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Tuesday, 28 February 2017

300K transactions and counting, Hashtag Loyalty is disrupting the way offline businesses market

Local offline businesses today struggle to compete against large multi-chain enterprises and online competitors. These businesses spend their time and money on marketing activities that are focused on customer acquisition rather than on retaining their regular customers, even though the latter contribute to as much as 80 percent of their revenues. Dhruv Dewan, Krishi Fagwani and Karan Chechani saw an opportunity in the offline space to assist these businesses. They thought to maximise their revenue by providing them with enterprise grade marketing technology that would be simple, easy to use, and affordable.

Dhruv says, “We wanted to utilise the power of mobile and data to help these businesses focus on the right customers and ensure they kept coming back to their store.”

Together, the trio founded Hashtag Loyalty in March 2015.
Team HashTag Loyalty

Founders’ experience and skills

Twenty six-year-old Dhruv spent two and a half years at Ernst and Young as part of the IT Risk team for financial services. His key focus was on technology governance, risk, security and compliance.

Krishi completed his graduation in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. His interests during graduation centred on various aspects of technology and finance. During graduation, Krishi worked with the Illinois Business Consulting Group as well as Accenture. After graduation, he worked with Cisco Systems in the US and then he moved to India to work with EY as an IT Risk and Assurance Analyst. Krishi brings his technology and consulting experience to the table. His project management and consulting experience has helped him map Hashtag Loyalty's business projections along with leading its in-house tech team.

Karan completed his graduation in industrial engineering from Dwarkadas J Sanghvi College of Engineering in Mumbai. During his graduation, Karan worked on different aspects of production at the Larsen & Toubro factories in Mumbai. After graduation, he worked with Godrej Appliances as an R&D engineer. He then moved to Teach For India to work for a cause he was really passionate about and worked as a Fellowship Selection and Training Associate. Karan has a keen eye for design, branding and communication. He brings with him expertise in product building and mapping and actively works on product design and planning and marketing.

What does Hashtag Loyalty exactly do?

It offers a customer engagement and marketing automation solution to local businesses. It currently works with offline businesses in the F&B, wellness and retail sectors. Its solution helps businesses build and manage their loyalty programmes, understand their customers and brings them back again.

Karan shares, "In our early ideation stages, we worked on every part of the product but the name, avoiding the topic until we had no choice. Eventually, the three of us locked ourselves in a room and made sure we got out with a name. This enforced lockdown resulted in Hashtag Loyalty (#Loyalty), a non-invasive yet direct reference to what we do. Loyalty is a direct reference for customers to identify with us and what we do. The Hashtag, meanwhile, signifies the digital connect that we are enabling between customers and businesses."

  • The company provides its businesses a personalised dashboard.
  • It helps them build and manage their loyalty solutions.
  • Run campaigns via email or SMS to reach out their customers whenever they want to.
  • Auto-engage that helps them set up smart triggers that cover automated communication with their customers throughout their life-cycle.
  • Promotions: A customer acquisition feature that helps them acquire relevant customers from our network.
  • Run a direct one-to-one customer feedback system.
  • Enable partnerships with non-competing businesses in their local neighbourhoods to cross acquire customers.

Present market

Hashtag Loyalty currently works within the SMB industry across the retail, wellness and entertainment industries. The retail market in India consists of over 14 million outlets, out of which the organised sector consists of 1.4 million. The retail market in India is valued at $672 billion, of which the loyalty market makes up about 1 percent.

The company has generated Rs 36 lakh in revenue since inception and is currently on track to generate over Rs 26 lakh in this financial year (FY16/17). It is currently seeking Rs 1.5 crore as a seed investment. This will help it grow to over 5,000 outlets, 1.2 million users and generate revenue of Rs 2.4 crore in FY17/18. It should be noted that this figure only refers to revenue from validated sources. Additional revenue sources could increase total revenue by up to 25 percent.

