After last week’s coverage of the best 3G Plans in India, we interviewed the founders of 3Gsimplified, an innovative website by Cheeni Labs that provides an extensive comparison tool on the current available mobile and data plans. Here's what Ankit Chhajer, co-founder of Cheeni Labs, had to say –
The Founders of Cheeni Labs – Jigar Doshi (left), Ankit Chhajer (right)
1. What prompted you to start 3Gsimplified.com?
We started Cheeni Labs to design products that would make you go “sweet”. Our emphasis was to solve India’s specific problems using the web. We had moved back from the US and were confronted by our first problem when we went out to get a mobile plan. Getting a mobile phone and a connection was really simple. However choosing the right plan was befuddling. There is the problem of many operators, but even if you decide on just one operator say Airtel – the number of plans, rate cutters, top-ups is confusing. Plus the pricing is complex – a simple phone call can be charged at 6 different rates based on who you call and when.
Competition is great for the operators but it ends up being very confusing for the consumer.
That said, we did not start working on this problem. We were looking at solutions to connect Indian business with customers in the web in the food space. As luck would have it I had got engaged which meant a spike in my mobile bills. My partner also got engaged and went through the same problem. We realized that choosing a wrong plan could make a huge difference to our mobile bill. We were then convinced that this problem needed to be solved … now.
What sealed the deal were the implications for Jigar’s brother's small business. Some employees especially in sales were given cell phones, which meant 50 cellular lines. The company may have had 20 landline numbers in different locations. Many locations needed Internet access. Some employees were given datacards to help them work when mobile. When you add all these services together a small monthly saving would cascade into a huge net saving. The need for a tool to compare too became obvious.
We then launched a comparison site for 3G services and plan to scale this to all mobile plans soon.
2. How often are you planning to update it? Or are the updates real-time?
Currently, on an average it takes us up to 5 days to get the new plans and offers into our system. We are continuously building tools to reduce this lag to as real time as possible.
3. How did you manage to do so much number crunching?
We realized at a very early stage that crunching the plan offerings manually was an impossible task. We spent a lot of time in building the comparison engine that would churn the best plan's results for each set of mobile usage parameters you give the engine. [More details on the engine is covered on point 8]
4. Which brings us to the next question, how accurate is it?
The results are accurate to the extent of the plans updated in our system.
5. What sort of feedback have you received on your new venture?
We have received amazing feedback so far to the extent that people want us to cover more verticals to ease their pain. A lot of these comments are publicly visible on our twitter stream (@3gsimplified) and facebook.com/3gsimplified feeds.
Helping you cut down your mobile bills
6. What were the major challenges and problems you faced?
The problem that we are trying to solve is complex and building the product, especially the engine was non trivial. Getting accurate data was and continues to be a challenge.
Current challenges involve marketing and getting partnerships.
7. What's the strength of your team?
We are currently a team of 5 with 3 full timers, us, and 2 interns.
8. What kind of algorithm does your website, 3GSimplified work on?
We have spent a lot of time building our comparison engine because the space, as we realized, was incredibly complex. Our engine first normalizes all the plans into a simpler format. Our engine then cuts through each plan and adds the right top-ups and rate-cutters that save users money. Thus each result we put out on the website is completely customized to the user’s usage.
One of the key challenges we faced is that rates of calls, SMS, data are at different granularities across operators. For example: Docomo offers 1 rate for local STD and roaming whereas in Airtel they maybe different rates. In some plans the freebies are also thrown in different granularities. You may have a different rate for local out-network mobile calls, local in-network mobile calls and local landline calls, but they may give you 100 free total local minutes. We normalize across all these parameters.
The key complexity of our algorithm lies in customizing plans. Just choosing the right plan does not get you the most savings. To each plan you need to add the right top-ups or rate cutters. To do that you need to choose the right top-ups. If a user sends a lot of local SMS he needs to add a different top-up than the user who sends a lot of STD SMSs. And obviously, if you do both then there is a different top-up for you. Each result that we show on our website is customized to a user’s usage pattern.
9. How are you planning to make this venture mainstream?
We have built a mobile app that aggregates a user’s usage and uses that to recommend the best plan right on the phone. We plan to use the app distribution and partnership mediums to widen our reach to people.
The Android Application:
1. How exactly does your Android Application work?
PlanHound – an Android based mobile app looks at the call log and SMS log to automatically figure out the number of calls made and SMSs sent. On a single click and in a few seconds, it recommends you the best plan and rate-cutter for your usage. The app has a few features that makes plan choosing simple, accurate and completely hassle free:
1. It allows you to filter the results to selected operators only
2. Each result can be drilled down to know the plan, top-up and their respective offerings and pricings.
3. It also allows you to see your usage within a custom data range or for the last day, week or month.
In addition, the app serves as a great billing utility for prepaid users constituting to 97% of the market that do not get a monthly bill.
When we tested this app, one user refused to believe that his STD call usage was more than 500 minutes. He thought there was something wrong with the app. We crosschecked and realized that indeed he had made so many calls and that was news to him. After that we matched him to a plan that saved him money. We realized that this app has a real use case.
PlanHound – The Android App
2. As far as user security and privacy is concerned, how are you planning to tackle it?
We take users' security and their privacy concerns very seriously. Hence we do not transmit any of the individual call/SMS information to our server. We only submit the aggregated data that is shown to the user in the app.
We use the user’s call/SMS information, locally on the phone, to classify the call into mobile or landline, local or STD, in-network or out-network call/SMS and aggregate them to number of minutes spoken or number of SMSs sent. This is displayed to the user on the phone. We only send this aggregate information, with users' permission, to our 3gsimplified engine to recommend the best plan right on the phone.
We are working on features that will inform the user on exactly what data is being sent.
3. Do you plan to monetize it? If yes, how?
The purpose of the app is also to drive the usage of the 3gsimplified.com service on a continuous basis.
The app is completely free. We want to help the user complete the loop and monetize that. We plan to sell the services that we have compared in one form or another.
4. What are the other Operating Systems you plan to introduce this on.
We currently have the app on the Android platform. We want to be on all the platforms, that allow us to aggregate the call & SMS information to recommend the best plan such as the Blackberry platform, Symbian platform and so on.
Ankit Chhajer, Co-founder of Cheeni Labs, has a Masters in Computer Science from the State University of New York, at Buffalo. He has worked with UBS Investment Bank in the Finance IT team building tools to solve the complexity of numerous regulatory rules applied every day on huge transactional volumes of data.
Jigar Doshi, Co-founder of Cheeni Labs, has a Masters in Computer Science from University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. He has worked with Apple in the iPod team and with Amazon in the Selling on Amazon team.
We wish these guys the best of luck in their endeavours and we hope to hear more from them in the near future.