Onze is an interesting startup which figured out a niche in local/lbs space and just went ahead and cracked deals with retailers (they were PowerPlug finalists as well). Here is presenting an interview with Sudarshan/Rahul, CoFounders of Onze on the company’s journey so far.
Your life prior to starting Onze. What was the founding team up to? Did you know each other?
Me and Rahul were at Infosys before starting ONZE. I started as an engineer and moved on to technical sales. Rahul started as an engineer and moved to service delivery operations. During our tenure, we learnt software product engineering, operations, marketing and sales.
How did you come together to start up?
Both of us always wanted to start on our own. We used to work with each other at Infosys and enjoyed the relationship. When we decided to found a startup, we did not have a business idea ready. But, we were confident in each other and in our abilities to build a good business case.
We promised to each other that we will think big, build a respectable product company honestly with fairness to all stake holders.
What was the initial hypothesis around the product launch? How much of it has changed over the last few years?
We started building an in-car navigation system for India. We quickly moved onto a different business where we provide local search on SMS, and monetize by selling targeted contextual advertising on it. We have used this platform and have now launched services for retail business, that helps them in their marketing and customer service.
Today, we have two business lines:
1) selling our consumer engagement service for retail businesses. We operate this business in 5 cities and help hundreds of showrooms, hospitals, etc.
2) We host the Latlong service on SMS and Mobile internet to consumers in Bangalore. Lakhs of people use this to locate places in the city. We sell targeted advertisement and help retail brands reach out to consumers on this medium.
When we started our initial business plan, we had very little data and a lot of assumptions. When we learnt more about our market, about our abilities to execute, the business responded by evolving our value proposition, pricing, target audience , etc.
Thus, over the last 3 years, our business has changed from what we originally thought it will be 🙂
How much of money has the founding team put up (initially)? Are you angel funded?
We raised an angel funding of 1Cr when we started Latlong in 2008.
What’s your primary business model?
Our primary business model today is the subscription of our platform to retail businesses. Using this platform retailers can ask their consumers to find their nearest stores and thereby get leads. The advertising on our medium is promising, but needs to prove itself well.
How challenging was it to sell this concept to retailers?
The adoption of our offering requires the retailer to modify their marketing and sales process. So, selling requires us to pitch to the top decision maker at the retailer. This makes this difficult to sell. The other generic issue is that, scaling sales when one has to sell to numerous businesses is not easy. We are working on new models to overcome that.
Entrepreneurship Lessons – What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
1. Completely think through execution before starting off on a business. Don’t ignore sales in your execution plan.
2. Be careful when you choose your co-founders. It is not enough to have competency match, but look also for match in chemistry, life’s goals & attitude.
Read Paul Graham about this.
3. Most of the challenges are internal. Intellectual honesty will help see through that. Learn from other’s mistakes. Never ignore the role of advisors here.
When you started up, there was quite a bit of noise about LBS (it still is), but nothing has changed at the ground level. Comments?
The noise in LBS was mainly among geeks 🙂
LBS in itself cannot be a consumer product. It is only an enabler and can contribute to other offerings like local search, tourist guide, social networking, shopping, personal security, etc. We learned this crucial lesson with our SMS based direction service. The service got picked up exponentially, thanks to word of mouth marketing. But the revenue was generated when we built SMS based Store Locater and Route guide for businesses.
Do share your future plans/updates
Business looks promising as well as challenging. We plan to strengthen our marketing, and expand sales of our consumer engagement platform. The market is huge and one has to meet the need. We are next planning to launch our location services on more channels – mobile web, social media and desktop internet.