The traditional mindset of eating out only as an occasional indulgence is fast changing in cities, and professionals now view eating out and drinking at bars as the default setting to spend time with friends and loved ones.
Seeing potential in this market space and the lack of a good personalized recommendation site for restaurants, bars and cafes in India, Gaargi Ramakrishnan with Anirudh Suri realised that most sites in India fail to make the user experience paramount in their UX. This is when they decided to focus primarily on the user experience for their target audience and launched EkSMS.com- a personalized recommendation engine for mid-to-high end food and nightlife in Mumbai.
They also provide their customers with personalized recommendations and targeted deals based on their demographic and professional backgrounds as well as culinary preferences that the system learns over time. For their merchant partners, they offer a real-time targeted advertising and inventory management platform that they can update using either their SMS or their web platforms.
EkSMS Premium is their exclusive service for corporate clientele, where employees of top corporates earn insider prices, services and special rewards for daily use, lunch orders and corporate events. The rewards are applicable to their personal and corporate spending.
EkSMS’s corporate partners include advertising agencies such as Percept and BBH, consulting firms such as Booz & Co. and Parthenon, venture capital/private equity firms such as New Silk Route, Apax Partners, and Warburg Pincus, as well as prestigious law firms such as ALMT and Bharucha and Partners. Upon signing up, the corporate entities share information about EkSMS with their employees through email, intranet, and hand-outs.
Based in Mumbai, EkSMS has over 60 brand partners across Colaba, Lower Parel and Bandra, including Indigo, Neel, Busaba, Tote on the Turf, The Table, The Four Seasons, Shiro, Hard Rock Café, and California Pizza Kitchen. Their clientele is primarily young professionals, college students, tourists, expats and women. They are generally in the 18-40 age range and use EkSMS.com to decide on-the-go about where to go out to eat or drink that day. Their service is geared towards users going out either as couples or larger groups. These users work at a wide range of companies, and are generally from the middle/upper middle/higher income brackets. They are almost evenly split among male and female users.
EkSMS has two primary revenue streams – from their corporate and merchant partners. They allow partners, when they sign up, to avail of a free trial period, after which they have the option of a fee-per-transaction model or a flat fee, based on their usage and experience with their service.
EkSMS is currently funded by the India Internet Group. Operational since mid-November of 2011, their team in Mumbai consists of 3 people and is expected to grow to 6 in the next couple of months.
M-commerce and Challenges:
“The response to EkSMS.com has been great,” says Gaargi Ramakrishnan, co-founder of EkSMS.com.
“We have adopted an approach of controlled growth to ensure that all our partners in the value chain get a good experience before we expand further. Through feedback gained, we believe that users love our product, our clean, clutter-free website, and the exclusive restaurant partners we have on board – most of which none of the other food-focused or deal-focused sites have on board. That, we ascertain, is our USP. Our merchant partners, on the other hand, love our dedication and knowledge of the food and beverage space, and the targeted approach we have adopted to solve their problems of new customer acquisition and retention. We are also very focused on leveraging technology to make the dining and drinking experience better for all Indians,” she added.
Anirudh and Gaargi went through many initial hurdles to build this first web and mobile-based personalized recommendation site that also provides users targeted deals from their merchant partners.
“Most merchants are worried that their brands will be diluted by providing and promoting offers. We have worked hard to ensure that our clients know that we are sticking to a certain range of mid- to- high-end restaurants, bars and cafes in Mumbai. Our brand is only as valuable as those we have on board, and so it is in our immediate interest to protect the core brand integrity of our clients,” said Gaargi.
Therefore, by providing their clients an exclusive platform, EkSMS is giving them an opportunity to provide benefits to their ideal client base. Furthermore, EkSMS is the only advertising platform that allows its clients a fair degree of targeting and also measurement of ROI on their marketing spend.
“Although it is a time taking process, merchants across Mumbai have begun to understand the value of our product, and are also reassured by the kind of clientele we have been driving to them,” concludes Gaargi.
The next step for EkSMS.com is to continue expanding into other geographic areas; to Pune first and then New Delhi and Bangalore; and also build other platforms such as mobile apps. More importantly, they want to personalize recommendations for users by continually learning more and more about their tastes and preferences. For merchants, they want to provide the most easy-to-use real-time advertising platform so that they can reach their specified target audience.
Gaargi Ramakrishnan grew up in Mumbai and did her post-graduate degree at Harvard University. After she came back to India, she worked as a consultant with UNICEF for 9 months, helping empower adolescent girls in Maharashtra by building their entrepreneurial skills. While trying to inspire these younger girls to startup their own social projects and businesses, Gaargi realized how much she wanted to start up her own venture!
As a part of the Woman Entrepreneur of The Day Series, YourStory.in wishes Gaargi good luck and great success for all her future endeavors!