Building the No.1 Keyboard in the World
How to Scale a Content Tech Startup? If Content is king, then it must probably easy to scale a content tech startup by pumping in more content. But therein lies the irony. Content may be king but content is expensive to create. No wonder, lots of tech companies try to overcome this by focusing on User Generated Content or UGC as it is commonly called.
Scaling Thru User Expression
However, seeding UGC is as tough or even more tougher than content creation. This involves both time and money. So, how to scale a content tech start-up then if Content creation is Expensive or UGC is a tough nut to crack? The answer perhaps lies in looking into how users express themselves.
India may be the second most populous nation in the World but it ranks number one in terms of variety of languages. Unofficial numbers put number of languages in excess of 2800+ but the Indian Constitution officially recognizes 15 Indian Languages. An Indian Currency Note has 17 languages after including Hindi and English.
Rahul Prasad joined Brother Ankit and built Bobble, a keyboard company that helps Indian users express themselves in Indic languages using their key board. Bobble today has millions of users and thru their recent partnership with Xiaomi, will be loaded onto 30 Million Xiaomi devices but that is not how it all began. Rahul and Ankit want to make it The No.1 Keyboard in the World
How it all Began
The concept of working with large MNCs fascinated Rahul Prasad. He worked with MNCs and built tech projects for other companies. Seeing his younger brother Ankit raise money to build a company at concept stage, blew him away. He stopped working and moved in with his brother. Together, they launched Touch Talent – A Social Network for the Creative and Artisanal types.
Cracking the Scale Equation
Touch Talent was ahead of its time. While Facebook had launched in India and had gained a big usership, internet penetration was too low. The fact that this network was niche network meant that it was going to be tough to scale. Rahul and Ankit wrestled with the question of usage and scale. Since they had created a network for the creative types, they hit upon the idea of avatar creation. Users could create a graphic avatar of themselves after uploading a picture. This turned out to be a big hit and went viral.
While this might not sound trivial, Avatars are a big deal. Before Myspace and eventually Facebook took over our lives, Avatars were a big thing on platforms such as Second Life. Avatars are mainstream today and integrated into marketing methods. As this 2006 article from Harvard Business Review suggests, Avatar Marketing is a thing.
Once Avatars took off, Bobble went thru a series of ups and downs. Today, Rahul and Ankit have set their sights on making Bobble The Number 1 Keyboard in the World. This is Rahul’s side of the story
Here are some excerpts from the episode:
At the same time Ankit, my younger brother was in IIT Delhi. He was working on the concept of getting funding to build the company. This was totally new to me.05:03 Rahul Prasad
I wondered – What is this thing? How can someone with just a proof of concept can get such a great amount of funding and create a large company?05:18 Rahul Prasad
So what we did was, we thought why not make 98% of them creative. So we came up with this concept of avatar making. It’s a simple concept where you take your photograph, and it’s converted into an avatar that we want to we wanted to make everyone creative. And the concept that we created, it became viral. And this is how Bobble was formed. So that’s the journey till Bobble.07:01 Rahul Prasad
So you were the King of the command line interface so to speak.09:23 Krishna Jonnakadla
I was always looking for something. When you are a hero, you have to wait, you have to be ahead of the curve, because you have to know more than what others know. That way, you can be in that position forever.11:28 Rahul Prasad
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Krishna Jonnakadla on Twitter @kjonnakadla
Follow Rahul Prasad on Twitter @therahulprasad
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user, keyboard, people, sticker, create, bobble, growth, pivot, features, funding, build, india, platform, fact, conversation, working, hacks, indic, creative, wanted
Tania Jadhav, Krishna Jonnakadla, Rahul Prasad
Krishna Jonnakadla 00:01
This is Maharajas of scale, a podcast where we go behind the scenes and talk to founders or demolishing the myths around building and scaling a big business in India. These are the stories that have shattered the assumptions around Indian consumers and changing the game completely. I am Krishna Jonnakadla, serial entrepreneur, co founder of Flit the fashion locator in town and Startup mentor bringing you these stories. Hey, listeners, this is Krishna, your host from Maharajas of scale. And today we have an exciting CTO, who is founded a startup and I will come to that in a second, who's changing the world of what he calls as Conversation media, in the world of social media is full of imagery and content. But at the core of all of this are conversations or is a conversation between people. Now the wonderful thing about conversations are that conversations can happen in a variety of languages. Although the code on the internet respond possibly written in English, but all humans don't speak English. But we do speak our own languages and enabling those Indic languages to join the mainstream. In fact, the other way the English upstream to join the mainstream of Indic languages to conversation media, is what Rahul is in fact transforming Rahul Prasad of Bobble AI is with us today. Bobble has touched millions of people. And Rahul is here to share his story with us. Rahul, welcome to the show.
Rahul Prasad 01:33
Thanks for inviting me, you have very accurately defined what we are working on. Thanks. So that we will be talking with more about this later on in the podcast.
Krishna Jonnakadla 01:44
Wonderful. So tell us a little bit about yourself. And what are you working on right now?
Rahul Prasad 01:50
I am from Jamshedpur, Jharkhand. And in fact, after COVID, we are have come back to my hometown after a long time. So I did my schooling over there. Then I went to a college, which is not well known to everyone, it's Sikkim manipal Institute of Technology. And then I did jobs in multiple MNCs and later on with Ankit, my younger brother, we founded a company called touch talent. And from there we pivoted multiple times. Then we came to this place where we are right now, the Bobble AI technologies. We are building the world's first conversation media platform. And it's big. It's it's proven and it's needed.
Krishna Jonnakadla 02:40
Wonderful. Talk to us a little bit about what Touch talent was about and what prompted you to start Touch Talent.
