Almost 95 percent of Indian mobile users are on prepaid mobile plans, and a vast majority do not really understand voice or data packs, and the expiry dates of their plans. In most cases, telecom operators provide insufficient or incomplete information, which creates confusion for consumers.
If a customer decides to go the extra mile and have their operators inform them on these things, they need to dial into complex IVRS, self-service menus. Adding to the disadvantages, prepaid users need to pay when they speak to a customer care representative; toll-free numbers are generally inactive or not helpful.
Ashwin Ramaswamy, Pranav Jha, and Raghvendra Varma thus co-founded Mubble to provide hassle-free and transparent ways of keeping track of mobile usage.
Because the founders had worked in the telecom and technology industries, they possessed both insider and outsider perspectives on the problems most users generally face. So they decided to tackle it through a mobile app, built for the masses. They launched their beta version in late October 2014 under the name ‘Balance Inbox’. Then, based on the positive feedback and constructive criticism they received, they relaunched the app in March 2015 under the brand name ‘Mubble’.
Ashwin, the CEO of Mubble, is an engineer from IIT Madras, and holds an MBA from IIM Bangalore. He has about 18 years’ experience, across the fields of marketing, strategy and operations. He has worked with companies like Airtel, Jubilant Retail and Johnson & Johnson. He also worked briefly with MTS, handling their smartphone business, just before he started up Mubble Networks with his friends.
Pranav is the COO at Mubble. He is an engineer from IIT Bombay, and has 20 years of experience in technology, operations, analytics and mobility. He has worked at Appnomic, Vhayu, OnMobile, and Marimba, and experienced scale at Infosys and BMC Software. Raghvendra is an engineer from IT-BHU and has 23 years’ experience in the tech industry. He was a founding team member at OnMobile, which built product platforms and early business application middleware products at Infosys. Besides the three founders, they have eight programmers on their team.
Since their inception, Mubble has gone from zero to three lakh users, and has scanned over 20 million messages from telecom operators. In the process they have gained many insights into the problems that users face.
Insufficient data: They found that 37% of messages didn’t contain basic information, such as expiry dates of the packs. Most prepaid users generally avail of services such as rate-cutter packs and SMS and data packs, but are not sent sufficient details about them. Because of this, most users find it difficult to track their spending, and have to mentally make note of expiry dates. Ashwin added,
Currently, operators send a balance message at the end of every call, but there was no way to store, decipher and carry the information, which is not complete in the first place. There not being an expiry date is an acute problem for rate cutters, and users need to do math after every call.
Misconceptions: Mubble found that people held the unfounded notion that prepaid services were for the lower-income strata of society. Ashwin added: “ It is not so; almost 95% of India is on prepaid plans. This includes people from all income categories. Prepaid is a mindset of control and people want control."
No vernacular support: Mubble found that almost all the messages from telecom operators were in English, which made it difficult for people who are more comfortable and fluent in regional languages.
Keeping the above pain points in mind, the team designed Mubble to suit Indian needs.
End to end support: The app works on Dual SIM phones, and shows users their mobile balance across packs, a complete record of deductions and call rates. It also allows users to see how much mobile data has been consumed by their apps, especially apps which are running in the background.
Offline access and vernacular support: The app is designed to work offline, and is available in English and the most common Indian languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada (depending on the Android version on your phone). They support all major GSM operators in India. Ashwin added: “More than 45% of our users in UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan use the app in Hindi. All-India, 30% of users use it in their mother tongue”.
I tried out the app on a Dual SIM smartphone with one prepaid and one post-paid SIM card. The app is designed well, and it is easy to navigate and access data about both SIM cards quickly. Though the app is mainly designed for prepaid SIM cards, I was able to gather information about the 3G data usage on my postpaid SIM. The app provided information about the volume of data used in MBs, and gave the breakdown for each app used, and for the ones running in the background.
For my prepaid SIM, I was able to access data about my call logs, with operator pop-ups being stored automatically for future reference. The app also correctly identified the name of the pack I was subscribing to. I was also able to check out the same information in Hindi, but found that the pop-up information was still in English.
Market size and business model
With more than 100 million prepaid smartphone users in India and with this number growing, Mubble sees their market size growing exponentially every year. With telecom rates slated to increase in the next two years, Mubble wants to help Indian users make the transition with more transparency. Ashwin added:
Indians are careful and cautious about where they spend their money, and desire value for money and transparency.
Mubble is currently seeding their product, improving upon its features. In the future they plan to monetize by providing value-added services, such as alerts on pack inquiry and mobile recharges within the app. They have so far marketed themselves through social media channels and word-of-mouth, and they have achieved three lakh downloads. During the past few months, they have gained insights into user behaviour, such as reasons why people are using Dual SIM phones etc. So they also plan to explore content-based marketing in the future.
The founders bootstrapped the startup for the first few months. Then, they raised 2.4 crores in funding, through a friends-and-family round. They are currently in talks with VCs about their Series A round of funding. They plan to use this funding round to market their product offline, and further strengthen their technology team.
In the future, they plan to add more languages to reach out to more people. While their current target market is India, they consider this problem prevalent in almost all developing countries where prepaid mobile usage is common, and they plan to scale accordingly.