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Why Flock Could Be Their Next Big Jackpot

Bhavin Turakhia talks about his next big venture and how it is poised to revolutionise team collaboration and instant messaging in business

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Bhavin Turakhia, the founder of Flock

The Turakhia Brothers have been immensely successful with all the businesses they started, and this is rare for startups. Each of their businesses is in the top 5, in their respective category. And all their businesses are bootstrapped. They sold their advertising technology company to a consortium of Chinese investors last August, for $900 million. That makes them billionaires today. Bhavin Turakhia talks about his next big venture and how it is poised to revolutionise team collaboration and instant messaging in business.

I had the privilege of interviewing the Turakhia brothers back in 1998. I was then a writer at CHIP magazine. They had just started a company called Directi, and like many startups in Silicon Valley, their office was in a garage -- this one in Andheri (W), Mumbai. They were young, easy going, friendly, humble, very approachable and down to earth. Since then, nothing much has changed except their ages and their fortunes! But then numbers do change with time. So when I spoke to Bhavin, long distance, recently, I sensed the same aforementioned demeanour. He and his brother Divyank (Div) are now billionaires, but that hasn't affected their personalities.

I continued to track the Turakhia brothers and was happy for their string of successes.  Over the years, the brothers created an array of businesses, including web hosting and cloud infrastructure; voice and messaging services; and of course, digital payments. Flock has presence in US, UK, Spain, Brazil, Russia and India.

They sold their advertising technology company to a consortium of Chinese investors last August, for $900 million. In 2014, they sold Directi's web hosting business to Endurance International Group, a hosting and domain company in N. America.

In all, the brothers founded 11 companies, and all were immensely successful; all businesses are amongst the top 5 globally in their respective space. It must be noted that all these companies were self-funded by the cofounders (Bhavin and Divyank).

Combined with other exits and their investments, this gives the Turakhia brothers an estimated net worth of $1.3 billion, making them rare new entrants on the 2016 Forbes India Rich List.

I asked Bhavin what is the secret of success and he attributed it to two things.

"It is the high quality of talent that we hire. We take great pains when it comes to hiring talent. The second factor is that none of these businesses are me-too businesses. None of our businesses are a copy of an existing model in the West. They have all been products that we built from the ground up, innovated here (India) and sold to a global audience.  This is unconventional in the Indian start-up ecosystem," said Bhavin.

What Next?

When I asked him what he was working on next, he told is about a product called Flock, which he believes will change the way people use electronic communication for team collaboration.

"There hasn't been much disruption in team collaboration and communication in the last 20 years. Communication was predominantly based on e-mail," said Bhavin.

Elaborating further, he said people deploy various applications in the enterprise and then spend a lot of time logging into each application daily for routine tasks like checking messages and status updates or notifications.

"If you log into each of these separate applications every day, you would waste 45 mins to an hour just doing that. In many cases, you would not bother to do all those tasks. But what if it all comes together inside Flock? You will be able to consume it, take more intelligent decisions and run your day in a far more efficient fashion," he said.

Bhavin clarified that Flock is not meant to replace all the enterprise applications one would use for highly specific tasks. Flock is just a communications hub that aggregates all the notifications and messages from all these applications. More than that, he would like Flock to be known as a Team Messenger for collaboration and instant messaging at the workplace.

According to Bhavin, Flock is a real-time messaging and collaboration app for teams that speeds up and simplifies communication and boosts productivity. Packed with incredibly powerful features and a slick, easy to use interface, Flock is the ideal tool for organisations looking to move to a real-time communication model. Flock takes all your most used apps and services at work and allows you to integrate them into a single platform to make you more efficient with your organisational tasks.

Flock, which was incorporated in 2014, also offers a platform for developers, FlockOS - touted as the world's first chat operating system that lets one build customised apps, bots and integrations, on top of Flock.

Customer Testimonial

Flock is present globally and is used by over 25,000 companies around the world for their communication at work. Some of the companies using Flock in India are Yepme, Voonik, 1mg, Arihant Capital, Meru Cabs and CouponDunia (among others). Global customers include renowned companies such as Accenture, Tim Hortons, Vmware, Bancsource, Mothercare, Victorinox, RICOH, Avendus, Princeton University and others.

Voonik, for instance, is a leader in the unbranded fashion segment for women; it is one of the most successful online fashion marketplaces and offers a plethora of options in every fashion category for the Indian, urban market.

"By using Flock, we can better control our company data and create checks and balances, while fostering instant communication. I would recommend Flock to other startups and companies as an essential communication tool," said Sujayath Ali, CEO and co-founder of Voonik.

