By Riddhi Mukherjee and Nikhil Pahwa
HelpChat

Helpchat has now dropped the chat bit from its model (and maybe “help” too): it has laid off its chat team, giving 3-months’ severance package. This is Helpchat’s second round of layoffs in less than a year, and its third pivot: it began as legal customer service assistance company Akosha, then switched to a chat based model (which Haptik alleged copied theirs). The company, which raised $16 million in series B funding led by Sequoia Capital, now appears to be a services marketplace.

The new Helpchat, the old JustDial

We checked, and the app already has several services live on its platform, including: mobile & DTH recharge, cab booking, train & flight ticket booking, online deals & coupons, ordering food, travel planning, booking household services such as plumbers, electricians, etc. Helpchat has tied-up with the likes of Uber, Ola, Zomato, Bookmyshow, RedBus, Swiggy, and Cleartrip among others for this. Earlier this week, the company tied-up with Jugnoo to enable auto rickshaw bookings through its app.

But this isn’t really a new thing.

Helpchat’s new model is remarkably similar to Justdial, probably without the scale that Justdial has. Justdial’s SearchPlus business includes: cab booking, train & flight ticket booking, ordering food, online shopping, restaurant table booking, doctor appointment booking, booking hotel rooms, booking a car test drive, taxi services, florists, real estate, and many more. It currently has a total of 66 services on offer. Applying for loans and buying international SIM cards are some of the latest services added to the Search Plus platform.

The horizontal approach: one app to rule them all

JustDial’s Search Plus is what it calls a “Masters App“, which according to its founder VSS Mani was needed because “We feel, there is a huge opportunity there because the market is actually flooded with too many apps, too many options. People are fatigued, and JustDial will help solve that with its app, aggregating multiple services.” “We are trying to be on top of all the players, and (will) try to give you a one point solution for everything.” During the company’s Q4-FY15 earnings conference call, Mani revealed that the average ticket size of online purchases through Search Plus is about Rs 17,000.

Justdial Search Plus

Helpchat is trying that and then some more.

On the switch, Helpchat founder Ankur Singla told YourStory that they had been “seduced by the idea” that chat would be the UI for the future. However, even though they were witnessing 50,000 chat sessions per day (claim), they realised that the number of repeat users were nil. This had prompted the pivot to a virtual assistant platform. The company claims to be processing 22,000 transactions per day, at present, and is operational in Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad. It charges 4-11% commission per transaction from its services partners.

What Helpchat appears to be doing differently here is that it is showcasing multiple predictive cards for customers based on the information collected from the user. YourStory writes that Helpchat will collect, with user permission, data such as location, calendar, email information, view browsing patterns, and provide predictions accordingly.

Our Take

The predictability will give Helpchat an advantage over JustDial, but won’t give it the scale that JustDial has. It will depend on how deep HelpChat’s pockets are. Search Plus has the first-movers advantage, and the scale that comes with having vendors that aren’t just online vendors: Justdial has been in the local services listing & discovery business for quite some time now. Helpchat can at best be a lead generation platform for services that have their own app. In the end, those services will want to own the user. Helpchat also has competition from QuikrServices launched in October last year, which focuses on the unorganised sector of service providers in the country, such as buying, rental and leasing across home, travel, financial, health, fitness, beauty and events services.

It’s not going to be easy for a company that started with an original idea, but post funding, appears to always be trying to be like someone else.

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