In talks with Anil Basnet, the CEO and founder of Metrotarkari

In talks with Anil Basnet, the CEO  and founder of Metrotarkari

Metrotarkari is an online grocery shop – a digital one-stop solution for groceries, dry consumables and agro based products – that was founded in 2012. Anil Basnet, a software engineer by education, started the company with a handful of people in an attempt to provide time-efficient and easy access to quality foods. Metrotarkari, apart from being the first online grocery shop of Nepal, is also the largest. At a time when a stream of e-commerce sites are mushrooming every other day,  Metrotarkari wants to stay true to its core values— legitimacy, problem solving and value addition to both customers and farmers. A company which started with three people, it now employs 28 people and serves more than 10,000 customers( including B2B, B2C and B2R). The variety of around 5000 products can be ordered through Metrotarkari.

Shreya Pokharel from StartupsNepal caught up with Anil Basnet, the founder and company’s chief executive ‘vendor’, to talk elaborately on the whys, hows, whens, and wheres for Metrotarkari.

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How did Metrotarkari initially start?

After my graduation in 2008, I worked for an IT company for two years, after which I founded Metrovibes to undertake outsourced tech and web related projects. While taking these projects, we thought of developing something internally from our company that could add value and brand to the lives of people. This was around 2012, the time when e-commerce was on the rise and big sites like Sastodeal and Kaymu were already the talk of the town. We were trying to think of a problem that we could solve in the local market through technology too.  Groceries and technology seemed to have a big scope at that time; no one had tapped that market either. It also resonated with me as my mother used to ask me to bring back vegetables everyday on my way back home. We had a company and we had a problem we could help solve now. And with Metrovibes, we started the selling of freshly stored vegetables in the Nepali market.

How do you keep prices of your produces competitive when consumers are used to the prices of wholesale vegetable markets like the one in Bagbazar or Kalimati?

It has been 6 years since our establishment and we still struggle to maintain a fair price of vegetables in the market. Farmers are usually paid too less and the end consumer ends up paying too high a price for the low cost vegetables. This happens because of all the intermediaries in between. We, however, have been working towards cutting the middlemen; we try to gather the resources directly from the farmers and drop it to the buyer’s doorsteps, without any middle channels. By doing so, we have been able to maintain a comparatively lower price in the market. A recent example would be that of cabbages leveled in Chitwan. Farmers were paid below their standard rate, and yet the prices were exorbitant to the end consumer when sold in Kathmandu. We not only paid the farmers their standard rate, but also sold cabbages at a price which was almost half the market prices in Kathmandu. However, we have not been able to connect with farmers who produce every variety of vegetables, and as a result, have had to depend on the wholesale market for these specific produces.

 

How do you maintain the inventory stock of vegetables and fruits, products whose shelf period is extremely low?

Vegetables and fruits are perishable items that are better when consumed sooner than later. We are in the process of making a central cold store where fruits and vegetables can be stored at, and processed organically for a longer period of time. Currently, we do not stock produce for more than 15 days; we make frequent farm visits and eliminate the need to stock old items instead.

The name – Metrotarkari itself has the word ‘tarkari’, meaning vegetables. Has it limited the variety of items that you want to sell through your platform?

Yes, we did start our company with vegetables, fruits and meat produce as our only products in the website; thus the name Metrotarkari. But, with time, our customers requested us to include basic grocery items like salt, oil and flour in the list too. We were anyways dropping off produces to their doorsteps, and we realized that we wouldn’t incur any hidden operational costs or effort to add these items on our list either. Right now, we are selling more than 5000 items on our website, from raw produces to dry and staple groceries. Also, we will not limit our products on the basis of our name; no one really confuses Apple, the software company, with a fruit really. Our agenda is to make Metrotarkari synonym to online grocery shopping one day.

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Metrotarkari has been a part of multiple mentorship and accelerator programs in the past – Idea Studio and Enterprise to name a few. How do you think these programs help shape your company?

These programs really helped me establish a brand for the company and increase my network circle. We also learned the basics of making a proper business structure and business model during the initial phases of our company. I used to personally attend these workshops and interact with mentors frequently. These mentors helped me understand the business environment of Nepal better and guided me to use my skill set optimally to create a new venture. I registered the domain of our company to grow it as a different entity only after I was suggested by my mentors. We ended up securing investment and loans from banks and venture capitalists after faring well in 2014’s Idea Studio.

How open was the investment market in providing good funding and borrowing opportunities to Metrotarkari?

I wouldn’t say our journey to acquire investment was completely smooth. Although we did secure investment prospects from Idea Studio, we were very new to running a business then and it was a matter of risk to the investors as well. For three years – from 2012 to 2015— I toiled everyday to make that risk lower by dedicating most of my time to the business. After 2015, I decided to start crowd-funding for Metrotarkari, targeting the Nepalis outside of Nepal who want to make small financial contributions in the local businesses. We made packages that ranged from fifty thousand to a couple of Lakhs, and within a year had a good amount of interested crowd-funders. The crowd fund helped us scale our business to newer heights.

