Startup Saturday: Protecting brand value through AI, algorithms

Even as India is growing in the startup sector, our many challenge is to ensure that startups are scalable and sustainable
(From L-R) Yogesh Miharia, Nitin Gupta, Abhishek Agrawal at their office in Baner on Friday.(Sanket Wankhade/HT PHOTO)
(From L-R) Yogesh Miharia, Nitin Gupta, Abhishek Agrawal at their office in Baner on Friday.(Sanket Wankhade/HT PHOTO)
Updated on Jul 28, 2018 04:54 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Pune | ByNamita Shibad

It is easy to get waylaid by your idea, to get so blinded by it, that you cannot see the ground realities. Especially if you are a start up, chances are you will get so fascinated and absorbed by your solution, that it is almost impossible to change it. But not so with NeuroTags, a startup that was set up in January 2017.

Nitin Gupta, Yogesh Mihariya and Abhishek Agarwal, co-founders of NeuroTags were watching a documentary on the counterfeit industry. Says Nitin, “The film-maker showed how she made a mistake while purchasing medicines. The chemist asked her to pick out the right pack after showing her three similar packs of the same medicine. She made two choices and she was wrong both the times. This set us thinking, why can’t we find a reliable solution to this?”

NeuroTags born

The trio, who have worked in the Bay area for 18 years in the IT industry, decided to find a solution.

Says Nitin, “The current solutions are holograms and radio-frequency identification (RFID). Both these technologies could easily be replicated, defeating the purpose of counterfeit prevention.” And what was born after much brainstorming and experiments was NeuroTags. “This is a digital solution to the problem and it cannot be replicated,” adds Nitin.The reason is that the tags are double layered and digital.

“If you choose to buy the product, there will be another tag on the product itself. These tags can be printed on the packaging, stuck on it and embossed on the product itself. So when a person buys say a radiator from Maruti Suzuki, first the packaging will provide him with details and then upon purchase the embossing on the product will certify it.” What these tags do is not only let a buyer know that the product s genuine, but also lets the seller know who is buying what and from where.There is a lot of back end work. When you scan the package or the product you are directed to a webpage. Seems simple but we have a lot of algorithms that help our server to verify the product. Artificial intelligence is also used. Then if you purchase it, the system will note it down. The product can be purchased only once. The tag on the product can be accessed only upon purchase.”

Automated solution

So there are zillions of products, in fact a car has over a 100 components, how do they provide a tag for each? Says Nitin, “We work with the manufacturer on the assembly line itself. Ours is an automated solution. Our machines can print directly while on the assembly line, we have laser engravers that can emboss the code on the product. These printers, embossers are connected to our servers which send the signals on what to print and these codes are then stored on a cloud.”

After more than a year of trials, NeuroTags was ready to be launched in the market. But the founders slowly realised that markets see things differently. NeuroTags had to tweak the product and expand the scope for the benefit of customers like Syska, makers of LED bulbs and accessories.

“If our clients wanted us to do more we would. This meant more work, more staff. Like all startups, hiring good engineers was quite a task. We are now a team of 16 people. To ensure that we get talented guys, we devised a written test. Only if they passed this written test do our engineers go on to the three rounds of technical interviews, after which they are selected.”

But the problem of higher pay and better prospects from large multinational companies is always there.

More than just tags

NeuroTags went on to acquire more clients, since its launch in January in 2017, but every time there was a demand for more than just the tags.

As they ventured out to get more customers, they were faced with different demands. From warranties, to product info to marketing tools. So far they have tagged 2.5 million products for about six different clients. “We’ve come to realize that customers want more than just an anti counterfeit tool. Since our tags can let the manufacturer know who is purchasing what and exactly where, this becomes a lot of data that can then be analysed by them. As of now they have to wait for months for this kind of info. Their dealers will collate data and then send to them. With our tags it is immediate. All these data points are a valuable source for them. We aim to become like a Google analytical tool for marketers.”

The counterfeiting industry is really big. Though Nitin does not want to reveal their turnover, he says they charge according to scale.

“For a small manufacturer we charge between Rs 1.5 to Rs 10 lakh per annum. For large manufacturers, it can go up to Rs 15 to Rs 25 lakh per annum,”he says.

According to a U.S. study, “$ 1.6 trillion worth of goods are manufactured by the counterfeit industry. By 2023 this industry is estimated to grow to $ 4.2 trillion. Currently companies are spending $2.4 billion to try to solve this problem. But their solutions of RFID and holograms are not working as that too can be counterfeited.” Understanding the value they bring to manufacturers battling with counterfeit goods, NeuroTags has reached out to the overseas market.

Overseas ventures require big money. The company so far has utilized Rs 1.5 crore of the founders’ money. “We are looking for funding. But we want to tie up with people who will be able to not just give us the money but also open more customers’ doors for us. We are in talks with a very large packaging manufacturer in Mumbai who has shown a keen interest in our product. They

, we have realized can play a big role in promoting our tags. Many a time manufacturers rely on them for their product safety. And our tags fit in perfectly there.” Smart. And adaptable. Looks like NeuroTags has the right ingredients to sail forth.

Failures should not be a deterrent

Starting one’s own start up is a very big responsibility and during this journey failures need to be taken as a stepping stone and should not be a deterrent, said founders of various start ups.

The founders shared their journey as an entrepreneur during the Biotech Ignition Grant (BIG) conclave being hosted by Venture Center on July 27. The conclave is being held in the city for two days and was inaugurated on Friday.

Speaking on the occasion, Sunil Bhaskaran, managing director, Indus Biotech said, “Becoming an entrepreneur is like taking up a huge responsibility. For entrepreneurs capital is a huge issue. Hence efforts must be made agglomerate initial capital.”

“When I decided to leave my job and become an entrepreneur, my primary challenge was to maintain my family income. I wanted to get into a startup related to chronic disease management which I finally achieved through Indus Biotech,” he added.

Bhaskaran said that during his journey as an entrepreneur he has learnt that every failure must be treated as a feedback and one must learn from it.

Another entrepreneur, Deepa Bhajekar, MD D Technology said, “It must be understood that entrepreneurs need immense passion, dedication, hard work and the ability to sustain highs and lows.”

She added that what entrepreneurs need is not money but a strong gut and instinct to start a venture. “The power of mind is very important and one must have confidence on oneself” said Bhajekar.

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