When Shiva Kumar Ganeshan or Shivku (as he's known to anyone) graduated in Computer Science from BITS Pilani in 2004, it wasn’t yet cool to be an entrepreneur. In fact, what turned into cool changed into to wind up at Bengaluru and work for an MNC and that’s precisely what he did.
From June 2004 to May 2009, Shivku continued to work at Yahoo! Starting as a software program engineer and mountaineering up the ladder to be a product supervisor. In the procedure, he got exposed to some of special styles of technology, services by and large, and it changed into clean to him that a variety of issues could be solved with generation.
And one such opportunity lay in harnessing the capacity of maps: from April 2008 to May 2009, Shivku worked on Yahoo’s Global Maps Vision. He created Yahoo! Maps for India but was no longer able to persuade people to fund the challenge. Says Shivku –
In those days we did not know the way to monetise maps. Fast forward to now and Google Maps is making a ton of cash from Uber and Ola. We were no longer able to see that coming at that point. Every time we might press it, we might be puzzled why have to we do maps, what’s the point in that? How are you going to make money from maps?
Consequently, investment turned into pulled from that challenge. Though Shivku tried to combat for it, he understood not anything changed into going to alternate. With that notion additionally came the realisation that the rate with which huge businesses were moving become too slow for him and he wanted more on the spot movement. Added to that, he had cash within the bank, the safety of having via for a few years readily with out working, and the confidence that he would ultimately land a job someplace, one way or the other.
Thus, Shivku quit Yahoo! In 2009 and took his first step within the startup international.
Another buddy additionally left Yahoo! And joined hands with him as he determined to build a reasonably-priced low-price navigation tool for India, leveraging his mastering at Yahoo! The duo researched the market for a couple of months however couldn't make a great deal headway within the assignment. His co-founder decided now not to pursue it similarly and that was the give up of his first tryst with beginning some thing of his very own.
From The Bansals To Exotel
Meanwhile, multiple blocks away in Koramangala, young marketers have been starting a small something in ecommerce – today we know it as Flipkart.
Shivku used to hang around with Sachin and Binny Bansal plenty even as he turned into looking to start the map assignment. So after the mission did no longer take off, “the Bansals” invited him to join Flipkart. And so he did – as Vice President-Products and Technology.
Even lower back then, Flipkart was doing actually well. For six months, he ploughed on at Flipkart, supporting them build the tech & product teams, the backend era for deliver chain & useful resource planning, and a piece in their internet site. It changed into all going properly however the preference to begin something of his own become eating him from interior.
I advised myself this is not why I left Yahoo! So to place that voice to rest, I decided I am going to begin once more.
He says, “I advised myself this isn't why I left Yahoo! So to put that voice to rest, I decided I am going to begin again. I did no longer know what I wanted to begin, I had no co-founder in place, however I decided to take the soar.”
Thus, Shivku was back to being an entrepreneur. He first of all commenced off at the concept of a consumer-to-consumer market Roopit – something just like the Olx or Quikr of these days. But in those days it was unique as there had been so smartphones; so all of the smartness needed to be provided on the voice network. To this cease, Shivku created a micro classifieds or a C2C marketplace.
He explains, “The manner purchasers may want to speak was through this voice infrastructure that I had created. They could name right into a crucial wide variety, someone would ask what you're searching out, based totally on that they could connect you to another person who has some thing to sell after which you could talk to each different. For this, I coded some thing like a decentralised name centre.”
At that time, half the human beings he talked to did now not recognize what he become talking approximately, and the opposite half of thought it wasn’t viable. But the task turned into a result of his need to counter all varieties of connectivity issues even as working on Roopit. He desired to figure out the information on calls – how many and from wherein and how he may want to music the calls that he neglected.
He realised that he wanted one telephone variety that could get hold of voice calls and SMS and make sure that he did no longer omit a name that might have resulted in a enterprise deal. So it changed into truly just a project for assisting Roopit which converted into Exotel – the cloud telephony startup for which we recognise him today.
What Shivku was looking for, had finally found him.
A CRM On Cloud And Its Challenges
With startup friends getting extra interested by Exotel and equipped to pay for it, Shivku determined to shut down Roopit in 2011 and focus handiest on Exotel – which changed into a pure-play tech. Additionally, Shivku began scouting for co-founders and landed Vijay Sharma (who later left), Siddharth Ramesh, and Ishwar Sridharan in his group.
From there on, Exotel additionally pivoted. Says Shivku, “We saw that computing had already moved to the cloud, and so at some point in time, we knew that telephony would additionally follow the same manner. Earlier human beings have been buying servers and installing Oracle software program and then strolling them, which has all moved to the cloud now. The same analogy can be carried out for telephony as properly. So if earlier humans were buying an EPABX (Electronic Private Automatic Branch Exchange) field, setting someone in price to address, now it has also moved to the cloud.”
