last updated in May 2012
A lot of people ask me how we came up with the idea of Akosha. Here is the story behind Akosha and convoluted path we took. I’ll keep updating it every few months. The early days – a small start We started off in September 2009 with a very different idea. The plan was to sell legal documents online (a bit like LegalZoom in the USA, which is apparently IPOing this year). We started with Wills first (wasiyat.com). I asked my father for a small space in his office in Chandigarh and started off with a MCA grad from DU. We closed ourselves in a room and started working. Everything was fun and exciting. I read blogs of major startups around the world and tried to understand what went on behind them. We wanted to build for scale and used to ask ourselves questions – “Will our website we able to handle all the traffic and 10000 Wills at the same time?” We obviously hadn’t heard of minimum viable product concept and continued to build new features.
We kept working and built the product in about 6 months and then launched it by sending it to 20-30 friends. They all said that it looked like crap and that no one would buy a will online in India anyway. Around this time, Bhuvan left and joined a bigger company (see this post here – Saat Developer Maaf) but not before helping me understand a lot of technology – which came in handy later. We also spoke to some potential customers but a lot of people wanted a lot of customization their Wills. Moving on and finding a new name I had been meeting Sameer from Morpheus off and on and he had been pushing me to do a bigger idea and market. Since the Wills idea hadn’t really worked out, we thought that maybe it was time to try out a few other documents focusing on consumers and small businesses. We also did some Google search keyword analysis and came up with 5 documents like wills, rent agreements, power of attorneys, employment agreement. Sameer, Nandini and I were sitting in a cafe and going through a list of 400 names I had come up with the help of a few friends but nothing was really sticking. Suddenly, Sameer came up with Akosha (we had by then started thinking about names of Indian kings! Yes, we were desperate). It was an empty name “Akosha” – though Nandini and I didn’t like it much, we decided to use it till we found a better name. We googled Akosha up and found that “Kosha” meant something in Sanskrit – and since we were too lazy to change it, it stuck (though the flexibility did come in handy later). Around this time, someone suggested us that we also offer consumer complaint help for Indian consumers. Though I was skeptical because I thought it was all too complex (didn’t have the simplicity of computer generated documents – :-|), I still decided to add it because we weren’t making much revenue anyway. We got a few customers for this but we still had no clue about what lay ahead. Serendipity Around this time, two lucky things happened. First, I had a really bad customer experience with Airtel (see Airtel Live v. GPRS issue – experience with Airtel Customer Care) and I so wished that someone could have handled that whole experience for me – calling, waiting, speaking with an incompetent agent, trying to escalate but unable to, call dropped in the middle, and start again from the beginning. I thought “Wouldn’t it be great if someone could handle such a thing for me? Man, I would even pay for it.” The second stroke of luck was when Rediff reached out to us saying that they liked what we were doing and wanted to write about us. They wrote this really nice story – How this startup simplifies law for the common man. We got a LOT of traffic in a single day.
Guess what? Everyone clicked on the consumer complaint help button and we knew that it was time to change our focus again. Around around this time, I moved from Chandigarh to Delhi since I thought it would be easier to build a team in Delhi. So now, Akosha was running out of a rented 1.5 BHK in Kalkaji in New Delhi.
Hustle After the initial press coverage, the traffic dropped again and we were back to thinking of how to get our next set of customers. I happened to attend a session by Hitesh Oberoi on the early days of Naukri and how they got their first customers. Something clicked inside my head – we decided we couldn’t wait for our customers to discover us – we had to reach out to them. I, along with two interns from NLS Bangalore, started cold-calling customers who had posted their complaints on consumercomplaints.in (a forum) and began pitching our service. When we said that we had read their complaint against company X, they would start abusing us thinking that we were from the company itself! We would then slowly explain to them that we were a new kind of service which helped them outsource their hassle of following up with the brands and resolving their complaints. Some of them said refused, but we still managed to get our initial set of customers. To take our product roadmap forward, we also needed to find a solid technology guy. I happened to meet Sarvjeet Ahuja (our interim CTO) at a Startup Weekend and in a 5 minute conversation we (Sameer and I) decided that we should get Sarvjeet onboard. One day, out of the blue I got an email from one Avinash Vankadaru, a Masters student at the prestigious ETH Polytechnic at Zurich (same place Einstein studied! I tease him). He applied to Akosha with this presentation expressing HIS vision of what Akosha should be and what he brought to the table.
