Ashish Kundra is the founder of MyZamana, a social discovery site for users in developing countries with more than 7 million registered users. He has been our client for over two years and during our interview he said his business systems are now more effective and efficient than what they used to be because of H.Y.V.A.™! (<<<— Check out the video below to find out why).
Owen: Hi, everyone. My name is Owen McGab Enaohwo and welcome to H.Y.V.A.™. I am the Community Engagement Officer here at H.Y.V.A.™. I have Ashish Kundra on the line here and he is the founder of MyZamana; a social media network for users in developing countries. I want to give it over to you, what exactly is MyZamana and you can get started.
Ashish: Sure, definitely. First it’s good to be here Owen and I apologize for being harder to get a hold of to get this done but I’m glad we’re finally doing it.
Ashish: Yeah. So MyZamana is a social discovery site for users in developing countries. In short, it’s a social network for meeting new people and the majority of our users come from developing countries. Our largest country is India. We also have users from Slovakia, Slovenia, Vietnam, Hungary, etc. And we are translated in 30 languages.
Ashish: And we have users from over 100 countries. We’re focused on markets that a lot of the big players aren’t sort of as concerned with but we are placing our bets on a lot of these developing markets, India in particular which will have twice as many internet users as we have in the U.S. Actually in 2015, in the study of McKenzie predicted that we’ll do have 450 million internet subscribers by 2015, so we’re very focused on these markets.
Owen: So let’s give people a scope to understand how many users you have, if you’re willing to talk about that?
Owen: How many users do you have on your site now?
Ashish: Sure. So we have over 7 million registered users.
Ashish: It’s a free site to use. We’re ad supported but we want to make it as easy as possible for users to use the site. One issue in developing markets is that the payment infrastructure there isn’t there yet. And so a lot of start-ups just don’t really want to focus on it because the economics might not work out for them at least currently. But again, we are placing a bet on these markets and we’re happy to be ad supported and provide our services at no charge.
Owen: Who is the ideal user of your site and what problem are you seeking to solve for them?
Ashish: So the problem actually varies per user. We welcome all users as long as they’re respectful of our community. People are on there to chat with people, to just make connections and pass the time. Actually, one of the most interesting discovery about the site has been that people love chatting with people across countries. So we have a feature where users can see who’s online around the world.
Ashish: And we’re thinking, “Well this is kind of not a specific feature so we’ll just take it down.” Within an hour of taking it down, I was getting support tickets from users saying, “Where is the Online Chat page? That was my favourite feature on the site.” And it’s interesting because these are people who live thousands and thousands miles away from each other and in some cases, they weren’t even speaking the same language fluently. So one person would be using the site in a different language and another person will be using the site in English and sort of just make it work through English but the really value that and I think it’s a unique feature because imagine that you were just coming online and you’re noticing that. Now, you have a way to communicate with people. Otherwise, it would have never been able to talk to their way of life and how they see things and so that was very surprising for us actually.
Owen: And initially, when you and I first met, the site had a different focus but then you pivoted and moved in this direction. Do you want to talk about as what caused of pivot over to this new direction that you’re in?
Ashish: Yeah. It’s funny. We pivoted like “N times approaches infinity”. I think that in the end your user sort of picks you and they sort of use the features in the way they want to use them and you try to make it easier for them to do that. So in our case, when we launched initially, we charged people to send messages and was sort of old school in some ways. And then our site traffic went down because of the pay-wall. Then we became ad supported and our engagement went back up! And another big feature was chat. We didn’t have real-time chat at some point and then once we’ve launched that, people have been really crazy about that. And so I think users in developing countries, they’re going to be lots of overlaps between the way we uses the internet due to globalization, etc. But it’s not going to be the same experience. It’s a different time that they’re entering the internet. It’s much more real-time in nature, much more accessible in nature and each demographic is unique. So for example, India has an incredibly young population. 50% of the population is 25 or younger.
Ashish: So there’s a four generation gap between the average age of the citizen and the average age of the government official. And so there’s a lot of not only political tension there but there’s also really interesting social dynamic on the internet. And so we really pivot a lot, we’ve changed the product a lot but really we’re focused on making it as easy as possible for people to connect to other people be it in your neighbourhood or around the world.
Owen: I like that because one of the things you mentioned is that you’re listening to your users and then getting their feedback as to what the product should be and hence you pivot. And also people who are listening to this can tell that you are very technical and then being that I am a provider of Virtual Assistants. Let’s connect the dots to the story, so how did you come across the need for a virtual assistant in your business? When did that happen?
Ashish: Yeah and that’s a really good question. So we do a lot of algorithmic moderation I guess you could say but we also do manual moderation as well and one of the things that we moderate are the photos uploaded to the site. And so initially, we were doing that all in-house and it’s a lot of work.
Owen: You just said there are 7 million users, that’s obviously a lot of work.
