This Indian startup wants to sell computers as a subscription service
Early last year, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Selligion Technologies co-founders Naman Chakraborty, Yoshita Sengupta, Joby John and Puneet Raheja observed how smartphones that initially promised to Closing the Covid learning gap for kids was far from the computer replacement they thought it would be. This led to the idea of developing “Praho”, a child-friendly, cloud-based computer that will be available on a monthly subscription basis before the end of the year, lowering the barrier of entry for consumers by subsidizing the cost. equipment.
“Indians might not pay for app but they have been paying for cable tv since 90s then they changed and did it for Tata sky”, COO Sengupta explains the model’s rationale subscription for Praho and why it might work in India. “I don’t think the subscription model is a problem in India as long as a service or product offers good value for money,” she said. indianexpress.com in an interview.
The consumer PC market is crowded, but the Mumbai-based startup is betting on a unique sales pitch it hopes will become a trailblazer and expand PC penetration, among the lowest in the world. The company will charge Rs 399 per month to allow people to subscribe to a computer. However, they would have to pay Rs 3600 in one-time payment as a deposit.
In the consumer electronics space, the subscription model is still new and something that many companies don’t. GoPro has tried the model and initial reception has been encouraging. But Sengupta thinks they’re solving a larger problem of “mainstreaming” PCs that hasn’t happened in India despite promises made by PC brands and chipmakers in the past.
It is fair to say that for many Indians, a smartphone is the default computing device due to the accessibility afforded by affordable mobile data plans and the falling cost of hardware. “People who have smartphones don’t have computers because they can’t afford them. Not because they don’t want it,” adds John, adding that price is the main barrier preventing an average Indian consumer from buying a PC.
The question of why PCs haven’t taken off like smartphones in India has gone unanswered for a decade now. Sengupta says smartphone boom since 2017 is due to Reliance [Jio] understood the price treatment of an average Indian from a budgeting perspective. “The problem here may be that the entry barrier is Rs 20,000 which may not work for a parent who has to choose between a guardian, school fees, bus fare and a uniform “, Sengupta said.
She hopes a monthly model where the customer can pay a one-time fee and get access to the computer is what’s needed to bring computers to the masses. “All we are doing right now, to start with, is lowering the entry barrier and the exit barrier to Rs 399,” she added.
Work on Praho began when Chakraborty created the first prototype of the device on cardboard after the second lockdown. The device’s current shape is triangular, and Sengupta says that might change when the PC begins to become commercially available. The computer measures 20 centimeters and weighs only 175 grams. Chakraborty wanted his first consumer computer to look different, which Jony Ive also did when designing the iMac G3, which was more of a statement with its translucent transparent plastic design. “We wanted to differentiate ourselves in terms of visibility; it’s literally like a shelf in a supermarket,” says Sengupta on why Praho has an unconventional design.
In the initial design phase, Chakraborty and his team worked on several prototypes and tried out different materials. “We drew the device by hand, cut it out of chipboard and made a version of it,” she says. But one parent’s comments were that the edges were too sharp for a child to handle the device and Sengupta admits not everyone liked it. The team was back on the drawing board, this time with the intention of making the device safe for children. The team then got a 3D printed prototype from Goregaon at a cost of Rs 4 lakh.
Sengupta and John are reluctant to disclose the processor that will power Praho due to the current shortage of semiconductors which has made it very difficult for companies to source chips at scale. Internally, the startup tested Praho with a Raspberry Pi, which is a great on-board computer board for education and prototyping. “Raspberry Pi had a supply chain issue, and they’re not very consistent with how much they make,” she explains, adding that the company is already testing the device with different manufacturers and vendors. single board computers (SBC).
On the software side, things get really interesting. “We tested two versions of Praho, one has a custom Linux OS in the local machine, which can work without internet. Then we wanted to see the reaction to Windows Cloud OS,” Sengupta reveals
But what does a cloud-based computer really mean? “Put in your phone number, receive an OTP, and get access to a Windows Cloud device,” she explains in simple terms. But John admits there are challenges for a CloudOS, which is a dual version of the cloud that relies solely on the internet, which could be a problem in a market like India. “A cloud service operating system is not what India or we want to build, first we want to make sure the device works, is easy to use and is not expensive…
The true cost of using a cloud-based computer versus a completely offline PC for a day is completely different,” he adds.
Sengupta and other co-founders of Selligion Technologies took on the challenge of designing and building a computer from scratch when there were hardly any local PC brands left in India.
“Getting into hardware is a capital-intensive business,” admits Sengupta, adding that it can be difficult to win over VCs and secure funding if you’re manufacturing hardware in India. “Construction equipment is not sexy from an investment point of view; it’s not very fast, in terms of scale that’s what they [VCs] believe,” she said.