Throughout his career, entrepreneur Vivek Dhir has demonstrated a consistent track record and instinct for recognizing the potential in nascent technology markets.
In the early 2000s, before mobile computing took off, Dhir established World Phone India Private Ltd. This company was an early leader in mobile value-added services, which are supplementary features or benefits that enhance a core product. Dhir’s team focused on unique offerings, such as an astrology hotline that granted users direct access to live readings from a network of over 500 astrologers.
Dhir’s experience with mobile value-added services taught him the intrinsic value of voice connections, a belief that has found resonance in his exploration of Alexa skills. When Alexa devices were introduced in India, he instantly recognized the opportunity to broaden the reach of his spiritual and faith-based products—particularly StarsTell, an e-commerce portal for online astrology consultation and remedial services.
Working with Alexa, Dhir and his team created an Alexa skill for StarsTell, which became the first official Alexa skill that supported the Hindi language. StarsTell quickly gained popularity among Indian audiences, and it now boasts 50,000 new users every day.
Recently, Dhir sat down with the Alexa team to share his unique perspective and insights about the voice technology space. He answers three questions about his experience building for Alexa, the success of StarsTell, and the exciting potential of ambient computing.
Why did you begin building with Alexa?
We have a lot of domain knowledge in this space because we had been making value-added services for mobile operators. As a big believer in voice-forward content, I was intrigued by the possibilities opened up by Alexa and ambient computing.
I have always been fascinated by technology—not for technology's sake, but by how it has the power to enable communications between people across diverse geographies. To try to deliver content to people in the most user-friendly manner, in a language of their choice, is something that we chose as a goal for ourselves. As the technology has progressed, we have tried to use whatever was available to make our products more user-friendly and easier to access.
Alexa fits right into our goals because its devices are getting good traction—I read earlier this year that there are over 500 million Alexa-enabled devices around the world. I think customers are responding to how Alexa makes it so easy and intuitive to get information, buy what they need for their households, or stay in touch with each other. I mean, all you have to do is talk to it, and it gives you what you’re looking for.
When we got started, the penetration of Alexa devices in Indian markets was understandably small—a far cry from the massive reach we see in India today. However, after a couple of meetings with the Amazon team, I saw that this was going to be big and told my technology team that this is something that we must do. We had deep expertise in content development and delivery. The Alexa team understood the Alexa environment very well, and it guided us on how we should go about navigating that environment. We delivered the skill in record time, and it worked right from the beginning. The rest is history.
What are some reasons that StarsTell has succeeded with customers?
The chants and mantras that we picked hold very deep cultural and spiritual significance in India. If you study Buddhism or Hinduism, you’ll find a lot of people have chants, scriptures, and an abundance of spiritual texts. It’s not just about the words, but the way they’ve been composed. They’re supposed to be said with certain music or in certain ways so that they produce a certain kind of vibration.
Because we’ve run live services for over two decades, we understand what the customer is looking for. Many people want to start their day with some kind of hymn or chant, and Alexa makes it so convenient for them. With the StarsTell skill, you can set a time every day so that your wake-up alarm is a certain chant.
We can also customize the content for different parts of the year. People invoke certain gods and goddesses at different times depending on their needs. Some festivals are related to certain aspects, like Diwali, which is the time when people worship the goddess of wealth.
So, we know that around Diwali, there'll be more consumption of the chants that are related to the goddess of wealth. During the exam season, there'll be more consumption of chants that are related to the goddess of knowledge. We can promote these chants and customize our skill accordingly.
What is your vision for the future of ambient computing?
This space is moving so fast. It's like you're constantly charting unknown territory. I would say change is the only constant; we have to look at how technologies around us are developing all the time.
Artificial intelligence has already come a long way. So has machine learning, the Internet of Things, and all the technologies that we thought of as "the future" a few years back. I think, going forward, computers are going to become more human.
For StarsTell, we plan to onboard more meditation and mindfulness techniques into the skill. With technology progressing, we can make them more personalized. Depending on what the user is looking for, we could use all kinds of artificial intelligence and customize the experience. As ambient computing evolves, we could get a lot done both in terms of the content itself, how it is delivered and consumed, the monetization opportunities enabled, and the corresponding unlocks for growing business and revenue.