Technology is evolving at a very fast pace and our waiting times [in most of the aspects] have become shorter. We want things to be better and much faster as compared to the past. Technology & Automation are acting as major disruptors in each & every sector, be it IT services, manufacturing, etc. since it results in time saving thereby reducing the overall costs!

Image Source – ChatBot

Artificial Intelligence [AI], Machine Learning [ML], BlockChain, etc. are the major emerging trends and many organizations are leveraging these technologies to solve business critical problems. Talking about Chatbots, they are used as an instrumental tool to interact & engage with customers. Chatbots fueled by AI has come a long way in recognizing the content – and context – of customers’ requests and questions [Source]. Apart from customer service, one area where Chatbots are making a dent is ‘Human Resources’.

HR Chatbots can be quite instrumental in employee on-boarding, answering generic employee queries, collection of employee data, etc. For e.g. When an employee applies for a Sick Leave and the request goes to the HR chatbot [that is online 365 days a year], the request can be accepted/rejected instantly by the HR! HR personnel can be relieved off their mundane & repeated items and focus on more important activities for the betterment of the employees.

Mumbai based startup Cyber Managers Software Services [CMSS] siezed an opportunity in the ‘HR Automation’ space and have released a number of products to improve the overall efficiency of the HR department, including H# [H-Sharp] which is an HR chatbot. We had a detailed interaction with Godwin Pinto, Business Head, CMSS about the product, problem being solved, future of chatbots in HR landcape, etc.

Please give a small brief about CMSS and its founders

Cyber Managers Software Services [CMSS] is a provider of ‘totally integrated solutions’ in the areas of software products and services catering to HR and BFSI domain. The organization works on an ancient Indian work-ethic of ‘Manasa > Vacha > Karmana’, meaning ‘we commit only to those tasks which we think we can accomplish and deliver upon our commitment’.

The company was founded by Keyur Thakore and Chirag Purecha, who is also the CEO. Chirag co-founded three businesses starting with CMSS, a 150+ member IT Solutions Company while the other three continue to grow in both size and repute.

Chirag dropped out of an engineering college to start CMSS along with a classmate. He has seen CMSS evolve from one of the survivors of the dot com bubble burst in the early 2000 to a niche HR IT solutions and products provider that it is today.

He has also co-founded two other divisions : CogMat, a Digital Media Marketing Agency which has 30+ clients of repute and a growing team of more than 40 & Phyder, a Moblie Application Development which already has the likes of ICICI Bank and RBS in their client list within a year and a half of existence.

Chirag now spends his time overseeing the businesses, helping them learn from experiences and giving occasional lectures at engineering colleges from product design to coding.

What are some of the core products of CMSS and how it is changing the HR landscape [via its HR centric software applications] ?

All our products are designed to make HR transactions more engaging for an employee at a very large scale. Currently, our products are used by some of the largest organizations in India and is helping them in identifying and managing talent through e-Ncompass and e-Nhancer

Provide contemporary Mobile interface to their existing legacy and bespoke systems thus, increasing usage and acceptance and transacting on the Go through H# and e-Ngage.

Some of the key products are the following:

e-Ncompass – A semi-customizable 360 degree feedback tool to measure training needs by conducting feedback from peers, subordinates and superiors.

e-Nhancer – A continuous feedback and performance management tool to record and aid review processes. It also helps identify and manage talents within organization.

e-Ngage Mobility – A platform to facilitate single unified mobile interface to multi third party systems.

H# – An HR chatbot – A conversational platform with AI and ML capabilities to perform self service in human like form.

Every sector is now touched by technology e.g. AI, ML, Data Intelligence, etc. including Talent Management, how has been the transformation of HR when Social & Digital Data are the key data points in hiring ?

Recent years has seen significant adoption by HR for social data, not just for employee profiling but also for internal communications and networking through tools provided by major social platforms e.g. Facebook workspace.

What were some of the key problem areas that your team encountered thus giving rise to H#

– Navigating through and getting individual profile specific answers from large policy documents was always cumbersome to employees

– There were multiple touch points/applications to access various HR IT systems which requires employee familiarity with varied interface

– Repetitive queries to HR help-desk was one common areas that needed automation

Can you please touch upon the key features of H# [The HR Bot] ?

H# is a bot specifically designed & trained for employee engagement. Some of the key features include:

  • Individually tailored policy queries
  • Automate most frequent queries raised to and resolved by HR help desk
  • Form based routine transactions like leave, muster, expense, etc application facilitated through conversations
  • Ready connectors for communication systems like Yammer, Facebook Workplace, Skype, WeChat, Lynk, etc
  • Self learning algorithms

What is the revenue model of H# and whether it can be used by large sized corporations ?

H# is a premium solution without limitation on number of users. It is available as cloud and on-premise solution. It is designed and tested for large scale transactions and is been successfully used by large sized corporations

When it comes to chat-bots/AI, the application of that bot becomes limited since there are language constraints [English/Hinglish language],varied sentiment analysis and more, how effective is the AI, NLP, etc. behind H# to handle such varied scenarios ?

H# being closed domain bot. We have limited the control on responses that it can respond. However, information obtained for context where bot tires out is recorded for future training.

Can you name some of the existing customers of H# and how has the response been so far ?

Well due to client agreements naming them would not be possible. There has been a positive adaption when it comes to specific information retrieval from large documents, which is seen as a time saving factor. e.g. What are the privilege leave policy applicable for me?

Does using the H# chat bot mean that major part of HR, especially ones dealing with leave, etc. department can be replaced with H# chat bot or both of them need to co-exist in the HR eco-system ?

H# is designed to aid HR professionals at their job and not to replace them. Of all domains, HR is the one where co-existing is indispensible. The bot therefore does not replace HR personnel, rather it reduces their efforts resolving mundane and repetitive tasks which can be automated. H# provides them with an assistant who is expert on the knowledge of policies.

Can you comment on approximate savings in OPEX that a company using H# for its HR & salary needs would make vis-a-vis hiring a physical HR ?

All of our products are low on infra footprint and built on opensource softwares. Therefore, they require a minimal CAPEX. On the OPEX it would help organization save substantially on helpdesk and training operations.

Do you have SDK of the H#, if not, are there any plans in future to release the H# chat-bot SDK so that third-party developers can build apps on the platform ?

SDK is available as a part of the core product to implement in their HR touch points. These include Facebook workplace, Yammer, Slack, Flock, Lynk, Android, iOS and web. However, the product design does not restrict the developers from enabling H# on to any other bot enabled platforms.

Which are some of the existing competitors of H# and what are some of the stand-out features as compared to other HR chat-bots ?

A search for bot will give you a flood of companies offering the solution and most of these are built on existing AI like WIT, AI, etc. However H# is built and trained specifically for the HR domain with its own on-premise AI and is integral with any existing core systems, therefore we do not see other chat bots as direct competitors of H#.

Apart from HR Chatbots, what are some of the key technology trends you observe in the HR space ?

Adoption of technology within HR is on a swift pace and the availability of most of the solutions on cloud has helped organizations try and implement solutions faster with minimal risk. Analytics in the field of talent and performance management, collaboration tools for real-time performance management, unified interfaces, cloud solution integrators, AI based automation, etc. are some of the areas which would see a lot of interest from organizations in the HR Space.

That said, one technology trend where most organizations are focused on is mapping social data points to candidates/employees. This is for the existing & new recruits, where data gathering and identifying trends and patterns could be of utmost importance to organizations in taking decisions.

According to you, what are some of the key HR functions that can never be replaced by a bot e.g. Off late there has been lot of pink slips being handed over to employees in service based companies, such scenarios require human touch that can never be replaced by HR chat bot.

Human interactions involve understanding the sentiments and emotions. There are occasions where systems cannot have the same impact as a human conversation does. Some of the processes which will always need the human factor are Induction, Exit processes, Performance review discussions and Resolving grievances. Bot can definitely aid these processes, but again, it will always require a human involvement.

We thank Godwin Pinto for sharing his insights with our readers. If your organization is planning to adopt the more tech-savvy route to HR functions, than you should give H# a try. If you have any questions for Godwin or the CMSS Team, please email them here or share them via a comment to this article.

Internet of Things [IoT] has become one of the most popular terminologies, especially when the discussion is about creating an overall connected eco-system. As per a report by Gartner on IoT, there might be around 20 billion connected things by 2020. Things in IoT would not only be limited to smartphones, PC’s, etc. but also extend to objects like vending machines, connected cars, agriculture equipment’s, manufacturing equipment’s, etc.

Image Source- IIoT

IoT has been instrumental in the creation of new business models, transformation of businesses to the digital front and helped enterprises improve the overall operational efficiency. Though there has been a lot of discussion about the growing usage of IoT in the consumer devices, it is playing a very important role in the transformation of the Manufacturing industry, also called as Industrial IoT [IIoT].

In simple terms, Industrial IoT harnesses the power of data by amalgamating it with Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, M2M Communication, etc. thereby improving the overall productivity and quality in an industrial setup. From smart manufacturing to home automation, Industrial IoT is shaping enterprises for a connected future.

