40,00,00,000 - this is the size of the gigantic user base WhatsApp has amassed in India.
In strategically-chosen steps to grow its reach in the country – deemed to be one of the biggest markets of the Facebook-owned messaging app – the company has made its presence felt in the remotest corners, beyond metros and Tier I Indian cities. So much so that even those who are not tech-savvy or familiar with the plethora of apps easing day-to-day chores for urban India, are on WhatsApp, making complete use of its various features for both personal and professional exchanges.
For this bunch of digital consumers – or what is commonly referred to as the next 500 million users – Bengaluru-based BOB has come up with a unique offering – a WhatsApp Superbot.
Short for BusinessOnBot, the AI startup was started in August 2019 by Mohit Kumar with an initial investment of Rs 2 lakh.
Believed to be India’s first WhatsApp Commerce SuperBot, the platform is capable of performing a dozen different tasks with just a single command. To put this into perspective, it’s a wide-ranging array of service, comprising the daily essentials like bill payments, phone recharges, medicine ordering, booking a cab, ordering groceries, and even railway enquiries.
Essentially, the superbot takes of care all the functions that a bunch of apps on your phone is currently performing.
The founding story
The idea of the WhatsApp Commerce SuperBot – conceptualised by Mohit, an IIT Madras graduate, and now co-founder of BOB – interestingly came from Mohit’s experience while working with a leading Indian bank.
In the role, the engineer-turned-entrepreneur was responsible for driving the financial institution’s WhatsApp banking initiatives. Mohit was, in fact, instrumental in launching India’s first WhatsApp Banking Bot for the bank, as per the founding team. But he also made an important observation relating to customer behaviour amidst this initiative.
He discovered that many of the bank’s customers were inactive or uncomfortable with digital channels like mobile apps and website. These users were rather comfortable using WhatsApp to avail basic banking services.
“Mohit also analysed that the users from Tier II cities and beyond are not very tech-savvy, and are reluctant to use mobile apps,” shares the team. “He realised that people who are using smartphones definitely use WhatsApp, but not necessarily other mobile apps. He figured out that the primary reason people easily adopt WhatsApp is the simple chat interface of WhatsApp supported with voice option.”
Now, if users were happy availing basic banking services on WhatsApp, the ex-banker figured that this presents an opportunity to use the platform to cater to a slew of essential services too. More so because a WhatsApp-based commerce platform could be instrumental in helping people from Tier II and beyond in adopting digital services and benefitting from it.
This idea took flight and Mohit bootstrapped his AI startup in August 2019. He also roped in, along the way, Aditya Saxena, a close friend and batchmate from IIT-M, as a co-founder to work on the initial prototype. Aditya has experience working with a leading ecommerce company in Bengaluru, managing their AI-based customer service chatbot.
Together they built the entire tech stack and integrated first few services like bill payments, recharges, and railway inquiries to do a close group beta launch of the product in October 2019. After certain improvisation based on the inputs received during the beta phase, BOB went live in January 2020.
Leveraging the power of AI and ML
“BOB (BusinessonBot) is aiming to become a digital assistant for over 500 million WhatsApp users in India by providing essential services over a friendly chat on WhatsApp,” says the founding team, who designed the SuperBot. The core members of the team are all graduates from IIT Madras.
It’s like a digital friend, as the founders call it, and users can interact with BOB like they would with any other contact on their WhatsApp list by typing a message. Users also have the option to send a voice message in Hindi or English using the WhatsApp audio option.
The SuperBot, which is built using the latest AI and Machine learning technologies, in turn, utilises its Natural Language Processing (NLP) engine to understand and process these queries and voice commands and respond to them instantly.
“Leveraging the power of AI/NLP and WhatsApp’s ubiquitous influence, BOB is designed keeping in mind the non-tech-savvy users in Tier II cities and beyond,” quips the team.
The startup currently has a simple and straight forward business model in place – it partners with service providers on one hand, and gets commission for generating order though its WhatsApp Bot on the other hand. The service is completely free for the end user.
What’s next in the pipeline?
Currently, the team has partnered with WhatsApp and integrated with the platform’s Business APIs for building its chatbot engine and services. Besides this, the AI startup has also forged key partnerships to ensure seamless delivery/performance of the various tasks assigned to it by the users.
“We recently partnered with 1MG for enabling medicine ordering on BOB through WhatsApp,” says the team adding, “We are also in talks with various other service providers like Ola cabs, Cleartrip, etc. and are in the process of adding multiple essential services like ordering groceries, booking cabs, train tickets, and more on our WhatsApp Bot.”
Since BOB makes use of cutting edge AI and NLP technologies to understand users query and voice in no time and respond immediately, the startup, in the next few months, is also looking at strengthening the AI/NLP capabilities of the platform and adding high engagement services.
But above all, the aim will be to grow its user base, which currently stands at 5,000 monthly active users.
“For expanding our user base, we are exploring digital marketing on micro influencer social media platforms like TikTok, Sharechat, and Instagram, apart from the usual marketing channels like Facebook, Google, YouTube, etc.,” the founders add.
(Edited by Megha Reddy)