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View from India: Game-changers who create new markets

View from India showcases some technology start-ups founded or co-founded by far-sighted and entrepreneurial women.

India is seeing a fresh breed of women entrepreneurs who are not scared to dream the impossible and have pushed boundaries to make it possible. With good management, innovative technology and smart tweaks, these trailblazers have entered relatively unexplored arenas and created a market demand that probably never existed till then. 

Dreams soar high

Uber luxury in the skies may seem a far cry in India, but Kanika Tekriwal has managed to reach to the rarefied atmosphere and make private aviation a reality. She gave wings to her dreams by starting JetSetGo, India’s first and only marketplace for private jet and helicopter charters.

Her passion for aviation goes back to her childhood. Like many children, she was fascinated by flying, but unlike many others, she propelled the idea forward. Though she didn’t become a pilot, she made an entry into the world of aviation. “I started working with a multinational corporation and set up the private aviation division for them when I was 17. All my learning has been on the job,” Tekriwal recalls.

When Tekriwal decided to take to the skies, the horizon was dotted with challenges.  “The biggest challenge we faced since launch and continue to face is the lack of knowledge and awareness of private jet usage across the Indian marketplace (customers, operators and regulators). Private jets have not been marketed right in the country,” she reasons. Thoughts that come to mind when imagining flying in a private jet are mixed, ranging from an uber luxury mode of travel to one available at the beck and call of only the rich or the ultra-rich.

Realistically these are a means of travel that enhance agility and efficiency for corporates in an ever more complex world. “Not many appreciate the important role they play in connecting locations that are still not served by commercial airlines or where it may not be economic to do so. We are actively working on changing this mindset with both regulatory authorities and customers,” Tekriwal declares. Private jets provide the support the country’s GDP drivers require. “Whilst one may say we cater to 0.3 per cent of India’s population, one must remember that it is the 0.3 per cent of India’s population that controls the livelihood of the balance 99.7 per cent directly or indirectly. I believe we are empowering and enabling India to achieve and create true value,” she says optimistically.

It’s this belief that prompted the Delhi-based entrepreneur to revolutionise private flying by establishing JetSetGo in 2014. Technology is at the heart of the venture, which operates on a web and mobile platform. An algorithm gives the exact time from Point A to Point B on any of the firm’s aircraft irrespective of its speed, weight and other characteristics. The pricing is generated automatically as is aircraft tracking and scheduling. 

Customers can indicate the destination through the website or app, after which options are displayed. The start-up provides Indian charter customers for the first time the choice, transparency and flexibility to book a private jet online on both web and mobile platforms. “Extending the experience from customised online booking process, JetSetGo then provides service at every customer touch point through the journey process. This includes on ground at both departure and arrival airports and on board, based on the purpose of the customer charter, be it business or leisure,” explains Tekriwal.

Customers can choose the aircraft best suited to their requirements and book the plane by paying a 5 per cent deposit online. The average ticket size of a trip is anywhere between Rs 5lakh and Rs 50lakh (£6,000-£60,000).

JetSetGo is in the process of building a platform that predicts aircraft maintenance so as to improve Indian maintenance standards. By 2020, it hopes to dispatch the aircraft automatically as well as to enable electronic scheduling.  

The start-up began with an attempt to organise a highly fragmented, regulated and controlled market and faced a lot of scepticism. While the value proposition in consolidating the jet charter business is clear, executing it was a major challenge. JetSetGo is now able to recommend the most optimal planes for its customers and source them the most competitive prices. There is also an additional incentive for aircraft owners to register planes with the company to recover costs on empty legs.

Armed with a degree in MBA Finance,Tekriwal began the company with an initial investment of around Rs 5,000 (£60), backed by a whole lot of goodwill and determination. Two of its customers, cricketer Yuvraj Singh and industrialist Puneet Dalmia saw potential and stepped in as investors in the business. According to Tekriwal, customers have been the biggest advertisers. Going by that conviction, monthly marketing spend of JetSetGo is shy of 500 US dollars. The company has grown organically, with its customers spreading the word. 

