Interview with Shishir Modi, Co-Founder at Niki

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We are living in a time where we have mobile apps for almost everything. We are so much surrounded by apps that we have different apps to book a cab, order food, book travel tickets, book hotels, etc. In such a scenario it becomes quite inconvenient to keep all these apps on the phone and search through that long list every time something needs to be done. The solution to this problem is Niki, a mobile app based upon Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Programming NLP.

Niki is an AI powered bot that simplifies ordering experience of a user through a simple chat interface. It is a personal assistant application that can help you book a cab or bus, recharge your mobile, pay utility bills and do many other tasks from a single app. Apart from that it also provides recommendations and offers which suit your needs. This is done by learning over time from your preferences using its machine learning build. Niki was founded by four IIT Kharagpur alumni, Sachin Jaiswal, Shishir Modi, Keshav Prawasi and Nitin Babel in April last year. Since that time this Udaipur based company has really grown in popularity and has also recently received an undisclosed amount of seed funding from Ronnie Screwvala’s Unilazer Ventures.

Let’s learn a little more about this exciting company from its co-founder Shishir himself.

Give us a snapshot of your professional journey till now.

Right after graduating from IIT Kharagpur, I started working at Energo Engineering in a Business Development role. Later on, I moved into Indiareads.com as the Head of Strategic Initiatives, looking into marketing and Business Development. At Niki as well, I primarily focus at Business.

When & how did the entrepreneurial bug bite you?

Entrepreneurship always excited me – even while I was in my college, I used to discuss potential startup ideas with my pals. We had also implemented a couple of ideas back then & consulted entrepreneurs to be close to the entrepreneurship community during the college days. The ideas & suggestions have been improvised over the years & took shape latterly.

What were the early days at Niki.ai like?

During the first few months, we had setup a temporary office at Udaipur, considering the city’s low cost of living, with about 16 interns. It was an office-cum-home, with a few coolers to fend ourselves from the scorching Udaipur heat. It was always an energy-filled atmosphere – we used to work late nights & have developed the initial phase of the product therein.

Can you please describe what a typical day at office is like?

We start up with a morning meet with each team, to brainstorm on the existing problems and discuss on the features that we could take up to make the product experience better, following which we get to our pre-scheduled work. In the afternoon, lunch is supplemented with a darts session, after which we work on any new ideas thought of. After a heavy duty work session, we lighten the mood with soothing music played on a hi-fi stereo in the late evening. Don’t confuse it, we do put in long hours to manage the quantity of work.

Can you tell us about the technology stack used at Niki.ai?

We are making use of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML) techniques to train Niki to understand the user’s intent.

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Is there any technology that you’re personally betting on to help you scale up?

Deep Learning is one technology we are betting on – several companies have made use of this tech to build better products.

How are you using Business Intelligence and analytics at your company?

Analytics is at the core of the product – from understanding user engagement to predicting the product that a user is likely to buy. Even on basic feature selection, we use data analytics to tell us the feature we should or should not launch.

How else does technology help your company stand apart from its rivals?

While most of our competitors are man powered, occasionally facing the problems of resource deficit and scalability, we leverage on AI technology to outgrow those obstacles and focus on expanding our services. With the prime focus on providing ease & convenience in ordering to our growing user base, we’re improvising Niki.

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What has been the biggest technical challenge you’ve faced while running Niki.ai?

In the beta stage, we had tough time finalising on the architecture. Catering to vernacular languages has been a problem that we’re working on.

What are some of the attributes you look out for in prospective technology employees?

Employees who’re jack of all trades but a master of ‘one’ or ‘two’ sync well with startups.

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How do you keep up to date with the latest happenings in the technology world?

Techcrunch has been a valuable medium for the latest tech news. Apart from that, journals like Venturebeat, Wired, Entrepreneur etc. keep me on top of the tech stuff and scouting through Hackernews channels, reddit startups are some of my hobbies that helps me stay tuned.

What gets you excited about coming to work every day?

Experimenting & implementing an idea well thought off the last night makes me excited about coming to work. And, doing something of value that could potentially impact the lives of millions of people fills me with zest & drives passion to my day to day work.

What sets Niki.ai engineering culture apart?

At niki.ai, we believe in a great work-life balance. Apart from rigorous hackathon, we believe in fun trekking. Also, our engineering team works closely with users – next time if a user makes a call, it could be answered by someone from our dev team. Essentially, it is crucial for developers to understand user problems and stay connected with them to build solutions to real problems.

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Which Niki.ai value resonates best with you?

Taking ownership of what we do makes me feel good about it. The amiability of the team and deep caring for the customer interests are some of things that I like at niki.ai

Any piece of advice for the techies out there?

Before you build something, try to understand what a user wants. Customer centricity is the key to building a great product.

 

Here’s the link to the app: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.techbins.niki&referrer=utm_source%3Dniki%252F

 

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