Kolkata – the City of Joy that breeds artists, writers and visionaries. Home to nearly 5 Mn people, the erstwhile capital of India has a quaint old-world charm that draws people in, inspiring them to dream and achieve great things. In recent times, Kolkata has become a popular choice for startup founders and aspiring entrepreneurs. In fact, the city is currently witnessing the emergence of a new class of startups that are ambitiously working to solve many of the problems that people of Kolkata commonly face.
To bolster the fledgeling startup ecosystem that is taking root in this historic city, Inc42 in partnership with Amazon India recently hosted the second instalment of its localised meetup series – BIGShift on October 13 in Kolkata. The event brought prominent startup founders, influencers, investors, and ecosystem enablers together for an engaging and stimulating discourse about the challenges of starting up, the fear of failure and the common notions about fundraising.
For the uninitiated, BIGShift is a one-of-a-kind series of localised startup events spread across eight cities, including Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneshwar, Nagpur, Kolkata, Vizag, Ranchi and Indore. Through BIGShift, Amazon India and Inc42 are looking to support the startup ecosystem that is building up in cities beyond Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. The aim is to help bridge the gap that currently exists between the ecosystems in tier I and tier II cities by making the essential resources available to fledgeling startups in these geographies.
So, Why BIGShift In Kolkata?
Spread roughly north-south along the east bank of the Hooghly River, Kolkata is majorly known for two things – the Howrah Bridge and the only operating tram network in India. The city also has the third most-populous metropolitan area in India.
The walls of the city house within them a budding startup ecosystem with passionate entrepreneurs, great mentors, and a supportive government. According to Angellist, there are over 250 startups in Kolkata and with government facilities and initiatives the startup ecosystem has picked up the pace in the city.
These startups are currently operating in a number of diverse verticals such as edtech, healthtech, the ever-popular ecommerce and foodtech, as Kolkata is famous for its cuisine, among many others. As per Inc42 Datalabs report, between July 2016 and July 2017, there were 19 deals that collectively raised $23.8 Mn in funding.
Among the major startups that the city has nurtured in recent times are Pallav Nadhani-founded Fusion Charts, Abhishek Rungta’s Indus Net Technologies, Taxmantra, Lexulous, La Exacttly, RanceLab and others.
Avelo Roy On Moving Past The Fear Of Failure
The event started off with Avelo Roy, taking the stage. Currently serving as the Managing Director of Kolkata Ventures, Roy has built/invested in seven businesses across three countries, generating $25 Mn worth of products and services.
During the first session of BIGShift Kolkata, Avelo talked about identifying the root cause of failure and eliminating the fear that shrouds failure.
Every entrepreneur at some stage is afraid of failure. However, the mark of a true leader is one who never gives up. At the event, the Illinois Institute of Technology graduate spoke about the need to embrace the technology revolution that is taking the world by a storm.
As the founder of Kolkata Ventures, Avelo has backed and mentored a lot of Seed and early stage tech startups in the city.
SastaSundar’s B.L. Mittal On Challenges Of Scaling Up And Fundraising
The session with Avelo was followed by an inspiring and engaging storytelling session with Banwari Lal Mittal, founder and CEO of SastaSundar. Launched in 2013 SastaSundar is an online pharmacy based out of Kolkata. The startup touched GMV of $23.6 Mn in FY 2017.
SastaSundar functions as a digital network for managing healthcare, pharma, and wellness product supply chain. It acts as a channel for connecting doctors, diagnostic services, health care clinics, and health information services. As its name suggests, the startup strives to reduce cost and make the availability of high-quality medicines convenient.
Following are some of the many laurels that Mittal has earned over the years:
- Grew SastaSundar to 1.7 Mn order mark
- Onboarded more than 440K customers
- Created a network of over 178 Healthbuddy stores across the state
- Raised $5 Mn (INR 33.4 Cr) from Japan-based Rohto Pharmaceutical
- Working to open 50 Healthbuddy stores in Delhi by March 2018
- Started three successful ventures over the course of his entrepreneurial career
- Founded InnoGrow Partners with a $154.2 Mn (INR 1,000 Cr) investment corpus
In his narrative, Mittal talked at great length about the process and challenges of scaling up as well as fundraising. During his BIGShift session, Mittal, said, “In whatever you do, find out the uniqueness. What determines the success of a venture is the demand-supply gap. It depends on necessity. You have to be very competitive in execution and delivery. From my experience, the task of starting a business is very easy. Everything that is built is either built to die or built to last. The most important things of starting up are the return of money and the return of time and investment. One needs to realise that failure is basically the other face of success. The key is to eliminate the fear of failure.”
