Stuck in a long queue to receive prasad at the Karni Mata Temple, or the Temple of Rats, in Rajasthan, 24-year-old Goonjan Mall suddenly thought how much more convenient it would be to have the religious offering delivered home.
Mall soon left his job as a senior analyst at consulting firm Bain& Co and signed up for a startup accelerator programme at The Morpheus, a Chandigarh-based incubator. Last year, he launched Online Prasad, an online site offering prasad from various temples, such as Jagannath Puri, Mata Vaishno Devi, Shirdi Sai Temple and Sri Venkateshwara temple, at prices starting from Rs 501. It is such divine inspiration and the growing surge in Internet commerce that is pushing young entrepreneurs to vie for a share in India’s massive market for religious products and services.
Over half-a-dozen new ventures offering online ‘prasad’, customised kits for Haj and Umrah pilgrimages as well as religious art work and personal accessories have sprung up. “That was my eureka moment,” said Mall, an engineer from the Birla Institute of Technology, Pilani. While certain large temples across the country offer online ‘darshan’ and accept donations, none deliver prasad. Such gaps are what Mall and his peers in the sector are plugging as they chart the second coming of an industry that waxed and waned in tandem with the dotcom revolution nearly a decade ago.
About 15 ventures that came up in that period, which mostly allowed customers to book poojas online, have since died out. “The dotcom bust of the early 2000s affected many online businesses,” said Siddharth S Singh of Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. “There were fewer consumers transacting online (then). That has now changed,” said the associate professor of marketing. “Now, the potential to grow is good”.
As more Indians like Fathima grow confident about buying online, it is providing fresh impetus to young companies, such as Online Prasad, Proud Ummah and Delhi’s Transformative Learning Solutions, which are using the internet to grab a share of the humungous market for religious products and services. The ‘hundi’ offerings of the Sri Venkateswara temple in Andhra Pradesh’s Tirupati alone stand at about Rs 600 crore annually. “If you take the most successful brands of incense sticks, they’ve all been built around religion. Religion has a mass appeal. It makes for good business sense provided it is executed well,” said Nandini H, cofounder of The Morpheus.
Growing surge in Internet commerce that is pushing young entrepreneurs to vie for a share in India’s massive market for religious products and services. Mall has tied up with vendors near major temples who make the prasad and offer it to the deity. Once the prasad is blessed, it is packed in four-layer special packages and couriered to the customer. The service provided much cheer to Gurgaon-based Shachi Prakash, who surprised her parents in Bangalore by sending them ‘prasad’ or temple offering from Mumbai’s famed Siddhi Vinayak temple. “For them it was the next best thing to visiting the temple,” said the 25-year-old who regularly shops online for clothes and personal accessories.
It is just such a customer base that is driving the flurry of new businesses coming up in the sector.
While Indian investors are yet to fund new companies focused on this market, they believe there is potential. “Religion has a very big mass appeal. And if you can sell something that can be bought by a billion people, definitely it makes good business sense,” said Hemant Kanakia, founder, Kanakia Ventures LLC, and a member of the Indian Angel Nework, who has invested in 12 tech-focused companies so far. “If we target just 10% of India’s population, then we have a 100-million strong market, which can translate to a $1-billion segment. It is a huge opportunity,” says Mall.