Changing How Small-Town India Shops
Forbes India|April 23, 2021
CityMall founders Angad Kikla and Naisheel Verdhan are building a network of micro-entrepreneurs through their app in smaller cities
Harichandan Arakali

Sunita Yadav is a school teacher in a village called Tint, about two-and-ahalf hours by car west of Delhi, in Haryana. The closest city is Rewari, some 15 km away. A friend told Yadav about CityMall, “a digital app” as she calls it, and she signed up last September.

Yadav, 44, is a mother of two, and offers private tuitions to help run her household and pay for her sons’ education. And CityMall, a community networking-based online commerce app, adds about ₹15,000 a month to her income, from the commission and incentives she makes, selling mostly groceries to her friends and neighbours. She has 50 to 60 households that are regular customers.

CityMall’s founders Angad Kikla and Naisheel Verdhan, both engineers and repeat entrepreneurs, have added some ‘gamification’ to the app— popular startup parlance for providing incentives for users to do more, similar to how certain achievements in video games can open rewards or new levels and so on for players.

Yadav has cracked three or four levels—based on the number of customers she has brought in and the sales she has notched up—and is a proud ‘silver director’ among CityMall’s micro-entrepreneur partners, all of whom are called ‘community leaders’ by the founders. Kikla and Verdhan started the venture in 2019, but the current model of building a social commerce network around community leaders is a little over a year old, because the duo first experimented with getting customers to buy in groups through WhatsApp.

They were also selling ‘long-tail’ products, such as cheap hair curlers imported from China. The ‘Aha’ moment happened when they realised that a packet of Maggi instant noodles was way easier to sell to more people and at a higher frequency. From there, it was only a few steps more to shifting focus to groceries, converting some of the group-buying customers into community leaders, and offering them an income via commissions instead of savings on purchases.

Today CityMall has some 20,000 community leaders in eight smaller cities and towns—Rewari, Dharuhera, Pataudi, Sonipat, Bahadurgarh, Jhajjar, Rohtak and Panipat. Using the app, they aggregate orders from their local communities and CityMall ships the products to them the next day; the community leaders then deliver the goods to the end-customers or the customers collect it from the leaders.

“We aim to put a lot of data analytics in the hands of the community leaders to help them become successful microentrepreneurs,” says Kikla. Over time, the data from the app and the analytics from CityMall help the community leaders understand who their top customers are, or who might want to leave; they can also figure out what they can up-sell and cross-sell.

There is also an app for endconsumers, although they can send their shopping lists through WhatsApp. Over a period of time, however, most people are converted to the idea of using the app to place their orders, says Kikla. This is because of a combination of superior cataloguing that’s possible on the app, compared to WhatsApp, and the gentle nudging from the community leaders. There are over 3,000 products on offer on CityMall, and when individuals place orders through the app, they automatically get aggregated on the community leader’s app.

The consumer app is about 16 MB to download on Google Play Store and there are over 1 lakh downloads, as of March-end. In addition to new deals and discounts every day, and the convenience of easy returns and refunds, CityMall is also trying to engage end-users with other features within the app. “Horoscope is one of the top features that we have,” Kikla says, because many are interested in it. Such features also entice end-users to open the app every day, which sometimes translates into new orders.

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