American philanthropist and entrepreneur Marie Forleo once said, “Never start a business just to make money. Start a business to make a difference.”
National Institute of Technology, Raipur alumni Kamal Anandani and Amitesh Sahu have followed that to the T.
Starting their careers with TCS in 2008, Kamal and Amitesh gained years of corporate experience in India and abroad. However, they felt compelled to start something of their own to have an impact on the ‘real India’.
In August 2021, they founded Mumbai-headquarteredto enable homepreneurs, many of whom are women, to access the local market. The B2B platform, which first started operations in Nagpur, also provides them with logistics, payment, and package assistance to help them sell their products.
“Our aim was to help small businesses—that focus was very near and dear to us. We left our cushy jobs to start Saral because that’s exactly what we wanted to do—make a difference,” says co-founder Amitesh in a conversation with HerStory.
Before launching Saral, the founders had been helping homepreneurs with mini-ERP solutions through Fiducia Labs Pvt Ltd, which they launched in 2018. Saral, as a brand, is part of the legal entity Fiducia Labs Private Limited.
“With our solution, women were able to manage their entire business from the app itself, which we had deployed on Google Play Store,” says co-founder Kamal.
However, COVID-19 turned things around.
On one hand, the pandemic saw many women homepreneurs in metros rise to prominence, serving their communities, as well as COVID-19 patients, with delectable and healthy homemade food at a time when restaurants and takeaways had to close shutters overnight. However, in Tier II and III regions, many such businesses came to a complete standstill.
The founders had been hearing back from these entrepreneurs who did not find any more use for the company’s solutions. So, Kamal and Amitesh started brainstorming, sought feedback on improvising their business plan, and decided to expand into physical sales.
“We reached out to our users and explained to them the concept of simplifying the going-to-market process. We suggested improving the packaging—because whatever looks good will sell faster—and then took samples of the homepreneurs’ products to local retail outlets. We also offered to help them with basic regulatory requirements like acquiring FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) registration, etc,” he explains.
The newly-branded Saral platform’s team ensured that the products always had the sellers’ names, branding, and contact details. The company decided to only take a commission if actual sales were booked, and did not levy any additional charges.
The concept quickly caught on, and Saral expanded to Raipur in February this year, followed by Bhilai in August, and Indore earlier this month. According to Kamal, in the last year alone, the company recorded a GMV (Gross Merchandise Value) of over Rs 35 lakh, with over 100 homepreneurs on board.
Besides Saral, Kamal and Amitesh also run GetUnion—a marketplace that provides collateral-free unsecured business loans to SMEs in India by invoice financing.
“Fiducia Labs Pvt Ltd has two product lines—Get Union, which currently is cashflow positive, and Saral. The latter is mainly funded by Fiducia and is currently bootstrapped,” Kamal informs.
Saral currently has an employee base of 25, along with 1,500 retail partners.
Saral asks for two basic requirements from its clients—products need to be packaged properly, and the labels need to be FSSAI-registered.
In India, FSSAI registration is mandatory for those who manufacture or sell food items either themselves or via a retailer, hawker, itinerant vendor, or temporary stall owner. While the FSSAI license is mandatory for large-scale businesses, for small-scale operators, having an FSSAI registration will also work.
One of the women homepreneurs who availed the platform’s services is Manisha Katariya, whose brand Navkaar Naturally Homemade sells products like pickles, spice powders (dabeli masala, sweet corn masala, cheese popcorn masala, peri-peri masala etc), cake premixes, juices, and syrups. She started by putting up stalls in exhibitions, malls and melas but couldn’t find a way to scale her business. Saral helped her with a prominent retail presence in Nagpur.
Rekha Kushwaha is part of Udaan Swa Sahayta Samuh (a self-help group in Raipur) which comprises teachers who provide home tuition and also teach in government schools. They also get together to manufacture snacks like Indian namkeen and papad.
She says the group got in touch with Saral to upgrade their sales. “Once we were on board, we got an overwhelming response from people and relatives after seeing our products on the shelves of the local supermarkets. We expect some massive sales this festive season,” Rekha exalts.
Saral, currently present in four cities, is expected to soon expand to Bhopal and Mumbai’s suburbs of Vasai/Virar. While the platform only deals with FMCG products as of now, there are plans for category expansion to handmade crafts and other products.