According to the 2011 census, more than 70 percent of India’s population lives in rural areas. With the expanding reach of the internet, mobile phones and television, today people in these areas are more clued into trends and what’s happening in the outside world than ever before.
While the emergence of e-commerce has made it easier for people in rural India to enjoy the convenience of online shopping, last-mile delivery still remains a challenge. For instance, of the 60,000 postal pin codes in the country, only 12,000 are covered by e-commerce logistics companies, and that too mostly in Tier-I, Tier-II and Tier-III cities. Even today, if an e-commerce order is from an area located 50 km away from the district headquarters, the customer has to travel to the town to personally pick up the package. Doorstep delivery is not available in these locations as there are very few orders, which makes extending their services to these areas an unviable proposition for logistics companies.
This was one of the reasons why Kumar P Saha, founder of Senrysa Technologies, decided to start Nextdoorhub in 2017. An e-commerce marketplace, the differentiator is that Nextdoorhub’s core focus is on kiosk-based assisted e-commerce and last mile delivery for semi-urban and rural India.
Taking a cue from the success of their inclusive fintech platform
Kumar, who has been passionate about technology from a young age, started coding when he was in school. By the time he completed his engineering from SMIT in 2004, he already had a number of clients across several verticals. After working in the IT sector for a few years, he joined his family business. But developing software remained his first love. In 2011, Saha formally started Senrysa Technologies, at a time when the fintech space was still new and the Indian banking sector was just exploring mobile technologies.
Senrysa was the first company in India to successfully develop and implement an Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS) in 2012 for the disbursement of government benefits. Senrysa was named among the ‘Flag Bearers of Financial Inclusion’ by The Economic Times. “Earlier, banking was complicated and the overall experience was not pleasant, especially for the majority. At Senrysa, we simplified the banking processes by deploying MicroATM machines and onboarding people from the concerned locality to assist customers with banking transactions. The result was very successful. Today, we serve more than 1 crore customers and handle annual transactions worth more than Rs 6,000 crore through our platform,” says Saha.
What they learnt from their fintech experience was that people were ready to take advantage of technology across various services, if given due assistance. “So we came up with the idea of Nextdoorhub. Today, there is a trust deficit on online shopping platforms due to various reasons, which can only be eradicated through an assisted e-commerce model,” he says.
Their fintech platform handles more than three million financial transactions on a daily basis for a leading bank in India. “We take pride in building a similarly scalable e-commerce platform which can handle high volumes of orders,” says Saha.
Presence of a human affiliate network in remote areas sets them apart
According to him, at present they have more than 5,000 rural centres across India and a majority of these are in the Eastern and Northeastern part of the country. These centres provide banking support and other financial services to more than 1 crore customers. “We are upgrading the centres to provide e-commerce services from the same location. We intend to set up an additional 50,000 centers across India by the end of this financial year,” he adds.
Their core expertise is their proprietary technology, and they have filed two patents, one in the payments space and another on real-time geopositioning. “Our expertise in both these spaces is helping us build a truly global and scalable e-commerce platform,” says Saha. He adds that their expertise in running and managing a large human affiliate network even in the remotest of rural geographies helps distinguish them from the bigger players in the e-commerce space today.
He confidently adds, “In the last one year, we have seen many startups and even the larger e-commerce players trying to come up with different models for rural India. Our model is very different from that of the other players. India is a vast country where multiple models can co-exist and be successful.”
Dispelling the ‘rural India looks for only low-cost products’ myth
He explains why they are very bullish about Nextdoorhub’s prospects. “Our initial pilot programme has provided us with sufficient data to believe in our business model, and proved the myth that ‘rural India looks for only low-cost products’ wrong. People are well-acquainted with all popular brands and there is significant demand for branded products, since these are not available locally. We have seen huge demand for branded electronics, household appliances, and fashion apparel,” he says. To drive home this point, he shares an anecdote about a 70+ year-old-lady in a remote village in West Bengal, who ordered a saree on Nextdoorhub through one of their affiliate e-shops.
While technology has been their key strength, it has also proved to be their main challenge. “In the last two years, we have replaced our technology four times. We tried almost every e-commerce solution available in the market, but after a few months of development, we had to scrap it owing to some limitations. Finally, we decided to build our platform from scratch. Being a techie myself, I always look for the best solution, which sometimes adversely affects the timelines. Though we are almost a year behind for our scheduled commercial launch, luckily not much has changed in the segment we intend to address,” says Saha.
They’ve grown from a single person team when starting off in 2011, to a 200-member-strong company. The company, headquartered in Kolkata, with an office in Noida, has current annual revenue of Rs 40 crore with more than 20 percent EBITDA. With some new initiatives in the pipeline, they are targeting three-digit top-line growth for the next few years. Saha says they have big plans for the future, which include launching a hyper-local e-commerce social marketplace and a global platform to connect offline stores, which will challenge the way e-commerce companies are doing business today.
“Our long-term goal is to have one e-store at every panchayat in India. We will provide tools to small mom and pop stores to compete with the giants. Rural India deserves better products and services. Through Nextdoorhub, we would like to reach out to all organisations that believe in the potential of rural India to join us in this movement,” he signs off.