An active presence in social media and good Google search rankings are other highlights. Currently it has around 1,700 downloads for its Jetsteals APP and approximately 400-500 unique visitors a day. The number varies from time to time but recently it’s gradually increasing.

Tier cities boost mydala’s sales

All you need is a spark to ignite a fire. At least that’s how one can describe Anisha Singh’s entry into world of entrepreneurs. She is the founder of mydala, which ranks among the largest online coupon and discount platforms in India. The inspiration happened when she was employed in the US. 

The entrepreneurial bug bit her when she was working in Washington DC for the Clinton administration. “I was helping women entrepreneurs raise funds, and saw phenomenal women entrepreneurs who were single mothers managing their children as well as a business. They made me want to part of the same breed,” said Singh. That was reason enough for her to pack her bags and return to her home turf in Delhi in 2005.

At that time, she began Kinis Software Solutions,which has now become a joint venture with one of the largest real-estate marketing firms in the US. “In 2009 when it was clear that I was adding no value since Kinis Software Solutions was self-sustaining, I then started mydala. It’s been eight years but feels like yesterday that we started mydala in a shared office space with a dental clinic,” she recalled. It has grown to become one of India’s largest coupon savings platforms on the web and mobile with a presence in 209 cities. 

Technology has been the enabler, where a complete profiling and user analytics system is used to map the right target audience for the right merchants and help merchants understand a loyalty system so that they can build LTVs (loan to value ratio) for each consumer that has come to them.

LAMP is the chosen platform. This uses Linux as the operating system, Apache as the web server, MySQL as the relational database management system and PHP as the object-oriented scripting language. Big data Hadoop clusters is used for large-scale data processing.

In 2011, Singh decided to leverage the mobile platform and partnered with telecom operators. A strategic alliance with Vodafone in 2012 simply changed the way things were done. Till then, users only had the choice of ringtones or wallpapers, but the alliance opened out more options in the form of local deals. By 2014, more than 70 per cent of the user traffic began to come from the mobile. The platform currently runs deals and offers for many top telcos, reaching out to over 200 million users every month. More than 75 per cent of the company’s revenue is driven by m-commerce. mydala is present on web, mobile site (wap), app and on USSD.

“We also advertised on mobile, of course at that point the ad rates were less! Being on mobile with easier payment methods took mydala to an instant J curve, with 85 per cent of its transactions coming from the mobile. Of this, 45 per cent comes from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. mydala is now with every telecom as a gateway and a loyalty provider,” explained Singh, who is educated in Delhi and the US.

It’s been a good starting point for the platform to bank on people’s needs. Through m-commerce, it’s positioned as the digital one-stop-shop that offers deals on diverse genres at prices that aim to be among the lowest possible. The offers are based on location and buying preferences via mobile. There are other dimensions.

It then became clear that in India what really sells is ABC: astrology, Bollywood and cricket. At any given point in time, the three verticals have been tapped on heavily – tying up with Bollywood, doing tickets for cricket matches and astrology.

Being an online and mobile-led marketing platform, one of the biggest initiatives undertaken is to improve analytics. This helps target a user based on likes/dislikes, spending power and preferences.

With this, the brand relies heavily on the viral medium: rewarding the power users, who helped in the initial years of growth by inviting their friends. Word of mouth publicity helped in getting the first 10,000 customers.

When mydal began, e-commerce in itself was a fairly new concept, yet there were more than 48 deal sites in its competitive tracker, but now it’s down to less than a couple. Getting people to try a new idea was fairly challenging. “We are a marketing platform and facilitate online to offline (O2O) transactions for merchants, and customers pay for the coupon and redeem it at the outlet. We are working so that the ticket price for the customer does not change – and the customer is not affected as there is a greater good at stake,” explains Singh.

