containers were used to avoid damage to petrol tanks of vehicles.

When the team realised that there were people who wanted exclusive trucks but couldn’t afford the cost of a whole truck and not even occupy half of its space, the team decided to build Trucking Cubes or Lockers.

Each of these lockers is given to the customer as per his or her requirements. The goods are packed in the lockers and shipped, the owner has a key and nobody is authorised to open those lockers other than the owner.

Packers and Movers in Action
Breaking the market

With these lockers in place, Agarwal Packers and Movers now aims to target the food and the pharmaceutical industry transport as well. Ramesh says that because of food being packed in close quarters, many expire before their dates.

“Every day close to 10 percent of the food and pharma industry goods get spoilt. Soaps, agarbattis, etc., are being packed along with biscuits and this can be damaging and dangerous. I think different lockers can be used for medicines, soaps, and food. I intend to make close to 10,000 cubes and we will touch a turnover of Rs 1,200 crore, and then will move it to one lakh cubes, which will reach a turnover of Rs 5000 crore,” says Ramesh.

He says that wherever there is a customer pain-point, the team aims to work relentlessly to solving the problem. He adds that gone are the days when you need to use carton boxes and gather all your friends and family to help you shift homes.

Ramesh explains, When Agarwal Packers and Movers first started, we would begin the day at 4 am, procure boxes from stores nearby, pack the goods, use paper and cloth to insulate and then put them in the trucks. We would pack over 2,000 boxes, which would take 18 hours. However, today everything has changed. Starting from a single man army today, we have a team of people.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Indian Evernote alternative Buno aims to make note-taking more intuitive with its minimalistic approach

Entrepreneurs generally start out on their journey with a basic Minimum Viable Product(MVP). It may not have an amazing user interface (UI) and multiple features, but it aims to get one particular task done well. Further on in the lifecycle of a product, entrepreneurs tend to add more functional features and improve the UI to enhance appeal. But adding too many features can be a problem as well, as it can add to the complexity and initial learning curve, putting off users.

Many entrepreneurs have utilised the concept of ‘minimalism’ well in the last few years to grow their startups. Through this thought process, entrepreneurs strip down a product to its bare essentials and try to make it perform one core task exceedingly well. Tumblr and Google Translate could be taken as good case studies of the minimalistic approach. An Indian startup Buno aims to make note-taking simpler through this same philosophy.
What is it?
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Short for ‘Bucket Notes’, Buno is a note-taking app which aims to make the job of jotting notes through a gesture-based system, quick and simple. With its simplistic and minimalistic approach, the founders aim to compete with the likes of Evernote and Google Keep by focusing on the users’ key need, which is simple hassle-free note taking.
The app relies on ‘swiping’ for different functions- users can swipe to take a note and then swipe again to save it. Then through real-time cloud sync, the notes are backed up and users can access it across multiple devices. To ensure security, Buno has a four digit PIN-based security system and the team claims to utilise the highest grade security techniques for end-to-end encryption.

Buno’s aim is to provide a minimal interface to avoid any distractions while taking notes, to help users focus on writing more effectively. Some other interesting features include-
File organisation- Bucket (folder) system for organising and accessing notes easily.
Social sign in– Buno has enabled Facebook and Google sign-ins to ensure quick access.
Share directly- To eliminate ‘copy-pasting’ across different screens and apps, Buno lets users share notes directly from within the app.
Word count and image integration– To let users keep track of their notes, Buno provides character, word and paragraph count on the screen along with the ability to add multiple images to the same note.
Jayant And Deepesh (HelloWorld Dev)
The story so far

Buno was developed by HelloWorld Dev in collaboration with 50x Apps. The core team of Buno includes Deepesh Sondagar (CEO), Jayant Rao (Design head), Puneet Kohli (Product lead) and Arun Swaminathan (Technical Architect).

Deepesh had earlier started a company to design custom phone cases and claims to have sold it at ten times the price within 18 months of its launch. He currently handles operations, finance and management at Buno.

Jayant looks after design and digital marketing and relies on his experience working with companies like Ogilvy and Featherlite Furniture. Arun has published research papers and worked with companies like Barclays and Cognisant in a technical capacity. He also has prior experience in architecturing apps to enterprise grade software.

Puneet has four years of experience in the app development space with his startup ReFocus Tech. Talking to YourStory, Puneet noted that Buno came into existence in November 2015, based on the founding team’s personal needs. He said,

Being a gadget freak, I generally change my phone every two months. I have the habit of taking notes throughout the day for various ideas including sensitive information. So I tried and tested a lot of apps but they were either too cluttered or too ugly for my liking.

Arun and Puneet (50x Apps)
While having dinner with a bunch of close friends, he realised that his friends too had faced similar issues. So they decided to work on an app that provided a clean, user-friendly and minimalistic interface to take notes. Puneet from 50x Apps says, “We all put a lot of thought into how we could make the process of taking notes really easy. It’s a pain to have to press so many buttons to take a note with current applications – especially during meetings.”

