During a trip to Mumbai, Ritam Bhatnagar lost a lot of time finding an address, eventually leading to loss of the appointment and a potential deal. That's how, wWhere was born. Hardly a year old, the location-sharing app has already caught the fancy of investors, with wWhere raising $100,000 (about Rs 63,00,000) in its first round of funding this February. Having been incubated at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A)'s Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship, the start-up sums up its vision as "to replace postal addresses and give them a run for their money." "I have experienced situations where locations elude you. Now, everyone has a GPS-based smartphone. The problem is, we were still dependent on postal addresses," said Bhatnagar, founder of wWhere. Despite having already worked on his first start-up, a film production and distribution company, he hadn't imagined taking wWhere seriously. It was only when it got incubated at CIIE that he figured it "had immense business potential", solving a core problem for people and also for businesses. Initial days Initially, it began simply as a mobile app to exchange locations between two individuals. The architecture Bhatnagar's team picked was so simple, they could build the entire app in a week. "I thought it wasn't making sense providing location, as it had too few users. The additions kept building and we took almost 12 months," said the solo founder, a graduate in electronics and later in management. Bhatnagar's other start-up was making profit and that helped him infuse an undisclosed initial seed fund into wWhere. "My first start-up was profitable from day one. Hence, I used all that money for almost 12 months. Fortunately, I didn't even look for investors, as we had enough to go ahead for another 12 months." A self-confessed non-techie founder and competing against hundreds of other companies with "solid tech founders", Bhatnagar saw thin chance of getting selected by CIIE. But it happened in 2013. "The concept appealed to them and they saw scope and scalability. I remember when I got to know that we have been shortlisted, I couldn't believe it and called CIIE the very next day to confirm," he recalled. Business model According to Bhatnagar, wWhere works with a very simple motto - making locations simpler for people and businesses. "We are using advanced fusion-based algorithms for gaining the most accurate location user. The product is targeted at business-to-customer and business-to-business," he said. Even while it continues to face the challenge of getting the right talent, wWhere continues to build on the product. "We did a 12-hour public beta of the app, which received tremendous response. We were able to get more than 500 downloads and 2,600 sign-ups. We used these users to get analytics data and then modified the product accordingly," said Bhatnagar. Such has been the initial success of the app that when wWhere tried to raise $100,000 in February 2015, it ended up getting commitments for $200,000. Future plans To enhance the user base, the start-up is specifically looking for brands with the most customer walk-ins. These are mostly retail businesses. The start-up is also looking for tie-ups with emergency services, so that those who need these can be located easily. However, the firm has no pricing plans for the now free-to-use app and intends to keep it that way. wWhere hopes to continue to build on its differentiation from other similar players like Foursquare and Life360. "wWhere is new to the location-exchanging space.
Hence, our core features are quite different from what our peers deliver. Right now, we are focusing on aggressively scaling up," Bhatnagar said. The company does look at international markets. The primary market for wWhere would be those countries which are GPS-friendly, mostly the West. India will continue to play an important role, said Bhatnagar. For wWhere, the major target group happens to be some of the international markets such as the US, UK, Indonesia, and Australia. As part of innovation, the start-up is also planning to conduct offline events. "I distinctly remember some good brands which did offline activities for extensive promotions and achieved a brand recall. Uber did that one Christmas and they generated news internationally, with better user experience. We're coming up with our application programme interface (APIs). The purpose is to connect more businesses with our platform and establish ease of accessing user-location data. This will make it easy for them (business and individual users) to take better location-based decisions," Bhatnagar said. Way Ahead With no second round of funding for now, the start-up is focusing on launching the product and getting traction. Refusing to divulge details about revenue, Bhatnagar said the start-up will be spending almost 40 per cent of its recent round of funding to scale up operations. In this, while the base city might remain Ahmedabad, wWhere could be looking for people in the sales channel in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. As for market conditions, location-based services are fast picking up and currently have roughly four to six per cent of total app share. However, it is less than 0.5 per cent of the webspace, which the start-up is looking to tap into by launching a product. Having already focused on scalability and building its current product on the same technology used by messaging service WhatsApp, wWhere is ready to absorb at least a million users without any add-ons. Challenges A big challenge remains in terms of product that could match Silicon Valley-based companies, which have better talent. "Another challenge would be to continuously expand into not only different cities but new countries altogether," Bhatnagar said. Yet, he is banking on the location space, solving a pin point and right time of entry as the driver of growth for wWhere even as locations are becoming more generic.
FACT BOX Founded: 2013 Founder: Ritam Bhatnagar Business model: Location-sharing app Incubated at: Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad Fund raised: $100,000 in February 2015
|EXPERT TAKE wWhere's core business is locations. With growing urbanisation and the need to access locations of people, businesses and things in real-time, access to locations is going to become more critical, and a simple way to communicate this information is going to be extremely important. The space wWhere is in right now is going to evolve in years to come and will play an important role for people and businesses. Location is a universal concept. This gives immense viability to this platform in any part of the world. Any person anywhere with a data connection (and a suitable smartphone) can use wWhere. Scalability will come when the platform starts having transactions between entities. wWhere carries scalability as a built-in feature because when you are sharing a location, the user is getting to know and use the product. Over time, additional features like messaging will be added that will aid in usage and scalability. One challenge I see for wWhere would be to create quick awareness for the brand, and to grow at a rapid pace before it gets marginalised. For this, the platform has to be simple to use, has to solve a basic human need, and has to generate as many consumer and business relations in as short a time, so as to create an entry barrier. Also, some of the more established players like WhatsApp and Google can easily add location as a feature, thereby increasing the urgency of wWhere to scale fast. Anunay Gupta, start-up mentor and chief mentor to wWhere|