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Twenty two-year-old Farzeen Wasim, who uses a dual-sim smartphone, has lost on main balance several times when her data pack expired. With True Balance, she receives an alert about her subscription cycle for both numbers and can even recharge them even with zero data available. True Balance is an app that alerts Android users about their data subscription cycle. Tracking one’s Internet usage on a day-to-day basis with the service provider can be a task. With an alignment towards dual-sim smartphones and different tariff plans, the effort is multiplied. The start-up founded by Cheol-won (Charlie) Lee aims to solve this issue. It has raised Rs 100 crore in Series B funding, led by SoftBank Ventures Korea, which also participated in the Series A round in April last year. The 45-year-old Korean expat has been in the Indian telecom sector for the past 15 years, and prior to founding True Balance, he served as the chief executive of Access Mobile, a value-added services provider across Southeast Asia and India for clients like Airtel, Vodafone and Aircel. Investors like IMM Investment, Mega Investment, Korea Development Bank and Capston Partners also participated in the current round of funding. Concept Balance Hero runs a utility app called True Balance that allows users to check their balance, data packs and recharge services for prepaid accounts on Android smartphones. The app converts a text message with available balance to infographics so that users can see their data information. It also provides real-time information on the best plans and offers from telecom operators and helps users recharge their prepaid mobile accounts. The application aims to replace the earlier inconvenient way of checking mobile balance by dialling the USSD (unstructured supplementary service data) code. Opportunity With the entry of cheap smartphones, India has become the world’s fastest growing market. India is the second biggest market for smartphone users in the world and with 220 million users, it has surpassed the US in terms of active unique smartphone users. Moreover, most mobile subscribers in India have prepaid plans to control their subscription expenses. It is in such an environment that a mobile utility app like True Balance thrives. It crossed the 10 million download mark in July last year and has now clocked around 30 million downloads. With around 2 million daily active users and 8-10 million monthly active users, the growth is likely to taper off any time soon. “Once we become an one-stop mobile balance manager, we can expand not just to recharges and ads but also the operator business and other bill payment opportunities,” says Charlie, who also introduced Airtel HelloTunes in India, a service that lets you greet callers with your favourite song. Through the new feature, users can recharge at the click of a button. By alerting users when any active plan is close to expiration, it allows them to recharge their phones in a timely and convenient manner as several users face main balance deduction when their data pack terminates. Revenue The company generates revenue through advertisements and recharges. It charges a commission from advertisers and recharge partners. It expects to break even operationally by the end of this calendar year. It also allows users to collect rewards from using games or utility apps that can be converted to wallet points. These wallet points can be used to recharge one’s device. Road ahead “The market is crowded, but True Balance is covering an area that the others are yet to get in. Leveraging this will be a key success factor,” says JP Lee, partner, Softbank Ventures Korea. Charlie says he faces no competition from mobile service giants like Paytm, Freecharge, and Mobikwik as True Balance is currently not aiming to become a mobile wallet. However, the company is interested in exploring the P2P (peer-to-peer) model, where a person recharges for someone else for a small commission.
Putting the funds raised into expansion, the 60-member team plans to achieve the target 100 million downloads and introduce True Balance to postpaid users by 2018. After completing the rollout across India, True Balance intends to expand operations to other markets like Indonesia and China as well as increase its user- and team-base. Fact box Founded September 2014 Area of business Mobile balance management app Founder Cheol-won (Charlie) Lee Funding Series-A undisclosed, $15 million in Series-B, led by SoftBank Ventures Korea Team strength 60 Target 100 million downloads by the end of the year
Expert Take: Consumers need to analyse data usage, and get control on spending Upasana Taku, Co-founder, MobiKwik Digital consumer payments is a $2-trillion market. There is no single player having more than 50 per cent market share, there are limited entry barriers and skilled tech talent is abundant in India. The government has been actively supporting the sector with its strategic announcements. It is projected there would be 300 million smartphone users in the country. In other words, it is a good time to be present in the industry today. The biggest contributor to the mobile payments market is the recharge of telecom services, such as prepaid mobile and direct-to-home (DTH) services, and post-paid bill payments. Currently, there is a huge disconnect between mobile service plans or packs available with the telecom operator and the plan consumers use. To identify a suitable plan, consumers need to analyse their usage of voice and data, and get more control on their spending. Balance Hero has made an appreciable effort with its product True Balance. It not only provides a payments interface to recharge prepaid SIMs but also acts as a complete guide for optimising mobile plans according to usage analysis. Identifying patterns based on user spend history and usage, customised notifications to users would enable them have a greater control over their billing and payments, along with convenience and cost efficiency. However, one of the biggest challenges facing the revenue models based on recharge commission and ads is their viability at a much larger scale. The average Indian consumer is easily lured by new user/first-time discounts. But, retaining customers is not only imperative but also challenging. Consumers become profitable at a unit economics level only when they use your platform on a continuous basis. This, in turn, depends on how wide the range of solutions you are giving to your customer. True Balance would need to make quick forays into the entire payment ecosystem to become truly relevant for the consumer, including tying up with all utility payment billers such as DTH, power, water, etc., and promoting themselves to as many merchants as possible. Until then, its consumer stickiness would witness a lot of ups, plateaus and downs. As foray in this space deepens, the resources and accompanying costs go up significantly. While saying there are limited entry barriers, it is worth mentioning the compliance requirements are stringent and are expected to go deeper. The challenge of introducing new tech innovations and at the same time letting go of aspirational products that are not creating value to the consumer is inevitable. The consumer internet space is extremely dynamic, and any player aspiring to stay relevant needs to have processes which are continuously improved and in sync with the market offerings. Sometimes products/offers that involved a lot of effort are to be discontinued if they do not bring in value in revenue generation or customer engagement. The path to profitability calls for some tough decisions. With time and consumer history, if the app is able to efficiently provide value to the mobile payments ecosystem, it would have a competitive edge over others.