Communication, communities, commerce: how these four mobile startups have gone international
From messaging and payments to marketing and communities, the mobile wave is driving the fortunes of a range of entrepreneurs. The annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona is a great place to map local and global innovations, connect businesses and consumer markets, and learn from the experiences of entrepreneurs around the planet.
In our earlier analysis pieces, we focused on AI, security, wellness, agritech, KYC, design, and connectivity solutions. See our five photo essays from MWC 2019 on networked robots, innovative startups, creative marketing, 4YFN pavilion, and government promotion.
While much attention and hype may revolve around futuristic scenarios of wirelessly connected robots, there’s a lot of business opportunity in core message services as well. "Our platform is well established for SMS and other communication solutions. We provide APIs, plugins, and panels so businesses can send OTPs, transactional SMS-es, regional language SMS-es, and transactional emails, via our robust gateway throughout the globe," said Ravi Dangi, Sales Director at MSG91, an enterprise A2P communication platform.
It claims to have over 5,000 paying clients, including enterprises such as ICICI Prudential, Godrej, NTPC, Patanjali, MakeMyTrip, Mahindra Group, and Policybazaar. Three key industry trends identified by Ravi are artificial intelligence (AI), rich communication services, and omnichannel services.
Consistency and reliability of services are important for long-term business relationships, and not just innovation, according to him. The company's next platform upgrades will be in keeping with industry trends but will also be reliable and robust.
"Our growth is hinged on B2B integration partners. Businesses are realising that SMS has a much higher interaction rate as compared to emails. So, it is important that all B2B platforms let their users communicate to stakeholders via SMS, in an easy manner. We are seeing such partners increasingly approaching us for such integration," Ravi explains.
The rise of self-service machines such as beverage kiosks and parking machines is spurring the rise of IoT-based payments. “We offer a service that improves interaction between people and self-service machines through a mobile app,” says Izan Forca, Product Head at IoT payments firm Orain Technologies, from Barcelona. The company enables automatic payment from self-service machines, as well as user acquisition and communications.
“We currently have more than 130 international customers, mainly in Spain, Italy and France.
The startup has not reached break-even yet, although according to sales forecasts and current trends, it hopes to get there by the beginning of 2020. “We plan to expand the team to 30 employees in 2019, compared to 18 in the previous year and only nine in 2017,” Izan adds.
Current product objectives are to increase automation, achieve platform robustness, and expand the number of services provided and types of machines supported. “We work closely with the largest operators in each market, which help us to expand and reach all locations in our target countries of Spain, France and Italy,” Izan says. The startup has received investment from industrial partners.
Digital marketing via mobile and other devices continues to draw a wide range of innovative talent and business models. “We basically help businesses bring their customers back and increase their revenues and conversions. Our marketing orchestration platform delivers automated and personalised engagement across web and mobile channels,” explains Ata Gur, Co-founder and CEO of push notification platform Frizbit.
More than 100 websites are using the solution across a number of countries, and the platform sends more than 100,000 messages a day, Ata claims. Next steps include adding AI to the platform to optimise the performance of campaigns. The addition of AI is expected to help predict the optimum communication mix: the right message, the right time, and the right channel, for every single user.
Frizbit was accelerated by Startup Bootcamp IoT and Data Tech (Barcelona) and Türk Telekom Pilot (Istanbul). “We have met some of our first customers thanks to them. We are currently being incubated at Barcelona Activa, which is one of the main centres of the startup ecosystem of Barcelona, Spain and Europe,” Ata explains. Activa provides facilities and value-added services and help startups be aware of important events and trainings being held in the city.
An app for fishers
Mobile platforms are offering information services and building communities of affinity at a scale and speed never seen before – including activities like fishing. “Our fishing diary and forecast is a mobile app for recreational anglers. It is a useful tool because it helps them to track all their fishing activity via a user-friendly digital fishing diary,” says Alberto Manuel, CEO, WeFish.
The startup’s biggest partner (and also an investor) is GameFisher, an online shop that sells fishing material. WeFish premium users get a 10-20 percent discount on GameFisher products.
Anglers can store, in an organised way, relevant information about their catches, ranging from weather conditions and locations to materials and photographs. “That way, no information is lost, and it can be consulted anytime, anywhere. It also provides the users with statistics of their performance so they can learn and improve,” Alberto explains.
WeFish is also a social network where fishing lovers can share their experiences and learn from each other. “For example, anglers can share information about their catches and the community can rate them,” Alberto says. Critical information, such as the location of the catch, can be kept private.
