/ Kolkata

The very first year of a Kolkata Startup

Saale yehi clear hote hote mahino beet gaye ke "Ye Startup hai kya"

Jokes apart, the year started with loads of hope, enthusiasm and zeal, the very same way a student starts his first year in his college. There was still some amount left in bank with no knowledge how long it can keep us alive. The rosy dream was truly near, as it seemed.

The time when I am writing this blog, the situation has become a bit more real. Yes, I still feel proud that we could at least start which lot of people dream but cannot materialize. But just starting up is not enough.

When excuses like "come on, we are first generation entrepreneurs!" OR "we started from a business-unfriendly zone like Kolkata" are not enough to justify what you did last year, you start believing that something is still missing. Question arises inside you - what did you do throughout this huge time 365 days == 8760 hours ? You can still count the number of beer glasses you lifted OR shared a joint with your friends last year. You ignored your friends, family, leisure and everything other than nurturing this baby. What did you really do last year?

Eyezon - the idea was born slightly before the year started. The product was designed to help buyers explore prices from online sources as well as offline brick and mortar stores.

But what is new in that? There are some other players who let people explore offline prices. But in those cases it becomes difficult for local stores to update prices every time. We thought why don't we make it realtime, on-demand and inventory-less for the offline shops. Wouldn't it be really useful if the offline prices are presented in the same comparison view with the online prices - our assumption said. We are also hopeful that a pretty amount of value can be added by notifying buyers when the price drops anywhere especially in offline stores which nobody provides. So it began.

Image: Because people still love local shopping (clicked during street campaigns)

Getting selected in Nasscom Startup Warehouse (Kolkata) was a very strong push to our hypothesis. The super cool office space, free coffee, internet - the nasscom journey started with a bang on Jan 8, 2016.

Image: Nasscom startup warehouse

Very soon we got our very first team players. March 7 is the day when we planned to go live with our android app. We missed the first deadline. We missed the second too - March 13. We missed the third too - April 7. We missed the fourth too - April 23. Finally, the app was gone live on May 2, 2016. By then we already spent 4 long months in the warehouse and already 2 months behind the planned schedule of app launch.

Image: The first ever offer letter is being signed

In the meantime the seller app of Eyezon had launched and we managed to on-board first few electronic good sellers of Kolkata. The first seller who agreed to work with us was Shree shyam Enterprise - a laptop seller from saltlake.

Image: Fun moment

Days passed, it was already hot and humid summer of Kolkata. Our champ team members used to be on the street every day, to on board more sellers into the system and also to acquire users by making them understand the usefulness of Eyezon. At the end of May we had nearly 40 local sellers on-boarded and 300 app installs in the play store. And a few people also started using LIVE BUZZ to explore offline prices.

Live Buzz app screenshot

Image: Electronic goods seller list in Chandni Chawk area (collected manually during survey)

In June we started creating doodles for the memorable events and started displaying them on the landing page of the app. Users quite liked it and the overall user engagement got slightly better. But not much; June ended with another 400 installs and some more on-boarded sellers.

Image: Some Eyezon app doodles

The next month (July) passed with similar trends - few bug fixing in the user app, (a lot of) bug fixing in the seller app, UI improvement in the both apps and approaching users on the street. But the outcomes were not satisfactory - slow user growth and very less engagement were making shop owners reluctant to spend time on Eyezon app. Though we weren't charging a single penny, they didn't find it very exciting as it seemed earlier.

To attract more users to the platform and keep them engaged, we launched our website with limited features. This made us exposed to whole India as another price comparison website.

Within another few days we launched our official Eyezon Olio blog to complement the website and engage more users. Apart from publishing articles on new trends in electronics products, each Sunday, we started featuring an innovative but less popular startup in the blog. The initiative was named as Sunday Startup Stories. The whole userbase of Eyezon used to be notified when a new article is live on Sunday Startup Story.

The combination of website and blog gave us a hike on alexa ranking and some affiliate sales started happening through the website.

To complement online presence, we planned a series of rigorous street campaigns since the real focus of Eyezon is to ease offline price discovery. The pilot city audience, Kolkata’s Junta, have to accept us before we scale up.

On the feet, On the street campaigns were all about roaming in the public gathering places, hangout places, interacting with potential users, distributing pamphlets / small gifts and finally making people aware about Eyezon.

