The conclusion of the month-long Lok Sabha elections on Sunday has prompted some Indian start-ups, many of which cropped up in the last couple of years to help political parties with data analytics and other technological tools, to seek other avenues in India and abroad to keep their businesses afloat.
For instance, the Neta app __ a politician rating app operated by Shanti Analytics __ is now planning to license its tech and take it to other countries. This, it hopes, would be a good source of revenue because its data is currently available free of cost to everyone. “We are presently working towards launching the app in Indonesia, Austria, USA and Canada where elections are impending," said its founder Pratham Mittal. “But we are licensing the tech to local companies there instead of launching it directly."
With 26 million users in India, Neta app is leveraging itself to conduct opinion surveys for companies in sectors such as telecom, FMCG and retail, among others. Neta is one of the few startups that provide tech solutions to political parties -- from campaigning solutions to data analytics that help understand voting behaviour of people.
There are at least 13 startups currently that provide solutions for election and campaign management to political parties as well as governing bodies, according to data-tracking platform Tracxn. SmartNeta provides GIS analytics to help political parties plan their campaigns and Silver Push offers solutions to political parties and brands to optimise digital media campaigns. There are also others such as the Online social polling platform Voteinn and True Voter, which is an election management solution for voters and candidates.
While these are just a few of the registered startups, new ones are cropping up regularly __ albeit to provide solutions to political parties for now, but without any clarity on business sustainability.
Representatives of political parties, especially those with the Information Technology (IT) cells of such parties, claim to be getting multiple requests each day from these startups-- most of which offer their services for free or on trial basis. IT cell representatives from both the Congress and BJP say they rarely follow up on such ‘pitches’ that come in frequently during the election season and offer a multitude of services including videos, data, push notifications, targeted advertising and other technological interventions that promises to garner more votes and ensure victory for their candidates.
"The services they provide are good on paper and substantiated theoretically but elections can't be won sitting behind a computer," said a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) IT cell, requesting anonymity.
Some IT cell personnel say that user generated content on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and even TikTok has reduced their burden of going online to influence voters. Posts by "sympathisers" on any of the several social media platforms tend to have a bigger impact on voters, both political parties and digital experts say.
But only those start-ups willing to and capable of diversifying are likely to survive beyond elections.
"Two main reasons for this is that they (political parties) neither pay on time nor pay in white," said a founder of one startup, who claims to have been actively involved in the 2014 parliamentary election of at least one high profile candidate. He requested not to be identified and has since moved his tools for retail solutions. Many like the Official Peeing Human, a company that creates memes and produces other political satire, depends on T-shirt sales to bring in the revenues.
While many new startups shut down due to the lack of a sustainable business model, the others are clear about diversifying their offerings to sectors beyond politics. Bengaluru-based Aiyo Labs, which was launched one-and-a-half years ago, offers AI-based chatbots and other communication tools that can be used by political parties as well as in other sectors. Similarly, SmartNeta is looking at solutions for government departments, besides targeting countries that will hold elections later in 2019.