Hashtag Loyalty charges a monthly subscription for each business that it works with. It is a nine-member team today, including the three co-founders.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Three friends join hands to build solutions that help the common man

In a world where apps rule everything, Sigmapeiron Software is looking at technology differently. As a platform that seeks to provide solutions to day-to-day problems, it has currently begun with SeekWiz, a location-tracking device.

We live in an ultra-busy world of working couples, where effective transport within city limits is the need of the hour. While platforms like Ola, Uber, and ZipGo work towards solving the problem of transport, they don’t do away with the hassle of communication during the travel.

It was this problem that 32-year-old software engineer Shrikant Sawant, operations guy Bhushan Bhagwat, and 29-year-old coding expert Chandu Mohan were interested in solving. The trio has been friends for a while. Having been part of IT companies for over 10 years, they decided to take the plunge two years ago.
Team at Sigmapeiron

The beginnings

They started Sigmapeiron with a roadmap of building three products over five years. Bhushan, who has over a decade of experience in his field, says that in today’s day and age, every member of the family is a working professional and has to travel, whether within the city or outside of it.

There is one thing almost every family has — a WhatsApp group that serves as the communication channel. So, every time a member of the family goes to work or starts for home, messages informing each other about the commute are exchanged. It is just the state of “being-in-the-know” that matters.

Taking cue, the trio thought of building a platform which keeps people’s near and dear ones in the loop without the hassle of calls and messages. Says Bhushan,

“Also, we wanted this to be a one-stop shop where the solution will cater to all possible scenarios that satisfy location-sharing requirements.”

Building the road map

Each of the three products they set out to build has its own challenges in terms of technical knowledge, market readiness, and more importantly, being able to fund the products.

“We worked on fine-tuning the road map, doing all the research needed, and gearing ourselves up technically. It was then that the eureka movement just provided us with a solution to an existent problem which just fell into place in terms of all these factors,” says Bhushan.

It was then that SeekWiz, a platform that lets people locate their loved ones without any dependence on location requests, was born.

Through SeekWiz, the team provides customers with a product and service package that includes GPS device installation, cloud infrastructure, data feeding/migration, and the complete setup and configuration of the fleet. This smart fleet responds accurately to the requirements stated by the customer.

The first solution

SeekWiz is sold as an end-to-end solution, which involves Sigmapeiron delivering the complete package to the customer with no overhead and/or hidden costs. The delivery also includes supporting transport personnel, training them and supporting end users (parents/employees) along with a periodic maintenance cycle.

The platform provides accurate live tracking, custom in-app notifications, real-time location updates, and data security. There also is the service of the SeekWiz Command Centre, a dedicated channel to address queries that can come from any entity associated with the customer (transport admin + end users). This command centre can be reached via various channel like the SeekWizDashboard.

By logging an incident and/or a service request, the same is directly reported to an internal self-designed ticketing system that caters to the incident/service request by following stringent same-day resolution criteria. The command centre can be approached via WhatsApp and there also is a hotline where customers can call for immediate incidents.

The model and growing need for tracking

SeekWiz uses the per-subscriber model, which Bhushan says is especially attractive to schools where the SeekWiz subscription is fixed for a long period and the school can account for the expense as part of the transport fees.

There also is a per-tracked-entity model, which Bhushan mentions is perfect for fleet owners who provide vehicles in large numbers to either schools or corporate organisations.

While the team claims to have seen a sales growth of 80 percent from the third quarter of 2016 to the year’s last quarter, location tracking services are fast growing. While SeekWiz and its parent company Sigmapeiron are Pune based, there are several across different parts of the country.

A report by WHO on road safety stated that the mortality rate of children is as high as 19 in 1,00,000. Looking at these alarming statistics, there are several GPS solutions and technology-based companies focused on school bus security like AppAlert, Opal Solutions, ATIC, and startups like Thiruvananthapuram-based TrackSchoolBus and Bengaluru-based Northstar and Purvathana.

Future plans

In terms of further growth, through SeekWiz, Sigmapeiron expects to maintain an estimated growth of 40 percent quarter to quarter on average for current sales engagements. Sigmapeiron is now working on leveraging technology to build a platform which would revolutionise remedial education to help parents and teachers better understand the wards and provide equal opportunity to all students to achieve much more.

