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How discovery platforms are boosting women-run enterprises

Payel Majumdar Upreti | Updated on August 07, 2021

Building a future: A love for crocheting and Gen Z social media skills enabled 18-year-old Ruchira Sen to have her own successful company in the midst of the pandemic

Pandemic has hit women entrepreneurs badly — but help is at hand

* Seventy per cent of businesses run by women in India have reported a fall in revenue and one-fifth claimed their revenues were completely wiped out according to a joint Bain & Co, Google, and AWE Foundation report on small businesses owned by women

* Says Abhishek Agarwal, Head, Revenue & Growth at Sheroes, “The biggest challenge in being a small business owner is to scale one’s business from one’s circle of influence. That’s where we come in”

* Retail on discovery platforms is different from retailing on an Amazon or a Flipkart-based model, where the consumer goes to search for a particular product based on a catalogue

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A new term — “Shecession” — is doing the rounds after multiple reports have uncovered how badly the pandemic has hit women-owned businesses.

Seventy per cent of businesses run by women in India have reported a fall in revenue and one-fifth claimed their revenues were completely wiped out according to a joint Bain & Co, Google, and AWE Foundation report on small businesses owned by women. The report found that 54 per cent were shifting their business models to stay relevant.

There has also been a big drop in venture capital funding for women led start-ups. Figures from Crunchbase, a business information platform, show that women-led businesses globally got just 2.3 per cent of all funding in 2020 — compared to 2.8 per cent in 2019.

However, there is some good news. Several interventions are underway to help women-led businesses regain their mojo. Community platforms are springing up to help start-ups run by women get discovered or succeed. For their part, several women entrepreneurs are smartly pivoting to social commerce, using platforms such as Instagram to be discoverable — and it is paying off.

Abhishek Agarwal, Head, Revenue & Growth at Sheroes

 

Sheroes, a women-only social network, has recently launched Shop on Sheroes, a social commerce platform. Says Abhishek Agarwal, head, revenue & growth at Sheroes, “The biggest challenge in being a small business owner is to scale one’s business from one’s circle of influence. That’s where we come in.”

Agrawal claims that over a thousand entrepreneurs have joined the Shop on Sheroes initiative within 6-7 weeks of its launch.

Another intervention at a global level is Fund Femme, a new database of women and non-binary owned businesses, that has been launched by marketing communications agency Wunderman. The global platform allows consumers to discover, and shop from women and non-binary business owners across beauty, fashion, food, homeware, technology, health and wellness, travel, fitness, arts and culture, media and charities. Users can filter based on category, location or through tags that businesses have added to identify themselves.

According to Oriel Irvine-wells, co-founder of Fund Femme and copywriter at Wunderman Thompson UK, “We want to give female and non-binary entrepreneurs the chance to tell their stories, so we’re developing an editorial platform that will hero different under-represented groups bi-monthly.” The longer-term plan is to organise mentoring sessions and work with our clients to develop tools to help upskill in areas of technology, finance and presenting as those are the major barriers to entry.”

Meanwhile, many women-run businesses are reporting that Instagram has become a huge discovery platform for them.

Mumbai-based Ruchira Sen, 17, had just graduated from high school when the pandemic hit. In October 2020, she decided to set up her Instagram shop on crocheting, “It was a skill I had picked up from my grandmom.” A love for crocheting and Gen Z social media skills (some of her Instagram reels have crossed over a million views) led her to having her own successful company in the midst of the pandemic.

“My shop is 100 per cent run on Instagram and the last 10 months have been so fruitful!,” she says. For youngsters like Sen who are turning to entrepreneurship as the pandemic throws young people’s future to the curb, Instagram has become a major discovery platform for their businesses.

Tanushree Bhasin, wedding photographer, had been in business since 2013. When the pandemic hit, her candid wedding photography business came crashing down as big fat Indian weddings came to an abrupt halt. “Earlier on, the website would drive traffic, but now most of my business comes through Instagram,” she said.

