Empowering SME Retailers With Digital Accountability & Tracking Solutions

Ojas Ventures-backed Mobisy’s mobile SCM and CRM solutions, Bizom and Distiman, aim to enable better decision making in the retail industry

Lalit Bhise, Co-Founder & CEO, Mobisy

No doubt, information technology and digitisation have improved workflow processes and market reach of businesses. However, there are still missing links especially at the last mile, leading to information gaps and thus reducing the benefits organisations can derive from digitisation. This gap is particularly apparent in the retail sector, which faces challenges pertaining to poor inventory management. This happens due to most of the work happening outside, and brands being unable to track their products once it goes into the hands of distributors, and eventually retailers.

Realising that there is a need to bring more accountability and transparency into the process, former entrepreneur, and computer science graduate, Lalit Bhise, along with his wife, Shree Kulkarni, and co-founders, Riyaz Hyder (who has now moved on to another company) and Vasudeva Manjunath founded Mobisy Technologies in 2007. “While Kulkarni handles the non-technical aspects of the business, Manjunath, who comes with a background in embedded technology, acts as a ‘custodian of values’ at the company,” says Bhise.

Mobisy is not Bhise’s first venture and the retail solution in not the company’s first product. An embedded systems expert, Bhise had earlier worked with companies like Siemens and Infineon Technologies in the U.S. and the U.K., before he returned to India in 2004 with the intention of starting a business. “It happened when a colleague invited me to join his business,” he recalls. Mobitalk, as it was called, was a first of its kind product, a hybrid mobile technology platform that facilitated mobile app development. “However, the product was too ahead of its times and the company went bankrupt,” he admits. While the other co-founders went on to find other jobs, Bhise was still keen to strike out on his own and thus, his current venture came into being.

Delivering Value In SME Retail

While today, Mobisy has built mobile-based solutions to track the supply chain from the manufacturer to the distributor; it was initially founded as a service company creating custom-built apps. “Though it was a profit-making venture, I couldn’t see any value in the work we were doing,” he recounts.

As he began scouting for more avenues where his team’s expertise could be put to better use, he met several entrepreneurs, especially in the SME segment, and found that there was an opportunity to digitise and reduce the information gap in the supply chain process, particularly in the retail sector. “We also decided to focus on India because we understood how the systems work here. Moreover, India also has a lot of scope for mobile-first companies. So we decided that mobile should be core to the solution,” he explains.

Thus was born Bizom, its first solution, in 2013. The solution offers a suite of services from order and inventory management, distributor management and claims and asset management, to van sales automation, retail execution and merchandising, attendance management and more. Today, the Saas-based solution allows users to pay per use, and has established a presence in key markets in South and North India. It has 125,000 retailers from 300 brands using it. Overall there are 10,000 SME retail brands in the country.

Hiring A Team of Entrepreneurs 

This Bengaluru-based company, with offices in Mumbai and Delhi, became profitable in 2015 with a 300 per cent year-on-year growth. Of the 130 employees currently on board, Bhise indicates that at least 20 are erstwhile entrepreneurs. “My core team of seven to eight members are also entrepreneurs and there is a lot of disagreement during our meetings as a result,” he adds in a lighter vein, but quickly states that only those plans that help the venture as a whole get accepted. Moreover, at least half of the team is in the technology division, ensuring that the company stays up to date on new technology trends. 

In 2013, Mobisy secured US $300,000 in seed funding from Ojas Ventures and US $382,000 in a bridge round. “These were tactical investments rather than strategic,” adds Bhise. The company is now looking to raise US $5 million in Series A round with a strategic intent for product enhancement, market expansion of Bizom, and a focus on Distiman, a product it introduced later in the last mile retail space. Distiman, named along the lines of ‘Shaktiman’, helps retailers stock products on a need-to basis, thus reducing sales loss up to 10x. The app also creates a direct communication channel between retailers and brands, enables retailers to receive discounts and schemes upon usage, and helps brands increase visibility of demand and supply data in real time. “There are around 15 million retailers generating about US $6 million in revenue. Making them open the app at least once a week to improve their business is one of our goals,” says the co-founder.

Cracking The Retail End

Quoting that this is a highly fragment market with a hyper local approach, Bhise adds that the company is still trying to crack the retail end, something that nobody in the market has figured out yet. However, seeing that the app is already driving transactions and they have developed a forward integration approach, he is optimistic about its success.

The challenges have been shifting and resolving themselves over a period of time. For instance, in 2012, smartphone itself was a challenge but now it has widespread adoption. Then, there was the problem of scant adoption of cloud, as many preferred to use their own products, or develop it in-house. But now that cloud is viewed to be beneficial, that too has resolved itself. Today, Mobisy’s challenge is to make its customers realise the benefits of extracting the data the app generates, and gain insights from it to develop better business strategies. “Our customers are still in stage two, and we are helping them benefit from the insights. Stage three is to let the system take decisions,” explains Bhise.

Future Forward

“Technology is just a tool to get an outcome. Our goal is to make an outcome-based product that can make a difference to our users’ lives,” says Bhise. He wants the team to be lean, with ideally just 200 employees. More important is the impact they can make; his vision is to lead the company towards a 10x growth from the current 125,000 users for Bizom, and help Distiman touch 100,000 retailers in the next couple of years.


Snapshot

Mobisy Technologies

Founders: Lalit Bhise, Shree Kulkarni, Vasudev Manjunath

Year: 2010

Investors: Ojas Ventures, Microsoft Accelerator (Bengaluru)

Concept: Mobile based SCM and CRM solution for retail industry


Concept in Brief 

The Indian retail industry, especially the SME segment, has not yet fully benefited from the digitisation experience. Lalit Bhise, who believes that India is a mobile-first country, had started a venture to provide app development platform for mobiles in 2007. After that venture went bankrupt, he still could not give up his dreams of running his own venture and started Mobisy with wife Shree Kulkarni, to provide customised app solutions. But the desire to provide value sent him on a mission to find an area that needed a solution that would be disruptive. Clearly, the SME retail industry did, and the company developed an SCM solution, Bizom. Quickly, the company garnered 300 clients and 125,000 users. Now it is going after the last mile retailers with Distiman. Though it is an area that nobody has cracked yet, Bhise believes that its forward integration approach will be able to convince retailers to use its app and benefit from on-time stocking. It hopes to grow 10x in the process.

Meera Srikant has been working with publishers and publications since 1993, writing and editing articles, features and stories across topics. She also blogs and writes poems, novels and short stories during leisure. Writing for The Smart CEO since 2010, she is also a classical dancer.