Local start-up set to ride Asian mobile wave

Source:The Business Times


LOCAL start-up Affle is looking to ride the mobile telephony boom in Asia for sustained growth. The company’s flagship product SMS 2.0 is used by a number of telcos around the region, including M1.

Mr Khanna: Affle’s SMS product is gaining 10,000 new users every month
Speaking to BizIT, Affle’s CEO Anuj Khanna noted that SMS 2.0 is in the process of being relaunched as SMS Live with stronger features like social networking, secret messaging, scheduled messaging and so on.

SMS 2.0 is available free to consumers via Affle’s partner telecom networks. According to Mr Khanna, the product allows users to access enhanced messaging abilities without altering the behaviour of the mobile handset.

‘The product exponentially improves the core messaging by adding colour, hundreds of emoticons, personalising the messaging experience, ability to send SMS to e-mail, attach graphic and multi-media attachments and so on,’ Mr Khanna said.

He added that the application is used by more than 3.5 million users across Asia. ‘We are adding close to 10,000 new users to the user base of SMS 2.0/SMS Live every month. This would definitely be one of the fastest uptakes for any mobile phone app including the smartphone space in the world. SMS 2.0/SMS Live also continues to be the only product of its kind without a competing product.’

Apart from M1, Telekomsel in Indonesia, Maxis in Malaysia, AIS in Thailand, Optus in Australia and five operators in India (Idea Cellular, Bharti Airtel, Tata DoCoMo, Reliance and Aircel) offer SMS 2.0.

Affle is a four-year-old Singaporean start-up company. According to Mr Khanna, the company’s strategic investors include Microsoft; Itochu Corporation of Japan; Bennett Coleman Company Ltd (BCCL), an Indian media house which publishes The Times of India; and Singapore based PE fund Centurion Private Equity. Affle also has a number of high-profile individual investors in the company.

Till now, Affle has raised around $19.5 million in investments, Mr Khanna said. He added that the company employs more than 60 people across its offices in Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Singapore is the company’s headquarters and the base for its R&D team.

The CEO noted that the company’s latest product is Pinch iMessenger, which is ‘an easy-to-use cross-platform app which integrates three highly popular activities among smartphone users: messaging, location- based mobile social networking, and social leader- board contests’.

He added that Pinch also allows smartphone users to interact across dominant mobile phone ecosystems: iPhone, Android, Symbian, BlackBerry, and a PC version.

‘The current version of the Pinch communicates between iPhone and Android- based phones. Affle aims to extend the full strength cross-platform functionality by the end of this year.’

The Pinch iMessenger is available in two versions: free Pinch, and a paid version called Pinch Pro.

‘Pinch Pro does not carry any advertising. Users are able to send messages, share contacts, photographs, videos, interact and otherwise engage with each other, using data or Wifi networks and without incurring any local or international SMS/MMS charges.’

Recently, the company bagged two global awards from the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) for its two-month campaign for Indian car giant Maruti Suzuki. The campaign employed various mobile media platforms such as SMS advertising, voice portals and the mobile Internet.

Talking about the award, Mr Khanna noted that the company’s India office ‘is among its biggest in terms of employees, total number of subscribers for our products, total number of advertisers who work with us and revenues generated’.

He noted that the biggest difference between emerging markets in Asia like India and the developed markets of the West is that the emerging markets are ‘mobile first’ markets.

‘In these markets, consumers own mobile phones before they start owning TVs and PCs to access the Internet for content or entertainment. Consumers across Asia start with owning mobile phones and access the Internet and other value-added services on their mobile phones first.’

He added that Asian markets will drive the usage and large subscriber numbers for apps of any kind.

‘The next wave of growth or the next 200-300 million subscribers for even the established players will come from Asia. There is a large untapped market of burgeoning young consumers in Asia with growing access to mobile phones, hectic lifestyles and the changing consumer habit to use the mobile phone to access entertainment and content that will lead the growth. We are currently experiencing the beginning of this growth.

‘Asian companies, like ours, with their understanding of the local environments and cutting-edge technologies, will bring about innovations, which will form the mobile app behemoths of the future.’

He added that Brand Singapore helps the company a lot. ‘We take pride in being a successful Singaporean company. Getting into the next phase of our growth, we continue to be well poised to expand in newer markets and introduce new products for our millions of consumers.’

Mr Khanna noted that being headquartered in Singapore has worked very well for the company because ‘Singapore is associated with attributes like ‘quality’ and ‘trust’.

‘Affle has benefited from this association. We in turn have carried the responsibility of constantly giving the best products to our consumers and higher value to our shareholders.’

He added that the Singapore base has also given the company access to excellent local and international talent. ‘Affle has, over the years, evolved into a multicultural organisation with employees from India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, the Philippines and other countries.’