Rahul Prasad 02:48
Before I start with Touch Talent, I would like to tell you about what I used to do earlier. But when I was a kid I saw there was .com boom. And I saw that HTML, CSS. These are some of the things that I could learn. I learned all those things in school and I started creating websites for some of the SMEs. And these SMEs, I used to sell the website at at some cost, and I used to get my pocket money from them. And this is how I started my journey of doing business. When I went to college, I still continued that. And I was I didn't have to ask money from my father. And I completed by college doing the same business. And when I graduated, after graduating, I wanted to gain some more experience. Like I wanted to see how a beautiful company's experience looks like I wanted to see how an MNC experience looks like. And I wanted to see what in startup experience look like. I experimented with all the things because I just didn't wanted to get into one job. I just wanted to see it all and then decide what I wanted. In all the companies I have worked on. I believed I like the startup experience much, much more than what is there in other companies. We used to work all the time. It was it was it was exciting as well as challenging. We used to work from day and night. And that's the journey. That's that's the experience I like the most. And while I was doing that I had a I had my own company, which I used to fund at night. So whatever salary I used to get, I used to invest in the company, it was a service. It was a service based company. And I saw that the company that I was working on was not growing at the scale that I wanted to wanted it to. Maybe because I was not able to invest hundred percent of my time at that time. But it grew to a good 10-15 employees company. It was a service based company. We used to do the same thing making web applications and websites for other companies. And what at the same time Ankit was in IIT Delhi. And as my young, younger brother, he, he, he was working on the concept of getting fund to build the company. And this was totally new to me how what is this thing that how can some company with the, with just a proof of concept can get such a great amount of fund and, and create a large company. So, I was very fascinated with this concept. So what I did was I closed everything down, and then I moved with Ankit to Delhi. So we used to share a small apartment, we used to work together and we built touchtalent.com. Touch talent, at that time was social networking, social networking company, it was a social networking company for creative people. For example, if you are a poet, or if you're an artist, if you're a painter, you could go ahead and upload your art or your creativity into the website, touchtalent.com and you can that you could network around that you could come in, you can like dislike all the social networking things features were there in the touchtalent.com. So that was the first thing that we we built, we got funded for that. And that, that, I realized that it's a very niche community that creative people, only 2% of the people are professionally creative, and out of them very, at that time around 2011-12. At that time, not many such people were technologically advanced, they were not able to use the product properly. And it was very difficult to gain the daily active user that we wanted to gain, it was very difficult to expand exponentially. So what we did was, we thought why not make that 98% of them creative. So we came up with this concept of avatar making. It's a simple concept where you take your photograph, and it's converted into an avatar that we want to we wanted to make everyone creative. And the concept that we created, it became viral. And this is how Bobble was formed. So that's the journey till Bobble.
Krishna Jonnakadla 07:30
Rahul Prasad 07:31
So you asked, you asked about Touch talent and I kind of told everything.
Krishna Jonnakadla 07:37
Very interesting. So let's go back to the beginnings a little bit then. I wanted to touch upon that in a little while, but I'm glad you kick that off. So coming from Jamshedpur, which is in fact one of India's best towns. And there is a whole history for Jamshedpur itself the way Tiscon Tata Steel, he built up the town and there is almost nothing existed. So coming from that town, what inspired you to get into computers? What was it just a love of technology? And what was that that drove you? Was it pocket money? Or was it the ability to be independent? Talk to us about that part.
Rahul Prasad 08:20
It's a funny story. It's a very funny story. So before Jamshedpur, I was in a even smaller town, it's called Chaibasa. It's 60 kilometers from it. It's like a, it's like a village. And my father and our family, we had a joint family over there. And we used to run a computer education program to the village people. And I saw computer over there. And I started learning it. So it was not, it was I was not very much fascinated about that. But I just used to love the love to play Mario and other games over there. And I knew using DOS how to how to move to a folder, how to copy a folder or how to start the game. Very basic things about DOS. I used to know about that. But when we moved to Jamshedpur, so computer then Windows 95 came and Windows 98 came. And all those things were very, very much famous, but nobody used to know about DOS, and I was the one who you should know about dos. So in the class, I was like a hero I use. Everyone used to think that he is the person who knows computer very well and that that motivation that everyone is looking up to me that I have and I am something who knows a lot of computer motivated me to learn more and more. And this is how I got into computer. So I've when I started learning I saw particular opportunities of creating a website selling a website that came later before this. It was just this funny story that made me get and get interested on computers.
Krishna Jonnakadla 09:23
So you were the King of the command line interface so to speak.
Rahul Prasad 10:05
Not exactly but Okay, in my school.
Krishna Jonnakadla 10:12
Yeah, I, I don't know if some of our listeners will understand the command line interface, because dos is a lot of coding still is command line interface, although a lot of it has been automated, there are libraries available now, right?
Rahul Prasad 10:26
Most most of us like that. The developers who are like, very in very much into coding, they like command line interface. I still used to love command line interface, I can automate a lot of things using command lines, which cannot be them using Graphical User interface. Right, right. Yeah, I think they both have their, you know, pluses and minuses. If you are if you are building something predominantly visual. For instance, when you are building a page that has to be visually appealing, it is far more easier to move blocks around. But as opposed to that, if you're writing a program that's going to automate certain tasks, they have their own nuances. So that's how you got. So was it a passion? And that little bit of what can I say, celebrity-dom that you enjoyed at school looks like that has eventually channeled itself into you being an entrepreneur? How did your fast How did you evolve from fascination with DOS to actually building stuff for others. So I was always looking for something. So when you are a hero, you have to wait, you have to be ahead of the curve, because you have to know more than what others know. So that you can be in that position forever. So I always use to find new things so that I can prove that I am the one who knows much more than others. So this is what made me learn more and more. So I used to. So HTML, CSS, those things were not like at that time, it was just introduced in our courses. But nobody used to know like, you can create a website, but how will you post it? How will you have your own.com? How will you have like rahulprasad.com, something like that. So I used to research more about that. And just just, it just motivated me to be on the edge of the curve, to learn more. And that's that's how I kept myself motivated. And that's how I learned how to create website. And then when everybody was learning about website, I used to learn about how to create web applications, all those things.
Krishna Jonnakadla 12:29
Interesting. So did you find your own education, through your own your money?
Rahul Prasad 12:34
You can say say that because I was the one who, who paid the loan after I got the job. In fact, everybody does that. Everyone is like, takes the loan then pays the loan once you get the job. So this is how I funded my education.
Krishna Jonnakadla 12:51
Well, what I meant was, since you said you've been building, you had been building websites for quite some time around college as well. I was wondering if you were funding your college back then.
Rahul Prasad 13:02
Yeah we used to spend it all.
