The risk and reward of chat as a platform

I’ve been noticing that there’s a new platform and the new platform is chat (see more practical use cases here). And today’s guest is a guy who said, “This is the perfect platform for what I have in mind,” which is a way for two people to connect with each other based on their interest or proximity.

I’ll him tell us how many people he has using his software. I’m also going to embarrass him by asking him to tell me about what his revenue is and spoiler alert, I think he’s going to be resistant.

Prashant Pitti is the Founder of NearGroup as a chatbot that connects people on the basis of their interest or location. We’re going to talk about how he built up this business whether chat as a platform has any legs.

Prashant Pitti

Prashant Pitti

NearGroup

Prashant Pitti is the Founder of NearGroup as a chatbot that connects people on the basis of their interest or location.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs, proven entrepreneurs, about how they built their businesses. And today’s guest is someone that I’ve been chatting with on Facebook Messenger and I said, “You know what, I like your business, interesting, you’re a great guy, I can’t do an interview with you.” And he said, “Why not?” I said, “I think your company is too small.”

And I think for a while they kind of accept it and then walked away. And then he messaged me soon afterwards and he said, “You know, Andrew, you may not be aware of this but there’s a way on Facebook to know how many people are messaging a business.” I said, “No, I wasn’t aware of it.” And then he sent me a screenshot of how many people are messaging his business. And I said, “I messed up.” I said, “How fast can we do this interview?” and so the two of us have been going back and forth for literally months to make this interview happen.

And so here’s the story here. I’ve been noticing that there’s a new platform and the new platform is chat. All right, it used to be kind of weird that desktops became a platform, right? You buy a desktop computer and then you go out and you buy software that you run on that computer and the people who made software for that platform which happened to be the desktop did well and then the same thing happened with iPhones. Anyone who made a software for that platform did well. Somewhere in between was the web became the platform. If you made good software you are able to either generate revenue from ads or from subscriptions or sales on that platform.

Well, the new platform that I notice is chat. And today’s guest is a guy who said, “This is the perfect platform for what I have in mind,” which is a way for two people to connect with reach other based on their interest or proximity so they could chat with each other. I said, “You know what, I’ve tried software that didn’t worked out so well. I tried chat as a platform for letting people talk and boom, it took off.”

And he now has actually, I’m going to have him tell us how many people he has using the software. I’m also going to embarrass him by asking him to tell me about what his revenue is and spoiler alert, I think he’s going to be resistant. And why don’t I introduce him by name now, he’s name is Prashant Pitti. He is the Founder of NearGroup as a chatbot that connects two people on the basis of their interest or location. We’re going to talk about how he built up this business whether chat as a platform has any legs, is financially profitable, and then what’s next, this whole thing is sponsored by, and by the way, don’t dismiss this, if you don’t think chat is platform you really need to pay attention to this and other interviews that I do about the chat platform. And if you do, this is really going to show you what’s possible.

All right, back to the sponsors, the people who paid me. First is a company that’s going to help you send out smart email marketing, it’s called ActiveCampaign, they probably hate that I say email marketing because they do so much more, but I’ll tell you about them in a moment. And the second sponsor is going to help you hire right, it’s called Toptal.

Prashant, welcome.

Prashant: Thank you, Andrew. Thank you so much for having me over here.

Andrew: How many people are talking on your platform?

Prashant: We’ll put together we have about 9 million users who have tried us so far. However, good thing is there are monthly active users and when I say monthly active users I mean the people who message our bot not the ones who we message. So our monthly active users’ right now is about 4.5 million.

Andrew: 4.5 million people have sent a chat through your chatbot. Give me an example of a use case?

Prashant: It’s not that 4.5 million people that send a message, that’s actually in 9 million number but 4.5 million people use our product every month.

Andrew: Okay. And what’s the use case, thanks for clarifying that?

Prashant: Well, there are two big use cases for NearGroup. I could talk a little bit more about the product first and then come to the use case. So NearGroup is a product using which people as you correctly said, people meet other people of the same interest in their proximity. Now, there are hundreds and thousands of apps which are trying to solve this problem in various ways. We have taken a very, very different route. At NearGroup on the basis of user’s preferences and our algorithm some we connect one user to the other user automatically on the basis of our algorithm. Now, the twist is, when two people get connected they do not see each other’s images to begin with. It’s all on the basis of their personality and . . .

Andrew: For dating.

Prashant: Well, not necessarily. I’ll get into the use cases, two people get connected and they start chatting. Now, as they start chatting and they both have the power to disconnect any time they wish. However, if they both continue to chat longer which means that they both are having a good time, the images and profile unblur slowly, which is after 10 to 15 minutes of conversation with somebody they get to see their name, their details, their Facebook links, their images, and everything. Now, you could ask us that why we make people wait for 10 to 15 minutes, well, there’s a very, very simple human psychology which is working in our favor over here which is human see less flaws in friends and more flaws in strangers.

Andrew: Wait. Less flaws in print and more in what?

Prashant: People see less flaws in friends.

Andrew: In friends?

Prashant: And more flaws in strangers.

Andrew: Okay.

Prashant: So for example, Andrew, if let’s say we both are . . . you see my image, I see yours, you might not like me the way I am and you might have left swipe me right away. However, at NearGroup, people would get connected; you get to know other side of mine which is maybe my intelligence, my humor, my wittiness, or the other things which matter to you. And then eventually you see me after 10 to 15 minutes, yeah, I’m not that bad person that you know after all as what you understand.

So to give you one direct comparison between Tinder and us, at Tinder there’s a chance that only 1.6% people right swipe each other on Tinder which is that they both like each other’s image. However, at NearGroup after having 15 minutes of conversation 75% people continue to have conversation more than 2 minutes after seeing each other’s image. Only 25% people disconnect after seeing each other’s image.

Andrew: Okay. All right let’s talk . . . we’re going to get into more depth that I got an hour with you. So let’s talk dollars and cents. How much revenue you guys producing with this?

Prashant: Well, to be honest, right now we are, instead of directly asking money from users we are asking, we are rate limiting them that they could only use it two times a day unless they bring in their friends.

Andrew: Okay. We’re going to get into that. So you’re saying no revenue, right?

Prashant: No revenue, right.

Andrew: You’re intentionally giving it up. Where’s the funding coming from then?

Prashant: We recently, well, it’s not being done recent, about a year back we raised $1.6 million dollar in seed round.

Andrew: Okay.

Prashant: So that’s how we are supporting our team right now.

Andrew: Okay. And you guys are a big where in the world?

Prashant: Asia Pacific primarily.

Andrew: Okay.

Prashant: So Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, these are the regions which are like really, really growing for us. In some country’s we are already a household name and right now the upcoming area for us is . . .

Andrew: I think I just lost you speaking of . . .

Prashant: Andrew . . . ?

Andrew: There you go, yes. You are in Thailand right now, right, and so we’re dealing with the Thai internet connection that you have. Sorry, their connection broke off. I think we’re just dealing with that internet today. This whole thing got started when you took up running. What were you trying to achieve with your running and what was missing?

