#Asia India’s baby steps to WeChat style commerce



It’s an app, app, app world. Apps for cabs, apps for food, apps for travel, apps for local stores, apps for fun, etc etc. It can get mighty confusing, not to speak of the overcrowding of apps on a phone. So now there are apps to solve the problem of too many apps.

We wrote about one of them last week – Niki, which uses a chatbot to get things done for you. From finding the best cab option and booking it, to topping up your mobile phone, Niki’s virtual assistant powered by artificial intelligence is at your service.

Now meet another virtual Jeeves (the smooth valet in PG Wodehouse novels). This one’s called Joe Hukum, which translates roughly from Hindi / Urdu to “your wish is my command” – a throwback to an old India when colonial mansions and royal households had butlers to do their bidding.

JoeHukum uses a chat interface to convert the wishes of its users to commands for local shopping, pickups and drops, food, repairs, movie/event tickets, travel, restaurant reservations, cabs, flowers, cakes, phone topups, bill payments, groceries, you name it.

That’s in theory. How well those commands get executed on the ground of course depends on a multitude of challenges you face only in India. From unreliable suppliers to last mile hurdles in delivery, returns, and so on.

Seed funding from Tracxn

Joe Hukum raises seed funding

Joe Hukum co-founder Ajeet Kushwaha believes, however, that it’s an idea whose time has come in India. “Conversational commerce is going to offer Convenience 2.0 – better and bigger than Convenience 1.0 offered by e-commerce,” he says. Ajeet is an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT, Kanpur) grad who earlier handled the tech for online marketplace Healthkart. His co-founder Arihant Jain is a Stanford University grad with an INSEAD MBA who worked at Google HQ. So there’s some serious tech biz mettle there.

That will be handy for Joe Hukum to make smooth API (application program interface) integrations with diverse partners in order to enable quick transactions. “We’re at a point where the way we consume and transact is going to change drastically,” Arihant tells me from Gurgaon, Joe Hukum’s homebase.

“The question is how many apps are you going to install and keep using on your phone. An average iPhone user has a hundred apps on her phone, but on any given day uses just 5 to 6 apps. What will happen is that all these apps are going to run on the cloud soon and you will need some way to access them. We believe that is the most natural way to use the service,” he explains.

The tech will also help Joe Hukum learn customer preferences to provide personalized and adaptive catalogs to get what they want faster. Interestingly, it also supports SMS-based ordering in recognition of what’s more comfortable for many users in India.

“What we are providing is an interaction platform where users get access to a variety of services through a common interface. The customers we are serving right now feel excited that they can pretty much get anything they want from a simple text message,” says Arihant.

JoeHukum, which was initially launched as GoGetSpeedy in July, today announced seed funding from TracxnLabs and a group of angels, including Jitendra Gupta, founder of Citrus Payments, and Prashant Tandon, founder of HealthKart. “Joe brings convenience to all segments irrespective of income levels. I never imagined that on-demand economy can change business models to this extent,” says Jitendra Gupta.

WeChat in China has shown how popular on-demand services and shopping integrated into a messaging app can be. Joe Hukum and Niki are taking baby steps towards making that happen in the emerging Indian mobile ecosystem.

See: The year ahead: 2016’s most anticipated shakeups in the Indian startup scene

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