People Technology

Plustxt's Lohith V on exploiting synergies with One97, growth plans & messaging ecosystem

13 Aug, 2013

Bangalore-based Plustxt Mobile Solutions Pvt Ltd, a one-year-old startup which has been recently acquired by One97 Communications Pvt Ltd for under $2 million in a cash-and-equity deal, is now looking to exploit significant synergies with the Noida-based mobile internet firm, especially around an India-focused messaging system. Plustxt, which offers a text messaging platform that enables a sender to translate text to the language of the recipient, is also looking to expand the platform by adding and supporting more local and foreign languages. Techcircle.in caught up with Plustxt co-founder Lohith V to know more about the firm's future plans. Here are the edited excerpts.

You are a pretty early-stage company. What made you decide to sell the firm so soon?

We launched Plustxt in 2012 with a flexible messaging platform that could cater to both B2C and B2B business models. But since then, a lot has happened in the messaging ecosystem, especially in India. A bunch of deep-pocketed new players such as Line and WeChat entered the space and they are very active in the market.

In fact, we held talks with four companies including One97 and this one emerged as the best option. It is one of the leading mobile technology firms in India. With a platform like ours, together we can exploit significant synergies, especially around an India-focused messaging system. Some other applications worldwide have built highly profitable businesses around digital goods-leveraging messaging. With this collaboration, we can build a hugely successful story in India as well.

What will happen to the Plustxt team post the acquisition? What is the way forward for the startup? Will it operate as a separate entity?

The Plustxt product will continue and the app will be getting great features and updates, going forward. The team will be working closely with One97 to bring great products to the Indian market. We will work independently from One97's Bangalore office.

The Plustxt platform supports multiple local languages including Tamil, Hindi and Marathi, among others. Are you planning to add more languages?

We have led the local language messaging ecosystem in India. Our adoption and usage, along with user reviews, have been phenomenal. I personally think that with the advent of better phones and cheap data, local language content and communication will boom.

So far, we have launched services in Kannada, Tamil, Hindi, Marathi, Malayalam, Punjabi and Gujarati. We are now planning to add Bengali and Oriya, which would cover most of the local language-speaking population. In addition, Arabic language support for the Middle East is on our radar.

Do the founders have a new plan? Are you planning to launch another company in the near future?

We are a team of four co-founders and the other three are IIT Bombay graduate Lokesh Chauhan, IIT Delhi alumnus Parag Arora and IIM Calcutta alumnus Pratyush Prasanna (I am a B.Tech in Computer Science from Visvesvaraya Technological University, Karnataka). Currently, we are focusing on what we are doing and are committed to taking the company to the next level. We are not planning to launch another company so soon.

In April this year, you raised an undisclosed amount from Mumbai Angels and a few others including InMobi co-founder Amit Gupta. Did they exit the firm? How much did they get in return?

With people like Amit Gupta, Vivek Pai, Klaas Oskam, Amit Mittal, Dr Malpani and others on board, we had a wealth of experience to help and guide us. We have given them good returns on their investments, but I can't share the figures. But our investors have proved that a small team focused on a clear technology and product differentiation can have a good exit even in India and investors get good returns as well.

Are you planning to roll out a premium model for the app?

Right now, the focus is to acquire users and create a sticky component for them so that they will keep using the Plustxt platform. Along with the One97 team, we are currently exploring new areas where the expertise of both can be exploited to solve some real problems.

You were planning to raise more funds and were on the verge of signing a deal with a leading device manufacturer. What will happen to that deal post this transaction?

All those plans are shelved after the acquisition. We will follow up with those entities in due time.

How hot is the multi-language cross-messaging app industry in the country?

We have co-developed language texting with Bangalore-based Reverie Language Technologies, which makes text communication possible in 32 languages via instant transliteration and facilitates it across digital platforms and devices. There are 22 official languages in India and many more unofficial languages and dialects. So we think multi-lingual cross-messaging is still largely untapped in the country. As of now, around 50 per cent of the text messages exchanged on our platform contain at least one word in local language.

There's one instance that corroborates the opportunity in this space. We issued a Press release indicating support for texting in Kannada. And the sheer amount of feedback/calls we received made us realise that a large, untapped opportunity still exists in India.

Finally, how is the mobile app industry shaping up in India?

The entire technology industry is moving from 'internet first' to 'mobile first'. Talking specifically about India, I would say the low-entry smartphones from many OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are helping penetrate the feature phone market and this is happening at a very fast pace. Also, we are seeing exponential rise in app downloads – both at Apple's app store and on Google Play. To complement this trend, mobile operators are bringing down the data price for both 2G and 3G. The pace of data adoption is going to pick up even more with many existing and new operators introducing 4G technologies during the course of this year.

(Edited by Sanghamitra Mandal)