Prashant: So, I have or this started which was doing pretty successfully otherwise. I along with my brothers, we cofounded a travel company in India which is doing a revenue of $250 million every years, so it’s doing pretty well for itself and we were bootstrapped. Now, I got into a hobby of . . .

Andrew: Wait, this is, EaseMyTrip is your site? You’re the cofounder?

Prashant: Yeah, easemytrip.com. We are three cofounders including, one of them is me.

Andrew: And it does how much in revenue?

Prashant: $250 million every year.

Andrew: $250 million, I had no idea.

Prashant: Yeah. That’s how you get to know about it.

Andrew: And is it profitable?

Prashant: Yeah. We make about $10 million every year.

Andrew: You know, let’s take a moment to talk about that. What did that idea come from?

Prashant: All right, we can talk about that. Even though the interview was for the NearGroup but, yeah, I’m happy to talk about it.

Andrew: No, we’ll talk about both. I want to get to know your background. I might even go back and talk to you about what was it like to grow up in Delhi. But let’s continue then. So where did the idea for EaseMyTrip come from?

Prashant: Well, actually, this was not an original idea of mine but my brother’s idea and I kind of joined them. But basically, in India, travel industry was booming, you know, in the year 2008 and 2009, however, there were not that many service providers at that particular time to basically, there were not many online travel agencies, OTAs as you call it, in India. So we started as a B2B company where we were primarily focused on travel agents and corporate who serve their travel needs. We chose the B2B route because we do not have money to spend on marketing at that particular time. So we knew that going up to customers would be very, very expensive. We started as B2B primarily where, you know, it’s just that we would provide them login ID and passwords to the travel agents and corporates and they would basically use our services, use our portals to book flights and hotels.

We remained that way for about three years from 2008.

Andrew: Before, this was year?

Prashant: This was 2008.

Andrew: 2008, soon after that though you guys had some kind of fraud, right?

Prashant: Yes, so . . .

Andrew: What was the fraud?

Prashant: So as naïve we were, in July 2008, we basically started EaseMyTrip, and I believer in September of 2008 we lost 28 lakh rupees as what we missed and let me convert that in dollars, it would be somewhere around, it wasn’t that much at that time but it felt like a lot. It was about $90,000.

Andrew: $90,000, where do you guys get $90,000, you three brothers?

Prashant: No. I worked in United States as a banker for about three years from 2005 to 2008, so it was all the money which I had.

Andrew: Okay. And it’s the three of you guys working, I imagined from a garage, at home, and then boom.

Prashant: Absolutely, absolutely.

Andrew: All the money goes away. What kind of fraud takes away all your money? What was it?

Prashant: Online transaction, you know, credit card which was a fraudulent credit card and we did not have enough . . .

Andrew: Sorry, it was a fraudulent credit card and then it what happened? I lost your audio.

Prashant: We did not have HTTPS certificate.

Andrew: There we go, you’re back.

Prashant: Am I back?

Andrew: Yes.

Prashant: All right, it was a fraudulent activity where, you know, somebody use up hotel and hacked one of the login IDs of one of the travel agents and booked the tickets for one night using a fraudulent credit card and since we could not protect the login and passwords for our travel agents, all the money was basically finally fined to us, so we could not contest the credit companies and stuff and we had to pay the bills. So we basically lost $90,000 overnight. And then we had like zero money in the bank account and I actually wrote an email to my manager back in United States that maybe I should want to come back and join you guys again.

However, sanity or insanity as you may say prevailed and we thought that let’s give it another try. So we borrowed another $20,000 from a few of our friends and relatives and we started EaseMyTrip again and then we made sure that the kind of stuff which happened to us never happened again.

Andrew: And again, you go after businesses and you say, “You should use our site to book travel for your clients,” right? This was people who are selling travel services. Okay. How did you find all those businesses?

Prashant: We begged them, actually.

Andrew: Were you the guy who was supposed to be making those phone calls?

Prashant: Not just the phone calls, we ran after them. We sat in their offices for hours to begin with and . . .

Andrew: So I imagine this, so you’re saying, a local store that would deal with individuals, not businesses, they would just do travel agency work for individuals, someone would come off the street, say, “I need to fly to America, can you get me a ticket?'” You’d sit in their office and once they’re done talking with the person who wants to fly to the U.S. you’d say, “You know what, we could you a better service, we could give you better software, right, and you should work with us?

Prashant: Absolutely.

Andrew: Please, work with us. And then what was the advantage that you offer them over anything else that they could use?

Prashant: Well, at that particular time technology wasn’t there as much so these travel agents had to deposit money in various airlines in order to book tickets. So our advantage to these travel agents was that instead of depositing small sum in various airlines you could deposit a little amount in our system and then use that money on any airline. So instead of putting money at different places you just have to put money at one particular place.

Andrew: Okay.

Prashant: So this was probably the only big picture which we could show them and they were not that convinced, the biggest reason for them not to be convinced was that what if you just runaway with the money? And you know we truly had to take them to our house to say that this is where we live, you could come anytime. You know, you can have a cup of coffee. You may not want to do a business with us right now but maybe after three months you could consider seeing that we still live over here. So, yeah, literally we have to beg these people to start business with us and that’s all the stuff . . .

Andrew: And then you will have deposits with the different airlines so they would buy from you and you’d mark up the price of the tickets a little bit?

Prashant: No. Airlines would give us discounts and commissions.

Andrew: Okay.

Prashant: So we would get like 5% commission from the airlines of which the biggest selling point to these travel agents was that even though we never said that we will share commissions with them, but we did. So instead of keeping all the 5% to ourselves, we would keep like 2% to ourselves and pass on the remaining 3% to the travel agent. So that tell them that you know we never promise them something and we were delivering. So, you know, they never left us and they continue using us for long, long time.

Andrew: And then once you get all the local people that you could go and talk to face to face what was the next way that you grew? How do you get more customers?

Prashant: Purely word-of-mouth, so we basically probably convince about 500 travel agents ourselves and then after it was just the travel agent selling and the other travel agent that hey, these guys even provide 3% commission, you know, on top of whatever they’re doing. So it was just purely word-of-mouth where within three years we grew to about 40,000 travel agents and our third year business was about $50 million a year.

Andrew: Really?

Prashant: Yeah. So . . .

Andrew: Do you get any more money beyond the $20,000 loan?

Prashant: No, we never took any other money.

Andrew: So then once the travel agents knew that they could work with you and not have to deposit at different airlines, more and more then we’re starting to come to you, you guys then expanded to hotels, right?

Prashant: Yeah, of course. So we, from the airlines we went to the hotels. But the biggest payment which we took was in the year 2011 which is three years after starting EaseMyTrip. We called that let’s open ourselves up to the regular customers not just the travel agents. So that is when actually easemytrip.com came into life. Before that it was just a software which travel agents could use. So that is when we actually started easemytrip.com, however, this is what we did and this is the power of patience. 2011, we open easemytrip.com thinking that we would never promote this site. We would just give regular customers the same deal we were giving to the travel agents and we would just let it happen slowly but itself.

