Some of you may have heard that one of our portfolio companies m.Paani recently raised $1.35 mln in a round led by IDG Ventures India, Saha Fund and Blume. So, we chatted with Sajid Fazalbhoy, Principal at Blume and Investment Lead for m.Paani as well as Akanksha Hazari, the startup’s CEO & Founder, to understand how this investment benefits the company and how the platform is revolutionizing the loyalty space in India
What is your thesis behind this investment?
Sajid Fazalbhoy: m.Paani is solving multiple pain points for different players in the retail value chain. The moment a product moves from a shelf, the brand has no visibility in terms of who is consuming it. Consumers are valuable to any brand and it’s very important to know who its consumer are, where they live and what their preferences are, and m.Paani definitely helps solve that pain point. In a very competitive market today, a retailer has to deal with the onset of online selling, multiple retailers in an area, which makes it difficult for them to stand out and get additional footfall. What m.Paani provides is a loyalty solution that serves as a hook for consumers to actually come and transact at a particular retailer outlet. So, footfall has increased in those stores because consumers who are m.Paani loyalty members realise that they will get a tangible reward for actually transacting and building affinity towards a certain outlet and a certain brand. At every part of the value chain, there is some benefit to each stakeholder whether it is the brand, consumer, or the retailer. m.Paani is giving hundreds of millions of consumers the chance to win rewards, perks and benefits for being loyal to a certain brand.
How does this round benefit m.Paani?
SF: We invested in the company in April 2016 and post that we put a certain amount of money. The investment round serves as a validation for the concept that we bet on, because the new investors understand that this could really scale and become a large opportunity. With the capital coming in, the company can now go to more cities, have more brand tie-ups and attract a large number of consumers.
With the new investment what are your expansion plans?
Akanksha Hazari: There are two areas in which we will be investing: first, product development with a strong focus on data science, and second, obviously growing our portfolio of brand clientele, and our retailer and consumer bases, while scaling operations to match. In terms of growth, I think it will primarily be in the major metros and tier-II cities. A lot of it is client-driven as to where they want to launch a loyalty program to gain data insights about their consumer and retail networks, and do loyalty and marketing. Today our core retailer and consumer bases are in Mumbai and Greater Mumbai. We have started to see early growth via direct marketing of our retailer loyalty product in the expected key markets of Pune, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Bangalore and Ahmedabad.
What verticals are you looking at?
AH: We are only scratching the surface with FMCG companies right now. We will deepen our FMCG proposition with large marquee clients, new brands and smaller regional brands, in addition to expanding into pharmaceuticals, telecom and digital payments players.
Tell us about the data platform that you are building
AH: What m.Paani wants to solve from the outset has been the problem of mass market consumer data and the foundation of the company is that we use loyalty to get data to then do intelligent loyalty, intelligent marketing and even doing product innovations in the future. Our loyalty platform, that bridges brands to consumers directly or via retailers, is actually the critical pipe for collecting data about mass market consumers and this includes everything from demographic, transactional, geospatial, and psychographic. Eventually what we want to tell is a story of individual mass market Indians with data.
What benefits can the consumer or end user derive from m.Paani?
AH: We aim to revolutionise mass market consumer behaviour with the first loyalty program that enables every Indian to earn points and avail of offers at their local neighbourhood shops, and directly from brands, and redeem them for exciting, life-changing rewards. Using our mobile-based platform we give consumers direct access to local shops, brands, products, and offers with a touch of a button and the opportunity to maximise value from their spend. I believe that the future of Indian retail lies in empowering brands and local businesses with the data and technology to build a direct, customized relationship with a new generation of mass-market Indian consumers who are online, and seek value and service.
How many users do you have on the platform?
AH: Currently, we have over 100,000 users and around 1,000 merchants primarily in Mumbai and Greater Mumbai. We expect exponential growth in both of these bases in the coming 12 months.
Where can consumers earn and redeem points?
AH: Our brand loyalty clients have included Apollo Pharmacy, Vodafone India, and Marico. We will soon be launching with a digital payments client. Customers can redeem the m.Paani points they earn when shopping with in-network brands and retailers for direct discounts, in addition to gifts from a catalogue that consists of more than 1000 items, including talk-time & data packs and more exciting, even life changing rewards, such as water filters, the first reward the company offered and the inspiration for its name.
What are the redemption rates and what are people redeeming for?
AH: Our redemption rate has been between a steady 60-70%, in line with best-in-class global loyalty programs. As a benchmark, Payback’s redemption rate in India is about 11% today. What we see in redemption behavior is that around 40% redemption tends to be for discounts, recharge etc and usually these will be our consumers’ first redemption. It’s a low-value redemption used to test the program and build trust with our company. After getting the first gift consumers will save for four to six months on average to redeem a much bigger reward, which can be anything from solar lamps to electronic home appliances.
What are your views on retail tech landscape?
AH: Broadly my view on the retail tech landscape is that retailers today are being bombarded with a lot of different products and as a consequence the retailer experience is extremely fragmented. We have some players doing inventory, others doing digital payments, and the list goes on. I believe what differentiates us is: first, we are trying to bring these pieces together in one place to make the retailer experience much more seamless. Second, we are an extremely user-centric company where the retailer has always been a key user. We build for our retailer, designing for his level of comfort with technology, local language requirements, handset limitations and more. And third, we are focused on the aspect of the retailer’s business he cares most about, his customers. Small retailers believe business success and growth lies with customer satisfaction and growth, and via loyalty we are helping the retailer to retain and acquire customers in an increasingly competitive environment, building a relationship with a quickly evolving mass-market consumer. Our retailers have seen more than 20% growth, in less than six months of using our loyalty SaaS product.