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Tuesday, 30 August 2016

From starting up in a college dorm to Rs 1cr in revenues, how this engineer duo did it all

Imagine you have been working on a particular software for a while now and it shuts down after proper use. In most cases, it is frantic rush and search for the next available option. This is where Beebom comes into play. It is a consumer technology website that helps people in understanding and using technology in a better way.

The platform gives you all the information you need – from digital tips to resources on software, apps and gadgets. The main aim of the platform is to become the world’s leading digital resources destination on the web.

“We take pride in the fact that the content provided on our website is 100 percent accurate, and of high quality; written by tech geeks from around the world. We make sure that we deliver value to our readers, and make their life easier,” says 25-year-old Devinder Maheshwari, an Electrical Engineer from Nirma University, Ahmedabad.

The platform works to provide high quality tutorials, guides and resources on various technologies used by end consumers. Devinder adds that there is a detailed testing and usage involved before writing about anything.

This, he says, happens as the team keeps themselves updated with the happenings in the technology world. “We don’t believe in the frequency of content, but we believe in quality. Therefore, we keep ourselves restricted to two to three articles a day,” he adds.

The Beebom Team
The beginnings

The idea came to Devinder during his second year of engineering when he bought a laptop in January 2011. Devinder and his roommate Kapil Jindal would explore the net. During the course of conversation, Kapil asked Devinder what a blog was, and with a basic understanding of the same, Kapil ended up creating a blog on technology and its workings.

The duo knew they wanted to make it into a complete content website. However, they did not know anything about website building or content writing and marketing. It took them 68 days to learn the different nuances and get the site live.

“Our friends really liked it. It was received really well when we launched it. But it didn't scale the way we assumed it to be,” says Devinder.

However, they had a long way to go as the website was in its very basic format. For a year or so, the duo experimented with several things and finally were able to get the traction they were looking for.

By the end of 2013, when they were in their final year, they were able to sustain decent traffic and earn a decent amount of money.

Version 2.0

The duo never thought of Beebom as a business. After graduating, Devinder went ahead to take a job in Chennai and Kapil got involved in another startup of his, which was later acquired by a firm in Ahmedabad.

Kapil was facing some troubles in his startup and Devinder wasn’t happy in his job. After a few months, the duo ended up having a conversation and decided to revive Beebom.

“We decided to get back where we started and do what we know best. So, in December, 2013 we met in Ahmedabad, and operated from there for about three to four months, and then shifted to Delhi,” says Devinder.

Crash and burn

For a year, they worked on different consultancy projects, ran advertising campaigns and worked out of the commission to make enough money to help Beebom survive. They did it for about five to six months and hoped that traffic on Beebom would increase and soon the revenue as well, but nothing went according to the plan.

It was then the duo out of desperation decided to take a different route and work more on entertainment and listicle posts. Devinder describes it as their biggest mistakes as they completely shifted out of technology content. In December of 2014 when things went south, they realised that they needed to get back to basics.

Back to the beginning

It was then the duo decided to hire Rupesh Sinha, an IT Engineer from Krishna University, Bengaluru; Akshay Gangwar, a Computer Engineer from CBP Government Engineering College; and Pratik Tyagi, a Computer Engineer from Jaypee Institute of Information and Technology.

By October 2015, we had a total team of 10 distributed and in-house employees who were working with Beebom on a regular basis.

"Now, we restrict ourselves to doing only high quality technology resources, made sure to put all our efforts in Beebom and do just as much of consultancy as it's required to survive,” says Devinder.

In May, they completely let go of the consultancy work because Beebom is now a self-sustaining entity, and with a good margin. The duo started with zero revenue. When they restarted in 2015, they had over 100,000 readers a month. And in January this year, the team claims to have touched 1.5 million readers with a revenue of Rs 1 crore.

A growing market

Currently, they claim to have over two million readers and hope to touch three million by the end of the year.

The global market for digital content is expected to reach $500 billion by 2019 and is said to be growing at a CAGR of 13.93 percent. Also today, with the growing number of software and technology boom in the country, the number of platforms for explanations, reviews and information dissemination are fast increasing.

Some of the top websites globally known for their technology content and information include Wired, which provides in-depth coverage of trends in technology, news about new gadgets and it also has a web venture called web monkey that is specifically for web developers, designers and web masters. There also is Tech2, which reviews gadgets, Gizomodo, for gadget lovers and Digitaltrends.
What does the future hold?

Beebom generates revenue via display advertising, sponsored posts and affiliate commissions where they have partnered with Amazon, Viglink and software vendors like Adobe. So whenever a product that is referred by Beebom is sold, the team earns a commission. For software products it is between 20 to 50 percent, and for gadgets it is between 4 to 15 percent.

In the near future, the team is looking forward to working on introducing a deals section for their readers, where the latter can buy products at a lower price. The team intends to generate revenue from the same. They are also aggressively working on videos and building a stronger social media presence.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Truple — a startup by IIT-IIM alumni that promotes social activity instead of just networking

Magic happens when young graduates get together. Former IIT-IIM graduates Chetan Patil, C V Karthik, Rohit Harlalka, Sriram Sekhar, Madhvendra Kumar and Jeet Kumar where staying at the same society in Thane, a suburb in Mumbai, when they realised that theircorporate jobs did not complete their lives. So, Sriram — the common connect between the six of them — got them to play snooker in the evenings, which perhaps was the most significant thing for the founding of their startup. The snooker and evenings spent got the group thinking and, soon, they were brimming with ideas.

In 2013, these individuals decided to do something together, after all, because they had jotted down over hundreds of ideas over their snooker games. Some of these ideas discussed were in the consumer retail space; they wanted to start a car care franchise, an international ice cream chain and also a private label branded electronic goods distribution play. In August 2014, all that changed as the quit their corporate jobs to become entrepreneurs.

Truple founders
The journey

“Two years since we developed three products, sadly closed one, changed the strategy from B2C to B2B for another, and we’re currently working on Truple. It’s been a roller coaster ride,” says 31-year-old, Madhvendra, Co-founder of Truple.com.

They started with a product called ‘servein60’, where they became a service provider for services like plumbing, electrical, carpentry, yoga and photography. While working on servein60, they realised that the barrier to scale – in terms of huge labour cost ‑ was a manpower intensive business. They switched the model from a consumer business to a B2B model, where the platform became a marketplace model called Getblu in May 2015.

This business today generates Rs 12 lakh annual revenues. However, the team was keen to start something that could scale instantaneously. After a year of hard research Truple was born.
The birth of Truple

Last October, the co-founders realised that social engagement could be a big business in India. Truple, which was born this January, solved the problem of finding help for needs that require engagement between people. Say one likes weightlifting, he/she can connect with another person, around the corner, with a similar interest.

“We realised that social engagement has infinite market potential. It is very difficult to estimate the market size, but India has a huge potential,” says Madhvendra.

Globally, there are 1.7 billion monthly active users on different social networking platforms and it is estimated to grow to three billion by 2020. In India, there are more than 200 million social media users, with 70 percent of them being Facebook users.

“We decided to get into this space as all the current networking solutions are about I, me and myself. In today’s digital world people are independent, but not necessarily inter-dependent; hence they are connected and not engaged,” says Madhvendra.

Existing social networking solutions versus Truple
They are used by users for self-promotion; Truple is designed to be used for sharing.
They help people manage connections; Truple helps people manage engagement.
They make people independent; Truple makes people inter-dependent.

The co-founders have invested Rs 15 lakh and have a small seed round (undisclosed) from one of the angel investors who also invested in Infibeam and Pay1.

Technology is already enabling people to engage with each other. However, most networking platforms promote connections and do not close social engagement needs. Truple uses technology to enable people help each other mostly by meeting and engaging with each other.
The business model

With the median age being 27, there are at least 600 million people below this age group in the country and engaging with each other — based on activity — is going mobile.

The business works on a freemium model where there is a basic and advanced feature. The advanced feature is paid for and also has paid promotions by local businesses and individuals. The company has opened the platform for ad revenue too. The team believes that each of the sources will get activated after they have achieved a pre-defined target. The company will activate the freemium model when they have use base of 1,000,000 daily active users.

“These businesses need to scale rapidly and will need to spend large amounts of money. It depends on how quick they could get customers to sign up and use the platform,” says K Balkrishnan, Co-founder of Exfinity Ventures.

The company’s competition — in a similar vein — is startups like Meetup, Affimity, Nearfox. All these companies are in their early stage and not many have figured out a business model around social engagement business.

At present, there are 2,000 users with less than a month old public beta version with users from USA and Canada (40 percent), India (33 percent) and rest-of-world (27 percent). With limited users in the initial days of building the business they have a problem of fulfillment of user needs. “However, based on genuine user feedback, multiple ways of user engagement are in development phase, which includes passion based professional networking and enhancement in messaging,” says Madhvendra. It is too early to discuss the revenues of the company.

“This applies to any startup, know your market and test it. The next thing is, it has to scale up fast,” says V Ganapathy, CEO at Axilor Ventures.

The Truple team strongly believes that social interaction other than networking online — with friends and family — is very important. Hopefully, they become the platform for social activities. Their journey has just begun.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

‘Viral is a negative word, we want to create content which can be shared.’ – The story of India’s biggest MCN network, Culture Machine

As you subconsciously go about scrolling through your timeline, you might not realise just how used to stopping to watch auto-playing videos you have become. Just as we were getting accustomed to viral memes and vines, videos arrived in a big way. The impact has been most significant in the case of millennials, who are looking at video as their go-to medium to educate and inform.

As per Forrester Research, a minute of video is worth 1.8 million words of text. From $720 million in 2013 to $1.5 billion in 2015, the video market continues to grow rapidly. Riding high on this wave is Culture Machine (CM), a content production and analysis company founded in 2013 by Sameer Pitalwalla and Venkat Prasad.

Is That You? | #ChangeTheRhyme, a campaign by one of Culture Machine’s most popular channels, BLUSH, recently garnered over 4.5 million views within weeks of its release. Other viral videos from the Culture Machine stable include Enna Da Rascalas’ South of India with 1.9 million views and the hugely popular Respect for Women ad for client Havells. The founders are concerned about making content that can be shared, as opposed to making things viral.

‘Viral’ is a negative word. It is not as much about going viral as it is about making something which is shareable. We focus on things that our audiences can share and there is a formula to arrive upon what they want, says Sameer.

Sameer, former director of video and celebrity at Disney India, and Venkat, former product manager at YouTube, met at Vidcon 2011 through a common friend and got talking about how the video ecosystem was going to evolve. They both wanted to capitalise on this evolution, and thus was born Culture Machine. While Sameer runs the media side of the business, Venkat looks at technology.

Before starting Culture Machine, Sameer had been at the helm of building many brands’ digital video businesses, and brought his media expertise to the table in this new venture. Venkat, on the other hand, came in with the tech and financial expertise he had gained working with brands such as Google and YouTube over the years.