While they were about 100 OTAs which have come into the picture by then and they all were giving really, really great discounts but were marketing very, very deep and aggressively. We have nothing to lose. We were focused on B2B side, right? So we said that hey, let’s just open up a website and let people just know if they want to use us, they’ll use us. If they don’t want to use us, they don’t use us. So that is when we’ve started giving them 3% commission on the airline tickets as the same that we were giving to their travel agent. And without any promotion just purely by a virtuous cycle which is one person telling the other person that he not only you get ticket but also 3% commission on top of that just purely on the basis of virtuous cycle, we grew from 2011 until 2018. Now, 80% of our business is B2C, only 20% is B2B.

Andrew: Wow. And then your brother, didn’t he produce a movie here. We’ll hang on a second, Madaari, am I pronouncing it right?

Prashant: Yeah, you are.

Andrew: The guy’s a baller, look at this. I have never seen the movie. I’m just doing research now as we’re talking, 7.6 rating out of 10 on IMDB, I’m looking at . . . this is a professional operation here, high production value and everything, am I right?

Prashant: Yeah, absolutely.

Andrew: Is he your youngest brother? This is Nishant.

Prashant: He’s my younger brother.

Andrew: Is he the youngest of the three brothers?

Prashant: No, he’s the middle one.

Andrew: The middle one, okay. He’s got like a baby face in the photos that I see online. But he calls himself a mogul, which he is.

Prashant: Which he is. So, yeah, he got into movie business in the year 2016. The pure reason was basically marketing. So we thought that maybe we could just, you know, plug in our EaseMyTrip in movies which goes far beyond and try to look out for the profitability. So we are now . . . we have coproduced about six movies already in India and in most of the movies we have thankfully been profitable in our venture. But the basic idea is to basically plug in EaseMyTrip in whichever way we could.

Andrew: I see, so this is just a commercial for EaseMyTrip. So if I go and I watched this movie, Madaari, somewhere in there there’s an EaseMyTrip reference, there is?

Prashant: Yeah. That’s it. It’s a [inaudible 00:18:28]

Andrew: Okay. That’s pretty cool. And then you guys also, speaking of chat since this is where we’re going to spend most of our time here. You guys also created some kind of mobile app that allows people to talk with each other on the same airplane even if Wi-Fi is, or if there’s no internet, did that go over well? Do people want to chat with other passengers?

Prashant: Yeah, absolutely.

Andrew: They do? To do what? The only think I would want to say is shut your baby up.

Prashant: Well, thankfully, we don’t have you as a customer.

Andrew: Actually, I never care about babies. I always have earphones even if I’m walking around day to day. So everyone can make as much noise as possible. But what do people want to do?

Prashant: So basically, people use EaseMyTrip mobile app to chat with other passengers on airplane so that they could find their travel buddies who are traveling at the same place afterwards or maybe find a cab ride to share it. These are the two biggest use cases that we use for that place and then it’s a place where people are utterly bored, you know? And it’s a place where people do not feel threatened to meet other people because, you know, you’re all are in the airplane. What is the worst that other person can do?

Andrew: One of your other movies is “Freaky Ali” apparently it’s based on the American film, “Happy Gilmore,” is that right?

Prashant: Yup. That’s correct.

Andrew: All right, let me take a moment to talk about my sponsor and then come back in here and keep digging into your life. I had no idea. You know what, you’re a mogul too how come you don’t come across someone with like millions and dollars and success behind you and too important to have a conversation.

Prashant: We just have kept a very low key life, very, very . . . our heads have been always down towards the work. I mean, for example, EaseMyTrip is not funded, it’s like bootstrapping until now. So we just have to manage our work very, very efficiently, Andrew.

Andrew: Do you do anything with the money that fun?

Prashant: Yeah, too.

Andrew: You take vacations of anything? Am I making you feel uncomfortable?

Prashant: A bit I guess.

Andrew: A bit. All right, then let me keep going. No, seriously, you seem like you live a modest life?

Prashant: I would believe, so, yes.

Andrew: We’re talking to you in Thailand. Are you in Thailand because it’s fun, it’s a lifestyle choice or because that’s the best place for your business?

Prashant: Right now, NearGroup is attracting between 10,000 to 15,000 new users every day from Thailand and it’s a super, super happening area for us.

Andrew: I see. So you’re saying, “Listen, I got to get to the place where I’m doing well.”

Prashant: Correct. So, no, I mean, we are doing well in many of the locations but this is like hot and hopping area for us which is growing really, really rapidly. So we are way ahead to understanding the consumers, we do like, you know, regular consumer research work almost every day, and we are over here to understand what people are using us for, why is it growing, because to be honest we are not marketing as much over here. It’s just growing naturally.

Andrew: Let me get into that in a moment so we can dive in deep. I want to understand why you’re there, what you’re getting at of it, how are you even meeting people?

All right, why don’t I take a moment to talk about my first sponsor, it’s a company called ActiveCampaign. Do you know ActiveCampaign?

Prashant: To be honest, no. Not that much.

Andrew: Good. I’m about to enlighten you. Here’s the cool thing about ActiveCampaign. I actually was doing more research to understand their new features because it’s freaking amazing. I keep talking to them as an email marketing company which is, it’s not really what they . . . they do so much more than that. Then I switched over to calling them email marketing automation. It doesn’t really cover it because here’s the cool thing that they do. Imagine, you send out an email to someone and you offer them . . . you say, “Look, if you want I could find a relationship using my software or if you want I can help you find a running buddy.”

If somebody clicks running buddy you stop telling them about the dating aspect because you might be turning them off. So what you need is a software that will immediately when they click, “I’m interested in a running buddy,” the software will tag them and say, “There’s someone who’s interested in running, don’t promote the dating aspect to them or else you’re going to turn them off, make their wives and husbands, whatever, uncomfortable.” And so you need that. And ActiveCampaign does it super simply.

But here’s what else they do, you can actually go into ActiveCampaign and say, “This is the website that anyone who’s into dating would hit. And if they hit that website, tag them, that page, tag them as being interested in dating and then start sending them messages about dating using my app. So what I’m saying is the email gets smart based on what people click within the messages you send and based on what they see and do on your website. So that’s the marketing automation part.

Now, here’s why I shouldn’t be calling them email marketing automation, because they will even do this on via text messages. If you want to reach people via text messages in addition to email, they’ll do it just add it to the sequence. Say, if someone’s hit out sales page three times and still didn’t buy, send them a text message with a 10% discount if they buy within the next day. Boom, send them a text message to get their attention.

All right, but it’s not all, I love the old infomercials, so I’ll say that. But that’s not all. Here’s what else you could do, if someone’s been on you site five times, didn’t buy, you could pop up one of those little chat bubbles on the site that says, “Hey, we’re offering a 10% discount or 20% discount right on now, would you like to see it?” And if they did buy five of your t-shirts, you might pop up one of those little alerts and say, “Hey, we’ve got this new t-shirt design. Do you want to see it?” And address them as somebody who has bought, don’t offer them a discount. Offer them something that they might want in addition to what they bought.

