In 2019 when the Covid-19 virus was first detected in Srinagar district of Jammu and Kashmir, administration was concerned so were the people. What followed was a strict lockdown during which the movement of people was restricted. With it the businesses went into losses, but three brothers from Srinagar, Haseeb Khan, Hamza Khan, Shahid Khan had different plans.
Instead of going with the tide, they came up with an entrepreneurial venture, which was at the point of time need of the hour.
An online grocery app – Grofills, which not only provided grocery items to customers at their doorsteps but also protected them from exposure of going to markets for making grocery purchases.
How did the idea pop up, Haseeb Khan, one of the co-founder said that in 2019 when Kashmir was under restrictions following abrogation of Article 370, he needed to purchase baby food, but could not get it due to strict restrictions in place, he had to travel five kilometers to get it. What followed was an idea to start online venture which would provide grocery items at the doorsteps in Srinagar where people still prefer to purchase grocery at nearby shops or departmental stores. To convince and motivate people was a challenge.
“This incident gave us an idea that the online grocery store can be a good entrepreneurial venture. Though initially we knew it is going to be a difficult road to travel, but at the same time we understand it is an untapped territory. From 2019 we started doing research and other back-up planning. Finally in 2020 when the lockdown was imposed, we started our journey, on July 2020 we formally launched Grofills. But our initial days were full of challenges, as the Srinagar was not under lockdown, our delivery staff was beaten at many places but later we took the issue with the administration will helped a lot and allowed our staff to do home delivery of goods being ordered by our customers,” Haseeb said.
The three brothers have their jobs cut out, the IT is handled by Shahid Khan, the marketing by Haseeb, and for logistics, purchase and operations, by Ammar Khan.
Though the venture has provided employment to 12 persons, Haseeb Khan believes that their start-up has a huge potential to create jobs in future.
“During our research when we were planning to start our venture, we had detailed discussions with the persons dealing with logistics. We came to know that in Srinagar alone around 2500 packages are being delivered, these shipments are online purchases made by people living in the district. This statistic gave us encouragement that people are now adapting to online purchases and also we understood that online shopping has a future; basically our idea is also to encourage people to opt for online shopping of groceries.”
“ During lockdown our sales went up manifold, but now challenge is to maintain the tempo during this period when the lockdown has been lifted and people can easily move out to purchase groceries, “Khan said adding that for enticing customers they are using multi-pronged strategies which includes a digital presence as well as heavy discounts.
Currently Grofills have 3500 products available with them which they deliver to customers within a day.
Shahid Khan, who is entrusted with managing the IT part for the Grofrills said that to tide over the issue of low speed internet, they had to optimize their online platforms in a way that can work on low speed internet.
"It has been a year since 4G was snatched from us, we made sure that our customers don't face slow app service due to low speed internet. To achieve that we optimized our applications in a way which can work smoothly on 2G without leaving out any online service? We want to give our customers an experience which online retail giants like Big Basket is providing. In order to achieve that we put in the best web designing and GUI so that our Kashmiri consumer base will have the best experience while keeping in view the online security and other web security in view," Shahid said.
Haseeb, who handles the overall operations and marketing for Grofrills, said that their aim is not only to provide best online service but to give products at best rates.
"We will make sure to give better prices; our aim is to make the shopping easy at best possible prices. We are introducing a discount system wherever possible in order to make it happen. We will give our consumers all modes of payment like wallet system, cards, online banking and also cash on delivery," said Haseeb.
However Haseeb believes that there is a lot of hard work still to be done. “Though many outside companies have shown keenness to invest in our venture, we believe that it is still at an early stage.”
When asked about the piece of advice for young entrepreneurs. Haseeb says that starting any business is Kashmir is a big challenge given the political situation, to add to it the Covid has made people apprehensive.
“But despite all these challenges there is a lot of scope, like these online stores, though people are not yet fully adaptable to this concept which is a success outside J&K. Yet if we work hard with consistency, success will be ours.”
Khan Brothers also have a successful family business venture namely Distant Holidays where they employ 45 employees. It is a travel company operating from downtown area of Khanyar.
Haseeb says that though their family is already in business, but convincing them for online venture was also a issue, but after we discussed our plan with them, they also came on board.
“Though people in Kashmir prefer government jobs, but we have to come out of this thinking. Job are scare in the market, it is only the self –employment which would provide opportunity to youngsters not only to earn livelihood but also to get chance to provide employment opportunities.”
On further expansion plans of Grofills, Haseeb says there first objective is to get their venture established fully and then they will go for expansion. “ We have realized that during lockdown when people in the age group of 20 to 35 years are doing shopping they often opt for online shopping, but when our elder population do grocery shopping they prefer traditional shopping. This is a challenge for online grocery ventures as our elders in homes do most of the day to day purchases.
“We have to create more and more awareness so that we can tap our full potential in next few years,” he said.
On his tourism venture of travel Company- Distant Holidays, Haseeb said tourism sector has a huge potential to create jobs in Kashmir division. “At our company we are providing jobs to 45 employees, similarly other companies in the sector is also providing jobs. Tourism is a service oriented sector which generates high number of jobs. As the situation remains conducive, more tourists will come which will mean more and more jobs for the people in Kashmir.