Interview
Perpule CEO Abhinav Pathak, spoke to TNM about various aspects, from the inception of the app to the growth prospects of the company, among other things.
(R to L): Abhinav Pathak, CEO & Co-founder; Saketh BSV, CTO and Co-Founder; Yogesh Ghaturle, Director of Operations

With the organised retail market valued at $100 billion in India, a mix of technology and content combined with great accessibility is bringing the average in-store/cafeteria queueing time of 15 minutes down to 2 minutes! And this has been made possible thanks to the Perpule self-checkout app. 

Perpule is a Bengaluru-based retail tech startup which received their first ever external funding by Kalaari capital in the year 2016. Since then, they have zoomed from 1 store to 100+ stores and 0 cafeteria to multiple cafeterias, including Indian IT giant, Infosys.

In February this year, the company announced the launch of its next-gen Point of Sale (POS) billing solution called UltraPOS. Perpule’s UltraPOS is a platform independent, form factor independent POS billing system which can enable anytime, anywhere billing. It is a cloud-based SaaS product which eliminates the need of bulky servers and computers in the store. UltraPOS will enable offline stores to reduce billing counter size by up to 40% and help increase sales and revenue through an AI/data-driven approach.

The retail-tech startup was founded in October 2016 by Abhinav Pathak, Saketh BSV and Yogesh Ghaturle. In 2018, Perpule raised $4.7 million in Series A from Prime Venture Partners, Kalaari Capital and Venture Highway. 

In an interaction with TNM, the company’s CEO Abhinav Pathak spoke about the Perpule journey so far, including the company's inception, challenges, growth prospects among other things. 

Here are excerpts. 

When did the company start operations? 

It all happened around 2.5 years back, last quarter of 2016. That’s when we started the whole idea and the vision behind starting this was how can people not stand in lines, that was the single-point agenda. And we thought let’s start with retail stores because that’s where you are worst affected. We built a self-checkout platform and called it the Perpule app. Anybody can download the Perpule app and discover whatever are the nearby stores. Now you can walk into a store and this is primarily focussed on modern retail. So every item in these stores will have a barcode for sure. You just select a store, go shopping, pick up a product from the shelf, scan that using the mobile camera.

It’s a cloud-based infrastructure. So, everything is technically on the cloud but the app is connected to the cloud in real-time. Then the customer continues this for the whole bunch of products that he is buying. Once he is done, he can checkout and pay in the app itself. And they get a digital invoice that can be shown at the exit. The entire process can be done on the mobile app. The full control is with the customer. We started with Hypercity in Bengaluru and Mumbai in 2016.

What was the realisation while working with retailers? 

We work with large groups like Future Group, but we work with them only for Heritage, Neelgiris and Big Bazaar. But they have 40 different brands. So we are scaling with the groups and a lot of new retailers are also coming up. 

In the whole process when we were working with them, we figured out that the core problems that they face on a day-to-day basis which is really reducing their efficiency, are a lot more complex. All of them have been using some or the other billing system and it’s like a legacy software which hasn’t changed for the last 20 years. But if you see the store; the consumer experience; the look and feel of the stores; all of that has changed massively. That’s how fast it is, but the billing system has remained the same. So that’s where we thought that since we have already built a technology platform which does literally everything that a traditional billing system can do, why not implement this.

Then we ported the same technology to a cashier and that’s how UltraPOS as a product launch happened. And it’s absolutely robust, works in real-time and does every single thing that a cashier would want to do. It’s an end-to-end billing system. We work with a lot of payment companies and hardware companies. We made it work seamlessly on different hardware, right from a printer to a card machine to a laser scanner. Everything that a billing system would need. And then we started deploying this in the stores. It’s a very forward looking system to really help retailers take real-time decisions and transform their stores from a digital perspective. 

What is the kind of effort that went into this whole process? 

Most of the effort went into really understanding the legacy systems because these softwares have been running for 20 years and they haven’t changed. There’s barely any documentation available. It’s not on a API stack that you can just read and evaluate. So I think understanding the workflows took most of the time. But we have a very good team here. So once they understand the flow, replicating it or making it better was fairly easy but understanding the workflow was the most challenging task because it’s not in our control. 

Have you implemented self-checkout pan-India? 

The self-checkout out option is with Hypercity, More and Spar right now. I think it’s a selective call that they take, which stores, what to implement, what not to implement, depends on the demographics; how tech-savvy people would be around; but Bengaluru, we cover pretty much most of them, as well as in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Delhi. We’re not very active in tier-2 right now but UltraPOS is running in more than 190 cities right now. Our focus is to make sure that the retail systems evolve a lot more to support a very seamless experience of self-checkout. It’s great what it is today but it’s not the best that can exist. The reasons for this is the inefficiency that exists in the catalogs of the various retailers, inventory and things like that. I think all of that needs to be digitised first, to give a seamless self-checkout experience in the future. 

How do you see the growth going forward? 

I think this year we are going to focus a lot on self-checkout and digital cafeteria. We are almost doubling numbers every month in both. And our goal is 10x growth from last December to the coming December. We seem to be on track so far. Let’s see how the remaining three quarters go. I think the market is huge. So if you really focus on the core things, it’s fairly straightforward to scale up. 

What are the biggest challenges? 

When we talk to the retailers, all of them are fairly open to a newer product or a platform that can really help them scale up. But because the older one is so deep-rooted into their organisation, to get them to change is hard. And the legacy mindset is also hard to change. Although there are some new leaders in the industry who are really pushing new technology a lot more but on the other hand, there are some legacy mindsets as well which are not changing. Although people appreciate it, but we are not able to do a lot with them because of the limitations like they don’t have a very good IT support team internally to embrace the change and things like that. So I see that improving probably as we move forward in the journey but right now, it’s one of the biggest challenges we have. 

How do you see the transformation in the retail sector? 

It has become a lot more active in the last 2-4 years. Before that, it was very dull. Right now, technology adoption is at the forefront for every retailer. So they have understood that they are not fighting with retailers any more but they are fighting with tech companies who have retail products. So I think that mission is on track. Every retailer is really trying to scale up the UltraPOS and all the other products that we have because they see a whole value: one, being the cost, the advantages they can give from a consumer standpoint; the experience they can give to their consumers. And it goes on to become a revenue platform for them. This seems to be a very interesting time to be in retail, particularly in retail tech because a lot of it is changing. So getting a product market fit is what we are really focussed on right now.