Indian enterprise Sasken has deep-rooted expertise in industrial analytics that enables smart services through data ingestion, data processing, and actionable insight generation. It has various offerings for enterprises looking to capitalize on the IIOT wave. Today, we have a chat with Ram Ramaseshan, Senior VP & Head, Automotive and Industrials Business Units, Sasken Technologies Limited about IIOT, trends & challenges in IIOT, how enterprises can leverage the power of IIOT, etc.

What are some of the drivers of growth of the Industrial IoT [IIOT] eco-system?

IoT has catalyzed the tapping of existing data faster and in significant volumes. IoT is one of the key factors that have pushed the adoption of digital transformation. When IoT technologies are applied to the manufacturing industry, we call it the Industrial Internet of Things. Industrial IoT continues to disrupt the way machines and human beings collaborate. Some of the drivers of growth are:

  • Availability of relevant and economical wireless connectivity technologies
  • Decreasing cost of hardware components such as Sensors, g/w and software components and in addition, cloud storage, analytical tools
  • Emergence of more robust IoT platform such as Thingworx, Predix, etc.
  • Standardization that would allow aggregating data for decision making

What are the use cases and industries where you see the massive traction for IIoT?

Increasing adoption of the Internet of Things presents manufacturers with tremendous business opportunities. And, through a connected factory setup, manufacturers can effectively gather and apply insights to monetize these opportunities. Today, the IoT-driven Industry 4.0 solutions are helping businesses to improve productivity, reduce operating costs, and enhance worker safety. Reduced cost of ownership is one of the major benefits linked to IIoT. Some areas where IIoT will see major traction are:

  • Logistics in general, especially high-value shipments
  • Security and surveillance systems
  • Asset Performance management for safety and reliability of equipment
  • Energy sector such as wind turbine, solar power plants, Oil & Gas monitoring, etc.
  • Remote management of assets

How can executives at industrial companies exploit the revenue-generating opportunities of the IIoT?

The adaptation of IIoT is not an alternative but an essential tool for survival and success in today’s time. Since technological advancement is directly proportional to enhanced profits, every firm, be it large or small, must work towards the achievement of complete digitization and must also empower their workers with the necessary skills. A few things executives in Industrials sector can keep in mind are:

  • Productivity/utilization of equipment can be increased thus increasing revenue
  • Implementation of IIoT can help reduce downtime thereby increasing revenue
  • Wastage can be reduced and quality can be improved
  • Allowing machines in sequence to be connected thereby moving to silos to better utilization of capital assets

What are some of the key challenges [be it technical, infrastructure, security, etc.] that your team encountered while implementing IoT/IIoT solutions?

The Industrials customer, today, has some really challenging needs that include decreasing operational cost, increasing productivity and quality, and ensuring the interoperability of information technology [IT] and operational technology [OT]. Some of the challenges that we at Sasken have helped solve in the recent past are:

  • Unavailability of a single tool/platform which can provide easy installation and maintenance of IIoT system
  • Right connectivity solutions as there is no one size that fits all
  • Convergence of IT & OT is difficult as the lifecycle of both technologies varies by default
  • Concern over security/cyber-attacks
  • Managing data coming from disparate systems becoming a deterrent to IoT implementation
Ram Ramaseshan, Senior VP and Head, Automotive and Industrials Business Units, Sasken Technologies Limited

Which are some of the emerging technologies with the rise of IoT and AI in the area of Industrial Automation?

The introduction of IoT in the Industrial space heralded the advent of expanding connectivity, more digitalization, utilizing cloud infrastructure, and newer business models. The implementation of IoT and AI in the Industrial landscape is giving rise to technologies such as machine vision, machine learning, sensor automation, mesh networking with short range communication protocols, and wearable technology such as the smart helmet.

From an enterprise customer’s perspective, how much savings/reduction in OPEX will an industrial enterprise get when shifting to an IIoT solution?

Market research shows that 86% of maintenance is reactive [too late] or scheduled [unnecessary] and typical maintenance practices have not changed much over the years. This could be attributed to the unavailability of tools robust and mature enough to fundamentally improve maintenance practices. At present, the most asset intensive industries follow scheduled [time/usage based] preventive maintenance practices. This practice still does not eliminate the possibility of unscheduled maintenance and catastrophic failures. So companies are trying to make their operations reliable and ensure optimal performance at a lower maintenance cost by predicting and preventing failures in a timely manner.

As per The International Society of Automation:

  • 5% of plant production is lost annually due to unplanned downtime
  • $647 billion is lost globally by manufacturers across all industry segments

Being able to predict the health of an asset on a continuous basis and avoiding the OPEX spent on regularly scheduled maintenance can bring down the OPEX by as much as 50-70%. E.g. being able to predict the health of a rolling stock can avoid bringing the rolling stock back to the yard for regularly scheduled services and this can result in significant cost savings to the rail services as it can now run those many more trips.

What is the role of wearable technologies, AI, machine learning, etc. in shaping up the entire IoT industry [be it IoT or IIoT]?

We see them as the important building blocks for the realization of IoT/IIoT for:

  • Safety
  • Remote management of assets
  • Collaboration for decision making
  • Intelligent Alerts and Events management
  • Condition based monitoring, in its true sense

are some of the applications we see being realized through these technologies.

Who are some of the customers, industry partners of Sasken for its IIoT business?

Some customer problems that Sasken is trying to solve include enabling legacy controllers by ensuring compatibility at the shop-floor and control-level, asset management, and using AR and virtual reality (VR) to make field service operators more effective and efficient. These are complex problems and require reliable and proven partnerships.

Sasken has partnered with the following companies to solve such complex business challenges:

  • PTC ThingWorx
  • Intel
  • Qualcomm
  • TI
  • Smartrac
  • QNX

Can you share some thoughts about Digital India [particularly Housing For All] and what are the challenges if ‘Smart Housing’ needs to go mainstream?

Digital technologies including smart devices [e.g. smartphones and wearable devices] and cloud computing applications have emerged as catalysts for rapid economic growth and consumer empowerment across the globe. The emergence of smart devices is the key to the vision of a Digital India. The Indian government envisions transforming our nation and creating opportunities for all citizens by harnessing digital technologies and to empower every citizen with access to digital services, knowledge, and information. Mobility, Analytics, and Cloud are the foundations that will enable the Digital India visions of providing ‘e-governance and services on demand’ and ‘digitally empowering citizens’ and support the social inclusion schemes being launched by the government. Here IIoT can play a major role in the government’s Digital India vision by digitizing the government initiative and tracking systems.

The Andhra Pradesh Government’s dashboard is a good example of what we can achieve with the implementation of IIoT. This will enable government schemes to become more transparent thereby reducing spillage and corruption. With respect to Housing for All, smart lighting, drinking water, drainage systems, and security can be managed much better through IIoT implementations. The wastage of electricity and water can be monitored and prevented through smart metering and lighting solutions for electricity and water.

What are some of the data security measures and energy efficiencies within smart building and home automation services?

Smart Homes will provide increased flexibility of energy consumption with smart energy management. The user will be able to control HVAC and lighting remotely from his smartphone. This will result in reducing the load on electrical grids thus bringing down the need to use expensive generators.

The typical challenges continue to be security of the data and information, interoperability issues, complex systems trying to talk to each other, evolving standards, etc. More importantly, the world is still not a full-fledged connected place; there are infrastructure issues which have to be fixed first for IoT to become a reality. The good news is that the whole industry is working towards addressing these aspects.

How important is a requirement for Open architecture, shared platforms, etc. for the growth of the entire IoT/IIoT eco-system?

One of the challenges in implementing IIoT faster is the non- interoperability between industrial devices from multiple vendors. In order to make the implementation easier for end users, it is important to have an open architecture, shared platform, etc. in the IIoT eco system. This will help the existence of multiple vendors and healthy competition thereby enabling customers to achieve better value.

We thank Ram Ramaseshan for sharing his insights with our readers. If you have any questions for Ram about IIOT, How your startup/enterprise can leverage capabilities of IIOT, etc. please email them here or share them via a comment to this article.

Aafter the advent of the Digital Economy, ‘Data’ has become more important than ever before. There is a common saying – Data is the new Oil and a very valuable asset and hence it becomes primarily important for enterprises to ensure that customers’ data is safe and is periodically backed up. From an end consumer’s point of view, utmost care has to be taken to ensure that the data on their laptops, mobiles, etc. is safe so that chances of compromising data are very slim! Quantum, a US-based storage company is a leading expert in scale-out tiered storage, archive, and data protection, providing solutions for capturing, sharing and preserving digital assets over the entire data life-cycle have come.

Image Source – Data Storage

From small businesses to major enterprises, more than 100,000 customers have trusted Quantum to address their most demanding data workflow challenges. Quantum’s end-to-end, tiered storage foundation enables customers to maximize the value of their data by making it accessible whenever and wherever needed, retaining it indefinitely and reducing total cost and complexity. We had a detailed interaction with Mr. Jim Simon, Senior Director of Asia-Pacific Marketing at Quantum Corporation where we discussed about the storage solutions from Quantum, their offerings for SME’s, best practices w.r.t data security, Quantum in India, etc.