Speaking about the importance of branding and marketing at BIGShift Kolkata, Mittal concluded by stating, “If you want to plant a Mango tree and you plant it in a Mango Orchard, it will take a million attempts to identify it. Why did Amazon choose that name even though it was not related to books? The point is to give your company a name that has uniqueness and a personality of its own. For instance, the value of SastaSundar is quality healthcare at affordable costs. That is why the Indian name associated with it is SastaSundar.”
Subhrangshu Sanyal On Challenges Of Starting Up
For the third session of the day, Subhrangshu Sanyal, CEO of IIM Calcutta Innovation Park, took the centre stage to address the key challenges startups face and the ways they can be overcome. As the head of the IIM Calcutta business incubator, the Jadavpur University alumnus is actively engaged with the key stakeholders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem and has been involved in sourcing, mentoring, capacity building and funding of the startups.
Skilled in innovation management, business process re-engineering and programme management, Sanyal previously served as the Global Delivery Director of Intersoft KK. Taking a Q&A approach to his session, he started off by saying, “The first thing for a startup founder is to figure out whether he is developing a solution that the market really wants. In my experience, the main reason that many startups suffer is that they believe they are solving a market problem when, in fact, they are not. The second thing is to be flexible and adopt a new idea if the initial one doesn’t work.”
During the BIGShift event, he went into a detailed discourse about the basics of building the initial team to finding right co-founders, mentors and support systems. According to Sanyal, the most important thing for startups when it comes to team building is networking.
He added, “For a startup, the first three or four members are the most important asset. These people should support each other more than just offering technical support. Entrepreneurship is a difficult thing. Failure is more probably than success in this case. Therefore, it is important to surround oneself with people who are equally passionate and in tune with the soul of the business as the founder/owner is.”
Hari Balasubramanian On The Right Time To Fundraise
For the fourth session of the day, Hari Balasubramanian, founder of Ontrack Systems, took the centre stage to address several notions around fundraising – from the right time for fundraising to how to raise funds. Over the course of his long career, Hari has donned many hats, including that of startup investor, mentor and advisor.
He currently serves as an advisor of IvyCap Ventures as well as a member of TiE Kolkata, where he contributes in deal sourcing, due diligence and mentoring of startups. He has made and led angel investments in several startups in diverse domains in India and abroad.
In his narrative, Balasubramanian stated, “There are a lot of people who are doing the same thing again and again and getting the same results. They are not learning fast enough, especially in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. What is it that investors are typically looking for? Investors are looking at whether here something disruptive that you are doing. For example, nobody could have predicted that a mobile phone company would become the largest seller of music.”
According to Hari, a budding entrepreneur needs to go back to the basics and understand whether whatever he is pursuing is worth an investment from a professional investor or worth an investment from friends and family. The third option is to seek the help of a bank.
He added, “When starting up, one needs to decide if he is in a space where he is just dabbling with existing technology. An aspiring startup founder will also have to determine if there is a lot of competition, which can mean there is a market. In that case, there are a set of investors who look at these kinds of startups. There are also investors who are very theme oriented. Therefore, the foremost thing for a startup is to figure out its investment appetite.”
Ravindra Khandelwal On Getting Your Initial Customers
As part of the fifth session, Ravindra Khandelwal of Dhanwantary Medicare and Research Centre, shared with the audience his insights into the best marketing practices that need to be followed in the initial stages of a startup. In his illustrious career, the James Cook University graduate has spent several years working in the marketing and advertising industry.
Apart from his role at Dhanwantary Medicare, Khandelwal currently serves as the Managing Director of Sanjeevani Ayushcare. Realising that many startups initially operate on a shoestring budget, Khandelwal offered his two cents about the importance of intelligent marketing.
He began by stating, “If you are too stuck up about the product you started out with, the business will fail. You need to continuously change and evolve. You should first embrace the failure, keep developing the product. Neither your place, promotion nor price will sell you as much as a good product will.”
Marketing, he went on to elaborate, can increase the scope of this product. For his concluding remarks, Ravindra added, “The world is now a global village. You can be anywhere and run your business anywhere. This is where effective marketing and advertising come in. Intel, for instance, is a company that does not directly sell to you. However, it still advertises online, on TV and print media. It educates you in such a way that you go to the shop or on Amazon and looks for a laptop that has an Intel chipset. The biggest example of a company that does not take money from us but still advertises is Google.”
