The homepage of Dexetra announces, ‘We create pocket-sized surprises. Lesser mortals call them mobile applications.’ A recent ‘surprise’ from the company is Friday, to know about which I meet Narayan Babu, CEO and CTO of Kochi-based Dexetra Software Solutions Pvt Ltd (http://bit.ly/F4TDexetra), on a Monday, in Business Line.
“Today there is an explosion of information happening worldwide. A lot of content is being created every minute, through various channels, such as the social networks, media-sharing websites, blogs, and many other sources. This information or content actually takes a big share of our daily time, like the time we spend watching YouTube videos, or posting and reading messages in Facebook,” begins Babu.
He argues that a ‘personal aggregator’ can help us identify our activities and provide us with insights on where we are spending our day on. “It can help you organise and speed up your chores and get you extra time to spend, in a day. As more and more content generators are born each day, these personal aggregators would become more relevant.” Our brief conversation continues over the email.
Excerpts from the interview.
First, tell us the story behind Dexetra.
Building a brand was always my dream, and while in college I too assumed like many others that India has produced a very few product companies (though later I did realise that India does have a few world-class product companies), and I wanted to change that.
But I soon realised that I myself have a lot of shortcomings, and to succeed, there should be a team. From then I was trying to get people on board to fill the portfolio for a future start-up. I found a few from my college and a few from the company where I was working. So now there was this bunch of guys who are interested in building a start-up, only the launch pad was missing.
Then, back in 2009, we came to know about Google’s Android Developer Challenge. It was a contest to create the best, most innovative and useful smartphone application for the Android platform, with some handsome rewards. We thought, maybe if we could develop a product good enough to win this, we would have both the capital and the press to get going with our start-up.
Now it was the quest to identify what the ‘killer product’ could be. So we got to the whiteboard, listed what all capabilities a smartphone (Android phone) has. Soon, we realised a smartphone is as good as a PC or a laptop, and has over 10 data sources. From calls, mails, text messages, to location, direction and more. It was a very obvious but an overlooked fact. But unlike a PC or a laptop, smartphone was very personal.
We realised if we could build an application, which could actually aggregate whatever you are doing and create an auto-journal of your life, it would be good enough for the contest. But soon, this auto-journal idea expanded to a more powerful and sci-fi-isque product. An app that could just memorise your whole life and answer questions about your life.
The time we had to submit our working product to Google was less than a month and what we were building would take a much longer time. Nevertheless, we went ahead with it. Moreover, we believed this application would be best served as a cross-platform solution. People are switching their gadgets too often, and if our application could save them retain their footprint and take it to the next gadget, it would be something. After almost 5 months we realised, we needed to form a company and work on this full time. So we founded Dexetra, with the aim of building this ambitious product, which we subsequently named Friday.
What are the features of Friday?
From the day we had the concept of Friday till we actually got the alpha version released, it went through numerous iterations in terms of the feature set, the underlying technology and the user interface.
Friday runs on Android phones and it garners information with minimal user interaction. It gathers information about your life through your smartphone, in the form of calls, mails, texts, location changes, photos you take, music you listen to and much more.
So Friday knows each and every day of your life. It knows when you put your phone to charge, and when you leave office. You can just ask Friday simple questions, like “Where was I last weekend?” or “Show me all photos from the Paris trip” and Friday will immediately get you the answers.
Friday can also show your travelling pattern in the map, or give you detailed analytics on your activities. Basically, Friday is like your alter ego that never forgets a single event of your life and to whom you can pose questions. With Friday, we are bringing in a new aspect to smartphone usage, “Self-discovery.”
How do you plan to monetise Friday?
A lot of research and study has gone into building Friday, and currently we are in the private alpha stage. We are giving Friday to a limited audience and seeing how it helps them in their daily lives. Currently, the alpha version is built for Android phones; we are in the process of getting releases for other platforms like Blackberry and Symbian to the market.
Ultimately we believe in building a Friday ecosystem. Friday could be helped to customise or personalise the user experience to a great extent. Since Friday knows your patterns, your likes and dislikes and more, this could be used to build personalised experience on top of this.
For all this to work, we need to build a user base and get third parties interested in building applications on top of Friday, where Friday would be content provider.
Also, since Friday would be handling huge amounts of data, it would be synced to a private cloud from where user can access them even without their smartphone, we would also be able to monetise these services.
What are the lessons learnt as an IT start-up?
When we founded Dexetra, we were just a bunch of techies who would be fascinated and happy to build an interesting product. But soon we realised that the product should add a value to the end-user if it needed to be successful. When you are building a brand or a business, product is just an enabler.
Another important thing we learned was about focus, when you’re building a start-up and you are not making any revenues yet, it is very easy for you to try and get more and more domains into your portfolio expecting one of them to work for you if the other fails. This is the most common mistake entrepreneurs end up doing. More so in India since most of our ventures are not VC-backed and we have to struggle for funds until we hit revenues.
We should be very clear on where we are going to be at the end of first few years of founding, and we should work towards it. You may face a lot of distractions along, some may even be interesting and inviting, but try to stick on to your plan and chances of succeeding would be more. You should also be ready to give up a lot of luxuries and even comforts, as entrepreneurship can be a bumpy ride, but the fun is in the journey itself.