Off late there has been a lot of ransomware attacks, can you please stress upon on how solutions from Quantum can help companies facing such outages and how safe is it for a company which is into Fintech, e-commerce, etc. to move to the cloud only approach?

Quantum recommends a ‘3-2-1 backup best practice‘: 3 copies of your data, 2 different types of media & 1 copy offline/offsite.

Offsite could include cloud. However, for maximum protection, having an offsite copy in a non-connected location will ensure that if a virus infects a network, the offline copy will be immune.

Quantum’s solutions include one or more media such as flash, disk, object storage, and tape.  Tape is particularly suited for keeping an offsite copy of one’s data, out of reach of ransomware viruses.

Which are some of the industries/verticals that currently use Quantum Storage solutions, please give some insights into Indian customers?

Quantum’s solutions are used by all types of customers since these customers have IT departments who rely on Quantum for backup, recovery, and archive.

In addition, Quantum’s workflow storage solutions are especially well-known in vertical markets such as media/entertainment, surveillance/security, oil/gas, high-performance computing, etc.  Each of these markets has a common workflow such as ingest, edit/use, share, and preserve.  Each has large streams of data that require high performance ingest and data access while needing sharing [such as via cloud] and low-cost preservation.

How can SME’s and startups leverage the capabilities of solutions from Quantum, Q-Cloud in order to scale their operations and reduce the overall Time to market

For SMEs, Quantum’s DXi family has built-in replication to Q-Cloud which is built on Amazon Web Services.  In other words, we take care of all the hard work so our customers just need to select Q-Cloud as a secondary offsite copy for their data and we bill them on a consumption basis. In the meantime, for day to day recovery, it is fast and simple as local copies of backup data reside on the local DXi appliance(s) or on a customer’s own server employing our DXi software-only approach.

Many Indian corporations and growth stage companies are setting up their own Data Center [citing security and scalability reasons], can you share some thoughts on the same and how overall solutions from Quantum can help the Indian unicorns/growth stage companies

Most of our customers have their own data centers.  The key questions to ask include:

  • How is their primary data backed up for quick, local restores?
  • How is their primary data backed up offsite for recovery in case of a disaster?
  • Is there less valuable primary data residing on expensive primary storage?

Quantum and DataFrameworks can highlight data that would be better suited for storage on low-cost disk, object storage, or file-based tape thereby saving IT organizations tremendous investment in unnecessary excess primary storage, not to mention power and cooling.

Jim Simon, Senior Director of Asia-Pacific Marketing, Quantum

Please share some details about the Indian subsidiary of Quantum [employee size, innovation, market it addresses, etc.]

Quantum has been operating in India for nearly two decades.  We have pre-sales, sales, and post-sales team members in our offices in New Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru.

What are the next big innovations which we can expect in the near future from Quantum or something which is happening in the area of Storage, Security, Connected computing, etc.?

Quantum is working on a software designed storage initiative known as Castle. We aim for storage to be agile and able to evolve while managing it should be ‘a piece of cake’

There is a huge amount of thrust about Digital Media [epecially after the advent of 4G in India], which means more content creation companies. How can Digital Content/Digital broadcast companies leverage the strength of suite of solutions from Quantum

Both agencies and clients understand the importance of video and digital media to a standout content plan. They know it’s difficult to create, distribute, and repurpose digital content effectively, especially when dealing with large, rich media files. The demand for content from their growing base of clients can quickly outpace their ability to manage it on the back end.

An Effective Content Plan Requires an End-to-end Approach. We help agencies and clients from concept to creation to distribution to repurposing and remonetizing their media.

Can you share some insights into the storage scenario in Asia and globally

Data is an ever-increasingly valuable asset to organizations both big and small. Recent ransomware attacks have demonstrated how the loss of data [or data access] can cripple an organization.  The value of data is expected to continue to grow as digital overtakes physical.  This, in turn, will drive demand for high-performance primary storage as well as always-accessible low-cost storage.

How has the year 2017 been so far for Quantum, can you summarize the technical developments that your company has achieved in this year.

Earlier this month, Quantum announced the general availability of StorNext 6, a major new release of the company’s scale-out storage technology. StorNext 6 delivers a unique combination of new advanced data management features for on-premise, hybrid cloud & public cloud environments and industry-leading streaming performance. StorNext 6 is now shipping with the company’s Xcellis® workflow storage solutions, enabling users to overcome the limitations of traditional NAS systems in keeping up with the demands of large, rapidly growing data-intensive workloads and driving business value from that data.

This latest StorNext release provides more efficient and cost-effective ways to share and access files across geographically distributed teams, to manage and protect archived data, and to audit changes to data throughout its lifecycle.

Some of the competitors of Quantum and how offerings from Quantum stand vis-a-vis its nearest competitors [pricing, core offerings, SAN, etc.]

Quantum has a long history of competing against the likes of Dell/EMC, HP, IBM, and NetApp.  Unlike those generalists, Quantum is a data workflow specialist. Therefore, those with the most challenging data workflow needs to rely on Quantum to achieve their mission whether it is a government space agency, a film production company, a university bio-research team, an airport, or IT data centers.

We thank Jim for his time and sharing his valuable insights with our readers. If you have any questions about Quantum, their solutions and how it can help accelerate your business, etc. do email them to himanshu.sheth@gmail.com or leave them in the comments section…

Fintech is having a huge impact on the financial services in India. It has been largely dominated by the lending and payments companies in India. Initiatives like the India Stack [UPI, e-KYC, Aadhar] by National Payments Corporation Of India [NPCI] have been instrumental in leading the Fintech revolution.

Image Source – Investments

Many of the fintech companies are leveraging Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Social Data Intelligence, Blockchain, etc. in order to solve critical business problems. For example, with the help of AI, contextual data and transaction data, your wealth managers can come up with a ‘more relevant’ financial plan that suits your requirements.

When we talk about Money, the immediate thought that comes to our minds is ‘How to I multiply wealth via good investments‘. There are significant number of investment options available in the market but the option that you choose depends on factors like your age, dependencies, exisiting investment portfolio, risk apetite, etc. One good investment option is ‘Mutual Funds‘ but as per a report, India’s Assets under management  (AUM) to GDP ratio is only 9 percent which is significantly lower as compared to other developed/developing contries. The bright side about this report is that there are rising number of people interested to invest in Mutual Funds given that they get proper hand-holding and guidance.

This is the problem that founders of WealthApp, a Fintech startup aim to solve by amalgamating their vast knowledge in personal finance with technologies like AI, Machine Learning, etc. Today we have a chat with Gaurav Dhawan, Co-founder & Director of WealthApp about WealthApp, Fintech, Personal Finance, etc.

Image Source – WealthApp

How did you come up with the idea of WealthApp ?

We are ex-bankers from Citi who have decades of experience in personal financial management of individuals across net-worth segments. We understand that while people with higher net-worth have access to good quality financial advice, the middle-income groups in India experience an acute shortage of the same. There are various estimates to suggest that about 30 crore people in India have an ability to invest, a majority of which form the entire middle-income group of the pyramid. Given this huge need gap, we wanted to put in place a solution to reach sound financial advice to the market at large. The next question on our minds was to figure a solution to bridge this gap ? One thing that we realised very soon was that we needed to use technology to reach out to a larger audience.

However, using technology is one thing – but to marry that with quality advice is a totally different ball game. We then studied the entire advisor-client interaction cycle, right from the time of first interaction to the evolution of the relationship over a long term, and broke it down into steps that we could automate. We realised that most of this engagement can be automated using algorithms. Then we started picking elements of this interaction cycle to build algorithms to automate the process – that’s how WealthApp was born. We formally launched the platform in October 2016 for public at large.

Can you please give a background about the team behind WealthApp ?

The founders consist of myself, Subba Rao Telidevara, Sanjay HB and Mitesh Shah. We have a cumulative experience of 50+ years across various forms of money management. This makes us aware that the long winding process, paper work and lack of proper guidance in investment methods puts off people as prospective investors. The team is hard at work to ensure that our platform at WealthApp overcomes all of these barriers and adds value across the personal financial life of our customers.

As per a report, there is very small percentage of investors/would be investors who plan to invest in the Equity market [or MF], how does WealthApp plan to change this ‘resistant’ behaviour from investors ?

India’s AUM to GDP ratio stands at about 9 percent. In comparison, US markets boast of an AUM to GDP ratio of  70 percent. Even if we consider the global averages, 37% is the AUM to GDP ratio. While this clearly indicates the huge potential that our country has to channelize a significantly higher proportion of an individual’s savings into efficient financial products, India has been catching up very quickly.

This is due to a variety of reasons such as increase in financial awareness of the customers, efficient evolution of the regulatory framework and technology percolation across the country. WealthApp plans to use these broader trends to reach out to people and help them join the investment bandwagon. To keep the entry barriers low for our customers, we offer investment plans with as low as Rs. 100 investment minimums. We will also add more investment products in the future that we believe our customers will be able to benefit from.

