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Niki.ai : Sachin Jaiswal

Q1.How would you describe ‘Niki.ai’ in under 50 words?

Niki is an AI bot with whom you can chat to shop for products and services. Niki is smart to understand your needs and recommend you personalised options across services. It is as simple as talking to a friend, which makes the experience fast and convenient.

Q2.Who is the team behind your venture?

Niki.ai was founded by four IIT Kharagpur alumni – Sachin Jaiswal, Nitin Babel, Shishir Modi and Keshav Prawasi.

Keshav comes with a Computer Science background and has worked with Amazon for 4 years building architectures at scale. Shishir was the head of Strategic Initiatives at Indiareads, and Nitin has worked with Ipsos doing Marketing Analytics for Fortune 500 firms, before co-founding niki.ai. Sachin co-founded data analytics company Innovacer before Niki.ai which was preceded with a job at Oracle as a product manager.

The team currently has 25+ talented Developers, Designers & Growth Hackers with varying degree of experience in their respective fields.

Q3.What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

Getting the AI bot (Niki) to understand the natural way people converse in India is a big challenge. The algorithms behind the whole ‘understanding and then responding accordingly’ part is pretty complicated and makes use of the most sophisticated of research in Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning. Thanks to our custom NLP models which are backed by the conversational data of over 2 years now, we can process complicated instructions from the users. One example of a complicated thing that you can do is tell Niki to ‘book you a night bus to Mumbai this Friday’, and she will get back to you instantly with recommendations that will suit you best. We are still constantly innovating our models and algorithms to make Niki smarter in the sense she can understand and recommend better.

Also, we are going to add vernacular language support in our system in the near future, which will further enable smooth and convenient communication with our customers.

Q4.If you could only give one piece of advice, what would it be?

A startup, or even a new product development process, is full of ups and downs. It will never be a smooth journey. Learn from your mistakes, take user’s feedback in your stride and stay focused on the key elements. And always be open to fresh and constant innovation to your product. If you are specific to the AI or ML industry, it is important that you don’t get demotivated in the lows. As it is a new upcoming fields, the lows can be painfully long. But this usually also means that you are working in the absolute cutting edge of these technologies.

Q5.Who is your target consumer and what is the need that you’re servicing?

Our target segments are the people from age of 18-30 years. This is the demographic that mostly uses the chat interface and looks for convenience and speed while performing daily activities. However this does not indicate a disconnect from the tier 2 cities, and from people above the age of 30-35 years. We see both these target groups as potential customers of AI chatbots, but this will happen gradually by seeding in them the benefits of these services and making them believe in the concept through our use cases and demonstrations.

We aim to be the one stop shop for everything commerce on chat. We plan to integrate many more services on our platform so that for most of the needs that a user may have, Niki is the first thing that strikes his mind. Keeping this as our aim, we are working towards mitigating the hassles of the customers by providing them a simple to use and friendly conversational interface.

Q6.How do you create your learning material?

We have carefully thought out OnBoarding processes in place to make a new user comfortable with the chat interface. Though we have the advantage that everyone knows how to chat in terms of the UX, yet it does have a behavioral change in terms of doing commerce on chat. We also constantly innovate the user education on the feedback that we get from our customers. These help us with deeper aspects that can lead to greater happiness for our customers. Another interesting User education project we are working on currently is ‘contextual learning’. So the user is prompted a tip or a lesson precisely when he will require it, rather than all at once. For example, when a user is stuck at a step in the bus booking process, Niki can track why is he stuck and throw a tutorial or solution accordingly.

Q7.Can you convince the reader to start using Niki.ai?

Imagine a friend that is there 24x7 available on chat to advise you on which hotel to book, which bus to take, which movie to see and then even completes the booking for you! That is Niki. Chat, explore and get work done with ease.

Q8.What would you say is the biggest lesson you have learned while running Niki.ai?

Being a startup, most of our energy goes into a) improving the product experience for loyal customers, and b) getting new customers on board. And in the initial days, we made a mistake of not involving our best customers for both. We have realised over time, that your loyal customers are always ready to take out time and put in efforts to help you improve. Additionally they are your biggest brand ambassadors and the strongest bridge to the potential customers.

We have made involving them a regular practice now over the past quarters. Our best customers get access to early features, and are constantly giving us feedback to improve. Additionally, we are observing that referrals and recommendations from them have become a big channel of acquisition. We are seeing that on an average, loyal customers are now providing us with 10 times more worth than before. And all of this has happened, because we decided to reach out to them, a practice I would urge every start up to follow.

Q9.How long did it take to put together the initial version?

We launched the beta in june 2015, and went live in Oct 2015 at YourStory's Techsparks event.

Q10.What is your one tip for aspiring entrepreneurs?

There isn’t a foolproof plan to have a successful start-up from day one. In the initial days it is easy to be enamored with the idea of ‘your’ business and looking at the broader goal, that one might miss out on some crucial aspects of the business. Granted, being a new startup, we make good choices as well as few bad ones, but then learning from our mistakes should be the immediate next step. While starting up we need to be cautious of steps that can derail us from our path to success.

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