At an in-house hackathon last year, founders of a Bangalore-based mobile applications company developed a voice-controlled personal assistant for smartphones. The application, named IRIS, an anadrome of SIRI, Apple’s intelligent assistant for iPhones, was developed in just 48 hours just to show that “we could do it”. It later went on to become Android’s answer to SIRI, and saw two million downloads in first two months alone.
IRIS was developed by Dexetra Software Solutions Pvt Ltd, a startup co-founded in April 2010 by six friends. The four co-founders – Narayan Babu (CEO), Nithin John (CIO), Binil Antony (CMO) and Aibin Varghese – were classmates at KMEA Engineering College at Kochi. The other two co-founders Yaser Hameed and Eby Chembola worked with Babu at Robert Bosch GmbH in Bangalore.
While the six of them were slowly building out what was India’s answer to Apple’s SIRI, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the founder and CEO of One97 Communications, a Delhi-based mobile internet company, was watching the startup quietly. Realising the potential for such an app, Sharma, an avid startup investor, wrote a cheque of $2,00,000 on behalf of his company in September 2011, which became the first round of investment for Dexetra.
Currently IRIS has four million users, of which 55 per cent are from the US, with only 10 per cent from India.
Another milestone for IRIS was the recent deal with the local mobile phone maker Micromax. As part of the deal, Micromax has launched a phone called Micromax A52 that comes pre-installed with an app called ‘Aisha,’ a super personal assistant. ‘Aisha’ is actually IRIS, renamed and modified to connect better with the Indian audience. Although the company did not share the nature of the deal, it did mention that it is generating revenues from it and Micromax will launch more handsets with ‘Aisha’ in the future.
Besides, the company is already generating revenues from IRIS in the form of in-app purchases and paid ads.
Another killer App in the making?
Even though Dexetra tasted early success with IRIS, its focus is on Friday, which the company has been developing since 2010 and is currently in private beta (you can request for an invite here).
Friday is an app that works like a personal secretary/assistant. It keeps track of the users’ activities on the smartphone, logs them and saves the data on the Cloud. It also understands the context of the commands given to it by the user (by leveraging IRIS) and acts accordingly.
Ask Friday to list the photos you took at a mall the day before, and it will open your photo album and show you only those photos. Friday banks on tracking the user’s location for that.
Watch this video to know more about the app
But Friday has certain limitations. Since it tracks the user’s location on a regular basis, it requires an active Internet connection to function. Although it can show you data like social networking feeds and emails, it cannot post stuff for you. Some users may not also be comfortable with sharing so much personal data. However, the option to decide whether or not Friday should track/monitor the location remains with the user.
“While IRIS answers questions about the world (what’s the weather, how is the stock market), Friday answers questions about the user and his personal world (who did I call yesterday, where did I go last week, how many emails did I get, etc),” said Babu. Dexetra is mainly targeting the Android platform.
“By 2016, the number of Android mobile phones will be more than the number of PCs. Although it doesn’t mean we won’t focus on other platforms,” he added. Like Instagram, which started with iOS and then expanded to Android, Dexetra could move on to other platforms as well. The app will be free since the company’s prime focus is on expanding the user base. Dexetra will leverage social media and blogs to promote Friday. IRIS is already popular and that is expected to work in Dexetra’s favour.
On the monetisation opportunity from Friday, Binil Antony said, “We will primarily look at three things- a premium paid version of the app, paid apps around Friday and in-app purchases. But at no point will we get into ads. We want to keep it clean.”
Since Friday is an app focused more on developed countries, there are chances of its expansion into the US. The startup plans to raise funds for that. Dexetra currently has 12 employees, which will double in the next six months as it pumps in more money into talent acquisition and Cloud.