Venkat and Sameer are like yin and yang; Venkat’s technology and operations ability and Sameer’s marketing, sales, and content understanding is a winning combination. says Gautam Patel, MD, Zodius Capital.

Marrying content and tech

Culture Machine is a multi-channel network which uses its proprietary technology, Intelligence Machine, to trawl through online videos, index them, and gather details based on viewer preferences. Armed with this data, Culture Machine guides its clients on what’s trending in the fast changing internet landscape.

Intelligence Machine is one of the largest big data platforms for online content in Asia, says Venkat.

Along with gauging and analysing what is working, Culture Machine also helps create original content. ‘Video Machine, its proprietary software, can produce music videos for all sorts of songs in different formats including displaying images with music, using typography, and simultaneously releasing them on social media and video hosting sites.

The majority of the 250-member team sits at the company headquarters in Mumbai, while the rest of it is spread in cities such as Pune (the engineering base), Chennai, and Delhi. Culture Machine also has sales teams in Los Angeles and the UK.

Singapore-based VC firm Zodius Capital was the first to realise Culture Machine’s potential and pumped in Series-A funding of $ 3.5 million within a year of the company beginning operations. The startup’s board of advisors includes Shishir Mehrotra, former vice-president of product at YouTube, Dean Gilbert, global head of content operations at YouTube, and Nickhil Jakatdar, CEO of independent mobile video platform Vuclip. 

As a part of our investment thesis, we concurred that the 15–40–year-old demographic is spending less time watching television and more time on their mobile phones watching videos on social media. We believe Culture Machine is building a web equivalent of what the Star Network built on television. We did not want to back a content company; we wanted to back a team that works on both technology content and analysis. In the digital medium you have a one-on-one interaction with your audiences and Culture Machine fits the bill perfectly, says Gautam Patel, speaking of the deal.

In January 2015, the company raised $18 million in its second round of funding from Tiger Global Management, Zodius Capital, and Times Internet, a majority of which was allocated towards strengthening its technology solutions and creating content. It also marked Tiger’s first investment in the space. At the time of the deal, Lee Fixel, Partner at Tiger Global Management, had justified the investment talking about how CM had built a world-class technology platform and the largest creator network in the country.
Multiple revenue streams

Culture Machine currently runs 240 YouTube channels out of which eight are self-owned, and its videos cumulatively clock 80 million views a month with about half-a-billion watch minutes. About 70–75 percent of this traffic comes from mobile and the company generates an annual revenue of $4.4 million.

Apart from ads on YouTube, a major source of revenue for the company is through data intelligence on video consumption trends. Culture Machine works with top brands such as Microsoft, P&G, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, Havells, Tata Motors, Fox Star Studios, and SABMiller India, among many others.

CM has worked with us to create one of our best digital content-marketing pieces called The Indian Entrepreneur for our flagship brand Haywards 5000. The experience was absolutely fantastic, right from the brief to the output. What sets CM apart from the rest is their ability to first understand the client’s business, the challenges and the ecosystem within which clients operate before curating content solutions, says Shitij Jain, General Manager (Head) — Innovations & Digital Marketing | SABMiller India

Culture Machine also recently acquired popular youth Telugu channel Viva in a bid to strengthen the content creation space in South India. CM’s other regional channel acquisitions include Comedy Factory, Put Chutney and Aithe Ok, in Gujarati, Tamil, and Telugu respectively.

Along with providing data intelligence to brands, Culture Machine also identifies potential YouTube artistes who have amassed a sizeable number of followers on their dedicated channels, and has signed up over 180 artistes so far. These artistes are provided with real-time intelligence for them to know what is working with the internet audience, and adjust their content accordingly.

It’s been over a year of signing up with Culture Machine and our reach has grown significantly. The insights are helping us produce content that our target audience wants to see and we definitely want to continue our association further, says Shrey Chhabra of Old Delhi Films, a YouTube channel which creates fun videos on trending topics mainly targeting the millennial population.

However, Culture Machine’s relationship with some of its individual content contributors has not exactly been hunky dory, with a few even going on record to say they never benefited from associating with the brand. But Sameer disagrees.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. All our self-owned channels are continuing to do well and getting some of the highest number of views in their respective categories. If individual contributors are ready to form an amicable alliance, we are more than welcoming and there are several examples of how many people have actually benefited. That said, our main focus is towards building our own channels.

What’s happening in the Multiple Content Network (MCN) space?

Major players in the space include Nirvana Digital, Qyuki, Pepper Media, Ping Digital, #fame, and One Digital Entertainment, among others. Nirvana Digital has an assortment of 200 YouTube channels and over 50,000 videos and distributes its content to video platforms like Hulu, Amazon VOD, and Apple’s iTunes mobile apps and devices.

Qyuki is YouTube certified and backed by stalwarts like Shekhar Kapur, AR Rahman, and Samir Bangara. Ping Digital is one of India’s largest food networks with over 1,000 food videos. #fame, previously Famebox, raised its second round of funding of $10 million in January 2015 from existing investor and stakeholder digital media firm To The New Ventures (TTN Ventures). The firm had previously secured $3 million from TTN in a seed round.

The mass popularity of standalone channels like All India Bakchod (AIB) and The Viral Fever (TVF) also reinstates the power of video. It is interesting to note that Tiger Global also invested $10 million in TVF early this year. However, Culture Machine doesn’t really think of them as competition.

There will always be a bunch of boutiques which will specialise in a particular type of content. It is extremely difficult to build something which can achieve national scale with multiple channels the way Culture Machine has, says Sameer.

