Vinil Vadi’s startup journey has all the makings of an exciting adventure – unplanned destinations, learning on-the-go and good fortune in the form of excellent mentors and opportunities. What started as a means to fight counterfeiting of products turned into an IoT, mobile and cloud-based customer loyalty program for brands called, Meltag.
Besides being an entrepreneur, Vinil is a veteran in the product development space, having spent nearly 15 years in developing B2B and B2C software solutions for global Fortune 500 corporations. In 2011, he wanted to launch a venture of his own and joined his long-time colleague and mentor Sudheer Mareddi, who is a promoter of Sunera Technologies, along with Srikanth Pakala and Ravi Reddy, all of whom are veterans in global IT business.
Once when Srikanth was reading about the causes of farmer suicides in India, he found that one of the main reasons that led to their misfortune was counterfeited seeds that were difficult to identify and subsequently brought about losses for the farmer. The team then conceptualized a solution that could help customers validate genuine products with the supplier themselves.
The suppliers could add scratch off labels on each seed packet with unique numbers, farmers could use their phones to message these numbers and receive a notification that indicated the product was genuine and part of the supplier’s inventory. The simple sticker solution evolved to become an ‘electronic seal’ that could also be used as a tracking mechanism to take stock of inventory by suppliers.
As the venture evolved, the team also realized that one could track the number of buyers and the number of products bought by each buyer through the messages they sent. This way, Meltag developed to include analytics and customer engagement solutions in addition to their core product. Gradually a whole universe was built around a single concept. While Vinil runs Meltag as CEO and Co-founder, Srikanth, Ravi and Sudheer remain as investors and advisors in Meltag. The venture has offices at San Jose (California) and Hyderabad.
Their first customer was Nuziveedu Seeds, one of the top agribusiness companies that markets seeds. Of the USD 512 billion Indian retail market, 92% of the transactions occur through unorganized small stores across the country. These stores are not equipped with POS systems, thus gaining insight into customer mindset is extremely difficult. Only discounts and promotions can be employed at such stores to increase sales. Meltag believes that their solution can help track product sales and increase engagement through those stores thus enabling more data collection in the unorganized space as well.
As soon as the idea was born, Meltag scaled quickly. After meeting over 80 brands in 2012, the venture beefed up its automation, packing and labeling capabilities, partnered with OEMs and leading telecom ISPs to build multiple channels to connect with consumers. The team also conducted successful pilots with Gulf, Finolex, USL and Polycab. Gulf, Finolex and Asian Paints became customers of Meltag. In 2014, Meltag molded itself into a loyalty solution for brands. It is now a full-fledged platform that helps each product have an identity that can be tracked in the supply chain, enables products to become modes of communication with the consumer through which discounts/promotions/offers can be delivered and also allows the consumer to connect with the brand by using SMS/Whatsapp/IVR/Mobile Scan or FB.
The cloud hosted Meltag platform includes a host of features, including mobile marketing, campaign management, support, trade promotion and brand protection.
The data that arises from all the interaction has proved to be valuable to Meltag’s customers. Customers can create targets for each market segment and derive event based metrics through each campaign/marketing strategy implemented using Meltag’s Consumer Loyalty InsightsTM. Meltag guarantees a 5% increase in sales to CMOs. This year, the venture has been listed in the TiE50 top start-up list.
Challenges and way forward
Vinil believes one of the biggest challenges was to increase awareness regarding their product. Brands expressed skepticism when Meltag aimed to reach out to customers in smaller stores. More than 30 brands, 60 million plus campaigns and 10 million plus consumer connects later, Meltag has built a strong foundation for itself and has overcome its initial hurdles.
Meltag is targeting USD 183 million in sales by 2020 and estimates that the retail market will be worth USD 1 billion. With well-defined, tested solutions in 34 sectors, including industrial segments, automotive and agriculture, Meltag is optimistic about the future.
Meltag helps brands directly connect with shoppers and build loyalty and engagement. We all have been using popular everyday brands like Colgate for years now and we know their products very well, the big question is does Colgate know its customers and what has Colgate done to recognize and reward its customers for their loyal patronage all these years?
The answer is no longer a ‘no’, thanks to Meltag.