They are also working on an IoT-based solution which shall cater to the common man. IoT-related home automation is still being sold as a luxury. “Our aim at Sigmapeiron is to convert this luxury into an affordable solution which is convenient, caters to daily needs, and is essentially a plug-and-play solution,” says Bhushan.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Prashant may not have cleared his board exams, but he is bringing an organic revolution to his small village in Gujarat

How a village lad found inspiration to go against all odds and follow his heart to connect with the soil and work with natural methods of farming

Prashant Jogiya grew up in a small village called Aadityana near Porbandar in Gujarat.His family had high hopes pinned on him till he was in Class X, considering he was good at studies. But very soon, he lost connect with the education system and decided to not slog at it any longer. He quit school and started to explore life.

Prashant Jogiya at Paras SanjeevanPrashant Jogiya at Paras Sanjeevani

Over the last few decades, little-known Aadityana has been put on the map of the cement industry by Hathi Cement. A rich source of limestone and other stones, the land in this region has been extensively mined in a step towards a ‘modern’ economy. Many people have set up small industries around the natural resources of the region and families without the resources are restricted to rely on farming. Prashant’s family in also involved in the industry and manufactures paints, distemper and provide ancillary services. Naturally, this was an industry Prashant was pushed into but he soon ran away from it all after a few months. He then tried out working at a few industries in Porbandar but none of these stints lasted for more than six months.

His family also had a piece of land where they did farming as a small alternative and this is where Prashant felt like trying out his hand. He was hardly 19 then but his family had already started losing faith in him. “I went to the farm. Dug a little here and watered the crops, but I wasn’t there completely. There was a lot of disturbance within me. There had to be something more,” he tells us while taking us through his farm.

Foray into farming

For a few months, Prashant continued but everyone thought he’d soon give this up on as well. “I saw a lot of chemicals being sprayed and the entire process of farming felt very disconnected,” he says. He started to read a little in the newspapers and magazines and heard about organic farming. He connected with the concept and decided that he’d turn to organic farming. This was even a bigger point of ridicule in the village. A young lad who hasn’t ever done farming was going to do organic farming! 'Do you know the effort that is required?', 'Do you know there is no market for organic here', were some of the questions hurled at him. He knew there were difficulties but the path felt right.

Prashant stopped using chemicals on the little piece of land he was supposed to take care of. He turned to as many organic practices he came across but life was still far from being a bed of roses. There was no visible change in the field and the situation didn’t improve. “I was still not satisfied, there had to be a way somewhere from here,” he thought.
Deepak Suchde

One day, he came across an article about making amrut maati and amrut jal, which do wonders for the soil. The article spoke about NatuEco farming method but didn’t have many details (Deepak Suchde is a popular figure in the world of natural farming and is credited to taking forward Natueco science of farming initiated by Professor Shripad Dabholkar). Prashant read about the techniques and he recognised a way forward but had no clue about where to find out more.

The search

Prashant cut a clipping and kept it with him for close to a year. “I used to ask everyone who spoke of organic farming about this man but no one knew anything about it,” he recollects.

The nearby Hanuman Ashram in Mocha, which is run by a French swamini who in herself is a mesmerizing story, became the turning point for Prashant. Jitu bhai, a friend of Deepak Suchde’s, used to visit the ashram and mentioned to the swamini that she could connect him to anyone from the village if they were interested in organic farming.

News reached Prashant and he ended up meeting Jitu bhai at the Mocha ahram. Prashant found his gateway to NatuEco farming and ended up visiting Deepak Suchde in Bajwada, Madhya Pradesh where his quest found an answer.

Time to implement

After two brief visits, Prashant had found a connection and the faith to stay true to his intention of natural farming. “Staying with baba changed me as a person and opened new doors for me. I now found a language to talk with plants and grow together,” says Prashant.

He now meditates before entering the farm and treats the entire ecosystem around him as one. “We don’t do any weeding or scare away the animals. The universe has its way of balancing everything and producing enough for everyone. If we can just let things be and exist as support instead of intervening so much, everything is available in abundance already,” he tells us over some fresh coconut water from the farm.

A validation came for him when once a certain pest attack had spread a disease in the coconut trees in the region. Agricultural universities suggested injecting a chemical in the roots of the tree to save them. All farmers did that but Prashant refused. “My family was fighting with me and warned me that the entire field will be wiped out but I had faith. I stood by my crops and prayed to the pests. I asked them not to go away since they’d be killed elsewhere but also not to destroy the coconut trees,” says Prashant.

And as faith would have it, his prayers were answered in seven months. The pests are still there but coconut trees started to flourish again. The other farmers couldn’t believe their eyes and still ridiculed the occurring but Prashant had seen a ray of light.

Spreading the organic goodness

Prashant has been following NatuEco farming for close to five years now. The farm ‘Paras Sanjeevani’ produces organic coconuts, peanuts, papaya and other medicinal plants. “Early this year, we started a WhatsApp group for people in Porbandar who want organic produce,” says Prashant. Starting out with seven subscribers, the base is growing and Prashant is putting in extensive efforts to turn the tide towards organic farming in this little-known region.

Prashant with guests at his farm

Taking inspiration from him, many famers visited him from around but only one person, Vitthal, has followed his footsteps. “We’re still a long, long way from making any impact. My family is now starting to support me but there’s so much that needs to be done! We want to create a market and take this method of farming to as many farmers as possible. We want to make farming respectable again,” says Prasahant.

This young man’s story is one of hope and inspiration. In the middle of nowhere, someone gets this message of listening to nature and follows his heart, finds an answer and is now on his way towards realising it completely. There are many such stories across the world and if we all work towards creating an environment for such seeds to germinate, the world will flower into something even more beautiful.

Friday, 3 February 2017

This 19-year-old Londoner has created a chatbot that provides free legal aid to the homeless

Chatbots these days have become quite popular and entertaining. Google Allo, for example, is known for its witty responses and humorous suggestions. Revolutionising the entire concept, 19-year-old Joshua Browder from London introduced his masterpiece DoNotPay, which consolidated the parking ticket system in England. Joshua, who has been the recipient of numerous parking tickets, was 18 years old when he got this idea. DoNotPay has 1,75,000 active users and has allowed vehicle users in London and New York to save around $5 million.

Initially, he programmed the assistant in a way that it helped people challenge parking tickets. Soon enough, he embedded law into the bot so as to assist users in getting crucial information on complicated laws. Now he has shifted his focus to the homeless. The latest addition to DoNotPay helps the homeless in the United Kingdom access rights to public housing policies. His algorithm is so simplified that the users just need to seek help from the bot and the bot itself will be able to analyse how to solve their issues by asking a chain of questions and consequently file a claiming letter for the user. This letter is drafted as per the answers given by the users.

This turns out to be a game-changer for the homeless since legal advice costs hundreds of pounds whereas the bot only makes people answer a few questions. Joshua is someone who leaves no stone unturned, for he consulted with a lot of lawyers about the law and its complications before starting work on the algorithm. He even ensured that people had the right and the access to know why applications are rejected.

Speaking with the Washington Post, Joshua said, "I started receiving a large number of messages about evictions and repossessions, especially from people in the UK. I felt bad that I didn’t have the knowledge to personally help people, especially since they were being made homeless."

Having established himself with his technology in the UK, Joshua aims to reach out to the citizens of the United States as well. However, it is not going to be an easy task for him and his chatbot DoNotPay because of the usage of different housing laws for each city in the country.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Lessons for entrepreneurs from ‘The Book of Five Rings’

Perceive that which cannot be seen with the eye.

– Miyamoto Musashi

In Japanese folklore, rōnin, the masterless samurai, were looked down upon with much disdain. A masterless samurai was one whose master had died on or off the battlefield, or one whose master had lost the favour and privilege of the emperor’s court. Some samurai warriors became farmers and tradesmen, while others chose to become mercenaries and bandits. Miyamoto Musashi was one such rōnin who, in spite of the loss of his title, became one of the foremost scholars on samurai and their code of life, Bushido.

