With growing Internet and smartphone penetration, messaging apps have become lifeline for peer to peer or business to peer communications. Besides giving uninterrupted access to share things instantly, messaging apps have evolved and gradually helping users to shop, consume content and execute payment.
Even the likes of WhatsApp is enabling payment in a native messaging app.
But when it comes to providing a conversational user interface that can allow users to interact and carry out transactions with voice or over chat, there seems to be a gap in the ecosystem.
To fill this vacuum, four IIT alumni — Sachin Jaiswal, Nitin Babel, Shishir Modi, and Keshav Prawasi discussed the potential and urge of Artificial Intelligence powered chat bot in March 2015.
Soon, the quadruplet began extensive research around the scope of the concept. Two months later, they came up with an idea of Niki.ai, which can execute shopping and request for services on human commands.
“We named her ‘Niki’ as it was easy to pronounce and consists of only two syllables,” says Nitin, one of the co-founders.
While the company kicked-off operations from Udaipur, later the team decided to shift its base to Bengaluru to tap talent and gain exposure.
Niki provides more than 20 services to users including mobile recharge, electricity, postpaid bill payments and travel services including cabs, buses, hotels to entertainment events and movie tickets.
USP: Plug-and-play technology
Apart from performing shopping and request services, the platform provides a plug and play technology in the form of SDK (Software Development Kit). The kit can easily be integrated on operating systems, messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger, and the brand’s applications (Android, iOS, and web).
“We are transforming online shopping experience for millions of users, by simplifying it to a universal single chat window interface”, emphasises Nitin.
That’s not all.
The three-year-old startup is launching voice recognition service in Hindi language next month. “Users will be able to speak to Niki and perform tasks in Hindi,” adds the co-founder, who wants Niki to be omnipresent and used for everything related to the transaction.
Over the next six months, the company plans to rollout speech-based solutions in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Bengali, and Marathi.
Presently, Niki is available on iOS, Android, Facebook and Web platform. On Google play store, the app has 500k downloads. The firm also plans to introduce stock-broking and insurance services soon.
Business Model: Charging commission for enabling transactions
Niki works on a channel partnership model.
“We essentially get a commission for every order that we generate for our vendors, who do the fulfillment on own,” says Nitin. Across categories, it claims to make commission in a range of 2-22 percent.
The Bengaluru-based platform has around 70 fulfilment partners including brands such as Redbus, Cleartrip, OYO rooms, and Bookmyshow amongst several others. It also counts 60 distribution partners including ICICI bank, HDFC Bank, Federal Bank, Karbonn and Intex Smartphones.
The company’s AI-backed interface, which remembers users context and offers a recommendation, has helped the platform grow substantially in 2018 over the previous calendar year. With the addition of 1.7 million new users, Niki.ai had registered over 566 per cent growth this year over 2017.
At present, Niki has over 20 lakh customers on its platform. “Owing to our growth, consumer acquisition cost has also reduced to Rs 1-2 than Rs 10-12 a few years ago”, says Nitin.
While sixty per cent of Niki’s users are from tier I cities, the company witnesses rapid adoption from smaller cities.
“We also have seen increased demand for our SDK partnerships with leading brands,” he adds.
The average number of orders by a user has also gone upto 6-7 in a month with a basketsize of Rs 500-600. The company also claims that 60 per cent users tend to return for other transactions.
Currently, Niki has over 45 members team majorly in technical functions.
Eyeing 20 Mn revenue run rate in FY19 from $1 Mn in FY18
So far, NiKi has raised around $4 million risk capital from the likes of Ratan Tata, Ronnie Screwvala, Unilazer Ventures and SAP.iO.
With whopping growth this year, the platform is optimistic about raising another round soon. It claims to have clocked 430 per cent year-on-year growth in revenue this year. “We have seen 800 per cent year-on-year growth in GMV and 56 per cent month-on-month growth in transactions. Currently, we are at a Revenue Run Rate of $1 million”, says Nitin.
Niki aims a GMV run rate of $120 million by FY19, scaling up from the $20 million mark. “By next year end we will have around 10 million customers on our platform,” concludes Niki co-founder.