So they decided to make buttons redundant and developed a gesture based UI that helps users take notes with ‘swipes’ performing different actions. Buno is currently working on a web-based version of their product to help users sync their notes across their smartphone and web browsers to enhance user appeal.
Traction and revenue model

Available on Android and iOS, Buno is currently free to download and use. Going forward, the team aims to include some in-app purchases or a subscription model for premium features and are also exploring options like charging for storage space and cloud backup after a certain limit.

Puneet estimates that they have about 8,000 installs across both platforms, and according to their metrics, eight percent of their users use the app daily, while 21 percent of users use it at least once in a month. In terms of the demography of users, Buno found that 54 percent of their Android users were from Germany, while the iOS version is most popular in China, accounting for 40 percent of their users. Puneet also noted,

The average session length for Buno is 20 seconds, which is completely in line with our motto of making note-taking super easy and quick.
Sector overview

Smartphones have now become the default screen for most users. Though most people prefer desktops and laptops for typing lengthy emails and finishing reports, smartphones are extremely useful for jotting down quick notes and reminders. The three big players in this sector are Evernote, Google Keep and Microsoft’s OneNote.

Each platform has their own set of features that appeal to different users. Google Keep is estimated to be more streamlined, with better search integration, and quicker. Evernote, on the other hand, has API integrations and premium web clipper tools that make notes searchable in Google results.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

23-year-old Akshay Ahuja’s RoboChamps reaches 500 schools and 20,000 students through robotics learning

An alumnus of Chitkara University, Akshay Ahuja was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug at the age of 19. In the second year of his college, he undertook two projects-teaching school students basic circuits and electronic-related concepts, and a six-week industrial training for B.Tech students.
Akshay Ahuja, Founder, RoboChamps
Luckily, he managed to get 29 B.Tech students from all across Chandigarh to train them on the use and functioning of Atmega8 IC technology. Building a teaching centre while still a student was a challenging task. The students were provided training on the roof of a building under construction.

What caught Akshay’s attention was the speed at which kids at the summer camp were learning, in comparison to BTech students. This instigated him to try an experiment. He put one of the kids, Aryaman Verma, from the summer camp workshop in the industrial programme with the B.Tech students. To his surprise, the nine-year-old learnt the Atmega8 IC technology better than the B.Tech students. This confirmed to Akshay the need for RoboChamps, which he then launched in 2013 in Chandigarh.

Creation of robotics module

RoboChamps creates robotics modules for students to help understand various scientific and technological concepts. These modules are made keeping in mind the relevance they hold to the different scientific and mathematics concepts students learn in schools.

According to Akshay, the components for every kit are sourced from different parts of the country, including Delhi and Chennai. Some more sophisticated components like breadboards are imported from China. Currently, RoboChamps has close to 40 such modules.

The startup conducts workshops in its academies and has tied up with various schools to conduct open workshops. With the intention of giving back to the society, RoboChamps also conducts free workshops in slums.

We do not rent out or buy entire properties for our academies. Instead, we have tie-ups with different schools and organisations that allow us to use their premises for the required hours of coaching,” explains Akshay.

Akshay bootstrapped RoboChamps with his own money of Rs 20,000. More than the financial hurdles he found it difficult to get the right set of talent that was equally motivated. Other challenge he faced was the multiple rejections from schools, which found it difficult to trust a young entrepreneur.

Akshay Ahuja with students
In January 2013, RoboChamps' module was rejected by close to 50 schools. Akshay one day visited a well-known school in Jagraon, a district in Ludhiana and got the chance to meet the principal, who was impressed by the learning method. That’s how RoboChamps got its first client.

Overcoming all the initial hiccups, RoboChamps just started to take off, when Akshay’s co-founder scooted with all the money the company earned in the initial few months. With no resources left, Akshay had to put in a considerable amount of money again and start from scratch.

Today, RoboChamps has 10 academies and 50 teachers who regularly conduct classes and workshops in different cities in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, and has covered more than 500 schools and reached 20,000 students.
Creating a network of schools

RoboChamps will be conducting an event, Build Your Bot, on August 28, in Gurugram. It is set to bring together around 20,000 students and help RoboChamps associate with more than 100 schools from Delhi-NCR region as well.

For the upcoming Build Your Bot event, we require a good amount of money. But all of that will be raised through students’ fee and sponsorship deals. The money raised through the event will be used to open more eobotics academies in the coming years,” Akshay adds.

The robotics courses are priced at Rs 1,600 per month for a 16-hour training period, including training services. The company targets students from Classes III to XII. By the end of 2016, it is looking to open 32 robotics academies, in cities like Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Bathinda, Amritsar and Chandigarh.

