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Feel like a stranger in a big city? Know your neighbourhood with Bengaluru-based Omni

Aparajita Choudhury
21st Nov 2015
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Today, the concept of neighbourhood socialisation has become mere jargon with people so engrossed in their busy schedules. This isolation was a new experience for Jackson Fernandez, who was born and brought up in Cuttack, and thoroughly enjoyed the small-town neighbourhood culture, where people interacted with each other.

These interactions were not merely social. Whether it was interesting events in the locality, who the nearest doctor or lawyer was, if any crimes had occurred, or who a reliable plumber, painter, or maid was, they provided a wealth of local information.

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Balamurugan and Jackson Fernandez

Jackson, who moved to Bengaluru after finishing his engineering at NIT Trichy and his MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur, found that the neighbourhoods here were much larger and that socialisation was missing. In the metros, people seemed more connected at a global level, but disconnected at a local level.

He decided to do something when he realised that if this local level information and intelligence were harnessed effectively, they could be very powerful and useful tools to tackle day-to-day situations. He founded Omni in an attempt to bridge this local disconnect.

Jackson says, “We started looking at possible solutions and were very inspired by the ‘Hello Neighbor’ initiative of the Bengaluru Police. So we started building Omni with a more broad-based definition of a neighborhood. This would include other entities in the locality like public agencies, businesses, points of interest, etc., besides residents and visitors.”

Entrepreneurial kick

The entrepreneurial bug bit Jackson when he was working in the US as a strategy consultant. He came back to India to fuel his entrepreneurial dream. His first startup Grabon was recently acquired by Snapdeal. He has also tried his hand at helping wego.com set up and scale the travel metasearch business in India.

Jackson says, “The continued interest in the hyper-local space led me to Omni, but with a broader goal. Omni received the Best Innovation Award at the Global Mobile Internet conference; we have been inducted into the Facebook programme for promising startups; and to top it all, we are among the Tech30 companies at Techsparks – India’s largest tech entrepreneurship summit.”

Stay connected in your neighbourhood

Omni is a proximity-based communication platform that lets users discover and interact with other entities like public agencies and businesses in their vicinity. The platform contains certain tools such as broadcast, update, review/recommend, chat, message boards, alerts, and more, that enable users to make communication more seamless.

People can use Omni to share local news, spread crime alerts, help someone find a lost pet, for side-gigging , freelancing or buying/selling in the neighborhood, and forming interest groups to solve a common civic issue. One can also seek recommendations on local services like plumbers, carpenters, maids, etc.

Jackson says,

You can find/add your neighbors on the platform, connect with them and share relevant information seamlessly. Since you get and post updates to a limited geography, the information that is shared is very location-specific, contextual and relevant.

Other important constituents of the neighborhood like businesses and public agencies can use Omni as an effective local broadcasting tool. They can post updates on their Omni channel and everyone in the vicinity will get this update via the Omni app. This allows local businesses to announce new deals/offers, flash discounts, new inventory, etc. to the neighborhood, especially since 80 per cent of their customers are typically situated within a few kilometers of the store.

If a business, freelancer or side-gigger want to use Omni for local marketing or broadcasting, then Omni will create a create a profile for them with all the essential information they want to share.

Every entity is associated with a location co-ordinate and has a limited area of broadcast (so that their updates reach only the neighborhood). These entities can broadcast updates as text, audio, or video. People in the vicinity of the entity automatically receive these updates on the Omni app. Local businesses can share information about deals, flash discounts, new offerings, etc.

Jackson elaborates,

Many of our vendor partners are using Omni to get their existing customers to recommend their business to others. Currently, most of our vendor partners are in Indiranagar, Koramangala, JP Nagar, Whitefield.

Jackson points out that the broadcasting module for businesses/freelancers/side-giggers is free. They can get in touch with Omni’s team who will help them set up their broadcast channel, post which, they can use it as an effective local marketing tool.

“We would be adding a lot more advanced capabilities and communication options. Our aim is to become the mode of choice for any type of local communication,” says Jackson.

Traction so far

Within a couple of weeks of its launch, Omni has witnessed more than 1,000 users and 1,200 vendors on its platform with huge interest coming from both local businesses and freelancers. The startup now has a team of 10 people.

Going forward

While discussion forums connected to specific neighbourhoods already exist, Omni claims to be different by dynamically including more entities.

Being a communication platform for the neighbourhood, Omni is trying to edge past current forms of communication like newspaper inserts, community noticeboards, banners, WhatsApp groups, loudspeakers, and more.

“We want to enable and catalyse thriving neighborhoods on Omni across the top 9 to 10 cities in India. Our primary focus will be on actively working with our customers and partners to build a powerful product that makes the interactions in the neighborhood extremely seamless, thus helping to build connected, collaborated and safer neighborhoods,” says Jackson.

Omni

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