In the era of entrepreneurship and startups, Awaaz, IIT Kharagpur sees it as its duty to share some of the successful startup stories related to IIT Kharagpur. 8th in the series we present to you the story of Sachin jaiswal, CEO of Niki.ai. He is a 2011 batch passout from the department of Electrical engineering, IIT Kharagpur and boarder of Radha Krishnan Hall of Residence.
Niki.ai was founded in April 2015 by four IIT Kharagpur alumni – Sachin Jaiswal, Keshav Prawasi, Nitin Babel and Shishir Modi. Niki.ai is a chatbot that users can ‘talk’ to. The app understands human language in the context of the products or services users wish to avail.
So let's see what Sachin has to say about Niki.ai and his journey to CEO.
You have earlier co-founded InnovAccer and worked as VP, Business Development for more than a year. What were the reasons you left Innovacer and
founded Niki.ai? How does your past experience with InnovAccer helped you in building Niki.ai?
The stint of starting something of my own was there since the very beginning and I always wanted to build a consumer facing product that could impact
billions of people. Innovacer made me 'Prepared' for the challenges that come during the inception stage and I developed a deeper understanding of
processes and tools which plays a very crucial role in building any organization.
What role did KGP and KGPians(InnovAccer and now Niki), have played till now, in your life? What were you seeking while forming the team for Niki,
or how did you found your co-founders?
We already had a good working rapport as we did participate in many college activities and are knowing each other since past 7 years now. This helps yes,
as you are already aware about the working style and can compliment well with each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Most startups initially launch their beta version and Niki was on a beta version for 7 months, What was the extent of bugs that were fixed and how
was the initial response? How should one find the beta users?
We wanted to develop a new experience altogether and since nothing of this sort was already existing we learnt a lot of things from our beta users and it’s
an iterative process so we learnt by working on the feedback we got from our Beta users. Since, we started in Bangalore, where you can easily find
early adopters of technology and also there are many online sites available where you can find your Beta users easily.
What do you think is the future of chatbots and artificial intelligence in india?
We believe that going forward, AI is going to be omnipresent, right from helping you out in your home to driving your cars to doing commerce for you.
Much work will be done in making the AI localized, so as to better personalize. Understanding the potential, we see that the Indian giants
too are adapting to newer technologies of Machine Learning, Deep learning and NLP, and are developing these capabilities either organically
or by acquisitions, thereby helping in creating the infrastructure.
Niki.ai went live on Facebook Messenger, What was the aim and how are the feedbacks so far?
After gaining significant traction on Android platform with over 75,000+ users, Niki went live on Facebook Messenger, providing the users with the
same seamless shopping experience. The aim was to make it simple by eliminating the need of downloading ‘n’ number of applications, we wanted the users
to be able to use it under all unfavourable conditions of poor network or mobile storage constraints.The feedback we received so far has been encouraging
in all terms.
Niki.ai’s rating in android market is not up to the mark (around 3.4 stars), What could be the reasons?
The concept wherein users interact with a bot and place orders or simply transact is new to India and we believe that adoption comes when there is much
utility presented in front of consumers. Our focus has been on increasing the utility by adding services under the umbrella with simultaneous efforts
on increasing the user’s ‘Conversational Experience”. After All we are learning from our user’s feedbacks and suggestions, so this is a continuous process
and we take the negative responses as the major source of learning. Learn and Iterate is our sole mantra behind improving user experience over the time.
How crowded is the AI chatbot space in India and the world? How do you see recently launched Google Allo will affect Niki.ai and other chatbot
We believe consumer adoption and technology advancements are the key factors driving this momentum around AI. The technologies of NLP
and ML which form the core of AI are mature enough now to be able to built commercial products out of them. Also, with deep
learning, the time to accurately train and improve systems has come down drastically over the last couple of years.
Additionally, consumers globally have started to adopt to AI powered systems in their day to day life.These in turn have led to opening up of huge
market opportunities for businesses. AI applications are coming up in every industry right from healthcare, commerce, space exploration,
productivity etc. A major trend has been the rise of AI chatbots. Google recently launched Allo. Facebook has opened up it’s messenger platform
for developer to build bots on it. Similar is the case with Microsoft, Slack, Kik. Amazon has seen success with Echo and Apple has too joined the game now.
It’s getting interesting for us and we welcome them, as it’s also giving us chances to learn and improve from both their mistakes and success stories.
How important it is for a business to give personalised suggestions to the users?
It is important to give personalized suggestions to the users, specially to the one’s who are going ahead, the extra mile in helping us improve and
who actually care for the brand. When you scale up, it becomes difficult to cater to all the users at a time but the loyal one’s should always be heard
and rewarded from time to time.
Getting an investment is one of the major concerns, How did you approach Ratan Tata that led him investing at Niki.ai? What does it takes to
bootstrap, what do you think should be preferred?
In the initial phase of development , the startup was bootstrapped by the 4 founders. We have raised seed funding from Unilazer Ventures founded by
Ronnie Screwvala and a follow up round by, Ratan N.Tata , Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons.
What hard skills a non-tech CEO should have?
I feel if you know which mountain you’re climbing, then mapping the journey and building a strategic plan for the same becomes easy, similarly if you
are backed with a strong research and have the ability to validate your idea then nothing can top you. Persistence and thirst for Innovation makes your
product and indispensable one.
How did you get the UI/UX done for Niki.ai? If you didn’t outsourced it, what were the reasons?
The kind of product we built, a unique conversational platform for the users that enables them to transact while conversing with a bot was new and the UX
was the most important aspect of it, that’s why we built that on our own. It helped us in understanding the user mindset over the time which led to
the development of the product which is user friendly and offers the users a seamless experience till the end.
What is NLP, and how startups are using it nowadays?
Natural Language processing refers to the use and ability of systems to process sentences in a natural language such as English, rather than in a
specialized artificial computer language such as C++.
The technology seems to be in its nascent stage and we see that many small and big companies are using it in order to simplify complex challenges and serve
the user in an efficient manner. There are many analytical startups which are using NLP across various domains, swiftkey is one of the example in this
league which uses NLP for text recognition and learns from user’s writing style, commonly use words and emoticons.
Among Product Development, Marketing and Business Development, which do you think is most difficult part for Niki?
We will call it ‘challenging’ rather than difficult, I feel the most challenging part was the product development since we had no counterpart in the
to take inspiration from and this idea of building a conversation platform for transacting was new which resulted in us doing many mistakes in the
and learning from the same. Other challenges which we faced were
language understanding , which effectively caters to the messaging style of Indian users ; and getting the right talent in Natural Language
Processing(NLP) and Mac.