Krishna Jonnakadla 13:03
The funny thing is, in In my case, we had a situation. My father is an engineer, and my father, my uncle was my father's brother is actually a doctor and my family's family of professionals. And it cost a decent amount of money around the time I had to choose what to what to educate myself in or what to choose as my educational stream. And my father told me, there are you know, you're somebody who's wanted to always trod a different path and tread a different path, or do you want to be an engineer or medico because that is something that a lot of people choose. And maybe you're better off doing something else. The the other side of that story was, if I chosen to be a doctor or an engineer, my father didn't have the ability to pay for either of them without getting into deep debt. So I chose to pursue my CA. So I'm a chartered accountant. And you pay you get paid a stipend. And I funded for all of my education through my stipend. So I couldn't trouble my father. In fact, he was already burdened back then with other things. So that's exactly where I was going. So that's awesome. So then talk to us about that experimentation. I love what you said. In fact, there is this commonly held notion that, for instance, there are enough case studies. And we have Malcolm Gladwell who talks about the 10,000 hour concept where you dedicate yourself to something put in 10,000 hours and you actually become a pro at it. So the whole notion in the US for instance, you have reading and math schools called Kumon.There are a variety of them. So kids, especially the ones that are of Chinese descent, are sent to Kumon, because they are taught from a very young age that they have to be good at reading, they have to be good at math, so they have to be fiercely competitive. And that sort of thought process also follows into a lot of other things that they do. If they want to be a violinist later in their life, they are made to go through that. And a common example that is cited about that is Tiger Woods, whose father was a golfer, but not a golfer who's as accomplished as Tiger Woods. And apparently, one day in the garage when Tiger Woods was four years old, he picked up a golf club, and hit a straight perfect putting shot. And there is enough to show that there is a book called Tiger traits, and there are a bunch of them. So there's one set of you know, knowledge that says you have to start this much earlier. And another set, there is now contradictory evidence that has come out and said, You have to develop a range an a fount head or a big example of that is Roger Federer, Roger Federer, is not exceptionally trained athlete. And in fact, much later, he picked up tennis only much later in his adult life. So you have contrast, I personally look at it as human beings come in all shapes and sizes. And we all have our own success paths. But looks like you sort of taken the range approach or let me look at a thali of options. And then in that, let me see what's the dish? Let me sample each one of them. And let me see what's the dish that I liked the most, and then dive deep. So talk to us about that experimental phase a little more.
Rahul Prasad 13:14
I that's not an experimental phase that I have been doing right now as well. So whenever I get one of them, I always see for multiple options that I cannot just take one often I must have mult, at least two of them, so that I can choose if if I'm given one option I have, I have to go and find other options myself. So that is why that is what I'm still doing. I think yeah, it's just that you accurately said that humans come in different shapes. And obviously something works for someone, something else works for someone else. So for me, what works is my curiosity, that I am always curious about what's happening around and how is this this is, is this the only way of doing stuff or there are other ways that can that it can be done as well. And this is one more thing that I always keep in mind that I have to just make sure that everything is ready at any point of time. So whenever I develop anything, or whenever I'm working on something, so I I never plan it in such a way that it's a large project. So it's going to take six months, then I'm going to deliver it after six months. So I always make it in such a way that after every one month there should be a deliverable. So I should be ready at any point of time. So that is the funder that I believe in. And this this is what I would like to say about the topic.
Krishna Jonnakadla 18:12
Interesting. And in any in that phase, you mentioned you wanted to get exposure to a job. What was this? And you also mentioned about this one company that got funded? Can you elaborate on that a little more? And what fascinated you about that funding?
Rahul Prasad 18:27
Okay, the, the company I was talking about that got funded is it's our company the, the Touch talent I was talking about. Okay, so that was fascinating to both the fact that How can this happen that I was moved into the service space industry that you get me the job, I'll complete the job, and the and I'll keep the profit. So it's very difficult to scale that kind of services. For example, if I build a website, I have something if I build 10 website, I'll earn 10 times that, right. But then also, I'll have to employ a few more people for that. So this is the further I used to know that this is how companies are formed. So you earn profit, you invest the profit back into the company, and you grow. And this is what exactly I was doing. But then I saw that Ankit is working on a new concept to get funding and, and and to build the company around the funding. So so you build a proof of concept, you get the fund and then you build the whole product. And then you scale. So there's a funding for every round you there's a first seed funding for proof of concept. There's the series A for for growth, there's another round if you want to go for revenue. So this I was very much fascinated with this concept. So that's why I left whatever I was working on and then I came to Delhi and joined hands with Ankit and started.
Krishna Jonnakadla 19:55
Awesome. So Touchtalent was you talked about a series of pivots that you did and go into detail views. And it sounds like an interesting thing. There is one. One thing in the world today, for instance, there are a lot of visual platforms. Video, while we have YouTube and the likes of Tick Tock. For video, you have Instagram and the likes of Instagram for imagery and short videos as well. So it's easy for visual arts to actually find an outlet. But when it comes to there are a lot of other artists as well. Right? So, so touched talent should have actually were you too early. So talk about that journey, and then go a little deeper. I know you touched upon it briefly go a little deeper. What are the things that work? What are the things that didn't work? And for each of the pivots that you did, what were the what what is it that you looked at? And why did you do the pivot that you did?
