STARTUPS
Using cloud to connect customers
Practical hurdle: CEO Ganesan says that there still are venture capital firms that are neither interested in nor understand companies such as Exotel. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Practical hurdle: CEO Ganesan says that there still are venture capital firms that are neither interested in nor understand companies such as Exotel. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

It was 2009. A young entrepreneur, Shivakumar Ganesan, was looking to solve the problem of high volume of calls and texts from customers at his start-up Roopit. If a company advertised a number for operations, it had to have the ability to receive multiple calls at the same time. Working from his makeshift office in a friend’s house, he encountered all sorts of problems with cloud computing and connectivity.

Ganesan was formerly employed with Yahoo but being in a job was not his calling—he wanted to be an entrepreneur and was inspired by his friends who worked in start-ups.

Vijay Sharma, an early employee of doctor discovery platform Practo Technologies Pvt. Ltd, refers to Ganesan as a “hacker from birth” and says that Ganesan wanted two things—data on calls (how many and from where) and how he could track the calls that he missed.

To address problems such as these, Ganesan, along with Sharma, Siddharth Ramesh and Ishwar Sridharan, launched Exotel in 2009 with the aim of helping big brands manage customer calls while ensuring data privacy.

Ganesan is now the CEO of Exotel, while Sharma has left the firm.

Exotel has provided technology for cab aggregator companies, as their main goal is to ensure that customer’s phone numbers are not shared with drivers. The model they work with is that the driver calls into a cloud and then it is connected to the customer, thereby limiting the number of parties the information is shared with. Ola, Uber and Meru are Exotel customers, as are e-commerce companies such as Flipkart, Quikr, Swiggy and Grofers.

Five years on, the company boasts of over three million calls served everyday and touched 85 million users in India last year.

Exotel is nominated for the mBillionth Award South Asia 2016, organized by the Digital Empowerment Foundation.

Challenges

There were plenty of challenges in setting up Exotel. “The technology itself was new. It took a little bit of time for consumers to understand. Even the government took a little time to wrap their head around what we are trying to do,” says Ganesan. He challenged the existing perception about the concept of cloud telephony, which was not very well understood. Contrary to claims that cloud telephony would reduce revenues, calls now routed through a third party lead to revenues. Ganesan explains with an example. He says that a cab service provider would call up the customer directly. But now the service provider phone call is redirected through a cloud which then calls the customer, thereby ensuring that the customer’s details are secure and cannot be misused.

To start with, there was no funding. Ganesan says that there still are venture capital firms that are neither interested in nor understand companies such as Exotel. But the start-up raised its seed funding from Blume Ventures and Mumbai Angels in March 2012.

Exotel employs 100 people and now faces a new challenge: that of retaining in-house talent. Ganesan says that he has to help his colleagues see the point of what the company is trying to do.

Digital advantage

Ganesan says that the most significant benefit of the Exotel technology is the ability to protect privacy. With more parties involved in a single transaction, he says, privacy becomes key.

Ganesan says that the Exotel technology has also helped increase delivery efficiency for companies such as Flipkart. Delivery personnel, who used to call from a sim-card earlier and were reimbursed later, now use the cloud to call, which has resulted in savings for the e-commerce companies.

Looking forward

Ganesan says India spends around Rs.40,000 crore on enterprise communication, according to data from Tata Telecommunications. This involves telemarketing, call centres and conferencing on the cloud.

Ganesan says that large enterprises of the past will not be the same in the future, due to change in business models.

He says that companies today have to upgrade to cloud to handle the large volume of calls to respond and maintain customer relations and cannot depend on call-centres, which were used by companies 10 years ago.

With opportunities opening up in South East Asia, Exotel has made investments of $10 million in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. The team is now exploring markets such as China and Latin America. He says that 70% of the world lives in places where Voice over Internet Protocol is restricted, which presents a large opportunity to cloud telephony.

Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.

[“Source-Livemint”]

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