Artificial intelligence is expected to define the next generation software solutions. The technology which is being called “the next electricity” by some, is all set to reach $19,478 million by 2022, growing at a CAGR of 45.4% from 2016 to 2022. While we can’t wait for AI to transform technology in every vertical, it has started to make our lives simpler already.
Niki, a technology platform, deploys AI in its chatbot that lets its users shop on chat. Niki is all set to step up its conversational commerce game and making everything, from booking bus tickets to paying bills, a piece of cake.
Intrigued by the unique idea and it’s growth from a humble idea to a startup backup by Mr.Ratan Tata, we had to know more about Niki. Here is what we learned in an interview with the CEO, Mr.Sachin Jaiswal.
1. Could you brief us on how your business model works?
- The company works on a straightforward channel partnership model. It takes orders from customers and passes it on to their partners who do the fulfilment. The notable merchant partners include Redbus and Ticketgoose for Bus Booking, Cleartrip and OYO Rooms for Hotel Booking, Bookmyshow for Movies, Ola and Uber for cab booking, among others. Other services that Niki supports include all kinds of Utility Bill Payments, Mobile Recharges, Nearby Deals, Events, Laundry. For every order generated, Niki.ai gets a commission from the partners.
- Additionally, the company has developed Niki Software Development Kit (Niki SDK) which a brand can integrate on any platform (Web/iOS/Android) and enable conversational commerce for their consumers, within half an hour of development time – this is again a revenue source for Niki.ai. The SDK partners who provide Niki’s services on their platforms include HDFC Bank, Federal Bank, Intex Smartphone, Karbonn Smartphones and more
2. Which key strategy you keep in mind and share your success mantra?
We’re focused on enabling digital transactions with ease for the millions of smartphone-wielding Indians, who are already habitual to using messaging apps. And even for those who have recently come online (or, will come) and aren’t used to different ever-changing interfaces in multiple apps. This way, we wish to steadily contribute to the Digital India movement
The strategy is to eradicate all the friction by making the process, from discovering to choosing to buying, natural and as simple as talking to a friend. This is precisely what a Conversational UI achieves – everything happens in a single chat window and the entire experience remains seamless, immersive, and driven by the users themselves. The UI doesn’t change much with time, but the experience evolves with each interaction of a customer with Niki – the Machine Learning technology makes it possible.
We’re proud to be the frontrunners in bringing a fully-automated conversational commerce bot to the users in India. With over 56% m-o-m growth in revenue, we seem to be on the right track. The aim is to constantly gather user feedback, work on it and keep improving the experience further.
3.“The industry brims with theories on what makes millennials tick.” To what point you agree with this with your business?
This cannot be denied. In the context of our business, globally, the top four messaging apps have a combined user base of upwards of 3 billion and they have surpassed the combined active user base of the top four social media platforms (according to a report by Business Insider). And this is no strange fact that the majority of these app users comprise of millennials.
The situation is no different in a country like ours where more than 50% of the population is below the age of 25. Making sure you could win hearts of millennials, is paramount for most of the businesses here. Their love for messaging apps only makes it easier for us – they can now do a lot more on chat, than just communicating with friends and family.
4. Do you plan to expand your brand presence across other regions?
We’re currently present Pan-India and will definitely look to expand our presence to global markets in the future. However, there are no immediate plans.
Currently, in addition to over 20 services present on Niki, we will be adding more services including flight booking in the near future. With new SDK partners, Niki will be present on more platforms. Which will help us move closer to our goal of making Niki available everywhere and for every digital transaction.
5. Share the biggest achievement of your company to date?
Since the beginning, we’ve been lucky to have been trusted and backed by industry stalwarts including Mr Ratan Tata, Ronnie Screwvala among others. We’ve also been a winner in Infosys Finnacle, HDFC Bank Digital Innovation Summit, India Fintech Awards 2017, AWS Mobility Awards, to name a few.
In the last few months, we have seen an exponential growth in the number of transactions. But one of the biggest achievement for us is the high repeat-rate. Chatbots which is a relatively new technology needs to be educated about to increase adoption by masses. High repeats bolster our confidence . Especially in the fact that once people are habitual to using a chatbot and conversational UI, they would probably stick to this experience for a very long time.
6.Where do you see your industry going in next five years?
Experts predict that bots will replace apps in the next 5 years, in the same way, that apps replaced websites. We totally believe in this owing to the ever-growing popularity of messaging apps. The inconvenience of ever-changing UIs, and the seamless experience and universally consistent interface chatbots bring with themselves. AI technologies are still in their nascent stages, and yet the impact across various sectors is evidently significant. We optimistically predict UI-less systems in the coming future.
7. What makes you different from your competitors?
- Niki is the first and only fully-automated AI bot in India to handle end-to-end digital transactions.
- Talking about the concierge business of Niki, the process of discovering any service using recommendations based on your preferences becomes so convenient and simple on chat that even a grandmother can get her work done fast. That is what makes Niki stand apart from all other players – It is as easy as chatting with a friend.
- On the AI front, getting the AI bot (Niki) to understand the natural language of our users was a big challenge. This remains a big hurdle for all the players in the segment. The algorithms behind the whole ‘understanding and then responding accordingly’ part is pretty complicated. It definitely makes use of the most sophisticated of research in Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning. Thanks to our custom NLP models which are backed by the conversational data of over 2 years now. We can process complicated instructions from the users. One example of a complicated thing that you can do is tell Niki to ‘book you a night bus to Mumbai this Friday’. She will get back to you instantly with recommendations that will suit you best. And this can be done similarly on other services like hotel booking etc. In the very near future, Niki will also ‘learn’ about the user so that the recommendations are much more accurate. For example, if you frequently travel on Fridays and by night buses, just a ‘show me some buses to Mumbai’ will get you responses tailored to your needs.
8. Two suggestions for the aspiring entrepreneur and upcoming startups?
- Take customer-feedback extremely seriously – Continuously evaluate, evolve and innovate
- Simplify things