All right, this stuff is endless. Marketing automation is so powerful. If you guys are out there and you haven’t tried it, you owe it to your business to try it and I’ll say this, maybe trying it is too much of a commitment for you to make, so let me suggest this. I’m going to give you a URL where you can go and not just get a discount or month free but you can actually see these beautiful gifts that in like a snap we’ll show you different aspects of marketing automation and immediately your head is going to spin with all the things that you can do in your business.

And if you decide you don’t want to work with ActiveCampaign at least the knowledge, the idea, the technique will be in your head and you can go to their competitors and try this out. My guess is you’re going to probably want to do this with ActiveCampaign because they make it super simple. So here’s the URL, go to active . . . Prashant, were you about to say something about this?

Prashant: Yeah. I mean, you really, really got me intrigued by saying that it’s also applicable on text. I mean it sounds like something that we could totally use and more fun.

Andrew: Yeah. What do you guys use for your email?

Prashant: To be honest we don’t send emails, and that is why text is much more sense for us because, yes, when use our product we get their mobile numbers, they give their mobile numbers and their email addresses to us, but to be honest we have been like lazy bums over it. We haven’t sent any emails or SMSs to our consumers yet, but it sounds like a very good tool to actually figure out people what they did really interest are in and then tag them accordingly. And another thing which I observe, how come these guys have not made an offer to you already?

Andrew: What do you mean?

Prashant: I mean, you’re probably one of their best sales guys ever.

Andrew: To buy me out?

Prashant: Yeah, or to get you to work along with their [pool 00:25:32], whatever.

Andrew: You know what, they’ve made an offer for me to come in and do a lot of things. They’ve offered to fly me out to go speak at their conference. And I said, “Okay, the only thing I’m willing to talk about right now is chatbots. And for some reason they said no. They would basically have me talk about anything except for chatbots. My hunch is that they probably want to add that as a feature to their software and they don’t want me talking about alternatives until they get that right. But, yes, they do the love that I’m doing here and I’m glad of it.

So here it is, anyone who’s interested, go to activecampaign/mixergy. You’re going to see that they’re going to give you a free trial. So you can go and try it out. My suggestion is take an evening. Watch something on Netflix and go play with the software so you can see how powerful it is. If you sign up they’re going to give you your second month free.

They’re also going to give you two free one-on-one sessions with their experts. So if you have a question, they’re going to answer it. They’re going to show you how to use all these techniques. Then you go out try to use them and then if you, well, not if, after you try them you have a second call where you can say, “Here’s what worked, here’s what didn’t, give me a little more guidance.” And you get two one-on-one consultations with their people for that.

And finally, if you’re already with an email marketing software they will shift you, they’ll migrate you over to ActiveCampaign. But before you even hit the “try for free” when you go to that page I’m really going to suggest that you take a look at the features because when you click the features at the top of the screen, their gifts are so freaking well done. In a second you get to understand what’s possible. All right activecampaign.com/mixergy.

All right, so that’s the business we were getting at that you were doing before and then, we’re you hunting around for another idea or did this naturally bubble up when you are running?

Prashant: No. To be honest, I thought that they’ll probably could not exist a business around it. And I was just looking to make a software or a service for which I could serve my own need. So my initial thought process when I created NearGroup, so let me, first get to the story of how I got into NearGroup.

Andrew: Okay.

Prashant: So I started running a bit and then that took over everything. You know, I started doing half marathons, I was practicing for marathons. However, after I was told that I was slacking in my practice runs and that is when I taught that maybe I could use some help of having a running partner who could wake me up at the right time and we both could go and run and I could do the same for him. And, you know, so I started throwing the idea around between my brothers, between my friends and realized that they all are super lazy like some of them won’t even move their ass even if there is an earthquake, forget about running.

So that is when I taught that maybe I could post it on Facebook, so I tried that. I mean it was on [inaudible 00:28:19] I wrote it on Facebook that I am looking for a running partner nearby me, you know, who’s running at this pace and, you know, who’s willing to run 42 kilometers. Again, no sexes, I’ve got some few laughters from my friends who are in United States at that time.

And that is when I realized that their existed no platform such where I could actually speak to people who are nearby me. I mean their exist a platform by which I could talk to people who are my friends which is Facebook but there exist no platform where I could talk to people who are nearby me where I could share my thoughts and I could find likeminded people. So that is when I started working on NearGroup and that’s how the name NearGroup came into life. And that is how we started doing what we’re doing right now.

Andrew: You know, I was trying to challenge what you said as you tell me not because I’m a jerk though, maybe a little bit because I want to see, is this even possible, maybe you miss a search, I can’t do it. Like I even tried doing searches, you know, how Facebook will let you do clever searches like “Runners in San Francisco,” no, maybe, “Running Fans in San Francisco,” no, that’s not bringing, no.

Prashant: Cool.

Andrew: I see “Running groups” but then you have to go into the group and post the message and you can’t message people individually because then it’s going to go to their other inbox. Okay, so you said, all right, this is a problem. I think I can solve it. And the first version that you solved it with was what?

Prashant: Well, like everybody we created an app. That’s how we started.

Andrew: You did?

Prashant: Yeah, we did. It was, in the hindsight it was a mistake but we didn’t know what was the answer that time. Of course, we went to the very basic one which is create an app for it. To be honest, it actually did pretty okay to begin with. We got like 100,000 downloads in about a month or so but then very soon we realized that the [graphs 00:03:11] are not right. People would come in, people would use your product, people would chat with other people nearby, and then they would just leave. Because it’s not a regular everyday use case, right?

Andrew: Right.

Prashant: Like for example, for me, I wanted to find a running buddy nearby me and afterwards probably I didn’t need that app. But for myself, if I found somebody I would share their number of WhatsApp or Facebook and then I would just continue having the discussion over there.

Andrew: Right.

Prashant: So that is exactly what we saw that people would come on the app, use it for days, and then just leave like . . . and then we could see that getting to people install an app and getting them to retain an app was a nightmare. And we thought that we were really, really on the lookout because I do really believed in connecting people on the basis of their proximity and on like-mindedness, but I knew that this not the right platform to be able to do it. So we were on the lookout on what other thing could give people an app like experience but without having, you know, a burden to download or uninstall it later. And that’s how we found chatbot.

Andrew: Facebook didn’t have chatbots until what was it? 2017, right?

Prashant: 2016.

Andrew: 2016, so when Facebook launched did you guys launched at that point when they launch their chatbot platform?

Prashant: Yeah. When they launched their chatbot platform, you know, I read some articles on TechCrunch and it intrigued me a lot because everybody has got Facebook Messenger on their phone, right? So why would somebody have to download an app if I could somehow create an app within the Facebook Messenger, that was the question. However, facebookmessengerchatbot.com is not meant for social purposes. Basically, it’s a place where businesses can talk to consumers, right? It’s place where businesses can have their AI and consumers can ask questions and business’ AIs would actually answer the questions like something which we would create for EaseMyTrip where consumers if they have any complaints they would just talk to our chatbot and use us, right?

