Taking a tilt at Apple ensured immediate fame for technology startup Dexetra when it built an application that mimicked the iPhone's voice recognition software Siri. Since then, the three-year-old company, founded by a group of software engineers from Kerala, has gone on to build more applications that intuitively personalise data to suit a user's needs. Drawing on artificial intelligence and capabilities inbuilt in smartphones, the Bangalore-based firm is now clocking millions of downloads for its Androidbased applications.
"Nobody took us seriously, they asked if we had a Phd or worked in Google," says 27-year-old Narayan Babu, who co-founded the company with his college mates from the KMEA Engineering College in Aluva, Kerala and colleagues from Robert Bosch Engineering.
Babu, who quit his job as a software engineer at Robert Bosch, is betting on the latest product from his team—Friday—a mobile application that almost functions as a second brain.
The app captures events happening around the user, like the people he talks to, places he visits, images he captures, and the songs he listens to. Using this raw data, it then anticipates the user's mood and initiates actions such as playing the right song. The app has received over two lakh downloads.
The Dexetra team initially participated in Android developer contests and made paid game apps to earn money. But Babu was sure there was more to be done with a smartphone. "Smart-phones must anticipate actions, lots of time is lost in searching information."
Pooling in seed money of Rs 30 lakh, the group got down to work and got their first break in 2011, when they built a personal assistant mobile application called Iris, which went viral just eight hours after iPhone launched Siri, a similar app. With nearly four million downloads on the Android platform so far, Iris was the product that built the team's reputation. But convincing investors about the focus on products by the technology company was still a trial. "We were rejected by 40 venture capitalists,' says Babu whose company is yet to start earning revenues.
But he finally found his mentor in another entrepreneur,Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of mobile internet Services Company One97. "He had a child-like excitement for the technology they had built," says Sharma who invested around Rs 1.5 core in the fledgling startup a day after he met Babu. The team that until then was working out of a one-car garage in Kochi moved to Bangalore. Sharma provided both office space and seed money that would help the young team gain attention from senior industry members.
As the team's reputation as a pure-product technology venture spread, marquee investors Sequoia Capital and Qualcomm Ventures also invested in Dexetra that has now raised around Rs 12 crore of risk capital.
Babu's next challenge is to ensure that his company begins to earn revenue. "We are looking to build a subscription model for our apps, as we will not share user data with advertisers," he says. At present, the company has a freemium model, where users who want advanced features will pay a premium.
"He (Babu) does not shy away from solving a difficult problem," says Mukund Mohan, the chief executive of the Microsoft Accelerator in Bangalore. Mohan, along with a group of five founders, met Babu over lunch in January this year at Chipotle, a Mexican restaurant in California. While the others debated issues such as insurance, buying a car or the food, Babu only spoke of the problem he's trying to solve at Dexetra. "He is so obsessed about solving it," says Mohan.