What has been your financial backbone in the past, and lately?

I started my business with NRS 20,000 eight years back. Whatever sales and profits we make, I invest everything back to the company. I had foregone of a fancy office space and a regular salary to make sure the business scaled up better in the past. The bank loans, seed funding and crowd-sourcing have been the backbone of our investment. We have recently tied up with Movers & Shakers for investment and co-working space too. We are doing pretty fine I’d say.

What has been some of the major challenges you have faced during your entrepreneurial journey?

I remember the initial phases of starting this company were challenging and financially burdensome for me. Before having started Metrotarkari, I was working for an American company that had given me a strong financial security. After quitting from there to start my own venture, I had a tough time figuring the financial aspect of running the business. My parents were also apprehensive of the idea— their educated and hardworking son ‘selling vegetables’ didn’t fit quite well in the beginning. I didn’t have a strong financial backing to prove them wrong either. But I was always mindful of how this was a long term plan and how I couldn’t just rely on achieving temporary goals. I drew my first salary from Metrotarkari only after five years of working there;  I wanted to feed the growth-hungry business everything I could. I also remember seeing my college batch-mates go abroad and earn in Lakhs  while I was here meeting farmers, trading a rupee or two in  transactions. Although I did feel incompetent then, the growth that the company has taken now is the result of the persistence and hard work of the team. I feel satisfied and proud of having provided value service to the local market.

As an entrepreneur, what vision or motto do you live by to motivate yourself and others around you?

I abide by hard work and struggle, especially during the initial phases of a startup. One shouldn’t focus on the financial aspect of a business during the start, and more so on the ‘how’ part of value addition. It is crucial to understand how you could be of help in realizing the dream that you have set for yourself; money can be attained through loans and borrowing but hard work is a self trained trait. Also, it is important to understand the local Nepali market and not compare it to the foreign environment. It usually takes longer for a new trend to get accepted in Nepal. One has to have patience and passion to live by the dream for the long run too.

The government has recently decided to bring a set of regulations to monitor e-commerce sites. What is your take on that?

This is a much needed step that the government should have taken before itself. In most of the developed countries, the government has guidelines to monitor the web market; however, due to lack of existing policies in here, anyone and everyone can enter the online business. People are selling products online, through social media or illegitimate sites,sometimes without even having registered as a company. Many do not bill their customers likewise. A legitimate company should be paying taxes, creating invoices and going through audits to be legally running in the market. Also, most of these online transactions take place on the basis of trust on the owner of such sites( usually a friend or a relative) rather than on the company as a whole. Most of the times, either the real products are grossly different than that shown in pictures or the delivery is defunct. Such activities have diluted the trust of the local customers towards online shopping. However, if polices and regulations are brought into place, baseless online businesses will be slowly replaced by valid, legal and functioning services.

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What are you near future plans like? Do you see expanding your services to the entire nation or move onto another industry side-by-side?

Metrotarkari’s target customers are the ones who have a comparatively busier schedule in life and want to make use of a dependable service that also saves time and effort. We do plan to move to other busy cities—  Biratnagar, Pokhara, Bhairhawa, Chitwan, Nepalgunj and so on— that have people replicating a similar lifestyle. As for the production side, we plan to collaborate with farmers from every district of Nepal to bring their agro-products to the masses residing in the cities of Nepal. We are heading in that direction too; right now, we have more than 100 farmers working with us. We also make sure our farmers maintain pesticide-free produces that are of optimal quality.

 

If you could give suggestions to a budding entrepreneur interested in the market of online selling, what would you say?

Online selling is also an open market like most of the markets in the world. One should aim for organic growth rather than heavily investing in marketing and later failing to live up to the expectations. Slow growth, backed with determination and researched groundwork, will make one’s service better and eventually establish a strong trust with customers. Online grocery shopping is picking up pace in the Nepali market too; one who is able to provide the best prices and services will end up becoming the ‘king’ of the market, as to say. I would happily welcome anyone who is interested to join this market.

How are the farmers of Nepal getting benefitted by partnering with  Metrotarkari?

We tie up with farmers, get their products and directly market it to our customers; farmers get a certain sense of visibility with this. Most of the farmers in Nepal do not even know the COP (cost of production) of their products and have very little knowledge on calculating it. We help them evaluate a certain product, figure out its COP and eventually estimate the final price after adding profit margins. We want to empower the farmers for their hard work by paying them accordingly and creating a transparent environment throughout the pricing stages. The farmers get a good value for their produces and likewise, the end customers do too.

 

 An interested customer can place an order in four ways: through www.metrotarkari.com, the official Metrotarkari app, Viber or, the most popular, through a phone call. The minimum order amount is of NRS 500 and the ordered items get delivered the same day or by the following morning. An interested crop-producer, after meeting all the health and hygiene criteria, can also collaborate with Metrotarkari and display their products directly on site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Guest Thursday, 12 December 2019