It also provides gamification features, such as challenges to users and rewards in the form of discounts in fishing material and gear. The company claims its app, rated 4.8 in Google Play, has over 100.000 downloads, with more than 40,000 users in Spain and Latin America.
Upcoming plans include a second-hand marketplace where anglers can sell material they don’t use anymore, VR features to create a fishing environment right at home, and recognition algorithms to help anglers identify which fish has been caught.
“The most exciting path is implementing Machine Learning (ML) and Big Data techniques to extract migratory patterns of fish species. We believe in environment-friendly and respectful fishing activities,” Alberto insists.
The startup advantage
The entrepreneurs at MWC 2019 share inspiring insights on what it means to be part of a startup. “The best thing about being in a startup is the opportunity to learn every day. We perform experiments, we do A/B testing campaigns, and we test new functionalities directly with our customers and users,” says Izan of Orain.
All these actions allow the startup to learn constantly and bring them closer to what clients really want. “Thanks to being a startup, we are really close to our clients and this allows us to offer a more personalised service,” Izan explains.
“There is also no marked hierarchy in the company, which allows us to be aware of everything that happens in each department. All opinions are taken into account, and everyone has visibility within the company. There is no bureaucracy, internal jealousies or competition, which usually slow down decision-making processes in big enterprises,” Izan claims.
"Startups are a doorway to innovation and ownership. I always wanted a job that I could proudly call my own. If I am not in, it is very difficult for me to detach my work from my life," explains Ravi of MSG91. "It means so much to me. This comes from a lot of trust within the team and facing hard times together and coming out of it with learnings. And repeating this over and over again over a period of time. Only a startup can offer this," he observes.
“As a team of engineers, we like to think that if you can imagine it you can make it. The best thing of being in a startup is how much you learn. It is incredible how fast you must learn and grow in order to make your project work,” says Alberto of WeFish. Such learning comes from books, workshops, investors and other entrepreneurs.
“In a startup you feel you are right at the edge of technology. Being in a startup means being in the risky and exciting part of life,” he adds.
Marketing and promotion
Attending and exhibiting at MWC 2019 brings local players to the global stage, though the size and scale of the event can take some startups by surprise. “We believe it was an amazing amalgamation of thoughts and innovation. One of the major challenges was that since it was our first time at the event, we could not calibrate how to put our best foot forward,” says Ravi of MSG91. His team has captured some of their experiences in a useful blogpost.
“MWC was a perfect opportunity to gain visibility for our company and services. Hundreds of people have passed through our booth and were able to test first-hand how our app works and what service we offer,” says Izan of Orain.
“Dozens of international media have been interested in Orain and our results in social networks have multiplied by seven during the week of the congresss,” Izan claims. The company was able to find potential customers for its product and reconnect with others who already knew them.
“It was great to say ‘Hi’ to users who had never interacted with our team! The overall result has been very good, probably better than we expected. Next year, we want to be present again to show new features and improvements,” Izan promises.
“We were at the startup pavilion 4YFN and it was a great experience. We were able to meet with interesting people from different parts of the world, who could become our customers and our partners,” says Ata of Frizbit.
“Thanks to MWC, we were able to build strong and profitable networking that is helping us with our new challenges. We also discovered new business models that made us think more and improve our product. And we discovered new technologies that could be very interesting to implement in our product,” recalls Alberto of WeFish.
“This was our first big congress, so our first big challenge was to adapt ourselves to the rhythm of the congress. But we managed it very well and had a productive time along with a lot of fun. We will definitely come back,” he adds.
The four entrepreneurs also offer useful advice for aspiring innovators. “The most important thing is to embrace talent. The team has to be young, dynamic, and above all eager to learn,” says Izan of Orain. It is also important to create a product or service that really provides a value to customers and stands out in the market.
“No amount of marketing is ever going to be able to make up for a bad product that nobody wants. Focus on product excellence is essential to make a startup successful,” Izan advises.
“Being in a startup means being able to create something new and disrupt the market, but that is not as simple as it sounds,” cautions Ata of Frizbit. “Focus on one problem of one single type of a customer and solve it. Don't do everything the customers request, but do a lot of customer interviews,” he advises.
"Hard work and careful attention to details is important. But it is essential to develop systems that support the long-term scalable growth. Entrepreneurs need to think in terms of systems," advises Ravi of MSG91. For example, the company has built a separate OTP service engine, which ensures that all OTP SMS notifications are sent through a different server and have a voice SMS backup built in.
“There is no magic advice or button that can lead your startup to success. You just have to believe in your ideas while still being open to others’ ideas. And as with everything in life, a combination of hard work and fun is crucial to succeed,” Alberto of WeFish signs off.