However, they realised that no longer anybody had an EPABX initially and there have been regulatory demanding situations in completely replacing it. So, such things as intercom have been now not viable. Therefore, Exotel changed into repositioned as a call control software program.
As most consumers might need to speak to companies over the phone than electronic mail, the most effective CRM or ticketing device a organization needed changed into that which goes by and large on voice. Hence, Exotel changed into in the long run placed as a CRM constructed often for voice, in comparison to different CRMs which can be broadly speaking built for e mail.
From there on, Exotel commenced sharing its APIs with groups so that they may use those constructing blocks to combine communique of their business fashions while it took care of reliability, scalability, and other infrastructural hiccups such as energy cuts. It affords digital smartphone numbers and telephony programs to assist organizations manage their enterprise phone machine through a virtual cellphone gadget.
Exotel believes that every enterprise, regardless of its size, should be able to utilise capabilities like IVR, call recordings to sound expert and serve their customers higher.
Ultimately, what Exotel these days is as Shivku states, “We are the Lego of verbal exchange.” A lego piece, which powers over three million conversations between organizations and their clients each day and has related over ninety three million people with groups in the last financial yr.
Confusion And The Cloud
But getting here turned into hardly ever a cakewalk.
Explains Shivku, “The enjoy to start Exotel turned into much like starting some thing revolutionary consisting of Uber or ecommerce. People did no longer apprehend cloud telephony, they questioned if it became VOIP? Since we were selling it as a SaaS product, that too become now not thoroughly understood. There had been issues if it was feasible to obtain calls if the net went down.”
Similarly, the authorities additionally took time to recognize cloud telephony as a concept – that it became now not VOIP and it did now not contain bypassing of revenues or brought about a reduction in revenues for the authorities or telcos. What helped their motive become, in truth, the opposition. Because by the point Exotel commenced, competitors like Knowlarity (which become based in 2009) had already commenced, so the gamers worked together to get cloud telephony known as a concept.
Now, things are incredibly a lot better.
Now we are in a function where we don’t have to name up and provide an explanation for what cloud telephony is.
Says Shivku,“Now we are in a position where we don’t have to call up and give an explanation for what cloud telephony is. We simply say that we offer cloud telephony/hosted telephony offerings and those apprehend. They know Exotel now. They won't be capable of provide an explanation for the concept however they understand that it's far an simpler way to remove all the ones wires and EPABX and installation stuff on the cloud and manipulate communication.”
Of path, he has the same opinion that regulations nonetheless ought to trade a bit bit. He seconds that legal guidelines are not preserving up with times but they'll keep to paintings with the authorities and operators.
“Certainly the duty of explaining approximately cloud telephony to the market in addition to the government rests with us. You begin the dialogue with the aid of citing APIs and you've got misplaced them. Confusions exist and it's far our responsibility to work with the authorities and provide an explanation for to them that it is a wedding among internet and voice but no longer definitely VOIP. I consider us as software providers on pinnacle of the prevailing voice network.”
“We are a touch like a website or an app, or a Flipkart on top of statistics. What I do know is it is a completely valid enterprise increasing the revenues of both the authorities and the operators,” he adds.
Uber, Flipkart, Quikr – All On Cloud
From acquiring its first client to touchdown more than a 1,000, Exotel has come a long manner from the times when humans did not recognize cloud telephony.
Shivku recalls that his first startup customer turned into a startup referred to as MyEnglish – which deliberate to educate English to human beings within the hinterlands by means of connecting them with English speakers/teachers within the pinnacle 4 metros.
MyEnglish eventually close down but Exotel’s customers has risen to some 1,300 paying clients along with the who’s who of the startup international including Uber, Ola, Flipkart, Quikr, Swiggy, Urban Ladder, Oyo, Practo, and Zivame, amongst others. Over 1,000 businesses use it for handling their incoming call centres, approximately 300-400 use it for SMS services and a few a hundred groups for neglected name advertising.
Since inception, about 15K companies have attempted Exotel, with a variety of them continuing to use Exotel free of charge.
Exotel monetises as a SaaS product. For the SMB class, billing is similar to that of a prepaid card. So groups can top up their money owed, and make contact with charges, SMS charges. Software apartment kind of charges can be deducted as in keeping with utilization. Free trial gives some INR 1,000 well worth of calls and SMS loose. For organization companies, billing is typically transaction-primarily based, relying on according to minute or according to lead price.
Shivku claims that Exotel is posting a 10% M-o-M growth in sales, even after five years of life.
