Weekly Startup Profiles > Activ Mobs

Activ Mobs
Who knew there were so many EPL match fans dying to sms at 2 am? With over 6,000 users chatting through 60,000 sms's everyday, Activ Mobs founders are ready for the next stage: to quit their day jobs.

Quick Facts
Entrepreneur : Akshat Choudhary
Age : 25
Company : Activ Mobs
Based in : Bangalore
Founded in : 2005
Industry : IT / Internet / Telecom / BPO

Business Summary

 

Group SMS chat service


The Idea


It was a problem I was having. Say you want to go to a movie with four friends. Which movie? You sms each friend. They start replying - one wants to go to Spiderman, another suggests something else. How do you coordinate? How many sms's do you have to send? It's a hassle. explained Akshat. "I wanted to get us to the movie before it ended!"

Akshat and his team developed a solution: group chat via sms. Activ Mobs enables this function by placing an application between you and the people receiving your message. You send your sms to Activ Mobs addressing the people you want to reach. Activ Mobs forwards it to the right people, and then the replies get funneled back the same way.

The service to the user is free: the user only pays for the sms sent to Activ Mobs.

Group chat via sms was quite a departure, however, from Akshat's original business idea. When they started out, Akshat and his team were trying to help people become more fiscally responsible. Again, the idea stemmed from Akshat's experience: "I was having a problem when I started working. I didn?t know where my money was going. Literally - tracking the spending was a problem." So Akshat designed an instant records keeping application: sms yourself, get the message automatically recorded on a server, and there it is, financial records.

Unfortunately, most people turned out to be less fiscally responsible than Akshat and his team had hoped.

Good thing people like to chat.

The Opportunity


Every person needs this, claims Akshat, "But we are focused on college students." Akshat and his co-founders focus on young people for two reasons. One, they feel that students are "very receptive to new stuff on cell phone." Two, they feel that "all college students are bored - have freer minds. I'm not a psychologist, so don't really know why, but students want to keep in touch with friends all the time. I noticed this about myself when I was a college student."

But students can't afford to spend Rs. 0.30 per sms, explains Akshat - if they wanted to chat with groups, they needed to have a less expensive way to do so. Activ Mobs service is designed as the inexpensive means of two-way group communication.

While sms services is a relatively new industry, Activ Mobs does face competition from the operators, as well as at least a couple of well-funded competitors. Junglee's Rakesh Mathur has started smsgupshup; and Rajesh Jain of Infoworld has started MyToday. Akshat feels that Activ Mobs' service is positioned differently, allowing group chat on the mobile, whereas these two companies enable broadcast to large numbers.

The secret to Activ Mobs' ability to provide such a service essentially free to the users lies in its revenue model. Akshat explains that many companies wish to reach college students. Activ Mobs' is starting to sign up advertisers who pay Activ Mobs for the responses to their ads, which are tacked onto users' messages.

Since the messages come from friends, the ads get read more - and this shows in the response rates. A recent experience resulted in an ad response rate of over 11%, against a typical response rate of only 2% for direct advertising.

The Money


Akshat and his co-founders, Vidit Choudhary and Sidu Ponnappa, are building their company the hard way. Each of them still works full time, and builds Activ Mobs at night and in every spare moment. Activ Mobs is funded out of their salaries.

Now that the service is gaining traction, however, the team is starting to look for outside funding. Funding will allow them to negotiate with the operators, and go all India, as Akshat put it.

The Team


As one might expect in a technology start up, two of the three team members are engineers: Akshat brought in his friend of twelve years, Sidu Ponnappa. Sidu and Akshat have, over the years, won several programming competitions working together. In fact, they placed among the top three teams in the country in the Imagine Cup hosted by Microsoft in 2005.

The business development at the company is led by Akshat's brother, Vidit, currently working with a leading accounting firm.

The Company - today and tomorrow


Five months after launching the sms service, Activ Mobs has a base of over 31,000 users, and no full time employees. Akshat explains that the team knows fewer than 100 of their users personally. "The adoption rate is amazing" he says, "especially as the team has not had any advertising - no marketing at all!"

Each day, about 6,000 daily users send over 60,000 messages. What has surprised Akshat? The usage spike at 2 a.m. "I didn't know there were so many fans of EPL matches!" exclaims Akshat. Currently the team is focused on two things: bringing in more advertisers, and expanding their coverage area beyond Karnataka. Eventually, Activ Mobs sees themselves as an enabling platform for mobile users.

What keeps you awake at night?


Dealing with operators, replies Akshat without hesitation. "They shut us off for three to four days a month or so ago - it really was bad for business," he confesses. "But the opportunity is driving us - it's huge," Akshat concludes with a smile.

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