E-Sewa : The Pioneering Payment Gateway
Just after the turn of the century, businesses and financial activities across the world were moving online. Slowly, Nepal gained pace by starting SMS banking. The most significant stride, however, was made in 2009 when F1Soft International launched eSewa, Nepal’s first online payment platform. Within a short time, it gained popularity and eSewa emerged as a separate wing under F1Soft.
Over the past 10 years, eSewa has added one service every year in its arsenal, beginning with services such as airtime top-up and pinless recharge in the past to providing payment options across fast-food chains to international airlines. eSewa faced several problems in the beginning. Back then, eSewa employees had to collect all the electricity bills and stand in line at the Nepal Electricity Authority to pay them manually. Today almost 20 percent of all electricity bills are paid through eSewa. Similarly, over 2.1 million eSewa subscribers access the wallet services either through the web or their mobile phones. Similarly, the e-payment and digital wallet market leader has more than 25,000 merchant accounts, and the number of its active users, who use the app once a month, stands at 400,000.
“Though it has already been 10 since e-sewa started, it has just been few years it has been able to get airborne,” says Subash Sharma, CEO, F1Soft International. The last five years have seen remarkable growth of eSewa with its number of subscribers increasing at a rate of 100 percent annually since 2014. Before the year, it had only around 20,000 customers, and the number of active users was almost 5,000. eSewa has already built a network of more than 50,000 agents across the country and has partnered with 58 banks and financial institutions. Following eSewa’s success, several similar payment gateways began operating in Nepal such as Khalti, IME Pay, e-pay and CellPay.
QFX Cinemas : Lord of the Screens
QFX Cinemas is the first cinema chain in Nepal and changed the way Nepalis watched movies. The QFX brand came into being after the construction of Civil Mall in 2008. It marked a significant change in the cinema-going experience that was a novel concept to most Nepalis. In the past, cinema halls lacked essential qualities such as cleanliness, quality sound, and projection. “QFX was established with the motive of providing a quality movie-going experience,” says Roshan Adiga, the CEO of QFX cinemas. Adiga adds that QFX remains consistent by providing the right training to staff members and upgrading the technology.
As QFX started providing its services, the price of tickets was three times more than other theatres, which was the biggest challenge that QFX faced. After a decade long journey, QFX stands out among other theatres because it has created many loyal customers who prefer QFX rather than other halls. “It is always good that people come with new ideas which are good for the overall economy of the country,” states Adiga. QFX continues to expand and is ready to open six screens in 3 months. Adiga opines that the government should subside the tax imposed on the tickets and import of projection goods, which will directly boost the movie industry. After QFX, theatres such as F-cube, BSR Movies, City Max Cinemas and Q’s Cinemas are some of the multiplexes that have emerged in Nepal.
Foodmandu : Delivered to Your Doorstep
The food delivery service Foodmandu was launched in 2010 by Manohar Adhikari. At a time when there were no such services in the country, Foodmandu helped people order food via app or a phone call. Foodmandu endeavours to deliver food to its clients within 45 minutes. Also, the food provided to the customers is fresh as it is delivered in a thermal bag which preserves heat. Currently, Foodmandu delivers more than 200 orders every day from over 250 restaurant partners in Kathmandu.
Foodmandu doesn’t prepare food; it has partner restaurants, from where it delivers food to the customers. Customers can order food from any restaurant through Foodmandu. Today, there are many online food delivery services in Kathmandu. Some of them are Bhojdeals, Foodmario, among others.
When Adhikari used to work as an employee searching for eateries near his workplace was a tough task. Despite his busy schedule, Adhikari had to spend time searching for places to eat. Adhikari knew many professionals were facing this kind of problem and the idea of starting Foodmandu struck him. However, during the initial stage, making restaurants and customers aware of the concept was a tough job for Adhikari. The platform used to get only 4-5 orders a day when it started. With time, the platform gained popularity among
people in Kathmandu.
Now, Foodmandu is also planning to expand its services outside Kathmandu valley. In the initial phase, the company will expand its services to major cities.
Tootle : Transforming Transportation
It has been three years since the establishment of Tootle, the first ride-sharing platform in Nepal. Tootle provides a service that falls somewhere between the overcrowded public vehicles and the high priced taxi services in the city by providing fast and affordable commuting services.
Initially, it was started to track public buses, but it evolved into a ride-sharing platform. The establishment of Tootle has led to the creation of more than 15,000 employment opportunities which has filled a substantial gap in the transportation scenario of Nepal. It has made a significant impact by creating a user-friendly platform for the visually impaired and making their commute more comfortable and safer.
“Our biggest challenge was to change the behaviour of people towards tootle,” says Sixit Bhatta, the CEO of Tootle. With taxi fares skyrocketing and the public vehicles overcrowding, Tootle came in as a game-changer for people seeking reasonable as well as a time-sensitive commutes.
