Business Today

The World At Your Fingertips

twitter-logoTaslima Khan | Print Edition: March 3, 2013

They wake up and check their email on their mobile phones. They finish breakfast and catch up with friends' lives on Facebook mobile. At work, they regularly scroll through Twitter on their smartphones. And when they get home, they watch fun YouTube videos over dinner.

Welcome to a day in the life of millions of mobile users in India.

The country has more than 80 million mobile Internet users, according to an Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IMRB report. And with that number expected to grow rapidly, digital entrepreneurs are developing a host of mobile-based value-added services (VAS) for everything from entertainment to payments and advertising, which could potentially change the way millions use their mobile phones.

"From simple services such as ringtones and SMSbased Bollywood or cricket updates, VAS is likely to break out into separate verticals like entertainment, payments, social media and many more in the years to come," says IAMAI President Subho Ray.

Business Today looks at some digital firms which will be at the vanguard of this mobile revolution.

Rock The Talk

COMPANY: RockeTalk
CO-FOUNDERS: Sameer Agarwal and Rajiv Kumar
PRODUCT: Social media

Want to play Antakshari on your mobile phone? Or looking to join a mobile community where you can post in Urdu? No problem. Just download RockeTalk, an Indian version of Facebook where users can make new friends, share videos, audio recordings and pictures, join an interest group, or discuss a range of subjects from Urdu poetry to fishing.

This social networking app was launched barely three years ago, but already has 18 million users across 150, 000 interest groups. So, why is RockeTalk such a hit? Simple, its local language content appeals to millions of small-town Indians who may not connect with other more urban networks. RockeTalk struck a chord last year with Nokia Mobile Antakshari, a successful reality game show on mobile phones. The show generated 400 million minutes of engagement in just six weeks. "Powering simple features phones, we actually took off from smaller towns like Mathura, Moradabad and Nagpur where people could share content in local languages. Some of the strongest groups on the platform are in Hindi, Bengali, Marathi and Urdu," says Rajiv Kumar, Co-founder and CEO of RockeTalk.

RockeTalk pushed its multimedia engagement to a new level last year when it offered users trending videos, photos, voice and music content to "share and trendify" on their phones. Part of a campaign for a Nokia Lumia handset, the programme created over 30 million trends. The challenge for RockeTalk will be when large rivals such as Facebook - already available in nine Indian languages - push their mobile presence.

Unlike most mobile apps in India today, RockeTalk does not tap operators for revenue but depends on advertising. It has so far raised $12.6 million in funding from Californiabased venture firms Mission Ventures, EDF Ventures and iSherpa. It aims to close 2012/2013 with Rs 5 to Rs 5.5 crore in revenue, largely from advertising. "We aim to grow like a media company, keeping content almost free for the user," says Sameer Agarwal, Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer at RockeTalk.

AdNear founder Anil Mathews (PHOTO: Deepak G Pawar)

Hitting the Bull's Eye

FOUNDER: Anil Mathews
PRODUCT: Mobile advertising

When ICICI Lombard began marketing a new travel insurance package last year, it wanted to reach a select target audience: frequent flyers and travellers at airport lounges. How did the insurance company do that without bombarding everybody else with its ads? It teamed up with ad firm AdNear and used its mobile advertising platform which zeroes in on clients based on their physical location. The location-based mobile advertising strategy paid off: the company generated 30,000 clicks in just a month.

As the number of cellphone users climbs, mobile advertising is the new frontier in marketing. AdNear combines geography, demography and behaviour to target mobile users in a segmented manner. For example, a mobile advertisement campaign for watch-maker Titan Industries targeted students for the youth fashion brand Fastrack while it sold Titan's premium brand, Helios, only to higher-end users.

AdNear - which works with 30 leading brands such as Toyota, Pizza Hut and Nokia - took off in 2009 with seed funding from Last year, venture capital firms Canaan Partners and Sequoia Capital invested Rs 35 crore in AdNear. Says Founder Anil Mathews: "Mobile is no more the third screen (after the TV and the PC). It is the first screen." AdNear counts its targeting capability as its key differentiator over competitors such as InMobi and Vserv.

Mathews' biggest breakthrough came in 2011 when AdNear teamed up with US-based location mapping giant NAVTEQ to power its mobile advertising business in the Asia-Pacific. He says he believes in selling not just impressions but engagement with a brand, which includes everything a consumer does after clicking an advertisement. Mathews is looking at clocking $100 million in revenues by 2015. "If you don't have a mobile strategy, you are going to be phased out soon as a brand," he says.

