India’s Silicon Valley, the ‘Back-end of the world’ or simply a ‘Start-up hub’, call it what you will, but Namma Bengaluru’s penchant for technology and innovation remains undisputed. It is the city where you ‘Swiggy’ your meals and ‘Dunzo’ parcels across town. This happy place, despite traffic jams, was going about its business till COVID-19 struck. Bengaluru Urban and Rural have been declared Red Zones, and the lockdown has brought the city to its knees. Its streets are deserted, shops operate for limited hours and cops patrol the city to ensure no one steps out. But, this descent into silence has not dampened the spirits of the city’s entrepreneurs.
It’s a tale akin to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, in which a village is rescued from tyrants by an unlikely bunch of warriors. In Bengaluru, we see how the ‘Samurais’ — a motley bunch of start-ups headed by seasoned entrepreneurs and nouveau aspirants — leverage technology to help the city get hold of their daily needs defying the ‘tyranny’ of COVID-19, that too through WhatsApp.
Can’t lock down innovation
The idea started out rather simple: When people queue up at local stores for their essentials, there is risk of social distance shrinking. To avoid this, Hari Prasad, co-founder of Cartoon Mango, a digital design and consultancy company decided to make a dashboard of Bengaluru’s shops that were open. Users would be able to order their essentials through it. To work on this, Prasad roped in his long-time mate Karthik Bhat, business head at ITW, a digital consultancy. The solution: a call centre on WhatsApp, through which locals could order their groceries and essentials. The orders would be fulfilled by procuring products from offline stores by any ‘runner’ (delivery agent) who was present in the vicinity.
Once they were sure about the concept, they pitched it to Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). “BH Anil Kumar, the municipal commissioner, got onto a video call with us. We demonstrated the system by placing a live order, which got delivered within 15-20 minutes,” says Prasad with a hint of pride. BBMP realised the potential and by mid-April, the service expanded its footprint across Bengaluru.
The orders, received through WhatsApp or a