This is the first in a series of question-answer style articles, with innovators and industry leaders, meant to provide budding entrepreneurs with answers to pressing questions about ideating, starting up, receiving funding and taking their products to market, in addition to offering unique insights into the tech industry.
The $8.1 billion (and rapidly expanding) Geoinformatics industry has transformed businesses through the acquisition, monitoring, classification and analysis of spatial data, driving decision-making and providing operational insights. Consequently, it has become a hotbed for technical professionals and new innovators alike.
Locale.ai is one such ambitious startup, making waves in the Location Analytics space. Founded by Aditi Sinha, BITS Pilani alumna (2014-2018) and Rishabh Jain (2013-2017) in 2019, Locale endeavours to make location-powered operational efficiency an achievable goal for businesses across the world. It was after meeting at SocialCops, that the duo conceptualized Locale, and have never looked back since.
We reached out to Locale.ai co-founder Aditi Sinha, who helped shed light on the ins-and-outs of the business, and how her company is adding value to its customers, and the world.
What exactly does Locale.ai do? What is its target market?
Locale is a location analytics platform built for city and business teams. Our product converts the location data of demand (users), supply (vehicles, riders) and static locations (stations, warehouses), and converts them to meaningful insights. The inspiration comes from web analytics tools like Google Analytics, Mixpanel or Clevertap that helps marketers increase the conversion and retention on their web products. Similarly, we help companies improve unit economics, increase user conversions and reduce cost per delivery by showcasing how their business performs on the ground and pinpointing where the problems lie.
Our target market is any company with moving assets — vehicles, users, delivery partners, salespeople. This includes companies in sectors like mobility, on-demand delivery, last-mile delivery, as well as workforce companies.
How did you arrive at this idea? What motivated you to build Locale?
After graduating from BITS, I started working in a data consultancy startup called Social Cops. It was then that I met my now co-founder Rishabh Jain. He had been working on different location projects with governments, FMCGs, startups, etc. You could say that Locale started with a personal problem. We had to build our own internal tools because there weren’t any suitable analytics tools for geolocation data. This was when we realized that companies are collecting a huge amount of location data, and they didn’t have the right tools.
They had to build internal products which were extremely painful to use. But the idea of Locale dawned on us when we found out that multiple companies are looking to build geospatial teams internally. Could we build a product to empower local teams to get the right insights and spend time working on their core problems?
What functionalities does it provide its customers? Which areas can it most significantly improve for its customers?
Locale provides companies with insights about their demand, supply and operations on the ground. For example:
- Churn: Where do people search but don’t book?
- Events: Where do cancellations, or frauds or accidents happen the most?
- Supply-Demand Gap: Where are we not able to service orders & where is the supply idle?
- Journeys: How do most valuable users move on the ground? Where do they go?
- Anomalies: Where do important KPIs shoot over suddenly?
- SLAs & Delays: Where are they not able to meet SLAs & because of which reason?
We focus on metrics such as asset utilization, user conversion, user acquisition, cost per delivery and so on.
What core technologies does Locale leverage in its product? How does it maintain the edge over its competitors?
Locale.ai uses a wide range of powerful open-source tools to handle large scale datasets in frontend and backend. The frontend is powered by Uber’s Deck.gl for high-performance visualizations, Nebula.gl for additional editing capabilities and Mapbox-GL for rendering maps.
Unlike other platforms, Locale provides the ability to ingest a large amount of data both in real-time and on-demand to analyze and gain insights on the fly. The backend is powered by python, PostgreSQL and PostGIS for powerful data processing and geospatial operations.
So, a company would choose Locale because of the following reasons:
- A simple and intuitive user interface to carry out analyses, especially for business users
- Scalable geospatial visualizations with actionability
- ETL robust enough to handle streaming data as well as historical analysis to go back in time
I have written in detail about this in a piece here.
What are the other applications of geospatial analytics have you worked on?
Although we have worked on different kinds of geospatial problems, I would like to mention the following three:
- The Bangalore COVID-19 tracker
We built this dashboard using the available data released by the Karnataka government. The dashboard shows the number of people quarantined with their country of arrival at very granular levels in different cities of Karnataka.
- Shark-movement tracker
We’ve been working with a research group called AI on the beach to analyze the movement of sharks in the sea and how it is affected by shipping vessels. The aim is to study the impact of humans on the behaviour of sharks and other marine creatures.
- Mobility and pollution tracker
We have recently started a project which involves analyzing the movement of public transport and how that affects pollution.
You recently raised a funding round. Can you walk us through the challenges you faced and how you overcame them?
My biggest challenge was that I have never done this before; but one thing that helped us was that before pitching to VCs, we pitched to angel investors. Angel investors are comparatively more founder-friendly and invest early on into the journey. What angels judge you on is how well do you know the problem that you are solving in your target market. Since my co-founder and I had already been working in the geospatial space and had experienced the problem ourselves, we were pretty confident about the problem.
Moving on, when we started pitching to VCs, the biggest hindrance at that time was that we still did not know concrete answers to a lot of their questions as we were still early in the game. However, we were confident that we would find those answers as we move forward. So we were looking for an investor who would believe in the problem that we were solving and the large market opportunity as well as a mentor who could guide us. The challenge in creating a new category of products is that not everyone is going to believe in you, but you need to find the select few who do. We were extremely fortunate to have found Better Capital as our lead investor.
What part did your undergraduate experience at BITS play in the ideation and development of Locale?
BITS has been instrumental in starting and most importantly, growing Locale. I had a lot of free time at hand because I didn’t take up any dual degree with my Economics degree. I used this time to join clubs like Department of Sponsorship & Marketing, Wall Street, TEDx, and Hyperloop. I took up several projects with J-PAL from MIT, Vision India Foundation, authored research papers in Economics that got published in international journals.
All these experiences helped me realize what it is that I am passionate about and have shaped me in so many different ways. “Sponz” taught me how to convince people to give you money. TEDx taught me how to manage people. The research experience helped me get my first job out of college at a startup called SocialCops (now, Atlan).
BITS network has been so wonderful even after starting up. It helped us get our first pilot customers, first angel investor and what not! If you want to startup, being in BITS works in your favour in so many different ways as the community is so close-knit and always ready to help. In case you are looking to start up and need some help, you can hit me up!
What critical skill-sets should young undergraduates equip themselves with, in 2020?
The most important skill that you need to have to run a startup is “getting things done” or in other words, finding creative solutions to problems without much resources. I would recommend undergrads get startup experience first-hand by joining an early-stage startup, and learning how to start a company from scratch. Apart from this, start projects or initiatives on your own. College is an extremely good time to experiment because there are fewer downsides to it. These experiences teach you how to be frugal as well as develop leadership skills.
In other words, get up and do things. There are so many problems all around us. Try to solve some of them. Optimize for learning.
P.S. We are always looking for the smartest people to join us. Reach out in case you are interested.