IMPHAL: Driven by young entrepreneurs, start-ups in Manipur are rising to the occasion to home deliver essential items and groceries, overcoming myriad challenges during the lockdown in the absence of major players likes BigBasket, Grofers, Amazon in the state.
Malemm, FoodWifi, Hummingbird are among the app-based start-ups which have been granted permission by the state government to carry out home deliveries during the lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which has also accelerated their business expansion plans.
Langam Lukram, the founder of Malemm, had returned to Manipur after graduating in business administration from Middlesex University, UK to take up organic farming and home deliveries of the produce.
The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has made him tweak his original plan a bit to meet the overwhelming needs of consumers.
"When we started, it was meant to be for home delivery of only organic vegetables. We had tied up with around seven farmers and grew different types of vegetables in a chemical-free manner," Lukram told PTI.
However, things changed suddenly after the lockdown.
"Initially, we were doing just about 20 deliveries per day as we started in a small way with plans to double that by end of March. After the lockdown, we suddenly received around 600 calls for order in a single day, which we were in no position to fulfil," the 22-year-old said.
The company decided to restrict to taking around 200 orders, and started deliveries with a small team.
However, executing those deliveries continued till late evenings.
"Then we ran into supply issues as our organic vegetables stock ran out and had to pause our deliveries for two days. With demand for just vegetables, not necessarily organic ones, rising, we expanded our sourcing and now we are delivering even normally grown vegetables as well," Lukram said.
He added that Malemm would like to get back to its original core business of growing and home delivering organic foods, once the coronavirus crisis is over.
Similarly, Kennedy Oinam, co-founder of FoodWifi, also had to adapt to the dynamic situation.
"We are basically food delivery service providers through tie-ups with restaurants. When the lockdown happened we had to accelerate our plans to diversify into home delivery of groceries and essential items," said Oinam, whose father took voluntary retirement to build capital to fund his son's entrepreneurial dreams.
During the lockdown, he said FoodWifi has been fulfilling around 80-100 deliveries per day despite several challenges.
"One of our biggest challenges was that of delivery personnel, as parents of our staff were reluctant to let their sons go out our during the health crisis. So, my co-founder Bickychand Khangjarakpam and I, we started doing it after hiring a van. In the following days more staff joined us," said the young entrepreneur who once worked as a chef in a local restaurant from where he got the idea of doing home delivery of food.
The other hurdle was that of inventory as distributors were open only on alternate days, Oinam said, adding "we had to stand in long queues to get items and we could only sell what we could get from the distributors, limiting the choice for our customers".
"Also, our delivery boys despite having permits were stopped many times by local police when they went out as there is lack of clarity in the interpretation of orders from authorities," he added.
Hummingbird co-founder Fisher Laishram said getting approval from authorities in itself was a time-consuming process, but once that was done it was all about getting the staff trained about following health and hygiene protocols while delivering at doorsteps during the coronavirus crisis.
"We have also faced problems with delivery personnel as people are reluctant to venture out during these times," said Laishram, who spent seven years in New York for higher studies and also honed skills of running start-up during his stint with Sprinklr.
At present, Hummingbird is handling about 80 food orders on an average, he said adding fuel availability has also been a huge hurdle with many of the petrol pumps closed during the lockdown.
Despite the challenges, as Oinam puts it, apart from the business aspect, it is about being able to help people in the times of crisis that has been more fulfilling.
"Some people blessed us, some wished us good luck and many advised us to stay safe and follow strict hygiene protocol out of concern for us and we really appreciate that," he signed off with a smile.