This Indian Startup Gives Mobile Users Megabytes Of Data For Using Apps

With its new Gigato platform, Mavin is trying to deliver free Internet to a mobile-first nation.

This Indian Startup Gives Mobile Users Megabytes Of Data For Using Apps
[Photo: Flickr user Sandra Druschke]

Indian mobile Internet company Mavin just released a new mobile marketing platform that pumps megabytes of data back into users’ smartphones when they spend time on partner apps.

The platform, called Gigato, allows users in India to get Internet access for their phones by using popular apps like they normally would, whether it’s streaming music or typing messages to friends. The companion app platform is open to all app developers with no channel exclusivity. Developers have the power to award as much data as they want to their users, then pay Gigato for what they doled out. So far, eight Indian apps have signed on, including Truly Madly, India’s version of Tinder, according to Mavin CMO Raina Kumra.

“In India, this cash-back concept is really popular, where people do put cash back into people’s accounts for doing different kinds of things like installing or watching a video or doing a survey,” says Kumra, who cofounded Mavin with ex-Microsoft and Google engineers. “There hasn’t really been a way for an app developer to directly deposit megabytes into people’s accounts. There are other gamified ways of doing it where you can earn certain types of points that would translate into cash. But no one’s done, ‘Here’s a direct lever that you can just pull and deposit into people’s accounts.'”

The platform was designed to solve a two-pronged problem: Overstrained data networks mean slow, expensive Internet for smartphones in a country with more than 200 million mobile users, a number that is double what it was two years ago and that will double again by 2017. App developers in India’s growing tech and app economy need users to raise capital, and India smartphone users tend to turn off their smartphone data when they can’t find Wi-Fi, Kumra says.

Gigato not only reimburses users’ prepaid accounts for the data used on partner apps; individual app developers can tack on extra megabyte incentives that allow the user to earn extra data that can be used on anything.

An India-Sized Problem

Mavin is headquartered both in Gurgaon, India, and Palo Alto, California, but Kumra says the company identifies as Indian, serving only the Indian market for now. As the country of one and a half billion prepares its data networks to support millions more users, Kumra says Gigato wants to cultivate a healthy ecosystem for the app economy.

“People are so hesitant to try new things because of all of the effort it takes for them, including having a reliable connection. Wi-Fi is just awful, 3G works like 2G, and there isn’t really a 4G. It’s really unfair,” Kumra says. “This is not even all of India coming online yet. There are still millions and millions of people to be onboarded to use this network. And how are they going to end up using it? It’s already full.”

For those who do have a smartphone data plan, Gigato wants to sustain their time online. Users who would likely turn off data during the one- or two-hour traffic stints customary on India’s city roads could be generating their own megabytes to stay online. And app developers are missing out on valuable face time with users. Indian mobile advertising platforms have historically rewarded users with cash or game points for installing apps or playing through a game wall. But they’ve missed the mark when it comes to generating meaningful users, Kumra says.

“What’s interesting is those all sort of give you the instantaneous ‘Here’s a reward for doing X.’ But they were never designed to keep people there in a loyal way. So you get a lot of really low-quality users. You get that rash of installs that help your [Google] Play store numbers as an app developer. But they don’t stick around. So we were really trying to develop a problem for app acquisition and installs and daily active user numbers, and really trying to develop something that kept them healthy—kept them on the system for at least seven days, if nothing else.”

What’s more, limited storage on the smartphones themselves means that opportunistic app installations are usually the first to go when space runs out.

A Growth-Hacking Platform For Apps

Gigato is the second project to come out of Mavin. Its first experiment was an advertising platform that ran off of smartphones’ lock screens. But the company has since pivoted away from advertising altogether.

“Megabytes are a lot more of an effective guarantee that you’re going to spend money on than any type of advertising,” Kumra says. But that’s not to say Gigato doesn’t mean to compete with other mobile advertising platforms—namely, Facebook. She says app developers need to prove they have users before they can raise funding, and platforms like Facebook deliver much-needed numbers.

“Every startup ends up giving a percentage of their budget to Facebook to run install campaigns, or a percentage of their budget to mobile advertising or something–some sort of desperate attempt to get it in front of people,” she says.

But Gigato wants to change the way companies reach the user via mobile by putting rewards inside apps people use every day. And while still nascent, Kumra says the platform means to compete head-to-head with Facebook-sized platforms one day. “We are designed to be a growth-hacking platform, where each one of our customers brings in X number of users, and they cross-pollinate with other users,” Kumra says. Prelaunch, Gigato had more than 40,000 users who completed more than 300,000 promotions. The seed-funded startup platform is currently issuing more than 50 gigabytes per day of data, and Kumra says Gigato hopes to have garnered 5 million users before year’s end.

“Competing with Facebook is not a startup’s first goal in life. They are really the only game in town,” Kumra says. “So it turns into this little funny known scam in the industry. I don’t mean scam in a derogatory way. Every startup that comes into being has to set aside a tithing—10 to 20% percent of their marketing budget—and give it directly to Facebook. Because there’s no other platform. So yeah, we wanted to create an alternative to that.”

But until Gigato can grow to compete with a player as big as Facebook, it’ll focus on elevating the burgeoning app economy in India. According to a report from the Internet and Mobile Association of India, the country’s app economy will employ more than 150,000 people next year, as India sees more than 100 million app downloads a month.

“This is the first time that parents of an entrepreneur don’t walk around saying, ‘My son is unemployed.’ There’s a cultural shift that’s finally happening–people are understanding this is actually a real thing you can do with your life. You can go and have an idea and build something. And it’s a very American ethos, but it’s finally coming to be in India,” Kumra says. “We’d love to be a helpful injection to that ecosystem.”

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