asklailalogo(by Preethi J & Nikhil Pahwa)

AskLaila.com has launched a call center based local business search service to enable its users find local information on movies or addresses of businesses. The service has, at present, only been launched for Bangalore, the company’s home base. Speaking to MediaNama earlier today, Asklaila co-founder Shriram Adukoorie told us that Bangalore is their first launch, and they’ll expand to other cities subsequently. The monetzsation of the voice services is expected to begin in around 3 months. Adukoorie said that their business model is primarily around providing local advertisers with lead generation and ‘presence advertising’. For the mobile, the company has so far only launched leads. They also monetise on SMS through providing consumers with leads.

AskLaila has so far raised around $12 million, but Adukoorie declined to comment on revenues, or even whether the company has broken even on not. Money raised has been spent on technology, data collection, expanding the sales force. Adukoorie says that the technology costs are high. The most amount of traffic it gets is from Bombay, Delhi and Bangalore, while most of the revenue comes from Bombay and Delhi, followed by the Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad combine.

“Our business revolves around offering small advertisers lots of choices, primarily because they’re small and can’t afford to put an ad in a newspaper or a radio channel, which you can’t target as well. The access mode doesn’t make much of an impact to them – they’re okay if its from voice or the Internet,” Adukoorie said.

Trying Out The Service

MediaNama called the number 080-33-555-555 and after a minute of waiting (which is too long, in my opinion), was connected to a call center executive. The location details (Cafe Coffee Day, Richmond Road) were messaged to us, and on request, special offers for the day (free dessert, 15% discount on Salsa classes, 40% discount on a Tattoo) which are valid till 21/11/09.

The issue we have with a call center based service is its scalability: cost will increase exponentially as more and more users begin calling, and you need to hire to deal with the calls. Adukoorie said that they’re in talks for automated systems as well, but one needs to look at automation more closely: “Consumer experience is important, so you need to present it in a way that the consumer doesn’t feel uncomfortable.”

Differentiation In A Crowded Market?

Several competing businesses have been launched in India over the last few years. JustDial is the oldest player, with a call center based operation, Call Ezee was funded by Yahoo, Ubona by Capital18, and Getit Yellow Pages by Helion Ventures. Google also has a business listings play in the country. AskLaila has collected its own data and has validated each entry, Adukoorie claims. On an average, 200 calls are made to each data entry.

Their differentiation? “There are two aspects to competition: we think it’s much lower. It was more crowded two years ago, but now there are fewer. The business is about having great accurate data, and there are only 2-3 good companies with validated data. Most businesses have predominantly focused on providing names and telephone numbers to consumers. We bring user reviews and other content to the table, because consumers need more useful information. We’re confident that we have more data than most of our competitors in terms of categories, as well as in terms of depth. We currently cover 12 cities,” Adukoorie said.

“When it comes to the voice service, we’re open to providing more information – the nearest landmark – nobody has the kind of landmark information that we have. Secondly, we also give a lot more attributes like whether a restaurant has valet parking or not. We’re also bringing in offers and deals for consumers.”

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