Last week, retail marketplace AskMeBazaar had shut down and laid off 4,000 employees, but its saga doesn’t seem to be done yet. Now it has transpired that it wasn’t just the employees who had unpaid dues at the company. Scores of sellers at AskMeBazaar are owed crores by the now-defunct company, and are in no mood to write it off.
On Friday, there were tense meetings were held between the AskMe representatives and the sellers.
The sellers claimed that they haven’t received payments for months, and were demanding to be paid. The AskMe representatives were trying to buy time, saying that they’d look at settling payments within a fixed period. Things turned acrimonious when the sellers demanded the the AskMe management team be kept in jail until their payments were realized.
The meetings last week clearly didn’t produce an amicable solution, as the sellers took to the streets demanding their payment yesterday.
— AIOVA (@AIOVA3) August 28, 2016
With chants of “AskMe chor hai (AskMe are thieves)” and “We want justice”, the sellers protested outside the AskMeBazaar office. AskMe CEO Kiran Murthy has left the country and its chief investor, Astro Holdings being based out of Malaysia, there were few people at the AskMe office to answer queries.
The sellers have also sought political help, and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has written to the Corporate Affairs Ministry to save the company.
AskMeBazaar was the e-tail marketplace of Getit Infosystems, most famous for publishing the Yellow Pages directories. In 2013, Malaysian billionaire T. Ananda Krishnan’s firm Astro Holdings had bought Getit Infosystems, and consequently held a 98.5% stake in the business. AskMe’s management claims that after promising an $800 million round of funding, the parent company didn’t deliver a promised tranche of payment, causing it to go insolvent.
At its peak, AskMe claimed to be doing Rs. 2000 crore in sales per month and had 1 lakh sellers on its platform. It had also run television ads that featured Bollywood superstars such as Ranbir Kapoor and Kangna Ranaut as recently as this year.
It’s been a swift fall for AskMeBazaar. While startup shutdowns are never pretty, large scale protests and slogan shouting have made AskMe’s more dramatic than most. And with politicians and the Corporate Affairs Ministry now involved, it’s possible that this story isn’t over yet.