So it wasn’t very, very intuitional for us to create a place where two people can chat with each other, however, somehow we were able to strangle with the technology and get hold of exactly what we wanted. So this is how we started. If one consumer is paired with the other consumer, of course, we would just meter their messages. So if somebody is sending a hi to NearGroup we would send that hi back to the customer who is he chatting with. And that’s how we basically found a way to do this.

Andrew: And the way it happens is, I wanted to experience it, you ask me a couple, of questions about myself or actually about who I want to get to know. You also say you’re in San Francisco, right? I say, yes. You want to know my age and, yeah, what I was looking for, and then you said, “Okay, hang on.” The software said, “Wait, I’m searching for someone.” Then the software said, “Meet Sheryl. She’s 37 years old. She’s interested in men. She’s single. She’s looking for serious dating. And you told where she was and how far away from me she was. And then you said, “Here’s how to end the conversation, just type the word “end” and we’ll add, I will end it. And if you want to add her to your friend group type in the word “add” and so then Sheryl and I now anything that I text goes to Sheryl, anything that she text comes back to me, and you guys just facilitate it. Anytime anyone of us wants to end it you guys just end it.

Prashant: That’s it. You got it absolutely right.

Andrew: And then here’s the other cool part, you can, I don’t think you have though, you can come back to me a week later and say, “Would you like to meet somebody else here?”

Prashant: But we do not proactively send new message as much.

Andrew: Yeah, why not?

Prashant: Well, to be honest, when we see people using us, you know, I could go a little bit more in details about our usage. So this is in the month of February, 2017 when we saw people using us for like 18 hours up straight like they would just chat with somebody, if it were to their liking they would continue otherwise they would end and start chatting with somebody else. So we saw people like really, really got hooked on to this product. If they did not have any friends who were interested in chatting with them at the particular time on Facebook Messenger it would just open NearGroup to make another friend and such I think with the new person.

But, again, we saw some retention issues even our chatbot in the early days where, people would use us day and night and then probably use us a few more times and then stop using NearGroup. But this was our hypothesis that what if we could rate limit people. By rate limiting, I mean, allow people to use only twice a day, only two times a day, ask for their interest and specification, and then not let them use for 24 hours. I mean after all if you chat with somebody or if you chat with another human, that human also has its own times, right, that the other person is not available all the time. So that was our hypothesis and we rate limited users on how many times they could use us and great, it worked out in very good favor for us.

Our daily usage dropped a bit but our retention numbers spiked up like crazily and, right now, even after four months, 43% of people come back to use NearGroup. So that’s a number which when we tell people I actually have to open up my dashboard and show it to them because people do not believe it and even up to four months 43% of people keep using it.

Andrew: And before you had the rate limit people would just chat, chat, chat all the time and then disappear.

Prashant: Correct. So they would use us two, three more times in the same month and then probably stop using us as much. So this particular feature where we are limiting users to use us, we are forming a habit in the beginning where they have to use only once or twice a day and then come back again, the comeback again, comeback again, they do that five, six times and it just becomes their hobby and it just becomes their habit afterwards.

Andrew: At what point did you just kill your app?

Prashant: Well, the app is still there to be honest, but right now it’s not that we are super supporting it, it’s very, very shabby because we haven’t updated our app since long. The reason why we still kept that app is because some people do not have Facebook Messenger on their phone and they complain that why do not you have your own app. So that’s the only reason why we have our own app. And to give you an idea, it’s up to the user, right, whether they want to use us on Facebook Messenger or Viber or Kik or Telegram, because we are available everywhere, so all over [our own app 00:36:52]

So in a month right now we’re getting almost a million new users every month. In one month one million new users are joining us, 95% of it is viral, which is word of word-of-mouth of which 700,000 to 800,000 choose to use us on Facebook Messenger and the remaining 200,000 to 300,000 on other platforms. So it’s purely a choice of consumer not forced upon. And that is why an app is not super important to us because for an app it’s only about 40,000 to 50,000 new users every month.

Andrew: Compare the app, how many people on the app versus how many people on chat?

Prashant: So every month 40,000 to 50,000 new users join us on an app and remaining 950,000 on various chatbots.

Andrew: So 40,000 to 50,000, let’s just round it to 50,000 people on the app, 950,000 on chat, and to me that is the big power of chat that they don’t . . . because it’s a lot to persuade me to install an app. Right? Because I don’t want another one on my phone, I have to remember what it does. I have to get into the mindset of the app and then I do, I’ll download more apps than most people but I download it and then I forget it because it’s all the way on the rightmost screen and I’ll go in one time and then forget it and then move on, versus chat as platform. I have to go into Facebook Messenger. Believe me, even though I’m in the business I tried to stay away from Facebook Messenger but I can’t.

Sashka Rothschild an old friend contacted me via Facebook Messenger, how am I not going to go in and at least check and respond to her, even if I’m just saying, “Listen, I can hang out in San Francisco next time you’re here but let’s do it in the future.” I have to go in and respond to her or else I’m a jerk.

And while I’m there I see all these other chatbots like Funny Bot [SP], I’m subscribed to that so I get their message. So that’s the allure of being on there. The downside though is, Facebook right now is going through all kinds of privacy issues.

Prashant: Yeah, absolutely.

Andrew: Facebook is really hard to count on. What do you think about this idea that Facebook could just shut you down, they could change things up, they could say you’re actually, there’s too much private conversations going on here, what do you think of that risk, a platform risk?

Prashant: Well, to be honest it’s a fair assessment of yours that you know we are dependent on Facebook at least at this particular time because most of our users are on Facebook Messenger. However, we are very close to touch with the Facebook Messenger team. I would like to believe that we are one of their top bots right now in terms of engagement and usage. Well, so basically while being in touch they know what we do, they know how exactly we do and they have pretty proud about what we are doing. We are making . . . it’s basically aligned with the Facebook mission, which is connecting people, right?

But, however, our methodology is different where people get to not see each other first and then if they chat long enough then they see each other. So they like us and we are in constant touch and I believe that you know by this yearend we could even reach 100 million users on our platform. So I’m looking forward to grow along with Facebook.

Andrew: I think that’s smart. I’m wondering why you’re also not getting one other method of communication with people. Like when I tested out your app it never said, “Enter your email or enter a phone number.” And if you were to do that, if you were to say something like, “Enter a phone number so we can reach you if it’s urgent. Enter an email so we can send you a guide to chatting with people properly or something,” I would enter my contact information. You’d send me whatever it is that you promised via the medium that you’d promised. And then if something happens with Facebook you could always go back to me and say, “It looks like Facebook is now allowing us on there. We’ll move to Telegram or we’re trying our app or . . . ” you don’t have any interest in that. You’re smiling as I say it and I want you to be open with me.

Prashant: Absolutely. This is how comfortable we are with Facebook and this is the kind of relationship which we shared with them that we don’t need any backup plan.

Andrew: Really? You’re that close to them?

Prashant: Yeah.

Andrew: All right. Okay. Let me take a moment to take break and then I want to come back and I want to find out about this cartoon thing that you did, would I call it a cartoon, this marketing technique that you did that worked out really well for you because it’s not all virality. There’s a couple of clever things that you’ve done and I want to understand what you get to see from people when you’re talking to them in person.

