We had the opportunity to interview one of India’s most promising Big Data talent, Sameer Narkar. Sameer and Nitin Vartak are the co-founders of Prudence Analytics & Software Solutions. Back in 2011, Sameer was toying with the idea of creating an application similar to Foursquare. He felt he could differentiate his application by providing detailed brand insights to advertisers through analytics.
One thing led to another and Konnect Social – a product which has got nothing in common with Foursquare was born in the winter of 2011. Sameer’s six years of expertise as a developer, system analyst and a solutions architect came in handy at the time. Building the listening module of Konnect Social was no different than building a search engine, a highly sophisticated search engine which pulls conversations from every dynamic site on the web. Brand conversations happen on dynamic sites like discussion forums, blogs and social media sites. They figured that the only way they can ensure search quality is by building their own crawlers. The founding duo went ahead and built their own search engine, a feat that has put Prudence in the league of only a handful of completely homegrown Big Data companies.
Sameer told us that when they first started out, they had a tactical and hence short sighted development approach. They were developing modules based on their limited understanding of what they were trying to achieve. To understand the bigger picture, Sameer began reaching out to industry experts by offering free trails and seeking feedback. Apparently, that’s all they did for the first 6 months. Those 6 months were all about adding features, going back to agencies for feedback & iterating. The period between 2011 and 2014 saw a spurt in the number of customer feedback-based features.
Reaching out to brands was a daunting task, agencies on the other hand were an easy to approach bunch. Agencies were open to discussions and receiving product demos, as they are always on the lookout for tools that can help them serve their customers better. Sameer noticed that agencies had to deal with an assortment of tools to go about their social media activities. He saw this as an opportunity to build an all in one tool. In its present form, Konnect Social is a complete social media management tool that allows agencies to listen, engage and publish.
Sameer began scouting for Konnect Social’s first few customers in June 2012. Back then, Konnect Social had good social media features but lacked social listening and ORM (Online Reputation Management) features which were greatly desired by leading brands. Sameer was faced with a dilemma that is routinely encountered by entrepreneurs – he knew what the market wanted but did not have the finances to back it. If he were to add those features to Konnect Social, Sameer would have to invest in a lot of servers to store all data fetched by the crawlers. He quickly realized that he can get around the problem by changing the product architecture to Big Data.
This transition helped him bag his first customer in September 2013. The first customer was a political party which wanted to drive conversations on social media in its favor for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Sameer quickly seized the opportunity to showcase Konnect Social’s capabilities by creating an election tracker that tracked online buzz of 25 politicians and leading political parties in real time. This caught the eye of popular social media sites like Social Samosa and leading national newspapers. News publishers began approaching Sameer for statistics which were credited to Konnect Social in their news articles. This helped Konnect Social gain popularity and commercial interests started flowing in.
Konnect Social’s crawlers have become much faster and richer in their coverage of India’s digital landscape then they were during its inception. It picks up conversations from every dynamic website and provides real time analytics for any set of keywords. Sameer recalled the thrill of signing up Reliance Telecommunications to use Konnect Social. Reliance was using an internationally renowned tool but moved to Konnect Social due to its superior reach.
Sameer’s case is that of a typical bootstrapped entrepreneur who does not have the luxury of spending big advertising money. An entrepreneur plays smart by seizing the opportunity with lightning speed when it shows up. Sameer did that with the election tracker in an election year. The election tracker opened a steady stream of inquiries which were easily converted into sales. Till date all of Konnect Social’s customers are the result of inbound queries and word of mouth.
Sameer intermittently uses Google Adwords to increase inbound queries. Whenever a customer from an untouched sector is acquired, a case study is prepared and showcased to other potential customers from that industry. The case studies are featured on their blog and blasted on social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook in an effort to reach out to agencies and brands.
Sameer’s two cents for budding entrepreneurs: Start with an idea, get it validated from those working in the domain and only then start developing it. Follow it up with testing and iteration. You will know you are on the right track when you get your first 2 customers.
Konnect Social is powered by 11 team members who have been associated with Prudence Software Solutions since its early days. Its customer base is 30 customers strong and rising. Konnect Social has received recognition from news sources like ZDnet, ET, Indian Express, Times of India and Social Samosa to name a few. They are still a bootstrapped company.