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March - 2008 - issue > CEO Spot Light
Netcore Riding on the Second life of the Mobile
Priya Pradeep
Monday, March 3, 2008
Our company is living the second life of the mobile,” exclaims Girish Nair, COO, Netcore Solutions, a provider of innovative products and services in the messaging and mobile space, launched in 1998. The first generation mobile services initiated the ‘voice revolution’ worldwide when voice was the operator’s only cash cow; and now in its happening second avatar the mobile beckons the ‘data revolution’. The falling mobile tariffs have led to a nose-dive in the average revenue per user. Hence, mobile services have got a make-over with ‘non-voice services’, better known as value added services (VAS), coming into the picture, a direct result of a maturing market bursting at its seams with a mobile savvy populace.

The statistics look pretty for the new VAS trend. Take for instance the fact that India had accumulated more mobile phone users ‘in a month’, approximately 8.3 million in August 2007 than PCs, the count of which stood at a paltry 6 million, ‘in a year’ according to the Department of Telecommunications, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. This makes India the fastest growing mobile market in the world. Now mobile subscriptions have exceeded 260 million in India. Recognizing this trend early, the now 120 person strong Netcore team had moved swiftly to capitalize on the opportunity by adding a division to focus on mobility rather than mere messaging three years ago.

The mobility division of Netcore aims to help consumers, advertisers, and enterprises have a mobile presence. Nair states, “We want to enable VAS that are relevant to everyday life, to reach the masses via the most personal gadget of an individual—the mobile. VAS includes SMS, applications, and mobile portals amongst others, actually anything which is not voice.”

Mobility services at Netcore have been categorized under the umbrella brand MyToday, which caters to both consumers and enterprises.

After its launch in October 2006, MyToday SMS Dailies has grown to have a subscriber base of over 2.7 million with an average of three subscriptions per user through purely word of mouth marketing. MyToday SMS offers free daily SMS subscription services to the mobile users in India on a wide range of interesting topics. Each topic is a service akin to a TV channel focusing on a particular content. Thus, the singular channels include cricket, news, bible, jokes, love, sensex, health, beautycare, quiz, quotes, films, and career amongst others. The service can be started with a single SMS and can be stopped again with a single SMS.

“Currently, the dailies service sends 10 million messages each day, which represents approximately two percent of all the SMS traffic in India today, making it the largest non-telco SMS sender in India,” points out Nair. In the last 15 months, two billion SMSs have been sent. The subscriber base is rapidly growing with 15 to18 thousand new subscribers being added every day and is estimated to reach 10 million subscribers by the year-end. Since the service is free to consumers the revenues happen through advertisements. SMS is the most direct and immediate medium for reaching out to the consumers today. The advertisers can use SMS advertisements for reinforcing branding and generating immediate response (via a return SMS or a phone call). MyToday advertisers include Tata Sky, ICICI Prudential, Birla Sun Life, Nokia, Akai, and Kotak Mutual Fund.

For consumers on the move, the mobile portal of MyToday - www.mytoday.mobi - fills the gap by aiming to provide everything anyone would ever need while on the go. There are round-the-clock news updates, ball-to-ball cricket coverage and minute-to-minute stock market updates. Other sections covered include astrology, films, Internet feeds from the top websites, weather updates, bus routes, theater listings, TV guide, emergency services, and movie reviews. The contents are easily downloadable within five to seven seconds because of the website design that has adopted a lean, mostly text only model that is devoid of heavy images.

The triad of product offerings for the consumer is completed with a user-generated channel, MyToday MOBS, that features mobile groups for end consumers in India only. It is an easy way to bring together friends, family, colleagues, and other individuals based on topics of interest, using SMS as the medium. The ‘group’ or ‘mob’ is identified by a unique channel name. Each time someone in the ‘mob’ publishes an SMS, every member of the ‘mob’ receives that message. The person sending the SMS (the publisher) gets charged for just one SMS irrespective of the number of people in the ‘mob’, while it is free for those who receive it. Subscribers only receive messages to the ‘mobs’ they have subscribed to and they also can choose to opt out at anytime. Advertisements are present by default on the SMSs. However, publishers can pay to have a premium, advertisement free facility as well.

An interesting innovation is that enterprises can send bulk SMSs in episodes over a period of time to their customers who are taken through a gradual learning curve about the product depending on when they want it. This strategy is serial in nature, and is akin to watching a television serial’s episodes depending on when you want it. “Another instance in which Netcore showcased its product was when sending the contents of a book called ‘Art of War’ in a serial feed of 30 installments. Here people can start at different times, yet get to know a book or any product depending on their convenience,” explains Dr. Leena Chandran-Wadia - CTO, Mobility, Netcore Solutions.

Besides the consumer focused MyToday services, Netcore’s technology platform also enables enterprises to run SMS or mobile-based channels for their own products and services. The MyToday Mobility Suite for enterprises offers three tools for enterprises to connect, engage, inform, service, educate, and build customer relationships using the mobile. The tools include BizBond (direct-to-consumer, permission based SMS channel), RapidResponse (for enquiries and feedback) and InteractiveContests (engaging users interactively through polls and contests).

The flagship tool among the enterprise mobility solutions package is the BizBond, which has ‘invertising’ as its unique selling proposition. In the Netcore lingo, ‘invertising’ translates to ‘Invited Advertising’, which is based on the concept of ‘permission marketing’ similar to the Dailies offering. Here, information that the customer wants is given, and is instantly actionable. Key customers who have adopted the paradigm and technology include Tata Motors, Times Now, Microland, and FabIndia.

Retaining customers from competition is a tough job. “Air2Web is Netcore’s primary competitor in the enterprise segment offering bulk SMS products, but it has no ‘invertising’ paradigm where the customer can also be in control of messages received, increasingly important in a ‘Do-not-Call’ regime,” elaborates Nair.

Getting to the head start has not been a cakewalk. The team at Netcore is responsible for creating competition-differentiating technology. Technologies used at Netcore to create products include Java, PHP, and Perl. “We have a strong technology team that understands technology, mobiles, and web development. The products of the company use open source technologies,” voices Srinivas Mogalapalli, VP - Engineering, Netcore Solutions. He continues, “Maintaining technology and the quality of the content is a constant challenge in running this business. Our content team is the vital differentiating factor between the competition and us.”

Netcore has another differentiating factor from its peers - a feather in its mobility cap, in fact. At the GSMA’s Mobile World Congress held in February 2008 at Barcelona, Spain, Netcore was the runner-up in the ‘True Mobile Startup’ category of the Mobile Innovation Global Awards. Critical recognition, however, only seconds the team’s quest to explore the full potential of the mobile’s second life.

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