When Business meets Academia

Date:   Wednesday , November 30, 2011

For any entrepreneur, established or amateur, the most important aspect of venturing, in my opinion is to find supportive entities in the ecosystem that can help him reach his goal quickly and holistically. About a decade back in 2002, I started my first venture Cellent Technologies that offers messaging solutions. As we grew, we realized the next logical step was to move up the value chain where we could offer personalized experiences to the end user. Penetration was and is on the rise in Internet, Telecom, e-commerce, basically every consumer-centric business.

We tried in-house development of an intelligent system that could solve the simple problem of content discovery for users consuming music over their phones. Back then and in most of the cases even today, all customers are treated in a similar fashion – everybody gets to hear/see the same menu of contents irrespective of their taste. Respecting individual tastes of the customer largely goes ignored. The system that we developed was rudimentary and because the technology was not our core expertise, we started looking out for the experts who had or could develop this kind of system. That was when I came to learn about SINE (Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship), an initiative by IIT Bombay that facilitates, nurtures and mentors development of IP by faculty/students at IIT.

Prof Rajendra Sonar, a faculty at IIT Bombay (also currently Director at iKen), was working on developing a framework that could enable a business to get insights into its customer base to the granularity level of N=1. Combining hybrid AI (Artificial Intelligence) techniques and BI 2.0, this project envisaged to revolutionize the way analytics was being perceived and used. A total departure from the traditional way, which is a top-down approach and focuses on segmentation/categorization, his approach would understand one customer at a time and move up to build associations or clusters. The goal was simple - if as a business, I know what each of my customers does/likes, it is really easy for me to “treat” her in a way that makes best sense to her.

This was the expertise I was looking for. After few rounds of deliberations, we joined hands, the project got transformed into a company in 2008 and we named the framework Mooga. Because of Prof Sonar’s banking background, the product was initially focused on using Personalized Analytics for BFSI-transaction monitoring, customer risk management, fraud detection and so on. As we proceeded, we enhanced Mooga to be able to offer the best experience (through most relevant recommendation, accurate campaign management, pre-emptive measures by means of predictive analytics, churn management and so on) to multiple business verticals such as telecom, internet, e-commerce and entertainment. With offices in Mumbai and Buenos Aires, Argentina, today we have a team of 30. Strategic partnerships with companies having global presence have been of immense leverage. I feel the ecosystem in India for technology start-ups is getting better every day. On one hand, institutions (such as IITs) and individuals are coming up with novel ideas producing more IP, and on the other, the uptake of these concepts/products is increasing from a financial support point of view. The market is seeing a shift in the maturity level of customers. E-consumption is following an exponential curve. With more and more thought leaders from industry and academia joining hands and taking their products to the global plane, I am sure “Made in India” has a long way to go.