A contented Shashank Murali seems overwhelmed while recalling his Mark Zukerberg moment in BITS Pilani. Shahshank and his friend one day came up with the idea of uploading all the toppers’ notes onto a central repository. Backed by 36 hours of coding and programming, the project (website) witnessed 2,000 hits within two hours of going live.
Shashank proudly says that it was an achievement for them to get 2,000 hits from a campus of 4,000 students. After building apps for multiple startups, Shashank (23), along with Binay Krishna (23) and Arjun Krishna (22), decided to build something new on their own in their penultimate year of college. This led to the launch of Edvice, an on-demand tutoring app where students preparing for entrance exams could get on a chat with an IITian or BITSian within 30 seconds and have their doubts solved.
“Building Edvice was a humbling experience, as we realised that we knew so little. A couple of months later, we landed up getting acquired by HashLearn, and then shuttled between Pilani and Bengaluru, growing the product continuously. Today, HashLearn is used by over 50,000 students across India, and we became the first set of BITSians in 50 years to have sold a company while in college,” says Shashank.
How does it work?
TapChief, Shashank’s current venture, is a platform where students and startups can consult industry experts to solve their problems, which are primarily in decision making in the areas of careers, startups, technology, sales and marketing, and finance and legal. Users can either choose an expert to consult on their own or are assisted by the TapChief team on a case-by-case basis, thereby ensuring the best expert to consult for a particular problem.
The startup allows users to come onto the platform and search for an expert by skill, organisation or name, and discover multiple expert profiles. The user can then go on to request a consultation with the expert by suggesting three time slots and an agenda for the same. The expert, who is then notified via email and SMS, can accept, reject or suggest alternate timings for the consultation.
After the expert accepts a particular timing, the user is connected to the former through a phone call at the designated time, over which they conduct the consultation for the chosen duration.
An interesting feature of this platform is the ‘mentoring model’, where, post an interaction, the expert waives any consultation charges in the event of the user and the expert adding each other to their contacts. The adoption of this mentoring model is seen in about 35 percent of the consultations.
“We route all our calls through a cloud-telephony service to ensure both our users’ and experts’ privacy. Moreover, the fact that our core service happens through a normal phone call, without the need for internet, has ensured that we have experts at even senior executive levels who can spare time to help out someone in need without too much of a hassle,” says Shashank.
He adds that the primary goal of TapChief is to take the traditional advice/guidance-seeking that happens day in and day out offline completely online, thereby using technology to make such advice both accessible and of superior quality.
Edvice made the trio realise the need that startup founders, very often naïve college students, have for an expert who can mentor them with regard to the scalability of a business. After checking with their peers, they saw that the situation was no different in conventional career paths like higher studies or jobs. They then resolved to address this knowledge gap.
They started building TapChief in their last semester of college as an open network, where anyone could place calls with anyone when seeking advice or help with a problem one is grappling with.
“We use technology to help you identify the best person to talk to in a particular situation, and we enable the user to place a phone call with any expert on the platform,” says Shashank.
TapChief was started with a seed capital of Rs 5 lakh, infused by the founding team itself. They started building an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) in the first week of January 2016, managing to complete it within 45 days, on February 18, 2016.
“After having built one company, we were more careful about how we went about building this one. We were very sure from day one that we had to try and validate our assumptions as early as possible, with the least amount of money,” says Shahsank.
He further adds that they have learnt a lot with their initial set of users and experts itself in terms of the best time for these consultations, appropriate communication and frequency, amongst other things. Their assumptions and viability of the product were validated when the product saw 400 consultations in its beta version. Since they were still in college at the time, they decided not to take compensation, instead utilising the money only for company expenses like servers, software services and calling infrastructure.
Today, TapChief has more than 5,000 experts across domains like technology, design, marketing, HR, consulting, investment banking, finance and legal. Its diverse set of experts includes the likes of Senior Executives, CEOs, VCs, angel investors, consultants and bankers, among others, with over 10,000 unique skills from over 1,500 organisations.
Each expert can set their own consultation charges and all consultations take place via a normal phone call. Moreover, the expert’s privacy is ensured by not exchanging their contact details with the users as all calls are routed through TapChief’s cloud telephony solution.
TapChief uses GA, mixpanel, and heap analytics, among other tools, to track user behaviour on the platform.
Milestones and funding
TapChief had also earlier emerged as the winner out of 1,200 applicants to Mindbatteries’ Ideathon, which resulted in the backing of Vijay Shekhar Sharma of Paytm to the tune of Rs 1 crore.
The startup is also the winner of Seedstars Bangalore, and will compete at Seedstars Global Finale at Lausanne, Switzerland for the $500,000 on offer. TapChief will be India’s representative at the event, which will see the presence of the best seed stage startups from over 65 countries.
Generating revenue and future plans
Tapchief works on a simple commission model, where they charge a commission to the expert on every paid consultation. In the coming months, the startup will launch further revenue models, where it will offer subscriptions to businesses and startups to consult any of its 5,000 experts without any restrictions on aspects such as duration.
In terms of revenue, TapChief has grown by 150 percent between June and October. Currently, the startup has a team of eight people based out of Bengaluru.
By Jan 2017, TapChief will be onboarding experts from across the globe, and individuals and businesses can consult experts across geographies through the platform.