While major advertisers in the West were looking at advertising on the web in comparison to television for mega events like Super Bowl Sunday, things leaned towards the more conventional mediums of advertising in India until recently. However, things have changed in a big way and India looks poised for a video boom.

The approximately Rs 20,000-crore budget in India was not going anywhere else because television was cutting across language barriers, but with videos, social media is capable of doing just that, says Gautam, speaking of the potential in the video space. He adds,

Investors are looking for players who are building content that can scale and the only way to build it is through analytics and technology.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

The art of survival — this edutech platform teaches how to run business without funding

The introduction of technology was the need of the hour in the Indian education system. It has helped students gain education and reduced the challenges they were facing before.


Earlier, the education which was possible through limited books caused many constraints for students. And if you happen to be a student from some small place, the problem magnifies for you many times — as there’s no way to get availed those reference books for preparations.

Back in 2006, Basant Pandey was serving as a teacher in Central School at Port Blair. During his stay in Andaman, he observed that CBSE schools in the state would always lack study materials for students. The text books or sample question paper booklets would take 15-20 days to reach the state as ships would run only twice a month between main land and Island.

Basant discussed the idea with his brother Vinod Pandey, a final engineering student then, and decided to address the issue. They observed that as one of the top tourist places in India, Andaman had good internet connectivity.

They collected notes and sample papers and created a website on a free hosting server and uploaded all the papers there to help students in Andaman Islands. Within six months, they started receiving more than 500 users per day, who were not only from Andaman and but from other cities as well.

As the traffic grew, they purchased a bigger hosting solution as well as an appealing domain name. In 2007, myCBSEguide.com was launched. It is an online platform that serves free study material to CBSE students in the form of syllabus, sample question papers, board exam papers, online tests, quick revision notes, important questions, news and updates. All the materials available on the website is free for student and teachers.

In 2009, the brothers formed Elpis Technology Solutions to accommodate other platforms — onlineteachers.co.in and elpiscart.com. The former helps teachers to interact with each other, prepare for teacher exams and find teaching jobs. This platform is dedicated to the teacher community. elpiscart.com provides downloadable ebooks in PDF format and Multiple Choice Questions in quiz format at a very nominal price.

Today, the website claims to have more than six million page views per month and it goes up to 25 million per month during the exam days. myCBSEguide’s android app has more than two lakh downloads.

Bootstrap hero

“In the beginning, we started the platform to help students and there was almost zero operating cost for us as we were on a free hosting server. As soon as the traffic started growing, we implemented Google AdSense and it was more than enough to meet the initial expenses. To keep it low cost, we used open source CMS and shared/VPS hosting. At the initial stage, most of the content was being generated by our friends and colleagues serving as teachers in KV and CBSE schools,” says Basant, Founder and CEO, myCBSEguide.

Vinod and Basant (From L-R)
He adds that around 80 percent of revenue comes from Google AdSense and direct advertisements. The rest is from product sales such as ebooks and test software for CBSE students. Even today, he is managing the salary expenses of 15 full-time employees and 45 freelance content experts without raising a penny from investors.

But now, Basant believes that the market is growing rapidly and competition is becoming aggressive. New players are funded by big investors. They are leaving no stone unturned to capture the market. They have created do or die situation in the market. “For bootstrapped companies like us, it is the time to grow rapidly or crushed behind. We haven't pitched to any investor yet. But, planning to do so in next six to eight months to grow aggressively.”

What’s next?

The platform is planning to move towards subscription-based model. Basant, however, says that he understands the risk of switching from free to subscription-based model. He plans to add new products and services to complement this free stuff and monetise it by subscription — such as online tests are free, but analytics to these tests are to be subscribed.

On Elpiscart, it is working towards adding new products and different ways to increase sales. Besides, it has some new features in pipeline which will be launched within three to four months to expand its reach among students and teachers.

According to the platform, it is also planning to introduce new personalisation and gamification features to increase user engagement.

Education market

According to EY-FICCI report on the education sector in India, the current K-12 school system in India is one of the largest in the world with more than 1.4 million schools and over 250 million students enrolled.

The online education market in India is expected to grow at a CAGR of 17.50 percent by 2019. There are multiple players in the K-12 space, some of them being well funded.

Edukart and Meritnation are the two big platforms in this category.

Started in 2007, Meritnation.com claims to have 90 lakh students from CBSE, ICSE and other leading boards across India and the Gulf on its online platform. It has also raised close to Rs 96.5 crore across.

Survival of all

Experts believe that the K-12 category is big enough to accommodate many players at the same time. Various players are finding their niche to survive in the business. Some are offering freemium model, while others have adopted paid subscription. From test preparation to videos and online coaching to test papers, platforms are covering an entire sector.

Friday, 26 August 2016

How this 23-year-old gujju’s jugaad aims to help 50 million overseas students plan better

If the entire colonies dedicated to Indians in western countries are anything to go by, it is safe to assume that the 21st century globetrotting Indian keeps his “foreign” education close, but his money closer. For behind the fa├žade of the grand international life are burdensome student loans, or perhaps that constant sword hanging over one’s head, the sponsoring family, which wonders about the usefulness of the expense of their life savings.

It was perhaps poetic justice then that a textbook ‘vaniya’ Gujarati– which is possibly the most infamously global community of the lot– engineered a way to help students cut short the ordeal of complex calculations, and technologically figure out the exact point in their careers, after their lofty college educations, at which they will break-even and recover the costs.

The Fantastic Mr Fox
A scientifically trained finance professional with an obsession for understanding world economics, 23-year-old Vibhav Parikh is the founder of Fox Counsel. He holds a bachelor’s degree in management studies from Mumbai Jai Hind College.