But the second sponsor is company called Toptal. Anyone who’s hiring a developer needs to know about them but here’s a cool thing that happened to me with them today. I’m hiring somebody to help me lead Mixergy, anyone who’s interested should go to mixergy.com/hiring to see that. But I realized, you know, I’ve got such a good relationship with Toptal. They’re not just, when I hire a developer they’re not just saying, “Here’s a developer, now go on, disappear.” They stay in touch. They check in with me.

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I urge you if you’re looking for all that to go checkout Toptal. I’ve hired a phenomenal developer from them. My interviewees have hired phenomenal developers from them and I urge you and other listeners to go check them out. And if you go to this special URL, I’m, first of all going to get credit for sending you over which is good for me. But you’re also going to get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours in addition to a no-risk trial period of up to 2 weeks. All you have to do is go to toptal.com/mixergy, that’s toptal.com/mixergy.

You know, Prashant I always spell Toptal, T-O-P-T-A-L, I wonder if I should spell Mixergy or do people even understand it. Even my good friends will sometimes say, “Hey, I heard your latest episode of Mix Energy.” I’m like, “Okay. All right.” I’m not looking to correct them. I sometimes I’ll even wear the hoodie that says Mixergy on it and they’ll stay Mix Energy. But I wonder how many people are going to toptal.com/mixenergy.

Prashant: All right.

Andrew: All right.

Prashant: I’ll look it up for sure.

Andrew: Do you have issues like that Prashant when you’re talking to Americans where they have a problem with your pronouncing your first name?

Prashant: Not really, to be honest. I find people to be pronouncing my name quite correctly most of the time.

Andrew: That’s impressive. I was born with the last name Khalili, I can’t tell you how many times I’d say Khalili and people would say, “Okay, Khalali.” I just said Khalili, where did the “a” Khalali come from?” So I changed it to Warner.

Prashant: All right.

Andrew: Am I making you uncomfortable with that?

Prashant: No, not really.

Andrew: No? I’m trying to read you as I’m asking these questions. I felt like you’re a little nervous about doing this interview by the way?

Prashant: No, not really. I was looking forward to it.

Andrew: You’re just nervous about the internet connection?

Prashant: Absolutely. I’m checking my internet connection every second.

Andrew: Yeah. So you and I were supposed to talk last week, you had no internet connection at all because you’re in Thailand. How do you work like that?

Prashant: Well, to be honest, at that particular time we were in one of the remote islands, so I would not take complete discredit from Thailand internet. We were told that the internet connection would be very stable in that hotel but unfortunately it wasn’t. But the signal towers weren’t really good and internet went out for the entire hotel and we had to stay like that for about eight hours I believe. Finally, we got the internet back. So the first thing which we checked was is everything all right at NearGroup and as soon as the internet came back, and second thing is I wrote an email to you apologizing about the internet connection.

Andrew: So are you, you’re in Thailand because you’re customers are there. What are you learning and how are you learning it by being there?

Prashant: So this basically is something which we have learned as what could be the biggest strength of a chatbot. So I would say that in year 2016, June, July of 2016 when we started the chatbot we had like about 100,000 users in 2 months, 3 months’ time period. So at that particular time I had like less up 10 ideas, 20 ideas which I wanted to do incorporate in the chatbot and I thought that hey, you know, wouldn’t it be cool that I actually send a notification to all my users and actually asked them what they want from NearGroup. So basically, I created a small code which is if they type in this particular keyword, they could go to the research. They could go to the survey and can tell us which particular idea they like best. And counterintuitively they suggested us to do something which we thought must be like really, really low priority for us.

So we sent out a notification to about 100,000-odd people and within like 15 minutes we had like 1,000 people who responded to our survey. Because it’s like immediate, right? The pings on your phone, and it pings to all of the people at the same time, so within 15 minutes, 20 minutes we had like a very, very good numbers to depend on and we worked accordingly. And this is something which we have made as a habit.

Andrew: What did you think they were going to pick as a feature for you to build on and what did they pick instead?

Prashant: Well, it’s being quite some time. I just remember that it was very counterintuitive but I remember which one they picked which we thought would not work out. So there was this thought that you know, instead of just letting people chat with each other we could even allow them to create stories not the Instagram kind of stories but tech stories, which is they can rant, they can put their frustrations, they can confess, they can talk about their depression anonymously, and if the other person picks to chat with them they both can basically eventually see each other.

So this is how we thought that we could probably try this but this has a very low priority for us because we thought that most of the techs featured or most of the stories which people would create would be sexual or which would be, or linked and, you know, just like hate messages. That was our biggest fear but it turned out that only 2%, 3% people were doing that and then the other people shun them out. So the feature like really, really took off and I would say that it’s like one of the most used features of NearGroup right now.

Andrew: Where people are just writing stories for others to read.

Prashant: Absolutely.

Andrew: But then you don’t have to be in Thailand, you don’t have to be in the same country as your users in order to do that that’s just something you could put in the app.

Prashant: And that’s how we were growing like to be honest we . . .

Andrew: So then what does it help for you to be in Thailand? Why do you need to be in the same country as your people?

Prashant: So basically this is not the country where most of our users are. Most of our users are in Philippines and Vietnam and Cambodia. This is a very good growing market for us and we are just trying to understand, okay, so I was actually going to complete, this is how we started doing random surveys on basically our chatbot. So using that technique now basically I’m creating a small group of people based on their age, based on their demography, based on their location, based on their gender, and we send out and invitation to people to meet us. So everyday I’m meeting 20 to 30 consumers of ours.

Andrew: They’re coming in to see you in person?

Prashant: Yeah. We meet them for lunch.

Andrew: For lunch.

Prashant: Yeah. And we sponsor their lunch. So we sent out notification to very, very specific niche every . . . we have send that before and now all of it, the entire month as planned, so I am going a different locations in Thailand to meet these people . . .

Andrew: That is amazing.

Prashant: . . . personally for lunch and understand how NearGroup has benefited them until now and what are the things which they are looking forward at NearGroup.

Andrew: How do you structure those questions? Do you superficially say how do you benefit you? What are you looking for? Does it have to be more than once than that?

Prashant: So I have a list of five questions, six questions, but to be honest most of it is basically just asking the users why or where in the world again that via using NearGroup. They gave us an answer then again a deeper why, then again a deeper why. And finally, this is what we realized, there are two basic triggers for which people use NearGroup one is boredom, and second is loneliness. These are the two downward, the most basic triggers. If people are bored, because they’re bored standing in the queue they have next one hour to kill, they’re sitting in the train or the metro and they just can do much at that particular time. They popup NearGroup and start chatting with somebody new. Or they’re lonely, they want somebody in their relationship short-term, long-term, it’s dependent on them. They’re lonely in their lives and they need somebody to have a relationship with. That’s the second biggest use case or the trigger for which people use us. And this I am seeing very consistent all across Thailand right now.

Andrew: And that’s not the kind of thing that somebody would fill out in a survey. They’re not going to say, “I use this because I’m bored.” And what is exactly does it mean by that, people don’t say, “I’m lonely,” they say, “I just had a few minutes or whatever it is.” It’s fascinating.

