22-year-old Ashrith Govind wasn’t just any regular child on the block.
Curious about technology, he got his first computer in the fifth grade and seemed to be quite kicked about the dial-up connection.
Soon, this fascination transcended to shuffling through tutorial videos on YouTube, and by high school, Ashrith had already built his first invention, a low-cost power bank.
And it didn’t stop there, the thirst to invent something new continued to thrive within him. This led him to kick start his first initiative – a hacker forum hosted on his own web server from home. Called HackerSource, the forum, over a period of three years, transformed into a community of 6,000 active users and 300 moderators.
But the hacker forum couldn’t maintain much of Ashrith’s attention for long, as he went on to build an automated bar in the ninth grade, designing its complete software, with the hardware provided by a German company. This snowballed into other inventions around punching attendance during college and designing a couple of utility apps.
Having a family in the hospitality segment caused him to look into that segment closely.
After Pre-University, it was time to get serious, and Ashrith was looking to start something more real. It was during this time, in 2014, that he met his cousin’s flatmate, Shirish Narsepalli (24), who was experimenting, looking to start something in the home automation segment.
But what changed things was a trip to the airport. Travelling to the international airport in Bengaluru, both Shirish and Ashrith saw how seamless it was to connect to the WiFi there.
The simplicity and scalability of the idea struck them as interesting and led them to the notion of bringing this solution to retail outlets. Thereafter, Ashrith dropped out of college and started building the solution.
The development of the idea started two and a half years ago. To get more perspective and feedback, the duo started making sale pitches to lounges, accelerating the process.
Their product, WiLoop, was finally taking shape, and Ashrith’s uncle’s pub, Beer Republik in Bengaluru, became the perfect testing ground for the product.
So, how does WiLoop work?
The food and beverage lounges, such as bars and restaurants, plug in the device to their WiFi devices, which beams out the WiFi. While the hardware of the device is outsourced, the software is proprietary. This is rented to the outlet by the firm while charging a setup cost of Rs 4,000 for every action point involved.
Through the plugging, a layer of service is dumped over the access points of these WiFi devices. This essentially is the login page where the customer has to input his or her details for logging into the free network.
After registration, the customer is mandated to watch a 30-second advertisement, which is just one of the revenue making streams for the startup.
However, the customer is automatically logged in the second time they come near the WiFi-enabled zone.
For the outlets, what they get is a bird’s eye view of the demographic data of their customers. The dashboard stores data of new and repeat customers, and throws up age demographics and preferences, helping lounges know their customers better.
Not only does this reflect on their business insights, but it also helps these outlets target their audiences better for marketing.
At present, the startup claims to have tied up with some top food and beverage outlets in the country, including the likes of Harry Singapore and Arbor Brewing Company in Bengaluru, and Social and Smoke House Deli across cities like Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai and, very recently, Delhi.
WiLoop currently has 120 clients, with their solution live across 280 outlets in the country. The venture, incorporated in April 2015, has already completed six million user logins, with 800,000 unique users until now.
According to Ashrith, he assesses the business by the impact. He says that, on an average, every hour, 200 GB of free data is consumed by customers over their solution layer. If we take 1 GB of data as worth Rs 200 through a telecom operator, the firm saves its overall customer base Rs 40,000 on an hourly basis.
WiLoop at present works on a SaaS-based business model, where they charge businesses on a subscription basis.
Starting from Rs 999, the subscriptions go all the way to Rs 2,500 per month, based on the number of footfalls the outlet sees during that time. The higher plan also has options for targeted marketing, including more features like better filtering.
The firm bills these customers on a quarterly basis.
The second business model for the firm is the 30-second advertisement space, which is shared between WiLoop and the other businesses. This means that the lounges can use the space allotted to them when required for marketing a certain event or gig.
The company also has other advertising spots on the registration page for advertising campaigns. The firm can charge third parties more than a lakh for running advertisements. However, according to Ashrith, the pricing for third party advertisements remains dynamic in nature.
The team of 12 also claims to be earning monthly revenues upward of Rs 4 lakh every month and has received a funding of $60,000 as a part of their angel round. They hope to be cash positive between February and March next year.
Moreover, the bigger aim for the founders is to make WiLoop an app-based loyalty programme where, based on a certain customer’s visiting patterns, he or she might get loyalty points to disburse for services at the outlet. The firm plans to roll this out by the end of the second quarter next year.
Next year, WiLoop is also looking to enter the retail store segment and plans to partner with 3,000-5,000 outlets by the end of 2017. It is also aiming at touching 8-10 million unique logins while piloting with the government to bring public entities like bus stops under coverage.
In a recent report by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IMRB International, the total number of mobile internet users in India was expected to grow by over 55 percent to 371 million by June this year.
Although promising, when mapped against other developing markets, which seem to be reaching saturation, India still seems to have a long way to go. Moreover, it is said that at present, a little over 36 percent of the Indian population might be under the internet network, still leaving a sizeable portion of the population devoid of access to the web.
Hence, the responsibility is indeed on the private players, and not just on the telecommunication networks, to work on technologies to increase this penetration, fostering the next wave of growth for internet users in the country.