In his final year at college, students and counselors alike were crying themselves hoarse about studies overseas. “Being a Gujarati, it was essential for me to see some profit in this investment. But none of the voices that were shouting “Study Abroad” had a definite answer. A ball-park figure is of no use with an investment of this size,” says Vibhav.
Jugaad

Like a true-blue Gujarati, he broke things down and laid the foundation for his jugaadsolution.

Problem: How viable is an investment in an education abroad? Everyone knows it is imperative to study further, but not everyone has the financial capability to take that plunge to go abroad. Loans, expenses, and work permits are all factors that are seldom taken into consideration.

He learned about the ‘time value of money’ and various financial formulae at the same time. These financials were used extensively in the corporate world to evaluate the viability of projects. “I applied this to evaluate investments in education abroad. The output would simply be– when one would break-even.”

Finally, his Solution - the first ever Study Abroad Calculator in the world.

He used one of his research papers as a base, developed a few tricks on MS Excel, and made it work. “This is how things can be done for free!”
A Calculated risk

In three months, he found a partner, Pradnesh Patil, to take up the challenge of integrating finance and code. Within three more, they got the website up and running.

Fox Counsel, the online calculator, helps students estimate the cost of studying abroad and gives them their specific break-even period, so that students across India and the world are enabled to make the correct financial decisions.

The calculator uses a financial algorithm– the Fox algorithm- combined with the crucial loan payment schedules and expected salary ranges.

An individual in the USA and an individual in India would have different break-even years for the same university. This is because Fox Counsel uses the financial concept of “opportunity cost” and ensures that the output is as close to reality for the specific user.

How it’s done

The user has to input six primary details:
Where they are from
Where they are going to
Cost of Tuition Fees and Books
Expected Salary Range
Study Duration (In months)
Cost of Flight and VISA

Additionally, they have to punch in details of the loan taken, and years that must be skipped for accommodation and food expenses – in case the college’s fees is inclusive of the two, or the student is not going to bear the costs if he is, for example, staying with a relative.

The output would be the year in which the user would break-even, and a table that shows all costs, including electricity, housing, food, miscellaneous expenses and taxes, for the years till they are expected to break-even. The user can also alter the housing and food costs.

The calculator can be used by anyone. Residents in Sydney could take a loan from a bank in Sydney or the United States, and still get an output year that would accurately match their needs.
The world is his oyster

According to UNESCO Statistics, there are nearly 30 million students studying internationally every year – so, that is Fox Counsel’s market size. There are also the parents of the 30 million students, and the students that do not end up going abroad. In all, conservatively, Fox can potentially serve 50 million people a year.

This doubles up as a potential opportunity as well as a challenge. With a small team, it has been difficult to reach the entire target audience effectively; there is no one sure shot way, given how the audience is spread across countries and demographies. To overcome these barriers, they have formed networking nodes, through internet forums like Quora, across countries, which would, in turn, multiply the number of calculations.

Counselors also come in the realm of their target market. “We have a business model that encompasses students, parents, and student counselors, with a slightly unique show-case for each,” he explains.

They plan to establish tie-ups with career counselors, advertise in the educational and financial supplements of newspapers, and as of now, are already in talks with a leading educational loan provider in India for a partnership.
Kids better have my money

Fox Counsel has developed a “Venn Business Model” for their revenues, which will be garnered through user registrations, tie-ups with counselors and educational institutions, Google ad-sense and website adverts, and lastly, licensing.

Fox Counsel has also developed a unique back end system. “I can see what the users are searching for, from where to where the students are going, which is the most searched city and so on.”

So far, since they launched six months ago, they have garnered around 10,000 hits, with over a 1,000 unique calculations.

Currently, they are a free calculator. The revenue from registration and tie-ups will be generated after a year of operations. A firm even inquired whether Fox could license the calculator to them, such that they would be exclusive users of the tool. "We have kept the idea on the table for the future, but chosen not to go ahead with this stream at this early juncture," says Vibhav.

Having said that, they have made sure their fixed and variable costs aren't in the red and that they can continue operating.
Finding Quora

A growth hack has been tapping into the global community that Quora has to its credit. “There are people who blatantly use it to advertise their product, but we aren’t amongst those. We simply answer questions and that then translates to hits. I believe it is a much stronger medium than Facebook and Twitter for my product.”

He has answered 59 different questions on Quora from different Indian users, and got nearly 30,000 views since he became active last October. “If you see my answers, they are extremely specific and in-depth with regard to the questions posed. From there, I connect with students, who then use my website to help others directly.”

Currently, Fox Counsel is a completely unique product in the world market, and faces no direct competition. The Fox Counsel team do not consider themselves as a substitute to counselors, but rather, as a “synergetic complement.”

Coming up!

The next step for Fox Counsel is building liaisons with renowned counselors. To ensure word-of-mouth organic growth, they are planning to deliver presentations to final year students across colleges in Mumbai. “Recognition from the government, to give access to my calculator to students who would need a loan, is another avenue we are going after,” says Vibhav.

Fox Counsel will also be starting a free information portal on a “guide to study” for the various competitive exams, such as GMAT, CFA, GRE, CPA and the likes, using professionals in their respective fields.

The founder, Vibhav Parikh, will also be available as a Fox Counselor- for entrepreneurs that are at the idea stage of a service or product. “This would ensure that new entrepreneurs have a sound financial and business model in place before they begin, so they understand the risk before taking the plunge,” concludes Vibhav.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

How 10-year-old Syenergy Environics is slowly nullifying the effects of harmful radiation from gadgets

Our lives are ruled by smart devices. Every aspect of it, be it at home, office, or while socialising in restaurants or bars, is controlled by devices. While there are numerous studies that talk about the importance of soaking up the sun or exploring outdoors, did you know it was equally important that your building is healthy and free of radiation, especially given the number of mobile phones, laptops and other electronic devices present in a closed environment?

