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How he plans to build a $100-million company!

Last updated on: October 20, 2010 16:08 IST

Image: Mrigank Tripathi.
Manu A B in Mumbai

If you are looking for specific information on a topic, here's a platform that can offer you expert views. All you need to do is SMS your request to a number and you will receive a call from the expert in a matter of a few hours.

Launched by Mrigank Tripathi Devanshu Pandey and Vivek Khandelwal in March 2009, Voicetap Technologies has turned out to be a success with over 19,000 unique users.

Voicetap Technologies has also been selected as one of the top 10 Nasscom Emerge winners and has been a finalist for Red Herring's Global 100 award, a prestigious list honouring the most promising private technology ventures from around the world.

"The idea struck me when I found my niece struggling to find information for various options that exist for her college admission. It was ironical that in a booming market like India, with 600 million mobile subscribers, one could connect with only 500 of them at any time."

"I realized that a service providing information on a real-time basis could create great value for the customer," says Mrigank.

After working as a management consultant in the Middle East for 13 years, Mrigank Tripathi decided to come back to India to follow his passion of becoming an entrepreneur.

He realized that much could be done and achieved as an entrepreneur in the growing Indian telecom market. Value Added Services (VAS) was the most exciting market to do business as it could connect directly with the mobile users.

Mrigank Tripathi shares his experience as an entrepreneur and how this simple idea can evolve as a preferred medium for information seekers across the globe.

. . . 

How he plans to build a $100-million company!

Image: Voicetap team members with Mrigank (R).
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

After I came back to India, I made up my mind to start my own business. I spent over a year finding out the right business opportunity.

The mobile value-added service (VAS) was a great medium to start off with. Despite a growing number of mobile users, this medium has not been utilised to its full potential.

A lot of information is available but no one knows whom to get in touch with for the right information. I started working on this idea and we were successful in building a seamless platform where users could connect with experts without any hassles.

What was the idea behind starting a company to provide information to people?

The Internet allows everyone to create value for everyone else, be it buying, selling, classifieds, search, mail. . . there is everything a person was looking for in the Internet.

The average earning per Internet user rose from $9 in 1995 to $40 per year in 2000. Any medium can flourish as long as the medium offers some unique value to its users. All the services on the Internet can be replicated in the mobile space in a cost-effective manner.

The basic service of just calls is not sustainable. With voice as the base platform, one needs to offer unique services to build sustainable businesses.

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How he plans to build a $100-million company!

Image: Voicetap website.
What kind of services does Voicetap offer? How does this system work?

With this service, you can talk directly with an expert on any topic of your choice without you having to know the person or his phone number. You can connect to people about investment, education or career queries. For e.g: If you want to do an MBA just send an SMS to 92121 48888 stating MBA or whatever your query is and you will get connected to the available person at that time.

In future, we plan to include information on mandi prices of vegetables, wherein you type the name of the vegetable and send an SMS and you will get the relevant information. We plan to give the prices of the vegetable in 5 different markets.

For any query, you will get a reply with the options of relevant people available to speak with you at that exact moment. In case, no one is available at that time, it will also be informed.

You can then listen to the profiles of people who can help you and talk to them. This service is free of cost.

How many experts work for you?

We have over 900 experts who have joined us on a voluntary basis. They deal with over 2,000 topics. The queries will be answered anytime between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. After the query is answered, the user can rate the service of the expert on the web site.

. . . 

How he plans to build a $100-million company!

Image: Voicetap technology and operations team.
What kind of constraints did you face initially? How much have you invested in this business?

As a start-up, we faced financial constraints. But we pooled in our own savings and found an angel investor as well.

We have invested about Rs 75 lakh (Rs 7.5 million) into the business. It was very difficult to convince people. Family support is very essential. Luckily, my family was very supportive.

I knew I was taking a risk, especially when I had a family and two kids to take care of. My younger son was just two months old when I started this venture. But one has to take risks to succeed. I am happy that we are nearing an operational break even now.

How many people have used Voicetap services so far? How is the response from users?

We have over 19,000 unique users. We get most calls from people seeking advice on education, career, money and health.

Some of them have informed us that the service was extremely useful in making the right career choice and finding the best college too.

What kind of business potential does this sector offer? How do you make money?

With the kind of real time information that we offer, we look forward to bigger business opportunities. We are also in talks with corporates to extend these services. We make money from lead generation.

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How he plans to build a $100-million company!

Image: How the system works.
What kind of challenges do you face now?

Getting the people with the right attitude and passion has been the biggest challenge. Out of the nine people in our team, I have not seen the resumes of seven team members.

What matters to me the most is the attitude of the person rather than how qualified he is. We could not find a suitable person from any of the IIMs to work with us. They still find it difficult to do a sales job if required.

I have an MBA from INSEAD and I have no qualms doing sales if the situation so demands. I always look for a person who has problem-solving capabilities.

Also, in the sector, I feel regulatory changes should take place and there should be a level playing field between mobile operators, VAS providers and content providers.

How important is education for an entrepreneur?

Education gives you the right tools. An MBA degree makes you a good manager but it cannot make you a good entrepreneur. You need to have lot of passion and the right attitude to work to become a successful entrepreneur.

Education can teach you financial techniques and strategy. But entrepreneurship cannot be taught. It is inborn; education may make it easier for you to work. Anyone who is 18 can be an entrepreneur.

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How he plans to build a $100-million company!

Image: Helping information seekers.
What's your target in terms of extending information services across India?

Right now, the service is available to people across India. In the next 5 years, I would like to expand our service to 20 countries with one service or the other. I would also like to expand the scope of value-added service, adding features like search to make it more user-friendly.

How do your evaluate your work so far?

We have done a good job in such a limited time. We were among the 20 finalists in the prestigious Mobile Premier Awards in Innovation, Barcelona. We were one of the finalists for Red Herring's Global 100 award. We were also a finalist at - Mumbai 2009. These recognition in a span of a year is a great achievement.

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How he plans to build a $100-million company!

Image: Offering value addition to mobile users.
How do you like the role of an entrepreneur? Do you think India needs more entrepreneurs?

I enjoy being an entrepreneur. After quitting a well paying job, you have to face several cut backs. You need to have a lot of internal strength to face the challenges.

There is a lot of pressure to generate good results at the same time it's a truly rewarding experience.

India needs many more entrepreneurs. The government should take an active role in encouraging entrepreneurs. The Singapore government offers several incentives for people to become entrepreneurs. A grant goes a long way in helping the entrepreneur translate his ideas into reality.

What are the five most important things an entrepreneur must have to succeed?

An entrepreneur must have perseverance, passion, integrity, ability manage capital and be ready to run the marathon.

What are your company's future plans?

We plan to scale up our operations soon. We also need funding for the next round of expansion. In the next five years, we plan to be a $100 million revenue generating company with presence in 20 countries.

Going by our growth, I am quite confident we can achieve this.