This article is authored by Megha Gupta, Founder of Dharavimarket.com.
My first close association with Mumbai’s (in) famous Dharavi came when I was working on a transportation project there during my days as an urban planner. That’s when I saw the amount of work that was happening there. There were enterprising and super-skilled craftsmen who manufactured quality products ranging from leather goods like bags, jackets, shoes to other artistic forms like pottery and clay-based handicrafts to apparel and other customized products.
The artisans had very limited avenues for selling their goods. They mostly sold to shops and commercial intermediaries, without even knowing the profit margins being made by the middlemen. The end-consumers were not interested in travelling to Dharavi due to the poor infrastructure and its perception as an ‘unsafe’ neighbourhood.
That was when I came up with the idea of an e-commerce a platform that would enable these artisans to sell directly to customers, not just in Mumbai or India, but across the globe. With some research and a little bit of monetary investment, Dharavimarket.com was born.
The Internet as a facilitator
Business was already happening in Dharavi, but it could explore its true potential only due to the power of the Internet. Our website has made Dharavi’s products accessible. We chose a .com domain name because it is the easiest to remember. .com is almost synonymous with the Internet. It was also important because we were targeting a global audience.
In addition, we were able to build a credible payment gateway that helped facilitate international sales and drive corporate sales. The Dharavi karigars earlier couldn’t afford to build online payment gateways that are important for corporates. With the website in place, they can sell directly to customers and also command a fair price for their products.
While we haven’t done any formal study, anecdotal evidence suggests that craftspersons who have been using our website have already seen a growth of 25-30 percent in their revenues (as compared to revenues before the launch of the website).
Advice to small businesses
Today, investing in a website is important for all small businesses. Having a website shows that you’re serious about your business and are not doing it as a hobby. It’s like your online visiting card. In fact, it probably doesn’t matter whether or not you have a visiting card, but a website is crucial if you want people to trust you.
One word for advice for entrepreneurs is that because a website costs money to buy, build and maintain; it is a good idea to first explore lower-cost avenues such as free websites and social media platforms for marketing. These can help you test the waters before you before go ahead and launch a full-fledged website.
To sum up, I’m happy that this website is giving these slum-dwellers a real chance to achieve social equality by providing a much-needed platform. It’s also a great example of the power of the Internet to transform lives.
About the author: Megha Gupta is an urbanologist with a background in Journalism and Urban Planning. She has seven years of work experience and started her journey in the social development sector with a Bachelors Degree in MassMedia (Journalism) from Mumbai University in 2006.