Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd, the good folks behind the tiny trucks running around town and the mighty Thar, made a very surprising announcement in Mumbai today.
The automotive giant is entering the e-commerce sector, but as a startup. Confused? Stay with us, you can do it. The startup is called SmartShift and it is essentially a marketplace to move goods intracity. Think Uber, but for cargo. The idea came from within Mahindra and the top brass liked it so much, they decided to fund it. The 10-member team, led by Kausalya Srinivasan got seed funding from Mahindra, but the rest of the funding has to be raised like any other startup doing the rounds. According to Mahindra, it’s the best of both the worlds - the agility of a startup, with the wisdom and support of a giant corporation.
Now to the actual reveal itself - SmartShift. It is an idea so simple and elegant, it is astounding it isn’t huge already. At its core, SmartShift connects cargo owners to cargo transporters. If you are a small or medium business owner, you fall firmly in SmartShift’s target user base. Say, you own a hypothetical liquor store and suddenly get an order for 150 crates of beer. That’s good news, right? More business? Well, perhaps not. How do you reliably transport such a large quantity in a short amount of time?
The small cargo industry in India is heavily disorganised. The rates fluctuate according to the vendor’s mood and going to a new, unknown transport vendor is risky business. This is where SmartShift comes in. Exactly like Uber, it lets you see registered cargo transporters around you. The transporters are all vetted and verified by SmartShift. It doesn’t stop at connecting you with the transporter though - it also suggests the appropriate pricing for the cargo, lets you track and trace your goods and Mahindra claims you’ll get a vehicle at your doorstep within 15-20 minutes.
SmartShift’s services will be available as an Android app, a website and even through a call centre. The team behind it did extensive research and recognised the fact that some of their target users might not be comfortable conducting their daily business over apps. There is even a version of the service that works with feature phones, like the good old Nokias.
The SmartShift team was careful not to drop any numbers or projections at the launch event, but if we had the money, this is the app we would back. Their pilot program is already underway in Mumbai and they plan to scale up exponentially soon. The demand is there, the product is sound and Mahindra has got its back. What’s not to like?