BOOSTING SME business online
The potentials of 48 million SMEs across 5,500 categories in India and the current online trend were together tapped by askme.com. Sanjiv Gupta shares strategies such as expansion in small towns and introduction of new apps for an upsurge.
Tell me something about askme.com. When did you start it and how has it evolved with time?
Askme, if you describe in one line, is a SME (small and medium enterprise) market place of India, where SMEs of all kinds can provide information and do transactions online. Askme was re-launched as a brand in July, six months ago. But in the backend, the creation of SMEs database started two years ago. In terms of number, we have a database of about nine million SMEs across the country. We have about 1,000 people who as sales force go across the country in small towns like Madurai, Meerut or Firozabad to meet these SMEs and help them put online. As you may know, SMEs contribute about 35-40 per cent of the Indian economy and they contribute significantly in export. Every government supports and promotes them strongly.
One of the biggest ways to promote SMEs is to ensure that their business becomes discoverable, they can get online very easily, they can provide information about their business, products and catalogues easily, they can transact easily – this is what we have attempted to provide. There are 48 million SMEs in India across 5,500 categories but only about a million are online. So, the opportunity of increasing productivity and enhancing the business of the SMEs is very large. For this, we have launched the askme app.
India has became the second largest internet user base in the world, beating the US and is just behind China; but our penetration as percentage of population is still very low. We are only at 20-22 per cent while even China is about 50 per cent. When The potentials of 48 million SMEs across 5,500 categories in India and the current online trend were together tapped by askme.com. Sanjiv Gupta shares strategies such as expansion in small towns and introduction of new apps for an upsurge. SME business online BOOSTING the penetration will rise, these 240 million people who use the internet will go to 500 million; and they will keep searching for information about SMEs whether they want to go to a restaurant or whether want to call for a plumber or to buy something. This is happening across the metros and now in small towns too.
So your focus is only on SMEs?
SMEs can come out to the askme platform and list their business. If you are an electrician, then you will come and list your business. If anybody searches for an electrician in that area, they can find you. Or, if somebody is into the business of selling second hand cars or computer, he can show his inventories in our classifieds. So, we are giving an opportunity to SMEs to share business information and transaction and that is what customers are also looking for.
What are the particular sectors you are focusing on?
We have 5,500 categories, ranging from earth moving equipments to pizza sellers. Anybody and everybody is using this service. Top category includes hotels, hospitals, taxis, interior decorators, car showrooms and in the B2B segment there are pump manufacturers, etc.
So from which sector you are getting the maximum attraction?
The maximum one, I would say hotels. We are getting a lot of attraction because there is a lot of inbound tourism. In addition, we get a lot of attraction in the fashion and apparel category, gadgets and mobiles.
While the last six months have been extremely good for e-commerce and online business, it is completely a competitive environment. How do you create value for your customers? The big question is the reliability; how do you deal with this?
We are not trying to compete with the SME in fact we are trying to empower the SMEs. We take the local sellers and put them online and it is the local sellers who understand their business best so we don’t give out any unrealistic deals. We let the seller decide the cost. And, reliability is something that we are discovering as e-commerce is becoming bigger. Our current reach is about 10,000 pin codes and in next three months, we hope to upgrade to 20,000 pin codes.
What are the services you are looking to expand in future?
I think we will expand pretty much on transaction because every small person, even if he is sitting in Dehradun and doing business of spectacles, wants to sell online. The other area which we really want to target now is ‘SOHO’, which means small owner home owner. There are a lot of women who run catering business or beauty parlour from their homes, we want to target them because these people need exposure and we offer fairly economic deals. What we offer are the premium listing on about INR 500 a month or INR 20 a day. As I mentioned earlier, there are 48 million SMEs, out of which only one million are online. Our target is to reach out to these SMEs who are outside Gurgaon, Delhi or Mumbai; and want to sell their products online.
What are plans in tier 2 and tier 3 cities?
We are now present in 233 cities across India – Bihar, Chattisgarh, North East, Kota, Sriganga Nagar, where SMEs are keen and they have smart phones. They have the aspiration.
How has your international business been?
We have just started with Malaysia. We want to go out to Middle East, Vietnam and African countries like Nigeria.
Any plans for European market?
Not yet. It will take some time.
Now we will talk about investors or NRIs who want to invest in India; how can askme help them?
As I said we really concentrate on the SME segment and there are good things to work in the SME segment. In the last two years, lots of players such as Amazon have forayed in India that have been concentrating on SMEs. With NRIs, askme really leads them find whatever they want to. But I think, the new government’s initiatives of empowering the SMEs can be a big push.
How do you see these government initiatives here?
I think the government initiatives are pretty aggressive. The government is pretty keen that the internet and the IT are used to empower that and we are in a good position to do that.
Last six months have seen many initiatives like Make in India and Digital India, how can this help in booming the SMEs and at the same time internet penetration and the businesses of players like askme?
If there is a small business setting in a place like Chattisgarh and Chattisgarh artisans are making something which they want to sell all over India, the best way for him or her is to just put it online and we will make it discoverable for you sitting in Delhi who would never or rarely go to Chattisgarh. Our job is to provide all India market place to every entrepreneur in India.
What are the challenges prevailing in the market?
Challenges are pretty high. The challenge is to convince SMEs that whatever they are paying, they are getting a return on investment. We have to constantly provide them customer service and ensure that they see the value of the business.
What are your future plans and where do you see askme in next five years?
We really want to make askme the SME place for India where any SME can come, put up a listing and open up a store, put out a deal with anybody across the country.
And, what would be your offerings?
It keeps happening. The statistics is that 70 per cent of people access internet through their mobiles so we would look out for better, speedy and easier apps in the next 3-4 years.