“The startup scene has evolved greatly, but it needs to take bigger challenges in terms of scale and magnitude by not only confining ourselves within the country. If a Bangladeshi or an Indian brand can come to Nepal, I don’t see why a Nepali brand cannot go outside,” says Bhatta.
Tootle is facing problems due to lack of appropriate policies. “The government should be more like a farmer who creates an environment for crops to grow,” adds Bhatta.
Tootle plans to expand to other parts of the country, but it will take some time, shares Bhatta. Other ride-sharing platforms such as Pathao, Sarathi, Eddy Cab, Kawa Rides, and Onver Smart Taxi have all followed in Tootle’s wake.
Himalayan Java : The Coffee Czar
Gagan Pradhan, a graduate of hotel management, alongside Anand Gurung, a mechanical engineer, founded Himalayan Java Coffee in 1999. When it was launched, it was the first specialised coffee shop in Nepal and eventually paved the way for the development of coffee culture in a country where tea was predominantly the hot beverage of choice.
According to Pradhan, he and Anand started the coffee shop with an initial investment of Rs 1.2 million. “We started our first coffee shop in Heritage Plaza, which was also the first coffee shop in Nepal. The core motto of Himalayan Java was to promote coffee culture and Nepali coffee with a clean and friendly ambience,” he added.
Himalayan Java faced numerous challenges during the initial phase of their business. In a country passionate about tea, the market and supply and demand chain of coffee were tough to assume. Likewise, scarcity of quality in water and milk, and regular power cuts were a significant source of frustration for the founders.
Despite all the hurdles, the company today has emerged as a popular Nepali coffee brand with a global presence. Himalayan Java currently has 35 outlets in Nepal and eight overseas. The company today not only brews coffee but also trains baristas, supplies coffee equipment and provides consultancy services.
Himalayan Java has served as an inspiration for many coffee brands, Lekali Coffee, Everest Coffee, and Nepal Organic Coffee being some notable examples.
Pradhan believes there is a lack of innovation in Nepal’s business eco-system. “The startup scene in Nepal is all about copy and paste; there is no creativity. Entrepreneurs should emphasise launching a new business idea rather than copying as it harms the entire eco-system,” he adds.
He particularly identifies the hectic procedure for sanctioning loans as a major hurdle in Nepal’s startup scene. “The government should create a protocol to provide loans without collateral to motivate innovative business ideas”, Pradhan remarks. Likewise, entrepreneurs should have basic knowledge of compliances, he added.
Sastodeal : Changing Shopping Dynamics
After returning from the United States, Amun Thapa felt the need to start his own venture in Nepal. Thapa thought of starting an online store to provide the best quality products at the lowest price possible. He met his school buddies who were involved in the IT sector, and together they started a venture in 2011 and named it Sastodeal.
According to Thapa, the initial stage was challenging as they had to go to the market searching for contracts and deals. He also shares that gaining the trust of traders and consumers was a hard task during that period. However, today, Sastodeal is one of Nepal’s biggest online shopping websites.
The products in Sastodeal are relatively cheap in comparison to the market price, as the company has contracts with the wholesalers and traders. It also features the products for free on its website, which saves the marketing cost of traders.
Thapa further shares that the platform has made it possible for customers outside Kathmandu to buy genuine and branded products with just a click. Currently, Sastodeal has partnered with small and medium enterprises to promote their business.
The platform records transactions worth almost 1.5 million daily. Sastodeal has also launched Sastobook - The sole target of the platform is to supply books in the rural parts of the nation. “If someone in the rural part of the country wants a Loksewa book, then he/she has to travel to the nearby market to buy it. We aim to solve this,” Thapa shares.
Thapa further shares that there are several problems in the startup community, which will improve with time. “At one time, the whole country had to face problems such as power cuts. Now, companies are not facing these kinds of problems,” he said.
Urban Girl : Products for Wonder Women
When Nikita Acharya and Kiran Timsina were in college, only international shopping websites were present in the market. Acharya remembers that the Nepal-based shopping websites were accessible to people with a foreign credit card, and those platforms were used by people living abroad to send gifts to friends and family in Kathmandu.
This was when Acharya and her business partner Timsina thought of starting an e-commerce business in Nepal. They both started a platform in December 2012 with the name Urban Girl. During the initial days, UG sold jewellery, gifts and clothing items. Both Acharya and Timsina had started the business by investing Rs 10,000 each. The platform was solely focused on products related to women.
According to Acharya, they felt women spend more time on shopping compared to men, so that was the reason the platform was solely focused on women. The initial stage was tough for UG as people were not aware of e-commerce platforms, so the startup promoted its products through social media. In 2016, the duo realised the need to change the business model of the company. Thus, Urban Girl embarked into the bakery business as well. Now, UG Cakes, which is under Urban Girl, sells customised cakes. Acharya shares that the company makes customised cakes. Acharya claims that UG Cakes can make 50-60 customised cakes daily.
Urban Girl also makes customised tees, cups and necklace. This year, Urban Girl opened Ugbazaar.com, from where customers can place orders for products offered by the company. Acharya shares that there is no support from the government to promote startup business in Nepal. She also shared that the government has very minimal knowledge and understanding of the startup community of Nepal.
