Bangalore: It all began with a niece seeking admission advice that would go beyond cut-off marks and seat availability at Delhi University. She wanted to talk to somebody who could guide her on the prospects of subjects that are usually up for grabs in the undergraduate courses, says Mrigank Tripathi, founder and chief executive of Voicetap.
Guiding voice: Voicetap’s chief executive Mrigank Tripathi. The start-up is in talks with some large telecom operators for its services. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
In a country where the mobile phone-toting teenager population is swelling every month, Voicetap, a two-month-old start-up, allows youngsters to tap into the knowledge of established experts “outside their influence zone using the medium of voice”, says Tripathi.
India has about 430 million phones, mostly mobile phones, which is growing at some 10 million a month.
Translated, here’s how it works: a topic and the corresponding experts are first announced on Voicetap’s website. Then a few choices are thrown open: a live call where listeners can dial in after prior registration that is one-to-many format; a playback of a recorded call; or a user-generated call around the topic.
“It’s not a coaching institute nor an education portal; we are providing expert knowledge related to career and education through a ‘trusted’ medium like voice,” says Tripathi, a former telecom consultant with companies such as Mercer Management Consulting and Reliance Infocomm Ltd (today called Reliance Communications Ltd), who is using his telecom background to structure the product. “The problem with the Internet is that there is no credibility; who knows the expert who is doling out advice is indeed the person he claims to be.”
For instance, the first call on Voicetap, on 5 April, on “practical tips and tricks to crack the IIT-JEE” had as experts the third and fourth rank holders of 2008 joint entrance examination for the Indian Institutes of Technology, called IIT-JEE, in short. Voicetap has also held a call related to the AIEEE (All India Engineering/Architecture Entrance Examination) and on 2 May it began a series on entrepreneurship. By mid-May, it will start calls on undergraduate admissions, which every year turns into a national parental obsession in the summer season.
The idea is new and with new ideas such as this, it is not possible to predict, says Sridhar Rajagopalan, managing director of Educational Initiatives Pvt. Ltd in Ahmedabad. When Google Inc. started out, even the existing search engines did not think search had great potential since the offering was new. Rajagopalan thinks if the idea genuinely adds values (that is, provides good ideas and guidance to students from credible people), it will succeed, for it will be then filling a void. But if it is “gimmicky” or simply focuses on “cracking the JEE”, it may end up with just short-term success.
Experts believe the existing tutorials often play on students’ insecurities and desire to join a few select institutions, and “coach” them in a way that long-term value-addition is negligible. “The actual need is to inspire and provide guidance that would help individuals understand their unique strengths and weaknesses and allow them to join a career matching their strengths,” says Rajagopalan.
To match its expenses with seed funds—some $500,000 (around Rs2.5 crore)—Voicetap expects to add services and platforms in the next nine months. The founders—Devanshu Pandey, an ex-Travelguru, Mphasis BFL Ltd and World Bank executive; Vivek Khandelwal, a fourth year student of IIT-Bombay; and Shaunak Ghosh, an ex-Google executive who is now with a leading travel portal—admit they need some of it quickly or else the spending will start hurting.
Voicetap has some advertising money trickling in already but the fledgling firm’s path to real revenue will be through user-generated calls on a pay-per-minute basis. It also plans to offer a service where users can message a text to which they will get a playback, a 20-30 minutes of recorded advice.
“Most parents will be willing to spare Rs180 for coherent and relevant advice,” says Tripathi. Even though Voicetap has tied up with the French company Arkadin Confer, the largest audio and Web conferencing service provider in the world, and is in talks with some large telecom operators, Tripathi isn’t downplaying the challenges. “Everything is a challenge—setting up the infrastructure, quick execution and raising funds.”