At some point in time, all of us using mobile phones would have received an SMS immediately after talking to a credit card provider or a taxi service asking us to rate the service provided. “Text feedback to this toll-free number,” the message would read.
This kind of message, in industry parlance is called bulk SMS. As the name suggests, it is often widely used by telcos (telecommunication companies) for their marketing and branding activities.
Just to put this business in perspective, China sent around 62 billion text messages in February. While no study has been done on the number of text messages sent in India, according to industry watchers, in 2014 1 billion SMSes were sent in December , totalling 7.2 billion in the year.
Solutions Infini, a Bengaluru-based company saw an opportunity in this space. Founded by Ashish Agarwal and Aniketh Jain, the start-up believes that there is significant opportunity in this space as companies across the board embrace digital technologies.
The idea for this venture sprang up when Agarwal and Jain were studying at the Bhagwan Mahaveer Jain College in Bengaluru. Interestingly, both Agarwal and Jain hail from a traditional Marwari family business background.
“When we were growing up, it was business all around and knew that we would some day have our own venture,” says Jain. Interestingly, he did not want to take over his father's business and decided to start this venture immediately after graduation.
The company provides SMS-based and IVR solutions that enables the user to provide feedback to the services they have used. For example, after you finish a bank transaction or a taxi ride, one gets an SMS to provide feedback about the service. “We power these services,” says Jain.
The company has around 500 customers in India, which include e-commerce companies Myntra and Jabong, banks like Vijaya Bank and even messenger companies such as WhatsApp and Viber.
Explaining the kind of services that Solutions Infini offers, Jain said that the company assisted Myntra to send 6.4 million customised SMSes across the country in a month's time, of which, 82 per cent were delivered within 1 minute of their termination.
A few months back, the company launched INFINEO, a platform for banks and financial institutions. This solution aims to help banks to build an SMS banking platform and is designed to help customers to select the type of information they wish to receive, according to a company statement. InfiNeo uses Push and Pull messaging to operate SMS banking services.
Push messages are those that the bank chooses to send out to a customer’s mobile phone without the customer having to initiate a request for the information, the statement added.
For example, the bank can send periodic updates on a customer’s available account balance to keep the customer informed. Further, InfiNeo has also enabled banks to carry out information verification procedures. This is the first time ever that such a feature has been launched on a mobile banking platform.
With the Government of India pushing for the acceptance of the UIDAI-issued Aadhaar card as identity proof for financial accounts and as a facilitator of Government-backed financial transactions and benefits, banks have begun a mass-drive to collect customers’ UID numbers and Aadhaar card information.
“The ability to allow financial institutions to carry out promotional and informational campaigns on the same platform can ease pressure on banks to rely on multiple service providers for these purposes,” points out Jain.
The start-up has seen revenue growth at a decent clip. Currently, it has a turnover of Rs 56 crore and has plans to almost triple this to Rs 150 crore by the end of the 2016 financial year.
“We are growing at a good pace and this is largely driven by companies adopting our solutions,” avers Jain. When asked whether new age messaging services like WhatsApp and Hike were eating into the SMS marketshare, Jain points out that the company counts Viber as one of its clients, which is indicative of the fact that their solutions are not restricted to SMSes alone.
Asked about plans to raise funding, Jain says that they are still cash positive and look to grow the business some more before any raising any capital. With the growth, Solutions Infini plans to set up offices in the US, UK and West and East Asia. The company is self-funded and has no plans to raise any funding as it is currently profitable. It has around 110 employees, which include software engineers and sales personnel.
He admits that in the initial phase hiring talent was a huge challenge, followed by statutory compliance and managing people. Now, however, he points to a different set of challenges such as achieving scale, growing in a non-linear manner and value addition in a business that is highly commoditised.
“The way of the future would be IVR that can understand your voice. We are working on that,” he says. While focusing on these technologies is the way to differentiate, it involves a lot of capex - both from tech and talent perspective, something the company is grappling with at the moment.
The start-up is targeting business from around 12-14 billion SMSes this year. While the business in theory has good potential, government regulations and consumer ire against constant spamming can be party poopers. For example, last year, when the Babri Masjid verdict was being announced, the government blocked bulk SMSes for almost a week.
Such disruptions can impact the company’s business. Like most businesses, the road ahead is rocky but Solution Infini’s future could very well hinge on large tech spends for which they would need deep pockets.