Sulekha is an Indian based matchmaking platform linking buyers (users) with local businesses. It acts as a market-enabler, connecting a user with service providers and professionals that can satisfy the needs of the consumer.
While web-based services platform using hyperlocal marketing are prevalent today, Sulekha is one of the pioneers in this industry. It found an effective way to link commerce with the community. This article expatiates on Sulekha.com marketing analysis.
History and Development of Sulekha.com
Founded in 1998 by Satya Prabhakar and his wife, Sangeeta Kshettry, the platform was one of the first Indian startups to take advantage of the growth in internet users in India. Before founding the platform, Prabhakar had worked with companies such as Honeywell, Phillips, and AT& T. It was at AT&T that the idea came to him – to create web-based yellow pages dealing mainly with local classified services. This idea translated into Sulekha.com
The platform soon established a strong user base in the United States, paving way for expansion. At this time, the number of internet users in India was growing, which presented an opportunity. The company moved its headquarters back to Chennai, India where it eventually launched in 2007.
Today, it operates in 50 cities across five countries which include India, the United States, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, and Canada. It now has 1500 employers spread across offices in major Indian cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai. As well as Austin in the United States.
Growth and Successes
At the inception, local businesses and users registered on the platform for free and it relied on advertisements to generate revenue. This helped it to establish itself in the market while aiding SMEs struggling to connect with their local customers. From 2009, it started offering paid packages to local businesses.
The platform has shown its resilience over the years. Not only did it survive two recessions, but it had also remained a major player within the industry despite the emergence of competitors such as Justdial, Quikr, Housejoy, Urban Clap, etc.
At first, the emergence of these competitors pushed it off the center stage. But the company has managed to re-establish itself by firstly transforming into an expert service provider – a digital matchmaker between buyers and service providers. And further redefining its focus areas by limiting itself to 200 categories within specific sectors.
These categories cut across three major sectors; Home improvements, life improvements, and self-improvements. The Founder/CEO explained that the reason for this was to set the company apart from its competitors and maximize value for service providers by offering one-of-a-kind technology-driven value for its customers (Business Today)
The major turning point for the company was in 2015 when the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund, GIC, invested 175 million crores into the company. It has previously received funding from Norwest Venture Partners, Indigo Monsoon, and Mitsui. These investments have enabled it to remain competitive in a dynamic industry.
In building the platform, Satya Prabhakar claimed he was influenced by a concept credited to Jeff Bezos – the regret minimization framework. This and Paolo Coelho's novel, The Alchemist, motivated him to quit his job at AT&T and set up an online portal. His dream was to develop an online community for Indians all around the globe. But once he started writing the codes, other pieces of the puzzle began to fall in place.
By 2005, he moved back to India, where he faced two new challenges – the large population and the task of convincing local businesses to leverage the internet for their business. To do this, he had to adjust the website model to suit the country. Instead of the regular classified website, it became a medium through which business can generate leads. Buyers go on Sulekha.com to ask for specific products or services, and their contacts are immediately sent to advertisers as leads to follow up.
Constant reinvention has enabled the company to keep pace with other competitors and continue to grow. Not only did it pivot from classifieds sites to a commercial matchmaker, but it has also improved its technology by incorporating Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning into its platform. These effectively narrow down the user's needs and process them to find the best matches within seconds.
The company has also diversified into mobile apps as it launched a mobile app for users in 2018. Subsequently, a business app for service providers was launched in 2020. Upon the launching of this app, the company moved all its paid services from a web-based platform to the app (SME Street).
Sulekha.com generates its revenue in India through a performance guaranteed response model. With 30 million users, over 120,000 registered service providers, and over 65,000 of them paying. It has a wide user and customer base that continues to expand. This is mainly due to its prominent alliance with major network providers like Vodafone, Reliance, Sify, etc. which has made it easy to use its classifieds and local search.
Its model focuses on deriving revenue from the businesses rather than the users. The company achieves this by giving assurance that the businesses will reach a set target of responses and are charged only when connected to the right consumer. (Business Line)
In an industry with many major players such as Olx, Quikr, Urbanclap, Housejoy, and others. Sulekha's secret to relevance is summed up in one word — difference. Sulekha.com's marketing analysis reveals that the company always ensures it distinguishes itself from the competition. The company has taken every opportunity to pivot and limit its services within specific high-value niches.
The distinction between Sulekha and its competitors is that it offers service on-demand as a matchmaker, connecting service providers with users, and not automatically or by using in-house trained professionals (Money Control). It gives users the option to pick from the best three service providers suitable for a particular job. These service providers can also contact the buyer and bid for the job, thereby giving the buyer freedom of choice.
The significance of online presence for businesses has increased in recent years. The technology for targeting online users based on geography has also improved tremendously, thereby making it easy for businesses to reach local consumers. In light of these new developments, companies like Sulekha.com will continue to thrive so long they meet up with consumer demands and technological advancements.
While competition may appear stiff within the industry, there is lots of room for development and expansion, with about 75% of SMEs in India still offline (The Hindu). The ability to convince this large chunk of prospective customers will determine who will control the market in the coming years.
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