And You thought Friday was just a Day of the Week…

What happens when six engineers with cushy corporate jobs decide to invest? And that too in a Whiteboard and an imported Smartphone. Yes, they grow up into mobile entrepreneurs creating android apps that millions the World over love. If you are reading this on an Android device, quickly search for “Friday” on the Play Store.

Today, we hear their story in an interview with the Chief Executive of DexetraNarayan Babu.

ProductNation: Welcome to Product Nation. We are really looking forward to hear your story. So please share all the excitement and emotion that you have gone through in your journey as a product entrepreneur.
Narayan: I was mentored by my Dad. My father used to be a CDAC Scientist (it was called ER&DCI then) and a member of the team that created Param – The First Supercomputer from India. So, Binary and Boolean Logic all came to me at an early age.

When I came into college after school, I realized that I could do technical stuff well. I could code and program, but I had no people skills for a startup. But I always wanted to do a startup like my father. So this startup was always playing at the back of my mind. While at college, I did create a portfolio of websites and apps (they were called applications then) but never made money as I hesitated to ask.

After college, I joined Bosch as an engineer. Bosch had an amazing culture and it gave me a nice view of the Corporate World. But it is a great place for the 9 to 6 crowd. The only problem – I did not find the work challenging enough. In three years at Bosch, I also found a good team. And it dawned on us that we better do something before growing old. So I pulled in two hackers from my college and two others from Bosch.

At that point in time, there was no idea. But we were all excited about doing a startup. So we began thinking, what to do?

Luckily, at that time Android was just announced. Incidentally, I was working on the WinCE and few other mobile platforms at Bosch. The platform was unwieldy and so I began experimenting with Android. The Android interface and features were just fascinating. At that time, Google conducted the android app developer contest and giving away US $ 100,000 as prize. We could not participate in the first edition, but it was a fascinating entry into the world of apps. We saw very simple apps being awarded US $ 50k and US $ 100k. We found it pretty cool and thought that we should do something around Smartphones.

Our first investment was in a Whiteboard, to brainstorm what all could be done on a smartphone. So, we listed down all the features of the smartphone and we realized that there were 7 – 8 data point sensors on a smartphone compared to almost no features in a desktop computer. And then in an “Aha” moment we thought we could do something using all those sensors – A diary of one’s life maybe. We really went crazy with the possibilities. Crazy because at that moment neither we had any smartphone nor there was any android phone available in the market.

Coming back to our senses, we decided to create a basic version and participate in the next Google App Developer contest. We only had a month and we were able to put together a crude version of it, and eventually we didn’t submit our app. When the winners were announced, we saw that most of the apps were very basic and not as grand as what we were thinking. This made us think if our idea was too grandiose. But, we worked on it and after two months of effort, we felt that we could pull it off.

ProductNation: What was the name you gave to this initial app?

 First, we called it Chrone (for chronology) and then owing to the confusion with the Google product, we called it “Instinct”.

ProductNation: Ok. Please continue
Narayan: So, it was end of 2009 and we got our first android phone. It was an HTC phone with a 3.5 inch screen – a rare feature then. We ordered it from the US and specially took leave from office to receive the courier. And when tried running our app on it, it crashed. That is when we realized that emulator and the phone were different. So we had to work on the app, again.

Meanwhile, the android app marketplace had reached thousand apps or so. We decided to try something simpler. An android game which was a cross between pacman and Mario. We called it tintumon. And we launched that game. The app became popular, got 10,000 download and qualified for the Google Nexus One phone prize. It went on to do about 60,000 downloads. This was a big morale booster. That was when we started thinking about leaving our jobs and doing this full time. I had support from home and my other team members though concerned were way too excited about starting up.

This is when things got serious and we got our 6th founder. I reached out to one of our college mate who had done his MS and asked him to help us raise some money so that we could move into a place and leave our jobs. Basically he was the business guy we wanted in our tech team. He spoke about the app to a number of people and then finally an Investor who used to do only investments in rubber estates got really excited about it and put twenty lakhs into the business. So we quit our jobs and started Dexetra in April, 2010.

