Emerging markets can be more complicated than developed economies in terms of cultures, use of different languages, densely populated cities, poor infrastructure, hyperlocal nuances and more. Ajay Bulusu, Gaurav Bubna and Shaolin Zheng, former employees of Southeast Asian ride-hailing giant, Grab understood these challenges and are now trying to solve these complexities using AI.
With Nextbillion.ai, founded in 2020, they are on a mission to be the world’s most hyperlocal AI company.
“We want people to think of Nextbillion.ai when they think of AI solutions in a hyperlocal setting,” says Ajay, co-founder of Nextbillion, in an interaction with Analytics India Magazine. It offers customised mapping and data solutions for hyperlocal markets, addressing the challenges in the long run.
How AI-powered Hyperlocal Solutions Work
Ajay explains that hyperlocal solutions are targeted at the next billion markets which are unique in many ways and a one-size-fits-all solution may not work for them. “For instance, can a mapping or language processing solution for Jakarta holds good in Kuala Lumpur or Mumbai? The answer is No, and the solution lies in hyperlocalising,” he said.
In hyperlocal markets, the challenges are not constant across geographies and have to be addressed accordingly. This is where AI comes into the picture, as hyperlocal industries need AI and machine learning to find flexible solutions.
One such unique challenge relates to language search. Ajay explains, let’s take the example of black pepper. Across most of India’s Hindi-speaking states, the spice is known as ‘kali mirch’, and many internet users in Tier-2 and 3 cities may not be aware of its English name. AI helps hyperlocal solutions to tune their software to detect words spoken in the native language and enable people to order goods and services in the language they speak and understand. Almost every state in India has different languages, and AI is the most efficient way to address such local nuances.
Ajay believes that AI-powered hyperlocal solutions are becoming critical because of the exponential growth and potential in emerging markets today. For instance, during the 2019 Diwali season, Flipkart and Amazon reported robust orders from tier 2 and tier 3 cities. “With the volume comes the challenges such as finding the right delivery address or understanding language nuances. This is where Nextbillion comes into the picture as last-mile delivery becomes critical for e-commerce players and AI-powered hyperlocal mapping solutions can help in pointing the right address with route optimisation,” said Ajay.
Nextbillionai Maps And Tasks
Nextbillionmaps, the first product by the startup is an AI-powered total mapping solution that provides enterprises with customisable features like routing, navigation, direction and distance matrix.
“In a first for the mapping world, it comes with AI tooling capabilities that support map data curation and maintenance. This makes solutions for the logistics, transport, ride-hailing, delivery and e-commerce industry efficient and affordable,” said Ajay.
He further added that Nextbillion.ai’s map APIs helps find the best ETAs, find precise pick and drop locations and the best route for the vehicle you are using. It can carry accurate mapping making deliveries efficient.
Nextbilliontasks, their second product which is currently being made is a data-intensive service that converts raw data sets to meaningful, structured data that can be used by the end-user. It uses AI to decode data to simplify multilingual texts, image classification, sentiment analysis and video annotations.
With a plethora of information that we are surrounded by today, there is a massive demand for high-quality training data in the next billion markets. Nextbillionai provides services such as POIs extractions and enrichment, geotagging and geofencing induced with AI, which is perfect for Nextbillion markets. Both their solutions are built using open-source tools.
“While large players like Google already exist in the mapping space, solutions built for developed markets cannot be directly used in emerging markets. This is where our products stand out,” said Ajay.
Since it uses open-source data, the solutions can be tailor-made and amended for specific business needs, based on their data and geography. Some of the tools that it uses are Python, angularjs, rust, Spark, vaex, mongo-db, Big query, postgres, Kubernetes, istio.
Nextbillionai is spearheading innovation with a strength of 45 employees, spread across Hyderabad, Bengaluru, India and Singapore.
Ajay shared a few use cases as below:
Nextbillionmaps benefitting a delivery company: A delivery executive on a two-wheeler can take a short-cut through a tiny bylane that a car or other 4-wheeler may not. They are forced to take the longer route as the mapping solution doesn’t show the shorter alternative. It may show the most used routes but not the exact end destination. Also, the language used would most likely be English, which delivery partners may not be comfortable with. In the long run, these factors impact turnovers for companies that thrive on quick turnaround time. Relevant mapping APIs can help delivery ninjas can save several hours as the app can automatically organise the route for him. The intelligent mapping solution takes into account traffic snarls, roadblocks or one-way rules. It then computes the best sequence for delivery stops.
Ride-hailing industry: Cab drivers using Nextbillionmaps can have access to exact location details, improving the wait-walk-talk matrix and the overall experience of the customer. With pin-pointed drop locations mapped, error margins can be reduced by 70 per cent. Similarly, enquiry calls on finding the whereabouts of an address can reduce by 40 per cent. The popular mapping solutions available in the market today do not provide flexibility to users. Nextbillionmaps fill this gap. It understands local complexities, addresses hyperlocal nuances and is, therefore, tailored to cater to emerging markets.
The Eureka Moment
Ajay shares that the idea behind starting Nextbillion.ai came as they were gathering insights into the next billion markets – comprising South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. The population in these countries is internet-savvy, well-travelled and well-informed. Businesses today are scrambling to tap this market. But it faces hyperlocal challenges.
“As a growing number of global companies aim to enter the next billion markets as their next growth engine, they will need partners – who offer hyperlocal, cost-effective and customised solutions – to help them scale operations. This is where we come in,” said Ajay as they have partnered with several global brands in countries such as India, Southeast Asia, China and the US.
While emerging markets provide immense growth opportunities, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution. Nextbillion.ai thrives on such challenges that push for innovative thinking.
In June, Nextbillion.ai raised a $7 million Series A investment co-led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Falcon Edge Capital. The company onboarded Navroz Udwadia, Co-Founder and Partner of Falcon Edge Capital and Hemant Mohapatra, Partner at Lightspeed to the Board of Directors.
The company plans to use this capital to grow its team, product and invest in R&D. It also plans to build vertical-specific AI capabilities and enter new domains like Natural language processing (NLP), facial recognition and cybersecurity for the next billion markets. “We hope to be at the forefront of disruptive AI technologies in the coming years,” said Ajay.
Overcoming The Challenges
“Having a great idea is the first big challenge. The second most important step is to have a great team. We have both these steps covered, with experts and veterans on board. The third challenge that startups face is funding. This too is taken care of. We now want to focus on our core competencies and deliver AI-powered solutions across verticals,” shared Ajay.
Another challenge that most companies and startups faced this year is the COVID-19 pandemic which has paralysed the global economy in the last few months. “Traditional businesses have been the worst hit. This has stressed the need to integrate technology into businesses, especially hyperlocal ones,” said Ajay.
Having said that, Ajay believes that hyperlocal is among the fastest-growing trends this year and with the pandemic-induced lockdowns, people have become more hyperlocal aware. “It has the potential of completely altering the way businesses sell and customers buy and can elevate customer experiences to a whole new level,” said Ajay on a concluding note.