School of Fish Technologies: you can well be excused if you thought this has something to do with pisciculture.

But no. It is the name of a venture incubated that the behaviour of fish to define its business.

If individual fish, explain Thanmaya Bekkalale and TR Ravi Sankar, co-founders, School of Fish Technologies Pvt Ltd, swim in the ocean, they are easy prey, but if a large number of fish – or a school of fish – swim together, they can become predatory. It is the same with data. School of Fish Technologies, say Thanmaya and Ravi Sankar, picks up disparate data to make it a powerful analytical weapon for manufacturers of consumer goods, their distributors and retailers, helping each one benefit from the use of technology to change and improve the way they do their business.

School of Fish Technologies, incubated at the Nadathur S Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (NSRCEL) at IIM-Bangalore, has developed an app that the founders say will change the way FMCG companies, their distributors and retailers do business, in the process ensuring that salesmen of the FMCG companies are actually salesmen – selling and pushing their products – and not merely taking orders from the retailers and passing them on to the distributors. Thanmaya and Ravi Sankar say that more retailers will be brought into the network, as they do not need salesmen visiting them to place their orders. They can push their requirement through the app.

An app for FMCG sector

Thanmaya, a commerce graduate with vast experience in the business development side, and Ravi Sankar, an engineering graduate with experience in sales and marketing, knew each other in their previous corporate jobs. At one point they decided to pursue their own idea and they hit upon an app for the FMCG sector as they had knowledge of how it worked. When Thanmaya, who is based in Bengaluru, pitched his idea at NSRCEL for incubation, one of the mentors at the centre, a top executive at a leading FMCG company, urged him to quit his job and start working on the idea full time.

They incorporated the company in September 2014, also roping in Sreekanth Sastry, to handle the technical aspects of the venture. The product hit the market in December 2015-January 2016.

What is it that you are trying to solve? “There is a big gap,” says Thanmaya, “between the manufacturer of the FMCG product and the retailer. There are a lot of intermediaries and information doesn’t flow between the manufacturer and the retailer. We felt they needed to have a direct connect and that is the basis of our idea. We are enabling a direct communication between the manufacturer and the retailer.”

Ravi Sankar explains that the salesman of an FMCG company is expected to call on a certain number of retailers every day of the week. They do this, but what happens is they just have enough time to take down the orders – which too occasionally because the shop keeper himself is busy, is lost in the poor communication – and they tend to ignore a large number of retailers that are located off the main streets. These retailers, if they have installed the app on their mobile phones, can directly communicate with the distributor or the manufacturer. In the bargain, both the distributor and the manufacturer benefit.

Both hasten to add that the app will not do away with the need for having salesmen. On the contrary, says Thanmaya, the salesmen can concentrate on what they are supposed to be doing – pushing the company’s sales by making sure the products are better displayed, spend more time with retailers to understand their problems and even bring down the frequency of visits to a particular retailer and thus have more time to visit other retailers. In the process, the distributor also gains in efficiency as his vehicles will only need to make a small detour to reach the retailers that had not been covered so far.

The mobile app – named isScheme, as that is how most shopkeepers in north and west India pronounce the word ‘scheme” – even incorporates payment facility through the UPI and keeps tracks of the orders that a retailer places, according to Ravi Sankar.

According to Thanmaya, the company wants to cover the entire secondary sales process. The roadmap includes incorporating distributors’ inventory, billing and managing the downstream supply chain, all on the cloud. Ultimately, it is all about data. There is a huge amount of data that will be available, including about how retailers are placing orders, why they are placing the orders when they are, whether there is a pattern in what they do, what are the products that move quickly off the shelves in which period. All these can be mined for better decisions that will benefit everyone. The app can even be used to run quick and short promotional schemes, instead of letting them run for a month or more, as is what happens now.

Can this be used in any other industry? Yes, automobile, for one, points out Thanmaya. The company is in talks with two manufacturers, he says without revealing their names. The app has been installed in about 2,500 retailers in Bengaluru.

Business model

At present, School of Fish Technologies is concentrating on Bengaluru and the National Capital Region. It is looking to raise over ₹2.5 crore to increase the base of retailers and improve technology. The company sells to the manufacturers who get the app installed with their distributors and retailers. School of Fish Tech gets paid on a charge per order basis.

Thanmaya says the founders had planned that they will not take any salary from the company for at least three years. “The timeframe I had in mind was three years. Two years are up. So, there is one more year for that,” says Thanmaya. If they are able to sign up with a couple of large multinational companies, then they will have a pan-India presence and that will help the company achieve break even, he adds.

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