When does a train truly reach its destination – Is it when the first bogey crosses the entry line? Or is it only when the last one has fully entered the station?
“India is a country making amazing progress,” says Ciggywala founder Raj Datta – “but when you consider that 80 Cr out of our 120 Cr population live under Rs 5000/month, which is the cost of a budget smartphone, it tells you how many people are being left behind.”
It was stark truths like these that drove 28-year-old Raj, an international award-winning Google employee, to quit his job and launch India’s first legal dedicated late-night cigarette delivery business, Ciggywala, in Bengaluru on April 2018.
Ciggywala – ‘Profit for the Underprivileged’ Company
India has seen several good people rise up and launch startups around developing solutions to help with social causes. But rarely have we seen companies whose sole motive for existence was to make maximum amounts of money and then use it for people in need.
“To remove misery and suffering at a large scale, the reality is that you need a lot of funds. While a 25-30 year long successful corporate career can make you quite rich, it can’t make you ‘save crores of people’ rich”, Raj reasons, “Besides, after the stresses and toll of such a career, will you in your late 50s have the energy to then go and use that money at peak efficiency?”
So why cigarettes? The motivation for this field was simple – its frequency of use, sheer scale across the country and lack of established solutions promised great potential for growth and earnings – but most importantly, in as little time as possible.
“Someone was eventually going to do it”, Raj concedes, “But we are likely the only ones who aim to put those profits to good use.”
Thus began Ciggywala, an online ordering website operating between 11pm-3am, with coverage across areas like BTM, Koramangala, HSR, Jayanagar, JP Nagar, Whitefield, Manyata Tech Park, Electronic City, etc. They offered home delivery of cigarette packs within 30 minutes and quickly accrued a 5-star rating average on Facebook Reviews.
B-Plan that accounted for miracles
India’s continued gold rush of startups has yielded several giants, however, cigarette delivery businesses have historically failed.
What is Ciggywala’s USP?
“We offer the lowest possible prices so that customers can consider us as a convenient service, rather than a high-priced desperation option, but our uniqueness is in how we manage to make healthy profits off every order. For example, with the first ever cashbacks in this industry offered by our service, you can get a pack of 10 sticks at a net price of Rs 152, which is basically the MRP at shops during the day but delivered late night within 30 minutes. Meanwhile, we have managed to pay our staff and riders, while still making a good profit on this order.”
The reason behind this Mathematical Impossibility?
“Miracles,” Raj says with a smile, “You can’t write a business plan for this, cigarette delivery businesses will always fail, and it’s never for a lack of dedication and hard work. But only with some incredibly well-timed luck at several critical moments, we managed to break through.”
Not 2% CSR – but 60!
In its first few months, Ciggywala saw 15000 orders received and 50000 people across the country visit www.ciggywala.com, without any expansion. They are now raising the 2nd round of investments and preparing for a large multi-city expansion across India, with projections estimating a few hundred crores in profits every year once scaled.
The founder declares to openly, transparently and publicly use over 80% of Ciggywala’s non-investor profits to help India’s poor, uneducated, ill, abused, unfortunate and unhappy citizens – which would boil down to nearly 2/3rd s of the overall company profits dedicated for social service.
He says – “Imagine you give the world’s most advanced Artificial Intelligence machine a system where 1% of the elements had 73% of the resources while the majority at the bottom struggled – It’ll first proceed to show you how this fails with every simulation, and when asked to solve this, its first move will be to take the 1% at the top and fully engage them and their resources into helping lift the bottom 50% – immediately.”
Simple Goals and Ambitious Dreams
The simple two-pronged goal is to (a) Remove as much misery/suffering as possible at a large scale (b) Inspire and enable others to do the same. But dreams can sometimes paint more inspiring pictures.
“Imagine young kids growing up wanting to be real-life heroes for their underprivileged sisters and brothers, and a society that provides them a safe and rewarding path to that“ Raj muses, “Needy people not having to search for an NGO that caters to their specific problem, but having one central place they know they’ll get lifelong support from. Today’s hidden heroes being found and given support to do even greater work, rather than toiling away with difficulties. Perhaps we see people who have managed to put their lives back together, turning around to save people with even less, this becoming a repeating cycle, like an avalanche, until it ignites a social revolution.”
This may sound like several lifetimes worth of work, not to mention risking falling prey to cynicism.
“Cynicism is a natural response, but it is self-fulfilling” Raj states, “Instead, look to our soldiers and try to use their military mindset – they know they will die in battle, but if they don’t fight hard, the war can’t be won.”
The expansion, and an Open Call for Help
Ciggywala is targeting all 6 metros as well as multiple other cities across India for launch in the coming months, along with the release of a Ciggywala app for Android and iOS. They anticipate reaching a stage where they can start working on social initiatives with profits made in late 2019.
“A beautiful thing about this line of work is it removes barriers to asking for help, and instead, it strengthens one to be able to do so.” Raj says, “And we need all the help we can get! Investors, media contacts, volunteers, ideators, altruistic folks – anyone who sees how this can lead to some greater good. We can be reached at +91-9742978029 or [email protected] I’d also hope smokers give our service a try, now that they know where the money will go!”
On a final note, Raj leaves us with a thought to ponder:
“Money is at the heart of everything – but the world needs to run on a currency that every single human being can give, regardless of physical or mental ability, education level, gender, age, the color of skin, religion or caste. That currency isn’t money, it’s love.”
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