Prashant: Absolutely. So it should be fair to say, people have very, very hard time telling exact reasons why they use our product. In fact, to their credit maybe they don’t even know that this is the reason why they’re using us. So it’s just that when you talk to people, when you . . . and this is also a very good way also to add to the survey part to assume that you’re a NearGroup user and on the basis of the survey you fill you see that we have added that a new feature on the basis of the survey which you have filled.

Andrew: Right.

Prashant: This is [not 00:51:41] . . . we are converting our regular users to become our evangelists. They see that they have the skin in the game. So they feel that their words are empowered over here.

Andrew: Why do you have to do that? Why can’t you . . . you’re a baller. You’re producing movies, you’ve got to hit business behind you, you’ve got to run this company, why do you have to have lunch with your customers, your users instead of with other people?

Prashant: It’s a whole another baby out there and EaseMyTrip is doing pretty well for itself. This is a new baby and this baby needs fulltime attention. So right now at EaseMyTrip I’m just a sleeping director. Two of my brothers are taking care of it fulltime since last one and a half years, I’m fulltime into NearGroup and this is what I’m living and breathing. This is the only way I know to make a good company—you know, to feel that company from inside out, to have to know your customers from very, very deep level. This is how we know how to make a company successful.

Andrew: You know what, now I kind of see why you feel so comfortable with Facebook. They’re an investor in your business.

Prashant: No, they’re not.

Andrew: They’re not?

Prashant: No. I mean we are part of their . . .

Andrew: It’s not FbStart? That’s somebody else’s. FbStart is not them.

Prashant: No. FbStart is them and they have basically given us free credits worth $70,000 so it’s not, I wouldn’t call them as investors but, yes, we share a very good relationship with them is what I would say.

Andrew: And I say the other one is, what is it? Adam Draper’s company, right?

Prashant: Boost.

Andrew: Boost.

Prashant: So we raised $1.6 million from Boost VC as an accelerator plus NeoTribe and OpenOcean as two main investors in our seed round.

Andrew: Adam Draper is at first the . . . I’ll be honest with you, the first time I’ve heard of him as a VC, I said, “He’s just a VC because of his dad.” And then I heard him speak some more and he said, “I’m just a VC because of my dad and he’s a VC his dad was a VC.” Basically, it’s a family business. I had no idea they were like three maybe four generations of venture capitalists.

Prashant: Absolutely.

Andrew: Yeah. And frankly, Adam in his own right is picking these winners. I’ve never met him. I’ve just heard him talk. I’ve gotten to know him just through his work. He’s picking winners. All right, the thing that you did to promote yourself in the beginning was what was that? Was it cartoons that you were doing? I’m looking through my notes here. I’ve got too many screens open.

Prashant: Yeah. So basically, you know, to promote in a new country there are two ways to go about, right? Create, you know, infomercials, letting people know what exactly your product does and let people try you out. We thought it was like really, really boring and we could do so much better, so we started creating like very amateurish cartoons, cartoons depicting how two people met on NearGroup like we build a story around one guy’s, you know, John, and the other girl is Tina, on how they met on NearGroup. How exactly they use NearGroup to meet and then how their life is unfolding.

So we started creating a couple of cartoon characters and we saw like we were getting 500 shares, 1,000 shares when we begin. And we thought that great, you know, people are telling a story to their friends because it’s interesting because it’s fun. And that’s how their friends in the cartoon itself, you know, this is a plugin the NearGroup.

Andrew: I see it here, a lot of them are not in a language that I can read but I did a search on Google for NearGroup cartoon and I see a bunch of them. They basically have four panels and they’re describing something like stranger etiquette, how do you chat with friends. I think you said how I met someone on a dating. Brown bag dating event is another one. So you guys created it, so it’s a cartoon about dating or about relationships about chatting?

Prashant: Absolutely.

Andrew: You started creating it, it was funny enough that people spread it and when they spread it your URL which is m.me/neargroup was on the bottom and people found it and started signing up, am I right?

Prashant: Absolutely.

Andrew: And then you said it’s not enough for us to do it and that’s where you put it into hyper speed by doing what?

Prashant: So basically, we started sending, you know, notification to our users saying that hey, anybody interested in creating cartoons for NearGroup let us know. And we found like 20-odd freelancers in different countries who signed up. And most of them didn’t even want any money from us. They were like, “Hey, you know, you guys are doing such a great job. We’ve met somebody.” So by the way we get about 5,200 wedding initiation every month on our email.

Andrew: You mean, people are inviting you?

Prashant: Yeah, people are inviting NearGroup team to come and attend their wedding in different parts of the world. So basically, we send out a an email, we send out notification to our users and many of them signed up to become our, you know, cartoon illustrators and we picked a few and right now we have about 20-25 cartoon illustrators in about 16-odd countries and this is exactly what they’re doing.

Andrew: And the cartoons go out where? How do you promote them?

Prashant: They go out on Facebook and people . . . we have like about two and a half million fans on our page and as we put the cartoons out it just spreads. You can scroll to our page to see many of our cartoons would have 20,000 shares, so it’s doing phenomenally well for us.

Andrew: You know what, here’s what’s interesting, you guys also have this like chat things, I hadn’t read this one but I’m going to read it now. It says, “What’s your favorite letter in the alphabet?” Then the response bubble is “I’ll tell after you.” Then the first bubble come back up and said, “U, I like you.” And then the second one responds, “I love X. I still love my ex.” Oh, “Ex-wife I see.” And then here’s the part that I paid attention to, I kept looking down at the way that you promote the chat. It says, “Tap the chat.” And there’s an arrow pointing down and the down goes to a button that lets people start a conversation right on NearGroup. And I think most people don’t realize that if you have a chatbot Facebook makes it easy for you to promote with buttons like this. And as soon as somebody presses a button and starts a conversation they’re subscribed essentially and you could continue to communicate with them. And that one joke that I just butchered got 1.4 thousand responses, thumbs up, smiles, etc. and 100 shares. And you got a bunch of those.

Prashant: Yeah. I mean if you just scroll to our Facebook, and you can’t see predominantly most of them because most of our good ones are in the languages which are not visible in the U.S. So only as people in Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia can read those because those are only in those specific languages. So the ones which you have seen are in English and we do not have that many audiences for English users right now.

Andrew: And this is something that you guys create or your users create for you?

Prashant: Well, actually, many of these is basically created by users.

Andrew: This is so good. “Can I invite you for dinner?” “I do not have the habit of eating with strangers.” “No problem, you can sit and watch me eat.” And then there’s a text on the button that says “tap to chat.” I think I’m picking the ones that are not the funniest and I’m butchering them making them even less funny. I think it’s more interesting for anyone who wants to go see it to go checkout facebook.com/neargroup. But the bigger takeaway, the more important takeaway for me is you guys have found these interesting viral images that you post on your Facebook page that people like and then they share it and they get tons of shares which is phenomenal and then every one of them refers back to send a message. I can’t believe others haven’t copied you.