It was something 65-year-old Ajay Poddar discovered himself when he was told that the geopathic radiation was affecting the work at his gas manufacturing plant at Sikandrabad. Several experts suggested that it was wrongly built and would need major deconstruction and demolition.
L-R – Ajay Poddar, Manisha and Pranav Poddar
Diving into research

But being an engineer himself, Ajay wanted to dig deeper, as he also could not afford any of the drastic changes that were recommended. His research confirmed that most of the products and devices one uses today emit electromagnetic waves, which are harmful to the human body and the environment.

He then started looking at experimenting on non-destructive or non-intrusive ways of understanding and correcting radiations and energy flows. He established Syenergy Environics in February 2007 in Delhi to study electromagnetic radiation and its effect on the human body.

The team developed Envirochip, a CE-certified product that can be attached to a mobile phone. Operating at frequencies between 500 and 600 THz, Envirochip acts as a radiation protector for both the electronic devices and their users. The device works over the constant microwaves that are emitted from computers, mobile phones, and other devices and make it compatible with the human body.

Building the devices

Ajay explains that the chip takes care of any harmful non-thermal aspect of the radiation, thus preventing biological damage and weakening of the immune system without affecting the signal strength of the device it is fixed on. While for mobile phones it is priced betweeen Rs 250 and 825, most of Syenergy Environics’ products are targeting the business-to-business (B2B) segment.

While it was incorporated in 2007, Ajay began work for the company close to two decades ago. On how powerful Envirochip is, Ajay explains,

We have developed protocols to detect and correct various natural and environmental radiations, which are harmful without any reconstruction or relocation of people or services. It made sense to build something from natural materials, which can change the nature of the radiations and the energy flows to render them harmless to the human body and even the equipment they are placed on.
On-boarding the right people

With the idea in mind, Ajay knew had to next find well qualified people who were willing to quit their lucrative careers and join him on this endeavour. Manisha Matanhelia is a qualified architect and designer. She has studied traditional architecture of ancient India and has conducted extensive research on environment with bioelectromagnetic energies and their effects on human health.

Manisha too was trying to find someone to partner with in this field and after several discussions, the duo decided to work together. They were joined by Ajay’s son Pranav Poddar, who was working in the US.

The B2B market

The team currently is working on a B2B model and claims to be working with over 1,900 establishments like Mumbai new T2, Hyderabad International Airport, banks like YES Bank and other public sector units (PSUs).

Syenergy Environics deals with some sources of negative electro magnetic radiation (EMR), like geopathic radiation, negative radiations from mobile towers, severs, cellphones and computers.

K.Ravi, the chief manager of the estate of BPCL Refinery, Mahul Mumbai, who has used Environics says that in Mahul, post energy corrections the plant showed significant improvement and the steam factory performed for 84 days continuously with no shutdowns.

Environics looks at the building, analyses the different radiation segments and sectors, based on which it works along a certification and brings in its products to be attached to different devices.

Environics claims to have had a revenue of Rs 10 lakh in the year it started out. Today, it clocks a revenue of Rs 5 crore per annum. Currently bootstrapped, the team is looking for funding, especially for the B2C devices.

The effects of radiation

A study in the US showed that over 20 percent of the employees working in over 600 offices showed something called as Sick Building Syndrome, which was the cause of tension between staff, loss of concentration, stress, increased staff turnover and lower morale. Studies also suggest that the levels of electromagnetic radiations have increased by close to 100 times in the last 15 years.

The team aims to build more productive workplaces on a sustainability platform and expects to reach about Rs 50 crore by 2018. The plan is to align with other people who are also in the wellness space to make buildings healthy. Ajay adds that there are new products under development so that every kind of electro smog, electromagnetic and Wi-Fi radiations can be corrected without sacrificing or forsaking technology.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The ‘monk’ who preaches mindfulness on a Harley Davidson

Answering a question on what constitutes meditation, a wise monk once said it is all about shutting the chattering monkey that your mind is and putting it to work to follow your breath. Just be aware of your breathing. Breathe in, breathe out.

Gopi Krishnaswamy on his Harley Davidson
And though mindfulness is often bundled together with meditation to mean one and the same thing, they are actually two sides of a coin. To understand mindfulness, you’d do well to ride a motorbike.

That’s what Gopi Krishnaswamy, life coach and mindfulness guide, recommends.

On the highway of life, you do not know what lurks around the corner, so you ride on with nothing more than a little prayer and a lot of faith, while at the same time taking in all the beauty around you.

“You have to learn to relax and be alert at the same time,” says Gopi, a passionate Harley Davidson rider. Elaborating on the motorbike metaphor and how it can help us understand mindfulness, Gopi says,

“In motorbiking, you need to have an empty cup. When your cup is full, you become cocky. You probably do something that is wrong. Similarly, in life, when your mind is full, you are not mindful.”

Mindfulness then is the awareness of the present moment. It’s like when you are driving, then just drive. “But the mind has become so dysfunctional that when you are driving, you are making an office presentation in your head, when you are cooking at home, you are having a meeting with your boss over the phone, when you are eating you are on Facebook or watching TV,” explains Gopi, adding, “We have become such multitasking monsters that people think this is the way to be without realising that this is a disease.”
Pay attention without the tension

Former MD at IDEO, an iconic international design company, Gopi is setting up a mindfulness retreat, Dhyaana, near Bengaluru, to coach business leaders and others on the practice of mindfulness in their daily life. He was earlier running his own agency, Insights, to understand shopping behaviour in India.