A Moveable Feast

COMPANY: Apalya Technologies
FOUNDER: B. Vamshi Krishna Reddy

It used to be almost every teenager's problem in India: watching cricket on TV when it clashed with mom's favourite soap. Not anymore. Cricket fans now have live sports - and more - at their fingertips, thanks to mobile television service provider Apalya Technologies, which provides streaming video on mobile phones.

It took the Hyderabad-based firm six months to convince service provider Idea Cellular to sign up for its services in 2007, but today it has virtually every telecom operator under its belt. Apalya has content streaming partnerships with 200 channels and has served 15 million users since it got into the business. "We succeeded because operators at the time were tired of being pushed the same type of services, SMS or ringtones," says Founder and CEO B. Vamshi Krishna Reddy. "They were desperate to try something different."

Today, it is not just about being different, it is also about making big money. Operators are looking at increasing mobile data consumption as the biggest revenue driver. Video is the biggest data guzzler: watching a 30-minute television episode, for instance, consumes 90 MB of data. An Airtel mobile survey of 186 million subscribers last year showed mobile TV viewership jumped 65 per cent in 2012 over the previous year. "By 2015 to 2016, we are aiming at Rs 150 to Rs 200 crore of revenues," says Reddy. Coming in the way will be competition from the likes of Zenga TV and DigiVive.

Apalya's big moment came in 2009 when it got exclusive rights to live stream the Indian Premier League. "Cricket has been the major driver of mobile TV," says Ranjith Menon, Vice President at IDG Ventures, which along with Qualcomm, Mumbai Angels and IndoUS Venture Partners, has invested $13 million in Apalya. Reddy says TV will be the biggest driver of video on mobile in India where there are few multiple TV homes. "Poor penetration of TV sets - 120 to 130 million for over 1.3 billion people - is a big opportunity for us," says Reddy. "Mobile will be the first screen for such people."

Ezetap co-founder Abhijit Bose (PHOTO: Nilotpal Baruah)

Playing its Cards Right

CO-FOUNDER: Abhijit Bose
PRODUCT: Mobile payments

You've ordered pizza and discover you're out of cash just when the delivery boy arrives. No worries, Bangalore-based mobile payments firm Ezetap has a solution: a mobile card reader which converts the pizza boy's cellphone into a credit or debit card payment processing device. "We want to replace the dumb point-ofsale terminal with an intelligent mobile phone accepting card payments," says Abhijit Bose, Co-founder and CEO of Ezetap.

Mobile payments are relatively new in India where many people still prefer to pay cash on delivery for online transactions. But Ezetap is one of a clutch of players seeking to change that: its card-reading device plugged into a mobile phone allows merchants to swipe their credit cards. The start-up began in 2011 with seed funding from Angel Prime, but has since raised $3.5 million from Silicon Valley-based venture firm The Social+Capital Partnership and investors such as Peter Thiel, Co-founder of PayPal and an early backer of Facebook.

Today, Ezetap - which works with Citibank, YES Bank and six other banks - supplies mobile card readers to customers such as Flipkart, Vodafone, Bajaj Allianz, Shoppers Stop and Book My Show. India has more than 17 million credit cards and 268 million debit cards but just 623,000 point-of-sale terminals - a gap that Ezetap, as also rivals such as Mswipe Technologies and MobiSwipe, aims to thrive bridging.

Ezetap is also betting on the growing army of e-commerce companies which incur high cash handling charges because most of their payments are cash-on-delivery. It hopes merchants will choose mobile card readers priced at Rs 1,500 compared with Rs 10,000 for point-of-sale terminals. "The real innovation will be having small and big merchants accepting and using the product," says Naren Gupta, Co-founder at Nexus Venture Partners.

Cell Guru

FOUNDER: Amit Zaveri
PRODUCT: Mobile learning

It's almost every mother's nightmare: dragging her cellphone-hooked kids away from their mobiles to do their homework. Not anymore. Mobile phones aren't just cool toys with cameras and music players, but can also be used as virtual classrooms for teaching anything from languages to management skills. Mobile learning, or mLearning, is relatively small in India, but Mumbaibased Enable Mobile Technologies (EnableM) sees it as a textbook case for growth. "The past four to five months have seen m-education services picking up dramatically," says Amit Zaveri, Founder and CEO at EnableM.

