The new normals in a world where Covid-19 unfortunately is becoming a part of our life will bring about many changes in the way businesses will be conducted, and more importantly the way we live our life.
In a world post-lockdown where the rules of the game are set to change, or rather have already changed. In this story of Back to Business, we speak to Sujit Jain – Founder, Chairman and MD, Netsurf Communications Pvt Ltd
Netsurf is a leading direct selling company in India with a consumer base of more than 2.5 million and a turnover of Rs. 275 crores. Netsurf offers around 60 Natural and Herbal products across 5 distinct categories i.e. Health Care, Personal Care, Home Care, Agriculture & Color Cosmetics. These products are also associated with a unique business opportunity that has transformed the lives of many people in India.
Netsurf is redefining Indian direct selling business through its distinct business opportunity, exclusive products, systems and processes.
How are you coping with the impact of Covid-19 on Netsurf? How effectively have you used the lockdown period?
I think we are surviving this pandemic very well. Netsurf Network is a direct selling company with a base of around 2.5 million consumers and direct sellers. So, our direct sellers retail our products and earn income out of it. After the lockdown was announced, their outdoor business activities like socialisation, meetings & training’s stopped and the usual hike in our turnover that we expect in the month of March was hampered.
However, Netsurf has been using cutting edge technology for its business operations. We have our systems and apps and have invested significantly in the technology for years. Resultantly, we shifted most of our business processes and the direct sellers’ processes and activities from offline to the online space. Hence, with the help of our in-house teams of experts and the confidence of direct sellers in our business and their trust in us helped us find a way out in these difficult times.
The quest for a solution to a particular crisis helps invent new business opportunities and sometimes leads to a revision of existing business models … What sort of innovation has or will the Covid-19 pandemic bring to your brand/industry/category?
I think technology played a major role in managing the business of Netsurf Network. As I mentioned earlier, we had a strong technological base for our business. We were already using the platforms to bring convenience to our direct sellers in conducting their every business activity. However, before the pandemic era, not all the direct sellers were comfortable working online for this business. So, we upgraded our systems a little to suit the current requirements of our direct sellers. Then we shifted most of our direct sellers to these new systems. And I must say that this challenging situation gave us an opportunity to transform the way this business of direct selling happens in India. We are not working person-to-person anymore but have transformed it to screen-to-screen.
Our direct sellers readily shifted to online systems. They started conducting their training online, started using our mobile apps and the web-based applications for conducting their everyday retailing and networking activities without stepping out of homes. Using cutting edge technology, we covered around 2.40 lac guests by conducting more than 1000 online guest meetings & training during April to July 2020. As a result, we added more than 1.80 lac new direct sellers into our network of direct selling in this period of 4 months.
We had 3.34 Lac mobile app users amongst our direct sellers before the lockdown and as on today, the same number has increased to 4.63 Lacs by the end of July. It also indicates the adaptability that our direct sellers have shown towards the changes we introduced in the systems and process.
The most important element of managing a direct selling business is ‘Training’. We have individuals from all walks of life joining our business. Therefore, training is essential for them to get the right authentic information about the products and the business avenues, acquire skills, get acquainted with the company’s systems, etc. Most of our training were conducted in 5-star hotels in various regions in the pre-lockdown period. Considering the safety of our direct sellers, we decided not to have any outdoor training for at least the next 6 months. We launched an innovative concept of ‘Netsurf Versity’ at Netsurf Network. Netsurf Versity is a comprehensive training system, that includes LIVE training’s (for initial inductions)as well as customised certificate training programs (for qualifying our direct sellers at various skillsets).
For the Netsurf LIVE training, we developed our own innovative mobile apps and web-based technology for conducting & attending these training’s. Hence, our direct sellers don’t need to download & subscribe to any external apps as we have made everything available in our existing systems, for free. These training system does not only help in imparting quality training’s, but also helps us in tracking the leads and conversions via every session to measure its effectiveness.
The Certificate Training Programs designed for the new direct sellers will equip them with the right knowledge required at their individual club levels. This program includes training modules & a Q&A for the direct sellers to achieve a score in it. Those who successfully complete these courses, get e-certificates of Netsurf Versity.
Another move that we took during this period that we didn’t pause on our product innovation front. We launched 4 products in our health care range that we thought are essential for all. These products included an Immune Plus Capsule (for boosting immunity), Eye Care Tablets (to reduce the impact of increased screen time of every individual), De-stress Tablets (to help manage the increased stress levels and sleep disorders) and Women’s Wellness (to help women support their complex and crucial biological functions). Plus, we also launched an organic weedicide product in our farm care range of products.
I can proudly say that during last 4 months, while we witnessed the unemployment rising and various economic uncertainties dwelling in the country, Netsurf Network not only launched 5 new products amidst the lockdown but also grew the business by 30-35% in quarter-1 compared to the quarter-1 in last financial year.