For a couple of months, we played around with all the mobile platforms – iOS, Blackberry, Android. We used to make apps, sell them for Free and also some for paid. One of our iOS games apps became the top 50 paid app in the App store. It was exciting. But it was time to focus on the main idea – Friday.

In the end of 2010, we shut down everything else and just focused on Friday. In two months we released the Alpha version and the users loved it. It was like SIRI but almost a year before SIRI. We got covered by Techcrunch and it was good fun speaking to all who covered us.

In this version, all the data was being collected locally on the phone. So the next step was to move all this data to the cloud. And we started working on the Friday cloud part. Quickly we realized that we had to build for scale. Since, we had been in a startup mode for close to a year, we understood issues of scale. So we consumed lot of information on scalable architecture to put it all together.

This was the time we met Vijay (Founder – One97). He instantly liked the cloud first version and the next day he signed the term sheet and put in a crore of rupees. This way we could recruit a couple of more guys into the team. Around this moment, the product was a little more than fifty percent ready. But in cases like this it is the last 20% that really takes the time.

ProductNation: Was that time when the Apple SIRI came by? Tell us about it and the eight hour SIRI bet.
Narayan: Yes. It was October 2012 when Apple launched SIRI. The World was touting it as the next big thing. We were irritated as we had been trying to put something together since 2009. And SIRI was not even close to what we had planned for Friday. But yes, conceptually similar.
Internally, we took up a bet to create an app exactly like SIRI in 8 hours flat. We managed a version and called it IRIS. It wasn’t for the public marketplace, but a tweet was picked up and it went viral. So we released it into the public marketplace. It got a million downloads in the first month, two million the next. Then, Micromax Aisha also leveraged IRIS.

IRIS becoming a sort of distraction and it was becoming hard to manage two entities. After spending a couple of man months, the team gathered itself and decided to focus most of its efforts into Friday. And it made good sense since we were just ten people then.

ProductNation: What prompted your team not to pursue IRIS?
Narayan:  One, we were occupied with Friday. Second, for IRIS to scale, it needed a strong content pipeline. This would have entailed partnering with a number of content providers. All this meant a different set of skill sets. That doesn’t mean we gave up on iris, just that we put most of our tech energy behind Friday.

ProductNationSo, you guys got back to Friday.
Narayan: Yes. February 2012 end, we launched Friday beta on a closed basis. After four months of improvisation based on user feedback, we released it into the Android marketplace in July, 2012. Friday sees about 100 million documents in the cloud with a 30% daily user engagement.

ProductNation: What should we expect from Friday, going forward?
Narayan: We are focusing on making smartphones intelligent. We are making efforts to put context into smartphones with powerful software. e.g. your smartphone instead of showing “recently dialed numbers” should prompt you with the names of people depending on the context of location or time.

Those are the things we are working on. Plus we are working on building the UX as well. You would soon see a major new release on Friday.

ProductNation: Are you doing the UX internally?
Narayan: I am doing it myself, internally. It is challenging to get external UX guys working on a consistent basis. And UX needs sharp focus. And it has been painful to source UX guys. I have tried freelancers and outsourcing it to experts overseas. The problem of getting UX done outside the team, is to really get the job done. The creative guys are a different set altogether and they have a challenge adhering to timelines. Also, the external guys are not able to experience first-hand what is happening with the product. So, you need a UX person internally who can feel what’s happening.

ProductNation: Narayan, why the name Friday? Do you guys take off that day, is it?
Narayan: We wanted a simple one word name. We started with Chrone that came too close to Google Chrome. We tried Instinct. Then we hit upon Friday. It sounded crazy, it sounded bizarre, so it sounded good. ‘Friday’ sounded happy and it went well with the established meaning of “Man Friday”. And above all, it was easy to remember unlike the names of other apps, which you struggle to recollect at the right time.