While the feudal system and the samurai no longer exist except perhaps in history books, popular culture, and Hollywood movies, many of their scholarly works have a lot to teach even today. In our last blog, we explored how Musashi’s teachings can be beneficial for digital marketers, the samurai warriors of the modern world. In today’s post we’ll try to find out what startup entrepreneurs can learn from Master Musashi and The Book of Five Rings.

Know your competitors

Know your enemy, know his sword.

In battle, victory belongs to the warrior who studies his adversary’s every move before making his own. According to Master Musashi, thorough knowledge of the adversary is essential because it is only then that the hidden weaknesses become obvious, allowing one to strike a fatal blow at the enemy.

For startup entrepreneurs, knowing the competitors thoroughly is the first step towards success. Believing that one’s business model is absolutely unique and thinking one is impervious to competition can prove to be a grave mistake for any entrepreneur and eventually become their undoing. Competition in business is certain, and therefore, a thorough knowledge of competitors, their strategy, and successful moves is a must for entrepreneurial success.

Find your strengths

There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.

Don’t be alarmed by the size or might of your opponent. You have everything you need to overcome your opposition. The mightiest of foes can be brought down by the smallest of pebbles struck at a weak spot.

Large organisations can often be intimidating. The sheer size and magnitude of their operations are enough to cast a doubt in the minds of startup entrepreneurs. But the fact is that large organisations are prone to processes that can often impede their speed and agility. Startups have a distinct advantage in this regard — they are lean and agile, and can take quicker decisions that can become the gateway to their success. Startup entrepreneurs just need to look within to find these strengths that they already possess and utilise them to their advantage. Moreover, finding your strengths is one of the fundamental pillars of growth hacking. If you know them inside-out, you would have already set in place a firm foundation for your business from the beginning.

Define your purpose

Get beyond love and grief; exist for the good of Man.

What Master Musashi means with these words is that emotions and aspirations are natural to every human being, but a true warrior must have a purpose in life, and there isn’t a purpose better than the service of others.

Similarly, every entrepreneur must define the purpose of their enterprise. If the only purpose is making money, then there will be a disconnect between the business and the consumer. Consumers in the digital age are not only looking for an experience from the brand they do business with, they are also looking for a purpose, a set of principles that the brand adheres to that appeals to them. When they see a business with a real purpose, a real impact on society that they can relate to, they will follow that brand with absolute loyalty.

Avoid the obvious traps

Do nothing that is of no use.

A warrior must remain focused on the task. There is nothing but the task until it is completed.

Startup entrepreneurs often get distracted by things they need not divert their attention to. While doing so, their objective is almost the same — success for the organisation — and they want to achieve it by any means necessary. But the problem with such an approach is that it leads them away from their core strengths and target audience, both of which are critical to their success. The only thing that can happen after that is a loss of any market share they might have created for their startup.

Give it everything, always

To win any battle, you must fight as if you are already dead.

A samurai must put forward his best efforts to win a battle. And in order to give his best, he must never think of the possibility of defeat at the hands of the enemy. Moreover, occasional best efforts are not good enough to ensure victory. For that, the warrior must be at his best at all times.

Just like in the battlefield, occasional best efforts are not good enough to win over business competitors either. Entrepreneurs must remain at the top of their game at all times, because the moment they let go, even for a split second, they will surely be overwhelmed by competitors. Why? Because it is the digital age and things move at the speed of thought on the internet.

In the end

Strategy, product planning and design, marketing, human resources, finance, and every other business function can draw a few lessons from the samurai. Their absolute devotion to their way of life, the expertise with weapons, resilience, strong personality, attitude towards victory, and the humility to keep learning every day can prove to be useful lessons for startup entrepreneurs. However, the single biggest virtue of the samurai warrior was honour, and startup entrepreneurs must not forget that if they want to be truly successful in every arena of life.