The mission has always been to help local businesses increase their digital footprint by marketing them on mobile and internet. The platform bridges the gap between local service providers and consumers and has done so for 150,000+ merchants in 209 cities in India. Last year, mydala launched in Dubai and is in the process of establishing itself in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. This year, consolidation of all these markets will be the focus while charting out new areas for expansion. 

Platform that lets merchants grow online

Consciously or otherwise, people tend to revisit their wheel of life. When Neeru Sharma worked in various capacities in leading IT companies, she got much-required exposure and was successful too. Anyone in her place would probably have stayed on, but Sharma had found her calling in entrepreneurship, specifically e-entrepreneurship, and decided to pursue it.

As an e-entrepreneur, she decided to solve a real-time problem of the Indian retail sector enabling retailers reach out to customers and generate demand for product and service offerings using technology. The outcome, as is well known in India, is Infibeam, the country’s first online retailer to go public in 2016.

Infibeam has been built strategically to cater to the commodity curve. “We have provided solutions where every retailer or service provider or merchant can build their own online presence and reach out to consumers rather than positioning ourselves as the only destination to come and shop. We have developed a dual-revenue business model of the marketplace (www.infibeam.com) and distributed marketplace (BuildaBazaar) supported by value added services offerings like .OOO domain for online identity and end-to-end delivery of order,” says Sharma, director of the Platform Business Service Department. Sharma co-founded Infibeam with Vishal Mehta, now managing director, and Vijayakumar Subramanian, now CIO.

The Ahmedabad-based start-up, which began in 2007, offers technology to merchants for doing business online. This can be categorised under two segments. First, the marketplace portal (e-retail platform) operated as Infibeam.com. Like any other marketplace, it fulfils transactions from inquiry to delivery of goods and services to the web customer. Second, Infibeam Web Services (IWS) provides a complete customised solution from payments to delivery of goods and services to the merchant by offering ERP (enterprise resource planning) or SaaS (software as a service)-based applications, catering for their need for digital presence in e-commerce across all geographies.

With a certain amount of brainstorming, Sharma arrived at a technology platform capable of deploying across multiple requirements online. “We have developed our niche web services on a cloud-based infrastructure to cater to both B2B and B2C needs of corporates both in India and abroad. We have built the right technology eco-system for both demand-side and supply-side merchants,” she explained. 

On the demand side the framework allows merchants to sell directly to customers under their own brand and also across multiple marketplaces including Infibeam.com. They can also use digital marketing, logistics, payment gateways and domain registry services offered by Infibeam to reach to their potential customers. On supply-side, the framework allows brands, retailers and suppliers to sell their product through a distribution channel. 

Quick to cash in on the growing demand, Sharma decided to offer the platform along with ERP integration, which allows users to enhance the online visibility of their brand to B2C and B2B channels. The combination of B2C and B2B and certain synergies help customers to access millions of products at best offered prices across merchant stores including Infibeam.com. Coupled with that, the browsing and surfing behaviour analysis helps to promote and market offerings digitally on all devices including web. E-commerce by nature tends to eliminate intermediation and go direct. Sharma seeded an idea of how technology can be used to enable merchants to re-intermediate to help them grow online and create demand for their product and services at the same time increase their efficiency to reach out to the customer not only locally but nationally.

With time, the start-up evolved into a fully fledged zero-debt e-commerce company, with initial funds contributed by friends and families. Its revenue model includes various subscription plans, customisation fees, commission on sale of products and services and value added services.

“Infibeam is the first e-commerce company in India to go public and raised Rs 450 crores (£53m) fund through issue of shares. The company got listed on April 4, 2016 on BSE and NSE,” Sharma says with satisfaction, and adds: “Our acceptability as the e-commerce online solution provider in India as well as abroad is visible in our strong and profitable results. We are in the process of increasing our logistics centres for last-mile delivery mechanism and reach out to customers across the country.” Infibeam has been proactively investing into data-centre framework to manage the growing scales, volumes and measures for data backup and disaster recovery.

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