[Startup Bharat] This startup builds chatbots from hinterland India for global businesses

Anshul Shrivastava started AxleWeb Technologies, a web development company, from Rewa in Madhya Pradesh. The company has been recognised by the government’s Startup India initiative.
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The hype around Artificial Intelligence-powered chatbots has been on for a while because there really is something about computer programmes that can interact with customers automatically, and let humans focus on more urgent tasks at hand.

Chatbots and AI-enabled assistants have taken over brand-consumer interaction in a big way. With increasing number of smartphones, a large section of the online population has access to messaging apps on their phones, and thus prefer to use chatbots to interact with brands at their own convenience rather than get on a call.

Rewa in Madhya Pradesh is home to AxleWeb Technologies, a web development company that helps brands launch chatbots on their Facebook, WhatsApp, Slack, and other social media platforms. Thirty-three year old Anshul Shrivastava launched the startup in June 2019 from his native town Rewa. Besides chatbots, AxleWeb is also dedicated to developing related products like Alexa Skills, Google Home Actions, and other voice platforms.

Anshul Shrivastva

“I chose Rewa because this is my hometown. I also wanted to provide employment opportunities to our youth here, who would have otherwise had to migrate to bigger cities in search of jobs,” says Anshul.  

Initially, Anshul found recruitment a challenge, as people he approached thought he was hiring for a fake company. "It was hard for them to believe that a small town like Rewa could have a tech company. But, now, it is not a problem anymore," he says.

Backstory

Three years into his stint in Mindtree in Pune in 2013, Anshul felt strongly about doing something of his own. He knew his strengths lay in technology and building products and solutions. On the back of this interest, alongside his day job, Anshul started taking up freelance projects, and built websites for small businesses. A year later, he recalls, the work grew so much that he had to rope in more freelancers to meet project deadlines.

The turning point for Anshul though was when a four-year project opportunity in London opened up. This is when he learnt about advanced website development, mobile app development, AR and VR, chatbots, Alexa and more. Being entrepreneurial in nature, Anshul started working as a freelancer and started creating chatbots for small businesses in London as well.

“The idea took off and more people started contacting me for chatbots and Alexa skill development. This led me to resign from my job after nine years, and start a development company. In June 2019, I started AxleWeb Technologies focussing specifically on chatbots, Alexa skills and AI-powered digital assistants,” says Anshul. He adds that he invested about Rs 2 lakh as seed capital from his savings to start the company.

Funding and plans

Anshul claims to have spent over Rs 30 lakh on office rent, hiring, technology, and product development since 2019. “A part of it was from my savings, and then some from the revenue we generated,” he says. He also acknowledges that having an office in Rewa saves a lot of operational cost for the company. Anshul plans to bootstrap the company for as long as he can. The company has doubled its employee count since it began, and the team now stands at 11 including Anshul. AxleWeb has also been recognised by the government’s Startup India initiative.

Business model and growth

The company charges a one-time development fee based on project requirements. Going forward, to monetise better, AxleWeb is also working towards building a SAAS-based software product for which it will charge recurring monthly fees. 

Anshul says the company has more than 150 clients across the world, and most are from outside of India. He maintains that the company is growing fast and is seeing a rise of 50 percent in its revenue quarter-on-quarter. “We registered a turnover of Rs 28 Lakh in FY2020,” he says. “The target is to cross Rs 1-crore revenue mark as early as possible,” he adds.

When asked what makes AxleWeb stand out from prominent players such as Yellow Messenger and Haptik so as to attract global players, Anshul responds that it is the authenticity and ‘making from scratch’ for each client that differentiates AxleWeb.

“We build custom chatbots, tailor-made for client requirements. We do not use any template or any bot builder like ManyChat or Chatfuel. Our chatbots are highly customisable and our costs are a fraction of what our competitors charge,” says AnshulHis reasoning here is that since the company builds everything in-house from scratch, it is able to offer solutions at a lower cost than other players in the market. Besides this, Anshul says the company follows a lean-startup model.

AxleWeb’s competitors include other live chat software providers like Birdeye, Podium, Drift, Intercom, Freshdesk, ActiveCampaign, HubSpot Marketing Hub, and Live Chat.

Edited by Anju Narayanan

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