Rahul Prasad 20:54
Okay, in Touchtalent, we only did one pivot, and we reverted to Bobble, and most of the pivots are in Bobble. So I'll talk much more about that in some time. Let's first talk about Touchtalent. So as I said, very less people are professionally creative, others and creative, but they do not post it. And they're not like I if I'm creative, I'm going to post it in my in a social media. This, this was the story at that time, right now you can see multiple people posting what they are creating in YouTube channel, posting what they're creating in Instagram, there are multiple social media, but they are doing so. But at that time, none of this was there. And we wanted to be the platform, which where users where people can do that. Maybe we were ahead of the time at that time. Because internet connections was not that good enough. And people were not that tech savvy phones were still not that good enough. So maybe we were ahead of the time. But then we realized this. And we knew that this is not scaling up at the rate that we wanted to scale up. We wanted everyone to use Touchtalent.com. But how can we make everyone creative? How can we make How can we change the behavior of everyone. So that is what we wanted to do. And for that we pivoted, we pivoted once to make everyone creative. And that pivot is Bobble, that we were just the Bobble app that we created at that time. So we thought, if somebody can take a selfie, and we give them freedom to create the avatar, with the selfie, they can work on the cellphone, they can work on the avatar, they can choose the dresses, they can choose their body type, and they can write their own texts, and they can create something comical from there. So this is one way to try creativity. So this is one thing that we were correct about. And the pivot that we thought we were correct about that. And because it went viral, and many people started downloading our application, and many people started working using our application and they loved our product. Before we before I go ahead and talk more about how we pivoted further into Bobble2, I would like to tell you a few good examples of some of the growth hacks that we used to do for for Touchtalent. So this is something I think our audience will love, because this is something which they can implement on their own as well. So one of the story is related to Twitter, we knew that some people use to flaunt their work on Twitter. And we used to at that time, people used to post creative solutions. So what we did was we wanted to create a ripple around all all the things which are being posted on hashtag. So at that time, there was there was a concept of Twitter list where you can create a list, and you can post to list at once and everyone who is in the list will get will get the will get that tweet. So this is one way of reaching to people who are not following you. So this, we use it as a growth hack. So we have we created an application, which will just look at the recent post to find out people who are recently online. And we used to create a list of that. So everything was automated. There was an app, we wrote an application which will try to find the people who have recently posted, put them into a list and then we can start tweeting on those lists. So that gave me a gave us good amount of growth from Twitter. So every one of us used to sit together. So we had one apartment. So as we grew, we rented another apartment nearby. So all of all of the all of us used to sit together around a chair and we used to do tweeting all those lists based on what the topic is about. So this gave us a lot of users, we, and this was one of the growth hacks that we did on Twitter. And this one, one more growth hack that that we did, which people can implement even right now. So this is, this is called reverse image search act. So what we did was we had Google's reverse reverse image search, we figured out how it works. And so what happens is, when you are searching for some picture, like art of a beautiful girl in rain, what you will do is on Google, you will find an art, which is posted on Touchtalent.com. But when you click on that, you get the image and you could directly use the image you can you are not coming to Touchtalent.com to get the image. So we are not getting that user. So our so our assets over being used through Google. And we didn't even used to know about that. So we hacked the Google image search in a way that that is fairly technical. Maybe I can light some I can set some light on that. But there's, there's that referral part, which is associated when you open up an image. So if that referral is Google, then we used to know that the user is trying to download the image from Google. And whenever user opens that image, instead of sending that image, we used to move them to our our website, this way, user still gets the image. But they're not directly taking it away from Google, they have to come to our page, and then take it, then they can download it from there. And and in our in our page we used to show similar images. And so this way, user, if user likes our content, they will register on our platform. And we and it gave us immense organic growth. And this is something which is working even right now. So we are not doing anything on it. Just the reverse image hack is applied, and anyone who is trying to find something, and if it's our asset, they have to come to our platform. And then download it, these were the two major growth hacks, which we did in Touchtalent.
Krishna Jonnakadla 27:25
Very interesting. So then the fundamental reason for a pivot from Touchtalent to Bobble was because you wanted, instead of featuring creators, you wanted people to become creators, and how did you go about coming to that conclusion? What sort of data Did you look at? Or was it a hunch that made that pivot happen?
Rahul Prasad 27:48
So we used to take, in fact, we are still taking most of our decision based on the data that we have collected, for example, there are multiple events that we're picking up from users, like when they tap on something, they swipe on something. And from that we used to get the insight like what user is doing? who is that user? So what we did was it's called creating personas. So we created personas of the users. And then we started studying the user. Like, why is he using Touchtalent.com? And what does he do? What does he want? And what is what is the motivation behind him to use Touchtalent.com. And the three, we created four personas, and we realized that most of them are professionally creative. And that's why they are using Touchtalent.com. Because they want to connect with other such professors. It's like behance. So behance, not everyone goes to behance for their for the content, or everyone, most of the creative people who are professional goes to behance to show off their content, and then to get more client. It's like a portfolio purpose. So you by studying the personas, we figured out that most of the users are professionally creative, some of them are aspiring to be to be professional artists, or painters or something. So those were the users who are using us. But our aim was totally different. We wanted to involve as many people as we can, we didnt just wanted to involve these, the artists. And we didn't just wanted it to be a community of artists. We wanted a place where you it's like art gallery. So you and I can go to an art gallery, we can look at all the arts that is present over there. Maybe we can even buy that maybe we can just appreciate it. We wanted something like that. We want Touchtalent to be a place where people can come to look at the arts and artists. And we wanted an exponential growth over there and then took from those people. We wanted to enable them to become creative and we wanted to encourage them to post more pictures post more of their creative stuff. So that is something that we've wanted. But we didn't get. And that's why we had to pivot.
Krishna Jonnakadla 30:13
Okay, and how is the beginning of that pivot?
Rahul Prasad 30:17
It was very difficult. Pivoting is always very difficult. Everyone is emotionally attached to the product that we used to have. And while everyone was emotionally attached, everyone is also working on something that is totally new. And then there was this clarity that is this going to work? Are users going to like it? or, or what happens if the even this does not work. So most of the things were unclear that that that was the only problem that we had, but as soon as we launched it, we saw we saw exponential growth, and we, we knew that it was correct.
Krishna Jonnakadla 30:56
Okay, and then talk about evolution from there.