Archana Vohra, director, small and medium businesses, Facebook India, says across the social media’s apps it is noticing small businesses moving online in an unprecedented manner. “The role of discovery in shopping journeys is fuelling e-commerce in India. Across categories, people are discovering more products online,” she says.

“Our joint report with the World Bank and OECD on small businesses revealed that by the end of 2020, almost a third of small businesses on Facebook had increased their digital sales compared to before Covid-19 pandemic,” she says.

Says Ravina Rawal, owner of media and entertainment company DeadAnt that focuses on comedy in India, “It has become easier to get access to a larger audience with social media tools. Each community has its own specific generational audience, and content needs to be tackled differently for each social media platform — there is no one-size-fits-all formula.”

It has also become important to be discoverable as a business on different platforms — a new normal for businesses to sustain into the future.

Peer-led push

Retail on discovery platforms is different from retailing on an Amazon or a Flipkart-based model, where the consumer goes to search for a particular product based on a catalogue. As consumers go on these apps to buy a specific item, no product discovery happens as such here unlike in community platforms where people go for social consumption.

Here the consumption is peer-led or from an aspirational peer group, as somebody recommends a product to a consumer directly or indirectly. That is why businesses are increasingly seeing the rise of entrepreneur influencers, says Agarwal of Sheroes. “One can call it her digital identity, her place to be proud of — the number of transactions she has made, the awards that she has won, the glowing reviews that she gets — not in terms of a catalogue where she has 10 products listed. That is the impact of such platforms and it is the new direction that e-commerce is taking.”

Says Agarwal, “Everything we do at Sheroes is ultimately about creating an identity for women — which we see has two form factors — one is the financial identity, the second is your social identity, which is both about having a safe space.

Need for a leg up

There are several reasons why platforms are showcasing women businesses. One is, of course, to redress the gender imbalance. Women often report a bias as compared to men-owned businesses while getting funding. Rawal agrees, “There is a definite bias, with women looked at with suspicion, especially if they are a solo founder of an organisation.”

The second is that empowering women to run their own businesses boosts their status in society.

According to a report by the EdelGive Foundation (an Edelweiss initiative), which conducted the study across 13 states, India will see a 90 per cent growth in the number of women entrepreneurs, faster than the US or the UK for the next five years. The study also found that women entrepreneurs experienced an improved familial and social status, an increase in confidence and independence linked to their financial identity.

Over 98 per cent of all women-owned businesses are micro-enterprises, according to a 2019 International Finance Corporation report. MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) are critical for India’s economy and employment scenario, contributing 30 per cent of the GDP, and being the second biggest employer in the country. With brick-and-mortar shops closing down in the second half of 2020, and opening only sporadically in 2021, a lot of such businesses have moved online, run entirely on social media platforms.

Negating male clique

Ragini Das, co-founder of Leap Club, a private club for women-only leaders and entrepreneurs, felt that there was no adequate platform that addressed the needs of professional women. “The professional network is so broken. If you ask women who they aspire to be, the same few names such as Indra Nooyi come up. If you ask men, the diversity is much greater. Women need role models among themselves to look up to, and that is why the professional network needs to be built stronger,” says Das.

Grow together: Leap Club founders Ragini Das and Anand Sinha felt there was the need for an adequate platform that addressed the needs of professional women

 

Leap club is a women-only professional network, founded by Das and Anand Sinha. Since its inception in October 2020, it has connected over 2,100 women through support groups, peer-to-peer engagement, wellness meets, live sessions and enabled them to build a community. Das shares, “Our glowing testimonials, and 90 per cent user engagement rate are indicators of the amount of love we have received from the community, and the need that they felt for such a platform to exist.”

Rawal agrees. “I feel everyone is moving towards a phase where they want to belong to a community and platforms such as Leap Club help fulfil that gap. Clubhouse is another place that has several start-up focused groups, especially for women entrepreneurs.” Rawal adds that Deadant fills a similar need in the comedy sphere, serving as a discovery platform for all things comedy in India.

For many an entrepreneur, it’s going to be a long haul to emerge from the devastation wreaked by the pandemic. But it is heartening to see so many leaning in to give them a much needed boost.

Published on August 07, 2021

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