When a 70-year-old Pune resident in Pimpri area, tired of a tree branch poking into the living room of her house, posted a complaint on this platform, she didn’t realize that the local neta would be at her doorstep in the next few minutes.
“I wrote about my issue in Marathi and hit ‘Post’ not knowing what was going to happen next or who this might reach. Just about five minutes later, I heard the doorbell ring, and when I opened it, I saw our local corporator. He assured us that the problem will be resolved soon, and within five days we saw the officials trim down the tree and clean the whole place,” she said.
This is what Founder Krushnaal Pai wanted NetaG to be.
“We pay our taxes, and it goes into a repository we don’t care about. And on top of that we have the habit of blaming politicians for using the money badly. I wanted to build a transparent platform for politicians and citizens to communicate,” he said.
Yes, there are many apps like these in the market, but they were built to empower citizens. This one is a little different – it acts as a platform for politicians to showcase the work they do.
The actual trigger for this idea came when the excited, 18-year-old Krushnaal walked into a polling booth to vote for the first time in life.
“I was with my parents and I was thinking to myself, ‘Whom should I vote for?’ There was no information there whatsoever, not even a photo of the candidates. How was I supposed to decide my representative? So I asked my parents for help,” he said.
Unsatisfied with the information his parents gave him about the work some of the candidates did, Krushnaal decided he wanted to build a platform where citizens could learn more about the candidates.
Birth of the startup
After Krushnaal graduated from Maharashtra Institute of Technology in Pune, he worked in Accenture for the next three and a half years. He used his first salary to fund research for his long-time idea.
Over the next few years, he realized that NetaG needed him full time and quit his cushy IT job early last year. Later, he infused about two more lakhs into the project and started conducting surveys about what local politicians and citizen expect from an app like this.
He called his Pune-based startup LightVision Technologies, and made his first hire.
“Politicians needed a lot of guidance and coaching to use such apps, so I realized the venture was heavy on the operations side, and I needed another person to help with that,” said Krushnaal, adding that he hired Deepak Pandey from Mumbai to help him with this.
This two-member team launched the NetaG app on Google Play in January 2015.
What’s NetaG all about?
The app is a location-based social platform that connects people with local politicians to resolve civic issues in the locality. Posting an issue on NetaG is as simple as writing a tweet – it comprises of a post and a picture to go with it.
Once an issue is posted, their algorithms find the ward in which the problem has been reported and alerts all elected and aspiring politicians working for that ward. To ensure more open interactions between both parties, the most recent version of the app keeps the identity of the complainant anonymous.
After an issue is posted, users can track the progress made by their politicians, see their proof of work via pictures uploaded by them, and also live chat with these politicians discuss more details if necessary.
So far so good
NetaG has more than 300 politicians on the platform, with over 45 elected corporators from PCMC (Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation) in Pune, and few wards in Mumbai.
“It takes around a day to about a month for an issue to get resolved depending on the type of issue and the process involved. For example, issues in complex processes like tender filing take much longer, though we are working hard to reduce this wait-time,” said Krushnaal.
Over the last few months, the app has seen around 4,000 downloads and over 350 issues reported on it. As of today, the platform has helped resolve 65 issues in total.
“Technology these days has made these people [corporators] so accessible, I’m glad politicians are open to using it, and have kept themselves updated with respect to these modern tools,” a user of the app said in a testimonial.
Peek into market and competition
India saw almost 550 million voting count during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, of which more than 100 million had smartphones. A report released by Cisco recently said that India would have 651 million smartphones and 900 million mobile users by 2016.
The market is filled with such e-governance apps and platforms, and some of them have really gained popularity in the last few years. A few examples are IChangeMyCity, MeriAwaaz and UnMuted. Even the government, which recently launched the mSeva service for mobile governance, has built over 450 mobile apps for India-centric services.
According to Krushnaal, the market for such platforms is huge and competition is always welcome.
“In this domain, competition is good for everyone because we are not in the business of building luxury. I don’t see them as competitors but rather contributors to society,” he said.
Glimpse into the future
Krushnaal wants to build a platform with a marketplace-like model so that multiple e-governance players can build and integrate with one another.
“I know that the problem of governance is not something that can, or should, rest on just one entity. We need everyone’s help to answer the question ‘Whom should I vote for?’ ” he said.