What’s Up Zoko ? Y Combinator bets on Kerala startup helping brands to grow business on WhatsApp

WhatsApp, started 12 years ago, is a quintessential part of everyone’s daily life.

From good morning messages to jokes to important office discussions – all of them pretty much happen via WhatsApp.

There are numerous businesses out there who are managing sales, customer engagement and other interactions with the help of WhatsApp.

It was not long back that WhatsApp started this feature of WhatsApp business. But it has been a great feature and businesses have tried to make the best use of it in the last 3 years.

But it becomes really a tough task when as a business you start receiving all the communications related to Sales, Marketing, Customer support, other queries, etc. on WhatsApp. How to manage with one number or maybe with couple of numbers ?

In the Startup world, there are two things which determine the success. 1. the idea and 2. the timing. Yes, luck does play a part provided the above 2 parts fits in well.

Arjun V Paul from Kollam, Kerala the Co Founder and CEO of Zoko has come out with a solution for the Brands.

“It all started by helping my mom. My mom and friend’s wife had a home based business selling women’s fashion apparels on facebook. That time I had left my job in Switzerland and was back in India. I was wondering what to do next. ”

We had around 200k followers on their Facebook page. It was Aromal, friend of mine from school, the tech guy I reached out and started working on an API to solve the issues.

You can listen to the chat with Co Founder & CEO of Zoko, Arjun V Paul:-

It was really homecoming for me as I got the opportunity to interview Arjun, who was my batch mate at TKMCE. From practicing dance moves at his house, dancing together on the stage during engineering days to interviewing him now, it has indeed come full circle.

“Later when WhatsApp came out with their business API, we had already done some work on this segment and where prepared. So the timing was perfect for us and we could not have done this 3 years before. “

So we started by solving problems and ended up starting a company, Zoko.

Arjun and his co-founder of Zoko, Aromal build this platform at the start of 2018. In the last 3 years, they have added steady set of customers and the word of mouth has helped them grow. This gave them the confidence to apply for the renowned startup accelerator program Y Combinator. Customers do not have to move out of WhatsApp. All interactions related to Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, etc. can happen on WhatsApp, courtesy Zoko.

Zoko has been inducted into the YC 21 batch, got an investment of 1.4 Mn USD (10.2 Cr INR) and is part of the elite set of 353 startups which got selected this year. There are 43 startups from India this year and Zoko is one of them.

Y Combinator moto is to make something that people will want or use. So by keeping things simple, Zoko could show that customers are using their startup to enhance their businesses.

Arjun completed his schooling from Trinity Lyceum and Infant Jesus before joining TKM College of Engineering to study Civil Engineering. He passed out in 2003 and moved to the United States of America to complete his MS from University of Florida. Arjun worked in the Civil engineering sector for almost 13-14 years. It was then he decided to take a break and try something different.

Arjun applied to INSEAD and on a funny note, mentioned that he was not sure why he got selected. For Arjun, the startup bug caught him while doing his program in INSEAD. It was here he had the opportunity to meet lot of experienced people and got to think about a startup journey.

Zoko started as a bootstrapped startup. Once the platform was built they reached out to investors.

“We had two offers from investing groups. One was a proper VC who wanted a higher equity and another was small group of Angels from Kerala – Vinod & Anas , all engineers – who have been silently and efficiently investing in startups across Kerala, going out of their way to help startups here. They made us an offer for lesser amount of money for a lower stake, that was enough for us.”

It helped them to move from a 2 member team to 8 members. Currently this is the team managing the show.

The focus for Zoko is going to be Small and medium enterprises. The pricing model also looks affordable for SME clients as it starts from 1500 INR / 25 USD for interacting with 500 customers.

Zoko has completed their investment rounds just before getting their confirmation from Y Combinator. The current list of investors in addition to Hurun India, Y Combintor include Binny Bansal backed 021 Capital and angel investor Ryan Hoover.

Arjun also explained about the requisites and reasons why startups get selected to YC. You can listen to the above interview to learn more about that.

It looks like Zoko will help in bridging the gap for numerous brands to reach out to customers via WhatsApp.

“If chat is the channel you want to do business on then you would come to Zoko. We will work on WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, Apple iMessage and any chat platform, people will be able to message and we will be the default platform.”

Another important point mentioned by Arjun is about WhatsApp and the discussion happening aroung Signal. But as per the cohort retention , 90% of people who have downloaded WhatsApp are still using WhatsApp. This is a very high number and hence for now WhatsApp is going to be the key messaging platform for millions of users.

While talking about Startup ecosystem, Arjun added “I have set aside few hours every week to help or share knowledge with people who are planning to get in to startups. They can reach out to me and I will be happy to help them.”

Arjun keeps talking about failure and how it is important as a founder he keeps pushing himself to make sure that Zoko will be a successful Startup. He said “At the end of the day, it is all about solving customer problems.”

Hope to see Zoko scaling up and reaching greater heights in the coming years. Zoko has a great potential to become the Shopify for WhatsApp.

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This is a gist of how Zoko works:-

Listen to the interview on podcast: Spotify, Apple, Google