Rahul Prasad 30:59
So when we started Bobble, we saw the exponential growth. But we also saw we were as we were tracking everything, we used to see that people are loving us, but they are not retained. But but they are not retained for a longer time. They used to create their own avatar, they used to share our thoughts, then we started to see why why people are installing a lot, but they are not using us all the time. So we figured that they're using us or the chat platforms. And just like just like a sticker, it was a thought it was a creativity app. But they were using their creative final permit thing into into their own chats. And, and it was very difficult for them to do that, for example, do when you are chatting, you have to come to the application and you have to create something, then you have to share it back to the to the to the chat. And it was a very difficult thing, if you're not going to switch to a different application while you are chatting. So that's why what we did was, we introduced two new features. One was floating widget. And another was a keyboard. Floating widget is something like it floats on top of your WhatsApp or any other messenger. So when you are typing, you can just tap on the floating widget, and you will see all the avatars that you have created. And then you can directly send content. But this floating wicked, we had to cancel this feature because Android changed the API. And the newer API didnt support this. So we had to cancel this feature. And we were remained with keyboard. So another pivot was. So this was the next pivot point that we had to switch to a keyboard. And there was one more pivot in between that opened when we saw that people are using it on chat applications. We figured that Why not? Why let user create everything on their own? Why not give them some templates, like stickers. So we have a sticker. So what user used to do is the user can choose the sticker directly and send it directly into the platform. So we just wanted to make users life easier. So we were making changes on our product from avatar app to sticker app because users wanted it. Then we become a sticker. Then we become a keyboard app because users wanted it. We saw that it's conversation right? When you are when you are chatting, you want to save and sticker. But how do you do that. So if you have a keyboard, then you can chat through the keyboard and there is a button on the keyboard, you can press the button and you can send a sticker, this is as easy as it can get. So you're chatting on our platform as well as your you're sending that you're sending stickers as well. But then we realized that our keyboard used to suck, because it was not that good at all. It was just a proof of concept that we created. And then we also realized the most of most of other keyboards used to suck as well. For example, gboard and other keyboard they didn't have what Indian users needed. Indian users needed Hinglish, Indian users needed Panglish , Tamilish, or even combination of those things. They they needed transliteration and all these features at that time was missing. So we started working on our keyboard because we knew keyboard is the base on which a sticker is being shared. So we started working on keyboard we started solving those problems that user used to face we launched the regional language like Hinglish, like Panglish, like Tamilish, end user loved us loved us. So at that time when you used to use keyboard, you generally switch off autocorrect Because you knew that if you're going to write something in Hinglish, it will get autocorrected to something in English and you don't want that. So, people use to switch off their autocorrect. So, with our keyboard, we gave them this option that now they can type in Hinglish as well, and it will not get auto connected to a wrong word. But in fact, it will autocorrect get corrected to a Hinglish word if you make the if they make a spelling mistake. So, now typing experience become very good. And then we recognized that keyboard is something something which is next, because keyboard is something which is used all the time and keyboard is something where major problem used to lie. And we started solving all those problems. So we pivoted to a keyboard application. And while solving all the problems, we realized as most of the problems cannot be solved through fundamental algorithms, like swipe typing like suggestions, predictions, all these things, all of them. This this to an extent that you can write rules, and you can solve these problems. But if you want, if you want a better precision, if you want better accuracy, then you have to go to artificial intelligence to solve this. So what we did was we, from a fundamental keyboard, we diverted to AI technologies, we started working on solving the same problems, to increase the accuracy and solving the new challenges as we're using artificial intelligence and will become Bobble AI, the artificial intelligence company, or because we rebranded as Bobble AI, because now that every services are now that we have started recreating every services, every features using a artificial intelligence, we can also send a we can also use the same features as services, for example, transliteration as a service, we can expose an API which you can use to translate research, we can use, we can expose an API for speech to text, and it's not just used in keyboard we are we are doing, we are into the business of providing these features as service services to other business as well. So these are the number of pivots that we did in Bobble to reach where we are right now. So you went from being a place for creators to enabling creators, and even non creators perhaps to be creators, and then eventually to sticker app, and then eventually a keyboard. So that's an interesting journey. So this is something that I have possibly seen as the demographics of the country changes, because way back then, in 2012, one of the features was the smartphone revolution was not that widely underway, we still possibly had a big amount of feature phones, and then by the 2014 2015, and a lot of the younger generations, millions of them started getting into it, and a lot of them are yet to begin their professional journeys, right. So would you would you say the reason, you know, the pivot looks like, in some sense, it went from professional creators to casual creators, and eventually ended up with conversation was directly tied to the demographic shifts that were happening? I'm sorry, I didn't get to get the question clearly.
Krishna Jonnakadla 38:38
So what I meant was the internet penetration way back then was limited to a much lesser number of people. And smartphones were not widely accepted. So today, smartphone penetration. So therefore, what you saw back then were professional creators, and then eventually a lot of younger ones. To become a professional creator, takes some time. Right. So then in the meantime, then there is a the whole world is getting connected, which is why you went in some sense from being a place for talent and an artist to, you know, a platform for conversations and enabling conversations.
Rahul Prasad 39:16
Yes, exactly. So as and when more and more people are getting into the landscape of smartphone getting better internet connections. So I believe there's there's a need for such platforms where they can do such things. And we, right now we are much more into the keyboard space, not exactly the keyboard space, but I will call it a conversation media space. So more and more people are using stickers more people are using gifs, more and more people are using emojis to express themselves there are multiple ways. Now you can use to express yourself which is not present earlier. This has been enabled through the smartphone Revolution, the internet revolution that we have recently seen. So in fact, the last pivot that we have made is about the conversation media. So I would like to talk a little more a little more about conversation media, how do you define Facebook 10 years back? Facebook is you may say that Facebook was was a platform where people, people used to talk, people, Facebook is a platform where people used to share pictures, or share their status. This is how you you define Facebook, right? But now, if you are asked or to define what is Facebook, you would say that it's a social media platform. A social media is a coined term, which everyone uses to define what Facebook is. Similarly, we are working on the next thing. So after, after social media, what's going to come next. So, the next thing is conversation media. And we are we are the ones who are leading there. So, we are the one who have coined the who have working, who have been started working on conversation media, and how how you define conversation media is like, suppose there are multiple ways you are communicating with your friends, your families. So you may be communicating through stickers, you may when you are texting, when you can communicate through stickers, gifs, emojis, there are multiple ways to communicate and express yourself. So what we are proposing is, the conversation with which you are doing, brand cannot be a part of the conversation right now. Whenever there is a whenever you're sharing a sticker, there is no brand around there. So the right now only way of advertising to users is advertising on their face. So what whenever you go to Facebook, there is a big chunk of large advertisement over there. Either there is a big video or something which is obstructing you from using the platform. And that's how currently advertising works right now. So what we are proposing is to the brand, we are giving this value that they can get into the conversation of the user. For example, if you are saying, Let's go grab a coffee somewhere. So what a brand can do is they can create they can have their own sticker pack within Bobble ecosystem. And that user can download their sticker pack, user can download their GIF packs and use that to express themselves. We can also make it dynamic. For example, when you say when you say that let's grab a coffee, the sticker we will be presented will contain a Starbucks brand on it just an example. So certainly you are also advertising for Starbucks among your group. This is also something which user wants sometimes because you may be you may want to be associated with a brand because whenever you are wearing Adidas you show off that I'm wearing an Adidas. Whenever you are wearing Nike yours you use, generally people show off that they are using this brand. Similarly, this can happen within the conversation as well. So that's what we are working on. We want to enable brands to get into the conversation of the user and become part of their lives. user will also be benefited because now users will not see an obtrusive advertisement, an advertisement on their face,instead of that it will be a very subtle nudge to the user. So when when you're when you're sending a sticker, which has a T shirt, t shirt will have Nike or Adidas logo on it, it would be as subtle as that user wont mind it advertisement will get their advertisement done as well, their branding done as well. And this will also be very tractable source for brands. So right now if brands do a billboard, they cannot check, like how many users have seen it how many users have reacted to it. But if they do it through the conversation media, it will be trackable as well. So that is the next big thing that we're working on.