The company primarily relied on email, which is an asynchronous tool. Like many other businesses, Voonik tried tools like WhatsApp and realised that they were not apt for professional communication. The primary concern was that with these tools, time-sensitive issues would either slip through the cracks or face delays, ultimately leading to a poor customer experience.

To close this communication gap, the company began to look for a messaging tool that would bring its teams together. From the very beginning, Flock seemed to be the perfect fit.

With Flock, teams across Voonik can now collaborate in real time, leading to increased transparency. Voonik's marketing and customer support teams are now able to communicate with each other seamlessly and share updates on targets, customer feedback and issues, right within Flock.

Moreover, as teams can flag customer queries that need attention instantly on Flock, they can quickly resolve these matters as well. This real-time resolution of queries has made it easier for the customer servicing team to respond instantly to customer queries and share updates with them.

Voonik's IT and Dev Ops are power users of Flock's apps and integrations. Developers at Voonik have integrated Jira within Flock so that they can organise their tickets, receive reminders on tasks, and pick up work on priority. The IT team has integrated monitoring tools including Nagios, Pingdom and New Relic to create a single dashboard for all work-related tasks.

Besides these external app integrations, Voonik has benefitted immensely from Flock's native business apps, which other messaging tools don't offer. Most teams at Voonik, including marketing, sales and customer servicing, swear by Flock's Shared To-dos app to organise and prioritise tasks. Another popular one is the My Favourites app that teams use to bookmark relevant information. Voonik employees also use the Mailcast app extensively to send weekly analysis and status reports to their teams, easily and securely.

"Flock's productivity tools help us organise tasks and targets efficiently. This would not have been possible with WhatsApp. So, we adopted Flock as no other tool could give us such an efficient and professional set up," said Oindrila Dasgupta, Head - Customer Retention Team at Voonik.
Bhavin rules out any integration with WhatsApp in future as it has "limited scope."

"Our goal is to migrate people from WhatsApp on to Flock because it is a much more efficient way of communicating. It is far more secure and offers better integration. It offers much better tools than WhatsApp can ever provide," he said.

Flock has competition from Slack, WhatsApp, Skype, Jabber and other messaging apps. That does not bother Bhavin. He says the real value proposition that's attracting users is the increased efficiency in communications that Flock brings them.

"In the absence of Flock, a large number of communications take place over email, which is asynchronous, since the response could take some time (several days). If I want it to be synchronous, the only option available is a face-to-face meeting. This takes a lot of time to set up. The only thing that can help is instant communications," he adds.

When comparing Flock to the competition, Bhavin speaks about "much richer" integration, and "much better" native apps like polls and to-dos. It already integrates with Google Drive and other Google apps.  

"We are more economical; we are 50 per cent cheaper than competing products. Some of the features in Flock are far more focused on increasing efficiency than other competitors," he said.

Flock offers a freemium and a paid model. The paid version costs users $3 (Rs 195) per month. But right now the objective is to create awareness and create a user base, informs Bhavin.

And that base will increase when users realise the kind of productivity and efficiency features that Flock offers.

There are certain features that are real time-savers and productivity boosters. For instance, there is a feature called Magic List which automatically prioritises the contacts that you frequently chat with and brings them up to the top of your roster. Similarly, there is a feature called Magic Priority in the chat tab -- every time you get a new message it bubbles up to the top. All of this improves the capability to carry on multiple conversations in an efficient manner at the same time from the desktop software and the mobile software.

A customer satisfaction survey conducted by Flock revealed that 65 per cent of Flock users reduced their dependence on email on sharing updates, messages or files. Seventy per cent users said they have now reduced time on unproductive, time-wasting meetings. And 60 per cent of users noticed an increase in transparency.
We think this is going to be further boosted as more enterprise applications come into the Flock ecosystem. Flock is working on richer integrations with common enterprise communication tools such as Office 365. Expect to hear announcements on this in the next one and a half months.

And then there's artificial intelligence and bots that are going to give Flock a fillip. It already incorporates bots; one can write a bot using Flock's
application platform, FlockWare.

Bhavin tells us he is making investments in AI and other cutting edge technologies to make Flock more intelligent.

"The goal is to use AI, machine learning and deep learning in Flock to ensure a couple of things: To make the right information and answers available to you, with little effort; to find the right person for any specific task or agenda that you might have. The third would be to use Natural Language Processing for things like bots."

We would certainly like to place our chips on Bhavin and Flock, for he thinks this is going to be "the next big thing" in enterprise messaging and collaboration.
Just ask the millennials!

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