New approach to mobile could pay off in India

12 July 2010

MUMBAI: Brands hoping to make an impact in India could benefit from employing text messages in a manner that mimics their interactions with customers on sites like Twitter.

Texting is an extremely widespread form of communications in India – and many other developing markets – because far more consumers have access to cellphones than the internet.

One firm which has attempted to tap in to this trend is Webaroo, which created a platform called SMS GupShup three years ago.

This service allows individuals and corporations to send comments to a defined audience in a similar way to adding posts that can be viewed by fans on Facebook.

Users participate in this pastime for free, with around 30% of traffic sponsored by companies, which pay to run ads or to establish a presence on SMSGupShup.

PepsiCo, for example, leveraged this channel to conduct a survey regarding potential new flavours of Lay's crisps.

Members can also construct more targeted groups to receive their updates, like their friends or family, for a small fee.

"A majority of the connected world has nothing but a basic handset and SMS," said Beerud Sheth, co-founder of Webaroo.

"The predominant form of text messaging is fairly primitive, as it's one to one. Can we make it social? Can we make it one to many or even many to many?"

To date, 30 million people have joined GupShup, with 80% of this cohort drawn from outside India's biggest cities.

Webaroo buys enough network capacity to transmit roughly a billion text messages a month, some 8% of all such activity in the country.

"This is the opportunity to reach many more people than the web did or could," said Sheth. "Emerging markets offer billions of new users that have never used the web.

"SMS is the http in the emerging market. We could build internet-like services on education, commerce, travel, shopping."

Data sourced from; additional content by Warc staff