Can you please talk about the funding of WealthApp ?

WealthApp raised about USD 440,000 in seed funding in December 2016. The startup’s investors include some very marque names such as NuVentures managing partner Venk Krishnan, Daksh eServices co-founder MJ Aravind, Vikram Kotak, Managing Partner at Crest Capital and Investment, Jayant Davar, Co-chairman & MD at Sandhar Group, Ramkumar Nishtala, MD & CEO at Vistaar Finance, and Arjun Sharma, chairman of the Select Group.

Can you share some insights into the customer demographics of WealthApp ?

An extremely large part of the unexposed population resides in the tier II and III towns where people have no access to professional financial advisory. WealthApp came up with the concept of Online Robo Financial Advisor for all kinds of investors ranging from youngsters or first time investors to a family man and seasoned investor. Moreover, WealthApp’s internal survey of a few remote towns in Karnataka revealed that about 80 percent of the population there spend at least 20 percent of their income on smartphones and data usage. Rest is reserved for household expenses and cash savings.

People there are actually very tech savvy, largely on mobile phones. And contrary to our belief they have a decent appetite for investment. But most invest in chit funds and other inefficient instruments since they have no one to guide them.

Once user has created an account on WealthApp [and all his investments from various AMCs are under one window], what other services does your team provide to the investors so that they can get more returns from their investments ?

WealthApp analyses an individual’s risk appetite, need to take risk and tolerance for risk based on factors such as income, assets, savings and financial goals that one may have. After an investment is made, the app tracks and monitors the complete cycle, alerting and suggesting investors on due payment, or any change in rules. The app also updates users over the need for liquid cash and provides options to obtain it. The platform is being enhanced further to accommodate more such situations that a customer may face over an investment lifecycle.

Image Credit – YourStory

Can you give a small glimpse about the tech behind WealthApp ?

WealthApp has developed sophisticated iOS and android mobile apps to help the middle-income groups and retail investors in India simplify their financial planning and wealth management process. Sophisticated algorithms automate the entire advisory process thus ensuring top notch and timely advise for the investor. That the smaller cities and towns face data connectivity issues doesn’t deter WealthApp.

The app is built to use data efficiently. It is a light app that works on 2G bandwidth also. Currently, WealthApp’s user interface is English. There are plans to go vernacular, primarily to target the smaller towns and cities in future.

Are there any competitors of WealthApp, if so what are some of the USP’s of WealthApp vis-a-vis the competitors ?

The segment is growing as more people start looking for financial investment products to broaden their portfolio beyond traditional products such as gold and real estate. Some of the USP’s of WealthApp vis-a-vis the competitors are below:

  • Prospective Clients made investment ready via KYC in a thoroughly paperless manner with a very simple and streamlined on-boarding process
  • Sophisticated algorithms automate the entire advisory process thus ensuring top notch and timely advice for the investor
  • Knowledge and experience of the founding team work to provide customized portfolio most suited for investors and their goals based on thorough research and strategy
  • Ongoing monitoring 24/7/365
  • Supported with convenience of doorstep service offered via web and mobile apps
  • Equipped with a team of seasoned professionals for those that require the age old personal human touch

WealthApp is currently limited to MF’s, are there any plans/timeline on whether it would be expanded to cover other financial instruments ?

WealthApp Financial Advisors is an automated investment service, conceived over a year back. It makes use of its user friendly online platform to offer best in class investment portfolio to its clients. This is based on their financial goals and ability to take risk, and mutual funds offer various advantages to build customized investment portfolios. Having said that, the company plans to add more investment options in the near future.

What are some of the methodologies that your team plans in order to keep the investors hooked on to the platform [primary reason being investments are mostly planned by investors and most cases, they would not invest more unless required, unlike shopping which is more adhoc and also more repetitive and hence more stickiness.] ?

It’s our endeavour to engage our customers meaningfully while adding value to them. A slick and customized dashboard makes it convenient for them to see their investment status on the go and they keep coming back to it often to review their portfolios. They like the fact that we don’t use jargon and provide them all the information that they need in an easy to understand manner.

We also write articles and blogs frequently on topics that are of high relevance to our customers. Again, simplicity of conveying the messafge is the key so they keep coming back to read up and make themselves more knowledgeable on areas of personal finance. Our customers also appreciate the value in our periodic automated reports that reach their mailboxes.

There are various investor initiatives like #MFDayon7th by Reliance MF and CNBC TV18, does WealthApp have plans of starting an investor education initiative [or something else] in order to widen the horizon of passive investors [that could be an integral part of the investors eco-system, but dont know where to get started] ?

WealthApp has been at the forefront of customer education right from the start. We have conducted more than 50 roadshows [in metro cities and beyond] till date to spread awareness and provide simple solutions to people’s money problems.

Our platform is coded with complex algorithms by our engineering team and they have kept it up to date with the ongoing developments in the policies and reforms in our economy. The idea is to reduce the human intervention while we interact with our customers and be fully transparent.

With growing investor and entrepreneur interest in Fintech, many wallet companies like Paytm, FreeCharge, MobiKwik, etc. are plannig to have a boutique of finance products on their platform, does this growing competition have an impact on a startup like WealthApp and how it could result in expansion of the fintech ecosystem ?

Since the evolution of technology and start-up boom, Indian economy has been a huge market place for various types of businesses. Every entrant in the start-up space has been looking at diversifications based on their growth and funding options available around them. Also with the growing economy and huge population, fintech ecosystem has so much potential yet to be unlocked.

At WealthApp, the team comes with a tremendous domain knowledge and experience in the financial sector. We are glued on to the ongoing actions and want to be the best in the market with providing right products and offerings with a remarkable customer service. The market looks extremely responsive for WealthApp at the moment and we would like to be focused on our current service offerings instead of diversifying into many portfolios at this point of time. Currently, WealthApp deals only with mutual fund portfolios because MFs are very well regulated, are very difficult to understand, and the seed money requirement is very less.

You mentioned earlier that there is a growing demand of products like WealthApp in tier-2, tier-3 cities [and beyond], what are some of the marketing initiatives that your team has taken in order to penetrate into that particular market ?

The tier 2 towns and beyond is where the potential lies untapped. The revolution in technology and touch of power has reduced the distance between both the worlds. It has digitally enabled the end customer to gain access to the knowledge and information today. This has opened up new dimensions for them to look into new avenues of investment options.

It has created inroads for WealthApp to proceed further and we are equipped with sound knowledge on the subject. We have created a team of experts who reach out to the end customers in these markets, helping them in communicating the knowledge on investments, building portfolios and managing them. We have been working with the target audience in various parts of the country.

Along with the integrated AMC approach, building investor porfolio as per his requirements, etc. your team also provides advisory services to your customers. Are these services charged and how has been the customer response to these services [since none of the finance platform provides such tailor-made services] ?

At WealthApp, the platform is equipped to build a persona of the customer on its platform and provide advisory recommendations for investments. The automated investment service has been kept free of cost while some specific value added serives are being developed that may be on a chargeable basis. Market response to our platform has been terrific so far and we are extremely encouraged to serve our customers in the best possible manner.

What is the revenue model of WealthApp and does it follow the Freemium model ?

WealthApp does not charge its customers for the automated investment service platform. It charges the fund houses a small fee. There are a number of tools and products in various stages of development and testing that may be used by the customer for a fee.

Are there are any RBI guidelines regulating the app based businesses [P2P, Line Of Credit, etc] in India or to put it the other way round, is there a requirement to regulate them ?

The app is a channel to reach out to people conveniently. The entire advisory on our platform are fully regulated by SEBI while the payments are governed with the rules laid out by the RBI.

2016 was a tough year for startups [especially from funding point of view], how according to you should entrepreneurs deal with such adverse situations ?

Having recognized a real need gap in the market and put in place a solution that adds real value to the customer, what remains critical for an entrepreneur to tide over such times is an ability to evolve as they learn alongside persevering.

After demonetization, there has been a huge demand for payment apps [including UPI], wallet providers providing investment options like Digital Gold, etc. do you see that trend working in favour of apps like WealthApp [that makes an investor’s life smoother] ?

Absolutely. As more and more people become aware of digital platforms and become comfortable using them, it helps us explain the delivery mechanism of our service to our customers in a more contextual fashion.

As per your entrepreneurial experience, when should an entrepreneur look out for external funding ?

A couple of common circumstances when one should seek external funding could include situations when you either need funds to build/improvise your product/service or when your own revenues are not sufficient to sustain growth.

Some books that you highly recommend for entrepreneurs

Some of my recent reads that I recommend  for entrepreneurs are Shoe dog by Phil Knight, Predictably irrational by Dan Ariely and The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly.

Some closing thoughts for our readers!

Effective financial management is key to meeting various life goals. This could include various aspects of our lives such as savings, expenses, investments, budgeting et al. To do any or all of this, one should seek the help of qualified financial experts to guide them through the process.

