Amrit Man Tuladhar: When it comes to innovative ideas, Muncha has always been aheadFor Nepalis studying abroad who want to send a gift to their mothers on Mother’s Day, there are numerous current options. You can select from any number of e-commerce sites, and even many websites of individual shops now offer e-payment and delivery. But back in the 2000s, there were few options. And Muncha.com was one of them.
For Nepalis studying abroad who want to send a gift to their mothers on Mother’s Day, there are numerous current options. You can select from any number of e-commerce sites, and even many websites of individual shops now offer e-payment and delivery. But back in the 2000s, there were few options. And Muncha.com was one of them.
Amrit Man Tuladhar returned to Kathmandu after completing his MBA from Marshall University in the US in 1995. Upon returning, he joined Himalayan Bank in the credit department and worked there for five years. However, in 2000, Tuladhar decided to start something on his own and ventured into unexplored territory—e-commerce. Knowing that it would take time for locals to accept an online shopping site, he focused on catering to non-resident Nepalis, especially as a gift site. In the two decades since, Muncha’s popularity has fallen a bit, as new entrants take a larger share of the e-commerce piece. In this interview with the Post’s Alisha Sijapati, Tuladhar talks about the evolution of the online market in Nepal and how his company has adapted to changes. Excerpts:
What made you quit your job at Himalayan Bank and start something, especially an e-commerce site?
Our family has been in the retail business for maybe more than 90 years. Online shopping was just a continuation of the Muncha brand and what we are already doing physically. The reason I decided to experiment online was due to the growing market. In Nepal, although the internet had just started reaching people’s homes through dial-up connections, it was already a promising platform elsewhere. ‘Let’s explore’ was the main idea.
After getting into it, we discovered that the local market was just not ready for e-commerce, due to infrastructure and awareness aspects. So, we shifted our focus on non-resident Nepalis. After 19 years, we are still predominantly known as a gift site. We do cater to the local market but the focus continues to remain on non-resident Nepalis.
What were the initial challenges like when you started Muncha?
When we started out, most people didn’t have an understanding of internet. At Muncha, we started with a dial-up connection with two employees. Muncha was more of an experiment for us at that time. In 2000, internet speed was 33 kbps and laptops were very expensive. I remember purchasing a laptop in 2000 for 2,400 dollars. With that money, you can get a very high-end laptop now. But thankfully, during those days, there weren’t any loadshedding issues. When the loadshedding started, we adjusted to it as well.
Much has changed in 19 years. How have those changes affected Muncha?
First, internet speed is much higher and the internet itself has become much cheaper. When we started, mobile phones had just been introduced and were just for phone calls. Nobody had even thought of data usage on mobile phones. So, there have been major changes in technology. For the past 19 years,
we have been a part of this change. There are a lot of people who want to work in IT and that will help us move forward.
How has Muncha adapted itself to the new market?
More than adapting to a new setting, we have diverged by taking a niche role. Although, we started as a niche site targeting NRNs, we tried to keep our focus on the local market too. To get more innovative, we started
with a marketplace model 12 years ago where others can sell through our platform. But we focus on the business in two ways: first, let’s not confuse ourselves and second, let’s have a singular focus.
Wasn’t it difficult to connect with NRNs when the internet was so slow?
The internet speed may have been slow for us but it wasn’t slow for the Nepalis living abroad. To be honest, Nepal’s internet speed was comparatively better than many other countries. The cost versus the speed was very good. But with the government’s tax on the internet, the industry was stagnant, especially the speed. It was then that we lagged behind.
When we started, our operations were very small so the overhead costs were low too. We had to invest a lot in software, which cost the most, but the plus point is that once it’s made, it’s made. At least, having something was better than having nothing at all.
In your career, there have been many trials and errors, like your music and video downloading domains and your e-book app. What went wrong with these ventures?
I think we were always ahead in terms of innovative ideas. The sole reason for turning away from most of these ventures was that the demand wasn’t high enough. Via our domains music.com.np and videos.com.np, people could download Nepali music, videos and movies, but when alternative mediums started being available in the market, it was a challenge for us to remain relevant.
We also started an e-book app, where we invested a lot in technology. We had to translate the books into Unicode and it wasn’t easy. Our e-book app, which was called kakha.com.np, had a similar model to Kindle but unfortunately, due to the lack of online reading habit among Nepalis, the app couldn’t sustain itself.
There are several e-commerce sites now and they are more aggressive in the market in terms of pricing and marketing. How do you manage to be relevant in such a competitive world?
Competition will always be prevalent when it comes to retail. People buy products however they can. If they don’t find it online, they can get it in physical stores. We have chosen a different path now. Other e-commerce sites want to grow aggressively as they have venture capitalists as investors. They aren’t just aggressive in marketing but also in pricing. In many cases, the product prices on many sites are lower than actual prices; this is called predatory pricing, but in Nepal we don’t have anyone regulating such things. The goal is to grow but not by actually taking sales away from some other company. In
India, Flipkart and Amazon have similar models but the scale is much bigger and the internet penetration is higher.
What are your future plans?
Our aim is to stabilise the organisation. Given our history and my personal nature, we have always tried tapping into different, innovative things. Exploring a new world has been in our DNA. But over the years, we have become a lot pickier when it comes to new venture. It’s been an exciting journey so far, but you can’t ignore finance. At Muncha, we are trying to look at how we can stabilise the business and dump any unprofitable wings and strengthen the ones that are doing well.