Pritam, an IIT Bombay grad, is a serial entrepreneur with 6 years of product building experience in consumer and enterprise businesses. He started his career with Walt Disney managing their international mobile gaming business. From there he went on to start an HR tech startup, followed by building Product for another fast going SaaS startup ‘Vymo’. Apart from building meaningful products and writing blogs, he is a huge travel enthusiast and loves trekking. He runs marathon and is a fitness freak but cannot miss his biryani dose.
This is his story.
It was very early on that I experienced first-hand an unnoticed barrier between people that speak English vs people that don’t. As someone who was educated in a Bengali medium school in a far-off town of West Bengal; the struggles of overcoming language barriers were real. The biggest struggle was when I moved to IIT Bombay. I had to jump two hurdles during every class. Five such years went by at IIT, but the issue of limited access based on the language we speak kept ticking me.
Soon after completing my Bachelors and Masters at IIT, I landed up in Disney in their product vertical where I got the chance to build large scale products. Entrepreneurship was the call at that time (It still is), and with the support of my peers I jumped head first into solving business problems that were burning large enterprises.
FlatPi was born soon after. FlatPi was a HR-tech company that aimed to create an intelligent talent management solution to make hiring a data driven, structured and efficient process. We were successful in building a great product and were able to market it to get clients. Scaling was a major challenge though considering the nature of enterprise companies. Long sales cycles along with a high burn led us to an acquisition and moving on. My key takeaways were the criticality of having a sound tech team, choosing co-founders with complementary skill set and finding the right product-market fit.
Post Flatpi acquisition, I continued to ‘build’ at Vymo, a globally recognized Sales automation tech startup as their product lead, where I got a chance to work with a super-talented tech team consisting of 40 engineers. At Vymo, I got exposure into the depth of the Indian tech scene (read Bangalore tech scene) and other nitty gritties of product building as a by-product of which, I started blogging and even hosted multiple webinars about Product Management in particular. Some of them, much to my pleasant surprise, got acclaimed by International Product leaders.
My learnings through the journey as Co-founder and Product Lead in two evolving startups and the zeal to build something that creates impact at a scale led me to the idea of ‘Manch’.
Stay hungry, keep building
Manch is being built for Indians to whom the benefits of internet were still not being passed solely due to a language barrier. For people like my mother, who still calls me for something as basic as a bank transaction; as the internet is yet to get out of it’s English-first nature.
Consumer, Consumer and Consumer
It was time for me to start understanding this unexplored and basic problem space both from a business opportunity, as well as consumer needs perspective. I started interacting with multiple VCs and Chinese Entrepreneurs, dug deep in the available reports till I was certain that the untapped opportunity existed. The second (and the trickiest challenge) was understanding the need of consumers who are comfortable to be on the internet in their local language, or are using internet for the first time. I decided to directly meet such users. I spent considerable number of days in Rajasthan, UP and places in the Northeast. After interacting with roughly 3000 such individuals, few things became apparent;
● With the boom of vernacular content, the growing ask is to get interest driven, localized content which demands every content served to have three components aligned-interest, location and language.
I remember one housemaker from a remote village in Uttar Pradesh mentioning-
‘In our house the real-struggle is for the possession of the TV remote. My husband wants to watch news, kids want to watch cartoons and I, TV serials. Problem is the television just has one screen. Whatever you make should solve this’.
● Hyper local content creation and discovery will fuel the growth of vernacular content. I remember a Bombay rickshaw-driver telling me- ‘I have no way to get local updates from my village Muzaffarnagar. All news channels, digital or offline, talk about Lucknow, and Facebook mostly shows updates from more migrant friends like me’.
● Commentary could be as interesting if not more as the original content itself. Be it a live cricket match, movie release or local panchayat election. You won’t believe your eyes if you go check the number of comments Indians make in Youtube videos or on random news articles. Now, imagine what will happen if you provide these people a platform to engage in discussion in their language and topic of their interest.
Why this market is worth winning?
Now coming to the business part of Manch. We had to answer one fundamental question, “Can we create a sustainable business out of millions of people coming to our platform to generate, curate and engage in content?” It took good amount of time for me to reach the relevant people and get a sense of why and how. So, I will mention few of the instances, which were eureka moments for me.
Observations from interacting with remote villages across
Remember meeting some of the local business both from UP, Rajasthan where they actively leverage WhatsApp groups to reach out to their target audience. I distinctively remember a mobile reseller forwarding his services details(in Hindi) accompanied by reviews of some of local influencers (Panchayat member in this case), a local coaching class floating images with testimony from school topper in WhatsApp. This examples validated how powerful role an online community with hyperlocal interest can play for them.
Conversations with few Government Policy makers
I met some government policy-makers who passionately talked about how they have been trying to create micro apps to pass on government benefits to last mile of India. For example, any initiative like the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana requires the Government to reach out to people in every district, to hire and upskill/engage them. Currently, it happens only through some posters at Government offices or Post Offices.The Government could definitely use a medium to reach out to every eligible individual.
Interactions with FMCG executives
Another instance was meeting a few FMCG executives who talked about the ‘Shakti’ initiative by HUL, which pioneered the concept of training local women as rural sales agents through an app to sell Unilever products, door to door, in their communities. (Later figured this was picked up by Harvard for their case study)
I’ve had numerous such encounters in the last 3-4 months and can talk about them endlessly.
So to sum up, the business opportunities we intend to explore with Manch, are as follows:
● Hyperlocal interest-driven discoverability with seamless digital transaction will open up ‘Alternate Commerce’ to tap millions of offline retailers and local marketers. Remember my mom doesn’t go to Urban ladder to buy a sofa, rather she asks her friends around for ‘Monu Furniture’ reviews, hence verified local retailers with local product reviews. Monetization proposition is incomplete without numbers so let’s talk about some numbers here.
○ India has an estimated 51 million small businesses and only 32% of them have online presence.
○ Online retail in India is estimated to grow over 1,200% to $200 billion (Rs13,30,550 crore) by 2026, up from $15 billion in 2016 and as expected Offline retail/Alternate commerce is going to drive the growth
● Community and content driven experience will redefine the social commerce (Ad business) for larger untapped Indian consumer base (Relate this to the HUL and Government Outreach example)- This market doesn’t exist as of now so difficult to guesstimate but FMCG growth could be a right indicator to guesstimate the same. A report from BCG and Google quoted (in late 2017) ‘E-commerce in the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) space can potentially grow to up to $6 billion by 2020, from less than $1 billion now’
● Vernacular ad market is estimated to be of $1.5 billion by 2021
(Not to mention B2C market creation and monetization happens at scale and it demands highest level of razor sharp execution skills and patience. We hope market conditions and god support us in this journey)
We have just launched Manch in beta. We want local influencers to set the tone for their communities and take Manch to every corner of the country in the months and years to come. Before I sign-off I would like to sincerely call out that whatever I have learnt or built is just 1-5% about the space and consumer needs/demands. I will look forward to learn from each and everyone of you. Would be grateful if you can give us feedback/suggestions about the app or just share your experiences. You can reach out to me at Pritam@manch.app or Linkedin.