When Pankaj Dugar shifted and finally settled in his third house in Bangalore a year ago, he had to address a bigger pain point other than the constant packing and moving- finding people with similar interests in his locality.
"I had the feeling that we might need to move again and felt there must be a better way of finding people near me who are interested in the things I like," says the computer science graduate from Dartmouth College who also holds an MBA degree from Harvard.
That's how the idea for Treetle came about. So Dugar, till then the director of the corporate development group at Cisco, formed Treetle Software Pvt Ltd in August last year and Treetle has been recently launched in private beta. Treetle is a Web platform that enables users to pursue their interests and activities along with other people in their respective city or neighbourhood. As of now, the site only caters to Bangaloreans but the company is planning to release it in other parts of the country in the coming weeks.
Old Time Get-togethers, New Hub
But why has Dugar named this digital get-together platform Treetle?
"In the old days, villagers used to gather under trees in the evening to discuss and plan activities. We wanted to name it Tree.com but that was not available. So we hit upon Treetle," says Dugar who has earlier worked for Infosys, McKinsey and Oracle.
Treetle allows users to register and create interest-specific clubs depending on what they like. And the field of interest can be anything under the sun â€“ right from mountain biking to chess and more. Once a club is formed, others can join it and indulge in activities like discussions and information sharing. One can also organise events and post them on the site but they need to get the club owner's permission for posting. These events can be either free or chargeable (it's up to the organiser to decide), but the company is still in the process of building a registration module for the paid events.
The site also features an events calendar that lists all upcoming events of the club/s of which one is a member. This is particularly helpful if a user wants to keep track of what is happening without visiting each club. Each user must go through a mobile number verification before creating a club, so as to filter out the bogus clubs that may offend others (say a kinky club!).
The site also offers appreciation points and credit points for club members. While appreciation points are free, credit points have to be bought (like 25 credit points for Rs 25) from Treetle (although it's not the key monetisation model). Club members can award appreciation and credit points (for instance, as a token of appreciation for organising an event) to other members. And this is a bold feature as asking people to pay for applauding someone else is quite unheard of (after all people don't mind 'liking' things on Facebook but try asking them to purchase the 'likes' and things may not go smoothly at all). But Dugar feels that's how genuine appreciation takes place.
Interestingly, NGOs can also form 'Non-For-Profit Clubs' on Treetle and unlike other clubs, these can receive points which can be redeemed for hard cash. But to avoid fraud, they will have to provide their banking details for authentication and money transfers.
What Keeps The Cash Register Ringing
The company has kept Treetle free for the users. But it has a few other ways of making money. First of all, clubs can be ad-sponsored (if it's a photography club, companies like Nikon or Cannon can sponsor it) and sponsors can also choose to support the events organised by the members of the club. Then there are the credit points, although buying them is optional.
Treetle will also receive a percentage from the vendors for every coupon/voucher bought by a user. Then there are the 'merchant clubs,' which are basically paid clubs created by merchants that will allow them to directly interact with customers. Once a club is formed, a merchant can also host special events.
The company also plans to feature ads on the site in a bid to generate more revenue but as of now it is only focused on growing its user base.
Will It Be A 'Global' Local Hub?
Besides expanding to other cities in India, Dugar also has plans to go global. He will use social media platforms and online advertising to generate a buzz and also launch a mobile version of Treetle within the next three months. Treetle is already angel funded, it received it in August, 2011 (Dugar declines to disclose the name of the investor and the amount), but it will look to raise an institutional round once it starts scaling up.
As far as user engagement is concerned, there are already niche websites for hobbyists (photography enthusiasts, for instance) and these may pose a stiff challenge. And Facebook can be the biggest threat as FB communities already allow users to send out invites for events. However, Treetle is banking on its local level services to scale through some of the competition.
Meetup (an online social networking portal that helps groups of people with shared interests plan meetings and form offline clubs in local communities around the world) is a direct competitor but according to Dugar, Treetle will be more effective as users don't have to make any initial payment for creating clubs (on Meetup, it's a paid model).
Thinking of giving it a try today? Well, here's a cheat code. Enter Bangalore as your city name or you won't receive an invitation mail from Treetle.