The COVID-19 pandemic introduced unprecedented challenge in local business and startups with the announcement of nationwide lockdown on March 24. Everyone dealt with financial crunches. Even well-established companies grappled with economic slowdown and setbacks. Amidst all this, there emerged a few startups that not only served the basic needs of people but contributed immensely to society by creating jobs.
One such example is the online grocery startups. As per a report, India’s biggest online grocers Big Basket and Grofers nearly doubled the number of daily deliveries compared to the month before implementation of nationwide lockdown. Due to the elevated customer demands the online grocery industry gave rise to new regional startups across the nation.
Sikkim witnessed a similar impact. While the pre-established delivery startups like Mitho made efforts to deliver groceries and other essentials, there emerged various other startups like the origins and Dash. The former is launched by the serial entrepreneur Rewaj Chettri while Dash says to have been inspired by the #VocalForLocal movement where the cry to support local businesses have gained more momentum than ever in this era of a global pandemic.
Foodmart in Namchi and Peakdeals, Kweekvery and Sikkim Mart in Gangtok are other small startups that emerged and flourished during the lockdown period. Mustafa Mohammed, a second-year student of Sikkim Government College, Kamran is the Founder and CEO of FoodMart- possibly the only e-commerce startup based in Namchi.
“There were many existing startups working on the delivery of essential goods in Sikkim, but they were all based on Gangtok. Therefore, we decided to start up this venture in Namchi and the response we got was amazing. We started getting many orders in just about two days of opening,” says the young entrepreneur.
“We initially had to struggle a bit to get started in partnering with the restaurants as no businesses showed interest in collaborating with us possibly because we were young and new, but with time we gained their confidence and now we are have successfully brought major restaurants and grocery stores under a single umbrella. And since our earning is totally based on delivery charges and that we take no commission, farmers get the real and desired price for their produce,” he adds.
In a nation where people are used to buying their groceries with a wide range of selection and give their best in bargaining, it isn’t surprising to know that these e-commerce sites have a tough time in convincing the customers that the product they sell is fresh and are offered at a reasonable price.
“We have many regular and satisfied customers, but our most satisfying moment was when we were successfully able to provide groceries to a household from Kolkata residing in Gangtok for three continuous months,” says Rahul Kumar Gupta, founder of Peakdeals.com.
“We offer the customers most reasonable price and we are providing them fresh and organic products at their doorstep,” he adds hoping to reach out to much more customers in the days to come.
Many years back the government of Sikkim had conceived the idea of going completely organic and on 18th January 2016, the project was put to practice when the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, himself officially announced Sikkim as the fully organic state. Yet another feather was added to the cap when the red cherry pepper chilly locally known as “Dalley Khursani” earned geographical indication (GI) tag from the union Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal trade (DPIIT) this year.
With all these achievements, it is not surprising to see the wide possibilities of the agricultural market in this tiny state. Despite Sikkim State Cooperative Supply and Marketing Federation Ltd (SIMFED), Sikkim’s apex marketing society launching a mobile ration van in Gangtok for doorstep delivery of essentials commodities and food during the pandemic there were many small startups at play.
“In this world of all counterfeit products which are selling online, we guarantee genuine products from local sellers in Sikkim. So that returns, compilations, and originality of the products are best monitored locally and the process becomes much easier for the buyers of Sikkim to have it replaced, fixed, and serviced,” says Sikkim Mart yet another Gangtok based online grocery startup.
“Also, the local homemakers with a wide range of products are not able to find suitable buyers. Sikkim Mart is helping them to get that one step edge ahead to sell their products online to the whole of Sikkim,” they added.
Kweekvery, another e-commerce site dealing in online delivery of groceries was founded in 2016, but was launched in 2020 and flourished when this pandemic hit the world.
“We are associated with many farmers across the state who send us their produce as per the demand and market requirements. We then deliver these fresh vegetables to the consumers at a reasonable price,” states the founder, Mr Bivek Timsina.
“We have zero compromise policy on quality and the customers have the option to return or exchange their orders without any extra charges,” he says.
Surviving in these adverse times is quite hard and businesses are trying their hardest to make it work. To spring back to their feet, startups are trying to be at the top of their game by keeping their customers as the top priority while providing safe and socially distanced services.
The Government of India's promotion of Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan focuses on the revival of the business sector for the economy to thrive. These startups not only contribute to the economy but inspire young entrepreneurs to reach for their dreams. One thing is for sure, pandemic or not, these companies are here to stay.
The author is Sabin Pandey, a scholar at Sikkim University and General Secretary of the Sikkim Youth Federation.
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