Green Mango Interview on Small Business Entrepreneurs

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Today we have with us Nandini Narula, founder of GreenMango, that is a startup working towards connecting users with small business entrepreneurs. According to their site,

Everyday, we comb the streets of Hyderabad to find you the best carpenters, tailors, plumbers, mechanics, repairmen and other service providers in your neighborhood. We also know how important recommendations from others are when hiring a service provider, so we offer you reviews and ratings from their past customers. We want to make your life a little easier by bringing you the information you need everyday.

Ujj: Hi Nandini, thanks a lot for speaking to us. To start with, tell us something about your team, how was it formed? How did you people come up with something so unique, when the rest of the world wants to develop fancy web applications?

Nandini: Yasmina McCarty and I co-founded GreenMango in 2008. While working in the microfinance sector for several years together, Yasmina and I often talked about the need for a new, innovative, scalable way to help low-income entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. While brainstorming different ideas, we often thought about a woman named Malou Bacani. For the past 15 years, Malou Bacani has sold green mangos in Baguio City where Yasmina grew up.

Yasmina used to see her everyday on her way to school. Malou worked 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, but still struggled to save enough money to send her daughter to school. Malou represents so many of the hard working, resourceful, smart, deserving small business owners who struggle to make ends meet. So, in 2007, we went to Hyderabad to conduct research with other microentrepreneurs and the people who use their products/services to find a solution, to find a way to help these small businesses increase their earning potential.

The entrepreneurs confirmed our hypothesis: one of their biggest hurdles to growth is finding new customers. Traditional sales and marketing channels are too expensive for small businesses so they generally rely on “word-of-mouth” referrals and wait for customers to find them. Without marketing support, microentrepreneurs are essentially invisible to many potential customers. We designed GreenMango to address this challenge, to help entrepreneurs like Malou increase their income. That’s how GreenMango was born!

Ujj: Who are the kind of people you work with and how is their response? I understand they would have been quite skeptical about the whole thing when you first approached them, since for most, it would have been the first time someone approached them to help them run their businesses. So how was the whole experience working with them?

Nandini: The experience has been very positive. We specifically target small business owners, generally those who earn between $2-$3/day who generally are offline but do have cell phones. Initially, we expected to have to spend a good amount of time in building awareness about the value of having an online presence.

But we learned quickly that though our customers are not necessarily comfortable going online on a regular basis, they fully appreciate the value of the internet and its power in reaching customers they otherwise could not reach. The moment we tell them that we can put their business online for them, they are very interested and excited to have a way to promote their skills and experience through such a far-reaching medium.

Ujj: Local businesses, one can find on plenty of localized search engines, but I think theres something inherently different about Green Mango in the sense of the kind of businesses one can find via Green Mango. Could you please tell us more about what differentiates you?

Nandini: Yes, there are many search engines and online directories out there. But we are different for two reasons:

1) We offer unique data. We are on the ground every day, walking through each and every street and alley in Hyderabad, to find those businesses that no one else knows about – discovering vendors who work from their homes or from small, informal shops. We focus our efforts on these types of businesses because these are the types of shops/vendors that the average, middle-income Indian shops from, not the high-end, big shops that are often exclusively listed in many other directories.

2) We offer actionable data. In other words, in addition to basic contact info we offer rich data about each vendor. On our site, you’ll find pictures of the vendors, pictures of their past work, their years of experience, their business hours, their specialties, etc. to help you find the right vendor for you.

Ultimately though, what I think is special about GreenMango is that we offer a platform that is at the fingertips of anyone and everyone, from the rich to the poor, to the online to the offline. Through GreenMango, a small business owner can build an impressive online presence without ever having to touch a keyboard.

Ujj: Is there a revenue sharing model in place/ if so then how does it work and is there any guarantee of service provided by Green Mango to the customers that these local businesses get via Green Mango?

Nandini: not sure I understand this question…let me know if this answers your question: We generate revenue through premium services that we offer both vendors and shoppers on our site and through online advertising on our site.

Ujj: Any expansion plans in terms of entering into more cities/businesses?

Nandini: Oh yes! We plan to enter at least 2 more cities by the end of this year and ultimately not only cover all of the major cities in India but in other countries as well. As you probably know, this information gap between customers and small, informal businesses is not a phenomenon unique to Hyderabad or even India. We have first-hand experience working in a number of other countries that have similarly large, but disconnected informal sectors. We plan to tackle those countries after we have expanded in India.

Ujj: Okay this ones a little clichéd but probably interesting, is the recession affecting you noticeably? and what about these local businesses? Is there any rise or fall in businesses as giants are falling all over the world?

Nandini: Hard to tell – it’s still early so we have no concrete data on this. However, we suspect that our local businesses will be somewhat protected from what’s been happening elsewhere in the world and, as you mention, to the giants. Though the demand for luxury goods/services will likely decrease, the businesses on our site offer basic services that everyone needs on a daily basis – ie plumbers, tailors, carpenters, etc. – and the demand for these services remains strong so far so we remain optimistic.

Ujj: Thats very interesting what you are doing and I hope GreenMango does great in the future too. Thanks a lot for your time Nandini, this was really insightful.

Nandini: Thanks.

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