Clicks of Change
With Internet penetration almost doubling in recent years, new Internet based services have sprung up in the country promising to simplify our lives. Here are three new companies to watch which can transform our lifestyle. With innovative integration of information technology into our everyday lives, they may bring changes that might eventually be inevitable.
Geared Up for Delivery: ktmcouriers.com
Sajan Singh Suwal and his sister Smriti Suwal have started a new kind of courier service in Kathmandu with a potential to revolutionize the courier service industry in Nepal. KTM Couriers employs “runners” and “dispatches” traveling on bicycles to pick-up and deliver packages anywhere within the city. This means whether you need to pay electricity bills or send away your laundry, deliver office documents or acquire your prescriptions, a reliable and efficient service is just a call or a click away.
The idea: Sajan, himself a biker and an avid musician, saw a similar system at work while he was in New York City. The ‘bike messengers’ are employed by courier companies in many major cities around the world to transport items in core areas of the metropolis since bicycles are less subject to delays caused by traffic jams and parking limitations in areas with congested roads and heavy traffic. Where else can such service be more valuable than in Kathmandu where businesses are growing and people are becoming busier with no time to be stuck in traffic or getting lost in a labyrinth of gallies?
The snag: Unlike many other major cities around the world, Kathmandu does not have a grid system. People often rely on landmarks making it much harder to locate houses accurately. So the biggest challenge for Sajan is to be able to make deliveries at exact and accurate locations. He is currently working with Glassdust Solutions -an IT company also run by him, to integrate GPS into his system so that the pick-up/delivery locations can be determined through GPS coordinates without having to rely on traditional address system.
The vision: KTM Couriers is still in its testing and development phase. Currently it provides delivery services within Kathmandu, in and around Ring Road, in prices ranging from Rs. 50 for 1 day delivery to Rs 150 for 1 hour delivery. Sajan’s vision for the company’s future is much bigger than this. He hopes to employ a fully automated system that will track all delivery orders, locate runners using GPS and assign pick-up and delivery errands, saving time and cutting down costs. Once the technology is fully developed and tested out, he hopes that the company will be doing deliveries for small and big businesses as well as ordinary individuals in the city and expand beyond Kathmandu. The company’s goal is to be fully accountable for quick and dependable service to its customers.
Farms to Fridges: metrotarkari.com
The next time your fridge runs out of supplies you may be able to avoid the trip to the tarkari bazaar. Metro Vibes – an established IT solutions company – has opened a new shopping portal through which you can have your groceries delivered right at your doorstep at the same price as at your local grocers’ market.
The idea: Online grocery shopping is quite common in many big cities around the world including in our neighboring country India. The team led by Anil Basnet, CEO of Metro-Vibes, thought of introducing this concept to Kathmandu where e-commerce has been slowly expanding. Anil and his team decided that to have an impact on the market and an impression on the clients, the prices of groceries had to remain comparable to the local market prices without any compromise on the quality. The scheme was to make deliveries without any delivery charges. The trick was to eliminate the series of middlemen between the source and the consumers. According to Suraj Acharya, Marketing Executive at Metro-Vibes, grocery items like oranges pass through six to seven different dealers before making it to Kathmandu’s homes from farms in Ramechhap. Making deals directly with the farming cooperatives could not only make up for the delivery costs but also bring more profit to the farmers.
The Snag: Here was a staff of IT professionals dipping their feet into the strange waters of the grocery trade. As they began dealing with suppliers at the Kalimati and Balkhu grocery markets, they came to realize that highly erratic grocery pricings, that tend to vary within the course of a single day even within the same market-place, were going to be problematic. The presence of multiple dealers with a range of pricing for the same item has made it difficult to keep the online pricing up to date. The team is currently doing its research on the economics of Kathmandu’s grocery market to come up with a solution.
Another major hurdle was general consumer practice. We are still used to buying our vegetables from local vendors. Irrespective of the price tags they just seem more affordable than anything sealed and packaged ordered online. It takes time to change habits but the team hopes to begin by building a solid base of satisfied customers who will help to promote the brand and spread the culture.
The Vision: According to Anil, clients who have extremely busy schedules have been the most appreciative. Besides, most regular clients actually live abroad and have been using the website to buy groceries for their family members in Kathmandu. The website has recently added an online payment option through Paypal as an alternative to cash-on-delivery.
The ultimate aim is to bring grocery items directly from the farms to the doorsteps of the customers. This means the company has to compete against the entire system on which the current grocery business runs. The team is aware of this challenge. Suraj says, “We don’t expect to make profit for at least the next 2-3 years. If we can break even with just the running costs, I’d consider that a success.”
Cleaning off the shelves: Sastobook.com
Thousands of college students have to buy new sets of books at the beginning of every new semester and these books literally become a burden after the semester is over. Sastobook.com is a website where you can buy as well as sell second hand books without taking the trouble to scour various bookstores.
The Idea: Subal Chitrakar, CEO of Sastobook, got the idea at an event organized by sastodeal.com, which features deals on restaurants, events, and items including books. Majority of the customers at Sastodeal were students who wanted cheaper deals on books and a way to get rid of the books they didn’t need anymore. So Subal pitched the idea for Sastobook, a website where book-sellers as well as individuals can sell new and second-hand books. The concept itself is not new. Websites like half.com also operate in a similar way. Sastobook is just a smaller version of it designed for the Nepali book market.
Through sastobook.com, users will be able to browse and compare prices offered by different merchants and individual sellers, and based on a few clicks have the desired books delivered to their homes. Similarly, they will also be able to upload information about book(s) they want to sell, and if any customer chooses to buy it, have it picked up from their homes and receive the payment. The company will keep a certain percentage of every transaction for the service.
The Snag: Sastobook may not have much trouble gathering customers, since its target users are going to be students who have more Internet penetration than the general population. The biggest challenge, according to Subal, is going to be pick-up/delivery navigation. Given the unsystematic addressing system in Nepal, problems like shipping delays may occur. Besides, building confidence among users is yet another hill to climb. This, as Subal envisions, will take time and depend on the quality of service the website delivers to its users.
The Vision: The website is still in the place-holder phase, promoting its services and gathering potential users. It already has more than a thousand registrations. The team is currently busy building a massive inventory of books and mustering book-sellers, wholesalers and retailers. Subal has high expectations for the future, “Sastobook is an easy alternative to making several rounds of trips to multiple book stores for cheap deals on books. Once the website is launched, we believe it will be welcomed especially by students.”
Sastobook plans to operate in the whole of Nepal, which means if you have access to the Internet from anywhere in the country, you can get the book of your choice (at the price of your choice) sent right to your address. There are big geographical barriers that have deprived large section of people in rural areas from having access to books that are only available in big cities like Kathmandu. Subal’s Sastobook might just be the right bridge to bring a wealth of books to such less fortunate parts of the country.