The hills of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong have so much more to offer beyond their tea and tourism. That’s what 30-year-old Snjog Datta—a former journalist, political consultant and native of Kurseong town in Darjeeling district—felt while browsing through different e-commerce platforms looking for products from home two years ago. But working in different cities, the only product from home he could consistently find on these platforms was tea.
However, that’s not the only reason why he started Daammee, a small business venture which sources a variety of different products from cottage industries situated in the hills of Darjeeling and Siliguri and offers them to customers all over India on their online platform.
“Soon after the lockdown was announced last year, I started getting feelers that cottage industries in the hills were facing serious economic duress. Some families from the more remote parts had nothing on their plates. I began thinking about how we could give them a pan-India platform that would allow their goods to access a bigger market. We discussed this idea with some manufacturers and producers,” says Snjog, speaking to The Better India.
Established amid the COVID-19 pandemic, on 24 May 2020, the Nepali word ‘Daammee’ translates to ‘the best’. Assisting him in this new business endeavour is his mother Rachana Dutta, a former teacher.
A Taste of the Hills
For Snjog, a product of St Xaviers College in Kolkata, starting a business amidst a pandemic had its share of significant challenges.
“Figuring out the logistics was certainly the most challenging part, especially because we were catering to clients all over India. Of course, as a bootstrapped venture, we didn’t have a huge budget to market ourselves. Admittedly, there were some supply chain issues as well and following some customer feedback, we sorted most of them along the way,” he says.
So, what does Daammee offer customers?
“We are offering a whole range of products from the hills, from food to prayer objects, decor and Nepali cultural wear. The list grows every week. Among a wide variety of food items we offer — Dalle (the famous round chilly), Chinese sausage (lap cheong), gundruk (a fermented leafy green vegetable and a popular food in Nepal), smoked pork, mutton pickle, axone (kinema), chhurpi cheese (traditional cheese consumed in the Himalayan region), thukpa and glass noodles. Our most in-demand products are meat pickles, Kalimpong Noodles, Titaura (popular Nepali snack) and Chhurpi. We source them primarily from Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Kurseong but ship them to different cities,” he says..
Their focus lies predominantly on the cottage industries of this region.
“We buy them straight from the manufacturer and bring it to our warehouse where it goes through a strict quality check. Following this, we pack and ship these products all over India. Apart from the products, our packaging is one of our most appreciated facets. We ship 90% of our items all over India. The cold-cuts we home deliver in Kolkata and Siliguri only for the time being. Our biggest market is definitely the metro cities,” he claims.
Reminding customers of home
For Snjog, the transition from journalist to political consultant and now an entrepreneur has been quite seamless. He believes that little has changed for him. As a journalist, he would earlier run after stories. Today, he’s chasing down different suppliers to expand his company’s product base. With just a 12-member team running this venture now, it’s hands-on-deck for everybody involved.
“But what brings us satisfaction is the fact that our customers bring smiles on the faces of those families who reside in remote areas of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong. Maybe these people have not been able to visit Chennai or Bengaluru or Mumbai but their products have reached more than a thousand households in these cities,” says Snjog.
Viraf Patel, a Mumbai-based chef, had this to say about his experience on Daammee in a December 2020 Facebook post: “For the longest time we’ve had the privilege of visiting family and friends who brought us Dalle and other lovely Nepali things, but this lockdown has been a game changer! I chanced upon daammee.in through a good friend from Nepal…while things took a longer route (due to COVID-19 protocol) they arrived this afternoon in great condition! Each individually packed and secured with cardboard as well as bubble wrap!”
Going through reviews on Daammee’s Facebook page, another facet that stands out is how products available on the platform reminds many of home. Anuradha Pradhan Thapa, another Daammee customer, has this to say, “I ordered dry buff pickle and it’s yum. The crunchiness, the taste and I felt like I was back in my hometown after having this.”
In a very short time frame, Daammee has made quite a name for itself in Siliguri, Darjeeling and Kalimpong. What does Snjog attribute this to?
“I think our customer-first approach has contributed to most of it. Our main client base is from the metro cities where such items are not available. Also, almost all our products undergo a thorough quality check. Our suppliers have been very supportive from the start. Having said that, I must admit that there have been minor lapses here and there with certain orders, but we have been continuously evolving and upgrading to quite literally make things Daammee, for our valued customers,” he says.
And business is good. “Our sales have crossed the Rs 20 lakh-mark. Although this figure sounds rather big for a company that has barely been operational for 10 months, less than 3% has gone into our coffers as profits. When it comes to the cold cuts, we were initially delivering them only in Siliguri. We have expanded to Kolkata since this month, where we deliver items within 24 to 48 hours of the order placed. We have our eyes on other states as well, and are continuously looking for like-minded partners,” he concludes.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)