Following is the highlights of the campaign series happened in the streets of Kolkata.

  • Sweet campaign 1000 chocolates distributed with a message and download link. target audience: IT / BPO employee, result: 30 downloads
  • First phase of street campaign @ Chandni Chawk, kolkata pamphlets distributed, peoples were educated about the value propositions target audience: IT employee, hotel management/ engg students result: upto 50 downloads / day,
  • Second phase of street campaign @ sector V, kolkata target audience: IT employee, hotel management/ engg students result: 80 downloads / day
  • Third phase of street campaign @ sector V - Games were played and prizes distributed on app download. target audience: IT / BPO employee result: upto 172 downloads / day

Image: Sec V campaign blueprint

All these street campaigns can be summarised to the following numbers

  • 15 persons involved directly or indirectly as campaigner
  • 1000 person-hours spent
  • 3000 peoples were directly talked
  • 300 electronic goods buying pattern surveyed
  • 60000 paper pamphlets distributed
  • 2000 chocolates distributed
  • 100 sponsored gifts distributed

Here are some snaps from our facebook page.

> Image: Some fun

Image: Prismafied moments

All this ended up with total of 3000 App installs and a handful of engagements. The repeat user rate was still very low.

It was October, 2016. 10 months passed since we entered Nasscom Startup Warehouse and 5 months passed since we launched the app. In the meantime, we had approached several investors. Most of them admired the usefulness of the product and the robust technology behind it but no one was convinced about the revenue model. We also started questioning ourselves - what's going wrong?

Then the most unprecedented thing of the year happened.
On Nov 12, we started a referral program on Eyezon app download. One could redeem points as Paytm coupons on referring the app to others. First few days after launching the program were fruitless. We thought it had failed.

Morning of Nov 18, we saw a huge surge in app downloads, nearly 1300 app installs happened in the morning itself!! Also we started getting numerous calls from the users since they weren't able to redeem the referral points. Our facebook page was also started flooding with messages. The whole team was called in the war zone for disaster management. More than 500 phone calls were replied and more than 2000 messages were replied in three consecutive days. There were 6000 app installs in those three days, twice as we did in last 6 months.

Though the event created some noise, though alexa rank of eyezon.in up-travelled to reach 27,000 from 1,50,000, this is not what we intended to happen. The downloads came from all over the India though the LIVE BUZZ feature is not available outside Kolkata. So even this noise could not increase the overall engagement.

Wait! it is only November, one more eventful months to go before 2016 ends. On 4th of December, our official Eyezon Olio blog got hacked and the hackers erased the database. There were about 40 blogs written about innovative startups and trends on electronics products.
(The articles in the current blog you are seeing now is partially recovered from google cached pages)

At the end of an eventful year when we ask ourselves Why the situation is not in FOR us?, there comes a hell lot of self criticisms. It becomes more difficult to analyze why a series of actions didn't bring expected results than actually performing those actions.

After loads of analysis and brainstorming I ended up here:

  • Less research before starting Is there a need in the market? Is there enough room in the market to pull revenues? What is the core target market ? how they can be reached cost effectively ? These questions should have been answered in very early days.
  • Project execution & timeline deadlines, plans were not followed properly. Plan changes while executing a plan happened lots of times. We should have stuck to short term plans disallowing any track change during its execution.
  • Lack of vision in revenue model
  • Expenditures were not done in optimum way
  • Lack of emphasis on travel and connection building
  • Brand - Product gap The USP is not portrayed in a very simple way in the public channels - facebook / youtube / playstore / website / mailers / blogs / printed signages. Whereas ideally the USP of the product should be presented in a cohesive manner in different channels.

Achievements for which we are really proud of

  • A highly sophisticated flight price crawling engine to crawl four major flight booking website (makemytrip, cleartrip, goibibo, yatra)
  • A product price crawling engine (comparatively simpler)
  • A machine learning based model for product matching (a prototype version)
  • A realtime communication platform called live buzz. A opensource version of the library will be released in 2017.

Finally some memorable snaps.

People say, don't waste a good mistake, learn from it. Last year was awesome for us, at least we did some good mistakes. May the new year brings new opportunities to apply our past learning and also to commit some good mistakes. What say? Add your thoughts / suggestions in the commentbox.