ProductNation: What has been your learning’s during this journey? What would you like to share with an entrepreneur?
Narayan: We went all in. There was no plan B. We went all in with one plan. Many people ask us quizzically that you spent two years just building an app. But we did that and survived well too. It just makes sense to sell out to one meaningful idea.

I like the quote by Drew Houston, the founder of Dropbox – “It is better to fail than building a mediocre product”.

ProductNation: Before we let you go, would you like to share the complexity of your six-member founding team?
Narayan: Yeah. Investors used to express shock on the size of our founding team. Fortunately, inspite of having different backgrounds and personalities, all of us were excited about the startup. We do have differences but is mostly around the product. And most powerful bonding force is that all differences apart, we all want to build something really praiseworthy. This single thought ties all our efforts together.

ProductNation: Narayan, thank you for talking to Product Nation.
We wish the entire Dexetra team many more million downloads soon.

NH7 Launches Festival Guide Mobile App – Festivapp At #NAMA, the music streaming and discovery platform focused on independent music, has launched a mobile festival guide app called ‘Festivapp‘. The app was showcased at #Alpha, the product and startup showcase at #NAMA conference.

Festivapp is currently available as a free download on the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store and allows one to discover festivals/events in India and attend them. The company states that these festivals can either be cultural, literary, music or a film festivals.

Registration: We tried the app on a Galaxy Nexus and noticed that the app currently allows one to login either through Facebook or Twitter account credentials, following which they are redirected to the app homepage, which features all the upcoming festivals in the country. One can choose a festival of their preference to browse through more information about it, including information like venue, genre, pricing and festival dates.

Festival Wall: In each of the festival listings, there is something called a ‘festival wall’ which offers a stream of updates being posted from that specific event. These updates include organizer announcements, updates from their friends, and event related updates syndicated from social networking sites like Twitter and Instagram. The wall also features a pull-to-refresh feature and has a countdown clock that counts down to the start of the festival in days, hours and minutes.


The app also allows one to post updates directly to the festival wall. We also noticed that one can either choose to make their updates public or private to their friends. It also offers an option to auto-share their updates on Facebook or Twitter.

Photobooth: The festival wall also allows users to upload pictures from the event. What’s interesting though is that users can add photo effects and virtual items to these photographs. The company saysthat these effects will be themed around the Festival.


Besides this, the app also features a slider menu which allows one to head over to any specific section of the event like announcements, schedule, artists, and travel information among others.

At the time of writing this article, we noticed that the app featured more options for NH7′s own events like NH7 Weekender, including the ability to buy festival tickets from within the app, check out nearby places including restaurants and bars, and find accommodation near to the venue. It also offered guides on things to do at the festival and around the venue. We hope that the company rolls out these features to other festival listings as well, in the future.

Original Post –

Why aren’t more developers creating serious Mobile App Products?

Mobile Apps

These are the times, when every third person that you meet in Technology world has an idea for an App. It could be every alternate person if you’re hanging out in geeky groups or among heavy Smartphone users.

The Industry trends suggest a phenomenal surge as well. According to Gartner, Mobile Apps Store downloads worldwide for the year 2012 will surpass 45.6 billion. Out of these, nearly 90% are free Apps, while out of the rest of 5 billion downloads majority (90% again) cost less than $3 per download. This trend has a strong growth curve for the next five years. (See Table 1. Mobile App Store Downloads, courtesy: Gartner) 

Another report suggests that 78% of US mobile App Companies are small businesses (based on the Apple and Android App Stores based research). The typical apps that dominate this market are games, education, productivity, and business.

