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Knowlarity eyes global expansion in cloud telephony

Timely funding, first-mover advantage are making the cloud telephony services provider a force to reckon with

Vinay Umarji 

Cloud telephony

According to international standards, a medical team has to respond within four to six minutes to resuscitate a patient when he shows no pulse or is not breathing. The team at gets it right 99 per cent of the times, thanks to an emergency response system provided by the NCR-based cloud telephony start-up Pvt Ltd.

Founded in 2009 by IIT-Kanpur batchmates and Pallav Pandey, is head and shoulders ahead of its competitors and has also garnered from support big names in venture capital and private equity circles, like Sequoia Capital and Mayfield Fund. The reason for their success is the way cloud telephony has attracted users by offering web-based voice call management services such as automated personalised and customised call-handling, web-based (IVR) facility on multiple numbers, cloud-based conference call facilities, and cloud-based call logs, among others.

Initial days
When a computer science graduate with an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University, Gupta, returned to India from over a decade-long stint in the US he believed that cloud telephony had the potential to change the way the world does business.

"Despite having a comfortable life in corporate America, I felt like doing something else. In 2009, when I returned to India, consumer telephony was in full swing. Everybody had a cell phone. We realised India would need more than a regular cell phone. Knowlarity was born," said Gupta.

Pandey and Gupta decided that cloud telephony would be their first venture. Knowlarity clicked with an undisclosed seed money amount. Later, Pandey would leave to pursue other interests.

The times were tough due to the sub-prime crisis but Knowlarity got a timely opportunity through the Odisha state Assembly elections.

Ambarish Gupta
"We were able to convince Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik to use our system to call various constituencies for campaigning. It worked and fetched us Rs 1.5 crore in a single activity," reminisced Gupta. By 2011, the firm raised a Series A funding of $6.5 million from an undisclosed source, paving the way for rapid growth in client acquisition and infrastructure. The start-up claims it has nearly 7,000 paid clients and about 1,00,000 free users.

Business model
Knowlarity offers services like web-based automated personalised call-handling, web-based IVR on multiple numbers, facility to send and receive faxes in PDF format via email, and cloud-based conference call facility for up to 10 users, among others.

Its technology, being cloud-based, data such as voice messages and faxes on email, do not require heavy storage capacity or hardware. Typically, the start-up charges Rs 24,000 per annum and onwards. According to Jyotsna Pattabhiraman, head, product marketing, Knowlarity, the firm sells products locally directly and indirectly through tie-ups with various software and value-added re-sellers.

Despite a first mover's advantage, Knowlarity did face competition eventually. "Exotel, Ozonetel, and Sonetel in India and Twilio and Plivo abroad have come up. However, none of them are as successful as us. We have been able to consolidate on our position by acquiring Unicom recently," said Gupta.

Also, being a cloud-based player on the Internet, Knowlarity's reach is already global. After opening offices in Singapore and Philippines, the firm is looking at other territories now. This will be facilitated through the Series B round of funding worth $16 million (Rs 100 crore) that took place through Sequoia Capital and Mayfield Fund recently.

What also works for Knowlarity is the firm's ability to understand its clients' needs, especially SMBs, who want to access technology without having to deal with it.

"Understanding the environment in which our customers operate has prompted us to invest in areas that are crucial for them - a large support team and in-house consulting team, and investments in reliability and scalability," said Pattabhiraman.

Knowlarity's clientele includes Intalia, Venturesity, HT Media, Zipdial, Asian Heart Institute, L&T, Sarvodya Realcon, EasyGo Trip and Mid-Day Meal programme and others.


One of the challenges has been explaining products to first-time users.

"We follow a three-pronged approach of online marketing, sales calls and sales visits. It is difficult for us to explain what we do. It is important for clients to have an experience of our products. Once they do, nobody says 'I don't need this'," Jo said. Also, internationalisation is being identified as the biggest challenge, along with cultural differences and regulatory framework.

"Talent acquisition strategy is also important," said Gupta.

Despite challenges, Knowlarity does see a huge potential for cloud-based telephony services in India which will be its bread and butter for the next six to eight months, even as it expands into West and South Asia, South Africa and Latin America. "One of our ambitions is to build a product company based out of India but selling globally," Gupta adds.

Knowlarity is also working on improving mobile platform and user experience.

"Our aim is to provide the power of a mini call center in every smartphone," Gupta said, adding that while the firm expects to grow by five times over the next three years, the interim goal is to be a billion-dollar company.

The cloud telephony market is estimated to be a $600 million (Rs 3,700 crore roughly) market in the US alone. Globally, it is estimated to be worth over $60 billion (about Rs 3.7 lakh crore).

Gupta believes the key growth drivers include an increase in Internet penetrations, affordable smartphones, and greater market awareness in cloud telephony products.


Area of business: Cloud Telephony

Founding team: 2009

Top clients: Fortis Healthcare, Intalia, Venturesity, HT Media, Zipdial, Asian Heart Institute, L&T, Sarvodya Realcon, EasyGo Trip and Mid-Day Meal

Competitors: Exotel, Ozonetel, and Sonetel

Funding: Series-A funding of $6.5 million in 2011, Series-B of funding $16 million by Sequoia Capital and Mayfield Fund

First Published: Mon, November 10 2014. 00:41 IST