Direct Selling In The New Economy

Brijraj Vaghani, Founder & CEO, RidlrPassionate about building an Integrated Transport Solution for Indian cities and making the commuter journey better. Prior to co-founding Ridlr, worked in the US and in India in various technology and business leadership roles

We often hear that ride hailing apps like Uber, Taxi4Sure and Ola have revolutionalized the transport industry by being disruptive. It has sent other industries scrambling, got regulatory bodies scratching their heads, and perhaps most importantly have demonstrated that nine-to-five jobs aren't the only way for individuals to earn an income. Direct selling companies have quietly been doing that for years, only without all of the mainstream discussions and media coverage that pervades conversations about Uber, Ola and their ilk.

As flexible earning becomes increasingly commonplace and the world continues to shift away from traditional work arrangements, direct selling will achieve a level of public recognition that it has never experienced not just as an avenue for flexible earning, but as a leader in the space of independent work.

Consider what's happening in the world around us. Right now, we're experiencing a revolution in the world of work a shift towards what has been called the new economy. On-demand companies like Uber, Airbnb, Housejoy and Wassuplaundry are utilizing modern technologies (and the growing number of independent workers) to fundamentally change the ways that we get the things that
we need. The old one-to-many models of communicating and transacting are rapidly being replaced. More and more, people are buying and selling and renting their products and services directly to and from one another, and the relationship between producer and consumer is no longer fixed in this new economy, you can simultaneously be both.

The idea of people transacting with people is far from revolutionary. For nearly a century, the direct selling industry has demonstrated that its one-to-one business model works, laying the groundwork for what we're now calling the new economy. Many lessons that on-demand companies are just now learning the regulatory complications of an independent workforce, the value of trust and reputation, and so on have been understood by direct selling companies for a long time. Yet, for a combination of reasons, on-demand companies are largely viewed as pioneers in the space of flexible work, while direct selling companies are still perceived with some level of skepticism. This new economy has thrown independent work into the spotlight in a way that it has never been before and that's a good thing for the direct selling industry, especially in India.

The emergence of on-demand businesses presents a tremendous opportunity for direct selling organizations. The broader discussion around companies like Uber has contributed to the growing public awareness of and appreciation for the benefits of independent work. Direct selling couldn't be more relevant than it is right now! Things have been changing in direct selling for a long time. The industry has worked diligently to update its business model, adopting new technologies to streamline operations and maximize the success of their distributors.

Year after year, companies like QNET have taken a more proactive approach towards regulation, working alongside policymakers to introduce stronger consumer protection laws and guidelines. This isn't the same direct selling industry that arrived in India 20 odd years ago. It's been reborn and is today a thoroughly modern business model.

If we understand the new economy as the subversion of traditional models of earning and transacting, direct selling is most certainly a part of it. With roughly 107 million distributors globally, this industry fields the largest independent workforce in the world. In India alone, approximately 40 lakh people are involved in direct selling. This business dwarfs all other new economy industries both in size and revenue, and the margin isn't small. It is clear that direct selling is a leader in this space, whether others have recognized it or not.