Goodbox, which bills itself as a 'conversational commerce mobile app', is trying to bring neighbourhood stores like supermarkets, restaurants, laundry chains, canteens and salons online. Its aim is to help these businesses create a ready store online "within minutes to provide seamless discovery, ordering and payment". Imagine your newspaper/magazine vendor or your cable service provider sending your monthly bill to an app on your smartphone and the payment being made digitally, seamlessly. For consumers, it aims to prevent app clutter and provide a single platform for all transactions.
In November 2014, Goodbox raised $2.5 million in Series A funding from Nexus Venture Partners. The company had earlier raised an undisclosed sum as seed funding from The Manipal Group, Aprameya Radakrishna, Co-founder of TaxiforSure (which was eventually acquired by Ola) and Charan Padamraju, Co-founder of redbus.
Abey Zachariah, Co-founder and CEO of Goodbox, spoke to Venkatesha Babu of Business Today on his venture and the road ahead for the company. Edited Excerpts:
BT: What are the problems and pain points Goodbox is trying to address?
Abey Zachariah: I come from a conventional middle class background where I used to be a front end sales guy. However, I have always wanted to do my own start-up. As early as 2004/05 I started a bus ticketing website called indiawheels.com much before redbus (the current market leader) did. Unfortunately, for several reasons, it didn't take off well. Then somebody told me about redbus.
I wrote an email to them and by then they had just got funded and I joined the team as an external person as at that point they were not looking at someone very senior. However, I took some stock options. I was their first external person. This was the time when redbus was doing just 20 seats a month. From there we took it to 40,000 seats by the time I exited four years later. Initially I had to take a salary cut, and work at a third of my previous salary. However, when I exited, made good money because of the stock options.
That is when the idea for Goodbox as the next venture began to formulate. We are seven co-founders who have a good mix of engineering and management experience.
We found the need for customers to directly connect with businesses and we felt that chat was the answer. Goodbox was started to fill this need. Small neighbourhood businesses like the Kirana stores don't have the capital to promote and develop their own app. Also, consumers will not have hundreds of apps. So we wanted to provide consumers with an aggregated app, and for the businesses, a way to reach out to the consumer. So we provide a technology platform that connects these two.
BT: What is the incentive for consumers to download Goodbox?
Zachariah: The general pull is app fatigue. Nobody will download a lot of apps. They are downloaded only when needed. Many download, use and delete given the space limitations in a smartphone. Goodbox offers an alternative ecosystem. We believe we will succeed as we are not taking anyone's business away. We are not supplanting but supplementing existing relationships customers have with neighbourhood stores.
The facility is that you are allowed to search for a business nearby and interact. It's a network concept. We have auto favourites links. We can save certain selections as auto favourites and customer can just quickly select his need. The app populates customers of theirs and they can talk about needs and compete with apps like say Grofers. Only the customers who have chatted with a business will be in the chats. There is no way that a business can target the customers.
BT: What determines the ranking of businesses on how they are displayed in the app?
Zachariah: We have Goodbox rankings, which is a complex algorithm. It is based on various parameters like location, favourites, services, etc. Favourite is based on people's repeated preference rating. Here the ranking is based on who I favourited first. If say a neighbourhood Kiran store also delivers milk, he is added to favourites when customer is searching for milk delivery. This is still evolving and we need a deeper sentiment analysis. We need to factor transactions as well.
There is nothing like a perfect O2O (online to offline) framework. We are not making money by advertising or anything else. We use transaction margins. We have several thousand businesses that have currently associated with us in Bangalore. We are not using Google API for our project.
We don't use Web inserts. The shopkeeper thinks of this as his own app. That's the key. We have multiple use cases. We have consumers starting from paper vendors to flower vendors on our app. It also translates into 10 languages. As an example, in your favourite neighbourhood supermarket, we save a list of most commonly ordered things and use this to update everything from time to time.
We currently have the app on Android and expect our iOS app to go live soon. We do dynamic search and these options for search of products can be spread across different stores. In the case of a restaurant, we place the menu in the app and if it is a frequent restaurant. They get added to the favourite list. In the flow, payments can be done as well. There is an option of picking a delivery after pre-order or get a home delivery as well. We have tied up with some logistics partners for delivery.
For the business, we also give analytics on usage patterns of customers, product orders and history. We are now trying to verticalise all services from restaurants, retail stores, bus ticketing and much more. Intention is to be a single platform rather than have ten apps. The payment is also a solution to small changes in denominations that might not get paid or rounded off. We are charging 1.99 per cent of transaction value as our commission. We are empowering our business partners and also bringing down the consumer cost as well. We have tied up with 14,000 businesses across the cities of Bangalore and Pune. The money we have raised will be used for rolling out our services nationally and for technology development. We are currently a 50-member team. Our aim is to make Goodbox the go-to app for all your shopping needs irrespective of the category.