Here’s a start-up that uses a combination of so-called ‘staid’ technologies to deliver value to the knowledge-seeking youth of the country. It gives them the freedom to connect with domain experts, from anywhere, over the phone.

There is a Chinese proverb: “A single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study.” Indeed, there is a lot of credibility that we attach to the wisdom of experts-especially when it comes to taking counsel on subjects like careers, education or entrepreneurial issues.

 

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Often, instead of reading the volumes available in print, or over the Web, we look for people whom we trust, those whom we rate as being ‘wise’, or even those whom we think have had the relevant experience.

Addressing this human need, Mrigank Tripathi, CEO, Voicetap, thought of launching a service that would be targeted at Indian youth, to help them use the medium of ‘voice’ to ‘tap’ into the knowledge of experts.
There’s a void to be filled
Tripathi shares what prompted him to create this service: “When deciding on career, education or entrepreneurial issues, one of the biggest issues that face the Indian youth is the need to ‘speak’ with credible experts. But it is often difficult to access the right experts. While there are many information portals-practical knowledge is rarely found there. Voicetap fills this gap and caters to the Indian psyche that prefers a live call over a post on the Internet.”

He elucidates the concept through an example: “For instance, if a user wants to talk to successful rank holders of the IIT-JEE for 2008 to know which books they referred to; what they did before and during the exams; a person just needs to register for the relevant topic.” Once interest from an adequate number of people enquiring for an expert in a specific subject is received, the call is set up. The Voicetap team allows users to ask their questions to the expert during the live call, collects them via a moderator, shuffles them in realtime and presents the most relevant ones on the call. This way, a lot of time is saved, as queries that overlap in content are condensed and worded more effectively, which goes a long way in rendering value to the call, observes Tripathi. Before registering for a call, users have the option of going through the profile of the expert who will be addressing their call.

A mashup of technologies to deliver value
“I don’t see why we should Mrigank_Tripathi_CEO_Voicetap
spend more money to get the same customer that already exists with someone else. I would much rather partner with other portals and help them monetise their current user base.”
Mrigank Tripathi, CEO, Voicetap
In terms of technology, the service uses a mix of three primary elements-the Internet, the telecom bridge and Voicetap’s SMS server. The website captures registration details per call; however, the real call happens through an extensive backend infrastructure similar to that used in ‘earnings calls’, says Tripathi. “The difference is that Voicetap uses it for knowledge sharing,” he adds. The website uses a Unix server and Avaya telecom bridges, which comprise the heart of the service. Further, the team is developing a unique statistical sampling methodology by which they will be able to moderate a large number of questions related to any topic. Currently, the site supports 30 to 45 people on a single call. But future plans are to expand the facility to over 5000 users.

The service currently focuses on knowledge sharing but at a later date, the team plans to evolve this
into a platform where ‘knowledge transactions’ can take place using Voicetap’s backend infrastructure, says Tripathi.

But how unique is this service? Tripathi explains: “I haven’t yet come across any other service in India that helps bridge the knowledge gap between seekers and experts. There are a couple of such services internationally-but even those are driven by the objective of providing information, as a business, to individuals. The commonality is only in the use of voice.”

Some promising Voicetap statistics!

* Idea to alpha in 1.5 months
* 350 registrations in three weeks without a single penny spent on marketing
* Revenue from the first call onwards
* One long term advertising engagement and four more engagements in the pipeline

The benchmarks
The service is fairly innovative, and has scaled without too much marketing, says Tripathi. “I think this hypothesis gets validated by the fact that we had 125 registrations for our first call – which happened 12 days into launch, and we got paid for it-all only through word of mouth,” he adds. The team has received positive feedback about the quality of content shared through these calls-and users, including many companies, are trying to use the service in as many ways as possible, says Tripathi.

The mantra of success
According to Tripathi, an MBA from INSEAD, there are two things that make a product succeed-the product, and its marketing strategy. He feels that both these factors are inversely proportional. The better the product, the less the need to have large marketing budgets-and vice versa. Being a management consultant earlier, Tripathi believes in thinking out-of-the-box and encourages his team-mates to do the same.

The Voicetap team believes that partnerships are the way to go forward. It does not compete with others-rather, it brings value and possible monetary benefits to related services by adding the voice angle, says Tripathi. “I don’t see why we should spend more money to get the same customer that already exists with someone else. I would much rather partner with other portals and help them monetise their current user base,” he adds.
Voicetap timeline

* January 2009: The idea for Voicetap germinated
* March 23, 2009: Voicetap service launched
* May 2009: The firm was set up

The team has a complete future roadmap in place. This is just the beginning, says Tripathi. “Very shortly, we plan to allow for the service to be completely mobile based, where interactions, discussions, and posting the questions could happen in realtime over the mobile phone. This means that the complete knowledge acquisition would happen through just a phone,” he adds. Apart from this, the firm is also exploring the possibility of integrating the platform with various other services, like Twitter, to support its users better. Talks are also under way with telecom operators to provide them access to the Voicetap’s repository of recorded voice content and to monetise that.

Apart from technological enhancements, the Voicetap team also envisages growing from the current six-member team to approximately 50 by the end of March 2010. Voicetap is in the process of raising funds. With the service picking up with the masses, and the revenues already starting to come in, the targets seem attainable well before the set timelines.