A large number of young women are turning to entrepreneurship, which is also in line with the government’s aim to build a strong ecosystem to support entrepreneurs and innovation.
While the glass ceiling has not completely disappeared, it is welcome that women continue to shatter it. Among a growing number of young women entrepreneurs, Darjeeling’s Pranali Gurung has launched a business venture that relies on both technological innovations and a mutual ethos.
Gurung is the founder of darjinc.com (a one-stop shop for all things Darjeeling), while his flagship venture Jhola Delivery Service has become an instant hit in the hill town of West Bengal since it was set up around three years ago. Gurung found her calling in entrepreneurship in her toughest hours – as she says, ‘her journey into entrepreneurship has been a blessing in disguise’.
Gurung has been rallying his team and looking for ways to release locally produced products in 2019. She was also doing an in-depth analysis of how the local food scene is developing in Darjeeling. It was during those formative months that he got the idea of creating an economic ecosystem that would be more than a business venture. In her heart, the 35-year-old entrepreneur wanted her start-up to be more than just a financial venture. She initially launched 6 products – locally made and sourced in Darjeeling which included the hill town’s famous Dell Pickles. In March 2020, when Gurung was preparing to come to Kolkata, the outbreak of Covid dashed his hopes of getting a label for his products.
The onslaught of the pandemic and the successive lockdowns brought life to a standstill. But Gurung not only found a way to help people in times of crisis, he also made a business venture out of it.
‘I think we were extremely lucky that our house was right in the heart of Darjeeling town. Within a week of the lockdown, the real crisis started. People could not step out of their homes to buy essentials. My heart ached for the thousands of people in my hometown who didn’t get any help in those days. It was then that I decided to start a delivery service that would take care of the needs of the people. During the first month of the Jhola delivery service, we didn’t even charge people,” Gurung said.
(Caption: Jhola delivery executive Yashoda Rai scours the local market in Darjeeling for the freshest produce)
On April 26, 2020, Gurung started Jhola with just Rs 1,000 borrowed from his mother. “We started Jhola with a seed money of Rs 1,400. I had Rs 200, my brother had Rs 200 and we borrowed Rs 1,000 from my mother.”
But how different was Jhola delivery service from other app-based services that promised door-step delivery? “Ours is not just a delivery system. We are deeply invested in providing reciprocal services,” says Gurung.
“Other hyperlocal services are not like Jhola. Our marketplace can be called super hyperlocal. Of course we are using technology, but we have incorporated both human touch and technology in our venture. We cater to all your needs at Jhola. We will not only buy groceries, medicines or daily essentials for you, but also help you plan them.
Elaborating on how the interpersonal Jhola delivery system is, Gurung shared stories of how people working in the Middle East rely on Jhola to plan anniversary gifts for their spouses. “We go the extra mile to not only buy gifts but also discuss with our clients how they would like them designed, what their preferences are, and what could be a possible surprise gift.”
“Our intervention is at the level of the closest human relationship. Since all orders are completely customizable, we act like shoppers for them. We video call them from the shop so that they feel like they are in the market themselves. And We pick up on items that are considered “embarrassing or something that one could only entrust to someone close,” says Gurung.
Jhola is not just a delivery service. “This is a step beyond that. It is actually a service business in the literal sense. Once we had a customer who wanted us to collect the stamp paper from the court and put it in an envelope and hand it over to a passenger car that was going to Darjeeling. Was going to a place outside (settlement area).
Sharing another service of reciprocal nature, Gurung said, “Once a customer had to pay some money in an office, and it was 5:30 in the evening and the office was closing at 6 in the evening, we office to deliver. On behalf of him. These examples that I am mentioning are just to let you know that Jhola is not just a delivery service. It is beyond that – that’s why I call it a super hyperlocal service where You will find our hearts invested in it.
“We customize all requests, which an automated app wouldn’t be able to do,” says the 35-year-old.
However, life has not been very easy for Gurung. Coming from a very humble background and having studied in Delhi and Mumbai, she faced discrimination at many levels. At the same time, Gurung had to fight his own internal battle.
“I was fighting my battle within the society and also in the society. Being gay and being comfortable with my sexual identity wasn’t easy for me. Moreover, during my stay in Delhi and Mumbai, my ethnic identity was the center of attraction. However, I overcame all obstacles and the biggest thing was to accept who I was. Once I came out, I put all my energy into starting my venture and developing a business ecosystem for the society.”
“After starting Jhola in 2020, I saw around 3 to 4 similar services that people had started. It is a matter of great pleasure for me that I have shown the way to many others.
He has big plans for www.darjinc.com. For example, this year a booking system where it will take individual bookings for homestays, hotels etc. She wants to expand her venture of selling locally made products on major e-commerce platforms through her DEN (Darjeeling Entrepreneurs Network) vertical. DEN currently works as an umbrella organization where small businesses come together and sell products grown in Darjeeling on large online shopping portals.
With seed money of Rs 1,400, Gurung’s venture clocks a turnover of Rs 10 lakh between April 2022 and January 2023. Meanwhile, through her service programme, Gurung says she wants to give back to Darjeeling through social initiatives and practical programs in collaboration with local organisations. Working on cultural, social and environmental conservation of hills.
The ‘Rainbow Entrepreneur’ bid farewell with a big smile on his face and shared his dream of making Darjeeling its own platform, which would be an amalgamation of both financial and social ventures – a startup that works for Darjeeling, for Darjeeling and by Darjeeling.