VNIT Nagpur Alumni Sandeep Sharma, who co-founded Donatekart along with classmate Anil Kumar Reddy, takes us through its endearing journey
By Kavitha Srinivasa
I was doing chemical engineering in Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology (VNIT) Nagpur. Anil Kumar Reddy, my classmate and I were part of Prayaas, the college’s social club which gave us an opportunity to interact with NGOs (nongovernmental organization). Through the club, we organized an event to mark the Joy of Giving Week which happens in October. Donations in the form of clothes poured in to the collection centres that were put up. In our third year of engineering we went on the Jagriti Yatra, a rail journey through which youth meet Entrepreneurs, Social reformers and change Makers. That gave us a lead.
We decided to start an enterprise that does good for society and is sustainable. The idea was strengthened by Renaissance. This national conference on social entrepreneurship brought us in contact with many social entrepreneurs. It was followed by an internship in Goonj. This Delhi-based NGO provided support to the flood affected victims of Chennai in 2015. That’s when we saw groceries pouring in and some of it was in excess. Flood-affected victims may have required other essentials like mosquito nets, but most contributions were in the form of groceries. Simply because donors didn’t know what was required.
This, we realized, was a gap between what a victim wants and what the donor gives. Sometimes there could be a mismatch. We also felt we need not wait for a disaster to happen. Anil and I saw potential in this space and enrolled for a course in entrepreneurship conducted in our college. That helped us start a company.
We were assisted by interns, family and friends to build a prototype of Donatekart. Anil's brother Sunil helped us built the Donatekart website. He remains our Technology consultant.
The Beta version, which was released in November 2016, fetched a good response. We got noticed. That led us to Mumbai in February 2017 where we got into Zone Startups. This incubator for entrepreneurs is located in the Bombay Stock Exchange Tower.
When we moved to Mumbai we were doing Rs 1 lakh a month and in 1.5 years stint in Mumbai, we reached Rs 25 lakhs monthly donations. These donations come from donors.
Later, we were supported by angel investors through whom we raised an investment of Rs 2.5 crores.
It drove home the fact that entrepreneurs can get some sort of backing provided they can sell their idea. Though Mumbai is finance capital, we decided to move out. Since technology forms the core of our work, we shifted to Hyderabad in October 2018. We are based out of T-Hub, where we’ve built a team of 25 employees. The Government of Telangana has collaborated with the industry and educational institutes to set up T-Hub as a prominent facility for innovation and entrepreneurship.
Ours is a hybrid model of e-commerce and crowdfunding. We are the bridge between the NGO/NPO and donor. Donatekart creates a campaign for a particular need. Let’s say an NGO/NPO requires 100 kilos of rice, we create a story and air it through a one-minute video. Donors can come forward and pay money for 100 kilos of rice. It’s pretty much the same as shopping online, except that here it’s for a cause.
What also makes us different from crowdfunding platforms is that they raise funds for individual causes like medical treatment for individuals, which we don’t do. Ours is a need-based donation platform for donors to discover NGOs/NPOs and donate funds for their specific requirement, which is made clear on our website. We are a social enterprise which is providing a unique platform for social organizations to easily procure products in need. We are an in-kind based donation platform, which ensures transparency. There’s no money involved, as the products will be delivered directly by Donatekart.
We act only as a technology platform where donors can send supplies to charities instead of giving money directly to them.
So far we have worked with 850 NGOs and NPOs (nonprofit organization) across causes. We have raised $ 2 million through over 1 lakh donors. We began with education as it’s a significant concern among NGOs and NPOs in India. For us also it was viable because it’s easier to ship stationery as opposed to products with limited shelf life like groceries. Over a period of time, we’ve noticed that animal related causes evoke a good response. People are also receptive towards disaster, followed by a concern for the elderly. Anna Daan (food giving culture) as well as religious causes is also popular with the masses.
Our marketing team scouts around for NGOs and NPOs that have a good track record. Their social media presence along with their online outreach is the other parameter for selection. Besides, we are well networked and sometimes, a word-of-mouth publicity also helps us connect with the NGO/NPO.
We attract donors by creating content for NGOs/NPOs. A story pitch is created depending on the cause of the fund. Then we run campaigns on our website for them to attract eyeballs and raise funds. A video of the campaign is uploaded on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram and promoted through our marketing team. We also do social media creative works for promotions. Our research team gleans 10-15 campaigns per day.
Technology is aiding every cause as all donor payments happen online. Digital payments are gaining traction after demonetization.
We are clocking Rs 1 crore monthly donations and the target for the calendar year 2020 is Rs 20 crores. Our vision to meet the cause of the NGO/NPO and make it sustainable is being fulfilled. But we would like to take this ahead by approaching the CSR (corporate social responsibility) division of the corporate house to help NGO/NPO build capacity.
We are also doing corona relief campaigns like assisting daily wage laborers to get groceries across India.