Aug 10 2012, 19:18 | By Entrepreneur
By Shonali Advani
Headquartered in Bengaluru, RuralShores is a social venture headed by Murali Vullaganti that has provided employment opportunities to youth in rural India since May 2008. More importantly, it had improved their overall quality of life by allowing them to stay near families and save money in the bargain.
Struck by an epiphany, he realized this offshore concept could move a level down to rural areas. So he quit his safe and booming career in 2006 and for the next two ran a 'proof of concept' center in Puttaparthi. Supporting him was Sujata Raju, an entrepreneur running a 20-seater center. Together, they decided to scale it to 80-100 seats.
They started with a new accounting opening project for HDFC Bank, and got first-hand experience of the challenges therein. The issues were two-fold: limited connectivity and power in the rural regions; and extremely low confidence levels of people.
"Rural folk aren't aware of their inherent talents and think BPO jobs are for the urban, qualified populace," he explains. In addition, the whole journey of transforming them to knowledge professionals took about six to nine months, a significant timeframe for a business where delivery times are key.
Laws of attraction
As a result, attrition is also low here at about 10 percent, employees work longer on same processes, therefore it's a longer investment for RuralShores. Interestingly, 50 percent of its workforce comprises women.
"They have influenced the trend of stemming reverse migration to cities, though not on a mass scale yet," notes Ganesh Rengaswamy, Partner at Lok Capital which invested in RuralShores over two rounds.
Scaling without failing
Vullaganti tapped his professional network to get the initial set of clients. Now his venture's gained enough traction to attract clients from varied fields. Contrary to the founder's apprehensions, mid-level employees (with experience and domain knowledge) were happy to come and work here, to be near families. "We pay market salaries and rural BPOs provide faster growth opportunities for them," he states.
Typically, each center handles three-four clients and generates revenues either by monthly charges, per transaction or activity. "RuralShores needs to keep increasing its set of refined solutions, develop domain knowledge and tap more MNCs, BPOs and solutions-oriented firms," suggests Rengaswamy on the customer acquisition front.
Balancing its social objective with profitability needed focused thought. "Initially we had a challenge in attracting talent as they equated us with NGOs," recalls Vullaganti. So he focused on the commercial aspect of RuralShores and the value it brings. "Selling the social side is counterproductive." Plus there were fewer options to raise funds.
By year end, RuralShores will have 20 centers and its long-term expansion plans include employing 1 lakh rural youth. Rengaswamy foresees deploying world-class infrastructure and connectivity as they grow beyond 30 centers as significant challenges.
"It might be hard to find good locations," he concludes. But Vullaganti is optimistic and believes he will cross the hurdles as and when he faces them.
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