Easing the marketing strain for hyperlocal businesses

Co-founder Abhijit Chaudhary talks about his startup Pickcel, a cloud-based digital signage platform, and a Hot 100: Race to Grace winner. By Pooja Paryani

Sometimes a simple meal between friends can be a turning point in a way you never thought possible. In 2014, Abhijit Chaudhary was having dinner with his friends at a new restaurant in Bangalore. Despite the food, service and ambience being good, the place was empty. So Abhijit struck up a conversation with the manager and discovered that since the place was new, not many people in the area knew about it; the information hadn’t spread through word of mouth. “This incident gave us the idea of bridging the gap between hyperlocal businesses and the locals they service through affordable advertisement,” explains Abhijit.

A few months later, Abhijit got together with his friends Rajesh Bhattacharjee, Basudev Saha, and Subrata Debnath and started Pickcel. The startup is an online (mobile/web) advertising marketplace for hyperlocal businesses. It provides easy, flexible and affordable advertising for small and medium businesses within their neighbourhood itself. Through Pickcel, advertisers are connected with publishers hosting public digital screens; Pickcel itself does not own any inventory.

The Pickcel co-founders have a background in technology. Abhijit, the CEO, has a Master’s in Computers from the Indian Institute of Science, and has done his Certification in Product Management, while Basudev is the VP of Engineering and Operations, and has a BTech in Electronics and Communications. Rajesh is VP of Sales and Marketing, and has an Engineering degree in Electronics and a Certification in Program Management, and Subrata, an Engineering graduate specialising in Computers, is the CTO.

How it works
The startup connects with salons, clinics, hotels, and restaurants that already have an established name in the area and regular customers. Pickcel helps them to transform their existing television sets into digital advertising and communication spaces. With Pickcel a new gym can showcase it’s ad on digital screens in salons, apartments and restaurants in the same locality. This gives new businesses a venue for advertisement that helps them grow. Those who are providing the digital advertising space can choose from three types of benefits. One, they can add their own small ad to the main creative; two, they can ask for a percentage of the revenue generated from a particular ad; and three, they can place their ad in another digital advertising space. “If a beauty product company wants to advertise, they can select salons in the area, upload their ad and Pickcel software will distribute the ad and start playing it on televisions in selected salons and later provide reports about the ad,” explains Abhijit. If the advertiser doesn’t have a video or creative for the ad, then Pickcel also helps them create it and use it for marketing.

Apart from advertisements, Pickcel also provides internal communication solutions to enterprises. “We do it for corporates, hospitals, education institutions, retail outlets and banks,” says Abhijit. “Corporates use their screens to send messages to their employees, like wishes during festivals/events, notifications/alerts, etc.”

The Pickcel platform is divided into three parts. Pickcel Cloud is the NodeJS based application server and is used for ad scheduling and generating report or analytics. Pickcel Editor is an HTML5/CSS based Editor used to create the content and play-list that will be put on the displays. And Pickcel Player is an Android App that plays content on any Android-based device as per schedule, and generates data for reporting and analytics.

As an ad aggregation platform, Pickcel’s USP is that it targets unique, local areas for advertising rather than the fatigued over-used areas. This helps hyperlocal business develop their brand, while still keeping things economical. Those looking to advertise come to the Pickcel platform to select the displays in their neighbourhood and create a Facebook-like ad campaign.

Revenue model
“Advertisers make monthly payments, while enterprises make quarterly payment,” says Abhijit. “The revenue reached breakeven point last year and we are now seeing a 14 per cent profit. Pickcel currently has 200 advertisers in Bangalore and more than 150 display locations. Advertisers include salons, movers and packers, boutiques, pre-schools, and enterprises like Hindustan Unilever, BigBazaar, Lakme and Uber.”

The way ahead
“We are currently present in Bangalore and Chennai but wish to have our presence felt pan-India,” says Abhijit. “Mumbai is the next city that we plan to head to, then Delhi and Pune. We are targeting to partner with digital out of home players to use Pickcel for campaign, inventory, and reporting management for their digital advertising space. We are tying up with popular mobile applications that are used in those cities, like M-Indicator, which is widely used in Mumbai. And we wish to push ads on those application, so that we rule the big as well as small screens.” 

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