Location-based search engine to make smaller stores relevant

Indian startup PriceBaba aims to make local retailers more relevant in the Internet era by allowing shoppers to search prices in their vicinity. It shares an "overwhelming majority" of Indian Android users are still stuck on Gingerbread.
Written by Srinivas Kulkarni, Contributor

About a week ago we heard about the recent management shakeup at Google, with Sundar Pichai becoming the Android chief, thus putting the Indian right up there on the world map.

It certainly feels proud to have a fellow countryman in such a key role leading Google's most innovative efforts. And why not? Not just Google but the entire world knows that the spotlight is on India.

In fact, another encouraging thing is the NASSCOM for Startups initiative which gives some of the coolest entrepreneurs in India a chance to interact with Google's executive chairman Eric Shmidt. He will be at Google's Big Tent Activate Summit 2013 where the shortlisted entrepreneurs can actually get to speak to him. But that's a story for sometime later.

Though, what all this highlights is the level of interest in Google that has developed in India. And it is of course because of the wide growth potential in terms of the Android market over the last few years and its growing future in this country.

In that context, what recently caught my eye was PriceBaba who featured its first ever Android Report on its Web site, which measured the market penetration of the operating system in India. And of course with a cool name like that for their product, it's hard to miss either.

The company's location-based search engine allows users to find products in brick-and-mortar stores near them. In its beta stage, the only items available now are mobile phones.

price baba

But, PriceBaba is not an E-commerce portal or a product startup that is out to promote Android or any other phones actually. It's something different. Although a small incubated company, they have certainly made the buzz amongst the startup circle in India recently.

One of the most popular campaigns that was promoted very passionately by the founders Annkur P. Agarwal, Tirthesh J. Ganatra and his team was that of #KajuKatli.

Right after JellyBean was announced as the name of Android 4.0, Annkur with a team of his friends, followers and other supporters of the Indian Android community activated a campaign to petition for the next Android OS version 5.0 to be renamed after a popular sweet in India called, Kaju Katli.

It was a one of a kind campaign that certainly caught some eyeballs. I decided to get in touch with Annkur and speak to him about his insights on the Android market in India and what's going on at PriceBaba.

1. What is PriceBaba all about? And who came up with such an interesting name?

I made PriceBaba to help my friends who kept calling me for shopping advice. What price? Where to buy? Is that a good deal? Is that a trusted seller? Well, here is a platform to answer all that.

The scope of the problem is very large though. Most retail in India happens via single store owners who do not have a digital inventory. For anyone searching for a particular product it is not easy for them to easily know who is selling it and at what price. We let these users who research online but shop offline to connect with these retailers in a more powerful manner.

We are also making local retailers relevant in the Internet era, without making them become online sellers. There is enough business in selling offline, they just need to get the right approach to Internet.

I came up with the name. Yes, I will shamelessly take the credit. Seeing my mom's belief in so many babas (religious preachers) giving gyaan (preaching) on TV, I thought shoppers In India needed an authentic baba.

2. You recently published India Android Report #1. What are the most interesting insights that might help startups succeed in the mobile sector in India?

The most obvious and significant outcome was surely the overwhelming majority of Gingerbread users In India. We feel for the app developers who have to keep up with so many last-gen users In India.

That said, Android In India is growing faster than ever and we are happy to see the growth of its succeeding version Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). In coming months, it should make the lives of developers much more easy. However it is a worrying that we have 54 Gingerbread devices against 47 ICS devices in the list of 120 odd Android phones that we track at PriceBaba.

3. When it came to PCs, Windows has and will have a big market share and have established themselves firmly in India. Do you see the same with Android on mobile?

Android has the potential to take that spot in mobile, but that monopoly might just not happen as badly as it happened in the desktop era. Blackberry has more users In India than Windows Phone, so while people see iOS and Windows Phone as competitors to Android in the western markets, Blackberry 10 might just be entering India at the right time.

However, the key to winning the Indian market is to produce quality low cost devices. Nokia has known that over the years and we are seeing some quality low cost Windows Phone devices backed with a lot of promotions, Blackberry might do the same soon.

The market is pretty much open, but by year-end as smartphone consumption booms, if the competition doesn't get their act together, it would be an all Android game.

Do remember that a lot of promotions, in-store and otherwise heavily affects the buying pattern in India.

4. What's your take on how Windows Phones are picking up in the Indian market? 

Windows Phone is in its early days. No serious effort apart from Nokia's Lumia series is seen to bring it mainstream yet.  

5. You ran an innovative campaign for the next Android OS to be named #KajuKatli. Now that Android's head is an Indian, any chances for future Android OS to be named after an Indian sweet?

We think that has to happen. Some day! If not KajuKatli, it would perhaps be Laddoo. Our commitment to see an Indian sweet as an Android version remains and that is something we believe in as individuals. We will continue to push the Indian community to demand that.

6. Are there any other products such as yours in the Indian market? What sets your product apart?

Not really, but I am told Rediff had a great product search engine for offline shoppers several years back. Unfortunately we aren't seeing as much innovation in this space. However we are hearing about several startups beginning on the same lines, we are so excited to see the problem being solved.

We sure need a 100 companies In India doing this, that's the scope of the problem.

7. What is your business model? 

As our retail partners make money, we will find ways of making money. No serious hurry to make money seriously. We get a lot of criticism for this approach but we are adamant that hurrying to make money in this market would only lead to a short execution of a large vision.

The vision is clear. If you are looking for a certain JBL brand earphones being used by a friend or looking to buy a particular lens for your SLR camera, we would tell you how good that product is, where it is available and we will enable you to get it in your hands in a manner that is most efficient for you. One of our investors likes to call it a product research engine, we like the tag "shopping intelligence engine" a bit more.

8. You've mentioned in your FAQs that the prices advised by PriceBaba are the best bargain prices and retailers in no way influence the rates. How does that work?

Given the stage at which we are, we think it is best for us to recommend prices. It is a bit of secret sauce that comes from my 10 years of retail experience. However as we grow, we will find better approaches.

9. Tell us a little about your background and why you were interested in doing a startup like PriceBaba?

I started fresh out of school In 2002, a 15-year-old kid traveling 30km every alternate day to buy goods and sell online. Since then I have done extensive online and offline retail in the pre-Flipkart era of ecommerce In India. I moved out of that business and started OnlyGizmos.com which became a media company doing audio, video and text content.

However my learnings about products and scalable businesses with HeadStart Network Foundation (Startup Saturdays), gave me the itch to start PriceBaba. The immediate pain was my retail customers coming back to me and asking for shopping advice when I was running OnlyGizmos. Their distraction was too much to ignore.

10. How big is PriceBaba at the moment? What are your plans on expanding further?

We are small. Tiny infact. While it is the biggest creation of our lives for both me and Tirthesh (my co-founder), we consider work done as 1 percent of the target. In absolute terms, we are in 5 cities In India, with strongest presence In Mumbai. We focus on mobile products as a category at the moment. We will get to 10 cities by year end and add new categories as per consumer demand.

There is a lot that the market is teaching us, so plans are only as good as they are implemented. We remain super excited and eager about what we are testing next.

Do you have any questions for PriceBaba? You can follow them / tweet to them @pricebaba. Annkur tweets from @annkur

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