While some parts of the country have become Covid-19 free, cities like Mumbai and Delhi are still in a lockdown situation. How are you planning to resume business across cities that are not in the Red?
As mentioned earlier, we have shifted most of our business activities from offline to online space. Hence, practically speaking, the business has already resumed across all states and cities- wherever we are present. So our direct sellers retailed our products online. Which means that a direct seller staying in a red zone can retail Netsurf products to a consumer anywhere across India using our apps and systems. This helps our direct sellers to keep earning without even stepping out of their homes.
We certainly faced some sales issues in the highly impacted cities like Mumbai and Pune. However, two of our product ranges i.e. healthcare and organic farming were categorised as essential products. That’s the reason, we could manage to sell those products across the country even during lockdown except in the red zone areas.
However, our other regions like Bangalore, Rajkot, Tamil Nadu, Kolhapur were the best performing regions at Netsurf during the first quarter of the financial year.
What will be your communication strategy post the opening of the lockdown? Understandably bringing customers back to you would be difficult… What will be the objective of the communication/marketing strategy?
We have our direct sellers and the consumer base intact with us despite lockdown. Hence, our marketing communications strategy will only get aggressive and stronger with the kind of confidence that people have shown in us.
Also looking at the growth we could achieve despite of the lockdown, we strongly believe and are communicating to our direct sellers that the direct selling business of Netsurf Network has the potential to generate income opportunities for people from across the country.
During this era of mass lay-offs and labours migrating to their hometowns, our business opportunity works the best for all those looking at an opportunity to earn income staying right at their home- wherever it is in the country.
Being a legitimate player in the industry operating according to the government-defined guidelines, offering negligible or zero investment, time & space flexibility and the simplified work process blessed by cutting edge technology, we are certainly a ray of hope for millions of Indians and also for the Indian economy today.
Apart from our business opportunity, we are also focusing our communication strategy on our health care range of products for the well being and boosting immunity during this period of lockdown.
How did you keep the morale of the employees during this lockdown period? On a personal note, what kept you positive?
We have a strong team and most of our employees have an average of 6-7 years tenure with us. And as a team, we had realised that there is no way we could stop working during the lockdown as we had an entire bunch of almost 1 lac clueless active direct sellers initially to be taken care of during these difficult times. Had we not addressed their issues right after the lockdown was announced, we could never achieve what we have achieved in last 4 months. So, I think that sense of responsibility kept us motivated throughout the lockdown period.
I have been continuously working throughout this period on various interesting projects. I always believed that there is always an opportunity in every challenging situation. And this positive approach keeps me positive in any difficult situation in my life.
What are some of the post-lockdown business strategies that you will use to bring the business back on track or at least get it in the right direction and also create demand for yourself?
Today Netsurf Network is present across all 29 states and 6 union territories of India. We have been able to expand our markets across India with our more than 60 products and the business opportunity. Now our goal post lockdown will be to execute an integrated strategy for market penetration. We shall take every single step and action required to get in inch deeper in all the regions we are present in. This would help us achieve our target of achieving a turnover of Rs 2000 by 2025 and launch our first IPOs in the market.
Also, our strategy will focus on establishing Netsurf Network as one of the leading direct selling companies in India. We want to create awareness about the quality products we innovate and manufacture in-house for our consumers and about the unique business opportunity that enables every individual to pursue his/her career with us.
The pandemic of 2020 proved that the role of technology in every kind of business will be a major in future. Technology will be more and more innovative and dependable for the new normalcy of working from home. We want to invest in technology to move a step ahead of the direct selling industry, exploring the new ways of managing this business for our direct sellers. We are also heavily investing in our R&D for our new product developments in progress.
How has Netsurf addressed and helped national issues?
I personally feel excited and fortunate about the fact that our business has a great potential to help the important national issues like unemployment, job uncertainty and insecurity, the income issues ahead of migrant workers, expansion, and promotion of organic farming, etc.
We are probably the only direct selling company in India to have launched itself with an organic farming product range and I think this direct selling opportunity by Netsurf across urban and rural areas could be of great support to the economic slowdown ahead of us. As a matter of fact, even today, 60% of Netsurf’s direct selling business turnover comes from the tier-2 and tier-3 parts of the country. The best seller product category in our business is BIOFIT, which is into organic farming, contributing 58% in our turnover. Till date, we have sold more than 12 million farming products to more than 1 crore farmers across India. Hence, I feel we are equipped enough and present across the rural and urban parts of the country to offer income opportunities to those in need.
Also, about our range of health care, our products are completely herbal, natural, vegetarian & proven to be safe for consumption for Indian families. These are the products we believe are essential during the pandemic to boost immunity, and to compensate the volume of nutrients we lack in our diet. I believe this range called, Naturamore is a must for all of us to stay fit for life. Till date, we have sold around 5.2 million Naturamore products to 3.50 lac families.