Internet being a democratic place where every large or small player can have a representation, technology should be an enabler rather than a hindrance for businesses to get online — in this case, a slow internet connection or even the lack of it. So just pick up any phone, send four SMSes and get a business website in just 13 minutes without any access to internet or a PC! A Hyderabad (India) based startup, NowFloats, is helping small businesses in creating a business website with the ease of an SMS.
There is a perception that making a website takes too much time and effort; SEO is complicated, and changes and updates take forever to implement. Quoting an internal study by Zinnov, Ronak Kumar Samantray, Co-founder, NowFloats said, “It is astonishing to note that despite 9.6 million Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) needing a website, only 0.6 million have one due to the lack of internet connectivity.”
Local discovery optimisation
Besides the speed of getting online, NowFloats also ensures local discovery through automated Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Samantray stated, “We strongly believe that there is no point of having a website, which is not visible on Google. Our core idea is to get a local business discovered online and all SEO is taken care by technology.”
What more? The site can even be updated through an SMS. Businesses can announce their weekly promotions or other announcements through an SMS. For people who are net-savvy and are connected with internet, can update the site through a mobile app and via the desktop too. For SEO, the NowFloats platform picks up keywords automatically from the updates and adds them to the posts for local discovery.
“More the updates, more the keywords get added. Relevance of the website gets improved with every update. SEO is our biggest differentiator,” added Samantray.
Nothing comes for free
The Co-founder feels that anything that is free is not valued. A free user will not update the website and its relevance would be lost. In India, NowFloats follows an annual subscription model to drive revenues. “We started with a free service in India and we learnt that nothing should be given for free. We had 600 customers in the first month and after two to three months, people started forgetting us because they did not pay anything. Hence, we started charging an annual fee.”
The company has two annual subscription plans — at INR 12,000 (US$197) and INR 20,000 (US$328). The former plan doesn’t allow updates via the mobile app and restricts the number of images that can be uploaded to the website.
The mobile app called NowFloats Boost adds plugins and widgets to make the website more attractive and effective. However, according to Samantray, much of the traction comes via SMSes. That said, the bulk of revenues come from businesses and enterprises that already have a website, and take a subdomain to get their local stores discovered. A case in point is momandme.in (A Mahindra Retail venture target at mothers and kids), which uses the NowFloats platform to help discover its local stores, and in the process allowing it to plan local promos better.
Mapping the world
Incubated at Microsoft Ventures Accelerator, NowFloats claims to be present in 52 countries in 10 international languages with more than 12,000 customers. In August 2013, it raised the first round of funding from Mumbai Angels, Blume Ventures and a few individual investors. The company is now all ready to raise a Series A funding.
Hoping to cater to an international audience, NowFloats has tied up with local-listing websites to be its channel partners. Local businesses can get a subdomain website on sites such as askme.com and Biz4Afrika (the latter is a business platform for SMEs owned by Microsoft). Biz4Afrika aims to get one million SMEs online by 2016.
NowFloats also is a website partner for VConnect, Nigeria’s one of the biggest listing sites, thereby enabling VConnect customers in getting a website. It also has an alliance with Verisign and Getit in India, empowering six million SMEs with access to consumers via print, voice, online and mobile services.
Samantray said, “We used to get about 100 customers earlier. The reach is the most difficult part and for that we need to identify channel sales. A local listing company that already has access to customers can be very beneficial to us. Channel sales are beneficial for customers as well with domain relevance improving on search engines. With channel partners on board, we get about 1,500 paid customers a month now.”
Expanding to Southeast Asia
The Co-founder said that he is on the verge of inking a deal with a leading Southeast Asian telecom player to be NowFloats’ channel partner in the region. It is also looking to tie-up with online marketplaces in the region to help their businesses discovered better. “Right now, the access to the region is primarily through digital marketing. We did a Facebook ad campaign. Singapore and Indonesia are highly responsive markets and we saw five per cent conversion from free to paid in these markets. We are now looking for partnerships for channel sales in these markets,” he added.
According to him, Indonesia as a market is a big opportunity for NowFloats. “Internet penetration is getting deeper in the country. With a population of about 220 million and about 10 million SMBs, the opportunities for NowFloats and local stores going online are immense,” said Samantray.
Myanmar too is an important market for the company. Having said that, these markets have challenges very much similar to India such as lack of internet penetration and dearth of payment gateways.