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With urban Indian women discovering the power of digital media, some start-ups are taking the social network or online community route to help them inform and empower others.
LET’S SAY you left your job after getting pregnant or to take care of your elderly parents and now want to get back to work. Or you’re a mid-career woman and want to pivot or start your own business. Or even a fashion addict who doesn’t like to use the Net for just shopping—you also want to share and discover the latest celebrity trends and styling tips, besides other fashion trivia, with like-minded women. So what do you do?
If you’ve already discovered the power of digital media, the answer lies just there—log on to some of the new start-ups that are following the online community or social network model and reach out to other women. “There is a social need for double incomes, support systems are getting leaner and women are becoming a bigger and dominant social voice. The need for communities, products and services to serve their needs will only accentuate,” says Sairee Chahal, founder-CEO of Sheroes, an online platform for women professionals looking for sustainable work options.
Women can join the Sheroes community by creating a profile. They can then explore opportunities, consume career content, connect with mentors or participate in various activities and career events. “The workplace is evolving and more women have career aspirations than ever before. Companies are also realising that this talent pool adds value to their business,” explains Chahal.
Sheroes helps women connect to the right resources, support, career advice, mentorship and opportunities, which come in various shapes and sizes—work-from-home jobs, part-time jobs, corporate opportunities, franchising, resellers, partnerships and start-ups for women. “A women-only career destination is apt for a country with just about 5% women in leadership positions and a total of 17% in the workforce, with a huge drop-out rate of 48%. Women’s careers were never on the map and Sheroes is putting them on the centrestage,” says Chahal. Sheroes, which started in January 2014, has already impacted a million women through its service requests and is likely to touch the 50-million mark in a decade, she adds. It recently raised funding worth around R5 crore from angel investors.
Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, graduates Mayank Bhangadia, Avinash Saxena and Kaushal Shubhank started Roposo, a ‘fashion social network for women’, in December 2013 after realising that to search for fashion products, women had to surf through a number of websites and, even after that, did not find the product specific to their needs. Roposo provides a platform, wherein stories are created by women users around fashion trends, tips for styling and DIYs. “It allows women to discover and shop new products. Trends are liked, curated, personalised and updated every day from across online brands and e-commerce portals,” says co-founder Bhangadia.
The Gurgaon-based start-up recently raised $15 million from Tiger Global, just a few months after having drawn a $5-million series A cheque from the New York-based investor.
Another ‘fashion discovery’ platform for women, Wooplr, is built on the concept that shopping is greatly influenced by more than just personal preferences, and aims to bring the social element back into the act of shopping. Each user can view a highly personalised feed of curated fashion products and looks, tailored to their personal taste by women users. They can also follow fashion influencers on the platform for virtually endless style inspiration.
The Wooplr story began in 2014 when the four co-founders—ex-McAfee executives Praveen Rajaretnam, Arjun Zacharia, Soumen Sarkar and Ankit Sabharwal—realised that real-style recommendations and inspirations were virtually non-existent. “This turned into the inspiration behind building an app that is now redefining how consumers view fashion and shopping,” says its CEO Arjun Zacharia.
Wooplr currently has over 1 million active shoppers on its app. The majority of its users are women between the ages of 18 and 30 years from across the country. “They are fashion-forward and are constantly on the look-out for fresh trends and unique style inspirations. We cater to their needs and interests using highly curated content, which is further personalised to suit individual preferences,” explains Zacharia.
But why only women? Will such a niche target area work? Zacharia doesn’t believe it’s a niche market in the first place. “The early stages of online commerce were led by men, but we have seen clear research and patterns that show the balance is shifting. As we move to mobile-led commerce, women are going to lead the charge,” he says. “And it isn’t restricted to fashion alone. Currently, women spend up to 45% more time than men in departments such as electronics and home furnishing. Going by current trends, the women’s fashion m-commerce market alone is estimated to approach $8.8 billion by 2020. So definitely, women-focused networks and communities have a lot to look forward to.”
Bhangadia of Roposo offers: “We studied the market and realised that there was a need for a social network dedicated to fashion for women. Targeting this niche audience has reaped fulfilling results and we plan to make it even better and more interactive. Earlier, IT and e-commerce industries were male-dominated domains. However, now we observe that women are increasingly using social media and networking platforms to voice their opinion and get exposure to the world.”
Currently, Roposo has over 1 million active users and is growing at the rate of 100% month-on-month, adds Bhangadia.
These online communities are also helping women transform their lives. Prerana Kumari, a homemaker from Jharkhand, could never even post pictures on Facebook due to the ‘boundaries’ her family had set for her. But she found an ‘outlet’ for her creativity on LimeRoad, a social discovery platform, where she created 2,053 ‘looks’ as part of the LimeRoad ‘scrapbook’ community.
LimeRoad’s founder-CEO Suchi Mukherjee was recently talking to a little girl who lives on the outskirts of Ranchi, and she said she had made 2,000 ‘scrapbooks’ on LimeRoad. “I called her and asked her if she could come over to Patna, where we were planning to conduct an event, and talk to a few journalists there. She said her mother wouldn’t let her go. But she said LimeRoad was her way of extending her personality and making a mark in the world. That’s the kind of impact we are talking about,” adds Mukherjee, who, along with Ankush Mehra and Prashant Malik, started the portal three years ago.
On LimeRoad, ‘scrapbookers’ create unique content using the products posted by vendors, thus solving the visual cognition problem people have in buying lifestyle items. “This creates freshness on the platform, with one unique look being added every second. Consumers also discover unparalleled looks and products, creating higher engagement, cohorts and conversion rates,” says Mukherjee.
As per Mukherjee, the scrapbooking community posted nearly two million style statements as ‘scrapbooks’ in the past one month alone. “That’s a 100x growth in less than a year. We grew 600% in terms of gross merchandise value in the past 12 months, thanks to our passionate users who visited our app more than 84 times a year on an average,” she says, adding: “We are aiming at growing our 60,000-strong scrapbook community to one million in the next
In the company of women
Now, a new and exclusive ‘product logo’ will certify businesses that are at least 51% owned, operated and controlled by the fair sex
HOW ABOUT a unique logo on packaging that would identify products made by women-owned businesses? A new initiative that would certify businesses that are at least 51% owned, operated and controlled by women? In line with its global women’s economic empowerment initiative, Walmart India, the wholly-owned subsidiary of the US retail giant, recently unveiled a ‘women owned’ logo to enable customers to identify products that are created by women-owned businesses.
“All women-owned businesses that are Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)- and/or WEConnect-certified are eligible to display the logo on their product packaging. This initiative is part of our ongoing commitment to empower women around the world and help women-owned businesses to succeed and grow with the company,” says Rajneesh Kumar, vice-president and head, corporate affairs, Walmart India. Suppliers will also have the choice to use the logo on packaging for goods sold outside Walmart.
In September 2011, Walmart had launched its global women’s economic empowerment’ initiative using its unique size and scale to improve the lives of ‘underserved’ women and help women-owned businesses succeed and grow. “As part of the initiative, we are committed to source $20 billion from women for our US business and double-source from women internationally, including the Indian market,” adds Kumar.
Speaking about women entrepreneurs in India, Kumar says they have gained a foothold and have increased their contribution to business and society. “There is a welcome change in entrepreneurship trends, where women are taking the plunge, especially in start-ups. Nationwide, women across various sectors are opening up to entrepreneurial opportunities and challenges, and are as competitive as their male counterparts,” Kumar explains.