Third generation farmer Ashish Jhina and military veteran Karthik Venkateswaran, who met during college days at Stanford University, discovered their passion to solve the food and grocery problem in India. After studying the sector and market opportunities for several years, they launched Jumbotail in 2015, and started operations in April 2016 with a vision of organising the food and grocery ecosystem using technology, data science and design. The marketplace platform connects thousands of kirana retailers and supermarkets with brands and staples producers, explains Ashish, co-founder and COO, Jumbotail, in a conversation with Indian Retailer. Excerpts:
1) Walk us through the brand journey of Jumbotail.
After extensively studying the food and grocery sector and even pursuing our own individual attempts to build solutions on the supply side of the ecosystem, we realised that in order to bring about large scale impact, we would need to start by aggregating demand. In every commerce transaction, there are 3 essential components - flow of information (product selection, quality and pricing), flow of physical goods, and flow of money. Unless all three flows were efficiently addressed, any solution would likely fail, much like numerous other efforts in the past. Therefore a Minimum Viable Ecosystem is required. This hypothesis has been validated in India B2C online where the final winners - Flipkart, Myntra, Amazon - built their own logistics and solved for cash-on-delivery at scale.
In the food and grocery ecosystem, both supply and demand are highly fragmented (there are over 10 million kiranas in India which account for 95%+ of food and grocery demand) and there is very little transparency on demand and pricing which leads to huge inefficiencies. We realised that the higher the quality of demand information, and the sooner the demand information is available to the ecosystem, the better the efficiency of supply chain, planning and replenishment. Even when demand is known to some extent, modern and efficient supply chain infrastructure and reliable payment mechanisms are lacking, resulting in delays, wastage and lost opportunities for producers and buyers throughout the ecosystem.
With the rise of the internet and mobile penetration and data becoming cheaper and more ubiquitous, we believed that the time was ripe for solving these problems through a two-sided e-commerce platform backed by strong supply chain and payments capabilities. Jumbotail is the outcome of this effort by a highly motivated team of nearly 150 people over the last 4 years.
2) Amid the Corona pandemic, how have online retail marketplaces been affected? What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Catering to the current demand for the products is challenging as on a daily basis, we are delivering to over 4,000 stores in Bangalore alone. We are scaling up the operations in order to ensure that we are meeting the demand. There is at least 30%-40% shortage for delivery staff. In this scenario, one of the biggest challenges is workforce availability. It’s difficult to motivate the contract employees to continue to report to work as there is fear among delivery executives and warehouse staff to move from their residences.
However, we run the danger of trivialising the problem by just thinking about last mile delivery. The staff shortage is across the entire value chain - warehouse workers, and manufacturing units. Currently the safety stock held in the value chain is serving the demand. However, if manufacturing does not resume, it will start impacting product availability.
3) How are you overcoming the challenges?
In an endeavour to ensure unhindered operations, Jumbotail is continuously encouraging the staff, and leading the operations from the front. We are monitoring the situation closely and visiting the supply chain operation locations. Keeping in mind the need for constant availability of the product, Jumbotail is consistently strengthening its liaison with the brands/vendors/producers to continue to deliver the products to Jumbotail warehouses.
AI is playing a vital role in the present situation. We are using AI to smoothen demand, prevent hoarders from ordering large volumes, optimisation of routes. We have developed several valuable features including downloadable voluntary identity cards for our kirana customers to help them move between their shops and home and for deliveries. We have also rapidly launched new J24 stores in partnerships with apartment complexes, at unprecedented speed. We can launch a new J24 store in 24h, and serve consumer demands right inside their apartment complexes.
4) What is your vision for Jumbotail?
We are in a rapid growth phase where we are putting everything into building a sustainable, scalable business. In the next 3-5 years, we look to scale the business to 10-15 cities, and achieve massive scale, and extend our market leadership.
We are going to mass transform kirana stores into J24 stores and extend our presence across the entire value - from farm/mills to last mile retail serving the end consumer via our J24 stores.
We will build technology, and services for the mom & pop entrepreneur to run modern convenience stores using Jumbotail’s tech stack and fully integrated supply chain. We are laying the digital and the physical pipes to change the narrative of Kirana stores in our country and help them compete in a technology driven world with fast changing and ever increasing consumer demands.