Launched in 1990, Tradeindia.com, a leading B2B marketplace owned by Infocom Network Ltd, has come a long way in helping millions of MSMEs conduct business digitally, making their lives easier and doubling their business growth year-on-year.
Small Enterprise India caught up with Sandip Chhettri, CEO, TradeIndia, for an exclusive interview.
An accomplished e-commerce and business expert, Chhettri is a well-known face in the MSME sector, having over 20 years of experience in the space. Currently, he manages and oversees the overall operations of the company and directs agendas to drive profitability for India’s leading B2B marketplace. His knowledge and expertise in the sector have enabled him to develop and implement strategies while managing the organizational structure at Trade India. Under his leadership, the TradeIndia team has continuously strived for innovation and success. Chhettri truly believes that innovation is the driving force for growth and one has to keep innovating to stay relevant and competitive in a changing landscape. The team has been able to skill and digitally transform 77,00,000+ SMEs. Additionally, he was able to build high-performing teams from 10 people to 3000+ across 41+ cities in India. It is noteworthy that the company’s vision is to enable 63 million SMBs with technology-driven solutions.
Excerpts from our exclusive interview:
- When and why was TradeIndia formed? What was the objective when TradeIndia started and what was the strategy adopted to reach out to the 6 cr+ MSMEs in India today?
The challenging opportunities and new avenues cropping up in the corporate arena in diverse sectors demand the role of a common mediator to act as the bridge between buyers and sellers, importers and exporters, and the like. This service facilitates the creation of a common platform for the business world, thus turning the geologically colossal earth into a tiny global village. Tradeindia is a major entity involved in this task bringing manufacturers, buyers, and sellers under one umbrella.
Infocom Network Private Limited was established in the year 1990 and is identified by people at large as tradeindia.com, thanks to our very popular B2B website of the same name. Launched in the year 1996 to offer the Indian business community a platform to promote themselves globally, tradeindia.com has created a niche as India’s largest B2B marketplace, offering comprehensive business solutions to the global EXIM community through its wide array of online services, directory services and facilitation of trade promotional events. Our portal is an ideal forum for buyers and sellers across the globe to interact and conduct business smoothly and effectively.
With technology and innovation as enablers, we endeavour to help our users reinvent businesses to compete and win, with digitization at the core. We also pride ourselves to be the only marketplace offering 360° digital marketing solutions to MSMEs to help them be tech-enabled. With a robust pan-India as well as a global presence in 10+ countries, we also assist global buyers to locate Indian suppliers, manufacturers, and exporters.
Q. Kindly give us an overview of the challenges TradeIndia has faced initially and how did you overcome those?
The first and foremost challenge was to bring businesses online. There was a lack of awareness about digital platforms. Businesses were apprehensive. The online penetration was low as the decision makers of MSMEs during those days were not internet-savvy. Plus, a lot of SMEs were operating from small cities where internet connectivity was a challenge.
As a strategy, TradeIndia first began by sending inquiries via fax. We reached out to each business associated with us on the call and replied to their queries manually. Our service teams used to visit the customers to understand their individual business needs and educated them on the importance of going digital in today’s age. We extended all the required support, from creating their email IDs to helping them understand how to use email as a channel to communicate, etc. It was an excellent collaboration between us and businesses and hats off to these business people who came forward to embrace the new concept of taking their businesses online so positively.
Q. According to you, how did the retail industry evolve and where do you see the transformation in the coming years?
See, retailers operate in a highly dynamic and competitive landscape. Like all businesses today, they too need to stay in step with constant technology upgrades to stay relevant. From the brick-and-mortar set-up to today’s multi-channel digitization, the evolution of retail business has been dramatic. Now they can sell to anyone, anywhere, with a single click. Additionally, they can also promote their business across and increase their horizon. In tandem, payments have also gone digital. The future looks amazingly promising for retailers because of the constant evolution of technology. Since the expectation from a modern retail store is going to be too high, retailers will need to focus a lot on speed and convenience. The better products one delivers at a faster speed will stand out. Additionally, personalization will take the front seat and is going to be the key differentiator. Therefore, it will be highly imperative for retailers to understand the customers’ profiles better.
Q. How is TradeIndia’s B2B platform different from other similar platforms in India?
We are one of India’s first B2B E-commerce portals with a legacy of more than 3 decades. We have 10 million+ registered users, comprising both suppliers and buyers. When it comes to differentiating ourselves from similar platforms, we can say that we have very strong access to the market across regions as well as across borders. This helps us and businesses grow hand in hand. Secondly, with strong finances and technology in place, we are growing to help SMEs become digitally strong.
Additionally, what sets us apart is our approach to offering an all-in-one experience to businesses which includes digitization and financing. We understand the growing needs of businesses and have recently introduced TradeIndia Lending, a digital lending solution for small businesses. MSMEs in India face a colossal credit gap of Rs 20-25 lakh crores and some of the key reasons behind the lack of access to capital is the absence of collateral, incomplete books of accounts, preference for cash transactions, and lack of credit history. With TradeIndia Lending, we are trying to solve this challenge.
