[App Fridays] Ex-Googler’s app provides a ‘toll free’ experience of using mobile data, without violating net neutralityHarshith Mallya
With the third largest smartphone market in the world, it is projected that India will reach 314 million mobile internet users by 2017, according to a report by IAMAI and KPMG. The smartphone revolution has been accelerated with the arrival of affordable and easily available smartphones. But in emerging markets, the high cost of mobile data and connectivity issues keep people from utilising their mobile devices to their full potential. An ex-Google employee aims to solve the former problem and bring down the cost of mobile internet data with his mobile app, Gigato.
What is it?
Gigato is a data sponsoring platform developed by Mavin Inc. that lets users experience different mobile apps and get rewarded with additional mobile data for doing so. The key point to note here is that there is no restriction on the mobile data that is returned to the user, and it can be utilised in any manner they choose.
Mavin is a Silicon Valley and Gurgaon-based mobile startup which launched its app in India last month. The company claims to have crossed 1,00,000 downloads on Android within a month. Their focus is on bringing down the cost of data in emerging markets like India by making mobile internet more accessible and affordable. While users benefit from the various data promotions offered, app publishers gain user engagement on their apps. The service is available to prepaid users across all major telecom operators in India.
The story so far
Mavin was cofounded by Shailesh Nalawadi and Raina Kumra. Shailesh is currently responsible for product direction at the startup. Previously, he had worked in product management at Google, helping launch features on Google Maps, Google Glass, and Gmail. He holds an MBA from University of Chicago and Masters from University of Michigan.
Raina oversees UX/UI, brand and marketing strategy for Mavin. Previously, she founded Juggernaut, a consultancy and was Co-director of Innovation for The BBG, a federal agency under the Obama administration in the US. Prior to that, Raina led digital strategy at Wieden+Kennedy. She holds degrees from BU, NYU and Harvard University and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a non-profit think tank in the US. She believes that information access belongs to everyone and that a connected society is a measure of health for a strong society.
Related read from HerStory: Having a baby and having a startup have so much in common- Raina Kumra
About three years ago, while Shailesh was at Google, he spent a lot of time in emerging markets, particularly in India, and saw firsthand the potential of smartphone revolution. He says, "We take it for granted now. But the smartphones in our pockets are very powerful devices and their power and usefulness lies in always being connected to the internet."
Shailesh noticed that because of the disparity between the cost of internet and purchasing power, most people on prepaid plans would switch off their mobile data for long periods of time to ration their use, for the fear of exceeding their monthly limits. He says,
Smartphones were not designed for the data to be turned off. The whole power of smartphones and what makes them smart is the background data consumption. An e-commerce platform can’t send push notifications, you can’t track breaking news etc., when you have data turned off.
So to tackle this emerging market problem, Shailesh and Raina, along with colleagues and friends, worked on multiple ideas and then started working on Gigato’s current incarnation, about a year ago. Considering the rapid pace of smartphone and mobile internet growth in India, they decided to launch here first and set up an Indian office. Mavin currently consists of about 10 people across both countries.
Coming to market size, the company considers every user on a prepaid plan to be a potential customer. The company’s future plans include expanding to other emerging economies, such as Indonesia, Brazil, Malaysia and South Africa, which host a high number of prepaid users.
Shailesh says they have not faced any trouble in convincing potential users or businesses they are partnering with about their USP and about the concept of 'sponsored data packs'. He adds, "We initially launched with about five app developers a month ago and now plan to onboard two to three every month onto our platform. The response from users has been encouraging too."
Internet.org and Airtel Zero faced a lot of flak when they introduced their ‘zero rate’ platforms in India. Many had concerns about the platforms and how they could potentially violate net neutrality by creating a closed-wall garden for internet users. Talking about this, Shailesh says,
We are firm believers in the spirit of net neutrality. The data that is sponsored on our platform is returned to users with no strings attached. They are free to use it how they please, without restrictions. Coming to developers, everyone on the platform pays the same data cost; there is no differential pricing. There is no discrimination and we do not cut exclusive deals.
What we liked and possible improvements
The Gigato platform is well-designed and easy to use. The sign up process was smooth and I was able to log in easily. The promotions with the different brands such as Jabong, Saavn, TrulMadly, OLX and others are clearly stated and users get push notifications when they have achieved different targets. I used the app on a dual SIM smartphone with a prepaid and a postpaid SIM card and the experience was good.
For an app that has been around for only a month, the offers and promotions are interesting, but Gigato may need to onboard more app developers to attain mass appeal. Else, chances are users may download and browse apps which they have no interest in actually engaging with or making transactions on, for the purpose of redeeming data packs. This may decrease the ROI for app developers, who may not get their desired audience.
On the whole, Mavin's Gigato is an interesting app that is solving the relevant problem of making mobile internet more affordable to the masses. By offering immediate gratification by providing data packs, they may be increasing the stickiness of their app as compared to Mcent's Jana, which offers talk time to users in return for a similar model. With an experienced team across two countries, that has worked at large scale projects earlier, it will be interesting to see how Mavin expands its reach in India and also taps into other emerging markets.
( With inputs from Emmanuel Amberber)