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Beerud Sheth, CEO, SMS Gupshup

Launched in April 2007, SMS GupShup now serves 26 million users in over 2 million communities – double the number of communities supported just six months ago. These communities range from religious groups to sports teams to celebrities. Whether it’s daily poems, traffic reports or tribal news, GupShup is the centerpiece of connectivity in India. Over 100 advertisers currently run on the network including local insurance provider ICICI Lombard and international brands like Puma, Microsoft and Cadbury. Rajat Arora of spoke to its CEO Beerud Sheth on various issues and concerns related to social networking on mobile.

Q) SMS GupShup has 26 million users in India, but still it isn’t as prominent as the social networking sites. Where’s the problem? Clearly, SMS GupShup has far more users in India than other social networks. Its media profile is gradually building up. Its growth is very recent and therefore hasn’t been covered enough yet. Also, the Indian media tends to follow the lead of international media instead of original pursuing more locally relevant stories. So, what is prominent in Silicon Valley becomes prominent in India, even if it is relevant only to the 50 million web users, not the 500 million mobile subscribers in India.

Q) With the growing number of mobile connections, how much potential do you see in the local market? As mentioned, the 500 Million mobile users are ready to consume content over the phone. This number will continue to grow. SMS being the lowest common denominator across all handsets, we feel that the potential of our products & services is huge, in India and globally. Our goal is to have every mobile subscriber be a GupShup user.

Q) Can real Bharat (rural India) be tapped with a social messaging platform? Absolutely. In fact, mobile is the only medium for the real Bharat to stay connected, and social messaging enables messaging to large groups.

The real Bharat is already making heavy use of mobile technology, because traditional media is otherwise absent or limited. SMS GupShup users are spread all over the country, and we see heavy usage in tier 2 & 3 towns. An interesting use case is the Hmaar Tribe from the North-East, a small community which keeps in touch via their group on GupShup (they have no other channel to stay connected).

Q) SMS GupShup has some socially relevant communities like Jaago Re and Stree. How has been the response of users to these communities? The response has been great – they are excellent examples of crowdsourcing i.e. harnessing the wisdom of the crowds to help one another. For example, a user on JaagoRe bemoaned that 20% of Indians do not know the difference between Independence Day & Republic Day, while another user suggested that campaigns should be held in colleges to encourage youth to cast their vote.

Women subscribers on Stree have shared insights on specific unsafe zones in their cities, while others have expressed support for the Women’s Parliament Bill.

Q) How useful is your platform for brands and advertisers? The SMS GupShup platform is a must-have tool for brands and advertisers. SMS GupShup enables both massive reach and deep engagement, both of which are critical to the success of any brand.

The massive reach comes from the fact that the mobile medium provides direct and personal access to anyone, anywhere, anytime – there are 500+ million mobile subscribers in India. In addition, demographic and behavior data enables better targeting compared to mass media.

The deep engagement happens through the creation of mobile communities, which enables brands to connect with and engage interested users on an ongoing basis through interesting content, games, contests, polls etc.

Hundreds of brands and advertisers used GupShup in 2009, and significant growth is expected in 2010.

Q) Do you see any competition in this genre any time soon? While we are unique in enabling user generated mobile communities, below is how we differentiate ourselves from other players in the market. The community that SMS GupShup has built is virtually impossible to replicate for any of the following players.

- Content providers are usually limited to downloadable items such as ringtones, wallpapers and games or allow users to subscribe to certain content channels (generated by the service provider). They do not enable users to generate and consume content the way SMS GupShup does. - Online social networking sites face limited internet connectivity and few internet hours per person per day in countries like India. SMS is a comfortable medium that a greater number of users are familiar with and can be conveniently accessed on the go. - SMS aggregators provide bulk SMS services for SMEs and corporates, and some might offer direct advertising. SMS GupShup follows a strict permission based no-spam policy for advertising.

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