Thirty-three-year-old Pravin Kumar did his graduation from SSN College of Engineering, Chennai, and started his career as a developer at Zoho, where he would spend the next 10 years. He dabbled in sales and marketing too, before donning the CEO hat at SMhack.
Manikandan Chellamuthu, his co-founder, is 26-year-old computer science engineering graduate, hailing from the temple town of Palani in south Tamil Nadu. He started out at HCL and moved onto Zoho, seeking a fulfilling experience like Pravin. “After a few years, though the product was moving at a great pace and we were growing as a team, I still felt that I could do something more,” says Mani. And Pravin knocked on the door at the right moment, with the perfect opportunity. “Given my rural background, the ‘plunge’ is seldom heard of. My family members did not approve of my decision and wanted me to go back to Zoho. I may have burnt some bridges in the process, but building products is something that came naturally to me, and I had to leverage that skill at a proportionate pace,” he recalls.
The idea, it so happens, was conceived at Zoho. Their marketing team, headed by 29-year-old Nikhil Premanandan, had spent an entire week on the campaign to promote an upcoming event. They came up with 10 different tweets that were scheduled, using a leading tool, to go up every hour over the night to reach their US-based audience, only to find that nine of them never went live. “We started seeking alternatives and gave up when we found the other solutions too complicated. I wondered how these tools, which essentially needed to be make things simpler, were so difficult to use and lacked key aspects,” he recalls. On that dejected morning, he mused to Nikhil that if the market lacks a good social media management solution, they should build one themselves.
“He shrugged off my statement thinking that I was not serious. Now, he’s the head of marketing at SMhack,” he quips.
Set up last October, SMhack comes with all the features that a social media manager would need, such as publishing, social inbox, monitoring and powerful analytics. It also provides competition benchmarking, which is a useful feature, especially for agencies.
“Our vision is to make social media marketing simple for marketers. SMhack in its full glory would give dormant brands their first words. You paint your strategy on a blank canvas, give it vivid colors, give it direction, give it a purpose and SMhack will bring this big picture to life. SMhack would not just be a tool; it would be a ‘genie’ that executes all your social commands, whatever they may be,” he explains.
SMhack helps social media managers schedule and publish messages across various social channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn on one interface. The social media calendar gives a holistic view of the brand's social media plan.The bit.ly integration provides deep insights on individual posts. A unified inbox brings social media conversations from all the channels in a single window, and depending on the type of request (customer support/sales), the task is assigned to the appropriate person.
Competitor benchmarking is an important feature that is missing in popular social media management tools, including Hootsuite. By unearthing the social media strategy of your competitor, this feature gives you deep insights about your competitors’ campaigns, type of posts, post frequency, post timings and more.
Through its Slack integration, SMhack enables the user to manage all the brand's social media activities right from Slack. Additionally, it boasts of an intuitive dashboard, as opposed to the multitudes of streams running in market-peer companies like Hootsuite.
The platform follows a SaaS subscription-based model. Their pricing for SMBs starts at $9/month, and for agencies starts at $59/month. Pravin claims that they have seen users migrate from other management platforms to SMhack, citing better pricing structure and for affording a more seamless communication amongst their teams.
With Mani at the helm of engineering, Pravin focuses on interacting directly with the prospects and understanding why they are considering SMhack for their social media needs. “This helps us in getting our roadmap aligned with our user’s requirements rather than just matching the competition,” he says.
There were quite a few challenges since this idea was gaining form. For starters, SMhack's beta version was functionally a complete product, but not scalable, they learnt. Three months after the release, they had to upgrade the user interface so that they could scale it in the future.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to take especially just after the release. We did a lot of things that don’t scale. We called up a lot of people to know about their needs, and visited a lot of agencies in South India to understand their process in managing social media for their clients,” he says. With 570 sign-ups so far, they are growing 30 percent month-on-month.
Completely bootstrapped so far, they are now talking to few investors to explore potential synergies. And in the pipeline, at the concept stage, are a few artificial intelligence and machine learning-based services like:
'Publishing', wherein their AI engine with an elaborate algorithm will suggest a marketer the best post amongst the ones they have created, along with the best timings for it - which day, which time, based on its target audience's behaviours.
'Intelligent Social Media Customer Service,' wherein SMHack will use natural language processing to identify the best possible answer for a customer support executive to address a complaint or query.
And 'Social Selling,' wherein SMhack's intent analysis and geo-location filters will help brands connect with their leads in suitable areas in real time, by gauging their social media activity.
“We will be releasing a suite of products that will provide end-to-end social media management for marketers. We envision SMhack to be the next FreshDesk for social media management,” he concludes.
The Social Media Management Software industry is now $20 billion market, and is expected to reach $37 Billion by 2019. As for the AI market at large, it's worth $600 million, and is expected to reach $36 Billion by 2025. As far as the former is concerned, the funded players in the space include international startups Hootsuite, Falcon Social and Sprout Social. Sprout Social raised $42 million from Goldman Sachs’ Merchant Banking Division and New Enterprise Associates earlier this year, and Falcon Social had nearly $8 Million pumped into it by Munich-based VC firm Target Partners. But, Hootsuite certainly leads the charge, having raised four monster rounds of funding worth a total of#xA0;246.9 million from 10 Investors.