[Editorial Notes : Guest article by Akshat Choudhary of BlogVault on how the team missed the WhatsApp/messaging bus in 2006.]
NextBigWhat’s recent article (Why It’s Difficult to Build Another WhatsApp From India) got me thinking about how we missed the bus with my first startup venture back in 2006.
In early 2006, we started a side project called ActivMobs, enabling group messaging via SMS.
We were big believers in mobile and had seen how it had revolutionised everything in the country and the world. SMS is peer to peer, and is ideally suited for a conversation between 2 individuals.
We had seen within friends that a lot of our communication happens as a group and the existing system was very limiting. With this basic premise we launched and within a few months ActivMobs had 50K + users in Karnataka. We were spending all my salary paying for over 2 million SMSs we were sending out! The only way to sustain and grow the idea would have been through a VC backed investment. However, given the huge costs involved and no clear monetization scheme, it was tough to get their interest and we called quits on the service.
We at that time felt that we were improving SMS and not communication as a whole. We hitched onto a platform which was expensive and required tremendous energies to convince carriers. This was a losing battle, and eventually was a major distraction.
In hindsight, I believe that the lack of understanding of the opportunities the smartphone connectivity clouded our vision and persistence with idea. At that time, with the introduction of iPhone, though we saw the great power of the platform, we did not realize the speed with which it would change the world. We did not have the vision for how messaging could be simplified in the era of smartphones.
At that time, we could not see India evolving beyond SMS in the foreseeable future. The lack of local usage limited our understanding in a great way. It was all happening in another country.
However, this is no longer the case today. Today smartphones are everywhere. Some very crummy devices but they are helping people from all walks of life get connected. And this is only going to get better as the price of the devices get lower and lower. This helps the entrepreneur in India to have the same understanding of the market as our American counterparts. In fact, we will have unique advantages, of having a very large captive audience which we can target.
Indian customers are some of the toughest to please and the entrepreneurs will have to provide the highest value at costs which will make even the likes of Amazon cry with amazement.
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