In 2011, the founding team of Frontier Markets noticed a big challenge facing rural India. They saw that people in India’s Last Mile (the deepest, most remote rural areas) badly needed safer, cleaner, better quality lighting products. They also saw that these products existed on the market—more and more, quality durable solar lighting products were becoming available. But despite the demand, and the supply, there was a gap: companies simply were not getting their products into the hands of last mile customers. There was a Last Mile access gap—and Frontier Markets was launched to close it.
At first, Frontier Markets focused on distributing existing solar lighting products (torches, lanterns, and more) through last mile distribution points—partnering with shopkeepers who could sell these products to farmers and rural families. While this approach made it clear to the team that clean lighting was a real customer need, they wanted to make it even easier for rural customers—and particularly rural women—to access and try out these products.
And so, Frontier Markets decided to invest in rural women, and launched a female entrepreneur model where they recruited and trained “Saral Jeevan Sahelis” (or “Easy Life Friends”) to leverage their access to womens’ collectives in their villages to market, sell, and deliver solar products. Through this women-centric model, Frontier Markets was able to establish its presence not just in villages, but inside village homes. We soon learned that many of the existing lighting solutions had design flaws; so, we built our own solar torch, designed with Sahelis and manufactured in India.
Throughout the mid 2010s, as rural India got increasingly electrified, our customers started asking for more than just clean energy products. They wanted appliances, smartphones, internet—and so, we started added new products to our basket. To close the access gap, we realized, we would need to be able to offer, over time, all the products and services that Last Mile customers want, but could not access. We invested in building an e-commerce app, and today, are focusing on growing our network of Sahelis and expanding our product basket so we can become the largest products and services platform for the Last Mile customer.