There are multiple artificial intelligence (AI)-based chatbots and personal assistants today that help people improve productivity and manage their time better. With a variety of e-commerce platforms and their respective mobile apps, it can become overwhelming for people to manage and book the different services and products they need. To solve this pain point, Niki.ai was born. The app was officially launched during YourStory’s TechSparks 2015, and is a Tech30 company.
Based on AI and Natural Language programming (NLP), Niki.ai is a chatbot that users can ‘talk’ to. The app understands human language in the context of the products or services users wish to avail. Currently, users can search, discover, confirm, and pay for cabs and mobile recharges through a simple chat interface.
Niki.ai was founded in April 2015 by four IIT Kharagpur alumni - Sachin Jaiswal, Keshav Prawasi, Nitin Babel and Shishir Modi. This team of four has now expanded to 16. The founding team initially spent a couple of months in Udaipur before moving to Bengaluru in July 2015.
The product has been in beta for seven months, and the team has focussed on building and enhancing the product, while working closely with a limited set of beta users. The app currently supports end-to -end bookings for both Ola and Uber cabs. In the backend, the complex algorithms keep running to understand user preferences and personalise the experience for each user.
As a technology platform, Niki.ai has been built to be both simple and scalable -- simple for customers to use and scalable as a product. Talking about their motivation to work on such a product, Sachin says, “Many users are not able to keep up with the increase in the number of apps, due to low-memory phones and slow Internet connections. There was a need to cut the noise around excess content to offer more personalised suggestions and facilitate decision-making. The answer was a chatbot which could simplify online ordering.”
Talking about the use cases of their product, Sachin added, “Users can search for a cab of their preference, compare it across brands and cab types or offload their decision to Niki–just say you are looking for the nearest or the cheapest cab and Niki will get that for you. Users can also track their ride, view driver details or cancel the rides through the app.”
Niki.ai can also help users with mobile recharges through an integration with justrechargeit– users just need to type in their required recharge amount or they can request Niki .ai to suggest plans based on their preferences. Sachin explains:
If you are looking for a 3G data pack, Niki will recommend the right plan based on your preferences. While providing recommendations, Niki also considers if you are on roaming and suggests custom plans accordingly.
For forgetful users, Niki.ai also reminds them to renew their recharge pack before the validity expires. To cater to all these needs, Niki provides users with a first of its kind, in-chat payment option powered through PayTM Wallet. Sachin adds, “The entire transaction happens through the app. Users just enter the OTP in the chat and the payment is done.”
The startup currently runs on a channel partnership model and generates revenue for every transaction that occurs through the platform. Niki.ai’s long-term vision is to make communication simple and convenient between brands and consumers. The startup recently raised an undisclosed amount in funding led by Unilazer Ventures, and are currently looking to focus on product development and expand service offerings.
Unilazer Ventures Founder Ronnie Screwvala says, “Tech-first companies have dominated the market globally with firm focus on user experience and simplicity, a trend which has started in India as well. They (Niki.ai) have a standout team and are on the brink of some innovative work. We are closely working with them to realise this vision.”
Unlike other AI applications and personal assistants such as Siri, Google Now, and Cortana,which focus mainly on productivity, Niki’s USP is its focus on commerce. In the area of chatbots, there is US -based Magic, a 24/7 SMS-based on-demand delivery service. Global giant Facebook has also shown interest in this sector with a project titled ‘Facebook M’, a service embedded inside their Messenger app. Hexa Research forecasts the global demand for intelligent virtual assistants to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 30% from 2013 to 2020. That means that over the next five years, the expected market size for virtual agent solutions is set to more than triple and be valued at around $3 billion.
In India, we have Lookup that connects local merchants with customers and is backed by Twitter Co-founder Biz Stone and Infosys Co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan. Personal assistant app, HelpChat, backed by Sequoia Capital, is also in this sector and was recently in the news after they downsized their operations. While the above players use a combination of real-world assistants and AI, Niki.ai is fully automatedwithout any human intervention.
In the longrun, Niki.ai will be powered with voice capabilities, and have close-knit integration with all online platforms, including the Web, smartphones, etc. Over the next few months, they plan to include further improvements and add-ons to their current services and over 25 new services such as bus bookings and other utility services. The team’s current focus is on further enhancing the product and metrics to make sure the product is stable.
Niki.ai is a well-designed and executed product that solves a real pain point. The mobile app is easy to use and the user interface is fun and fresh. The app does what it promises, without including any unnecessary features,aimed at retaining users or forcing interactions. The app also works well on 2G speeds,which adds to its appeal.
With an experienced team that has successfully developed and deployed products in the past, it will be interesting to see how the team rolls out new features and gains user adoption.
Download the app here.
Video credits: Camera: R Raja and Natraj
Video Editor: Anjali V