The world-famous Darjeeling Tea is sold at Selim Hill Tea Garden, one of the region’s 74 active tea gardens. Selim Hill, like most tea estates in the area that rely on international exports, was barely making ends meet. After all, the pandemic had wiped off their hopes of exporting the first (spring) and second (summer) flushes.
But something changed dramatically when Sparsh told his buddies that his parents were considering selling the tea garden. Sparsh worked at a think tank after graduating from Ashoka University in Sonepat with a degree in political science and international relations.
Sparsh’s friends asked if they might help save Selim Hill when his family chose to sell it. Ishaan Kanoria, a 24-year-old investment banker, and Anant Gupta, a Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) alumnus, joined the team.
Consumers may get a year’s supply of fresh and organic tea for just Rs 2,100 through their unique subscription plan. Dorje Teas was founded by Sparsh and Ishaan under the guidance of 74-year-old Rajah Banerjee. Sparsh says, “He is also an investor in the company, our brand ambassador, and the wise old man who is mentoring us through the process.”
Why the Darjeeling Tea industry suffers
Sparsh and Ishaan identified four major reasons why the local tea industry was suffering, and how they could help improve it.
- Climate change: The region is experiencing irregular droughts and unnatural landslides as a result of climate change and factors related to it. Other macro factors include an increase in the number of dams, which leads to increased seismic activity, including earthquakes. Because Darjeeling receives its rains during this time, the tea is produced over about seven and a half months. This period of rainfall had shrunk to about five and a half months.
- Beholden to the export market: According to Sparsh, the Darjeeling tea industry needs to break free from its bubble and move on. Tea gardens in this region do not cater to the domestic market, nor do they promote all four flushes as distinct products. Our tea garden would close down, according to many industry veterans, if we didn’t focus on the export market.
- Archaic systems of management: Apart from an antiquated system of grading and sorting tea leaves for export, tea gardens continue to be managed in a colonial hierarchical manner. Sparsh acknowledges that this has benefited previous generations of his family, but believes it is not sustainable in the long run.
- Cheaper Tea from Nepal: Many tea gardens lost a lot of their produce during the region’s crippling 104-day strike in support of a separate Gorkhaland state. To meet domestic demand, traders began importing less expensive tea from Nepal, capturing a significant portion of the market. India consumes nearly half of all Darjeeling tea. Dorje Teas has launched a social media campaign to show customers where their tea is grown.
Subscription model: Breaking the mould
Darjeeling teas are available in four different flushes: spring, summer, autumn, and monsoon. Each has its distinct taste, aroma, flavoursome families have, and story. “Monsoon flush tea, which gets the worst rap, is unique because it has a bold colour, a smoky flavour, and drinkers can put a drop of milk in it,” says Sparsh.
Ishaan and Sparsh have developed a subscription model that allows customers to pre-order their annual tea supply. The prices of the monsoon and autumn flushes are lower than those of the spring and summer flushes. However, the first and second flushes, which are exported, are not available to Indian customers. Teas from the first flush range in price from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 per kilogram.
Dorje Teas has created a Tea Club in which we send subscribers updates on what’s going on in the garden every Sunday. Subscribers become tea garden supporters and receive high-quality, organic farm-fresh tea delivered to their door. Customers who prefer to drink more frequently can have these packets sent once a month. This becomes a worthwhile proposition at 2,000 per kg for the entire year.
Whole Leaf, Broken Leaf, Fannings (deposited in tea bags), and Dust are the four grades of leaves used in the tea industry. Tea gardens use breakers, which effectively use metal to cut down the tea leaves, to determine these classes. Breaking leaves degrades the quality of the tea, and leaves leave a metallic aftertaste. At their legacy factory, Dorje Teas has abandoned export-market-oriented grading standards.
Selim Hill Collective for the community
The Dorje Teas Collective aspires to “establish a paradigm for a more sustainable and just tea garden, where workers are fairly compensated and biodiversity is protected.” In Selim Hill, there are about 1,000 families, 350 of which are directly related to the tea garden. Sparsh’s father assisted in the establishment of a functional sewage system for the area’s population, although the area lacks a proper municipality.
The Second Chance House at the garden is where the Selim Hill Collective is based. The goal is to resurrect the tea garden and turn it into a profitable enterprise. Dorje will donate a portion of every subscription to the Collective’s tree-planting program. They’ve also begun a proper taxonomy of bird species in the field of wildlife protection. However, these projects are still in their early stages, and there is a long way to go.
The story of Tiktok and beyond
As social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were staying strong in the digital age, TikTok seemed to appear out of nowhere to share the thunder with the social media giants mentioned earlier.
TikTok is an entertaining, addictive app that managed to win over the hearts of people, mainly the youth. It is a short-form video platform, has perhaps become the hottest app ever as it has over 2.3 billion all-time downloads. The growth of TikTok has been exponential.
