A friend, whom all the females in Pune like to call their ‘own’ is PULA — Pune Ladies. The Facebook group that was started in July 2015, encapsulates its journey with its tagline — ‘From Me to We’. From supporting the small businesses of women entrepreneurs, to offering succour in times of grief and guidance to young mothers, PULA has walked the talk and now it plans to grow bigger taking along its verified sellers.
Sonia Agarwal Konjeti, who founded the group, says, “PULA has always worked towards supporting home-based, small scale entrepreneurs. We first started the PULA Bazaar group on Facebook, where the sellers could promote their businesses free of charge and make money. After that, we started the exhibitions where we could help the entrepreneurs sell their products on a larger platform. Then came our website, pulapuneladies.com, which has the directory of our verified sellers. Our next step has been to launch an app — PULA Bazaar Plus, which benefits all PULA sellers and service providers to manage and organise their existing business process.”
What it entails for the sellers
The necessity for the app, available on iOS and android phones, was felt when Konjeti had interactions with the entrepreneurs about the challenges they faced. “Whenever I would meet these entrepreneurs at different events, I would have a chat with them to understand how we could help them grow and what were the difficulties faced by them. Their mode of work was something like this — if a client wanted a bag or a watch, the sellers would send a lot of pictures (maybe about 40-50 of them) on WhatsApp. If the buyer didn’t like the collection, they would send some more images. And, if the buyer liked a product, the seller would deliver it and wait for the payment,” says Konjeti.
The former trainer at TCS realised that this process would put a lot of strain on the buyers — using the internet to download and then browsing through so many images. There were hurdles in the delivery process too. It often took long, or it turned out to be an expensive process for the buyers, because if the product was, say of Rs 300, the delivery charges were in the range of Rs 50-100. Often, the payments wouldn’t be made on time and the sellers would have to do frequent follow-ups. Konjeti also realised that the entrepreneurs don’t do proper book keeping — like keeping track of which product sells more, or in which month they made profit and so on.
“We thought, ‘let’s design a sellers’ app’. Once the seller registers on it, they can create their profile, they own a space in which they can upload 200 images of products, of, say watches. So when there is a request for a watch from a buyer, the lady can send a link directly to the person. They don’t need to download the app. Once the buyer decides to buy a particular watch, s/he has to make the payment first, which will be with us. We will transfer it to the seller only when the buyer ticks on the ‘received’ option (that means the product has been delivered). The PULA team will do the delivery in Pune and PCMC areas for a flat rate of Rs 30,” she says.
How it works
The entrepreneur has to pay Rs 250 per month for the business profile she has created on the app. Also, the entrepreneurs will not be able to keep track of what her co-businesswomen are selling, how much they are earning and so on. “Each seller will have their own profile. There is no competition. We are not like Amazon or Flipkart where 100 sellers are listed and there is a competition amongst them,” adds Konjeti.
Today, there are 6000 verified women entrepreneurs on PULA and out of them, the PULA Bazaar Plus has been opened to only 200 sellers. “We want to ascertain if the app is helping them meet the goals. In the first phase, we opened it for those who had physical products, in the second phase we are targeting at services like the medical and legal fraternity. We are also looking at salon businesses, mehendi artists, content writers and so on,” she points out.
Giving us statistics on how the platform is fuelling growth in times of economic uncertainty, Konjeti says, “The entrepreneurs are earning a minimum of Rs 5000 and a maximum of Rs 1 lakh and upwards per month. Even if we take an average of Rs 10,000 per seller, the 6000 sellers multiplied by Rs 10,000 is nearly Rs 60 crore.”
The way ahead
Next up is an app for men of Pune, which will be open to men doing small scale businesses. “We have many women sellers who support the businesses of their fathers, brothers and husbands. That’s why we thought we should open it for men of Pune as well. Once it works well, we would like to expand it to other cities in the country. But we want to smoothen out the delivery aspect first,” says Konjeti.
The PULA team also has plans to aggregate their products on their website. She emphasises that it’s not going to be an e-commerce platform, but an aggregator that will allow the buyer to compare prices and products of verified entrepreneurs. Surely, a boon for the buyer.