His company stood out in the research I made ahead of visiting India to conduct interview for these posts. They are an agile and highly disruptive team, embracing J2ME, Android, iOS and wap based gaming. Their attitude that anything and everything is possible on mobile is leading a new wave of mobile software entrepreneurs determined to make things happen on their own terms. Based in Jaipur and New Delhi, the company has recently celebrated their first birthday. They started out with a couple of talented developers building a J2ME app for Facebook. Undaunted by the total lack of API support for feature phones they figured out how to hook in and ported the features they saw built in to iOS and Android to an app that can literally hit hundreds of millions of handsets in the Indian market. The business model they saw was to prove this concept and seek to license the app to OEMs and the Indian operators. The app is pre-installed across a wide range of phone manufacturers using the Media Tech chip sets, and it has shipped with well over 100,000 handsets. They estimate that they have 40-50,000 users now. This success has enabled them to grow the company to 16 employees they have now.
Hot on the heels of the Facebook app came Zephyr, which is the first audio streaming platform built for J2ME. This was announced back in February at Mobile World Congress. The company took a key content decision to simultaneously target the Indian rock music scene with this development, as they were working on the product, they built relationships with the bands and record labels at the forefront of this music scene. They were well aware this is a cultural niche, but one they were determined to pursue as it wasn’t being served by anyone else. This has given them traction with the youth and college set across India, a demographic highly sought after as they will undoubtedly be the next generation of smartphone customers. Since February they have rolled out the service to Android and iOS so their users can continue to use the service as they upgrade from feature to smartphones. This is a fine example of playing out a strategy ideally suited to the Indian market. Again this is now being pre-installed by their OEM partners, and is offered in many of the Indian operator app stores. Currently this platform is being white labelled for content owners in the US, I look forward to more details of this once the product is announced.
Queppelin have also launched their own eCommerce platform and are seeing substantial growth from SME businesses who want to sell their goods on mobile. Payments by mobile are really gaining a foothold here in India. Prafulla and company are determined to stay ahead of the curve on what they see as the key use cases of mobile technologies.
Coming from a background in IT in the banking industry, including London based stints at Lehman Brothers, which Prafulla jokes he brought down before moving on to HBOS. He decided to quit and move back to India to start up Queppelin with a couple of close friends. The inspiration for this was the building out of the 3G networks and what he describes as the coming inflection point when next years spectrum auctions will lead to 4G services coming very quickly to the Indian networks. I asked him about the current operator app store margin being the wrong way round, all the Indian operators currently take 70% of an app’s revenue leaving only 30% for the developer and content owner. Ever the pragmatist, he says that they just have to put up with this for now as the MNO relationships are crucial to success at the current time.
We discussed that the Android market has yet to really take off relative to the volume of device sales here. He feels that google getting the operator billing relationships is the stumbling block as very few people have debit or credit cards to make app or content purchases with. This will undoubtedly be the power play to watch play out in India. Google’s success is crucial to opening up much better margins and app sales. Nokia also have a very significant role to play here, more of that to come in a few days. Once Ovi and Android Market become the dominant app channels, the operators, like their western counterparts, will have to settle for the industry standard 30% in their own stores. This can’t happen soon enough for the new start ups in India.
We moved on to a more general discussion about the adoption of mobile services en masse in India. Starting with the age old web vs native question. In india, literacy is a huge barrier to entering a URL in to a mobile browser, Prafulla is firmly of the opinion that native apps will rule the roost here as the UX paradigms here are rapidly improving and will cater very well for all users. We also discussed how he saw the mobile platforms playing out over the next couple of years. He thinks that BlackBerry are now stalled and not gaining market share, Android is growing massively, and I was very happy to learn that aside from accelerometer controls and graphics acceleration, all the Indian built Android devices are posing no fragmentation problems at all. Finally, he says that the new dual SIM phones from Nokia are brilliantly engineered for how Indian’s share their phones with family and friends, and thinks they will be resurgent and dominate the dual SIM market going forwards.
We’ll no doubt be seeing more from Prafulla and the innovative Queppelin team soon, as they’re all primarily driven by an urge to disrupt, and provide mobile first access to content and services for millions of new users.