Zaveri began in 2006 when he set up his mLearning company with an English language learning product. The 3,000-minute programme aimed at helping people in small towns learn the language through lessons delivered by text messages or voice-based technology. Today, EnableM has tied up with leading names such as Pearson Education, Encyclopaedia Britannica and HarperCollins to offer a range of learning products, including English language courses and preparatory tests for about 60 exams such as civil services exams and management tests. "In small cities and towns, it is very difficult to get test prep courses," says Zaveri.

The company has about three million customers learning outside the traditional chalk-and-blackboard classroom, ranging from taxi drivers to housewives and students. It has tie-ups with all leading mobile operators and powers the educational content delivered by Nokia Life Tools - an SMS-based information service offered by cellphone maker Nokia.

In July 2011, it launched Magic Pencil, a cloud-based tablet solution which allows management colleges and distance learning institutes to launch tablet-based courses for students. This is an edge it has over competitors such as Bangalore-based Voicetap. Zaveri is working with about 10 colleges now and is aiming for $2.5 million in revenues. India's largest operator, Bharti Airtel, worked with EnableM to launch 15 mobile education services for its customers in January. "It was very well timed," says Mohit Beotra, Head of Emerging Business at Bharti Airtel. "Now is the time to offer innovative and complex products on mobile phones as the consumer is using mobile Internet for searching more and more services on his phone."

MobileMotion (MobStac) co-founders Ravi Pratap M (left) and Sharat Potharaju (PHOTO: Deepak G Pawar)

Encouraging Conversion

COMPANY: MobileMotion (MobStac)
CO-FOUNDERS: Ravi Pratap M. (left), Sharat Potharaju
PRODUCT: Mobile publishing

When entertainment portal launched its mobile website last year, traffic was slow. It took as much as a minute for its site,, to open, and often it would not open on low-end phones. Its Mumbai-based owner, Contests2win, then tied up with Bangalore mobile solutions company MobileMotion Technologies, which helps customers create and manage mobile websites across devices. Today, the load time has come down to three or four seconds and traffic has doubled to over two million. "User traffic on mobiles is growing faster than through PCs," says Mukul Kumar Sharma, Business Head of

Koimoi is not the only one to use MobileMotion's flagship product, MobStac, a software solution that allows customers to convert their websites into a mobile-friendly format. MobStac works with 1,600 online publishers worldwide, including Indian newspapers such as The Hindu and Deccan Herald, and global clients such as Washington-based digital news agency The company, which took off with seed investment from Mumbai Angels and Accel Partners, wants to reach out to 100 million mobile Internet users across the globe in the next two years. "Publishers don't have the resources to make sure their mobile websites work effectively across all mobile devices," says CEO Sharat Potharaju, a former Merrill Lynch investment banker.

Last year, MobStac, which competes with players such as US-based GENWI, joined hands with Google and digital media platform company PubMatic to help online publishers get more views. "A large number of users use mobile phones as the primary screen to surf the Internet and this is reflected in the volumes of search queries from mobiles," says Praveen Sharma, Google India's Head of Media Sales. "It makes sense for businesses to have a website optimised for mobile, sooner than later."

Signs of Change

CO-FOUNDERS: Sanjay Vijayakumar, Sony Joy, Vivek Steve Francis
PRODUCT: Digital signatures

As students, they sold SIM cards and recharge vouchers. Now, they could potentially transform the way millions use their mobile phones.

The students, from two engineering colleges in Thiruvananthapuram, set up MobME Wireless Solutions in December 2006. The company began as a provider of value-added services to telecom operators. It then started working on mobilegovernance projects in Kerala, Goa and Nagaland. Its latest venture is to provide digital signatures on mobile phones.

A digital signature is a digital code which, like a handwritten signature, is legally valid and verifies the identity of a person. It is becoming increasingly important for purposes ranging from filing tax returns to applying for passports and accessing other government services. The RBI is also promoting the use of digital signatures for banking transactions. "We put the digital signature on the SIM card. All a user needs is a four-digit PIN (personal identification number) to digitally sign anything," says Sanjay Vijayakumar, CEO (Enterprise) of MobME.

Until now, digital signatures could only be accessed through computers. This limited their use. Only about three million people have a digital signature. But the country has over 600 million mobile phone users, and MobME hopes to tap into this segment. MobME, which earned revenue of more than Rs 20 crore in 2011/12 and plans to list on the SME platform of the National Stock Exchange, has tied up with Finland's Valimo Wireless and Dutch company Gemalto to roll out the technology. Vijayakumar says the technology can work on all handsets, from a basic model to a smartphone, and does not even require an Internet connection. "We are trying to bridge the digital divide."

- K.R. Balasubramanyam

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