Conversation With Manish Maheshwari, GM & Global Business Head,txtWeb, Intuit

By Chandan Raj|11th Jan 2012
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Txt Web

txtWeb is a global platform where anyone with a mobile phone can discover and consume internet and txtWeb-only content just by SMSing keywords to one national number, and receive back content. txtWeb, is a revolutionary concept that aims to provide information accessibility to those population segments that lack Internet access by exploiting the universality of text messaging services. Not long into its inception, the initiative has already garnered interest from the likes of Wikipedia and CricBuzz, among others.In conversation with Chandan Raj of Yourstory.in, txtWeb’s GM & Global Business Head, Manish Maheshwari tells us how he sees txtWeb becoming a global phenomenon in the mobile information space.

Manish, briefly tell us about yourself and txtWeb:

I lead the txtWeb (www.txtWeb.com) initiative at Intuit with the goal of transforming the lives of over 3 billion people worldwide who have been cut off from digital advancements but yet, possess a mobile phone. txtWeb is a mobile app platform for the masses, i.e. even those without a smartphone or data plan. Deploying existing content via a txtSite takes only 5 minutes and creating a txtApp takes about 5 hours.

Prior to this, I worked at McKinsey & Company in New York & New Delhi, advising Fortune 500 companies and start-ups. I started my career with Procter & Gamble (P&G) in Mumbai and then managed their businesses in Asia-Pacific as one of their youngest expatriate managers.

What according to you, are the major challenges that Indian companies face today in the mobile space?

Both mobile penetration among Indians and the proportion of time they spend on their mobile devices are increasing rapidly. Large companies are reacting to this by developing their own Android, iPhone and Blackberry apps. However, because of distribution, affordability and ease of use issues, the adoption is dismal. Small and medium-sized companies do not have the expertise to build an app for every platform. Moreover, a smartphone app is overkill for their simple needs of interacting with their customers, alerting them on deals and conducting simple transactions. As a result, on one hand, large companies are frustrated with wasted efforts, while on the other hand, small- and medium-sized companies feel left behind.

How does txtWeb help in solving some of these problems?

txtWeb provides one common and global-ready app platform that cuts across all handsets, operating systems and carrier networks. Companies just need to built one app on txtWeb, in order to make their services available to any mobile phone user using any smartphone or even a simple feature phone. Building a txtWeb app is so easy because of the way the platform is designed with open APIs. Even a college student can build apps in a few hours.

For a user, txtWeb provides one single place to discover and use thousands of services in a way that is as simple as sending an SMS without incurring premium charges. Since txtWeb apps are SMS-based, there is no app downloading involved. As a result, there is no need for any Internet access or a data plan. Moreover, users "pull" information from txtWeb when they want it and not when the sender wants to spam them, like the Web.

txtWeb, therefore, empowers users and respects their choices on when/what to receive in a way that is TRAI-compliant in India. In fact, on December 23rd, 2011, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) came out with an amendment, where they explicitly classified txtWeb as exempt from anti-spamming regulations.

Any interesting trends that you see in this space?

Several. With the proliferation of smart phone apps, the user fatigue, in terms of number of apps they download on their phone and use regularly, is increasing. In addition, in metros, there is massive congestion leading to huge latency even on a 3G network. There is a need for a common aggregated platform such as txtWeb from where users can discover and access all apps without having to download each app individually. In non-metros, affordability of data plan becomes a gating factor even though the prices of smart phones are coming down because of Chinese knock-offs.

On the other hand, texting or SMS continues to be the number one non-voice service used on all phones. The immediate, concise, and unobtrusive nature makes SMS unique. What gives it real power is its ubiquity; on every mobile phone, all the time, irrespective of handset, mobile operating system, carrier and Internet connectivity. For companies, these characteristics make SMS the ideal connective tissue to link and enhance all their customer interactions and marketing efforts.


txtweb_founder

Can you please share one successful engagement with any of your clients, where txtWeb was able to boost their business?There are quite a few interesting examples. @wikipedia app on txtWeb is currently enabling internet-dark Indians residing in more than 300 tier 2 and tier 3 towns and even villages to access Wikipedia articles in their native language. Since its launch a year ago, it has been used more than a million times and is among the top 10 most popular apps on txtWeb. Given this success in India, Wikimedia Foundation is planning to publish a case study on how txtWeb is helping improve Wikipedia readership in areas where there is no Internet access so that the learnings can be applied to other emerging markets such as Brazil, Russia and Indonesia.

CricBuzz, India’s leading Cricket website, created and deployed their app on txtWeb in just 5 hours. During the 2011 Cricket World Cup, their app got several million hits from new users who first discovered them on txtWeb and continued to use their services even after the Cricket World Cup.

txtWeb also helps small entrepreneurs to quickly mobile-enable their services. @autofare app by Sandeep Bhaskar, a small entrepreneur in India, addresses the issue of meter-tampering by auto-rickshaw owners and drivers by providing approximate fare between two locations. One of the user, who was visiting India commented on txtWeb blog, “especially great for expats and foreigners trying to navigate Indian cities by auto-rickshaw, or anyone who is new to a city and doesn't already have an idea of rates.”

If any of our readers want to explore txtWeb for their business, what should they do?

They should visit our website www.txtWeb.com to learn how they can mobile-enable their business in under 5 hours. For a specific and customized need, businesses can reach txtWeb at admin@txtWeb.com

Where do you see txtWeb three years from now?

Our vision is to make txtWeb the platform of choice for businesses and developers to quickly mobile-enable their services and for users to get services on-demand while on the go. We are witnessing strong growth and momentum both in terms of active users and in terms of active apps on the platform. Many of the leading sports, media, entertainment and e-commerce companies have already put their apps on txtWeb or are actively looking into it. We hope to realize our vision within the next three years.

Three tips you would like to share with aspiring and budding entrepreneurs.

Don’t be afraid to defy conventional logic or accepted norms as long as your conviction comes from being close to your customers and direct observation of their pain.

Start scrappy with a minimum viable product to validate your biggest leap of faith assumptions. Only when those are validated, begin investing more in your venture.

And finally, you must do what you think you cannot! That is the only way to push your boundaries and those of the world around you.

To know more about txtWeb visit and try out their free service, please visit - http://www.txtweb.com/

Do check out YourStory’s txtWeb SMS app and stay tuned to the latest startup and entrepreneurial news on-the-go anyplace anytime by sending an SMS @yourstory to 9243342000

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