Choosing the right financial advisor is key and you must ask all questions that you need answered to make a well-informed decision. Keep in mind that the amount of wealth that we build is less a function of our income and more a function of our savings rate. And while they say money can’t buy happiness, I beg you to reconsider.

We thank Gaurav Dhawan for sharing his insights with our readers. If you are planning to put your money to work via smart investments, then you should download WealthApp. If you have any questions for Gaurav or the WealthApp Team, please email them here or share them via a comment to this article.

India is a very diversified country with different cultures and traditions. Every city in India has something unique experience to offer, including the food that each city is known for! However, today’s modern lifestyles and hectic work-life schedules; makes traditional necessities difficult to find. For example, being in Bengaluru it is very difficult to find Misal Pav, the popular Maharashtrian dish. Modern life and its fast pace has taken a toll on our social life that has estranged various communities, scattering them to various distant lands in the search of a better livelihood. But it has left the hearts with a sense of nostalgia, around their socio cultural habits and preferences, longing to belong again to their roots and culture.

This is where Promita Sengupta, an ex-banker & social entrepreneur siezed an opportunity and that is how Cre8comm was born. Cre8comm is India’s first community driven hyperlocal e-commerce marketplace which home-delivers traditional essentials and products to all the diverse communities of India.

It is a marketplace where one can find the most authentic and indigenous products from the varied and diverse communities of India. It provides every community with almost every product – apparel, food from their hometown irrespective of where you live.

Today we have a chat with Promita Sengupta, Founder & Director, Cre8comm. We discuss about Cre8comm, the hyper-local market, opportunities in e-commerce, team building & much more. So let’s get started with the Q&A….

Tell us about Cre8comm, how was the start-up conceptualized and what was the idea behind Cre8comm ?

Cre8comm is India’s first community driven e-commerce marketplace which home-delivers traditional essentials & products to all the diverse communities. The company aims to deliver authentic & special foods, especially those that you are craving for, and we go an extra step by bringing sumptuous traditional dishes and our chefs are locals of the same community.

Considering the popularity of Bengali products, I have noticed people used to travel all across the city and be stuck in traffic for hours to reach CR Park in Delhi, to get authentic Bengali food. This prompted me to start revolutionary service which will address to all communities of India with the plethora of indigenous products.

How does platform work ? How is that you reach your partners and they serve from their own kitchens ?

The entire platform is technology based and all orders are placed online. Cre8comm home delivers traditional essentials and products to all the diverse communities of India. We partner with the best local talent bridging avenues to build relationships in their culturally enriching journeys in delivering to India’s first community services based platform.

This is a service which allows all our partners to serve from their own kitchens. We strongly believe in bringing people together through our socially responsible segment to a socio-cultural platform.

Each of the partners is carefully chosen after having carefully looked at the hygiene and capability to server Cre8comm.  We have a product replacement model in the case of customer complaints which keeps the vendors on their toes. We cater to customer needs, by delivering food items in fresh, raw or cooked categories, traditional apparel, items for a puja samagri for any occasion – be it a marriage or a simply Griha Pravesh, and sweets [Misti]. Our aim is to deliver fresh foods,  preserve its freshness, making life convenient and hassle free.

How do you ensure/maintain the quality of the products being sold on  Cre8comm [since it is eatables and in this category extra care needs to be taken] ?

Each of the partners is carefully chosen after having carefully looked at the hygiene and capability to serve Cre8comm.  We have a product replacement model in the case of customer complaints which keeps the vendors on their toes.

Our hygiene team visits the kitchen [in the case of Cooked food] and shops for raw fresh food. Since we do not have too many vendors, we have been able to fix responsibilities on each to ensure an extra regulatory check.

The challenge is definitely there but we have ensured the quality by keeping lesser number of Vendors. Though it is not be competitive, but it helps keep the quality in check as the vendors do not want to lose lucrative sustainable business.

How did you zero-in on the name Cre8Comm and what were some of the other options that were being explored while naming your startup ?

Considering our vision we were very clear while naming our start-up, as the name itself says Cre8-comm i.e. creating communities.

How does Cre8comm delivering traditional essentials and products to  all the diverse communities of India ?

Cre8comm , based on the community they are catering to, works at the background to do a detailed research on the community, including food habits, culture, music, etc. and then identifies the right kind of vendor for the same.

Contrary to the normal belief of a market place wherein you connect with large number of vendors, we keep our number restricted in order to ensure that we have good response from a quality perspective. Once we are ready with our back ground work including finalising vendors, we go live through social media.

Promita Sengupta -Director, Cre8comm

Can you share details about the competitors of Cre8comm ?

Currently, we don’t have any direct competition. There is no online e-commerce company which does the kind of products we manage. Some online portals are there, but they only handle Raw and Fresh food.

We continue to benchmark ourselves against our own potential and targets. We need to invest in our capabilities to ensure we keep pace with the changing demographic, technology and evolving needs of our customer base.

What are your expansion plans? Please share more about the new initiatives of Cre8comm ?

We are currently focusing on expanding other communities like Oriya, Malayali, and Bihari coming soon. Cre8comm is a diversified community portal, like no other marketplaces in the world. It’s fresh and easily accessible. In the long run, Cre8comm is planning to launch Culture Kitchen which would revolutionize the way meal services are being handled today in the country.

What are your marketing channels & how do you select the next logical place for expansion ?

The Key Marketing channels are:

  • Social Media [Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn]
  • Tele Marketing
  • Reaching out to Condos and Large Offices
  • Connecting with  Restaurants
  • Connecting with Community based Association

What have been the learnings so far and what were some of the biggest challenges in scaling up Cre8comm ?

The key learnings are:

  • Do not compromise on quality, if needed keep cost higher for better quality.
  • Stay very close to the customers. Understand the small needs.
  • Believe your customers. They actually know what they want.

The key challenges are:

  • Logistics. No one does the distance that we cover. So a separate logisitics team was required
  • The right kind of packaging
  • Maintaining the quality of the food
  • Training the Delivery team
  • Keeping system dynamic as per the demands of the situation
  • Being sensitive to people requests

Please share the funding status of Cre8comm & are you looking out for institutional funding ?

We are currently boot strapped and yes looking for Institutional Funding who share our vision.

E-commerce & food-tech as a sector is seeing consolidation [especially vertical e-commerce] and things in horizontal e-commerce are no different, how according to you are things in e-commerce different as compared to what was couple of years back [when e-commerce companies were getting funded based on GMV] ?

e-commerce cannot survive without technology . However the concept of GMV is now gone. It is more on Unit Margins and EBITDA. The investor is keen to see your margins and bottomline.  This will continue for years to come when Investors will likely be more interested where companies can improve shareholder value.

What are some of the parameters your team looks into while selecting vendors for a particular community [Oriya, Bengali, etc.] before onboarding them ?

The Key parameters for checking the vendors are:

  • The offerings
  • Time in Business and customer review
  • If cooked food, we check the Kitchen and see how hygienic they are
  • Professionalism
  • Able to manage credits in the short term
  • Able to cope with the growth of Cre8comm
  • Sustain good quality

Before Cre8comm, you had a social venture [building portable toilets], can you share some of the learnings from that venture since it might be helpful for aspiring social entrepreneurs ?

  • People may talk a lot, but finally not too many wants to put the money in these ventures.
  • Being non-glamourous, the effort is lot more to reach to people.
  • There is a lot of personal satisfaction when small successes show up.
  • Never take people on face value, even if they are very highly placed.Work closely with them and show how your ventures solves a key problem of the society
  • Be ready to face failures as they really are the pillars of success.

You were earlier a banker, social entrepreneur and now e-commerce/food-tech entrepreneur, how do you manage to don so many hats and where do you draw courage from ?

I always wanted my epitaph to read as someone who has tried and not given up on anything.  Besides, the zeal to make a difference in the lives of people in whatever capacity has always been a driving force. I always believe that There’s miles to go before I sleep

A quick piece of advice for all the women entrepreneurs

Starting an entrepreneurial venture is exciting but is not a bed of roses. It is full of challenges. And, being a female entrepreneur it is imperative to develop/nurture the following attributes – Communication, Networking, Ability to delegate, Sales skills and Openness to learn.

Follow your heart. It will always take you in the right direction and never be afraid to take risks in life.

Closing comments for community start-ups ? Please share more about how community driven start-ups are gaining popularity across the country ?

Not many organised community based start-ups are there in the country today. Definitely a void that Cre8comm is trying to fill in. We have just scratched the surface for now. The potential and need is extremely high given the fact that people are moving more & more away from their culture/food, etc. and so is the expertise and knowledge around it.

Our experience shows that if community based products and services are made available in abundance, then the impact can be significant.  A study  has reported that even Amazon has not been able to break the close relationship that people have with the existing unorganised community based services. This could be true for most countries in the world and hence it is an enormous opportunity.

We thank Promita Sengupta for her time and sharing valuable insights with our readers! If you have any questions for her about Cre8Comm, Food Tech, Hyer-local, scaling up, etc., please email them to himanshu.sheth@gmail.com or leave your question in the comments section.

