Remember that first time you moved out of your home for college or a job? The homesickness, the longing to see familiar shores is something that never goes away. And if you spot a regional snack or handicraft in a big city, you can’t help getting nostalgic. As migrants hop from city to city in search of better opportunities, they never seek to long for familiar sights and smells.
The A, B, C
While many of us would give an arm or leg to take the first flight back home, entrepreneur Purba Kalita and her co-founders Vishwa Vijay Singh and Pramod Rao saw a business opportunity and the result was Salebhai. It takes a migrant to gauge another migrant’s mindset. For the longest time, Kalita remembers shuttling between cities as both her parents were doctors. A career in journalism and being married to an Army officer necessitated that she shift base every few years. But what sparked the career move? “I have always been open to taking risks and after journalism, I wanted something different. After my husband retired, I started working with Flipkart. During my stint with the e-commerce platform, I realised the huge market there is for regional products.”
Home Is Where Opportunity Is
“I grew up in Assam but couldn’t get Assamese products in Delhi, Mumbai or Gujarat. Salebhai was founded with an aim to cater to the needs of the migrant population,” said the 43-year-old entrepreneur. Purba says that while she had never thought she could be an entrepreneur but it was her husband’s support that convinced her otherwise. While Kalita handles the content and communications, Singh looks after sales and market and Rao supervise Salebhai’s IT operations. Moreover, the three co-founders of Salebhai are migrants themselves.
An Uphill Climb
The road to success was never easy. There was a time when Purba and the two other co-founders of Salebhai found it difficult to convince traders about the viability of their business model. “It was difficult to make them agree about the margins we were offering. We had to explain to them that they did not have to maintain a storage capacity or employ a separate workforce and yet earn the margin,” says Kalita. The one challenge that continues to be a concern for Salebhai, three years after it launched operations, is logistics. With a network of over 150 sellers across 70 cities, Purba says it’s challenging to strike a balance between quality and quantity while transporting a product made in the narrow bylanes of a remote town in Sikkim to the plush lanes of Delhi’s Defence Colony. For their part, Salebhai ensures that they only deal with FSSAI certified traders and that the product is made only after an order is placed. “We cherry-pick our sellers,” said the mother of two.
Here To Stay
Talking about how the trio manages to keep competition at bay, Kalita says that while other e-commerce websites might offer similar products, Salebhai was the only website offering a wide range of products which included handicrafts, accessories and regional snacks. “Moreover, there is a difference of approach, ours is a more holistic approach. Our focus is on a migrant’s sentiments.” Salebhai is adding around 4,000-5,000 customers every month and hopes to reach the one-lakh-mark by the end of the year. “The seed capital came from the promoters. As the company grew, I’ve seen customers expressing their interest to invest in Salebhai,” said Kalita.
Image credit: SheThePeople