Krishna Jonnakadla 44:21
Very interesting. So do you plan to I'm going to use a term weaponize that sticker, or that kind of branding or that kind of content.
Rahul Prasad 44:32
Of course, that's the aim, we want to use stickers and chips. And there are multiple other things that can be used within the keyboard to to make the suit it will make users life easier as well and it will make brands life easier as well. So for instance, if two people are in Starbucks, and they met in Starbucks, they had coffee and then they click the selfie. And you could you could add a sticker to it. Now that sticker right actually become some sort of a click whereby he either prompts him to open the Starbucks app, or places in order. So it becomes much more than a sticker, it becomes like a mini program. That's so`mething which is dependent on platform, you would certainly want to do that. But only this can happen only if a platform allows it. For example, if WhatsApp allows you to tap on a sticker and go to a link, you'd obviously want to do that, that is a huge opportunity. But right now, many, many platforms do not allow that. So we are limited to what we have right now. And we're playing around that. But as soon as any of the platform allows that we are going to build something like that.
Krishna Jonnakadla 45:45
Fantastic. talk briefly about funding journey.
Rahul Prasad 45:49
So we got seed for that. It's like a long time ago, in 2014. And then we we got first round from SAIF, SAIF partners in 2015. Then we got another round of funding from Xiaomi. And then recently around 15 August, This year, we got funding from AFFLE, AFFLE India. In total, we have raised about 10 million of funding, so far.
Krishna Jonnakadla 46:20
Wonderful. And you now have some sort of Alliance or a partnership with Xiaomi isnt it?
Rahul Prasad 46:26
Yes exactly, so this is one great thing. So Xiaomi, as you know, is like it, it has one third of the Indian market. So all the phones that you see around in India, one third is of the market is captured by Xiaomi. And we have partnered with them. And we have a mandate to prebundle our keyboard or in all Indian phones. And once we do that everything is successful, then we are going to go to Southeast Asia and Europe as well. So all Xiaomi phones, which are upcoming will be having in future will be having many keyboard, so many keyboard is the keyboard which we created, especially for Xiaomi. keeping their specific requirements in mind, for example, their own way of onboarding, their own way of brand name. It's a white label keyboard for Xiaomi.
Krishna Jonnakadla 47:24
It's fantastic. That's fantastic. So you have made in fact, I think about a decade ago, what one of the things about India and Indic languages, there's a lot of unknown history about India. And last year, when I went to the we went on a Europe trip. And in the Louvre Museum, which is one of the most highly, highly highly rated and exceptionally visited museums of the world. There isn't even 1% or even half a percent that you can find about India. And the thing that keeps hitting me wherever I go, when I leave India is how much how can 16% of the world's population be missing from the conversation, paid history or be it economics or be it `in anything. But the funny thing is, about eight years ago when I went to the Cayman Islands, the Cayman Islands are our south in the Caribbean. And in the Cayman Islands, about 50% of the people that work there are when are actually Indians. And these are all people that used to work on cruise ships. So a lot of cruise ships dock on the Cayman Islands, in Grand Cayman, the Cayman Islands are a British territory. And the thing that strikes you is something so far away, and it is not even the Caribbean, the West Indies have had a different set of Indian settlers, but the Cayman, while it is part of the Caribbean has a different set of people and wherever you go in the world, you will find you know, sheer presence of Indian people. And by some design, Indian history, the contribution of you know, ancient India to sciences and everything else has been sort of deliberately suppressed and eliminated, although that is finding its way back in the other consequence of that is that one is that has been suppressed and the with the growth of English, there was some sort of a fear, at least you know, I used to have it that a lot of the regional languages a lot of the Indic languages, the Indic expression of thought is going to disappear. Right? If, if for example, there is a person who's speaking, Bhojpuri, and if that person has to learn English and English is the only way they can interact with the rest of the world. Now that imposes severe constraints. And if that continues on a regular basis in about maybe four or five generations, you know, there won't be much of Bhojpuri left, right so and I use to see that, but it looks like with your Indic keyboard, and with all of the Panglish, the Banglish, the Tamilish English keyboards that you build, you're going to inspire some sort of a renaissance in a different way. I know that has not come to the desktop yet, in many ways, because a lot of creativity and creation does happen on the desktop. So you know, time is going to tell. And let's touch upon a different aspect, the one of these pivots, and all of these pivots were data driven, or were these some sort of requests that users put in? And then or was it a bit of both that you saw that evolution happening?
Rahul Prasad 50:46
So we do not generally decide based on user's feedback, we most of the time decide based on the data that we collect. Because what user is saying and what the user needs may be totally different. There's a very famous example that if somebody would have asked, What if Henry Ford would have asked his user, what do you want, they would have, they would have said, faster horses. But so that's the concept we follow. We do not generally act upon users feedback. But we, we keep that in mind that what user needs, and then we decide based on that data that we collect. So most of our we have created our own infrastructure for data collection, data ingestion, and database, database analytics, we have a team for insights, who generally satisfies our need of asking questions. So and we also encourage everyone in our in our company, so everyone has to take their decision based on the data that that we are collecting. So everyone generally goes to an insight team, ask the question inside teams goes into the infrastructure, figures out the requirement and then gets packed with a spreadsheet or a graph, which is then used by product team or research team or content team, to create or to take the decision that they need to take. So I believe everything has to be data or data driven, it cannot be it cannot be based on user feedback.
