YourStory Exclusive: Valerie Rozycki, Founder & CEO, ZipDial on the experience of executing her business idea and raising investment of Rs.3.5 crores from Mumbai Angels

15th Apr 2011
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It’s hard not to notice how effortlessly Valerie Rozycki mixes calm and candour with enthusiasm and expertise. Having completed her Bachelors and masters in Stanford, she worked for a while in the US with companies like eBay before moving to India permanently to be a part of the mobile telephony revolution that started sweeping emerging markets across the world.She went on to clock in a stint at mChek, a mobile payments startup based in Bangalore, as the head of strategic initiatives. Eventually, she decided to turn entrepreneur and started ZipDial, an interactive mobile-based platform for marketing and customer relationships management.

Earlier this week, ZipDial managed to raise a round of Series A investment to the tune of Rs.3.5 crores from investors led by Mumbai Angels. In this exclusive chat with YourStory, she speaks about the business idea behind ZipDial and harnessing the concept of ‘missed calls’, an ingenious communication system born in the emerging markets, to help brands connect with consumers.

 

Tell us about ZipDial.

ZipDial is a platform for a wide range of mobile services, which enable any business from the largest to the smallest to engage with their customers. It is a company of talented and energetic people who enjoy working together on their passion for delighting customers with compelling services and disruptive business models.

ZipDial is 100% accessible to the mass market with an experience as a simple as dialing numbers – or missed calls. To experience ZipDial, simply dial 080 300 500 00 (toll-free).

How is ZipDial different from other mobile marketing or CRM platforms?

Fundamentally, ZipDial is the simplest possible way to engage on the mobile. This makes the core of ZipDial unique in comparison with other mobile marketing solutions which have certain handset, service provider or cost limitations.

Additionally, the ZipDial experience for consumers is completely based on a trusted and user-friendly pull-based or opt-in model. ZipDial will never push messages to users and ZipDial will only message a user upon request when that user has done some call-to-action by ZipDialing.

Changes in needs and regulations around user privacy make ZipDial all the more important. The recent TRAI regulations restricting spam and push messages to mobiles make an opt-in, spam-free solution like ZipDial friendly for users, customers and the regulator.

ZipDial logo
How did the idea for ZipDial come about?

One of my co-founders, Sanjay Swamy, and I were brainstorming about various business ideas and it struck us that a missed call would be an ideal way to solve this one particular problem that was on our minds.

Then conversations over the following weeks turned that one solution into many solutions and a wide range of use cases. We decided that if an idea stuck that much, it was time to build a business around it. Then, our third co-founder, Amiya Pathak, came on board and built the first version of the platform single-handedly (he was in a cast for a fracture, so he literally coded with one hand!).

We looked out for any similar business within India or internationally and we found none. ZipDial was really the world's first mobile engagement platform based on missed calls, and the platform is patent-pending.

Tell us about your backgrounds.

I hold a Bachelors degree and a Masters degree from Stanford University. I have expertise in creation of new business models, product design, go-to-market strategies and partnerships, especially for emerging markets and technology for financial services. I used to be Head, Strategic Initiatives at mChek(India). I’ve also been a Business and Product Manager at eBay (USA) and Product Management and Business Development Consultant at SayNow Corporation (USA) in the past.

Amiya Pathak, who is the COO of ZipDial, is a graduate from IIT and holds a postgraduate degree from IIM. He has vast experience in developing scalable product solutions, defining product strategies, and setting up engineering teams/operations from scratch. He has been the Director, Engineering at Zapak.com (India) and the Engineering Manager at Ketera (India) in the past.

Sanjay Swamy, Chairman of ZipDial, is currently a UIDAI Volunteer and the head of Mobile & Financial Inclusion. He was the CEO at mChek (India). He used to be the General Manager at Ketera (India) and mPortal (India). He comes with 11 years of experience in the Silicon Valley at Xerox Parc, Portal Software & Integrated Systems (USA).

Is there acceptance for your concept? Can you give us some incidents to illustrate the same?

ZipDial has been validated by users with rapid growth up to volumes of 4 million ZipDials per day and all of this growth being completely word-of-mouth. With essentially zero marketing, ZipDial has become a popular call-to-action, especially for services such live cricket scores.

Additionally, ZipDial has been verified by different segments of paying customers. Large customers such as Proctor & Gamble, LG Mobiles, Sanofi-Aventis, Bloomberg UTV, Pepsi and KFC have used ZipDial in brand engagement in India and in the Caribbean.

