Chennai: When Delhi-based financial adviser Manish Sinha racked up a phone bill of Rs 1.62 lakh in a month a year ago, he had not anticipated that 3G (third generation) data usage could put a serious hole in his pocket. It was Jigar Doshi’s similar experience that spawned Planhound, an Android application that tracks voice calls and messages from a phone to provide the best available plan in the market.
“When I came back to India, my phone bill was around Rs 3,000, which was more than what I paid in the US, where rates are significantly higher. So I asked around and my friends and family had similar issues,” said 29-year-old Doshi, co-founder of Cheeni Labs and developer of Planhound.
Having returned to India with the intention of setting up his own business, Doshi, a graduate from the University of Illinois, briefly toyed with the idea of establishing a food delivery website in Chennai. But after trading emails and working out a plan with partner Ankit Chhajer, a computer science graduate from the state university of New York, he realized that the logistics would be hard to handle.
It was around that time Doshi, a former employee of US-based online retail firm Amazon.com Inc., and Chhajer, an ex-employee of UBS AG, drew inspiration from US website Billshrink.com that helps you find best wireless plans, television services and credit cards rates.
With the help of an entrepreneurial grant of $3,000 that funded their server hosting expenses for a year, the duo started Komparify.com (formerly 3Gsimplify.com) in February 2011—a website that was launched in tandem with the 3G data services in India that allows faster downloads on mobile phones—to compare existing plans depending on the customer’s usage.
“So if a customer sends 60 SMS (short message service) a month and is using a 100 SMS booster pack, he is paying for something he will never use,” said Doshi.
Jigar Doshi of Planhound says his app can track phone usage and alert if users are exceeding their credit limit.
After painstakingly collecting publicly available information on various plans offered by telecom operators in India, the web developers hoped to put an end to huge phone bills with their simplified search engine. But prepaid customers, which formed a big chunk of their overall consumer base, were unable to track input variables like the number of voice calls, messages sent every month and data usage. With the Indian smartphone market poised to touch one billion units by 2014, according to Credit Suisse Group AG, Doshi saw merit in developing an application on the Android platform, which would access call logs and message counters to determine the usage, making the search for the most affordable plan that much easier.
The six-month-old free application that has crossed 4,000 downloads, even keeps tabs while roaming, calculating incoming calls that would add to the overall expense. The entrepreneurs are currently working on getting onto other platforms like BlackBerry and Windows, but would have to work around technical restrictions that would make accessing call logs difficult.
The partners are reluctant to speak about the revenue model, which they hope to put in place by the end of this month. They hope to sell recharge coupons for the recommended plans online and are talking to telecom companies to make it happen.
“We have concentrated on building a good product and it is only now that we are thinking about revenue,” said Doshi. “In India, landlines have almost become redundant because most calls are made from mobile phones,” said Doshi. “But many end up paying a higher amount on landline because not only are the rates higher, customers don’t use up the free minutes.”
The entrepreneurs, whose Android application has been nominated for the mBillionth award that recognizes innovations on the mobile phone space across South Asia, hope to triple the 100,000 unique visitors on their site by the end of the year.
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the mBillionth Awards.