An interview with the Startup Team of Touch’d

Pakistanis have made incredible innovations in the field of mobile apps, but maybe something was missing still. Touch’d lets to stay in touch with your most important friends and prioritize your life  online. It lets you choose a circle of friends to stay in touch with regularly, and then provides you with contextual notifications about the most opportune moments to reach out to them, e.g. when they experience a life event or when they’re in town. It has sophisticated algorithms that constantly rank your friends based on contextual and interaction signals, and reminds you of those friends in most need of reaching out to, twice a day, every day.

Here’s what its startup team, incubated at Founder Institute, Islamabad, had to say about its rockstar product:

  1. What made you choose this field? Were you passionate about it from the start or did you just had an epiphany?

It was a bit of both. It was a personal itch that I was scratching. I was looking for something similar for a while, to solve the difficulty I had in staying in touch with my friends and family, but I couldn’t find something that solved well. So I started chalking out a solution and once I started doing market research, it dawned on me that this was a big gap in the current solution, and the fact that it was useful for everyday people meant that it could potentially serve hundreds of millions of users. This was the “Eureka” moment for me, where I decided that Touch’d could be a billion dollar startup idea.

  1. What’s your business model? How do you plan to make/sustain revenue in the long-run?

Since Touch’d is solving a very real problem and it’s a genuine need for a lot of people who have large social networks and busy lives, we believe we can go the direct monetization route: offer a freemium product for everyone to use for free, but keep enough incentive for a fraction of power users, who would pay a subscription for high-value features and essentially subsidize the whole user base.

But that’s only the first revenue stream we would experiment with. Once we have a critical mass of users in any geographical location, we would be monetizing this as a ‘brand relationship’ platform, maintain users’ relationship with brands as well as brands relationships with their users.

The long term vision for Touch’d, however, is very different. We want to create a personal and professional graph that is better than Facebook and LinkedIn. So whereas they know who you’re connected to, we would know how well you’re connected to them and what’s their trust level and direction.

This has huge implications, e.g. letting users find people to recruit, befriend or ask a favor of, not just based on how many hops away they are, but by following the strongest relationship path to them (person A is in my inner circle, and person B is in person A’s inner circle). When you throw ‘reciprocal trust path’ into the mix (person A is in my inner circle and I’m in his, and person B is in person A’s inner circle and vice versa) and you get invaluable insights into how best you can leverage your circle of trust for tasks such as finding an ideal recruit, approaching an angel investor, getting a recommendation… the opportunities are endless.

  1. Who do you consider your competitors and how do you plan to beat the market? What’s your unique selling point?

It’s very difficult to identify competitors, given that we’re creating a new space, which we call ‘personal relationship management’. The only company that comes close to attempting to do what we’re doing is Accompany, and it’s still in beta after 2 years and after raising $20M. Our unique selling point is our conviction that no relationship is purely a business relationship. Essentially all relationships are relationships between people and that’s true even for inter-organizational relationships. The fundamental mistake that current incumbents make is by treating relationships as prospects and leads and not people. This works for certain purposes like CRM and sales pipeline management, but it leaves a very real gap of improving people’s relationships with high value contacts on a human level. Our metrics are not sales or leads or deal sizes, but joy, sorrow, friends and family so this gives Touch’d the mass consumer appeal that other platforms cannot hope to match.

  1. Have you valuated your company? What’s your current and expected market share?

A startup is only valued in monetary terms when they raise a round of external equity funding. Early stage startup valuation is as much an art as it’s a science (concretely it’s based on the estimated lifetime earning potential of a company), which is very hard to do at the growth stage.

To explain, I could value my company at half a million dollars or 10 million dollars at the same stage, and both would be right. However, once an external investor agrees to make an equity investment (as opposed to a convertible note or similar investments that don’t need a valuation to be agreed upon), that somewhat sets the current valuation of a company at that stage, and is used as a reference in a future round of funding, although many experts in the field including the president of YCominator Sam Altman, don’t give much stock to private equity valuations at any stage,

Since we started off with a friends and family pre-seed round, the agreed upon valuation is basically the amount of capital injected in the business which again is meaningless. Only after our first round of external funding would we be able to claim a valuation set by the market, no matter how meaningful or meaningless.

Our target addressable market is easily in the range of 500MM, so our current market share would be 0.00004%. Trying to calculate expected market share at the early growth stage is like fortune telling, so just to indulge, we’re aiming to capture one fifth of the market within 3-5 years.

  1. What’s your target market and why did you choose this market?

Our target market, as defined by our customer archetype, is composed of about 500MM users who:

  1. Are 18-44 years old,
  2. Are employed and/or frequent travelers and/or expatriates,
  3. Have large social networks (> 300 unique connections across phone, social media and real life) and
  4. Are smartphone owners

The market was chosen by the nature of the problem we’re solving. People below this age group (early and mid teens) live in their own bubble, and spend most of their time surrounded by the people they care about and are generally not socially responsible enough to care about their distant relatives or family friends and have no professional connections. The ideal customer is one who is living a busy live (employed / self employed) and has interactions with lots of people and needs technological assistance to stay in touch with key relationships.

  1. Do you think that Pakistan will have enough demand for this product/service in the next 5 years? If so, have you done any demand analysis?

Ours is a global audience, but even in Pakistan there’s a lot of internet connected professionals with smartphones. With the recent rollout of 3G/4G and steeply falling prices of Android smartphones, we can potentially garner tens of millions of users from Pakistan. Since our product went live, we have stopped relying on customer surveys and top-down market analysis, and are instead looking at our analytics and engagement numbers to gauge demand. We managed to get hundreds of users just from one Facebook post, and a good percentage of them are daily active users which validates our product / market fit. The next milestone is to grow the base to thousands of users, and our upcoming official launch in March is geared towards this goal.

  1. Do you think that your service/product will woo the investors? Can it bring international investment in Pakistan?

This is a tricky question to answer. The type of product we have, the local investors don’t have the stomach to back a product that needs to scale to millions of users to yield a reasonable return on investment, and something that would take 5-7 years to make a sizeable exit (acquisition / acqui-hire / IPO). On the flip-side, it’s hard to engage foreign investors while sitting in Pakistan, so we’re planning to set up shop in California once we prove enough traction in Pakistan, so that we can woo foreign investors to take a stake in the business.

  1. Muhammad Mansur, the Founder of Touch'd

    Muhammad Mansur, the Founder of Touch’d

    How do you plan to innovate? What is your five-year growth plan?

We’re already innovating by trying to create a new market / space. I’m not a big believer in five-year growth and financial plans, but our goal is to grow the product to have tens of millions of users within five years.

  1. How many team members are there at the moment? Are they fresh out of college/undergrads or are they experienced professionals? How do you plan to scale your team in the next 12 months?

Our team has a combined technical experience of over 25 years, and we have over 13 products under our belt. Our plans to scale the team would depend heavily on our fundraising in the next 6 months. Ideally, we would have a team of about 10 people including technical, creative and interaction design experts (WhatsApp had a team of 55 before being acquired by Facebook).

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