Services are also live with small and medium business customers, including ecommerce businesses, law firms, individual celebrities, NGOs and live event managers.

We constantly hear of market trends and customer behavior which validate our approach. For example, from a recent conversation with the CEO of one of India's largest ecommerce players, he said that nearly 10% of the calls they get for their phone commerce are actually missed calls where the consumer expects a call back. This is ZipDialing!


What are the different services that ZipDial offers?

The range of services includes:

Lead capturing and customer relationship management on the mobile

Market research, polling and customer feedback surveys in the simplest and lowest cost form

Brand promotions and consumer engagement such as sports fan clubs

Delivery of and access to personalized content, such as mobile banking, made absolutely simple  and accessible to the mass market

Mobile number verification, especially for ecommerce and web businesses

Where do you see mobile marketing and ZipDial five years from now?

Five years from now, the "long tail" of small businesses will be readily using mobile marketing, just like they have adopted Google AdWords today. Just like small businesses have a website, they will also have a mobile identity and their ZipDial number will be an important part of that mobile identity.

These small marketers will be using a range of more sophisticated engagement tools with their customers than simply pushing SMS blasts (which forms the majority of use cases today) and the ZipDial platform along with its many services built either internally or through a developer community will enable this engagement.

What is ZipDial's revenue model?

Business customers who use ZipDial numbers to create consumer engagement pay us for that service. We do customized, higher volume solutions for larger customers which may involve gaming or fan club interactions. But a small business may avail ZipDial services for a very simple subscription of Rs 1,000 per ZipDial number per month.

As an entrepreneur, what are your joys? What are the challenges?

I have the most fun and am most proud of working with such an excellent team. I do get a lot of joy out of building things and creating great solutions and opportunities for customers. But it is all the more fulfilling to do it with a group of people who are equally passionate and motivate me even more to make ZipDial great.

One of our biggest challenges for ZipDial is deciding where to focus first. We have thought of easily 100 applications on the platform, tested 20 of them, and are taking about 3 into market in a structured way with 2-3 more incubating in the wings. Even though we have a wide range of things we can do, this does not mean we should do them all or all at once. So, strategic prioritization is a challenge.

How big is the ZipDial team? Are you looking at hiring?

Amiya and I run the company from a day to day perspective and Sanjay is highly involved as our Chairman and advisor.

The engineering team is currently 4 people in addition to Amiya and we are looking to hire a few more very soon. Additionally, we have 2 people leading design and product marketing.

On the business side, we have a team of 6 across business development to large businesses, sales to smaller businesses, and the operations of the company. We are urgently looking to grow the business development team, especially in Mumbai. So, if you're interested, you should definitely send an email to jointheparty[at]zipdia[dot].com!

Let us know about your expansion plans.

We are primarily focused on the Indian market, targeting both large marquee brands and small businesses especially through reseller partnerships. We have done some campaigns with international customers already in the Caribbean market and we plan to expand that further gradually.

We understand that ZipDial has received a round of funding to the tune of Rs.3.5 crores from a group of investors led by Mumbai Angels. How did that come about?

Just this week, we closed a Series A funding round led by Mumbai Angels. This also includes individual angel investors from India and the US. We have been talking to potential investors for several months with a bit of a delay in conversations during the time that I was competing on Bloomberg UTV's "The Pitch". Having some roots in the US, we were able to tap into networks of investors there in addition to those in India.

We were not desperate for money as we have been operating in a self-funded mode. But we are now very excited to have the funding and be able to scale faster. We also see a lot of value in the role that our investors will play as advisors and supporters of our strategy and partnership building.

We are quite excited to formally welcome Mr. Sunil Goyal, Founding Partner of YourNest Angel Fund, and Mr. Shravan Shroff, Founder of Fame India, to our Business Review and Investment Committee who will work closely with the Board.

ZipDial has now had its first birthday and we have now hit inflection points with customers where we are validating the solutions, repeating business with existing customers, and ready to fuel faster growth!

We at YourStory wish Valerie and the entire team at ZipDial much success. To know more, check out www.zipdial.com. Also, do share with us your thoughts and comments about this story. You can write to us at feedback@yourstory.in.

Sriram Mohan | YourStory | 14th April 2011 | Bangalore

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