Ashish: And actually when we started working with you, we had maybe a quarter to million users so we’ve scaled a bit since then. But even at that point, it was becoming a bit much and so to be clear, the reason why it was a lot of work was because every photo was moderated. Every photo that’s uploaded is moderated. And so I actually came across you via Andrew Warner site. I can’t remember if there’s an interview with you or with someone else.
Owen: I think I did that, yeah.
Ashish: Yeah. So it was a great interview and I’d never really considered hiring a virtual assistant. I sort of just prefer building technical solutions to things where I can but I reached the point where I thought it really made sense to find some people to help me out with this. And I reached out to you and I think we did a test-run and here we are!
Owen: And what I like about that is that you are someone who has technical background and you believe first of all in trying to see if you can automate as much as possible but initially it started out to an extent more manual and based on the way we’ve been working it is more automated but it’s still manual in some sense. Can you explain to the listeners how it worked out? Because I want to explain to the listener that you can automate parts of your business; give tasks to a machine to handle but there are still some parts of your business that you cannot automate and you need a human being and in this case a virtual assistant to handle such task for you. How did you find that balance?
Ashish: It’s a good question. I think it depends on the specific problems that you’re trying to solve. So for photos, we looked at a bunch of different approaches. For example, you can use image recognition libraries to determine roughly if there’s a face in the picture and maybe a number of faces. You can obviously give the size and quality checks, you can check for uniqueness and that sort of thing. But for that sort of decision where we currently do two rounds of processing with your company and what we do with the first round is whether it’s an appropriate picture or not. That means; are there people in this picture or are they an animated object or an inappropriate content? That’s the first wave, it’s a binary decision and then the second wave determines whether there are multiple people or a single person?
Ashish: And we could do a third wave which is, is this a male or female? And so those sorts of decisions are harder to solve algorithmically. And so we decided that we should find some humans to make these decisions. It’s just hard to do that algorithmically.
Owen: The reason I’ve mentioned that because I just want the people to see that you cannot totally automate the entire business. In your case, you’re very technical but you still found the need to get somebody onboard to help you handle tasks in your business, that’s the point I was trying to make. What were your initial fears and reservations? I mean I know you heard about me from the interview I did on Andrew Warner site but what were the fears and reservations you had about hiring a VA initially?
Ashish: Just a recap. I know we moved on but I just wanted to add something to your last comment. I think technology and human intelligence work well together. So for example, we have other moderation panels for weird activity that we see on the site and what we do is we basically score the user based on how questionable they are. Whether we suspect that they’re not who they have disclosed that they are and when we moderate them, we rank them in terms of score, negative to positive; from the biggest risk factor to least risk factor.
And when you see them in the panel they are actually color-coded and so you’re going through these decisions and you’re trying to determine, is this a real account or not? And you have all these virtual cues and then of course the algorithmic score. And so what I’m trying to say and I guess this echoes, what you said is sometimes, technology and human decisions can work really well together. You can use one to help the other be more accurate.
Owen: And just so that the listeners understand your business; you have created a site where people from developing countries can all come together and you wanted to make sure that the highest quality picture profiles are on the site. You wanted to verify that these are real people not just anybody spamming the site; real people and quality. So instead of just automating everything, you wanted to add this human interface to make sure that real people with quality profiles get approved. That everybody on your site is a real human being. And hence, this increases the level of interaction and engagement because everyone using your site knows that they are talking to real people. That’s what the goal was with this.
Ashish: Exactly. And when you have technology working with humans, they can cross check each other and they can help each other out. So I’m able to ensure that our moderators make better decisions because the code gives them cues and likewise the moderators are able to check the code and see, “Hey, this code is marking someone as a questionable user but the user looks fairly normal.” So it’s nice to have those play hand-in-hand.
Owen: So maybe let’s go back to the beginning of like how your daily workload was like before you got to this point of deciding that you wanted to get a VA. You listened to Andrew Warner’s interview so there must have been something that prompted you to want to hire a Virtual Assistant. I want to give this listeners a before and after scenario. What was it like then before you stumbled upon the idea of hiring a VA?
Ashish: I definitely spent more time doing moderation than now. It’s sort of that’s the most basic answer. We changed our systems a lot over the course of our working with you and I think our systems are now much more effective and efficient than they were back then.
Owen: Okay. How would you rate your experience so far? And anybody who is considering probably hiring a virtual assistant, what would you tell them to do to get started?
Ashish: I think I’ve had a very good experience so far. The first thing you need to do is find someone that you find can communicate well, that’s really important. For example you guys send update in the morning and in the afternoon, I think that’s great. And whenever I need to get in touch with you guys, you’re always very responsive so I appreciate that. And so that’s the first thing, find someone communicative and then the second thing would be find someone who does high quality work and as much as you trust them, monitor their work.
Owen: And just so everyone who’s listening knows, you’ve been a client of mine for the last 2 years, that is something!
Owen: Thank you very much. And what is the best way for the listeners to check out your website, where is the best way for us to send them over to?
Ashish: Sure. MyZamana.com.
Owen: Thank you very much, Ashish. I really appreciate it.
Ashish: Thank you, Owen. It’s great talking.