BIGShift is coming to Nagpur (11th November) and Ahmedabad (18th November) next! To learn more about BIGShift and what it entails, click here.
And The Much Awaited Startup Showcase Is Here!
Moving to the final leg of the BIGShift Kolkata edition, six Kolkata-based startups were given the opportunity to showcase their ideas and business plans. Among these were Tailorkraft, ONEngage, Udyan Tea, Happy DNA, Fleetferry Logistics and Beatest.
Let’s take a look at what these startups are up to!
Founded in 2015 by Tamajit Mukherjee and Ankit, Tailorkraft is an online tailoring and fashion designing service provider with the motto “Making Bad Fit Disappear”. Through Tailorkraft, customers can get their garments stitched by tailors in their city while sitting at home. The startup has developed an app that allows users to search for tailors, check pricing and delivery time and book a home visit.
According to Ankit, Tailorkraft’s chief target market are women in the age range of 18-40. The startup is currently looking to raise investment via crowdfunding for marketing and talent acquisition.
Established by Dipak Agarwal, ONEngage is a customer-oriented programme that focusses on a company’s existing clients to get repeat users through them. To accomplish this, the startup relies on targeted mobile marketing techniques, including bulk SMS, bulk emails, voice call, long code and short code.
Through these communication channels, clients can send repeated SMS alerts, voice calls, mailers. ONEngage also assists customers in creating shortcodes to build their own database with a specific target audience. The aim, according to Agarwal, is to give visibility to clients and enhance customer retention. The startup’s clientele includes Kreative Fingers, Neeranand Regency and Vauras Advisory Services, among others.
Founded in 2012 by Punit Poddar, Parvez Gupta and Soveet Gupta, Udyan Tea is a bootstrapped startup specialising in the ecommerce of tea. Based in Darjeeling, the company was started with a Seed capital of $38,512 (INR 25 Lakh), which the founders borrowed from friends and family.
startup sources its tea from estates across the country. Udyan Tea has tied up with over 150 tea estates in Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiris and parts of Nepal. Its products are currently priced anywhere between $46.2 (INR 3,000) and $231 (INR 15,000) per kg.
Since its inception, it has grown many folds. Today, Udyan Tea ships to 25 countries like the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Luxembourg, China, Taiwan, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore. According to Gupta, the startup has served more than 12 Mn cups of tea to its customers.
Created in April 2016 by Abhik Mallik, HappyDNA is working towards preventive healthcare, nutritional health and psychology needs of children. Run by Doctors, IIT and IIM alumni, the startup focusses on early detection through preventive check-up and to interventions through its mobile platform using innovative solutions and technology.
According to Mallik, the two major areas of children’s health are NCDs and mental wellness. On both these vectors, HappyDNA is striving to bring accessible and affordable healthcare, while also increasing awareness. It operates in a “detect-and-intervene” model through a preventive framework that relies on regular physical checkup in partnership with hospitals as well as personalised services to parents through our digital platform.
It currently boasts a network of specialised doctors, psychologists and nutritionists across India. Additionally, the startup offers support to children suffering from autism, dyslexia, ADHD and diabetes, among others.
Established by IIM graduates Deepto Choudhury and Avik Das, Fleetferry Logistics is an early-stage startup that is helping businesses with intercity freight transport services. Its geolocation tracking technology provides customers with real-time visibility of a live shipment.
Using the Fleetferry platform, businesses can avail reliable and traceable logistics services. In addition to offering real-time shipment info, the startup assists customers in tele-verification, filing paperwork, unloading, tracking and analysing.
Founded in September 2016 by Sayantan Chatterjee, BeaTest is a one-stop solution for CAT, SBI-PO and IBPS preparations. The startup offers customised practice tests for a number of competitive exams. Its fast-growing user base includes aspiring MBA students, engineers and other students across different education levels.
With the state government taking a keen interest in building a robust startup ecosystem, opportunities are being created for upcoming entrepreneurs in the cities. Through BIGShift, Amazon India and Inc42 are doing their part in supporting the fledgeling startup ecosystem in Tier I, Tier II and Tier III cities like Kolkata.
We would like to thank the management of The Bhawanipur College Education Society (Venue Partners) for letting us host the event in the college. Our ecosystem partners – Indus Net Technologies and Easydaftar who helped us put together this wonderful event. And special thanks to Abhishek Rungta, founder, Indus Net Technologies and Shivam Shah of Augment Ventures for their continuous support.
BIGShift is coming to Nagpur (11th November) and Vizag (17th November) next! To learn more about BIGShift and what it entails, click here.