Salebhai.com is an e-commerce marketplace that enables consumers to order a range of specialities directly from their hometowns and discover regional specialities from across India. Purba Kalita, the co-founder of Salebhai, manages the business development team, helping them sift through various products to handpick one-of-a-kind offerings that best define a region’s speciality and its migrant communities’ needs.
BE’s Varsha Singh spoke to Purba Kalita regarding the space for women in the emerging start-up space and on the challenges that she had to face.
Q. A number of women entrepreneurs are emerging in the start-up sector. What in your opinion is attracting women to the sector?
A. The main driving force is the same as for men. It is the passion to see their ideas converted into something concrete and a conviction in their abilities to solve real problems. With the government encouraging India’s start-up ecosystem and with the emerging presence of suitable platforms, more entrepreneurs are surfacing across the country. As far as women founders are concerned, they are a brave new tribe that are not only exemplifying independence but also doing so on their own terms.
Q. What made you come up with Salebhai? How successful has it been since 2015? How many women have got jobs through this and how does it work?
A. Data on migration in the 2011 Census reveal that two out of every five Indians are migrants. Migration not only creates a void in people’s lives but also incurs a market gap because of the lack of original products from their hometowns. We decided to launch Salebhai.com to take people back to their roots by focusing on the requirements of over 17 diaspora communities spread across India and abroad. With products sourced from over 100 cities and 350 select sellers, the company provides people with an opportunity to buy products in various categories from sellers across India.
Till December 2017, we had achieved a Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) of Rs 3 crore and revenue of Rs 1.1 crore. We have at least 60% women in our workforce. While our main office is in Ahmedabad, many in the marketing, business development, and content and communications team who are mostly women work from across India.
Q. In the US, the percentage of women founders in the start-up sector is estimated to be around 18% but in India only 9% of start-ups were founded or co-founded by women. What do you think is the reason behind this?
A. A big part of Indian society still operates under the impression that women’s education and careers are expendable. Marriage and children take precedence after a certain age. Things will change when society understands the necessity of women’s inclusion in the economy and provides them with equal opportunities.
Q. What, according to you, is woman empowerment?
A. Self-reliance. It is absolutely necessary to equip yourself to earn a livelihood, own your life and be responsible for it and that is regardless of how much your father, husband, or anyone in the family earns.
Q. What major problems do women face when establishing a start-up business?
A. I think it is the absence of a strong support system. Starting a business that would take long hours and enormous pressure is not an easy decision to make. Secondly, not all entrepreneurs - let alone women - start off on an equal footing. Not everyone has the privilege of education in elite institutions, strong communication or networking skills, or access to basic technology to start off their businesses.
Q. How are women positioned in India when it comes to starting a business on their own? What have been your struggles?
A. The start-up space is rapidly transforming and its industry interface is increasing rapidly. Companies such as Salebhai.com are becoming launch pads for women entrepreneurs, who in turn are empowering women by generating employment opportunities.
When you join a company, you are required to play a particular role. But when you start your own, you have to get involved in everything. It ranges from doing what you did as a rookie at the beginning of your career to handling top-level functions and everything in between. Then there is the challenge associated with building your team.
Q. Women-owned start-ups receive significantly less investor funding. Only 2% of all equity funding raised in 2017 went to start-ups with women founders. Your comments.
A. When you note that only 9% of start-ups have women founders or co-founders, 2% funding does not seem too stark in comparison. However, in the larger picture, the start-up ecosystem is a competitive one and to be weighed down by archaic gender stereotypes can do both investors and start-ups a lot of harm. Women are building amazing businesses with brilliant ideas and that should be the trigger for funding.
Q. Do you have a message for the women who are planning to do something big on their own?
A. You need conviction to stay the course. Have faith in yourself and your team. Be patient. Think long and hard about your plan, but once you’ve decided - go all in. Like Arianna Huffington says, “You have to do what you dream of doing even while you’re afraid.”