As per a report released by Economic Times, the unused goods market is likely to cross Rs. 115,000 crores. As per Assocham, whether consumer goods like electronics, durables or automobiles – used cars, or the industrial machinery in the capital goods sector the options of re-usage are being considered more actively than ever before. Also, it was indicated that Stocking items is very prominent among Indian households [Source].

Image Source – Used Goods

Along with Tier-1 cities, e-commerce growth has also been observed in Tier-2 & Tier-3 cities mainly due to growing aspirations & limited access to brands. When it comes to used goods marketplace, the biggest testimony of the market was when Amazon forayed into the used-goods market [via Junglee] thereby allowing individuals to sell their used stuff on Amazon. Though there are couple of players in the used-goods marketplace, there is not a single marketplace for selling Industrial goods, Jewelry & gems, furniture, electronics, musical instruments, etc.

This is the opportunity that the founders of Refabd, a recommerce startup seized when they moved to Delhi for a short period of one year to train for the Civil Services. The glaring lacuna became evident to them when they tried to either hire or purchase used home appliances. Realization then dawned that this must be the experience of short term residents as well as newcomers to a city who are looking at a similar market. The trio was then quick to spot a business opportunity waiting to be tapped in this domain and that’s how Refabd was born!

Today we have a chat with Vineeth Kumar, Co Founder of Refabd. So lets get started with the Q&A…

How did you come up with the idea of venturing into used goods How did you come up with the idea of venturing into used goods marketplace ?

When we, the founders of Refabd, moved to Delhi for chasing our dreams on Civil Service, we personally wanted to setup our home with appliances and furniture. It was difficult for us to resort on the classified platforms, as that lacked transparency, simplicity and trust. Our search to find out a single platform for buying used products was not successful and found a business opportunity and thus Refabd was born.

Can you share some details about the team behind Refabd ?

The founders of Refabd are

  • Vineeth Kumar T – Post Graduate from IISc, 6+ years of experience in IT Field
  • Rahul Varma K – Post Graduate from Manipal Institute, 5+ Years in Chip Design, QC and Testing
  • Durai Gowardhan S – Graduate from PSG Tech, 4+ years of IT experience

We are a team of 20 members including the founders.

How much is the overall market size of used goods market place ?

As per the recent study OLX Crust 2016, Rs. 780 Billion is the Second Hand House Hold market in India in which Rs. 33 Billion is the Used Home Appliances and Furniture serviceable market in India.

What are some of the items that can be sold on Refabd ?

All kinds of large appliances, Furniture and Laptops can be sold on Refabd.

What according to you are some of the USP’s of Refabd from other such sites like Greendust, OLX, etc. [Specifically GreenDust since they also sell refurbished electronic items]

Classified sites like OLX, Quikr and even Shopo are Consumer to Consumer models. C2C model does not work very well with Used goods market as that lacks transparency in pricing, quality and service. Consumers all around the world prefers hassle free experience while shopping online and hence any model around used goods has to be curated.

Curated model will solve issues like pricing around used goods has to be curated. Curated model will solve issues like pricing and quality but still can’t gain the trust of buyers as the curator can’t guarantee post sale care. The model that works very well is a curated inventory based model where in products are sourced from different sources, performs rigorous QC and sell with Warranty. This model can give transparency in pricing, quality as well as post sale care.

Refabd follows this model in which all products undergo thorough quality inspection and given an QC SCORE and then images of the products are taken showing the defects and damages very clearly if any and uploaded with transparency in pricing. Refabd takes this experience to the next level by giving free delivery, easy return, warranty and Buy Back options. When it comes to GreenDust, they mainly focus on electronic goods, especially mobiles. They are not transparent in terms of quality, images and pricing.

[L-R] Co-founders of Refabd : Rahul Varma, Durai Gowardhan, Vineeth Kumar

Can you let us know about some of the steps taken by the back-end team to to ensure that high quality products are sold on Refabd ?

Refabd quality measures starts from procurement [sourcing] phase itself. Our in house technician/carpenter inspects the products and approves only if the product is sellable after minor repair/refurbishment. Once the products come to the warehouse, it undergoes following phases:

  • QC Stage – In this stage, the quality in terms of appearance and working is QC Stage – In this stage, the quality in terms of appearance and working is verified and the condition spec of the product along with QC report is generated
  • Cleaning/Refurbishment – Product is cleaned and disinfected thoroughly and minor refurbishment like polishing, change of plastic parts etc., are performed
  • Full Cycle Testing [FCT] – Full cycle functionality of the product is tested in this stage by simulating various scenarios. For example, the washing machines undergo a full spin test with clothes in it. All the aspects like noise, water leakage, vibration, power consumption etc., are checked in this phase and added to the QC report
  • Photography – In this stage, details images of the product is taken. The images show the defects very clearly if at all any.
  • Packaging – The products are packed carefully after the photography and moved to the delivery section
  • Product Upload – The product is uploaded to Refabd website. Complete Quality details of the product is shown in the website and what the customer sees in website is what he gets!

Who are the logistics partners of Refabd and how do you ensure that the ROR [Rate of Return] is kept to the minimum in order to maximize revenues.

Refabd manages the logistics on its own to provide quality service to its customers. We are very much flexible in terms of return and provides On the Spot Return if the appearance of the product does not match to customer expectation however is expected to go through the images and product description before purchase and also our customer care personnel explains about the condition of the product to the customer before delivery.

As Refabd is transparent on the product condition, returns are very less. Also inspite of carrying on all the expenses to ensure quality control, the sale price of Refabd goods is marked to, direct sellers of used goods online or offline, keeping the ROR balanced and providing value for money to buyers, ensuring higher sale values to provide return to Refabd investors.

Please walk us through funding of Refabd [Self/Angel/VC] and are you looking for external funding ?

Athamus Venture team invested to unlock the potential of Refabd Platform, it being attractive, unorthodox, and stressed on buy back and warranty issuance to be hallmark of the business. We are raising expansion capital now, to spread to at least 4 more cities like NCR, Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai in next 6 months and 20 more cities by another 12 months.

Many e-commerce companies are now pushing for omni-channel Many e-commerce companies are now pushing for omni-channel presence, does Refabd also have plans to enter into offline as well [especially for big ticket items like Fridge, Washing Machine, Laptops,etc. or other items that require touch & fell] ?

Today, stress is to provide hassle free service though centralized warehouses, with doorstep pickup and delivery services to delight our customers on quality of product and services. We have innovative plans to fulfil the needs to give satisfaction of physical shopping experience going forward and shall be announced in 3 months time.

We would like to understand the customer [i.e. age, cities Tier-1,Tier-2, etc.] as well item demographics on Refabd ?

Refabd is operational only in Bengaluru as of now. Refabd caters to all income group customers with its used and unboxed products. Furniture is sold around the year and appliances demand varies based on season. In summer season refrigerator and ACs are sold more and in rainy season washing machines and ovens are sold more.

Does Refabd also provide ‘Try & Buy’ facility for its customers, especially items like clothing, shoes, etc.

We introduced On the Spot return in case of appearance mismatch and 7 days return in case of quality issue which is as good as Try and Buy.

Is Refabd a pure B2C marketplace for used goods or you also cater to the B2B segment ?

We are into B2B as well catering the needs of builders, rental companies & Startup Companies.

There is growing competition in used-goods marketplace where there are vertical marketplaces like Droom [Automobiles], GreenDust [electronics], GoZefo [Furniture], etc. and horizontal marketplaces like OLX, Quikr, Kraftly, etc. how does Refabd ensure that it stays ahead of the growing competition in providing excellent service [goods] at competitive pricing ?

We intend to keep our margins balanced, to reach out masses not only in Tier-1 but Tier-2 & 3 cities, coupled with fact that, Refabd has direct accountability to customer on each product sold makes us very different from our peers.

Do you have any tie-ups with e-commerce companies so that goods returned by the customer [reverse logistics] can be sold on your platform at a lesser price/as a used-item ?

We have tie up with e-commerce companies for sourcing used and unboxed products.

There is a section where ‘Unused Products’ [particularly electronics are sold], don’t you think that it would dilute the core offerings of Refabd which is into selling ‘Quality Refurbished Items’ ?

As said earlier, Refabd wants to cater all income group customers and also help the customer to upgrade their product as and when their income increases. The unboxed products help for this.

Customers who are planning to buy unused products can buy unboxed products from Refabd at around 70% of their budget. We ensure that unboxed products are in excellent condition w.r.t appearance and quality.

2017 so far has not been good for e-commerce companies – funds drying up, huge cash-burn; how according to you should entrepreneurs deal with such adverse situations ?

Lot of action is happening in e-commerce space, the business segment is evolving from its early days and maturing into set formats, players that provide quality service with the goods will evolve to fulfill the demands. It is difficult to comment on business model of larger formats right now, as they too are in a flux to compete even bigger challenges out.

Online commerce has been so far about discounting, customer acquisition, etc. how do you see 2017 panning out for the online commerce, hyper-local & used goods marketplace sector ?

e-commerce is here to stay and satisfy daily requirements of Indian population, the process business discrepancies have been rooted out to make businesses efficient, as long as e-commerce platforms sell ‘value for money’ goods and services they will find buyers and expand.