For organisations, the proposition has been price financial savings – some even to the music of 45%. Shivku explains that many organizations at the moment are the usage of it to energy communique among field executives and customers. And one of the primary motivating wishes is for value savings. While in advance they were following the version of repayment of cell phone bills of field executives, now they have got transformed to a model where the decision from corporations is free.
Executives can now supply a neglected call or call a valuable 1800 variety for communique on the field, which has delivered down the overall payments of many ecommerce groups. In one instance, it's been nearly 45%.
Adds Shivku, “It is a very frugal alternative for SMBs. As it’s at the cloud, no capital expenditure is concerned. So earlier, if simplest an ICICI Bank should use this type of machine, now it’s feasible for masses to apply such offerings because of cloud telephony.”
Meanwhile, the group of a hundred has in large part remained bootstrapped post the first spherical it raised in 2012. It netted $500K (INR 2.Four Cr) in Series A investment from Mumbai Angels and Blume Ventures then. While the startup has not been capable of raise any investment submit that round and is searching out funding, Shivku provides that this move is less out of want and greater out of the truth that raising a few coins might simply assist them develop quicker.
Acquiring, Expanding, Growing
Not that growth has been a trouble both due to the fact, as of last month, Exotel is an global enterprise after its foray into Singapore.
An initial funding of $10 Mn (approximately INR sixty six.5 Cr) is planned for the subsequent two years, most people of on the way to be used for operational and income spends and to advantage floor in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Also in the pipeline are plans to open an office in Singapore inside the next six months.
Additionally, it has undertaken two strategic acquisitions closing yr by myself.
In November, it received customer comments platform Voyce. For Exotel, the purchase made sense as there are numerous use cases that Exotel does which might be approximately remarks giving, which will be as easy as asking a consumer to present a ignored call if he preferred a service or product.
Exotel targets to play very deeply in voice recognition, each speech to text and text to speech.
Says Shivku, “Feedback collection and patron happiness at massive is a totally crucial concept for Exotel. That’s why we obtained them. Over time they have got commenced gambling different roles in the organisation.” Case in point, Varun Raj, co-founding father of Voyce, is now heading overseas operations of Exotel.
Similarly, in February ultimate yr, it received Singapore-based totally Croak.It! Which lets in users to proportion their voice messages in clips of as much as 30 seconds. It additionally has several exciting features which allow customers to combine numerous clips and create a brand new sound. For Exotel, the intent turned into easy – Croak.It! Had terrific access to voice facts in exclusive accents and languages. And sooner or later in time, Exotel pursuits to play very deeply in voice recognition, both speech to textual content and text to speech. Hence the interest.
It is that this hobby in ‘voice’ that still brought about Exotel opening a brand new research division Exotel Labs to spur innovation within the voice area in March this 12 months. Towards this endeavour, the employer roped in Balaraman Lakshmanan, the founder of Crispify, as a Research Software Development Engineer.
The cause is clear – to attention on high-quality, transcription from voice to text and vice versa, accent deduction, emotion detection, and assault all high-quality troubles on a software program level.
Shivku notes that the business enterprise’s increase has also been an outcome of operating with lots of startups that have verified fast growth. He adds, “We think of ourselves as a backbone or enabler of startups. Almost each startup has used Exotel sooner or later of time. Everyone needs a telephone variety, every body desires to send an SMS and we've got made it less difficult for them to set up these communication factors for you to recognition on their enterprise factors.”
In fact, there’s a poster in his room which says, at the back of every successful startup, there may be Exotel!
And that’s how he intends to maintain it. Of course, he recognizes the opposite component too – that startups tend to fail plenty. But he is adequate with that. Because on the other hand, whichever startup does be triumphant, there may be a totally high risk that it becomes in reality huge. Something that he has skilled with Flipkart, Uber, and Ola.
And with this function, also comes the obligation of imparting a reliable platform to those fast-developing companies. Hence, most of Exotel’s new tasks are around reliability, scalability, and subsuming the underlying vulnerability of the telecom infrastructure. A task that’s now not clean, given the rising spurt in cloud telephony startups vying for that very pie.
Competition In Cloud
Consider this – Exotel’s closest competitor Knowlarity has so far raised approximately $22.5 Mn from investors like Sequoia Capital and Mayfield and claims to have over 12,000 clients. Then there are others including, Ozonetel, Sonetel, MyOperator, and Sipper Global Informatics vying for the identical space which, as per Shivku, is a $7 Bn possibility.
But Shivku believes there are enormous differences. For example, he asserts that Knowlarity and Voicetree continue to focus at the SMB side, whereas Exotel’s focus is now greater on assisting an SMB which has grown larger, to scale faster. Further, they attention loads at the product aspect at the same time as Exotel focusses on the platform facet. He provides that even as buyers corporations understand Knowlarity better, tech organizations and startups recognise Exotel better.
Then there's the difference in use cases.
