For the 25-year old employee of a logistics and infrastructure firm in Mumbai, it was disturbing to see the opaqueness and inefficiency of the logistics industry, especially when India spends around 14 per cent of its GDP on logistics as opposed to 9 per cent for developed countries. Sreenivas Saba sensed the immense untapped potential in this industry that is suffering due to lack of infrastructure, technology and their associated inefficiencies.
Saba was on a lookout for a business model that could bridge the gap in understanding between customers and companies by bringing in some transparency, which eventually led to eCourierz. It is an online marketplace for the courier and express industry that helps people make informed choices by providing them with the best and cheapest options. It also helps courier and express companies connect to the audience by enabling them to present their best offerings in the market based on trade lane, industry or customer profile.
A customer can search, based on their origin and destination city or pin code and can compare various courier options based on delivery dates and pick up options. Then, the customer can choose to schedule a free pick up from home and pay online or through cash on pickup. The company is planning to launch an app on the Android platform this month.
Even buying a domain name was too costly
“The first thing I did was to get a name for the website and register a domain. I had liked ecouriers.com, but the price for this domain name was US$80,000. For a while, I was in despair and thought that if I couldn’t even buy a domain name, how will I launch an entire business. I kept trying variations of the name till I arrived on eCourierz.com, which was for just US$10,” said Saba, Founder and CEO.
Since Saba did not have any technical background, he started to search for a person with whom he could partner with to start eCourierz. Eventually, he got three friends on board, who had experience in building tech platforms and logistics sales, in an advisory capacity. While his friends would guide him on the various technical and logistical challenges, he still needed developers to help make the platform.
Between April and July 2014, Saba hired 14 interns from Anna University to build the website and the mobile app. Though it was less expensive, it had its difficulties in terms of delays. “In order to find the best talent on campus, I held a hackathon at Anna University a few months ago as a result of which I found some fantastic students who helped me build the particular features I wanted for eCourierz,” Saba said.
On the domestic front, it is active in Mumbai, Indore and Bhopal. The international service is available in all these cities and Chennai as well.
The courier companies are the main advocates on the marketing side, as they see the need for a digital representation and solution for their business.
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The startup is bootstrapped and it generates revenue via fee-for-service model, wherein eCourierz is paid a commission every time a booking is made on the website.
Competition in the market
There are a few websites in the market that are trying to do similar things as eCourierz such as ParcelFly and Dynamic Parcel. parcel2go.com offers international courier services and has its main focus on ecommerce deliveries. “I guess that the biggest competitors we face today in the retail segment are the telephone search engines (Just Dial, Sulekha and askme) that people use to get in touch with courier companies,” explained Saba.
The startup is active on social and digital media, as the primary channel for its discovery is online. In addition, it is present on various online platforms related to trade, SMEs and telephone search engines to get customers on board.
“There is of course a strong offline component as well where we try to do enterprise sales to various companies that can give us volume in booking couriers, be it through tie ups with courier booking agents, concierge services or with actual companies themselves,” Saba stated.
Customers think of us as another courier company
The biggest challenge for Saba was to gain credibility in the eyes of the customer, especially being a new company and service. “The customer thinks of us as another courier company and not as a tech-focussed aggregator… We are held accountable if the courier company gets something wrong, as the customer assumes that we are the same entity as the courier companies. We even have people calling us and asking for the status of the booking with a particular courier company even without booking through our website,” Saba said.
eCourierz deals with many courier companies with different IT systems and technological capabilities. So if a courier company does not have a good tracking system or if they don’t update their files to reflect tracking, the blame often falls on the startup. “How we can empower courier companies technologically and connect them to the retail audience is a challenge and an opportunity,” he added.
Launching the service in Singapore and Malaysia
The company plans to launch the website and the app across India in a phased manner and check resonance with various groups of customers to achieve a product-market fit.
Over the next few months, it is planning to launch in Singapore and Malaysia. “We think that the market there is more evolved and receptive to such a solution. Secondly, as the tech platform has already been built and as tech is outsourced to India, the main requirement for expansion would be sales and marketing for the platform in any future geographies,” he concluded.