Initial customer acquisition is mostly built on discounting, any other methods that entrepreneurs can follow to gain more customers keeping the burn-rate to the minimum [ensuring that transactions are repetitive instead of one-time] ?

In addition to providing best value for money, quality of service, delivery and follow up maintenance will be the differentiators.

As per your entrepreneurial experience, when should an entrepreneur look out for external funding ?

When your idea starts generating cash flows to sustain itself organically and scaling/expansion can only be through external capitalization, to capture greater market share.

Some books that you highly recommend for entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs you highly admire and some traits of theirs that you would like to imbibe.

Elon Musk – Determination, Dream Big and Curiosity to implement

Closing thoughts for our readers.

Chase your dreams and always remember that a very minute detail addition can bring so much of positive difference. Try to find out this small detail which is missing and add it to your solution and you will find growth.

We thank Rahul Kumar for sharing his insights with our readers. Do give Refabd a spin and share your experience in the comments section. If you have any questions for Rahul or the Refabd Team, please email them here or share them via a comment to this article.

Owning a home is everyone’s dream but choosing the right builder, right locality is a herculean task. Not to mention that ‘Budget’ also takes a higher priority since even if you like a particular flat, it may/may not fall into your budget. On one hand there are some builders who charge ‘Premium’ for their flat since they are well-known brands and have a massive brand recall, on the other hand there are ‘Aspiring’ companies/builders that offer the best quality homes at reasonable price so that ‘Benefits’ are passed on the customer!

Image Source – Builders

It is also a known fact that most of the construction projects get delayed due to rising cost of raw materials, approvals, etc. hence a builder that aims to deliver ‘Quality’ projects on-time would always have an upper-hand over its competitors. One such company is Kumari Builders and Developers that has successfully completed couple of residential projects in Bengaluru.

Today we have a chat with Ashok Naidu, Director, Kumari Builders and Developers about brand Kumari, his journey, learnings in scaling Kumari, Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, etc.  So let’s get started with the Q&A…

Let’s rewind the clock, can you take us through the notable experiences of your professional journey [so far with Kumari Builders].

There is a lot that I learnt from my father when I joined. I enjoyed every phase when he handed over more responsibilities to me. During the initial stages of my career, I reduced the procurement time of cement materials from 15 days to 5 days by streamlining the entire process by directly dealing with manufacturers than dealers. I received special appreciation from my father and was handed over responsibilities of purchase department too. This was an important milestone for me.

Planning and designing Kumari Amaranthine is another noteworthy experience. This project is designed to obtain platinum certification under Indian Green Building Council’s Green Homes Rating System and is environmentally responsive. Projects such as these require more initial investment and may not necessarily bring in more profits. So when my brother and I proposed this project to my father, we were worried that he may not give the go-ahead as he is a no non-sense person when it comes to finances. Not only did he agree to the proposal, but he asked my brother not to over price it like projects of similar nature.

Considering your experience [with Kumari combined with your father’s exp in same business], how has the construction business evolved over the last couple of years.

The real estate segment is getting more regularized every year. We could practically start construction and finish it with just 15~25% of initial investment up to the late 2000’s. It is not so any more. You can only sustain if you have adequate primary funds. The power is gradually shifting from developers to consumers.

You have been an integral part of the journey at Kumari Builders which was started by your father, can you please highlight key pillars of the group.

We deliver whatever we promise without any compromise, we also make sure that we deliver on time. My father places a lot of emphasis on quality irrespective of the pricing of the apartment.

Since primary foothold of Kumari Builders is in Bengaluru [which is known for its tech], what are some of the technological advancements used by your group in order to cater to this ‘tech obsessed audience’ ?

A recent technology that we have implemented in our all projects is MSDD connection. It integrates FTTH [internet], CCTV and DTH in to one single circuit. The advantages are multi-fold – we can use multi DTH’s connection without extra wiring; no separate antenna is required and you can access CCTV footage at the entrance – you can watch your kids activities in the play area through your television. It offers faster internet as well. This is going to be a mandatory element in all of our future projects. In fact, in one of our projects in Whitefield that has a day care facility, we have installed CCTV and the parents can check on the children from their offices on their mobile phones.

Ashok Naidu, Director – Kumari Builders And Developers

Can you please list some of the noted projects of Kumari Builders and some of the USP’s of these projects ?

Kumari Woods and Winds and Kumari Amaranthine. Kumari Amaranthine is designed to obtain platinum certification under Indian Green Building Council’s Green Homes Rating System and is environmentally responsive with many sustainable features. At the same time it is not overpriced like projects of similar nature.

Kumari Woods and Winds is designed as a home for all age groups. It is located in Whitefield. The project includes a day care for working parents, amenities that keep the children busy during weekends and numerous features for the elderly as well.

Most of your residential projects are close to tech parks, hospitals, etc. where land rates will be high, but Kumari Builders offers flats at the best rates, how does Kumari Builders ensure that you deliver the best quality at much lesser rate ?

We follow a philosophy of ‘higher turnover and lower profit margins’ unlike the norm which is ‘lower turnover and higher profit margins’. That’s how we are about to launch our 13th project in just about 4 years.

How important is Post-Sales Support and what are Kumari’s methodologies to provide best Buying Experience to its customers ?

Most of our customers are from IT who are pressed for time. For them time is equivalent to money. Customer care is directly operated under the Director, which translates to quicker and better response.

Kumari Builders’s journey started with Anantapur district, how different is real estate business in smaller cities vis-a-vis bigger cities like Bengaluru ?

The basics are always same.  Customer trust is much easily obtained in towns and smaller cities than in metropolitan cities.

With good success ratio in residential projects, what is the next growth plan for Kumari [Villa, expansion to newer cities in South India, etc.] ?  

We will be entering the villa and plot segment, but our target audience will remain the same – young working professionals.

What are some of the marketing strategies used by Kumari Builders in order to market its projects ?

We do not believe in mere marketing strategies. We always strive to provide a great product at a competitive price. That’s what sells our projects despite not going in for a huge marketing spend.

Your thoughts on the Real Estate Regulatory Act Bill [RERA], benefits for customers and how it might have an effect on the Real Estate Projects ?

We have noticed a number of reforms and policies lately that are trying to regularize the real estate sector in India. RERA is a real game changer. Implementation of RERA offers protection and faith to home-buyers and investors. From an industry point of view, it can have some implications on completed yet unsold, ongoing and new projects.

The frequency of new project launches might lessen for a year. A decrease in supply may lead to increase in prices and also result in unsold inventory moving faster. Hence the sales of existing inventory may go up, but eventually it will reduce.

The latest regulations that call for firmer compliance and transparency may push real estate prices up. Some of the other reasons for the price rise include increase in construction costs due to the pressure to deliver projects on time irrespective of delayed material supply by vendors, contractor delays, natural disturbances, low sales or any other factors. 

It is well-known that projects in prime areas generates faster sales than projects elsewhere. In fact, sales pick up mostly during the ready-to-move-in phase. It is not uncommon for developers to divert some of the fund flows from prime location projects to non-prime ones until the sales pick up. This would not be possible now due to restriction of fund flows up to 70% through maintenance of separate accounts.

An artist’s impression of Kumari Amaranthine in Bellandur

Can you comment on the PM’s mission of Housing for All and how builders [both big, mid and small builders] can turn this dream into reality ?

Building 2 crore homes is a herculean task and hence government has preferred a public-private partnership for these massive undertakings. This is a welcome move.

Most of the real-estate companies have Celebrity Brand Ambassadors, how much does it help companies [builders] to build a vibrant brand with celebrities on board ?

It’s just one of marketing strategies. Customers are better educated now. They can go beyond fancy marketing campaigns and look at the product itself. Customers would prefer a competitively priced better product than a normal product fancily marketed.

There has been lot of advancements in real estate like Precast, etc. how according to you can builders make best use of them in order to reduce TAT and deliver quality projects [at best prices] ?

I am happy to see that many builders are using advancements such as Precast and Mivan in construction technologies in recent years to reduce delivery time and improve standards in quality.  However, not every advancement is suitable for every project. For example, precast is only affordable for bigger projects.

T. Ashok Naidu, you joined your family business at a very young age [and most of your staff is below 35 years of age], how do you keep your young team motivated and how much does having younger team members help in building a vibrant company ?

We do have a few experienced employees at higher levels. However, 90% of our team including my brother and I are below 35.  Since most of the target customers we work for are below 35, we feel that employees of the same age group can understand and communicate with our customers better.

We hire staff who hold the same kind of ethos. It’s easy to be motivated when you work for what you believe in.

With GST implementation just around the corner, what is the impact that GST would have on property rates and the overall real estate sector.

Unlike the previous tax regime, GST allows input for tax credits on construction materials which is a boon for developers.  Apart from simplifying the whole mechanism of taxation, it also brings the much-needed transparency into the sector. GST will not have a significant bearing on the pricing for property buyers.