Business leaders and even startup founders are stressed about the bottomline and do not find the time or the inclination to practice techniques like mindfulness. But, as Gopi says, mindfulness may just help them put those millions in the bank.

Gopi with his mindfulness teacher.
“Creative solutions do not come under stress, they show up only when you are relaxed,” he says. Historically, the most famous creative solutions or ‘aha’ moments have come out of such a relaxed state. “Whether it was Archimedes, Newton, Einstein, Mozart, or Salvador Dali all of them came up with creative solutions only when in a relaxed state,” he says.

These are intense but not tense moments when you are able to pay attention without the tension, and when you are able to focus.

Look at the new-age tech companies like Google and Facebook today, mindfulness is integrated into their culture. “There is a huge element of play and relaxation in the way their work spaces are designed,” adds Gopi. It is not that they do not have deadlines or intense work hours, but the fact that they have relaxation corners and space for reflection proves that it must be effective or why else would they have them at all?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 80 percent of the world population suffers from stress, and 90 percent of all ailments are the result of stress, whether it is diabetes, cholesterol or high BP. Gopi says,“In the name of efficiency, we buy stress.”

Gym of the future

Today, mindfulness is being used in drug rehabilitation, in the Army, the British Parliament teaches it to its MPs, and many more places. “Mindfulness is the next generation of exercise. It is the gym of the future,” predicts Gopi.

Gopi, who graduated from Central University of Pondicherry, has an interesting personal story. He joined the formal education system much later in life when he was all of 13 years old. The lack of formal education early in his life, perhaps, wired him differently. Gopi explains, “In school, when a teacher asks students to concentrate, she expects them to look at their books and not out of the window. If you are found doing that you get a whack on your head. The foundation of how we think is laid there. For me, the best results come when I am totally at rest, and I have picked up professions around that.”

Here’s an interesting analogy to help you think faster, better, and in a mindful way. Gopi says, “Thinking is like a torch light we are given. We keep it on during the day when we don’t need it. If you learn when to switch it on and off, it can be extremely powerful.”

A big fan of Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, Gopi has a tattoo of a seagull on his hand to remind him that there’s more to life than “fighting for fish heads.” But if it’s fish heads that one wants, then it will serve one well when done with mindfulness. As they say, keep calm and twist the throttle.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

A school of rock, river, mountain and soul: India’s first school to learn the ABCs of travel journalism and marketing

They say travel is the greatest teacher. So I say, it is only fair that it gets a school to teach in- and there are no prizes for guessing who has taken it upon himself to erect the classrooms.

At the myriad of travel conferences he graces, people often wonder why Ajay Jainunhesitatingly spills his hacks and B-plan ideas to milk the travel industry- a field that is the stuff of dreams to work in, but is a nightmare to monetise. It is because he is sure enough of his agility and proactiveness in applying all of these models to his own lab of travel himself, well before wanderlusting aspirants and potential competitors. And surely enough, after setting up a profitable travel blog- one of India’s first, with a reader base of over 90,000, a travel channel, sporadic tours with interested and interesting bunches of people, and a travel cafe which brews coffee and stories with the same ardour, the vagabond who lost his heart and gained his purpose at Kunzum, is back with yet another exciting venture- the Kunzum School of Travel.

AJ to Professor AJ
46 at last count, he went to St. Columbia’s School, Delhi College of Engineering (Mechanical Engineering), Fore School of Management and Cardiff University, UK, for a masters in journalism. After careers in IT and sports management, he dropped everything to go back to school to learn journalism and photography, and restarted as the lowliest of reporters in the Indian Express group when he was 32. “If I had not taken such steps, I might still have been selling computers somewhere and not doing creative things like travel, writing and photography.”

With a history of compulsively following his heart, he woke up one day to tell himself, “That’s it; I am done with the mundane.” He took on sports management and introduced sports like pool and bowling in India, while he continued writing for publications. “Soon, I figured I no longer wanted to write my editors’ stories. They were all bound by set templates and compulsions, and I was not going to be a conformist. So I went freelance, started bloggingwhen blogs got invented, and went on to be a new media journalist and publisher,” he says of his humble beginnings.

Lightning strikes thrice

Being amongst the earliest professional bloggers in India, initially on technology, and then travel, over the years, he saw hundreds of young people take to travel blogging and photography, with many more waiting in the wings. But he saw that many lacked the skill and tools to do a decent enough job at it. He also addressed a lot of travel industry forums, and realised there was also an immense lack of understanding of how digital marketing and PR worked. “For long, I have noticed that people would give their left arm to be able to travel, but you can’t just start travelling- you need a purpose, or money, or both. I would get calls all the time from industry acquaintances seeking advice. So I started conducting talks and workshops on these topics, and they were received very well,” he says.

And then came the ‘aha’ moment. “Based on the success of our earlier workshops, which were all consistently house-full, we figured that there was a market for such courses. And we jumped right in, and came up with the idea of the Kunzum School of Travel- to train people to be travel bloggers, photographers, videographers, storytellers, marketeers and more,” he explains.

At his pay-what-you-like Kunzum Travel Cafe – frequented by those struck by wanderlust as their favourite haunt in Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village, he translated to action his simple idea. Delhi also has the highest concentration of travel and media companies, so Ajay made the informed decision of staying put.

