With the proliferation of ecommerce companies in the fruit and vegetable (FnV) sector, it’s easy to order what you want from the convenience of your homes.
However, several people, especially in smaller towns, still like to shop for fruits and vegetables from the unorganised sector, mainly from pushcart vendors. They prefer to go the old-fashioned way, snapping a bhindi to check for freshness, feeling the plumpness of the tomatoes, or checking the freshness of the palak.
Parul Saxena, Vishal Johri, and Rajesh Shringi decided to capitalise on this need by bringing the unorganised players to customers through an online medium with their Jaipur-based FnV startup Choix.
After working across several industries and cultures — from the US, Africa, to Singapore — Vishal, an IIT, IIM alumnus, and his wife Parul, who has extensive work experience in the telecom domain returned to India in 2019.
The husband-wife duo decided to settle in their hometown Jaipur intending to start up. They were joined by Vishal’s friend of 25 years, Rajesh Shringi, who has strong skills in merchandising, having worked with clients like IKEA, Target, and GAP.
Marrying tech with convenience
It was while in Singapore that Parul and Vishal toyed with the idea of starting something from scratch. Parul recollects that the pain point came from their own family.
“One day, while Vishal was talking to his mother, he found her complaining about how difficult and inconvenient it was for her to every time plan going out to buy vegetables. She could buy from any pushcart vendor who would turn up in the locality, but they were very irregular in terms of their time of arrival. She refused to use online platforms as she couldn’t dream of buying her veggies without touching and feeling them. That was the Eureka moment,” she tells HerStory.
The realisation dawned on the couple that a lot of customers in Tier II and III cities want to buy fruits and vegetables by physically checking them. However, none of the options they have at hand (online, organised retail, pushcarts, kirana stores, or wholesale market-mandis) offer convenience, reliability, and ability to pick and choose (touch and feel) all at the same time. This, Parul says, leads to a price-quality conundrum, inevitably leading to a sub-optimal purchase on matrix – ‘value for money.’
She explains, “Combining this idea with the thought that if street vendors who sell these items could be onboarded on a tech platform to get some readily available orders from customers, this would not only increase their earnings but also open a world of technology for them. If they had to be trained on the tech side, we would do that as well.”
Extending this logic to other street vendors as well, who are selling different categories of products but do not have a way of knowing where their customers are, thereby bringing the concept of shop-on-wheels for customers who seek it, looked pretty enticing to the co-founders, which led them to start up.
The trio chose Jaipur as it is the capital of Rajasthan with a considerable population, and has the sensibilities of both a big and a small town. The city also deemed fit, owing to its proximity to the National Capital Region.
“We have a very simple mission — to provide a tech platform to retail customers who would want to purchase FnVs conveniently, quickly, and with a reliability not altering their conventional style of buying of touching and feeling the purchase, as well as to FnVs ‘vendors-in-movement,’ thereby increasing their earnings and reducing hassles of looking out for customers,” she adds.
Providing visibility to products
Since the co-founders were new to the segment, they first studied the local mandi in Jaipur and ran a shop for some time to get the basics of numbers. They also onboarded a vendor to sell FnVs for them on an e-rickshaw that provided them with the required feedback on customers’ buying pattern. This, in turn, helped them familiarise with the trade.
At present, the FnV startup has a few vendors who purchase from it and sell to customers. Choix also helps the vendors with getting sales. In fact, the startup is all set to roll out its mobile application in March this year.
“We would be providing a tech platform to ‘vendors-in-movement,’ connecting them to their closest retail customer. As a minimum viable product, we would simply connect customers’ intent to purchase from FnV vendors in the area. We would also get vendors having other categories of products onboard – providing visibility of their complete range of products on our platform. This would also allow customers to choose the vendor they want to place their order from,” explains Parul.
“Our mobile tech platform is still under development, and we aim to roll it by March,” she adds.
Choix has about 200 customers onboard whom it presently serves through WhatsApp. As a test run, the startup is connecting customers to nearby vendors.
Once its mobile platform is up and running, Parul says, Choix would be quick in scaling up operations.
The co-founders have already invested close to Rs 23 lakh from their savings in the startup, and claim to clock monthly revenue of around Rs 3 lakh.
According to Parul, Choix would be earning a margin by procuring FnVs and giving it to vendors. For customers, it aims to have a subscription model by charging a convenience fee for connecting them to vendors. It will be charging a commission on total sales from vendors. In the long-run, it also wants to partner with farmers and explore the option of sharing profits.
Choix is part of the women entrepreneurs’ cohort at the Atal Innovation Mission (AIC), Banasthali Vidyapith.
After a few months into Choix’s incorporation, the co-founders faced some challenges in operations. However, Parul says, the trying times taught them prudence, patience, and perseverance.
After launching its application in March, Choix aims to onboard around 40 mobile vendors across five distribution centres in Jaipur by the end of 2021.
“In parallel, we also aim to keep on looking for more ‘vendors-in-movement’ from other categories of products and get them on board to create a basket of many more products readily available on the platform for customers. By the end of five years, we aim to be present in at least 15 cities in India,” Parul says.
“If you have a great idea and an appetite for some risk-taking, just jump in, and am sure you’ll find your way through entrepreneurship. As a community, women should always try to help out other women – even from different walks of life. In our case, we are committed that we would do all to take in as many women vendors as possible on board our platform,” she adds.