13-year-old Tilak Mehta leveraged Mumbai’s dabbawalas to build a courier service

Last month, the nation stood and took notice of 13-year-old Tilak Mehta, a Class 8 student at Garodia International School who tapped the potential of Mumbai’s dabbawalas to start courier service Papers N Parcels.

The young entrepreneur is an 8th grader at Garodia International School in Mumbai. What got him thinking was an incident where he forgot some books at his uncle’s place, and wished there was a service that would help him get those books couriered to himself immediately.

I was thinking about this for days and when I saw a dabbawala in my building, the idea for Papers N Parcel struck. I always marvelled at the swiftness and the efficiency of the dabbawala’s food delivery network, and I wondered if the network could be used to allow deliveries of even non-food items,” he recounts.

It didn’t matter if I was young and still in school. I took it up as a problem that was waiting and wanting to be solved, and there was no turning back,” he tells us. His father, Vishal Mehta, who happens to be an established player in the logistics industry, helped “courier” this idea from paper to market.

Dabbawala delivery

Tilak’s pursuit of app-iness took him to existing networks, but eventually, he settled on what is admittedly the most trusted delivery service in Mumbai – the dabbawalas. With the launch of the Papers N Parcels mobile app, he is not only leveraging their infallible network, but is also “Uberising” the category by providing door-to-door courier service with same-day delivery at a click.

Papers N Parcels hinges on the transformational framework of the dabbawalas, where the white squad is armed with Android phones loaded with the PNP app. Users must download the app from Google PlayStore or AppStore; they can schedule a pick-up of their parcel while the app picks up on their geo-location. As the dabbawalas are alerted about the order, they pick up the parcel from the sender’s doorstep and drop them off at the recipient company’s main hub. From there, the parcel is sent to its final addressee. Cutting down on lengthy logistics, the app-based service promises to optimise time and streamline the mailing process.

They pick up from end customers, which no courier does currently. The best part is that packages and papers are delivered within 4-8 hours. And one can track the package as it traverses the city, from pick-up to drop-off.

The dabbawalas, in turn, receive fixed salaries from Papers N Parcels. So far, 300 dabbawalas have been on-boarded from among Mumbai’s 5000-strong network. More will be added to the system as PNP scales.

Looking to the future

Papers N Parcels currently operates within the Brihammumbai Municipal Corporation limits, and is targeting both residents and companies within that radius.

During our beta testing phase, we have successfully carried out many transactions. We have thousands of retail and corporate giants as our customers, and see a daily volume of close to 1,000 to 1,200 requests, which we expect to increase to 2,000-5,000 in next six months,  Tilak reveals.

He says his age has not been a deterrent, in trying to on-board customers and vendors. “Vendors who were initially reluctant have seen my commitment and quality and I believe we have won them over as also new ones. Customers too have been delighted with our services,” he says. Tilak has also received an invitation from a university in Surat to deliver a talk on Papers N Parcels and its genesis.

The business is self-funded, with his family putting in the initial funding. Tilak intends to pay it back once the company is profitable. However, for their next stage, Tilak is exploring the avenue of external funding.

While he is the sole founder of the company, his uncle Ghanshyam Parekh, who comes with a compelling background in finance, is the CEO. Their core team also includes Vaishali Nandu, who is the Project Coordinator and Jignesh Brahmkhatri, who has years of experience in mobile and web-based innovation, as CTO. The company has a team size of 180 at present.

I’m at school till 4 pm, and go to office immediately after. In case I can’t, I ensure I stay in touch through the phone. On the weekends, the first half of my day is usually at office for team meetings; the rest I spend studying and playing,” Tilak signs off.


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