Mobile App Store Downloads - Gartner 2012

This comes as no surprise. There is a huge divide between the Enterprise Mobility (dominated by the Enterprise Architecture, existing platforms and mobility extensions to the platforms that ensure business continuity) and End-User (Consumer) Mobile Apps dominated by the App Stores supported Small and Mid-size App Development Companies. The barriers to entry in the Smart phone Apps Market seem pretty low with the supporting ecosystem from Apple, Amazon, Google, and Telecom carriers.

However, let’s get back to the fact that majority of these Apps “do not” generate direct revenue.

While the entry seems without barriers, there are multiple hurdles on the race track:

1. Developers need to focus on the User Experience. The smartphone apps pick-up is highly skewed toward Apps that offer a good user experience even for minimal functionality. After the initial success, the App makers end up adding functionality for sustained interest, but the User Experience tops. It’s difficult to focus on UX while still trying to do everything right at the underlying architecture level for long term.

2. Marketing is important. Getting the early eyeballs is key for the App developers. Any serious App needs an immediate initial take-off, and among the things that they need to do to make it happen is to market the App beforehand and to get the authoritative reviews in place.

3. Initial Take-off is just the first hurdle. App needs to be able to handle traffic bursts, it needs scale with increased traction, support virality & social connects inherently, and also build an effective User ecosystem. None of these may seem like the core functional features of the App, but are most critical for the broad-based success.

4. The Freemium model is very popular, but it can kill the business if the marginal costs are not sustainable. The paradox of the Free model is that unless the 10% paid users are able to pay for your 100% costs, every additional user takes you closer to the grave. With this come in two questions – how do you keep the infrastructural costs low, and how do you build additional revenue models around the app.

  • IaaS can solve some of the infrastructural headache, but doesn’t provide you with the other functional layers that every App needs. You need to still build them. PaaS providers provide the scalable platform for building Apps, but you still need to build some of the functional features such as Gaming Rooms support, Messaging, User Authentication & authorization models, and so on. Mobile developers are still doing a lot of repetitive work across the smartphone Apps that can be consolidated into a framework.
  • Supporting the additional revenue models require integration with external Ad-services, Payment systems and more importantly the bandwidth to deal with this even more fragmented set of agencies.

5. The End-point device platforms are fragmented and getting even more so. A typical model for App developers is to develop an Android App, iOS App or a Windows App and then support the other platforms as they go along. However, keeping up with these multiple platforms is only getting more and more difficult with the speed with which Apple, Microsoft, and Google keep rolling out the OS. There’s tremendous pressure to release the App within the 1-3 days window of the release of the underlying platform.

Hence, while there are millions of people developing smartphone Apps as we speak, there are only a fraction that get built at serious level, and even smaller fraction that gets built for sustainable business success.

And considering these hurdles, the arrival of the Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) is a blessing for the App Developers. Forrster’s Michael Facemire refers to them as “The New Lightweight Middleware”. He goes ahead and lists out some of the basic tenets of what makes a Mobile Backend as a Service, but I see this list evolving as the vendors offer more and more functionality to the customers leading to en ecosystem.

And the term “ecosystem” is going to be the key. That’s because a successful mobile App doesn’t stop at the user starting the app, using the app, and leaving the app. A successful App creates an ecosystem for the viral growth, user engagement, social functionality, in-built broad-based connectivity for multi-user interactions, and more importantly the ability for cross-platform usage. In a Gaming scenario, the user interactions and the relevant immediate feedbacks are paramount. Most successful apps build an ecosystem. Instagram, 4Square, Pinterest are the common household examples today.

ShepHertz App42 Cloud API is complete backend as service to help app developers develop, buid and deploy their app on the cloud.While Michael lists out the usual suspects in his post, most of them in the Silicon Valley, there is a very interesting player in Shephertz’s App42 platform, right here in India. The ecosystem approach that they have taken seems pretty much what may be required for serious app developers that need a robust backend provided as a service, so that they can focus on the app functionality, user experience, and more importantly the marketing aspects of the App.

Now why, still, aren’t more and more developers building even more serious mobile App products? Why shouldn’t they be? I think, they will!