By Apurv Agrawal:
In my first year of engineering in Vellore, I worked on the idea of providing software services to the local community in the city, for example, providing POS and website help to local vendors and shop owners. I was 17 when I did my first live project, and as you can imagine, was very nervous about making my first sale. However, afterwards, the feeling of achievement was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I got addicted to that feeling, to the high you get when you actually see your efforts and hard work culminate into success.
Through this venture, I came in contact with non-profits that needed tech help but didn’t have access to it. I wanted to create something that would help fill this gap and connect skilled student volunteers with organisations that needed basic tech help. And so, ngoFuel was created – a venture that aimed to connect students with social media, tech, language, and other such skills to non-profits that otherwise did not have access to them.
This experience made me realise that every student can work on a live project and gain experience. Students tend to have a lot of free time, and they can spend this free time doing something productive; they can create real value while still having fun. The question on my mind, however, was how to make this scalable. After finishing college, I along with some seniors, started 91springboard, a company that ended up becoming one of the biggest startup incubators in India. Through my time here, I got exposed to the intricacies of launching and running a startup. It also made me realise the impact that mobile technology has on our lives. Mobile tech is contributing dramatically to the growth of the Indian economy and these days, literally everyone not only has access, but is transacting actively over a smartphone. This was also where I met Kanika Jain, a lawyer by education, who like me, was also more interested in entrepreneurship. She joined me to head operations especially because of her sharp attention to detail. At the same time, my friend from college, Vikas Gulati, who had earlier been working as a senior engineer in another startup, joined us to head engineering. Together, we began to discuss how to get people with access to smartphones to create real value for businesses and SquadRun was born.
SquadRun is a ‘gamified’ puzzle app that allows users to intelligently monetize spare time while providing businesses cost effective solutions to common operational problems. This means that users are helping businesses solve data problems by actually just playing games and solving puzzles. The app only requires basic logic skills; pattern recognition, attention to detail, language skills etc. Everyone these days has a smartphone and everyone spends a considerable amount of time doing absolutely nothing on it. SquadRun takes that ‘dead’ time, time spent waiting in queues or sitting in metros, and converts it into earnings. We work with businesses that are processing massive amounts of data and help them with audits and curation of this information using ‘human computation’ – leveraging human intelligence and spare skills, to do tasks that even computers cannot do. SquadRun is based on the concept of crowdsourcing, a principle that can efficiently solve several problems for businesses. As an example – an e-commerce marketplace uses SquadRun’s army for curation of content uploaded by sellers, moderation of user generated product reviews, audit of their customer support conversations, user experience testing of their product features, generation of relevant tags for products to improve search relevance, etc.
Being college students, we knew too well the pain of constantly falling short on cash. This app was created keeping our own plight in mind and thus, we feel that it resonates best with college students and young adults. And come on…who doesn’t want to make money while doing something fun!
Before the app was even launched, we engaged in some on-ground campaigns to familiarize potential players with the concept. Our campaigns saw massive success and garnered positive response in a way that we were not even expecting, sealing our belief in the idea.
Because of these clever marketing techniques, and a lot of word-of-mouth, we accumulated a lot of traction and a large initial user base. This campaign also helped us shape our marketing strategy for the future; lots of experimentation and a complete departure from conventional marketing techniques. We wanted SquadRun to have a human touch; we aren’t selling SquadRun, we are encouraging people to be a part of it, to invest in it and truly take away a positive experience. Our players are our priority and we make sure we let them know it. Another one of our on-ground campaigns called ‘the wall of hopes and dreams’ was just that – an attempt from our side to know our players better, to know what they want from life, what makes them tick.
The SquadRun work environment allows everyone to have complete ownership of their work and do it in whichever way suits them best. The only thing required is passion, to work hard and push yourself beyond what is expected of you.