Right after the collaboration with Musical.ly, ByteDance launched TikTok. It instantly got the reception that was expected to reach around 800 million active users. Not just the youth but people from all age groups made it on TikTok. It was also known for the creation of jobs, as “influencers” made huge profits online.
TikTok in India saw a huge rise in the number of users (over 200 million). But just when TikTok was expanding in India, India’s long-time dispute with China seemed to be ignited again. In a move that month befitting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” initiative, the Indian government removed 59 Chinese-made apps, TikTok among them, citing national security concerns.
Not only was Tiktok hit hard, but also the influencers lost a majority of their livelihood. There were petitions, protests to bring TikTok back but none of them worked. Suddenly, 200 million people had to live in a post-TikTok era. Many apps like MX TakaTak, Josh, Roposo, etc. tried to replace TikTok in India, but could not create the impact TikTok did. After that, social media giants like Instagram and Facebook decided to quickly take the stage and launch ‘reels’ which did have a significant impact on the TikTok audience but failed to connect with the ‘hinterland’ part of India like TikTok.
There is also the grisly undertone of ‘classism’, as TikTok succeeded not just because of the content on it, but who was on it. Even as Facebook, Instagram, and the likes were flooded with users from urban India, TikTok gave India’s hinterland creators a voice. Once it went dark, these erstwhile TikTok users faced a deluge of criticism, outright hate, and a much reduced fan following. Even as the Indian audience continues its search to find the right successor of TikTok, many look forward to TikTok’s return with bated breath.
Credit cards for India’s unbanked, now a reality
Credit cards are an excellent way to build credit and make important purchases when cash is a bit tight. However, not everyone has access to a credit card, and this is particularly true in India, where financial inclusion remains a challenge. Across India, approximately 400 million people cannot “afford” a credit card, leaving them out of the financial mainstream and without access to a critical financial instrument. One startup, named GalaxyCard, provides a digital credit card specifically to these low-income individuals overlooked by others. And they issue these cards within 3 minutes.
This FinTech startup ties up with multiple channels like UPI, in-app services, and even offline. Around 1 lakh digital cards have been issued until now, with annual revenues touching Rs. 1 Crore.
Amit Kumar, who previously founded the mobile-based payment application firm Eashmart, which was eventually bought by PayUMoney in 2014, co-founded GalaxyCard with his friend Gunjeet Singh. The latter was closing down his own logistics firm Truckload at the time, after repeated stints as a product manager.
How does it work?
The income model of the firm is comparable to that of a traditional bank, but with smaller ticket sizes. The credit limit lies within a minimum of Rs. 1,000 and a maximum of Rs. 25,000. A user can begin with Rs. 1,000, and when the system collects additional information (such as how the money is spent, repayment time, overdue, other sources of income, dependency, and so on), the limit rises to Rs. 5,000, then Rs. 25,000, but remains below the user’s total steady income. The ‘bump up’ is based on the user’s financial situation, and it is thoroughly scrutinized by the platform to keep dangers of default to a minimum.
As fintech rises exponentially, companies tend to change their business model as technology and requirements evolve. If India’s digital banking ecosystem is to grow, it must look beyond the pool of users in urban cities, and bring in those within India’s hinterland to its fold. GalaxyCard is an interesting solution to a long-time problem faced by the unbanked, and could well solve rural India’s credit conundrum.
CoinSwitch Kuber: The story of India’s largest crypto exchange
The growth of Cryptocurrency over the years has been astronomical. People are now tempted to take their first steps into the world of crypto. To make trading, investing, and knowledge of crypto easier for people, three engineers, Ashish Singhal (CEO), Govind Soni (CTO), and Vimal Sagar (COO) launched ‘CoinSwitch Kuber’ in 2017. This began the journey of a platform that is now home to over 11 million users.
In early 2018, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) issued a policy that did not allow the banks to support crypto transactions that forced the three founders to spread their idea outside India with the VC, Sequoia Capital funding them in the seed round. But soon in early 2020, their dream of shedding light on the digital currency in India came true as the Supreme Court of India overturned RBI’s policy. ‘CoinSwitch Kuber’ was then introduced to the people of India.
Ashish defines simplified User Experience (UX) and the decision to not provide the users with some trading features as the two factors that helped the platform overtake other coin exchanges.
CoinSwitch recently suspended crypto withdrawals for its users due to lack of clear rules concerning the currency. Clarifying the move, Ashish says, “This was perhaps the hardest call we had to take. But regulators are worried about crypto being used as legal tender and hurting the sovereignty of the Indian rupee. Further, they are worried crypto can be used for money laundering and other illicit activities. So far, no one has figured out how to stop it, but disabling crypto withdrawals in a stopgap measure till the right policies come in place.”
Talking about the future, the founders aim to transform this app into a full-time investment platform with crypto and traditional financial instruments available for everyone. Praising the investors such as a16z, the founders hope that the Indian government defines the rules around crypto better, and compartmentalize virtual currencies based on their use cases and not prohibit it in upcoming legislation.
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