If business is in your genes, the entrepreneur in you will find a way to eventually come out.
Arvind Saraf, born into a business family, seemed to be bucking the trend in his early years as an academically inclined student who worked his way into IIT Kanpur, where he studied computer science.
The latent entrepreneur in him was fuelled by a stint at Google’s engineering team, where he was building products focused on emerging markets. After a few years, he decided it was time to be his own boss.
His first start-up focussed on providing health care to people from lower income groups, who were residing in various slums across India. While he moved out of this venture seven years ago, the exposure led him to appreciate the role of using technology to build solutions for India, which had some commercial viability, while also impacting the lives of people.
His desire to create a business that would balance commercial aspirations while also make an impact on the society, led to the founding of Wishbook, a mobile-app-based platform that is providing opportunities for micro-entrepreneurs to sell women’s apparel in their network and earn money without making any investment.
In this conversation, The Better India caught up with Arvind, who took us through his journey and explained how his company, Wishbook, is empowering thousands of women across India.
The inception of Wishbook
“I wanted to enable and empower SME’s. They are not equipped to compete with the organised sector, and neither are they strengthened with helping women into the workforce. Looking at my father’s saree manufacturing business also gave me a unique perspective on how things function,” he begins.
Armed with that knowledge, Arvind founded the company in 2016, where they set out to see how the existing retailers could be made more efficient.
“Reaching out to a lot more people and creating a meaningful impact is what the initial idea was,” says Arvind.
Arvind explains, “Wishbook is a B2B marketplace focussing on fashion. An existing small retailer or even a home entrepreneur can source the products that they wish to sell. These are products directly sourced from the manufacturers, and that ensures that the prices are at their competitive best.”
To the entrepreneurs who are in the business of retailing, this comes as a boon since the problem of sourcing and identifying the products is solved. The process of onboarding and carrying out all the required checks helps the entrepreneur make an informed choice while making the purchase.
With over 50,000 active monthly users, over 1000 suppliers, and more than 60,000 designs to choose from, Wishbook has been growing from strength to strength.
How does this app help small retailers?
With the advent of smartphones, Arvind says that the acceptance of using mobile phones for browsing and making purchases has become very easy. Retailers are also embracing smartphones as a legitimate business tool. However, one needs to be very clear to establish his credibility and quality in the marketplace.
The quality of the group is maintained thanks to a stringent onboarding process. The users are also given training on various features of the app so that they are enabled to exploit its full potential.
“We help them create their own websites and hand hold them while they create various social networking sites. We also provide mentorship programmes to help the home entrepreneurs sell better.”
The mentorship programmes are all peer-to-peer initiatives, and Arvind says that the take away from it all has been very fruitful. “Using social network and creating interesting content around the product has been something that we have seen achieving tremendous success.”
Speaking of the challenges that they faced, Arvind says, “Many of them, admittedly were people who had never used a digital platform for business-to-business transactions. They might have used it for personal purchases, and so we spent a lot of time on the platform to help them get used to it and help them get comfortable in making purchases online.”
The other challenge was the absence of a human interface while making the purchase. “To address this, we focussed on building a very robust internal sales support team, which was accessible by a single call to help them through the process. We also actively reached out to them to solve all the issues they had,” he says.
Some of the words that those using the application ascribe to Wishbook are practical, easy-to-use, efficient, and trustworthy.
Speaking about one of the users of the app, Arvind says, “She was a resident of Mumbai, who had to leave her corporate job for some reason. She was told about the app as a platform that would help her earn an income. Her first purchase was a saree she bought herself as an anniversary present. Very happy with the quality, she immediately made a video of the saree and shared it with her own network.”
“She got a great response to it, and that was the beginning of her association with Wishbook and her foray into being a home entrepreneur.”
“While Surat and Ahmedabad are the two places where the manufacturers are predominantly based, the buyers are pan-India. Many of the buyers are from places where retailers, especially women, did not have the option of such a professional approach, and they see this app as a boon,” says Arvind.
With a team size of about 55 Wishbook is poised to expand and is looking at getting many more users to use their technology. Speaking about the way forward Arvind says that the company is at the moment trying to raise capital.
This app can be downloaded on both IoS and Android devices.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)