How different is managing family business [since you are not a founder but have to think & act in an Entrepreneurial manner] and can you share some tips for entrepreneurs who are managing family businesses ?

Youngsters are fresh with new ideas and can quickly embrace changes unlike the founders or the elders in a family business. It is essential to learn from the experiences of the founders, while at the same changing with the times. It’s important to introduce changes gradually so it doesn’t upset the structure of the organisation.

Educability is a common trait among youngsters. Patience is an important value that the young generation needs to practice to manage a business successfully.

Family businesses need to embrace change (especially when baton is handed over to the next gen), how do you inculcate such values in Kumari and at the same time ensure to learn from the experience of your father [who founded the company] ?

Any business needs to embrace change and keep up with times to stay relevant. Embracing change is easier in family businesses. We make sure the change is gradual and streamlined rather than abrupt and radical and also in conjunction to the values of the founder.

Some books that you read and recommend for aspiring entrepreneurs ?

I have a lot of favourites but the one that I would really recommend is Purple Cow. It is an eye-opener on how to create something noticeable in everything you do.

We thank T. Ashok Naidu for sharing his valuable insights with our readers. If you have any questions for him or the Kumari Builders team or you are an existing customer of Kumari Builders, please leave your feedback/question in the comments section or share them to himanshu.sheth@gmail.com

How many times have you been in a situation where you run out of cash and need some loan on an urgent basis. Personal loans, Education loans, Housing loans or any such loans [where the amount is huge] are mostly planned but there are cases where you might need an ‘unplanned’ loan. The loan amount in such scenarios might be such that banking institutions might not be able to offer that much loan. This is where ‘Alternate Lending’ can be of huge help where you can either take a loan from P2P platform in which case there is no intermediary financial institution [Both Borrowers & Lenders are individuals].

Image Source – Fintech

The other case is where you opt for a loan via a NBFC which acts as an ‘Enabler’ and bridges tha gap between the Borrower & the Bank. 2017 has so far been a very eventful year for Fintech Startups and Alternate Lending is being touted as one of the hottest sectors in 2017. There are couple of fintech startups addressing this problem where their major target customers are ‘Salaried Professionals’.

One such startup is Creditexchange that provides salaried personal loans of between 50,000 and 5,00,000 INR through Qbera Loans. Qbera provides borrowers a seamless, convenient experience with an unparalleled turn-around time of 12-30 hours [to loan disbursal]. Creditexchange is being developed in partnership with LendFoundry, a market-leader in the development of technology stacks for alternative lending companies in the US.

Today we have a chat with Aditya Kumar, Founder & CEO of Qbera,  an alternate lending startup. We discuss about Qbera, the P2P lending market, opportunities in Fintech, impact of Digital India & much more. So let’s get started with the Q&A….

How has the online lending industry changed, or you foresee any changes after UPI was introduced ?

It’s been a year since Unified Payments Interface [UPI] was launched and has had a positive impact on the payments & collections space, in general. As a result of UPI, small ticket loans can be made, and repayments collected seamlessly, around the clock.

There is a general question with lenders, what happens if borrower is not able to return the money. How is the lingering question of Credit Risk taken care of ?

There can be multiple repercussions of a borrower not being able to repay their loans. The defaulter will be reported to CIBIL [and the other credit bureaus] which will have a negative effect on a person’s credit score and significantly impact their ability to borrow in the future.  In scenarios of repeated/willful defaulter, banks could also initiate legal action against the borrower.

Credit risk is mitigated by lenders in a multitude of ways. First, a person’s credit history is always checked to see if they have any history of default, or whether they have availed of credit responsibly in the past.  Second, most financial institutions and online lenders alike ask for bank statements of prospective borrower to analyse income and expense patterns. Online and other alternative lenders also look at social data, mobile data, georisk, and other more ‘non-traditional’ sources of data to make a more comprehensive credit decision.

According to your data, which is the biggest category [buying house, repairs, wedding etc.] & customer segmentation [i.e. Age, City etc.] where borrowers require money ?

Salaried individuals typically borrow money primarily for : Personal exingencies, Refinancing credit card [or other] debt, or home improvement.  Borrowers in the salaried segment typically reside in Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities in India, and many are aged between 25 & 40.

There are growing number of Fintech startups into online lending, P2P lending, credit lines, etc. [eg. Capital Float, Lendingkart, Rubique, Faircent, MoneyTap, etc.]. What are some of the USP’s of Qbera via-a-vis other Fintech startups or what are some of the differentiating factors of Qbera ?

Qbera focuses on offering personal loans to salaried individuals working at over 700,000 employers. In addition to this, Qbera offers loans to individuals with incomes starting at 20,000 per month [net] and those who have never availed of any loan produt before.

Qbera also strives to approve loan applications which are filled through its portal, Qbera.com, in 15 minutes~4 working hours, and disburse loans within 24 hours thereof.

What is the TAM of the consumer debt market that Qbera is trying to address ?

Qbera is addressing a market of salaried individuals in the top 13 markets in India – with incomes of between 20,000 and 75,000 per month.  The size of this market is likely more than 10 million individuals, with the current personal loan balances in these markets at 200,000 crores.

Apart from CIBIL score, Social score; are there other data points that Qbera has to evaluate members [borrowers] on Qbera ?

Other credit parameters, bank statements, demographic information, information about a borrower’s employer – 33 of these parameters go into making a credit decision on an application.

Few years back, there was a huge wave about MFI’s [like SKS Microfinance], in 2017 the wave is around Fintech sector [NBFC’s], what are your thoughts about the Fintech space in the coming years ?

The fintech space in India is still at a very nascent stage, compared to what it is elsewhere in the world [e.g. the US, UK and China]. Billions of dollars of disbursements have happened across unsecured and secured products in these markets through fintech companies, and, as such, Indian players have a long way to go.

What’s unique about the Indian ecosystem is how open Banks & NBFCs are to working with Fintech companies, which should help them evolve at a great pace. In the next few years, Fintech players in India will see tremendous growth, some degree of consolidation, as they play a larger role – especially in providing the underbanked and new-to-credit populations with access to credit.

Does Qbera only offer loans to salaried professionals [as mentioned it is minimum 20K/month] or is it open to entrepreneurs, freelancers [If not, any reason for the same and any tentative timeline when it might be open to non-salaried professionals]

Qbera has laid out its plan of action in a way that it is currently focused on the salaried segment and would use the learnings from the same to expand to self-employed professions, leading to self-employed non-professionals and businesses in future. Idea is to ensure operational efficiency in one segment and use this in the other.

Does Qbera have any e-commerce partners where customer on that platform can get short term loan from Qbera [for buying big ticket items, instead of opting for EMI or other payment mechanism] ?

No, we don’t.

Can you share some tips for building an effective team for startups [especially the initial core team] ?

Strike a balance between domain expertise, experience, passion and intellect and street smartness.

Take your time in putting the founding team together – they will become the bedrock of your organisation.

Work with people you get along with – you will be spending significant amounts of time with them.

Bootstrapping vis-a-vis Institutional Funding, your views on the same ?

Both comes with their own set of benefits and perils. An entrepreneurial thought is often followed by a decision/desire to ‘bootstrap’ it before giving nod to institutional funding. It is natural to be possessive of one’s product/project and want to nurture their business idea on their own without taking investment from venture capitalists. Bootstrapping can put you in a straitjacket as far as fund for marketing and PR is concerned. External investments give you flexibility – but come with their own set of expectations.

Apart from Fintech, what are the next wave of startups that would excite entrepreneurs’ interest, VC interest ?

I think it would be Artificial Intelligence [AI]. In fact, it has already evolved into a group of inevitable technologies that entail machine learning and natural language processing.

There has been growing discussion about linking Aadhar to PAN number, in which case just providing Aadhar details help Fintech startups to verify customer’s financial credibility, can you share your thoughts on this move and whether it would be a boon for finance related startups [be it services, Fintech, etc.]

I think this is a much-needed positive move by the government as it helps them to monitor all taxable transactions and also prevents people or companies from owning multiple PAN cards. Citizens would be more educated about the benefits of paying taxes. It also saves tax payers the hassle of submitting their IT papers to the concerned departments. As far as alternative lenders are concerned, the most challenging aspect of the business is to assess credit worthiness of applicants accurately and make a fair decision. This will certainly make things easier for us.

Many startups/growth stage companies are now looking at unit-economics, how important is it to look at that factor early on in the startup’s journey ?

Unit economics have a huge role to play in the eventual success of any business, and one which investors are becoming increasingly paranoid about [and rightly so!].  If your business doesn’t have a clear roadmap to positive unit-level economics, you will never make money.

Some books that you highly recommend for entrepreneurs

The Innovators Dilemma by Clayton M Christenson

Some closing thoughts for our readers!

If you’re involved in the fintech space – I strongly believe you are in the right place, at the right time.  Be patient and enjoy the ride!

We thank Aditya Kumar for his time and sharing valuable insights with our readers! If you have any questions for Aditya about Qbera, Alternate lending, Fintech, scaling up, etc., please email them to himanshu.sheth@gmail.com or leave your question in the comments section.