Inspired by Modi’s speech, this entrepreneur aims for digital transformation at businesses - from SMEs to IKEA
Chennai-based Zuper, an enterprise mobility platform, enables organisations to manage, modernise, and transform their field and remote workforce; the startup soon plans to launch in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Middle East.
While working outside India for 14 years, Anand Balaji, 39, regularly followed India’s progress. Inspired by Prime Minister Modi’s speech in New York (in September 2014), Anand felt a strong desire to do something meaningful for the country.
Soon, there was another catalyzer. Visiting family in Tamil Nadu right after the December 2015 floods, Anand saw service businesses visiting homes of past customers to re-collect phone numbers, addresses, service history etc. so that they could rebuild their business history. Anand felt that this manual process needed to be addressed with technology.
“My brother-in-law Karthik Rao (39), a sales and marketing veteran from IIM-C, and I started discussing the situation and realised the importance of digital transformation for businesses,” Anand says.
According to the Customers 2020 report, customer experience has overtaken price and product as the key brand differentiator. But when it comes to the service field, most organisations are struggling to meet growing demands of customers, resulting in loss of revenue and customer churn.
After thorough research, and directly reaching out to several small, medium, and large businesses from Madurai to Chandigarh, the duo tried to understand and analyse service businesses and the mindset of owners. Soon, it was time for action.
Collaborating with two 24-year-old techies, Raghav Gurumani and Vijay Narasimhan (24), they launched Zuper, an enterprise mobility platform that enables organisations to manage, modernise, and transform their field and remote workforce. Launched in Chennai in August, 2016, Zuper started operations in February 2017.
Understanding the issues
On an average, small and medium-sized businesses use 8-10 different tools to manage operations – including maintaining stacks of diaries as database for business contacts and job history (which caused significant losses to many businesses after the Chennai floods).
There are no effective mechanisms to track employees, their locations and work progress. A business owner makes at least seven calls and about 2-3 SMSs per day/per job to track employees and job status. Due to zero visibility on the field-workforce utilisation, first-time fix rate is low and repeat visits are all too frequent.
Customers no longer want to wait for a 4-8 hour window for the service technician to arrive; they want to be notified when the technician is on the way, what time the technician will arrive, and how long it will take to complete the job. And, they want job to be done right at the first attempt.
Zuper aims to be an end-to-end platform for organisations to bring together the power of people, process, product and promise with mobility to manage field workforce efficiently. They help reduce operating costs and improve customer loyalty with first-time fix rate and by maximising the use of the mobile workforce.
Challenges on the way
Zuper is a mobile-first, cloud-first B2B Software as a Service (SaaS) offering for organisations, irrespective of shape, size, and number of users. But as a B2B startup targeting small and medium-sized businesses, the Zuper team had to go through several rounds of iterations to get the business model and the price right to ensure a win-win situation for the SMB and their ROI. They initially offered the entire feature set as part of the platform; but not all features were useful for all businesses.
“We had to pivot to a tier-based framework and offer features in a pay-as-you-go model,” Anand says.
Presently, Zuper offers monthly subscription models as well as fixed price for customisations and integrations. The pay-per-use model depends on the modules that the customer deploys.
Another challenge was that SaaS is still nascent in India.
“Small and medium-sized businesses understand paying one-time for the purchase of a product or using services for free (WhatsApp, Facebook etc). But Software as a Service and paying regularly for using a product does not feel natural to many businesses. This is an ongoing challenge, but the market is evolving,” he says.
Collaborating with large corporates is tough too, as they have long sales cycle of about 3-4 months.
Building on tech
Zuper is built on a microservice architecture pattern leveraging the best practices of mobility, cloud, and distributed computing. They have obtained a provisional patent and IP protection for their ML-based smart scheduling and intelligent diagnostics system.
Zuper claims to be the first platform in Asia to offer voice biometrics-based remote timesheet management of field and remote workforce. Biometrics capabilities allow organisations to perform real-time identity verification to ensure the right employee is at the right customer location.
To counter flaky network connectivity, they offer offline mode support for the most critical operations to eliminate the dependency on network connectivity. Users can perform most tasks in a full offline environment on a mobile device.
They also offer integrations with major CRM, ERPs, Payment Solutions, IoT devices, Smart Home Appliances, Cloud Telephony etc. to ensure companies have a full 360-degree view of their field originations.
Zuper has on-boarded more than 40 customers across 10 different cities in India and Singapore, including IKEA, BVG Group, UDS, Modern Foods, Ferrero Rocher, Fipola, Mahindra Finance, and Carriers. Across 500-plus customer sites, Zuper has more than 6,000 end users.
There are 1.8 billion field and mobile workers across the world and more than 85 percent do not leverage technology. In India alone, this is a $5 billion market opportunity. There are several industries like home services, maintenance, installation and repairs, facility management, HVAC, retail logistics, BFSI, pharma, pest control, construction, automobile, manufacturing and many more, which Zuper can exploit.
But Anand says, “We are a small team of 15 and do not want to stretch too thin. We are laser-focused on a subset of the industries and aim to be the market leader in these industries before targeting more.”
Zuper sources market data from Gartner, Forbes, CSG International, and Strategy Analytics.
One of Zuper’s top clients is Swedish furniture giant IKEA, which is about to launch operations in India this year. IKEA’s range of do-it-yourself (DIY) furniture usually requires assembly at home. But to cater to local needs and sentiments, IKEA India plans to offer trained in-house assembly coworkers for customers to build delivered furniture. They wanted to automate and manage the field workforce and ensure that on-field coworkers were connected to the back office.
With Zuper, IKEA India can connect the back office, customer support teams, and field coworkers to effectively schedule work orders, manage communications, share real-time status updates, and provide the best customer service.
Zuper is focused on large enterprise organisations. Anand stresses that they are looking to “expand first to other industry verticals before considering startups where both the sales pitch and the product strategy needs to be oriented appropriately”.
The opportunity in Tier I and II cities across India is huge, with no market leaders, and Zuper claims to have more than 30 percent monthly growth.
Scaling up carefully
Anand says that ‘Zuper’ means “extremely super”. The founders’ vision is to empower every field professional with technology to turn them into “Zuper Professionals (ZuperPro)” and enable organisations to provide “Zuper Experiences” to their customers.
Anand says organizations using Zuper have increased workforce utilisation by over 50 percent, reduced service turnaround time by over 35 percent, increased customer adoption and profitability by over 45 percent, and – by operating more efficiently - reduced costs by over 30 percent.
The startup has plans to launch in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Middle East in Q4 CY 2018. To decrease the time to market and access competitive markets, they have a channel partner programme that enables individuals and companies sell Zuper’s product for a commission. Zuper also plans to launch the product with direct sales and marketing in the US in Q1 CY 2019.
Their revenue run rate for 2017-2018 is Rs 1 crore; they are targeting revenue of Rs 10 crore in the next 24 months.
Bootstrapped so far, Zuper plans to start funding rounds soon. The goal is to raise a pre-Series A round by Q2 CY2018 and scale the business, and they have plans to go for a Series A round by Q4 CY 2019.
The startup will soon enable augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) capabilities into their services to manage remote employees.
“The future of field workforce management is IOT-enabled connected devices and smart homes. Our future goal is to offer a ‘truly connected platform’ that connects and automates all points of interactions across different functions,” Anand says.