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How this startup simplifies law for the common man!

Last updated on: October 20, 2010 11:55 IST

How this startup simplifies law for the common man!

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Puja Banta in Mumbai


Ankur Singla was happily working with Linklaters LLP, London, which is the second largest corporate law firm in the world, when all of a sudden the entrepreneurial bug bit him.

He quit his lucrative job in May 2009 and came back to India with the aim of starting a venture to help the common man deal with day-to-day legal problems. He knew that there was a lot that could be done in this space in the country.

After consulting his mentors, other entrepreneurs and some clients, he started Akosha (www.akosha.in), an Internet-based company that helps people tackle consumer complaints, rental agreements and other such documents, as well as draft their last will and testaments from the comfort of their homes.

In an interview with Rediff.com, Singla explains the concept of Akosha and talks about how approaching consumer forums in the right manner can help redress many wrongs that we otherwise quietly accept in our daily lives.

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Image: Ankur Singla, founder, Akosha.
Photographs: Courtesy, Akosha.in
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What is Akosha and how did the idea come about?

Akosha means to unravel things -- to take the layers off something.

In our case the name means to take the complexity out of the legal system and make it simpler for the commoner.

In countries like the United States, this concept has existed for more than 10 years. There are companies that help people save time and money over common legal matters.

I realised that in India such a concept is really needed because there are no sources of easy-to-understand legal information about everyday issues.

How do you define a consumer and in what kind of cases can a consumer seek help from you?

A consumer is any person who pays money to buy a product or a service. If you, as a consumer, are unhappy with the product or service, you can file a consumer complaint against the product company or the service provider under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

The Act protects consumers from exploitation by the manufacturers, traders and sub-standard or adulterated goods companies or deficient service providers.

The law has a very wide ambit: housing, banking, telecom, white goods manufacturers, professionals such as doctors, lawyers and chartered accountants are all covered.

We at Akosha, help you in filing this complaint at a nominal fee of Rs 500-1,000.

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Image: Ankur with his team at Akosha.

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Please tell us about some consumer complaint cases Akosha has handled.

Rintu Thomas, a Delhi-based documentary film-maker, approached a diagnostic centre for an ultrasound of her father's kidney and prostrate enlargement.

They were told that there was 7mm 'kidney stone' present in his body, and since it was highly dangerous, they should immediately go in for surgery costing around Rs 75,000.

However, thankfully, they sought a second opinion from another reputed hospital and they were told that there was no stone at all in the ultrasound provided by the earlier diagnostic centre.

The unnecessary surgery was averted and the family was relieved. The family then approached us to send a consumer notice to the diagnostic centre for medical negligence and deficient service since this matter is covered under the Consumer Protection Act.

Another complaint was from Rohit Mehrotra,a car owner who went to a shopping mall in Mumbai, parked the car at the basement parking area of the mall and after four hours when he returned he was shocked to see that the whole car parking was flooded with rain water and his car was totally submerged.

The water entered the car and completely damaged the interiors, including seats, dashboard, gearbox, etc, and also damaged external car parts, including the engine.

A total sum of Rs 125,000 was spent to get the car repaired and to bring it back in its workable condition. Again such a situation is covered by the Consumer Protection Act.

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What has been the response to the consumer complaints filed with the help of Akosha so far?

In our experience, it is a very good idea to send a letter (notice) to the company you want to complain against. We usually specify a 15-day period in the notice for the other party to respond, and then move a consumer forum. It is a very effective method for dealing with deficient service providers/ product companies.

We have seen them change their attitude and behave differently once they receive a notice; often some form of compromise is arrived at. Even later at the consumer forum level, a clear notice shows good intention on your part and puts the facts straight for the consumer forum judge to see.

Almost three out of four matters get resolved just by sending out a notice. For the rest, you will need to approach the appropriate authority depending on the amount of claim involved. It can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to get the matter resolved.

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What about drafting the last will and testaments? What is the response to this service?

Our target audience for the will products is between 40-60 years, both male and female Indians/NRIs who use the Internet. We are offering a service whereby the consumer can answer a few simple questions and get his/her will prepared while sitting in the comfort of their homes at a much lower fees than what an average lawyer charges.

This service is very popular as these days people have started understanding the importance of making a will. In many cases we have children approach us for helping their parents draft a will.

What other types of documents do you help people draft?

Besides consumer complaints and wills, we also help with documents like rental agreements. Since a rental agreement is the source of rights and duties of the landlord and the tenant towards each other, it is extremely important that the document bears the correct information.

With our easy to use format, people can avoid the hassle of dealing with a real estate agent.

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What were the challenges of starting a business from the ground up?

Apart from the mental challenges like -- 'Am I in the right market, is India ready for this' -- I faced several practical challenges.

Finding the right people to join your team and finding the right set of mentors was a real challenge. In a startup the contribution of each team member is really important.

Another challenge was trying to supervise my technical team on product development. I realised that there was no other way but to get my hands dirty and understand all the technical aspects of what I'm doing.

What are you plans for the future?

We intend to focus on our two core products for now -- wills and consumer complaints. We need to build upon our technology back-end and ensure excellent service levels for a larger user base.

We are right now looking to consolidate and remain close to the customers and see what they need. Directions for any further expansion will have to come from the customers themselves.

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Based on your experience, what advice would you like to give to budding entrepreneurs?

You will need to get your hands dirty in all aspects of your business. So if you don't understand technology, better learn. Same goes for marketing, operations, etc.

Share your idea with other people. Your idea is likely to change and evolve into a better idea if you keep talking to people. Don't be scared that someone will run away with your idea. No one has your passion, domain knowledge and the time to do that.

Keep an eye on your finances. Cash flow is more important than profits in the initial days of a startup.



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