Seeking made-in-India app solutions

The app market is exploding in India, as a new generation of users skips the Web stage entirely and looks for smart ways to make their browsing experiences more seamless and more personalised.

| Updated on: May 25 2015, 15:45 IST

Here's how a week in Sharad Madiman's life unfolds, one app at a time. Every third morning, he orders groceries via the Big Basket app, which has saved his address and preferred delivery time. "I don't have to worry about parking or waiting in line," says the 29-year-old entrepreneur from Bangalore.

Utility bills are paid via apps such as Paytm and Freecharge. PParke allows him to book parking slots in malls in advance. Townista lets him track the city's nightlife, listing events customised to match Madiman's interests. On the MeetUp app, he can pick from cultural walks and cooking classes, or discuss these subjects with fellow members via a chat feature.

Madiman first began using apps three years ago, starting with the predictable Facebook and Twitter, which he downloaded as soon as he made the switch to a smartphone.

image caption

Snapshots from the offices of Haptik, Tiny Owl, Walnut and Eatlo.

Soon, pop-up advertisements and suggestions from friends led him into the world of desi apps — relatively small-scale, localised offerings that could help him navigate, sample and track events in his own city.

Next, he discovered the functional apps that would also help him pay his bills and buy his groceries.

In all, he now has 40 apps on his phone — and 20% are Indian apps run by people like him, busy entrepreneurs, most of them under 30, looking around to see gaps in the market and find ways to fill them.

"If an app can give me instant options, customised to suit my tastes, with my data already fed in and saved, why would I switch on my laptop, wait for it to boot up, connect to the internet — and start from scratch?" Madiman says. "The time I save through the apps actually makes me feel more productive."

These factors — convenience and customisation — are the most oft-cited reasons why a new generation of smartphone users has shifted from the Web to apps, and even from offline options to the little interactive squares on their home screens.

So, ordering a meal, picking a fitness regimen, planning a trip, booking tickets for a gig or movie, even balancing your budget and doing your taxes all now have a one-click made-in-India app solution.

While Tiny Owl and Eatlo offer customised food services, Orobind lets you hire personal trainers, HealthifyMe tracks your diet and calories burnt in real time, Seek Sherpa lets you contact amateur guides or post travel queries, and Townista and Outsy help you plan your weekends, Squadrun lets you earn on the side by video-reviewing cafés, filling up survey forms or mystery-shopping, and OMitra lets long-distance train passengers chat, exchange seats, play online games together, or even loop in a doctor in the next compartment in case of a medical emergency.

Many also use GPS to automatically hone your search options to within a given radius, offering yet another level of customisation.

"Apps are the future," says Aniket Chowdhury, 29, a former associate at Deutsche Bank and co-founder of Outsy. "Even large Indian companies that began as websites — like Flipkart and Myntra — are now going app-only."

Ecommerce portal Myntra last week phased out its website entirely and announced that it will now operate exclusively via its mobile app, after it found in April that 90% of its traffic and 70% of its sales were being generated via mobile devices.

Tech trail
Driving the apps segment, of course, is India's massive — and rapidly growing — number of smartphone users.

As of December 2014, 173 million Indians were accessing the internet via their smartphones, a number of them having skipped the desktop/laptop stage altogether. Of these internet-via-smartphone users, 29% were using data solely to download apps, according to an Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) report titled Mobile Internet in India 2014.

By next month, the number of mobile internet users will grow to 213 million, the report estimates. And by next year, every tenth smartphone will be shipped to India.

"In the next two years, we will catch up with China [which currently has the largest number of mobile internet users in the world, at 557 million, as of last December]," says Harshvardhan Mandad, 25, a former software engineer at Future Group and co-founder of Tiny Owl.

The growing numbers are helping the apps specialise and expand, as venture capitalists and angel investors seek their slice of the pie.

In February, Tiny Owl raised 100 crore in funding from the US-based Matrix Partners, Sequoia Capital and Nexus Ventures. Haptik, an app that acts as a personal assistant, has raised $1.1 million from venture capital firm Kalaari Capital.

Some of these start-ups are now being run out of swanky offices; others are rooted in more modest beginnings — Orobind is run out of a 140-sq-ft room in Bangalore; Squadrun and Outsy are both run out of 2BHK apartments in Noida and Mumbai respectively; Seek Sherpa is taking shape in a balcony in Delhi's Hauz Khas.

And yet they are quietly gathering talent and waiting for their next big step, hiring trained tech specialists, designers, marketing managers, content developers, and carefully setting up customer care and delivery departments.

"It all goes back to the advent of the affordable large-screen device and falling data package costs," says Nilotpal Chakravarty, associate vice-president of the IAMAI. "Because of these factors, idle downtime has now become 'entertainment time'. The resultant explosion in app consumption is not only good news for mobile carriers but also for app developers. Such good news, in fact, that apps are expected to bring in over $35 billion a year by 2017."

There's an app for that: A look at the diverse range of homegrown apps now available in India:
Orobind connects users with personal trainers and nutritionists. For a fixed sum, a trainer will come to a place of your choosing. The app also has an in-built chat feature that lets you contact these experts in real time. All trainers are vetted and registered with local police. Launched in December by Satya Vyas and Shubhanshu Srivastava (below), both 29 and alumni of IIT-Roorkee. Orobind has had over 3,000 downloads.

Healthify Me lets users choose fitness plans, track their activity in real time, chat with nutritionists and trainers, and browse through healthful recipes. Launched in June 2013 by Tushar Vashisht, 30, a former manager with the UIDAI programme, and Sachin Shenoy, 39, formerly with Google, it has had 1 lakh downloads.

Walnut helps users track their spending, and represents the data in graphic form so they can see where the money has gone. Launched in October by computer science graduates Amit Bhor, 35, and Patanjali Somayaji, 36, the app has had 2 lakh downloads.

Outsy recommends events based on user inputs and previous choices. Launched in November by Aniket Chowdhury, 29, Pranshu Sharma, 32, and Neeraj Paliwal, 29, the app has had 27,000 downloads.

Tiny Owl acts as a restaurant aggregator, allowing users to order from multiple eateries at a time and even from home cooks. In February, Tiny Owl — founded in March 2014 by five alumnae of IIT Bombay — received 100 crore in funding from Matrix Partners, Sequoia Capital and Nexus Venture Partners. The app has had 2.5 lakh downloads.

Eatlo offers a tiffin service that connects home cooks with users, juggling the two to offer a menu that is always changing. Launched in December by IIT-Bombay graduates Saipriya Mahajan, 26, and Rahul Harkisanka, 31, the app has had 4,000 downloads.

First person:
On the outskirts of Chennai for work, I felt like snacking and couldn't find any salad, so I messaged my nutritionist via Orobind. She suggested I look for chana and peanuts, which a guy was selling outside. That's just one example. Since I work late, dinner is often a problem. Having an expert to offer advice in real time really helps.
~ Hiral Vyas, 26, event manager, Bangalore

Canteen food can become so boring. My app helps me order meals prepared by home chefs, and has a changing menu. The food is so good, it reminds me of home.
~ Priyank Kanade, 28, a senior manager at an e-commerce company who moved to Bangalore from Delhi eight months ago and is an Eatlo user

Outsy lists events based on the kinds of things I've shown interest in in the past and yet offers so many options. I recently attended my first pottery session, all because I had expressed an interest in creative workshops on the app.
~ Nikita Sharma, 25, Mumbai-based operations coordinator with an NGO

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First Published Date: 25 May, 15:39 IST