Bangalore: Next time in Gaya, Bihar, if you spot a red-and-yellow cycle-rickshaw with ads on its sides and rear, make sure to take a ride.
The rickshaw puller, dressed in red and black, will be courteous, hand you the day’s newspaper to read en route, and offer to sell you water, juice, and even a packets of biscuits. Also on offer will be courier services or help with paying utility bills. At the end of it, you pay the puller a fare fixed on distance travelled.
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You have just been a customer of India’s brightest social enterprise: Patna-based SammaaN Foundation that is trying to enhance the income and livelihoods of rickshaw pullers. SammaaN, which means dignity in Hindi, was founded in 2007 and does this through a combination of advertising and commerce.
Ads from Vodafone Essar Ltd, Idea Cellular Ltd, Surya Foods Ltd, Prabhat Khabar newspaper and Max New York Life Insurance Co. Ltd emblazon the sides and the rear of the rickshaws.
“I thought there was a huge potential in using them (rickshaws) as an interactive out-of-home advertising medium and a marketing engine-cum-transaction point,” said founder-chairman Irfan Alam.
The rickshaw pullers get a fee for the ads and one-third of the margins made by SammaaN on products sold. The foundation renovates the rickshaws, paints them and provides uniforms to the pullers.
“With our value-added services and advertising, the earnings of these people have gone up by as much as 40%,” said Alam. Rickshaw pullers generally earn Rs100-200 a day.
SammaaN insures its rickshaw pullers, extending the accident cover to customers. Last fiscal, it made a net profit of Rs8 lakh on revenues of Rs50 lakh, which it intends to increase 20 times this fiscal.
An investor lauds SammaaN for improving the lives of rickshaw pullers but questions exit options and scalability. Asked Mohanjit Jolly, executive director, Draper Fisher Jurvetson India: “Will this become a company with a top line of $100 million? (Also) I am not sure who could be an acquirer for such a company.”
Alam, unmindful, is going ahead with diluting equity: 24% to rickshaw pullers, 26% to promoters, and 50% to venture capital firms and banks. SammaaN plans to go public in India by 2012 and list globally three years later.