A new Avtaar
Suneeta Kaul : Net4Nuts is betting big on its latest convergence tool

PROMOTERS : Chirag Patel

PAID-UP CAPITAL: about Rs 5 crore


ALLIANCES : Jaring, Indonet and KSC

Chirag Patel faces no competition as yet

Monday morning: you are driving to work. Your cell phone alerts you of a 3.30pm appointment. And while you register that, it also informs you that the share price of a hotshot pharma company, that you have always been interested in, has dipped to below Rs600. No, you do not have to call your broker to alert him/her to buy these shares for you. The cell phone knows just what to do and places a your order with the broker. This, only after checking with your bank if your finances are in order. Meanwhile, it notifies your accountant of your purchase decision. You have now reached your office. You lift your good old landline, punch a number and presto! It immediately tells you that there are two e-mails in your Yahoo! inbox and one in your Hotmail inbox. A couple of more keys jabbed and the telephone reads them out to you.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, if a certain two-year-old Ahmedabad based convergence company, Net4Nuts, has its way, this will be a regular feature in a not-too-far-off-tomorrow, The technology to enable this scenario has been pioneered by Chirag Patel, CEO, Net4Nuts; the cool tool has been christened Avtaar, the first-of-its-kind convergence tool in the world. The company has already applied for a patent for Avtaar in the US. Says Patel, "There is no product available in the international market which can directly compete with Avtaar today.”

So, what is Avtaar all about? Explains Patel, whose visiting card announces him to be the Chief Nut: "In today's world, information lies fragmented across various applications, like the mobile phone, PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), Internet Web sites and databases. If all relevant information required by a particular user is provided in one snapshot, without the user having to tediously browse through all the sites or wait for voice calls, it could revolutionise the way we communicate with our customers, suppliers, employees, friends and families. This convergence is called Universal Resource Management (URM) and its enabling device has been named Avtaar, which integrates online services from different vendors. Using our proprietary technology, we can enable enterprises to make their wired information available over a variety of devices, without them incurring the massive costs involved in doing so.” In simple terms, Avtaar is an information and content delivery mechanism, cutting across diverse platforms ranging from mobile phones and the Internet to Interactive Voice Responders (IVR) and fax Machines.

Once ISPs, Wireless Service Providers (WSPs) or basic telephone service providers (TSPs) take recourse to Avtaar, they can provide convergence services of the kind described above as a value-added service at a very reasonable cost. "No matter what device you use and where you are, our product, Avtaar, will enable information to flow seamlessly between a constellation of digital resources and devices, cutting across interaction modes, network environments and devices," says Patel.

With a product as unique and as resourceful as Avtaar, is it not strange that it has not created much of a flutter in the country and has not found too many takers? Agrees Patel, "As of now, our focus is to market this product outside India and once it becomes popular abroad, we will then market it here aggressively." Does this have something to do with the age-old habit of Indians to accept only phoren products and technology? Patel smiles his agreement. "In fact, when we tell potential customers that our first customer for Avtaar is the US-based Converge Labs - which has licensed four components to us, including e-mails, weather information and stock portfolios - they become more receptive," he says. In its pursuit of conquering overseas markets first, Net4Nuts has identified the Southeast Asian countries for focused attention. It has entered into alliances with companies like Jaring, Indonet and KSC, which are ISPS based respectively in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. These countries have over 500,000 Internet users each. Net4Nuts is also in the final stages of negotiations with some cellular operators in this region. Moreover, the company is in an advanced stage of discussions in the UAE and Bahrain. In India, Net4Nuts has, so far, tied up with Idea Cellular (AT&T) and is is also talks with several other national players, but Patel does not want to disclose their names yet. Talks are also on with Hutchison (Orange), BPL Mobile and Satyam. But making inroads into the country has been difficult.

“Things are not moving as quickly as they should for this pioneering technology company within the country because IT spends are currently low, and selling in a skeptical market is difficult. I am convinced technology is adopted abroad, Indian service providers will make a beeline for Avtaar. The flow of information, as we know it as of now, will change dramatically," says Vishnu Varhsney, managing director, Gujarat Venture Finance Ltd (GVFL), which has invested Rs 4 crore in Net4Nuts out of its corpus of Rsl9 crore for the Gujarat IT Fund. Adds Varshney, "Net4Nuts is a pure-play technology company established in June 2000, that concentrates on enabling integration among online services. The company is technologically sound and it is only a matter of time before Avtaar's potential is realised by cyber players." Varshaney has also been instrumental in getting together a strong advisory board for Net4Nuts, which functions as its think-tank. While GVFL has invested Rs4 crore in the company, the promoters, Chirag Patel, his family, hold the majority stake.

Thanks to Varshney, the company has a paid-up capital of about Rs5 crore and it is now looking for a fresh round of funds, preferably from yet another venture capitalist. Meanwhile, it expects to close FY2002-3 with a profit of Rsl0 lakh. It has identified technology licensing, revenue sharing from value-added services, customised personalisation, software development and subscription fees as main revenue streams. The strategy for alliances, both in India and in overseas markets, is to make inroads through value-part- nering. "Today, in a tremendously competitive market, service providers are constantly upgrading their service offerings in an effort to capture and retain markets and mind share. Net4Nuts will position itself as the differentiation tool in this endgame," says Patel. And to keep the game going, Patel has laid special emphasis on security during the designing of Avtaar. “We have employed sophisticated encryption techniques to secure data. Our servers are hosted at Exodus, which is one of the most reliable international data centers in the world,” Patel reveals.

In spite of the current focus on Southeast Asian and other markets, Patel eventually hopes to make killing within the country, where potential is enormous. A vast populace still remains untapped as far as cyber services are concerned. Explains one of the leading ISP providers of Ahmedabad, "The value-added services of ISPs have almost reached a stagnation point. Most of us are struggling to keep our customer base intact and the thought of netting new customers gives us nightmares. This is the prime reason for ISPs not breaking even, even as Internet users increase. With the current content, Net users face inconvenience and waste time in accessing online data since information is spread across diverse resources and services, which do not support one another's platform. With Avtaar, the user can configure once and use a host of services in a snapshot. In fact, users can make the ISP'S homepage their default page, which will attract revenue by way of advertisements. But yes, the full application of this breakthrough product of Net4Nuts might take some time, perhaps, more than it should."

Till then, Net4Nuts will have to remain content with markets outside India.