Needless to say, he’s still with us and plays an important role here at Akosha. I also went to Startup Saturday and presented about what we were doing at Akosha. Post the talk, I met Ankur Warikoo (a guy with tons of internet experience, who later became CEO at Groupon India) – another stroke of luck. We meet regularly after that and he took me through SEO/SEM/Analytics, helped me prioritize/build strategy etc. Slowly things picked up To build traction, we also wrote a lot of content on our info blog, and started getting a lot of press coverage. Meanwhile things picked up on Facebook and Twitter as well. This specific tweet brought a lot of followers and helped us spread the word as well.
From under 10 complaints a week, we slowly started getting 1000+ complaints every week. We kept our nose to the ground, kept working with the initial customers (here are some stories from early customers) and brands. Being part of the Morpheus startup accelerator program was insanely helpful. Some angels and VCs heard about the work we were doing and showed interest. In September 2011, we raised a small round of capital from an institutional investor. More recently, a kick-ass angel investor also invested – he’s spending a lot of time with the team, making introductions, etc. to help Akosha grow faster. To put some perspective on the last 6 months (Nov 11 – Apr 12), here’s a quick snapshot: We of course internally track a lot of other performance metrics (including resolution rate, CAC, LTV etc. – maybe I’ll share some of the other metrics in a subsequent post). Building the team As the complaints started increasing (which is a good thing in our business 🙂 ), we had to build the team one by one. Nitin joined us in SEO/SEM (ex-deals4loans), Manoj in technology (ex-Alston), Neha in Sales (ex-iYogi), Gaurav (ex-Religare) in Operations. Our most recent hires were Sanchit (who interned with us twice) and Runjhun (left a 18 lakhs p.a. job at a top law firm to handle content on the Akosha info blog). We are now a 30 people team and recently shifted to a new office in Jan 12. Our philosophy while building the team was simple: Hire entrepreneurial people looking for a challenge. We work hard. It’s a small team and there’s no place to hide. But we have some fun too!
If you are interested in joining us, just write to me at ankur @ akosha.com. You can check out the latest career opportunities here.
What lies ahead
A technology company: Gradually as our relationships with brands and our understanding of our customers improved, people started referring us and our traffic and scale grew. Alongside, we also realized how at our core we were primarily a technology company (see Marc Andreessen talk about how AirBnB is primarily a technology company) trying to use internet + mobile to improve customer service in India. The scale (there are over 25 crore unhappy customers every year – you are one of them!) and the challenges (each sector has its nuances) are huge. SIDENOTE: To take our technology capability to the next level, we are currently looking to hire a hands-on Java person with 5-8 yrs of exp in the Head, Engineering role. If you’re interested, apply here (the JD contains more details about we are building). Questions we ask ourselves: To understand the future, we ask ourselves the following questions:
- Does customer service really have to be so bad?
- What can we do to help customers voice their complaints better?
- Do you really need to call and hold for 5 mins and then talk to someone for 10 mins?
- Do brands really know how good their customer service is compared to their competitors?
- What can we do to make brands improve their policies and become more customer friendly?
Whatever we are trying to do hasn’t been done before. We may or may not succeed but it’s bloody exciting. Written by Ankur Singla, Founder and CEO at Akosha. PS: This post was written in May 2012 (when seems like it was eons ago). In the meantime we have grown consistently, moved into a newer office, built an awesome team and served more than 4 Lakh customers. Here’s a recent pic of the Akosha team: