Shifu is a US-registered, India-based smartphone app that helps users make the most of both their time and their device. It has been downloaded thousands of times since it was launched in July 2013, and Russia is among the top-3 markets. Co-founder Prashant Singh talked to RusBase about the project and how it is spreading around the globe without spending a penny on advertising.
Where did the idea behind Shifu come from?
We are passionate about smartphones and the positive difference they can make in people’s lives. However, we were saddened by the fact that so many people couldn’t make the most of their devices. The latest Mary Meeker report found that a typical smartphone user looks at the smartphone screen more than 150 times a day. Many times, they don’t have a fixed idea what they want to do with the phone. We wanted to help people to use their smartphone effectively whenever they pick it up. To do that, a system needs to know its user and offered tailored recommendations. Shifu is just such a system - we like to call it your “trusted smart buddy who lives in your smartphone”.
Why should people download Shifu?
Shifu is a smartphone app that makes people more effective, helps them to get more things done and, in doing so, makes life more fulfilling. We realised that traditional To-Do list managers are too inflexible. Tasks are typically defined as “do this at this time”, so users have to adjust their lives to the tool. Instead, Shifu says “do this whenever I have free time”. So while a traditional To-Do list manager would say “Call Sasha at 12:30 on Monday 30th September”, Shifu would say “Call Sasha whenever I have 15 minutes on Monday”. Of course, most people have a multitude of tasks which they might want to do when they get a window of free time. So Shifu also tracks users’ context in order to suggest relevant tasks.
This way, Shifu users are able to spend their time doing things that really matter, and therefore live a more fulfilling life.
How does it work?
Shifu mines lots of information from your smartphone in order to make predictive recommendations. For example, Shifu looks at your call log and uses algorithms to find out which calls you are likely to want to return. It also calculates when you are most likely to be free, and at that time suggests that you make the call. When you are talking, you can also get Shifu to remind you to talk about a certain thing. It also allows you to create location-specific reminders, such as “buy deodorant”. Shifu then sends you a reminder when GPS indicates that you are near a shopping mall. These are just a few of the ways Shifu allows to to make better use of your time.
Your app is free! How do you plan to make money?
At the moment we are focussed on building our product, and have not given detailed thought to how to monetize it. However, we have previous is in monetizing mobile products. In my previous job I had a portfolio of 20 apps which got 53 million downloads worldwide, and we were able to monetize it exceptionally well. Once you have enough users, there are lots of ways of making money, like selling premium services or offering targeted recommendations.
How is your app doing in Russia? Are most of your downloads in Moscow? Have you done anything in particular to promote your app in Russia?
Can you tell us any interesting things you have learned from your data mining?
We spend a lot of time looking at how people use our product, and we've learned a lot. Here's just a few things -
Our "When I have 15 minutes, remind me to do this" reminder is popular everywhere, but what is interesting is that in Russia these reminders are often connected either to household tasks, like “do the laundry”, or fitness and health - “take a walk”, “workout” or “take medicine”. It seems that Russia is a very health conscious country.
We have also noticed that Russians particularly like to use location-specific reminders to coordinate meetings with friends/acquaintances when you happen to be in their part of town. These reminders are also popular in Brazil and India, but we have hardly seen them used in other parts of the world. So it seems like Russians are sociable!
A number of successful Valley-based companies started by Russians keep some parts of their company in Russia (e.g. R&D). How is your project divided between India and the Valley?
Our development and engineering is all done in India, but our project is registered in the US. We already spend a lot of time in the States, and that is only going to increase as the project grows. Much as I hate long haul flights, I guess I will have to live with it for some time.
What advice would you give to Russian startupers trying to go global?
One of our biggest mistakes was underestimating the extent to which users can be forgiving and helpful. When our users found bugs in their software, they helped us to fix the errors by doing the field testing themselves. With this in mind, we think that you should “release early”, “release often” and remember that “users are smarter than anyone else!”
Intrigued? You can download Shifu for free from Google's Play store. Unfortunately for iOS users, as the app depends on information that Apple doesn't make public, it is likely to only be available on Android for the foreseeable future.
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