Kunzum School of Travel

He rolled out workshops and courses– modules ranging from one day crashcourses to three month in-depth dissections of the lofty industry; the cafe from which one has always walked out a changed person emotionally, will now also transform people intellectually. All of their courses are offline. “While it is trendy to go digital with webinars, video tutorials and online classes, I prefer face-to-face to establish a bond between attendees and mentors.”

The process of setting up this business, he says, is quite simple: fix a schedule, tie in mentors, advertise, take bookings and conduct the course. Their initial workshops have seen full houses- they had decided to take in 30 at a time, but have admitted more due to last minute pressure. Ranging in cost from Rs 3,000 a session to 15,000 for the ones spread out over a span of weeks, the subjects cover not only travel journalism, but also photography, PR, marketing, branding, technicalities of new media and a host of others. So far, he has concocted 12 such courses.

So far, 10 editions of the one-day workshops have been conducted, to nearly packed rooms, with 250 students taught in all. The longer courses are set to commence in October.

A sure-fire hit amongst their mind-boggling palette are their travel blogging workshops. Each one has been sold out to date. The challenge, however, according to Ajay, is that while people attend classes, they don’t always act on what they learn, even though they spent time and money, which essentially means that they don’t sign up for advanced courses. For example, after learning the basics of blogging, they do not sign up for the technical session that they would need to actually set up their blog. Ajay wishes to do away with the frivolity in their attitudes towards a topic this beautiful and so rife with potential.

Straight from the laboratory

While certain universities abroad do offer full-fledged courses in travel journalism, India is yet to have an academic offering this specialised. Besides, niche subjects like branding, PR, marketing and writing, just pertaining to documenting and selling travel, are covered sporadically as panel discussions.

Coming up is #IndiaisCalling, a marketing campaign to promote Indian tourism globally, which will also involve Ajay’s students getting their hands dirty. “It will show why Incredible India got it all wrong despite spending hundreds of crores,” Ajay signs off. 

Monday, 22 August 2016

A family of doctors turned entrepreneurs to connect the dots in the healthcare industry

A family of doctors and pharmacists, the Khemka family always wanted to do something related to healthcare. And they got the required push and inspiration in the US.


“When we were in the US and had to visit doctors, we realised how streamlined the processes were: from searching for a doctor to booking an appointment, getting the medicine and tests, all of it was done online through connected systems,” says Shilpi Khemka, CEO and Co-founder of MedDNA.

They were moved to action, and they did, creating a similar ecosystem back home.

With an outlay of Rs 15 lakh, Shilpi, along with Abhishek Khemka and Ankit Vijayvargiya, launched MedDNA, a patient-focused independent medical platform, in January 2016. The amount was spent on platform building and human resources.

“The platform is built on four pillars — doctors, patients, pharmacies and laboratories. The patient is an essential part of the system, he/she initiates a request for an appointment, from then on, all pillars fall into place,” says Shilpi.
The process within

MedDNA is trying to connect its four pillars via mobile application and website. The first step involves appointment with the doctor. Upon patient’s visit, doctors provide prescriptions via MedDNA. This prescription is uploaded on cloud.

The platform will then send information to nearby pharmacies based on the patient’s preference. In case the doctor recommends tests, the request will be sent to the nearest lab. If everything goes as planned, MedDNA will launch these two solutions soon.

“Thus, MedDNA not only provides management of clinic, pharmacies and laboratories, but also connects these independent entities under one roof for the patient’s convenience,” says Shilpi.
A working business model

It is an SAAS-based product where doctors, pharmacies and labs need to subscribe to the platform. However, it is free for patients, except for the service of e-consulting.

“We launched our web application in the beginning of this year and since then we have more than 2,500 doctors listed from Pune and Mumbai, of which 200 are paid subscribers. We are expanding and signing up 10 doctors a day on an average. Apart from that, we are boosting our mobile platform as well, which is gaining traction,” says Shilpi.

With such level of functionality and services, the website claims to be competitive at pricing. MedDNA plans to reach out to Tier II and Tier III cities. Besides, it’s also planning home visit by doctors. We shall overcome…

Implementing a million-dollar idea is a challenge for anyone.

According to Shilpi, in the real world, it is hard to convince a person to change their way of working, especially doctors. They are busy people, who have to focus on diagnosing diseases and providing healthcare advice to patients rather than giving precious time to technology.

“But we are trying to help them find a balance between the two,” she explains, adding: “One way of doing this is a smart prescription pad. It replicates the paper prescription, with the difference being that doctors write on it with our proprietary pen and save the text on computer, which then sends it over to the respective pharmacy or laboratory.”

In pharmacies, MedDNA is aiming to change the model of business operations and how medicines are sold with its direct-prescription-to-pharma step. This way the patient need not visit the pharmacy.

Shilpi sums up her endeavor: “What we are doing at MedDNA is to build a system which can easily be used by anyone and we have targeted various platform devices for this. It will also help increase the revenue for all participating entities by reducing overhead costs.”
Flourishing market

According to a report released by India Brand Equity, the market size of the health sector in India was estimated to be $75 billion during 2012-13 and is projected to reach $280 billion by 2020.

Tencent-backed Practo is among the leading players in this space, having acquired multiple startups such as Fitho, Genii and Qikwell. Practo has also entered the online medicine ordering segment.

Accel-backed Portea and Tiger-backed Lybrate are other established players in this sector.In the past few years, the healthcare segment has witnessed the mushrooming of digital healthcare startups.

Besides patient-centric startups, some doctor-centric startups have also come up. Curofy and Buzz4Health, medical networking apps that power communication between doctors, are other solution providers in this area.