How many startups have you nurtured? How did the idea of Lookup come up?
I have nurtured three start-ups till date.
(1) Innoz (2007- 2013): The world’s largest offline search engine on SMS.
(2) Quest (2014, Bay Area): A location based query platform
(3) Lookup (2015-present): An app that allows consumers to chat directly with local businesses
Taking my first steps in the town of Thrissur in Kerala, I grew up where everything one needed was bought from small local shops, be it groceries, electronics, medicine, or clothes.
Most of the retail outlets are very small, and one may not have the thing one wants. This is a problem not just in small towns, but even a tech-savvy city like Bangalore. Though people may have gotten used to shopping in malls or ecommerce sites, they still run to the local drugstore for stomach flu pills or the BP medication that they run out of. I did some research on how people talk to local businesses, and found that there was no central and easy to use service that solved this problem. Most of the people were still using the traditional way of calling stores. So I thought of a solution – what if a message sent before you set out for a shop told you if the pharmacy has that pill in stock or not? Or what if you can take a picture of the doctor’s prescription with your phone and send it to a nearby shop? And communicate with them without sharing any confidential data like your phone number? That’s how I came up with the main idea of Lookup.
The idea for Lookup struck me like a light bulb when I was visiting my hometown in Kerala. I saw my mom chatting with her grocer over WhatsApp and placing an order. That was truly an eye-opener for me since I discovered people were using chat for an all-new purpose. With WhatsApp, I noticed that once people saved each other’s contact numbers, they could view the other’s frequently changing display pictures and statuses. This came with some privacy issues. I created Lookup to address those issues, ensuring consumers do not have to worry about their privacy being invaded when chatting with storekeepers they have never met before.
Is chat based commerce going to be the future of e-commerce?
Yes. Chat is eating the world. According to Chris Messina, inventor of Hashtag, 2016 will be the year of conversational commerce. Everyday people are discovering that the chat platform is not just a medium through which they can interact with people but also a platform for accomplishing various day-to-day tasks. Chat is becoming the main medium through which people are getting things done. Every new app that is being launched comes with a learning curve. This is where chat apps have an edge over other apps since they surpass this barrier owing to their simple singular user interface. And that’s why, it is the second largest medium of communication in the world.
The thought of connecting producers to consumers through chat was very appealing for they could solve the ever-existing problems of miscommunication, time lag and several other redundancies. I strongly believe that the chat platform is the way forward to answer people’s queries, albeit with a personal touch. The chat platform is creating a big revolution in the global retail market and it is evident that the chat interface is becoming an integral part of this modern conversing society.