This Y Combinator startup makes it easy to sell on Facebook and WhatsApp


Meesho team PHOTO: MEESHO

Meesho team PHOTO: MEESHO

A curious phenomenon occurred in India during the past few years as the smartphone wave swept the country. The mom and pop stores that dotted its towns and cities skipped the usual ecommerce and landed right into Facebook and WhatsApp – the two social spheres where India converses, debates, and simply hangs out.

Artistic housewives, creative prodigies, and fun hobbyists also found Facebook and WhatsApp perfect lanes to set up shops, invite friends to take a peek at what was on sale, like and comment on them if interested, and then close the sale offline. Here’s where Vidit Aatrey and Sanjeev Barnwal, pals since their college days at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, spotted a big opportunity. The new shopkeepers on Facebook and WhatsApp could do with some help in running their business, the duo figured. So they built some mobile tech tools for it. And their startup Meesho won the backing of Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator.

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In India, we know that small businesses would be traders and remain traders.

Meesho founders Vidit Aatrey Sanjeev Barnwal at Y Combinator

PHOTO COURTESY: Y COMBINATOR

Now as Meesho graduates from Y Combinator Summer ‘16 batch, the startup is launching its full suite of tools and also announcing a round of funding from Indian angel investors VH Capital, Kashyap Deorah, Rajul Garg, Investopad founders Arjun and Rohan Malhotra, Maninder Gulati, Abhishek Jain, and Jaspreet Bindra.

“India is not like China, which has millions of manufacturers. There, Alibaba could just put it all together and sell it to the whole world. In India, we know that small businesses would be traders and remain traders. You can’t make them manufacturers or weavers who will make unique stuff and sell,” Vidit says.

“So, what we can do for these small businesses is to help them do trading easily – procure supplies easily, let them display their products to their customer base, and sell to their customers easily. That’s what we are working on,” he explains.

Vidit and Sanjeev got these insights the hard way – from their own experience founding and running a hyperlocal fashion marketplace, FashNear.

Vidit and Sanjeev started FashNear in July 2015. It was a mobile app where you could see offline shops around you selling fashion merchandise. You could pick all you wanted to try, get them delivered at home for trial, and then buy what you picked. Sounds great, isn’t it? Not really, Vidit and Sanjeev soon found out.

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India is not like China, which has millions of manufacturers.

Indian shoppers online expect huge discounts. That’s the big lure ecommerce companies have been using to coax doubting customers to buy online. From Amazon to Myntra, everyone’s running some kind of sale all year round. But offline stores can’t afford that – especially not small businesses. They sell on MRP (maximum retail price), except once or twice a year.

“We realised that when we put the products on an app, most consumers would simply compare it with other fashion apps like Myntra. For them, an app is just an app – even though the products with heavy discounts on Myntra would be that of season minus one or season minus two – basically old stuff – and when you buy from shops around you, that means all of it is fresh stuff which aren’t discounted. Users don’t realise this. They ask, why no discount?” Vidit tells Tech in Asia.

That’s why Vidit and Sanjeev decided to change tack. “Meesho is a different product but we still say we pivoted because we work with the same kind of sellers – small businesses. But the difference is they are online purely on Facebook and WhatsApp,” Vidit explains.

Meesho aims to solve some specific problems of Facebook and WhatsApp sellers.

For instance, those who sell on Facebook want their customers to like their page, see their new products when pictures are published, and stay in touch for future products. But you’d know that Facebook is constantly refining its algorithm to try and clean up your newsfeed to show only posts most likely to be relevant. Sellers who realise this will add you to their WhatsApp group. But again, ou are likely to quit such groups after a short while.

“While new buyers might be joining these groups, the same number of people are leaving too. Too much spam, too much data hogging, too many notifications… Every new product requires a separate notification and pictures of products sent through WhatsApp eat up the memory on a customer’s phone. So the customer base of these sellers never really grew,” says Vidit. This is one problem Meesho claims to solve.

The whole shopping process can be initiated and closed on chat.

Another is payments. There are enough payments startups, gateways, and wallets. So Meesho is not getting into that. “What we do is attach the small online sellers’ shops to payment gateways so that they can close the sales through debit or credit cards, net banking, or other digital payment methods available in India.”

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Here’s how Meesho works: if you sign up on Meesho as a seller, it would ask for the Facebook page you run your business from. Then it will show you options linked to your Facebook, and you can automatically input all the information related to your business – name, logo, pictures of products, and so on. You don’t have to manually enter anything on Facebook and WhatsApp because your shop is mobile ready. “Instead of adding customers to a WhatsApp group, you can tell them to subscribe to your shop. When users subscribe to a shop, they will get one update at 11 o’clock in the morning in Facebook messenger as a carousel of products,” Vidit explains.

Sellers can start a chat on WhatsApp with their customers from the Meesho app. Meesho has integrated with Facebook Messenger bot API. “The whole shopping process can be initiated and closed on chat,” Vidit says. To close a sale, the seller can share a payment link on WhatsApp and accept payments by all major digital payment methods in India.

Meesho also runs some tools for analytics. “We have basically built a whole infrastructure for sellers on Facebook and WhatsApp.”

This article originally appeared on Tech in Asia


Original news : http://tribune.com.pk/story/1165114/y-combinator-startup-makes-easy-sell-facebook-whatsapp/