by Mark Carter
Posted 5/31/2013 04:06 pm
Updated 6 months ago
It’s a bit more than 9,000 miles from Bangalore, India, to Fayetteville.
Janakiram Ganesan and Pavan Kumar, entrepreneurs who took their e-commerce startup and Innovate Arkansas client firm MineWhat from their native India to the ARK Challenge tech startup accelerator last fall, are making the most of those miles.
MineWhat is a shopping assistance tool that enables online stores to offer personal assistance to their patrons. Its founders remained in Fayetteville after MineWhat was named one of three winners in the inaugural startup accelerator. The ARK Challenge win earned them $150,000, and in January Gravity Ventures Arkansas invested $100,000. MineWhat picked up six pilot customers in the ARK aftermath, and the first major product launch is planned for this month.
Ganesan and Kumar, each of whom had previous startup experience, launched their current venture in May 2012, and soon determined their main customer base would be in America. They applied for the ARK Challenge because of its proximity to Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters.
“MineWhat in its initial avatar was a product discovery service,” Ganesan said. “While we did have enough traction, we quickly realized the Indian ecosystem wasn’t quite mature for it. We had to go global, and the fact that Arkansas is the retail hub made us look for specific opportunities here.”
MineWhat provides a user engagement platform that aims to help online shoppers interpret data more effectively and increase conversions by becoming an “automated intelligent shopping assistant.”
“Analytics are typically based on page views, events or users,” Ganesan said. “While this might be more than enough on a normal website, it doesn’t really cut it for an online store. We provide analytics at a product level so our customers know exactly what is happening. Our assistance widget avoids common problems with product recommendations. We use insights from the analytics engine to surprise shoppers with relevant product suggestions.”
MineWhat is designed to aid the online shopper while not detracting from any retail site’s features.
“We’ve built the product with the idea that it would seamlessly integrate into any online store and augment all the cool features there, while providing added value to the shopper,” Ganesan said. “The product actively observes shopper behavior and uses the understanding gained to keep them engaged and drive them towards a point of purchase with intelligent assistance. There’s also the added benefit of using insights gained during the process to deliver more relevant content through other channels to further increase conversions.”
MineWhat is more than just another recommendation engine, Ganesan said.
“Recommendation engines give shoppers product suggestions based on aggregated historical data; we go one step further. What we do is on the lines of an offline shopping assistant. We combine shopper understanding and glyph-based interactions with the shopper to provide relevant assistance.”
Winning the initial ARK Challenge served as verification that Ganesan and Kumar made the right move. Winners were announced in November at Demo Day, the culmination of the three-month startup boot camp in which the 15 participants in the inaugural event pitched to several hundred peers, business leaders and potential investors.
“As a founder, you put in a lot of effort trying to get an idea down to execution and have to make a lot of sacrifices along the way,” Ganesan said. “Getting some reassurance that everything comes across the way it’s supposed to is amazing. Getting to pitch to a ton of investors all at once was a great added bonus.
“At the end, the peer validation in itself was worth all the effort.”
Ganesan admits that friends and family thought he and Kumar were a little crazy to relocate halfway around the world to Arkansas.
“We were lucky to have an awesome support network that understood why we had to leave.” He and Kumar plan to stay “as long as you’d have us.”
“Right now, and at any given time in the future, our largest customer base is going to be in the U.S., so we need to stay for business development,” he said.
Going forward, the plan is to add a sales and business development person to the staff, which currently numbers three, and “pick up customers.”
Ganesan and Kumar have embraced their new home (and yes, they’ve even called the Hogs). The access to mentors and the overall the friendliness of the people made impressions on them.
“The people, while we’d heard of Southern hospitality, we didn’t quite expect people to be this friendly,” Ganesan said. “Coming from a setup where strangers largely ignore each other, it was really nice.”
Ganesan believes the area will continue to experience tech startup growth. His advice for incoming 2013 ARK Challenge teams, some of whom will likely put down roots in northwest Arkansas?
"Get a solid execution plan ready, experiment faster, leverage your mentor network and enjoy the experience."