Online grocery marketplace Dei making moves beyond Little India

(From left): Jay Varman, co-founder and CEO of Dei, Regunarth Thyagarajan, owner of Jothi Store & Flower Shop and one of the merchants on Dei's platform, and PP Raj, co-founder of Dei.
(From left): Jay Varman, co-founder and CEO of Dei, Regunarth Thyagarajan, owner of Jothi Store & Flower Shop and one of the merchants on Dei's platform, and PP Raj, co-founder of Dei. PHOTO: DEI

SINGAPORE - Homegrown online grocery marketplace Dei is raising funds to expand beyond Little India.

Dei, which stands for "daily everything", hosts over 70 physical Singapore-based Indian retailers and more than 15,000 products on its platform. The start-up partners supermarkets, wet markets, mom and pop stores and speciality stores for on-demand grocery delivery services.

Since its soft launch in 2016, Dei has recorded a year-on-year revenue growth of 120 per cent, with total revenue over the three years reaching about $900,000, it said.

Jay Varman, co-founder and chief executive of Dei, told The Business Times that it is in discussions with supermarket chains and wet markets across Singapore to sell their products on its platform.

The start-up is in the midst of raising seed funding and is expecting to close the round within the next few months. The funds will be used to scale operations beyond Little India; Dei is now in discussions with representatives from Chinatown and Kampong Glam to expand into their respective precincts.

Mr Varman said he and his co-founder was inspired to start Dei after being approached by the owner of a flower shop in Little India to build an online store for his business.

"It was during our discussions that he shared the challenges he faced with manpower, inventory and the lack of knowledge that had stopped him from moving his business online," said Mr Varman.

"Being active participants within the Little India community, we realised that the issue was not limited to just his business; we then proposed to build a fully managed marketplace for our merchant community."

The concept behind Dei received backing from the Little India Shopkeepers Heritage Association (LISHA), and a memorandum of understanding was signed in April 2016 to officiate its soft launch.

Dei intends to build hyperlocal, omnichannel grocery marketplaces across South-east Asia. "Since Singapore is small, it made sense for us to cater to racial communities. However, in other countries, we will work with small geographical locations such as Klang and Subang Jaya within Kuala Lumpur," said Mr Varman.

The grocery-delivery space has seen some activity in the past months. In March, Alibaba-backed Lazada integrated homegrown e-grocer RedMart onto its platform. The move was part of its plan to ramp up its supermarket business in South-east Asia as it caters to rising consumer demand for online grocery shopping.

In October last year, honestbee launched habitat, a tech-enabled grocery and dining concept that occupies 60,000 square feet of space in an industrial building at Boon Leat Terrace. The Singapore-based startup was founded in 2015 as an online marketplace offering grocery delivery services; it later diversified into food delivery, laundry and ticketing services.