Market overview

A recent report by Research and Markets estimates that the global industrial robotics market was $28.22 billion in 2014, and is predicted to reach $41.18 billion by 2020 at a CAGR of 6.5 percent for the period. Schools are now increasingly focussing on incorporating robotics learning as a part of the regular curriculum, and startups have sensed this as a huge business opportunity.

Similar to RoboChamps, Noida-based Robotech Labs is a service provider in robotics and embedded education that conducts training workshops for colleges. Jay Robotix built the ROBOX line of educational robotic kits for K-12 students, which include building blocks.Robotix Learning Solutions provides robotics-based STEM education to students from Classes IV-XII.

Friday, 29 July 2016

[Startup of the day] How two friends from Jaipur set up a global polo equipment brand

Two friends took the old adage ‘choose a job that you love and you will never have to work a day in your life’ to heart when they started up. For, Jai Singh and Vikramaditya, friends from Mayo College, bonded over their love for horses. The two would end up spending hours on end at the stables at their college.

“We would admire the beautiful imported riding gear that some of the students had. But what we found frustrating was that quality polo equipment and gear were not available in India, and if one had to buy, imported products were the only option. This frustration later became the seed idea that resulted in the formation of Polofactory,” says 31-year-old Jai.

Dedicated to polo and horses, Polofactory was established in Jaipur in 2012 to manufacture polo equipment and luxury lifestyle merchandise that is inspired by horses and polo. The brand’s luxury lifestyle merchandise includes clothing, accessories and luggage.

Polofactory today caters to different polo clubs, teams and patrons and also organises polo holidays across UK, New Zealand, Argentina and India. The team also provides consulting support on team management, tournament organisation, off-site polo events and polo infrastructure development.

Jai Singh(L) and Vikramaditya(R)
Bringing in the quality

The ride however wasn’t easy for the team. The duo had begun with their journey with building their signature product – the polo saddle.

Vikramaditya had gone on to work in New Zealand under the tutelage of Ross Ainsely, a leading polo pony trainer. He spent six years there learning more and more about horses and realised that the equipment one uses makes a major impact on the psyche and the body of the horse and therefore effects the performance of both the rider and the horse.

While the idea was strong, they found it difficult to convince artisans to work in a particular way, stick to the design given, and use the best leather, quality threads, rivets and other raw materials. Jai adds,

We would reject most of what was made. Most people kept suggesting that we needed to cut a few corners, else the final product would be too expensive and no one would buy it.

There was some truth in what was said, as the cost of making their products turned out to be three times higher. Thus, their final product cost much higher than what people were used to paying. However, the duo were sure that the quality and durability wasn’t something they were willing to compromise.

When the duo found that the utility of Polofactory’s products was limited to polo players and horsemen, they decided to take polo and horses to everyone else, by venturing into fashion and lifestyle.Also read: This trio is ‘Making in India’ for the European markets

Spreading the reach

The core team at Polofactory currently comprises concepts and product design team, accounts, digital and offline sales, distribution, production and polo and horse training. Jai adds that the people on the team come from varied backgrounds like advertising, banking, software engineering, design & visual arts, polo, and NGOs.

Polofactory claims to clock a revenue growth of 18x since the time of its inception. From supplying to 10 clients in 2012-13, in 2015-16, Polofactory supplies to over nine countries including UK, Zambia, Australia, USA, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland, Kuwait, Kenya and Qatar.

Polofactory supplies equipment for over 300 horses and over a 100 players and to almost all leading Indian polo professionals like Samsheer Ali, Lokendra Ghanerao, Simran Shergill, Abhimanyu Pathak, Gaurav Sahgal and Uday Kalaan.

It also has now has begun to export to clients, like Micmar Polo, and Surrey Polo, across the globe. The startup aims to be the global leader in polo equipment. The current revenue model is a mix of direct online retail and wholesale supply to teams, clubs and stores.Also read: This Make In India ‘chair’ brings you closer to health and wellness goals

Smattering of equipment suppliers and manufacturers

However, polo is a niche sport in the country restricted to royalty, people in the army and a few teams. In India, there are several unbranded companies around regions like Kanpur that produce the leather equipment needed for the sport.

There also is SC Baug & Co in Kolkata that is known to produce bamboo balls and other equipment. Then there is SK Saddlery, which is a Kanpur-based polo equipment supplier, which claims that 85 percent of the equipment it sells is produced by artisans around Kanpur, and there also is Shamlal & Sons. However international brands like Casablanca, Oakley for Polo Glasses are still considered among the best.

Currently, Polofactory’s focus is to achieve better global presence. Jai adds that they are working hard to be more accessible to customers across the globe. The team intends to emphasise more on direct retail – online and offline and eventually distribute as a mono brand concept store that works on the franchise model.

“Such stores would be one-stop shops for the best in polo – equipment, fashion and services. Our current website is modelled on this idea. We are hard on expanding our product range and on increasing the brand’s visibility to move to this model. On the polo front we want to collaborate, provide support, co-brand with the biggest polo events in the world,” explains Jai.