You ask, I answer: Chennai's answer to Just Dial and Google
Chennai: Relocating to Chennai from the US and setting up house here was such a tough experience for Shyam Anandaraman that it led to him starting up a company that would answer the queries that plagued him as a newcomer to the city.
That was how his outfit, Frilip, was born. Modest beginnings, sure, but it has gone on to be selected as one of the top 25 hot global start-ups by Global Entrepreneurship Week and one of the top eight start-ups incubated by IIM-Ahmedabad iAccelerator.
Frlip was one of the top five start-ups to be part of the Rajeev Motwani Young Entrepreneur Fellowship (Stanford).
How did they begin? Shyam and four friends of his, sat down to solve the problem of finding trusted businesses to call upon. They found that more than 30 per cent of the billions of queries on Google were subjective ones that did not get answered, such as the best place to buy Uppada silk sarees in Chennai.
JustDial, one of the local search engines in India, got 150 lakh queries every month, a good equivalent of the Yellow Pages, but with users needing to do their own verification and due diligence before taking a decision. So, people were looking for specific information and most of the questions were going unanswered.
Shyam and his friends designed Frilip as an easy-to-use discovery tool to find trusted service professionals and businesses through word of mouth referrals from people they trusted, friends, colleagues, expert’s family. They kept in mind how trustworthy the source or the person who responded was, the recency of the information and the context.
They faced plenty of challenges. “We knew that the demand was there, but how did we reach the people who had the problem and tell them about a solution that we were putting together and give it to them to use,” says Senthil, COO, Frilip. Using NASSCOM reports, they figured that close to 60 per cent of 35 lakh people who worked in the IT sector, relocated to one of the IT hub cities, like Chennai, Bengaluru or NCR, either by fresh recruitment or transfer.
People then were resorting to highly spammed internal mailing lists in which the chances that they could find something were bleak. They also identified some people who were generally called the ‘early influencers’ of a system as they cared about why one was working on something and not on what the product was.
“We handpicked 500 such people and met all of them over a month. We got them excited about the idea and asked them to join in as early users and as the extended team of a global start-up. We made them share some of the places they loved and that they would recommend to a friend. So even before our product was perfected we had in the system close to 1,000 recommendations for some of the popular places in Chennai.” he says, adding, “Then we slowly extended the system in close circles by online and offline marketing to employees of these companies where they could see stuff that was recommended by people they could relate to. We carried this process across the top five IT companies in Chennai,” says Raja Jayaraman, co founder, Frilip.
“We use an intelligent algorithm that suggests the right set of individuals within the users’ network with the highest probability of helping the user with the information they are looking for,” adds Aneesh Deenadaayalan, co founder of Frilip.com.
They got funding support from a diverse group of accomplished professionals and entrepreneurs, such as Girish Mathrubootham, CEO and founder of Freshdesk; Deva Kannan, Vice President of Product @ Groupon Global and some CEOs and executives of top firms from Singapore, Indonesia and Dubai, who came in as angel investors.
“They also mentor us and help in shaping the product, connecting us with people who can help us,” Aneesh says.
The revenue model is three-tiered. “Frilip offers an intimate space for the consumer and seller while maintaining privacy. The businesses can reach out to evangelists who trust their products and recommend them to others and offer them gifts. Also, when they have specific products or offers they can contact those in specific need of it. Loyalty programmes and ads are placed to reach everyone,” according to Arvind Gopal, also a co founder.
The company is fully functional in Chennai, doing a pilot in Bangalore prior to launching there, and aims to expand across India. “We had 6,500 recommendations within three months in Chennai,” says Arvind. “Top businesses that people looked up and used,” he points out.
Frilip is an example of how passion drives entrepreneurial zeal. Its founders quit cushy jobs. Shyam (29) was a Goldman Sachs analyst; Senthil (28) was a product manager at Amazon; Raja Jayaraman (31) was an architect with Cognizant; Anish (24) and Arvind (23) were interning at Global Scholars.
“All of us quit when we got the incubation offer from IIM-A, a brand that everybody looks up to,” says Raja, referring to the fact that their parents were suitably worried about their decision to quit their jobs. Then Ashish Goel, a professor at Stanford University and an expert in recommendation systems, joined the team, which legitimised it further as something big that they were working on, says Raja.
Frilip is one of a kind in India; there are other start-ups around the world, addressing the issue in a different way, such as romio.com and posse.com. One can join Frilip by logging on to www.frilip.com and signing in with Facebook credentials.