Consumer demand for low-cost applications that can replace short text messaging on mobile phones helped spur the launch of a Bangalore-based start-up Plustxt. The messaging application not only offers an alternative to standard text messaging but also allows users to do so in regional language.
Pratyush Prasanna, co-founder of Plustxt Mobile Solutions, is of the view that conventional messaging will soon be redundant. "For the amount of data used for sending an sms, the charges are exorbitant," says the 32-year-old IIT-Kharagpur and IIM-Calcutta graduate who earlier worked with Microsoft, start-up venture Gupshup and Xerox. "With increased penetration of smartphones and data there are other ways to communicate."
He joined hands with two of his colleagues from Gupshup, Lokesh Chouhan and Parag Arora, to start Plustxt last April. Lohith V, who was working with InMobi, joined the founding team earlier this year. In January, the company launched two apps on the Android platform — Plustxt, an English-language messaging app similar to the globally popular Whatsapp, and Plustxt India, which allows users to communicate in eight regional languages.
Within months, the apps have recorded 60,000 downloads encouraging Prasanna and his team to work on versions for other platforms like Apple's iOS and Nokia's Symbian. The regional language app, which the company is focusing on, allows users to combine English with a vernacular language.
The user can type out with the regular mobile keyboard and the app transliterates the word to the chosen local language and English. The app is integrated with SMS so an app to app message will be sent over data, but a SMS will be sent if the recipient has not downloaded the app.
Prasanna, who is targeting $1 million (about Rs 5.5 crore) in revenue in second quarter of fiscal 2014, says that a vast majority of mobile users in India will be primarily regional language speakers. According to the latest data released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), there are 860 million mobile phone subscriptions. Indians who list English as their primary, second or third language, as per the Census of 2001, numbers a mere 125 million. To cater to this growing demand, Plustxt, incubated at the Microsoft Accelerator, has partnered with another local start-up Reverie Language Technologies.
"We got the local language fonts and the predictive logic from Reverie over which we built the app," says Prasanna, who raised funding from Bangalore Angels, Mumbai Angels and InMobi co-founder Amit Gupta this April.
"There is a massive market for local language texting in India," says Vivek Pai, managing director of Aroha Capital who invested in the company through Bangalore Angels.
There are, however, challenges. Primary among them is the ability of mobile phones to support vernacular scripts. This is especially so when a text needs to be sent.
Also, experts believe the young venture will need to do more than just offer basic communication in local language. "You need killer apps that will solve issues like access to local language content and other day-to-day problems," says S Sadagopan, founder-director of International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore.