Sheba, the Dhaka-based on-demand services marketplace, has officially introduced its MSME focused ERP product sManager in its recently held annual Service Awards 2019, an event Sheba organizes every year.
sManager is not essentially a new announcement. The product has been in the making for a long time and the company launched it with its service partners for a while now.
However, the fact that sManager is being officially launched with quite a bit of fanfare makes it an important announcement for the company.
Sheba has been talking about its B2B product for a while now. The company says it has a solid B2B strategy in place which is both tied as well as independent of its on-demand services marketplace business. sManager seems to fit the bill.
The ERP solution is not exclusive to Sheba platform merchants. Any small business can use sManager to manage their business. Apart from the regular ERP features, offline SMEs can have an online store on Sheba platform with a premium sManager subscription.
Over the past years, Sheba has been trying to build a service marketplace that offers almost everything - “one app that meets all your needs”.
The difference between Sheba and other on-demand services marketplace such as HandyMama is that Sheba does not work with individual service professionals. Instead, it works with small businesses that have a team and offers certain services.
In fact, Sheba helped many individual service providers to put together small operations. This is a strategically important move because working with individual service professionals and small SMEs comes with fundamentally different upsides and downsides.
Now that Sheba officially launched sManager, it makes perfect sense why Sheba wants to work with small businesses - it wants to build more services for them.
The logic is straightforward if you could help small businesses grow their business using Sheba platform, digitize them, and get access to their data, you could build many other things for them, including a good financing business.
Now Sheba’s sManager takes that logic one step further, sManager users who are not already Sheba merchants could have an online store on Sheba platform, adding new merchants and verticals to Sheba marketplace.
While this seems like a logical expansion strategy, I can’t understand why Sheba needs to build an independent ERP software that also comes with a hardware product, albeit optional, for a group of service providers who are already on its platform and for a group who are not but Sheba wants them to bring on to its platform because all of them can do as well with just a merchant panel with the facilities that now Sheba is offering through the sManager. The hardware product is a different case which any retailer could buy independently.
Nevertheless, it is an important and interesting move and it would be interesting to look into Sheba’s motivation behind the move.
More on that in a moment. First, a bit on sManager.
sManager is an app-based ‘point of sale’ business solution for MSME, which allows a user to track sales, cash flow, inventory management/warehousing, order processing, account management and beyond.
Broadly, sManager offers four benefits to a user: 1) sales track 2) payment link - can send a link to the customer for paying online from anywhere 3) loan - loan facility without any paperwork or guarantor 4) online store - a store on Sheba platform. Below are some of the features of sManager as mentioned on the app page:
sManager currently has three different packages - Alo, Goti, and Joy each cost a user BDT 90, 1500, and 10,000 per month respectively.
There are a lot of strategic synergies and disconnects between Sheba’s existing marketplace business and sManager. Let’s have a look.
Digitizing SMEs offers a big opportunity and it is a good narrative when it comes to selling to the potential stakeholders.
There are many things you could do if you could digitize a sizable number of SMEs and have access to their business data. You could easily build layers of services on top of it. Finance often readily comes to mind.
Then there are many services beyond finance and every business needs many things. This could be a motivation for Sheba for launching an independent SME focused ERP solutions. However, the task is unlikely to be an easy one.
There are several ways to look into this development at Sheba. One of the ways is to look at it in relation to Sheba marketplace and how it connects with that.
If you consider the point that Sheba sManager is essentially an expansion of its existing marketplace business, sManager makes sense for Sheba from a few strategic points of view. But not without some essential cracks and missing pieces.
One, many online marketplaces have done this and many others will do it in the coming years, enabling existing Sheba merchants to better manage their offline and online business, having a complete picture of their business, and then selling them services such as financial products. This is easy to build a business if you have enough merchants with good sales. And building credit scores when you have sales and other data of a business is relatively easier. At the same time, as a marketplace, you have greater control over the business of these merchants which gives you leverage in terms of realizing loans in case of financial products.
The disconnect is that why Sheba merchants should buy an independent ERP solution to manage their Sheba business if they already have some dashboard with analytics similar to what Pathao Courier launched a few days ago.
The connection, however, makes sense if Sheba foregoes platform commission on merchants who use sManager subscription. It means all merchants would not have access to analytics and facilities that sManager subscribers get. But that does not do the math because if Sheba wants to offer financial services to every merchant who is doing well, it is always better for Sheba to being able to access the data of every merchant as well as help him or her to grow.
Similarly, for Sheba as a marketplace, the more direct business is earning from the marketplace business itself.
B2B services and financial products are basically the eventual development of building a successful marketplace business, which has happened with many companies such as Amazon and Alibaba and a few others.
So, while financial services such as loans make sense as a product for existing Sheba merchants, from a strategic perspective an independent ERP for them essentially does not add up. And Sheba could launch a loan product for its merchants without sManager since it already has the data of merchants’ businesses.
Second, sManager, however, is not Sheba merchants exclusive. It is for every MSME out there. Sheba has some criteria for SMEs to be able to use the service. But that should not be an issue in the long run.
To my reading, Sheba has built sManager for MSMEs who are not already its merchants and who are mostly offline in nature. If you talk about the relationship with Sheba marketplace here, it is that Sheba would be able to bring many of these SMEs on its platform through the feature where it offers an online store to sManager subscribers.
The other strategic advantage could be that Sheba could use these offline SMEs as its distribution points for its services, similar to that of Deligram. The only difference is that Sheba has a rather more integrated chain.
However, the question remains that when an offline merchant takes sManager and starts using Sheba marketplace as its online store-front and takes all other benefits from Sheba including financial services. What then? What should be the relationship between Sheba and the sManager merchant because now that the sManager merchant is using Sheba marketplace? How Sheba differentiates Sheba marketplace merchants and sManager users? Should these two categories be treated differently? What is more beneficial for Sheba to collect a monthly small subscription or commissions on sale?
Financial services have become a lucrative business for marketplaces since marketplaces have data about merchants using which they could do things like credit scoring and then suggest lenders potential SMEs who could avail loans.
Sheba has built a relationship with a handful of financial service providers. This is something Chaldal has also been trying to do in collaboration with IDLC for its vegetable network smallholder retailers.
The challenge is, while finance is big business, it is a weak link when your platform or marketplace is not yet dominant.
Sheba offers a myriad of services. The company says it works with thousands of SMEs. It would eventually be able to get into financing and other B2B services if that is the goal of sManager.
The interesting part is that Sheba does not need sManager to do it since it already has the data of its merchant’s business. Moreover, the offline SMEs that Sheba is targeting for sManager are potential Sheba merchants. The success of sManager means while Sheba merchants give commission to Sheba, these sManager users would not be doing so if they pay a subscription fee to sell on Sheba platform. This makes the entire move a questionable strategy.
From a strategic perspective, it makes better sense if Sheba gives the sManager to offline SMEs for free to digitize them and encourage them to join Sheba platform as well as work as Sheba agents. In fact, it makes perfect long-term strategic sense for everything Sheba wants to do with these SMEs through sManager.
While sManager may add some value to Sheba in its current form, the most important value that sManager adds, it seems, is the narrative of digitizing MSMEs in Bangladesh. That certainly is not an important enough strategic ambition.