Go Go Go! (i.e. NextDrop is scaling!)

13 May

In Jan 2012, we had 1000 customers registered for our service.  On May 13,2012 (in just 4 short months), we have over 25,000 people subscribed to our service.  Ramping up in such a short period of time is challenging to say the least, but it’s an exciting time- and a great opportunity for us to learn a ton.

The Stats:

  • We’ve signed up over 25,000 customers for our service (i.e. they have said, “Yes I want this service”)
  • We have started service for ~12,000 of those customers (i.e. they have started to receive the NextDrop SMS updates)
  • We have billed ~2700 of those customers in April (~1200 of those paid an advance payment of 3 months for the service).  In the middle of April we decided to experiment by making it mandatory to pay 3 months advance payment to receive the service (to reduce billing costs) and everyone we billed paid the advance
  • We have a customer retention rate of ~ 98% (50 customers deactivated the service of the 2700 billed)

Here are the main challenges we are currently facing:

  • There’s a lag between when we recruit the customers, and when we start their service.  This is because we’re down to our last few valvemen in Hubli to train, and it’s been difficult. They need to make 2 consecutive calls to “graduate” (i.e. they show us they know how to use the NextDrop IVR), but the problem is they say they forgot, or they misplaced their mobile, or they forgot the list with their valve ID numbers.  At the end of the day, the result is that we can’t start providing service to these customers until they get it right.
  • Learnings: In the next city, I think we want to get the water board more heavily involved in the training process, and have them organize sessions where we train 40-50 at once, instead of the more ad hoc way we are doing it now. That way, we also have immediate authority and they know this is something important that they have to do as part of their job.
  • After launching the service, it was time consuming to go around and find all the people that signed up for the service (Because, as many of you know, addresses don’t mean much in India).
  • Learning: We realized that in order for this to be at all sustainable, we need to collect for at least 3 months at a time, otherwise our billing costs will be too high. We’ve proved that people are willing to pay the 3 month advance, so now we’re scaling up.  We’ve hired 5 professional billers to go door to door and bill our customers.  We need to see if we can bill at least 10,000 customers a month.  If we can do that, then we’re in the game.  We’ll know in the next month if this will work.
  • Making sure people are getting the right messages (i.e. they are placed in the correct valve area).  We’re still trying to figure out if people don’t get the right messages because a) they are in the wrong valve area or b) they have a cellular network issue (which is definitely a problem sometimes).
  • Learning: We are trying to implement a system where we call each customer 2 weeks after he/she starts the service to see if the messages are on time.  Customers have also started reporting that the messages are off, so that’s a good sign (i.e. we’re getting more customer feedback).  We just started implementing these processes, so we’ll have better updates on if this catches issues in the next few months. We’re going to have to do a good job of bundling things together (i.e. billing+feedback+other things) so as not to bother customers, but we’ll figure out the best way to utilize our customer touchpoints

So if you don’t hear anything from us for the next couple of months, this is what we’re working on!

Also, we are hiring for various positions (check out a few of the posted ones here, on our new and improved website).  If you’re interested, do get in touch with us

Finally, feel free to drop us a line with any thoughts/questions/comments/concerns/just want to say hi. Even if we don’t get a chance to write updates all the time, we still always love hearing from you, or answering any questions we can!

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4 Responses to “Go Go Go! (i.e. NextDrop is scaling!)”

  1. Manish dalia May 22, 2012 at 4:14 am #

    So much awesome news, I am excited to see you guys develop. Also, can’t wait to see how the work the Berkeley team did this semester gets implemented!

    • anuday May 23, 2012 at 2:25 am #

      Thanks so much! Yes- we are also really excited to bring them over and implement what they started!

      • Aniket D. May 24, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

        You mention 40000 households on the main website; and here in this blog report you mention 25000 customers.

        How do these figures correlate?

        Wish NextDrop the best in their endeavors!!

      • anuday May 25, 2012 at 1:09 am #

        Good Catch! We need to update our website and revise the numbers. By the time we got the website up, we thought we would be at 40,000 (since our focus at that time was gaining customers), but because we started to move away from recruiting as many customers as possible (and even slow down the recruiting effort) to focus instead on billing/launching, we didn’t reach that number. Changing priorities- such is the life of a startup :)

        But thank you for reminding us to change that! We really need to fix it on our new website!

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