Prashant: Well, trust me, many of them have tried. I have seen, personally I have seen about 10-odd clones of NearGroup so far but, okay, maybe this is something which I shouldn’t disclose over here. I’m happy that they are cloning us in Southeast Asia not in the other countries.

Andrew: Why?

Prashant: Because it’s a network effect. In Southeast Asia we already own the market.

Andrew: But in the U.S. you don’t. Here’s how I can say that. First of all, you’ve told me so that’s partially but the other way is while we were talking I asked NearGroup for another person near me to talk and it’s been looking now for a little bit since, let me see, for the last 25 minutes and still hasn’t found someone for me.

Prashant: That’s exactly what we told you that U.S. is not our target market right now. We are more focused in Asia Pacific and now in Latin America. So if you were able to try NearGroup in Asia Pacific, you would find people like in seconds to chat with.

Andrew: See, I had no idea that you could do that on chat. I know that as a chatbot maker I create my own chatbot, anyway, you could go check it out at botacademy.com, you’ll see it. I know that I can get that data but I’ve never use it. What you guys do is you actually get the data of where I am and you use it for matching purposes. I had no idea you could do it that way.

Prashant: Yeah. And that’s how we grew, Andrew, like I could start from like December 2016. In December 2016, you know, our users were exchanging 50,000 messages per day. And then in the month of May 2017 our users were exchanging 2 million messages per day. And in this December, the last December of 2017 our users were exchanging 50 million messages per day.

Andrew: Fifty million messages per day and your software has to handle that. So let me ask you this, it’s all happening because of a chat, nice move away from apps to chat, why did you tell my producer that you guys were thinking of doing progressive web apps which is basically an app-like experience in a web browser on a phone specifically, why?

Prashant: Well, this is one of the biggest things our users want that the meet somebody on NearGroup, they like that person, however they do not feel super comfortable sharing their Facebook or their WhatsApp information. So they want NearGroup to solve this problem term, which is letting them connect with the person they like on NearGroup itself or long-term. See, at NearGroup one person can only chat with one person at a time because if they’re chatting with NearGroup and NearGroup is mirroring that permission to some [inaudible 01:02:10]. So this is number request so far from our users which are that allow them to chat with multiple people at the same time. That unfortunately could not be a great experience within the chatbot framework. Hence, we opted, and again, we do not want to depend on an app, hence we opted for progressive web app, which is basically just [of a 01:02:32] page which can actually have a cache on your mobile browser.

Andrew: Yeah.

Prashant: So that is how we created the blue [inaudible 01:02:44] not to chat with people to meet new people but to have a longer conversation to the people they like. So right now at NearGroup if you chat with somebody, you both chat long enough, you both become friends at NearGroup and as you become friends on NearGroup you would see a Facebook Messenger kind of an experience on our PWA you would see all the list of your friends and you can chat with them anytime you want.

Andrew: Yeah. I think this actually blow some people’s minds. If you’re not in chat, you feel like, “I don’t want all these different chats apps, I don’t need Kik, and Telegram, and Facebook Messenger, and iMessage, and this and that. What I’m finding though is people who do like chat actually prefer to have multiple chat apps and each one is their own little world. One is chatting just with workpeople, the other is chatting with friends, the other is chatting with family. I’ve got friends who have a chat app that just they and their wives will use because they want one little isolated bubble from the world.

All right, so you’re saying, look, our audience is asking for the same thing we don’t want to force them to download an app in order to have this chat bubble just for the people they meet on NearGroup so we’re going to try a progressive web app. I didn’t realize that was already up and running.

All right, I told you that I would ask you about your background, let me close out with this, you had a modest upbringing you said, but your dad was a businessman. How does your parents feel now having seen that you and your brothers work together, you got that success behind you seeing that you’re so heads down in your business that you’re even willing to travel and immerse yourself in an environment where your customers are? Are they proud? How are you parents feeling about all this?

Prashant: Well, I’d like to think that, you know, that they think good things about us. However, one thing I know is that we have a constant encouragement from their side which is they want us to keep doing better not just sit and relax and enjoy the success but [inaudible 01:04:32]

Andrew: They want you to keep doing better?

Prashant: Yeah.

Andrew: Your dad is saying, “Hey, get out of the country, go Thailand, it’s okay. Keep doing better. Work harder”? He’s not saying, “Hey, relax a little bit. How about a family?” No?

Prashant: No. They want us to [win over 01:04:48] in whatever we do.

Andrew: Are you married? You had kids?

Prashant: Yeah. I’ve got two kids.

Andrew: Two. How old, sorry.

Prashant: The first one is three-year-old, and the second one is like just six months. Actually, today is his six-month and he was [inaudible 01:05:03]

Andrew: I get it. And so did you bring your family with you as you’re traveling?

Prashant: Yes. They’re here with me.

Andrew: Okay. Wowee. All right, impressive. I feel like I should be interviewing your father not you. I don’t know how he’s done it but he’s got this like three hit makers. Do you have any other kids that I leave out, any? Or was it just the three of you?

Prashant: It’s just the three of us.

Andrew: Yeah, I would hate to be the fourth kid with this family where they’re producing movies, and they’re traveling the world, they’re building businesses, and then I’m the guy who just has a regular 9:00 to 5:00 job trying to make ends meet.

All right, for anyone out there especially if you’re outside the U.S. here’s what I’m going to suggest, you can go to neargroup.me, right? Or if you’re on Facebook Messenger, just search for NearGroup and you’re going to get to see the experience. It won’t be as fluid in the U.S. as it is outside the U.S. but I do think this is the freaking future guys. This is not “the” future, there’s no one thing that’s going to be the future but it’s a part of our future. There are people who already love chat, they’re there and chat is not going to stay as a one to one medium for much longer, it demands intelligence and what you guys at NearGroup are doing is adding that intelligence helping people find the right people to connect with and facilitating those relationships.

All right, I’m glad you stuck with me and made this interview happen. Thank you so much for being on here.

Prashant: Thank you so much, Andrew, for having me over here.

Andrew: Cool. And anyone out there who’s listening who wants to check out my two sponsors, really, marketing automation done right. You owe it to your business to go checkout ActiveCampaign. Everyone listening to me needs to be on top of this. And frankly, if you think that I’m acting out of self-interest then screw me. I’ll tell you what, just go straight to ActiveCampaign, leave out the activecampaign.com/mixergy and go benefit yourself at my expense. I have no qualms with that. I just want you guys to do well.

And number two, if you’re looking to hire, there are no better people that I have found ever in my life than Toptal. Go check them out toptal.com/mixergy. I love my sponsors. I keep asking you guys for feedback on them to make sure that they are as good as I say they are and you’re welcome to keep letting me know, good or bad. But what I’m hearing is a lot of good for activecampaign.com/mixergy and toptal.com/mixergy.

And finally, if you want to help Mixergy by running the place or if you know somebody who should be leading Mixergy, go checkout the job description at mixergy.com.hiring. Prashant, thanks so much for being here.

Prashant: Thank you, Andrew.

Andrew: Impressive what you guys have built, so impressive. Bye everyone.


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