Sonakshi Naithani from Raipur and Ashutosh Singla from Karnal first met as classmates in 2011 at IIIT (International Institute of Information Technology) Hyderabad. From the first year of college, working on several projects together, the two computer science engineers formed a good team and became fast friends.
After college, Sonakshi worked as a software engineer in Hyderabad for three years. On the other hand, Ashutosh moved to Canada and worked with US-headquartered HR startup Zenfits and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s paid startup Square.
Although both of them were happy with their jobs, but they were missing something. Both found their jobs “very easy” and never felt they were “challenged enough”. Speaking of that period, Sonakshi recalled that “We always wondered what would happen next?”
Both knew they wanted to set up their own tech company and had some startup ideas, but were not really sure who to start with.
With a bold move the two quit their jobs by October 2018, as they felt that if they continued with these jobs, the idea of starting would probably never come. Around the end of 2018, Sonakshi was back in her hometown Raipur, where her family has its own real estate business building residential colonies and also a grocery store, when that big moment happened to them.
This grocery store is an integral part of this story as Sonakshi’s (26) and Ashutosh’s (25) startup Bikai which soon turned into a profit and managed to raise $ 2 million in funding, started right here.
Unlike Sonakshi, Ashutosh does not come from a business family. His mother was a teacher, while his father worked in the state irrigation department in Haryana.
“These people (store staff) started taking orders on WhatsApp. Regular customers were sending messages for desired items on chat, but it was going to take a long time to check the order and check the inventory. ”
Sonakshi calls Ashutosh and tells him about the problem. He started looking for solutions and found Shopify. The Canadian e-commerce company helps entrepreneurs scale and manage their online stores. There were other options, says Sonakshi, but none of them were “very easy” to bring merchants along.
Sonakshi says, “In March 2019, we said why not help it and build it. Order management and catalogue management were where we primarily wanted to help. We said let’s quickly create an app where merchants can place their items. We started posting about the app in wholesaler groups on Facebook. ”
On 1 April 2019 the duo officially launched their startup Bikai, which allows small businesses to quickly and easily build their online stores with all the necessary tools to manage e-commerce on WhatsApp.
“Our primary customer doing any business on WhatsApp is a grocery store, wholesaler, manufacturer, retailer, restaurant or bakery.”
The Bikayi app has both free and premium subscription-based offerings, starting at Rs 1,999 and going up to Rs 7,999 per year. Membership includes the ability to generate discount promo codes, various themes, analytics access and more.
Benefit in two employees
The startup was initially launched with a personal savings of about Rs 7 lakh to the co-founders. By July 2020, the company was run by four people, two co-founders, a young customer service executive and a new engineer from IIT Kharagpur.
By January, they were successful in making the Hyderabad-based startup profitable. Last month it announced its round of $ 2 million seed fund from a group of international investors, including Grammy Award-winning American electronic DJ and music producer duo Chansmokers’ early-stage funds Mentis Ventures, Y Combinator and Pioneer Fund.
The Hyderabad-based B2B (business-to-business) company was part of the first virtual summer batch of 2020 of renowned startup accelerator Y Combinator, along with 13 other startups in India.
Interestingly, Bikai only applied for this program, as it was operated ‘remotely’ this year. The California-based accelerator operates two batches annually – winter (January through March) and summer (June through August). This is the first time it went remote due to COVID-19 restrictions.
According to Sonakshi, merchants are transacting daily transactions in excess of Rs 2 crore on the Bikai platform in 3,000 towns in India. While the coronavirus epidemic has wreaked havoc on most businesses across industries, the Hyderabad-based startup has actually managed to get through the crisis.
“The pace of adoption of the platform by mom-and-pop stores has increased during the epidemic,” says Sonakshi.
From 25,000 merchants on its platform in July, it numbers 85,000 in September. The startup expects the number to reach one million by December. The company’s revenue has also grown rapidly during this period. According to the founder, the month-over-year revenue is registering a growth of about 125 percent, with an increase of about 25 percent by month.
The startup formed its team with 10 new members in July. Now it wants to strengthen the team by taking a 45 lead by October. It plans to take the platform internationally by January 2021 with a primary focus on emerging markets.
The Bikayi App is available for download on the Google Play Store. It has seen 60 percent organic downloads. According to the company, about 3.5 million customers visit the platform every month.
No fear of Amazon and Reliance Industries
As far as competition for young startups is concerned, it exists in the form of corporate giants Amazon and Reliance Industries.
In June, Amazon India announced the launch of smart stores, which would allow mom-and-pop ‘stores to have digital storefronts. Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries’ eCommerce platform Geomart is also working on digitalizing the grocery. Interestingly, Geomart has also tied up with WhatsApp to digitally transact with customers in its neighbourhood.
According to Sonakshi,
“We are not afraid of Jeff Bezos and Mukesh Ambani. The insights we have gained now have helped us build confidence. Of course they have massive capital and reach, but onboarding (traders) is a difficult task, which we have mastered well. ”
‘Why can’t other people replicate the platform you’ve built?’ She says “anyone can do it”. However, he is willing to connect that the software front has an edge in sales and an early mover advantage.
Sonakshi says, “As long as they (the opponent) do what we are doing, we will reach the next level.”