Q. Can you give an example of any customer who has excelled in the business using TradeIndia features and can you give any statistics on the same?
There are plenty of customers who have excelled with us. Recently, one such client who is a leading manufacturer of ‘Test Equipment’ has talked about their success journey. One of the major challenges they were facing before joining TradeIndia was to reach out to the right set of customers. This was a roadblock in their business growth.
The organization joined hands with TradeIndia two decades ago. Starting with reaching the right audience, increasing inquiries, and getting more sales, they were even able to tap the international export market. Their business reached new heights with 10X faster growth with the addition of new units. The revenue growth was impressive as they went to crores from lakhs with this association.
Q. What kind of support have you got from the ecosystem and the Government to take your initiative to the next level?
TradeIndia has digitally transformed 10 Million+ SMEs and has the vision to make 63 Million SMBs digitally empowered. The government’s Digital India campaign is in alignment with our vision. The Government of India has designed a few ecosystem departments like the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare (DAC&FW) and Small Farmers’ Agribusiness Consortium (SFAC) that are supporting agricultural industries to become digitally active. This is in sync with our aim of making the agriculture industry self-sufficient.
Q. You have stated that “We will move from discovery platforms to B2B transaction.” Could you please elaborate on this journey?
In the last 32 years of its journey, TradeIndia has evolved a lot. We started as an online directory service for the global export-import community. Since then, it has been widely used to search for manufacturers, exporters, and suppliers across the globe.
As we enter into a new phase, we are looking at simplifying the process more. We have already started the pilot for fulfilling B2B bulk buying requirements with Assisted Buying. With Assisted E-commerce, buyers can procure anything from raw materials to final products at the best prices.
Q. Being an online platform, can you give us an insight into the types of technology investments made and how it has helped you grow?
We understand that technology is the key to growth for any business. So, we constantly keep updating our tech game. One such important feature that we have designed is the ‘Tracking Feature’ that enables tracking buyer interactions. Additionally, Instantly Connect and Instant Messaging help connect buyers and sellers directly on call and WhatsApp.
Q. Do you think TradeIndia has played a critical role in your customers’ Digital Transformation drive? If yes, can you explain how, with an example?
We are committed to enabling SMEs to enhance their technological capabilities and focus a lot on their digital inclusivity. Once a business is registered on our platform, it gets an online presence as per its category and location. We not only hand-hold the businesses to bring them online; we also help them manage their online promotions, create their online catalog, manage their inquiries, etc. We are helping businesses to stand out by listing their businesses on Google and featuring their products on Google shopping. With this, we aim to enhance the online visibility of businesses and their products.
Another initiative, GetDistributors.com is an online platform that helps brands and manufacturers to find distributors. With TradeKhata, one can digitize business transactions and manage invoices systematically.
Q. Is TradeIndia platform user-friendly for MSMEs? How do you cater to the non-English speaking community?
It has been designed keeping our users, primarily MSMEs, in mind. We have 29+ branches across the country. All our branches have a team of experts who help us to cater to the requirements of businesses irrespective of their regions, and even their fluency with English. Since we have our regional teams in place, we can manage cultural nuances and work with businesses as one of them. Our mobile app also has culture-specific strings that help to translate as per the language of the user.
Q. You have tried and tested many ideas to take TradeIndia ahead. One such activity was the Virtual tradeshow. Virtual tradeshows were a great option during Covid. How did the first Virtual tradeshow go and do you see the opportunity for the same now and in the future?
Today after hosting more than 15 virtual shows, I can say that technology in the form of ‘virtual trade shows’ came to the rescue of small businesses during the pandemic. Our dependence on technology has grown manifold during the pandemic. With the absence of physical trade shows, virtual trade shows provided the much needed platform for small businesses to showcase, interact and grow their business virtually. Our first virtual show “Covid -19 Essentials Expo” was hosted in July 2020. The event went very well and we got a huge response from both exhibitors and visitors. The event saw over 70,000 visitors in three days. We were the first in India to host a virtual B2B event. Since then, in just two years, we have hosted 15 virtual trade shows covering different industries. The response has been good. Going forward I can see virtual trade shows have a good future as the medium is cost-effective, can be accessed from anywhere and has the ambience of a physical trade show. People will slowly get accustomed to virtual trade shows as more and more events will take place. But I am very positive about anything that uses technology.
Q. What’s TradeIndia’s growth Y-o-Y in the last 3 years? Can you give the growth as per the top 5 business categories?
User registrations have grown from 5 Million to 10 Million in the last three years. Additionally, there has been a surge of 41% in inquiries over the last three years. Agriculture, Chemicals, Industrial Supplies, Hospital & Medical Supplies, and Electronics & Electrical Supplies are some of the top-performing categories. The future is bright.