Surakchya Adhikari : Empowering Women through Technology

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Surakchya Adhikari : Empowering Women through Technology

This entrepreneur aspires to contribute to the growth of e-commerce business and women empowerment.

--BY MANISHA BALAMI

“An entrepreneur always needs to be able to look at the broader picture, which helps them to keep going even during challenging times,” says Surakchya Adhikari, co-founder of Thulo.com, an e-commerce site. According to Adhikari, who is also the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the up and growing e-commerce marketplace, being visionary and having patience are two essential qualities necessary for anyone aspiring to become an entrepreneur.

Originally from Bhairahawa, she was born in Lalitpur. Her father had migrated to Kathmandu for his further studies before entering into government service. Adhikari completed her MBA from Kathmandu University School of Management in 2017. Her parents always prioritised providing good education to their children on top of anything, and hence Adhikari along with all of her siblings are well educated. According to her, being born and brought up in an open-minded family has helped her to shape her career. She is very thankful to her family, especially her elder sister, who has always been very supportive.

As soon as she completed her BBA from Ace Institute of Management in 2012, Adhikari joined a startup company as a manager where she got the opportunity to learn the basics about starting a business. Planning to start a jewellery business with her friend, she left the job. Unfortunately, the business failed due to lack of the right market access. “This made me realise the need for an e-commerce platform that has a wider reach to the right market,” she says. In 2013, she took over an existing domain of an e-commerce marketplace NepBay.com by partnering with the site’s founder.

When she started her online business, she found that it was very challenging to convince sellers to come on board. The internet penetration rate was low, less than 15 percent, and she had to work hard to bring costumers to buy products online. “As the concept of ‘marketplace’ brought by NepBay was new to Nepali producers, service providers and customers, me and my two partners ventured into the e-commerce platform to directly trade with and provide home delivery of groceries and other essential items by establishing Thulo.com in 2016,” she shares. “Now in 2020, as internet penetration and customer awareness about e-commerce has risen substantially, both sellers and buyers understand that online shopping is the future, and hence, Thulo.com is now a marketplace,” she further elaborates.

In the last four years, Thulo.com has become one of the leading e-commerce platforms in Nepal with more than 50,000 consumer products of diverse ranges. Customers can order online or via telephonic support, and pay digitally through Fonepay, Esewa, Khalti, Standard Chartered Bank, NIC Asia Bank, ebanking, IMEpay, ConnectIPS, nPay, PayPal, Union Pay, Visa card, Master Card or cash-on-delivery (COD) mode and get prompt delivery at their feasible locations all over Nepal. Moreover, they have more than 65,000 registered users and 12,000 daily visitors at present.

Besides this, with her partners, she operates five different companies under Thulo Group, to collectively provide technology and infrastructure support to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) for operating businesses online. “I feel proud to be one of the leading e-commerce platforms of Nepal, while also serving more than 5,000 entrepreneurs and businesses within our ecosystem,” mentions Adhikari.

After spending more than seven years in the field of e-commerce, her major motivation at present is in working for women entrepreneurs who lack knowledge and access to tools and technologies for reaching the right market to sell their products. Adhikari has been leading the campaign to facilitate a dedicated platform for women entrepreneurs to promote and sell their handmade local products.

Adhikari is happy to see that many women are operating their own businesses. There are many women-led startups that are amazingly innovative and successful. She observes that as the ‘entrepreneurship culture’ is building in Nepal, it has encouraged women to bring out their innovation and leadership qualities. She says, “As women are proving their capabilities, many big organisations now prefer women candidates in responsible positions.”

Despite this, she states that although the views and ideas of women are heard and acknowledged today, there is still a sense that they are expected to be validated by a male counterpart/partner, especially during important business deals. However, Adhikari says that she did not face any such incidences.

As an e-commerce entrepreneur, managing family and work has always been difficult for her. Especially with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, sheand her husband have to meet a lot of daily responsibilities. She says that from having to take precautions to be safe from the virus, to running the business and household chores, it is challenging, yet she happily tries to manage it the best way she can. Adhikari says she feels fortunate that her husband is very supportive.

Effects of Covid-19 Pandemic
At a time when Nepali businesses have found themselves surrounded by a number of challenges due to the pandemic-induced economic slowdown, Thulo.com has seen a vertical surge in its business. The pandemic proved an opportunity for the e-commerce company to expand their horizon and serve customers better. However, they faced challenges in the management side during the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis as various government orders created hindrances in key areas of delivery of orders, supply of products and managing workforce.

To cope up with the situation, they held discussions with major e-commerce stakeholders to resolve issues such as getting vehicle passes from government authorities. Similarly, they came up with new work procedures, operational and customer support plans to cope with problems created by insufficient resources in terms of four-wheeler delivery vehicles and on-field staff as a majority of them had to work from home. “We suggested alternate products to customers in case of unavailability, elongated delivery timingsand fulfilled customer support mostly via email and chat,” shares Adhikari.

Concerned about the safety of customers and staff, they provided Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), masks, hand sanitizers and switched fully towards digital payments.

“By taking prompt decisions, we were able to build trust among customers. Most of our efforts were directed towards avoiding the risks of virus transmission while also fulfilling the requirements of customers,” she explains. Financing, like others, was also a challenge for them. According to Adhikari, financing is vital for e-commerce companies at the moment as it is the right time to scale up the business. So, they look forward to financing – not as a problem but as an opportunity to scale up.

By dealing with the lockdown crisis as a team, they were able to create a crisis plan. She says that prompt decisions focusing on the strengths and available resources made them efficient and helped them survive the crisis. “I can now happily say that we now have a much better sense of things that actually matter to our company,” adds Adhikari.

In order to help women-led businesses to survive the pandemic, she feels that the government should encourage people to use local products and services especially produced by women. “This should be a long-term strategy. Besides, the government can provide special tax concessions and also push banks and financial institutions to provide collateral-free loans, while also making the process convenient and easy,”opines Adhikari.

She is of the view that the government can also encourage women-led businesses to opt for e-commerce platform by involving them in projects. “Not all women-led businesses are tech-friendly, but with the right partnerships and involvement, they will be able to sell their products and services online,” she mentions.

Besides work, Adhikari loves spending time with her family and friends. Though free time is rare for her, she watches her favorite series, chatswith family and friends, reads and surfs social networking sites whenever she gets some leisure time.

She envisions working in support of more and more women-led local businesses by providing access to promotions and sales through her e-commerce platform. “Furthermore, I am more focused on providing easy global market access to Nepali handmade products,” she says. She also wants to continue sharing and learning through collaborations and partnerships with like-minded people and institutions. “All in all, I want to keep being inspired and inspire as well and believe positivity is the key to keep moving on,” concludes Adhikari.

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