i2e1: Wifi on a sharing platform

Founders of i2e1 with team members
Despite serious efforts by the government to make the Internet available to everyone at a low cost, a significant gap exists in wifi proliferation. Advertisement-based or telecom company-backed wifi models have been attempted but no sustainable model has evolved. This is where the Delhi-based i2e1 (Information to Every One), a wifi analytics start-up, fits in. Founded in 2015, it has set itself a target of making ubiquitous, low-cost Internet a reality for the Indian masses.

Recently, the company raised $3 million in Series A funding led by impact investment firm Omidyar Network and Auxano Business Ventures. Its existing investors also participated in the round.

i2e1 had also raised $500,000 in December 2015 from growX, 3one4capital and a few angel investors. Incubated at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, i2e1  was founded by a team of six from American Express, Microsoft, Dell and Adobe. “Given the steep growth in smartphone sales and data consumption, the government’s push towards Digital India, and favorable regulatory changes, i2e1 has the potential to become the de facto gateway to the Internet for millions, empowering offline retailers with rich user insights and smarter decision making. The i2e1 team has demonstrated strong execution prowess to scale up rapidly and assume the market leader’s position,” says Siddharth Nautiyal, investment partner at Omidyar Network.

i2e1 says that according to TRAI estimates, till 2016 there were only 30,000 hotspots in the country against the need of more than 1 million.

Product concept

i2e1  has developed a hotspot management layer that offers retailers and venue-owners the ability to share a portion of their bandwidth that usually remains unutilised with their customers. It helps bridge the access and affordability gap for users while providing its clients increased customer engagement, insights and data-driven decision making akin to Google Analytics. “While there is an intelligent platform like Google for the online space, which is used by almost every Internet company, there is no single unified platform like this for offline businesses,” says Satyam Darmora, a co-founder.

i2e1’s insights help retail companies understand industry trends, brands understand consumer behavior and non-banking finance companies underwrite and manage small merchant loans. The start-up also provides real estate companies real-time traffic insights and research agencies multiple use cases.

While users enjoy free wifi, i2e1’s machine learning algorithm collects business insights for merchants. i2e1 claims there is no other Indian company in this space yet. “i2e1’s technology transforms a regular router into a wifi hotspot that can be managed remotely from anywhere in the world. This makes it the most affordable and most customisable wifi platform. We have the capability to convert any place into a manageable wifi hotspot in less than two minutes,” says the founder.

Airtel, Puma, Ola Shuttle, Redbus and  Nestaway are some of i2e1’s clients.

Opportunities

India’s broadband penetration of 7 per cent is well below the global average of 46 per cent. A business model anchored in analytics can open up the potential in the $650 billion Indian offline retail market. Offline retail is much larger than online in even developed countries like the US. “This is the most affordable way to provide wifi to consumers. We provide wifi in paan shops, free of cost, by effectively monetising our analytics engine? Thousands of these people are first-time Internet users,” Darmora explains.

“Our innovation has made even better results possible with machines that cost less than Rs 1,000,” he adds. 

Revenue

i2e1 earns its revenue from sales of hotspot machines and services that include a CRM module and analytics. It charges Rs 6,000-7,000 annually for CRM and Rs 15,000 for analytics from small merchants having one outlet. The charges are customised for large chains.

In 2016-17, the start-up closed the year with $750,000 revenue and it aims to close the current year with $1.5 million.

Road ahead

i2e1 is present in more than 4,000 locations, managing free wifi. It has  a large presence in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. We are now present in more than 60 cities and countries like Somalia, Dubai and Bhutan,” says the founder.

It aims to create 25,000 hotspots directly and another 100,000 through its partners in next 18-24 months.

i2e1 plans to utilise the funds it raised recently to scale up operations and launch a mobile application.

Expert Take: Interesting concept but expensive

Neeraj Jain, Founder & CEO of Zopper.com
The concept is very interesting and there are a few other companies that are trying to solve a similar problem. Depending on the depth and relevance of the analytics, it can add significant value to a merchant's business. It is solving a big problem of capturing store visitors’ data. Retailers find it very difficult to capture any information about the customer so the value-add on data capture is significant. It will take multiple interactions with the same device (mobile phone mostly) and some involvement from the customer and the retailer to create a rich profile of the customer. Once that hurdle is crossed, I am sure it will help retailers in growing their business. One other challenge will be that a vast majority of retailers seek instant results. Moreover, the pricing seems to be high for a small single store retailer.

 


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