SupplyLine is digitally transforming supply chain finance

November 16, 2021

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Industry experts and a leading research firm say that there are 1.7 million stores across Bangladesh that carry FMCG goods; of which 350,000 are higher-end outlets.

The vicious circle of managing the products on shelves and finding funds to purchase those products puts shopkeepers in a debt trap that many are unable to track.

Karim, a shopkeeper in Mirpur is often under debt to stay afloat, as he manages loans from multiple loan sharks or even credit unions.

Often, these shopkeepers are above the loan eligibility of the microfinance organizations (not that their high-interest rate would be of any help to him.)

Some products have a no credit policy, others have a rotating credit. He is often in the quagmire; does not avail the products that do not give him credit make him lose customers? There are more than 10,000 small-medium shop owners in Mirpur itself.

Industry experts and a leading research firm say that there are 1.7 million stores across Bangladesh that carry FMCG goods; of which 350,000 are higher-end outlets.

Photo: SupplyLine

This leaves 1.4 million in the mid-tier bracket, which is the majority of the retailers.

These are the ones who are the target audience in the universe of SupplyLine.

The challenges in supply chain and delivery are addressed by many companies today. People think delivering or/and putting up products on Facebook shops/apps will solve the problem. It might, but it does not address the biggest pain point; access to finance, says Saif Kamal, founder of Toru Institute.

Saif has been working in incubating SupplyLine since early this year.

Irfan Rafique who is the founder and CEO has had an illustrious career in multinational corporations and startups.

He recalls his days at Unilever where shopkeepers in small towns of Bangladesh would struggle to stay afloat.

The inception of SupplyLine came along from observing the pain points.

Irfan, envisioned a supply chain company, however through a number of emmersions and empathy exercises with Saif, he gradually pivoted towards serving the most pressing challenges of the retailers.

As the product grows, Irfan recalls the joy a shopkeeper expressed “Bhai apni eto din koi chilen” (Where have you been all this while, brother.)

How it works

Supplyline is not another startup that is looking to wire up the shops and smoothen the distribution for companies. 

It is rather a bottom-up company. 

With a developed technology platform it monitors the order of each of the shopkeepers. The data feeds into the profile of the customers that is unique to track individual shopkeepers. 

This data tracks the inventory, order placement and sales. Using data as collateral is the biggest proof of the running business, hence trust is created. 

This trust eventually translates to the eligibility of the retailer to avail of financial facilities.

“The data tracking first needed data preparation; these buckets are crucial in knowing the supply chain in depth. I can build a technology platform but it is she who guides me through the consumer journey” says Ahamed, who is the tech lead, while referring to Ahamed Alam & Salma Nur-E-Jahan, head of product and head of growth respectively.

Bangladesh has made great leaps in the past in creating access to finance for a large populace.

Microfinance had risen to the helm through its contribution. However, it has had downsides and dismantled the social structure for many.

This was the challenge for the past as the risk of collateral needed to be parked by microfinance institutions.

Today, as we enter the era of digitalization; technology opens doors to possibilities and lifts millions out of this cycle of poverty.

Even at this early stage, SupplyLine has been selected for Cohort 5 of Accelerating Asia in Singapore.

They are currently backed by industry CXOs in FMCG and mentored by Saif Kamal of Toru Institute.

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