Lessons From An Entrepreneur On What Starting Up In India Is Really Like

It was the year 2015, and the city of Chennai was hit by severe rainfall and deadly flooding. I was still completing my graduation then, and along with the rest of the world, I too, was in a state of shock at the idea of the Gateway to South India, drowning. Determined to help in any way I could, I decided to travel to Chennai.

The work required for rescue missions was extremely heavy. I immediately got involved with Delhi-based NGO GOONJ’s relief and rescue operations. Primarily, I was part of a team that dealt with proper storage and distribution of relief supplies that poured in from all over the country. Operating out of a warehouse, we unloaded, sorted and disseminated tonnes of material to local distribution groups during this time.

Anil (second from left) with his team at Donatekart

It was among this relief material that I saw several packages in Amazon and Flipkart cartons. Many people had purchased items online and had them shipped to the GOONJ-run relief warehouse. It struck me, then: people had donated a lot of things in kind, rather than cash, but there were many things that we were in need of at that point, which no one had thought of donating. What if they knew what to donate and in how much quantity? And that’s how the idea of Donatekart was born.

Following my graduation, my partner, Sandeep Sharma and I decided to forego campus placements and dedicated our efforts towards our first entrepreneurial venture instead. Our company, Donatekart, is a crowdfunding platform where, non-profit organisations can list products that they need donating, and donors can buy and donate these products online. Once people donate, we deliver the products to the NGOs that have requested them.

One potential hurdle our model managed to sidestep is the issue of transparency. People donating in cash or kind often wonder if their resources finally reach those in need, or not. Our business model was built in such a way that the NGOs that receive donations, frequently update donors with reports on the product reach.

Despite this, we have had many challenges coming our way. Managing an entrepreneurial venture, it turned out, was much more than what we had imagined. The biggest challenge we faced was getting NGOs on board for campaigns, especially when we started out. Our team was a small one, and our lack of experience often stood in the way of NGOs getting on board with our campaigns. As we are a start-up, we have been refused campaigns several times, owing to our lack of credibility. Initially, this was quite disheartening. But, we were determined to continue trying.

It took a while, but our persistence paid off, and our first break came when the Hyderabad-based NGO, Sphoorthi Foundation, agreed to launch a small campaign with us, to see if we could drive engagement with donors on our platform. Luckily, the campaign, which was for the donation of woollen clothes to the children of Spoorthi Orphanage, was a monumental success. We completed the campaigns in just two days in which 25 Donors contributed 75,000 Rs for the Woollens. Currently, Spoorthi is running their fifth campaign with us in a time-frame of two months.

Children from Sphoorti Orphanage with woollens donated at Donatekart

Following the first campaign with Sphoorthi, things picked up. More organisations signed on to campaign with us. Today, we are a team of six, and have run 25 different campaigns with 15 organisations and have raised over 50,000 different products worth over 12 lakh INR, including school supplies, sports equipment and groceries, for those in need across the country. Our business model has even earned second place out of a 100 in the prestigious Azim Premji Social Enterprise Challenge, in Bengaluru.

The journey has taught our team a number of important lessons. One was that acquiring clients is always harder for new ventures in our economy. But hard work and persistence can see you through a lot. We also learned the value of teamwork through the process. And not just our core team, but also the extra financial help we had from our families and friends- all of it together, helped us succeed.

It’s been an incredible journey for us so far, and we’re sure to keep going, because what motivates us every day is the fact that our platform is creating a small change in the lives of those who need it most.