Times of India (Samidha Sharma & Anshul Dhamija) – An investment arm of serial technology entrepreneurs, K Ganesh and Meena Ganesh, is backing an internet startup that delivers ‘prasad’ and religious merchandise from temples across India to people’s doorsteps. One of the most storied home grown entrepreneur duo has acquired a 35% stake in the year-old venture OnlinePrasad, founded by former Bain and Co analyst Goonjan Mall.
The pedigree investors are backing the venture hoping to tap the growing online religious spends among Indians which crossed the $1-billion mark last year, backed by pilgrimage travels and donations made to famous shrines. Bangalore-based OnlinePrasad leverages the internet and technology to offer puja at temples, as a burgeoning Indian middle class takes recourse to digital platforms to express its religious sentiments.
“India’s religious market is a huge white space which is migrating to the internet with the changing pace of social lives,” K Ganesh told Times Of India (TOI). He along with wife Meena, India’s best-known entrepreneur couple, have earlier sold a slew of startups, including TutorVista, Marketics Technologies and Customer Asset, to acquirers like UK’s Pearson, WNS and ICICI.
Their investment company, GrowthStory.In, focuses on startups building internet-based solutions in areas such as education, healthcare and spirituality that drive consumer spending in everyday life.
OnlinePrasad now provides puja facilities at more than 30 well-known temples from Vaishno Devi to Palani Murugan. The staff, sometimes pundits, are on the company rolls in these locations conducting puja on special occasions for Rs 501. The logistics, managed through FedEx and DHL, will deliver the prasad home within three days.
The firm receives online bookings for more than 200 offerings on important festivals and auspicious occasions. The challenge lies in stabilizing average daily transactions it plans to tackle with an expanded religious retail basket. “All we are doing is bringing people closer to faith in the most convenient way possible. It is about catering to as well as creating a need in a country where we make offerings along with prayers,” said Goonjan Mall, a BITS Pilani graduate, whose venture was incubated by Chandigarh-based startup accelerator The Morpheus.
The portal plans to build a full suite of services, including sale of branded religious merchandise and online travel plans for pilgrims, going forward. “We reckon that people spend around Rs 400-700 per day on religious travel. We are talking about customer service in a very important segment (religion)-where one hardly expects it,” Mall said.
Rajesh Sawhney, founder of GSF Accelerator and GSF Superangels, said scaling up the business may be a key challenge for religious e-commerce players. At early stages a singular focus is required that does not take away from the huge market potential considering the amount Indians spend on religion, Sawhney said. Religious content through value added services on mobile phones has been around for years but none of the ventures were able to gain size and crack a successful model yet.
OnlinePrasad’s marketing strategy banks heavily on social media and word-of-mouth. But Mall is also marketing a mix of historical stories & mythical folklore significant to temples pan India and familiarizing them beyond the regional devotees. “We hope to expand our footprint to not just the most visited temples but also the smaller ones in the coming months. We are already being approached by a few temples who find OnlinePrasad.com a platform to reach devotees from across the world,” he said.