Newly appointed board member Ravi Garikipati talks about Shohoz Super App and the role he will play in the company
Last month Shohoz welcomed Ravi Garikipati - of Flipkart fame - to its board. Shohoz, the five-year old digital ticketing company, has expanded its business from ticketing to ride sharing and most recently to food delivery. Bringing Garikipati on board signals the company’s intention of planting its roots firmly in Bangladesh’s digital business landscape. Ravi Garikipati, former chief technology officer with Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart, says that the demographic dividend factor and Shohoz’s vision for becoming a ‘Super App’ made him want to come here.
At Flipkart Ravi played many important roles, but mainly helped the founders initiate new businesses, since he joined in 2015.
“While we had a robust e-commerce platform, we also wanted to get into some octagonal business lines such as financial services. We called it Flipkart fintech and advertising. We had tens of millions of active customers and a robust seller-driven market base, we actually wanted to monetize that through advertising,” said Ravi, speaking to Dhaka Tribune at Shohoz corporate head office in Banani.
He worked on this for a year at Flipkart, initiating new business initiatives. But soon he had to take up the CTO and head of engineering position owing to a ‘leadership vaccuum.’ As the CTO Ravi focused on data led technology disruption and invested into a big data platform.
Ravi parted with Flipkart at about the same time when American retail-chain Walmart bought up 77 percent of Flipkart shares for $16 billion, essentially gaining ownership of the company.
“The idea of me coming to Shohoz as a board member is something that I deliberated on. There are a few things and I was looking at this juncture in my career. Having been in this industry for about 30 years, I built couple of startups in the Bay area of Silicon Valley. I lived there for about 15 years. I understand what it takes to build an internet new-age company at that scale,” Ravi said.
Ravi says Shohoz has “the vision of wanting to be a ubiquitous digital platform and a Super App.” The idea of ‘Super App’ is of an umbrella platform that provides many different services. In other words, it is an app with many different apps inside it, ideally providing services for all important needs in daily life.
But what needs to happen for Shohoz to grow into a Super App? Unsurprisingly, Ravi thinks that it has to be incremental growth, meaning strengthening its current services and adding others over time.
“They have the ride-sharing, they have the foundation of online ticketing system that’s been in place and done extremely well. I think transportation is going to be a huge challenge, so addressing that is very ‘here and now’. And then of course you know the octagonal to that is food delivery.”
The next step, Ravi thinks, could be looking at payment. “Shohoz has the loyal customer base, they are doing a damn good job in terms of offering high quality service. And then you can keep adding more for the platform to be more sticky, right?” he said.
He thinks these are the areas where Shohoz should focus on for the next foreseeable future and attain leadership status in these categories. “While we do all these stuff, one natural area Shohoz like platform can do is financial inclusion. We have the supply side and we have the demand side from the consumers and as we bring in more services we can actually help them in financing,” he added.
For Shohoz, it hopes to gain from Ravi’s expertise and experience in taking the company to the next level. Ravi thinks he can help the team understand some of the challenges to scale and the investment they need to make the platform resilient.
He will also work to help them adjust themselves to data led disruption and the kind of investments that need to be made. And finally Ravi hopes to engineer a structure necessary for ‘delivering the superior customer experience.’
‘Big Data’ - which is the mechanism of technologically organizing and categorizing huge amounts of data for specific purposes - will play a big role in creating the kind of structure and services Shohoz wants to build.
“If you are doing multiple services on a platform, you want to be a Super App. Doing it in a meaningless way can come across as noise to the customer, he will get annoyed,” said Ravi.
And that’s why, Ravi said, there is no question if Big Data will play an important role but how you can harness that data in Bangladesh where reliable record keeping is poor at best, non-existent at worst. Companies must find a way to circumvent this problem, otheriwise it will be ‘garbage in, garbage out,’ said Ravi.
“You know a lot of people are playing with data but how pristine is the data, is it good quality data, you know? There are a lot of nuances around that. That’s what makes data ineffective. So, I am helping the team understand that,’ he said.
Given the right input, Ravi believes, Shohoz can potentially be the largest digital company coming out of Bangladesh.
“Absolutely Shohoz has the potential and it is taking on the right opportunity, so to speak, by having a grandeur vision of being a Super App which I call the ubiquitous digital platform for various services,” he said.
Ravi thinks that the opportunity is just right, and it is now all about putting other things into place like access to talent and access to capital. And that will not just benefit the company, but ultimately enhance, even transform the economy. “So, if you sort of bring all these things into play, I have no doubt that you will be looking at an entirely different economy very soon,” he said.