Merojob : The Career Maker
Shailendra Raj Giri created Merojob, one of the country’s first recruitment/HR solution companies in 2009 after running the Real Solutions Company for seven years. He informs Real Solutions was an outsourcing recruitment company which received job applications in a traditional way, where applicants drafted their application via mail. He and his team back then had a hectic job tabulating and finalising the candidates. So, in order to simplify the process, he came up with the idea of creating a website which today is known as merojob.com, influenced from similar platforms such as monster.com and naukari.com.
Giri says a lot of Nepali job seekers were victims of nepotism and favouritism, which discouraged thousands of young talents. “Merojob is a creative initiative to provide jobs to bright talents transparently and professionally,” Giri informs. Additionally, the company is a bridge between the employee and the applicants. “Back then, the only means to find applicants were newspapers where companies announced their vacancies, a lot of which were left unnoticed. Merojob with the use of technology brought both employer and applicant closer and simplified the recruiting process. Companies had an effective platform to find employees, and on the other hand, applicants found an easy method to search for jobs. Thus the platform created a revolution in the recruitment sector in Nepal,” Giri opines.
With over 150,000 individuals finding their jobs through Merojob, the company today has established itself as the preeminent recruitment and HR solution company in the country. Giri thinks that startup and entrepreneurship culture, which once witnessed tremendous growth in Nepal is lately slowing down. He says one cannot learn startup and entrepreneurship in schools but that it is something that one learns with experience.
“It takes great courage to run a startup, and only individuals with great risk-taking ability can be successful entrepreneurs. One should be dedicated and willing to accept all the challenges,” he says.
“The government should be strict in its policies. It has to develop and implement acts. Good acts are beneficial to boost the star-up scene in Nepal. They should be unbiased, motivate and punish the companies accordingly. Additionally, the government should provide tax deduction and subsidies to startup companies like agriculture,” Giri concludes.
The Factory Team (Dulla Shoes) : Purveyor of Premium Footwear
Ahmed Dulla, the first certified shoe technician in Nepal, started The Factory Team (TFT) with an initial investment of Rs 250,000. His passion for making shoes of his brand and supplying premium quality footwear products to Nepali customers led him to start the
During the initial stage of the business TFT produced footwear only for school going girls, because Dulla thought girls of that age group were fashionable and would buy his shoes in substantial quantities, but the sales did not go as planned.
“Since the girls of that age group had a minimal budget, they could hardly buy our shoes, this was my biggest mistake,” he added. He learned from his mistakes and later diversified his clientele, and with his experience, hard work and hunger to succeed has established The Factory Team as one of the premium footwear brands in Nepal.
According to him, the Nepali footwear products before TFT were deprived of international premium quality products and first-rate branding and customer care service. “We just did it from an international perspective. We made sure we lived up to the trends and standards, used the best resources and worked on customer service very well,” says Dulla. He observes a significant expansion in the current startup scenario of Nepal and mentions it to be positive but feels that the education system is lacking. He suggests the academics adapt to the real business world and support the students to adjust to the startup environment.
“The students need to have basic information on how to register a company, buy a website domain and use social media to sell products and services,” he opines.
According to him, the government has a significant role to play; they should make an environment-friendly level playing field for startup companies, provide tax reduction for at least 3-5 years and provide loans without collateral.
FinePrint : Pioneers of Litfest
Established in 2006, FinePrint is considered one of the most impressive publishing houses in Nepal. It has been able to publish literary works that have won the Madan Puraskar.
Some of its notable publications till date are Yaar, China Harayeko Manchhe, Chhapamarko Chhoro and Karnali Blues. There were many publication houses in Nepal, but FinePrint is the first one to professionalise the service.
Before FinePrint, no Nepali publishing house had a history of printing over 10,000 copies of first editions. Ajit Baral, the Co-founder of Fine Prints, shares that he always had the desire to do something different, which ultimately gave birth to one of Nepal’s top publishing houses.
One of the new initiatives that Baral and Bhari did was that they started literary festival which was a totally new concept back then. Now their festival has become an annual event which attracts best Nepali, writers, poets, novelist, critics and people from academia. The success of FinePrint led establishment of other publishing houses like it in Nepal. FinePrint also undertook various marketing strategies that helped to develop a new community for literature lovers. “When we started publishing people started to notice a change in the overall quality of the book, starting from the cover to the content of the book and they appreciated it,” says Baral. The use of lightweight papers, attractive design and appealing fonts are the cornerstones of FinePrint’s success.
Baral credits newspapers and social media, which helped FinePrint to gain mass exposure. In the coming days, FinePrint plans to publish English versions of Nepali novels and revive classic Nepali literature by publishing the translated version outside the country. Some of the major publishing houses beside Fine Prints are Nepa~laya, Ekta Books Distributors, Ratna Pustak Bhandar and Sajha Prakashan.