Tuesday, December 27, 2011

NextDrop-Revolutionizing water delivery information dissemination

This blog has so far has mainly talked about KooKoo and its features and events related to KooKoo. Starting today we will also write about startups who are using the phone in innovative ways to solve different problems. After all, one of our main goals is to disrupt telecom.

Introduction:
In their own words,"NextDrop, is a social enterprise that provides water delivery timing information via mobile phone to residents in urban India
How we make a difference:  “Will I get water today?” Hundreds of millions of people around the world ask this question everyday. In cities with intermittent water (90% of the cities in South Asia)—where piped water is available only for short and unpredictable intervals—people spend hours waiting next to dry taps, and are forced to buy water from private suppliers at high cost or use water from unsafe sources.  NextDrop leverages the ubiquity of the mobile phone and delivers water delivery information via SMS and voice, thereby saving people time, reducing stress, and improving the quality of life for millions."

Solution:
NextDrop partners with water utilities to provide timely, reliable information on water delivery to residents via text message. When utility employees open valves at the neighborhood level, they call into our interactive voice response system. These updates are turned into messages for residents subscribed to the NextDrop service and live data for utility engineers, enabling them to identify and resolve problems as they come up.
Starting Up:
Emily Kumpel while doing her PhD at UC Berkeley had to collect water samples from residents of Hubli, Karnataka as part of her research. During this process, she kept finding that the residents had no idea when water would arrive.  They'd say "maybe today, maybe tomorrow, who knows?". At that time, water was provided only once every 5-6 days. So to solve this problem, she came up with the idea for an information service about intermittent water supply. The technology was available, it was just a matter of putting things together.

Emily pitched the idea to a class on Social Enterprise at the Information School at UC Berkeley. Ari Olmos(Co-Founder & COO)  and Thejo Kote, who previously worked at Netcore, formed a team with her.  To their pleasant surprise they won the $5000 prize from the class. This validated their idea and they followed up on that by entering business plan and grant competitions. Anu Sridharan(CEO) and Ashish Jhina joined to help with implementation in the field and fine tune the business model. 

Obstacles:
Their first real obstacle was the TRAI regulations!  The setting up of DND registry and banning of SMS between 9 pm to 9 am had a major impact and they had to suspend operations for a couple of weeks until they found the resolution. But with the help of technology partners they were able to overcome the issues.

Future plans:

Right now they have 1000 customers and work in about 15 areas.  They plan to have 20,000 customers by the end of April (fingers crossed!). Also launching pilots with the Hubli Dharwad water utilities. From a technology side, working with IIT Chennai and including voice recognition technology.

From the CEO's mouth:

Highest high:  Collecting 3000 INR in revenue this month (when we weren't even projecting any revenues for a few more months!) 
Lowest low: Would it be awful if I asked for a raincheck?  We've been really lucky thus far, and I think anything that I say will sound ridiculous to others in this field because we haven't had anything that made me feel THAT low.   
Favorite Anecdote: This is my favorite anecdote!  http://blog.nextdrop.org/2011/12/01/when-customers-come-looking-for-you/.  On a more humorous note, this was one of my favorite stories that came from our employees.  One of our employees went out to collect money from one of our customers.  She went to his door, and went on for about 10 minutes about NextDrop, how he had been receiving the service, and how she was there to collect the money.  He listened, and then went on and on about every complaint under the sun.  Finally, when she asked for the money, he said no. Then, 10 minutes later, our other employee went to collect money (without knowing that someone else had been there 10 minutes before).  He walked up to the door.  "Hello sir, I am here with NextDrop".  "Someone came by 10 minutes earlier but I didn't pay".  "Oh ok. Sir- is this your phone number?"  "Yes" .  "Have you been receiving our text messages?"  "Yes."  "Ok, do you use our text messages?" "Yes". "Ok we are here to collect 10 rupees".  "Ok. Here you go."  YES!  Our second employee was able to collect money literally 10 minutes after our first one tried to (unsuccessfully) collect money!  I found it incredibly amusing :)  
Success Criteria:  We want to be in 50 cities, and serve 2 million people in the next 5 years :)  That's when we know we've succeeded!

They also have a very nice blog.

Here's wishing NextDrop all the best.