The State of the Nextdrop Technology

11 Oct

I knew something was wrong when I got 28 text messages from the NextDrop system at 9:02 am on September 28th. All 28 messages were supposed to go out between the hours of 5am and 9 am to our residents (giving the different areas advance notice of water arrival as well as real time water delivery information) but for some reason, they only got delivered to everyone at 9:02 am- which basically defeats the purpose of our entire business.

After calling our technical lead, Swaroop, we realised that we had been hit by the new regulations the government of India had passed that went into effect September 27th. Essentially, it said no bulk messages (I.e. NextDrop messages) could be sent between the hours of 9pm and 9am. Definitely a game changing regulation.

After making calls to our messaging provider, we were told we had two options. Either a) stop sending messages between 9pm and 9am, or b) get an exemption from the government saying our messages are considered “transactional” and NOT “commercial” (I.e. Useful and not spam). Neither option seemed appealing because the first would greatly decrease our potential Market (I.e. Only to people who get water between 9am and 9pm) and the second would take an unknown quantity of time (but from my experience, it would probably be closer to the many months side)

However, after explaining that our pilot was underway and we didn’t want to disrupt service for extended periods of time, our friends at Netcore came through. One of Thejo’s friends, Mani, spent hours pouring over the regulations to see if we could somehow prove that our messages should be considered “transactional” messages. Finally, he found it: one exception was that messages that came from “constitutional bodies” would count as “transactional”. Further, the Central Water Comission (CWC) was technically a “constitutional body”.

After Mani’s brilliant find, we basically had to prove that we were actually working with the Hubli Dharwad water utility. Luckily for us, the Commissioner of Hubli Dharwad was holding his board meeting on September 30th- during which time NextDrop was scheduled to receive official approval from the commission to explicitly allow it’s residents to use our service. The measure eventually received unanimous approval (although there was some dissent/concern over the price initially) and Madhu managed to obtain a copy of that statement on Monday. Now I really want to do Madhu justice here, because it was actually incredibly hard to get the letter that soon (it was literally the next working day after we had received approval and these things usually take 3-5 days at the earliest to process) but Madhu came through for us. I immediately sent the letter to Mani, and he became our advocate at Netcore- making sure that the right people saw the letter as soon as possible/following up on a daily basis. After two days later (October 5), we got approval from Netcore to be considered a “transactional” messaging service. Now this is different from receiving official TRAI approval (which we will are in the process of applying for) but this meant that Netcore felt they had enough documentation to show that they are within the law to send our messages in a timely manner.

After the Dussra holidays (October 5/6), Swaroop coordinated with Mani to make sure we had everything in order to proceed, and NextDrop service officially started again on October 10th.

Overall, we were down for 12 days. However, Avinash did a great job of communicating with our customers (informing them of the new TRAI regulations we were trying to comply with), Madhu did a great job of getting the documentation we needed to get things done, and Swaroop took the lead over the weekend to make sure the system was tested and ready to go on Monday.

But most importantly, we couldn’t have done it without our advocates- Mani in Netcore and Mr. Jayaram and the Comissioner in the Water Utility. They fought for us in their respective organisations, and because of them, we are now able to continue our service. We are so thankful that we have friends who believe in what we are doing- but more importantly, are willing to do everything in their power to make sure we provide the best service we can.

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