Krishna Jonnakadla 52:32
It's a combination of both you're saying.
Rahul Prasad 52:34
I would say mostly database,but you should be listening to user feedback, because user generally tells mostly about what they don't like. But don't listen to what they like, or what they want, what they what you can figure out from the data because if we have millions of users, and if 10 people for comes to our feedback and says that we want exactly this feature, we're not going to go ahead and create that feature. We're going to then validate it, that what user what is the problem that user is facing? We'll go back to our infrastructure will validate what what is the what is the problem user is facing? Because user cannot come up with an answer that this is what I need. User can say, this is the problem that I'm facing. And it's my job. In fact, it's our job to come up with an answer that what should we give to him in the best way possible? The user doesn't know what technology is being used user doesn't know what is feasible, what is not. So listening to an answer from user is not going to help, you have to even if somebody is demanding something, you have to talk with them and get get to the get to the root of it. And you have to understand the problem that user is facing. And if you see that this is the problem that many of the user is facing. If there is no way to see it, then you have to build an infrastructure for insight where you can figure out if this is a real problem or not. And if it is a real problem, then you have to come up with a solution. But it is on you that you will that who has to come up with as a result. So let's talk about obviously, one area that you must be seeing a lot of insight is what are people talking about? What are people discussing? And with millions of users obviously means you are you have a lot of data. So does it help you understand, let's say, you know, what are the trending topics? What are the things that people are tending to follow? What sort of topics are emerging? What sort of emotional upheavals people are going through? So you must be able to get a sense of all of that as well because a lot of that data is going through you right. So the thing is, we have worked on multiple such things. We have recently been published an insight on the emojis how users are using emoji on our system. And there are we collect. The thing is that there's something called integrated system that we have created. So whenever there is an intent, we detect the intent. And we try to satisfy that of the user. For example, if somebody's saying Happy birthday, it's a wishing template, then we pop up a sticker bar, that user user sent a happy birthday sticker, suppose somebody saying Happy anniversary, that we detect the intent. So we have written them an intent detection system, which works offline. And in the device itself, because if you make it server side, then it's it will need a very good internet connection and then will be delayed, and one user is typing, and user is not going to accept any delay, he's going to send it as it is. So when you are writing Happy birthday, Rahul or something, we detect the intent. And in the keyboard in the device itself, which generates a sticker and display it as a suggestion that send it as a sticker. So in this scale journey, Rahul, what were some of the inflection points? What were some of the places that gave you extraordinary growth? So there was one your start, which was your touch your first very first startup? And you pivoted, what were some of the you talked about a couple of growth hacks from Touchtalent? Can you talk about the numbers in terms of how your user base where it was in the beginning, and what were some of the things that grew? So I'll tell you, first, I'll tell you about the growth hack that we have been using in Bobble. So in Bobble keyboard, whenever you share a sticker, there's a watermark associated with it. Before that share, we used to send a link as well. So whenever you send a sticker, a link is also sent along with it. And the link is clickable. And that. So if I send you a sticker, you click on the link, which came alongside, you will go to the Play Store, and you can download Bobble app over there. And once you download, you will get this, you will get the same sticker pack downloaded automatically to your keyboard. So it's helping you as well. So if I'm sending the link, if I'm sending a sticker to you, and I'm sending the link with it, and you click on the link, you will download the same sticker pack automatically. So this is one of the growth hack that gave us a lot of organic users. But that user didnt like the this feature of sending a link with a big sticker that that said, so we remove this feature. And now whenever you send this ticket, there's no link associated with it. But there's a watermark and watermarks is a Bobble keyboard. And whenever you you receive a sticker, generally you are not going to notice where you have created the sticker or, or which app you have used to create the sticker because there are so many sticker apps and you don't worry about all those things nowadays, every every keyboard, every application has a sticker features in it. But what's good with our our stickers is that it's a personalized sticker. So, it will contain your head if you have created the sticker and you have created if you have taken a selfie, then the sticker will contain your head it will be instantly recognizable. So if you send it to me I can recognize it that this is something that Krishna has sent because Krishna's head is present in there. Also if you write Happy Birthday Rahul, so most of the time stickers contains specific texts like Happy birthday, or Oh my god, something like that. But but with us, it is like if you write Happy Birthday Rahul, sticker that you send, or the GIF that you sent, will be customized with your head and your text and it will be sent to the user this way if you see something, which is not which which will just catch your eyes that how has he created How has he written the text inside the sticker, or how has he put his own head inside the sticker, then the user becomes curious, the other person become curious, and they started looking for it. And there's a subtle watermark over there. And the search for the watermark, the text popping keyboard in playstore. And from playstore they download that keyword and this is one of the major organic growth factor that we have. In fact, most of our users are have been organic we we didn't put much money into get acquiring the user from at least word channel and all which every other company does initially to get the amount of users then they need to kick off. But we were but after we have come up with this growth hack, we didn't have to put any money on getting users everything ir organic? And did it all happen because of App Store optimization, or because there was at some point in time, a need for keyboards. So what were some three or four things that went into that organic growth beyond the growth hacks, so you obviously had to create an initial set of users. And then your growth hacks actually multiply those users, right? What were some of the things that created those initial set of users for you? Initial set of users - Simple like this challenge, t`hey started the messaging users to download, Bobble. In fact, in the home page itself, we put our Bobble `keyboard application directly at the homepage of Touchtalent, we wanted everyone to download Touchtalent, we want to get that initial set of users at that time. So we used our current base that we had, then initially, we had to do some marketing, we had to buy some users through advertisement. So that was done at that time. App Store optimization is something that we have recently started working on. At that time, we didn't do much of an app store optimization, we just did search engine optimization. So our website, earlier, our website was the one which you which used to be displayed when you search for Bobble keyboard or keyboard application. We did SEO because we are good at that because Touchtalent was a website. And we learned a lot about SEO. And we did that for Bobble as well. Recently, then a few years back we have started doing ASO. And after doing ASO we have started getting a good amount of growth from direct playstore as well.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:01:46
Fantastic. So looking back, Rahul, would you change anything?