He explains, “Because we have continually meant to hook our APIs into the commercial enterprise fashions of very huge businesses, our cognizance is unique. Similarly, in case you are focussed on promoting SMBs, your consciousness would be distinctive. So the kind of segments we're selling to is one-of-a-kind. And how we are selling is also distinct. So people bucket us in a different way from competition. Of route, inside the future, it's miles likely that one or big players might emerge and take over other components of the commercial enterprise as nicely.”
For now, Shivku is satisfied with the manner Exotel is powering these unicorns in addition to generating specific use cases for cloud telephony to effect people on the grassroots level.
From Underprivileged Children To Far-Flung Farmers: All Connected Through Cloud
Shivku believes that one of the most pioneering works that Exotel has done is inside the realm of purchaser privateness for almost all hyperlocal aggregators and marketplaces to protect the patron’s range. Be it Ola, Uber or Swiggy, now a carrier issuer’s cellphone name is redirected through a cloud which then calls the purchaser, thereby ensuring that the purchaser’s details and privateness are cozy. This is likewise the thing for which the majority understand Exotel.
However, there are many other specific use cases which have been made viable with cloud telephony.
Consider, as an example, NGO Pratham’s collaboration with Exotel for their initiative “Missed Call Do, Kahaani Suno” (Give a ignored name, listen a tale) marketing campaign in February this year. In this campaign, Pratham used the power of calls to enable kids to pay attention to a tale in a language of their preference. Any infant who desired to concentrate to a tale could simply ought to supply a missed call to the number. Post this, the child could get a name again with an IVR being played to him. After the kid selects the language of his desire, he might then have a story study out to him. In two-three days about three,000 youngsters ate up 36,000 testimonies.
The venture helped children from all walks of life get right of entry to tales in neighborhood tongues, thereby spreading the pleasure of analyzing to a bigger target audience for free of charge to them. For Shivku, it supposed giving again to the children the pleasure of growing up with tales.
He provides, “When I became a child, my grandmother used to inform me stories earlier than going to sleep. These children are lacking out on that and that has a large impact on the way you think about the sector.”
In truth, November 2015, saw the launch of Exotel.Org, a portal for non-profits and social organisations to get right of entry to the business enterprise’s telephony solutions at lower costs than industrial clothes.
All of this stems from the fact the reality that Exotel feels strongly approximately voice as a medium to engage the masses. Explains Shivku, “People in hinterlands can’t read, so SMS and newspapers received’t work however voice, in particular of their language, will work as an effective engagement medium. So to attain the loads there, cloud telephony may be a huge pull given the fact that engagement thru the cell cellphone becomes cheaper than any other medium.”
Another exciting use case of cloud telephony has been Squadrun, which has hired it to create a virtual name centre without having to set up a bodily infrastructure. So now masses of humans searching out vocational employment distributed over various geographies can be harnessed, as opposed to beginning a captive centre at one region and figuring out the inherent logistics. Hence, an outsourced dispensed call centre as a model has emerged due to cloud telephony.
Need more proof how it can impact masses on a grassroots level?
Take the case of the direct to farmer m-commerce platform AgroStar which has made it viable for farmers you bought agri-inputs along with seeds, crop nutrition, crop safety and agri-hardware merchandise needed for his or her farms by actually giving a ignored call at the platform and in the end accessing its cellular app.
Also Read:- 13 Tips for Improving Outdoor Portraits
Adds Shivku, “When you believe you studied of ecommerce, you believe you studied of a website, a purchasing cart, and a fee gateway. But AgroStar is allowing ecommerce for farmers definitely through a ignored call. All a farmer has to do is – supply a neglected call and someone can take his order of seeds, fertilisers or some thing his requirement.”
The result? AgroStar has been capable of attain 7 Lakh farmers in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, bringing mcommerce to their doorways in the only of methods.
No surprise, Shivku has motives to be hopeful and enthusiastic about the overall effect cloud telephony can create inside the environment. Besides fee savings for large corporations and SMBs, and allowing use instances which were no longer even possible in advance, it additionally has the capacity to have a sizable societal impact. And he's quite gung-ho about it. He concludes,
“Our APIs can be used to create possibility in special methods. Voice and SMS is one of the most effective mediums to attain the masses in a rustic where 60% of the population still lives on a dollar an afternoon. All they've is a characteristic phone and voice is how you may interact with them maximum effectively. So the approaches in which human beings can use cloud telephony is definitely just in their creativeness.”
Given the vulnerability of our underlying telecom infrastructure, intermittent internet coverage, and the extensive disparities in our socio-monetary strata, we couldn't agree extra with Shivku in this. There’s an entire lot of opportunity this is waiting to be dialled in thru the cloud – the question is how startups will leverage it to make viable extra such specific use cases?