Rise, fall and rise of Way2Online

Company, founded by Raju Vanapala, which first offered free smses, is now one of the largest customer data platforms

By Author  |  Published: 19th May 2019  12:08 amUpdated: 18th May 2019  10:06 pm
Way2Online
DIGITAL WORLD: Company will invest Rs 35 crore to add technology and manpower to deliver marketing solutions. — Photo: Hrudayanand

Hyderabad: Way2Online has been around for many years. Its journey started with giving free smses through its arm Way2SMS. In a quid pro quid arrangement, the smses sent by its subscribers were suffixed with a small advertisement.

This model became a hit as it cut the sms costs. Over time, with new regulations and technologies coming in, smses lost their mojo as a communication tool. Its revenues dwindled and the company stared at closure.

Company’s founder V Raju, who had resigned as its Chief Executive Officer to focus on a new venture -Learn Social- came back to be at its helm to steer the transformation of Way2SMS to Way2news, which now gives short news in eight regional languages. In the process, it also evolved new businesses including one that caters to real estate.

Now, Way2Online is one of the largest Martech (marketing +technology) companies in India, with a user base over 100 million (10 crore). It now serves 1000 brands across BFSI, education, automobile and real estate segments.

“We are now able to target messages effectively. Earlier, the conversion rate was about two per cent or 2,000 for every one lakh messages we sent. Now, we are able to achieve the same result with just 5,000 messages. In the process, we are protecting 95,000 users from getting messages that are not relevant to them,” he says. The company now has revenues of more than Rs 100 crore.

Besides providing Martech solutions, it is gearing up to launch its own self-serve audience platform, which will be an alternative to Facebook ads and Google adwords in India. This will have targeted and guaranteed reach, he says. The company will spend up to Rs 35 crore in phases to add technology and man power. It now has about 500 people working and plans to add 100 more shortly, says Raju.

“Smart TVs will be a big thing soon. These will allow us to target the ads and also measure the impact better. The amount of time people spend on screens- mobiles, laptops, desktops, TVs is on the rise,” he says about how companies will be keen to tap this screen space.

However, the company has been through a roller-coaster ride in spells for most of its 13-year journey, says Raju.

“Way2Online was in front of me in its most vulnerable condition, left with no future ahead. I spent several sleepless nights thinking of ways to bring back the glory to the company,” he recollects the days of 2015, when Learn social, an instructor led e-learning platform he started acquiring a decent user-base and attained a consistent growth rate within a year of operations.

“I was left with two options- shutdown Way2Online or make it relevant again. The first decision was easy. The second one was complicated as a few hundreds of team members were involved. We are profitable again,” he says.

Inception of Way2SMS
It started in 2006, when many used sms for communication. However, customers had to purchase sms packages from telecom operators.

“We questioned ourselves if sms can be given free,” says Raju about the initial days. He formed Way2Online, bootstrapping with 12 members, in a triple bedroom flat in Hyderabad. After 5 months- in December 2006- Way2Online launched its first B2C product, Way2SMS, India’s first free SMS web portal.

It purchased bulk SMS from telecom companies and provided them to users of Way2SMS free of cost. However, the last 20 characters of every SMS sent were reserved for mobitizements (mobile+ advertisements) with a tagline-‘sent via Way2SMS’. However, earnings this way could not meet its expenditure, he tells.

However, Way2SMS got popular for its free SMS. “Our challenge was to balance revenues and expenditure. At times, we even wished for lower traffic to cut costs,” he says adding that financial reserves of Way2online were burnt by 2008.

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