Rahul Prasad 1:01:51
Why would I change that? It's a very good thing that we have done. And we are growing at a very, very fast rate. And now that Xiaomi is on board, we are talking to other OEMs as well. And hope and I'm hoping that though they will be on board as well, very soon. And we have already captured like 30% of India, we will with another few years, we'll be able to capture 60 to 70% of all Indian users. So that's a very happy place to be in I would not change anything. Maybe in future, maybe into the future, we would want to do something more something extra to make it or even more exponential, the growth has to be exponential, retention has to be very good. We are we are we have seen a very good retention with our keyboard compared to other keyboards, we have data from third party. And we know that we are right now the best the most detailed keyboard among all the keyboards including SwiftKey, Gboard from Google and Swiftkey from Microsoft, we have the most engagement, we have the most growth as well, the most organic growth. So that's, that's that's a happy place to be. We would like to optimize it further. But I would'nt change anything in the past.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:03:15
And your perhaps cross platform as well.
Rahul Prasad 1:03:18
Yes, we have an application the in iOS as well.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:03:21
Okay. What about monetization?
Rahul Prasad 1:03:24
Or whatever that is.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:03:25
Have you monetized we have you monetized I don't you haven't yet begun monetizing the keyboard or do you have a pro version?
Rahul Prasad 1:03:33
No, we don't have a pro version yet coming up with a pro version in the next few releases. I think it's in the pipeline for next after two weeks. So we have been focusing on growth, we have always been focusing on growth because we wanted to capture as many users as possible, we wanted to satisfy them. And then we wanted to create revenue, because starting taking hundred rupees from thousand people won't give you much money. But taking one paise from a million user will give you a lot of money. So that's why we have been focusing on growth. But with this with this investment that we got recently, we are we this is for monetization and we will be focusing on revenue from now on and there are multiple features in place. So till now we have been monetizing using advertisements. We used to be used to display advertisement within the keyboard when you go to a sticker page. It's not a blocking advertisement. You won't see it while you're typing. But it's something that you will see when you are browsing for for content. So this is one way of monetization and we are coming up with our pro products. Very soon. It's like within a month we'll have a pro product. `Awesome. This is a this is a very different episode. Rahul, I'm glad you went in. I personally did not intervene when you were talking about all the hacks, because there is a lot of inspiration out there. And yesterday I did a webinar. And at the end of that webinar, when I open it up for questions, one of one of the actually two people said, this is all fantastic. I'm all motivated now. But I still want the HOW, I still want the tactics. Right. So I've seen, for instance, recently, there is a product called transferwise. And there was an interview with the VP of growth in a hour long conversation, there wasn't a single tactic, or a how to that I could take away from that. And the funny thing is the show user love, listen to your users, all of that stuff is great. But the question is, very few people go down to the tactics and the details, it's either a sign that they themselves, were not involved in it, and therefore, it's at a macro level. But otherwise, you went into a lot of detail. That is fabulous. So in closing, what would be your advice to people that are starting up, or people that are already running their startups, and who are at various levels. There are a few things that I have learned that that I would like to share. And first of all, thank you for your kind words, I, I like to share stuff, because I want everyone to grow is not just for me, it's everyone grows, we will grow as a community. So during my journey I have learned a few stuff as I was talking about earlier as well. So I would like to get the crux of it is like when you are building something, always be ready for production. So don't plan for like one year, and then start working on it. And then launch at the end of the year. because something is going to get go wrong in between, you have to be always ready, think in what it lookslike I will launch module one, module two. And suppose if module one is very large, then you can launch the modules in phases. So that's what we do in Bobble as well. So this, this is a very good lesson that I learned and it and it is something that I would ask everyone to follow, because you will be ready all the time. And you will be able to experiment very fast. So what we do is we do a lot of experiment. So even at even right now in Bobble, there are about six AB testing running at different different, different different features. So AB testing is something that I would ask everyone to do. So whenever you are launching something, always create another option do not just launch one thing, always create multiple options. And then give it to users and see how users are behaving if users are liking, linking option A or liking B, even if there is a point five or .75 increment in retention or a smaller increment in engagement due to that. Overall, when you do multiple features like this, it will add up it will add up to a large five to 7% of increase, which which you will love later on. I can give and one more thing that don't don't think about complex things. I have seen many people thinking about many complex technologies that I'm going to use artificial intelligence to do this or do that this, I believe this is a very wrong way of approaching your own startup, I have seen multiple companies fail because of that, people have very good solutions and they try to hide problems that are out that so always try to find problems. So, if you see that this is the problem, then you come up with a solution using technology, do not start with technology and then find problems around that I have seen many people say that. So, this is one thing which is famous in the US we are trying to demonstrate something similar over here. So, this will this might work this might not work, it will work if India india faces similar kind of problems, it will not work if India does not face similar kind of problem. So I would ask him if our audience to research more on problem first, research as much as you can about the problem and then dive into the solution and always create solution which is very simple. I will give an example we created the concept of emoji bar. emoji bar is something which is just a set of emoji present on top of on top of keyboard. This is a very simple solution but increased our use emoji users to a large extent. Similarly, there are things like bitmoji, fonts, and such essence verdicts. And these are something very specific to my domain. But what I'm suggesting is go for simple solution first, because it's easy to implement, you will be able to implement in a week or two, send it to a user, and then create a better version of that, and then set, then send it again to the user. This way, your user will always be getting something and you will always be getting insight about it. So these are the things that I have learned so far that I would like to say.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:06:34
Wonderful.Rahul, this has been a very fascinating episode. Personally, this is way different from what we usually see. And it does justice to your own technical background and your own curious, curious and tinkering ability. And no wonder you are where you are, with 30% of phones in India being covered 60 70%, like you said, more power to you guys, and more power for you to cover the rest of Asia as well. And I know this team has it, I can see the passion and I can see the DNA. So we wish you the very best. I'm sure there'll be a lot more learnings that you can come back and share with us at that point in time. And Maharajas of scale will be there to cheer you. And we wish you the very best. Thanks.
Rahul Prasad 1:11:25
Thanks, Krishna. Thanks for the kind words of this of course, we want to be the number one keyboard in the world with the rate we are growing, we surely will be.
Tania Jadhav 1:11:38
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