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Shifu's Technology Fits Into Paytm Fabric, Says Prashant Singh

It is expected that Paytm will leverage Shifu's data analytics know-how to improve its consumer behaviour prediction mechanism and improve the platform's overall shopping experience

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The context-aware personal assistant app, Shifu, has been in the news lately for its acquisition for a reported $8 million by the Alibaba-backed e-commerce player, Paytm. It is expected that Paytm will leverage Shifu's data analytics know-how to improve its consumer behaviour prediction mechanism and improve the platform's overall shopping experience.

Shifu's co-founder and CEO Prashant Singh tells BW | Businessworld's Simar Singh about entrepreneurship, his role at Paytm and how Shifu's acquisition makes sense for Paytm.

When did the entrepreneurial bug bite you?
I always knew that I wanted to start something of my own but was not sure of what I wanted to actually do. For a while, there was a lot of back and forth.

Before starting Signals (the company that owned Shifu), I used to work for an app developing company called Spice. There we had a bouquet of around 10 apps, out of which Hangman was the most popular with 7 million downloads. However, what we realised was that despite having the game downloaded on their phones many people were not playing, so engagement and retention was becoming a big challenge.

At that point, we wondered if we could send people reminders during their free time to play the game. This small idea then turned into a wider hypothesis-why couldn't my phone remind me to do everything.

I realised that there is a general problem in phone interfaces. They are completely static by default and don't learn who the user is. The idea was about how we could rethink the entire phone experience in a connected world and I got completely obsessed and decided to build something to facilitate greater predictability in cellular devices.

What has the journey of developing Shifu been like?
So I got together with my fellow co-founders Deepansh Jain and Michael Massey and we initially started working out of our apartment, after 5 months a friend gave us a little space in his office. After that we worked out of San Francisco for a while and got some investment from the likes of Vijay Shekhar Sharma (Paytm's founder).

We started in late 2012 with the ambition of creating something that would allow phones to predict what the user was going to do next. The attitude I always had was that even if it failed I would have learnt something by the end of two years and that is something I believe is very important.

There were a lot of challenges and skepticism but I was lucky to have the support of my co-founders and we just completely understood each other and always had the same consistent vision.

What will the integration into the Paytm team be like?
It has always been quite clear how we will fit into the larger organisation-complete diffusion. The Shifu team will be functionally merged into the Paytm structure, joining the teams corresponding to their fields. For example, the role that I had at Shifu was product development so I'll be joining that team at Paytm.

How is Paytm planning to use Shifu's know-how for its core product?
If you take a look at humans- we are very predictable by nature and data analyzation can accurately predict our actions. For example, by taking a look at a person's call log and figure out who they are likely to call and based on patterns you can even say who they are likely to call at 6:30. Similar data analytics can be deployed to crunch consumer patterns and predict what a customer is likely to buy.

So these algorithms can be used to remind people to buy things, make recommendations on what they would like to buy or what they will buy next. That's the way Shifu's technology perfectly fits into the Paytm fabric.

After being an entrepreneur for all this while and running your own show, how is the idea of returning to a salaried job?
It is actually a very enticing idea when you come to think of it. The idea that one has a lot of freedom as a CEO and founder is completely overblown. In fact, in roles such as these, you actually begin to value managers and bosses. Having a boss can be great- it can shield you and actually allow you the space to focus on that one thing that you want to do. So I am planning to enjoy that for a while and don't have any plans of setting off on my own at the moment.

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paytm shifu acquisition Payments solutions prashant singh