Ritesh Bhatnagar on building a secure online community with AI & ML

In this Research NXT Interview, Ritesh Bhatnagar, the Chief Marketing Officer at U2opia Mobile/WOO and Business Head Content and Ad-Tech platform talks about his journey from being an advertiser to a salesperson to currently being a new age marketer and P&L owner.

He also shares how WOO – a leading dating app is building the largest platform with a user base of around 10 Million and growing for young Indians to connect socially and romantically at a very intellectual level

Key takeaways from this Research NXT interview:

  • Importance of building a user community on the premise of trust, privacy, and security for platform continuity.
  • How Ritesh feels that AI is more of a strategy than a solution and why.
  • Emerging trends in AI-led personalization and what every marketer should be aware of.

Here are some extracts from the insightful conversation we had with Ritesh Bhatnagar.

Could you tell us a little about your background and how you came to be the CMO at U2opia Mobile and its Apps?

Ritesh: I have been a brand and marketing strategist for more than two decades now. I started with advertising, moved to a conventional marketing role, and even was in sales for almost two years. So, it’s an advantage and also an accomplishment that I have a great combination of traditional and new-age marketing and business experience.

U2opia Mobile is a Singapore-India based mobile technology company. The company has a diversified portfolio of consumer and enterprise products in more than 70 countries.

  • Dating: Woo is a leading dating app in India and for Indian diaspora globally, with over ten million-plus subscribers.
  • Gaming: Hypr Games is India’s first indigenous high-quality social gaming portfolio, along with a distribution and publishing platform. Exclusive partners to One animation and Go Games to bring Oddbods Turbo Run Game to India.
  • Content: Mr. Phone is a video content platform on Technology.
  • Telco-Tech:  Our B2B leg, A Digital Lifestyle platform, has operations in 70 countries, with 120 telecom operators. Our products like Chatezee, SportsMoby, FanMoby, Bid & Win, Gaming Players’ league, Reycreo, and Spin N Win reach billions across the globe.
  • Fantasy Sports: Fanmojo is the fastest growing fantasy sports platform, with over 5 Million users in India. Fanmojo covers Cricket, Football, and Kabbadi and available in multiple countries.
  • Ad-Tech: SupremeDM is a global digital marketing platform with deep expertise in reward marketing, affiliate marketing, offering an exclusive and unique inventory with products like Cashbuddy. Cashbuddy is a shopping and offer platform with a presence in India and Indonesia.

Currently, as Chief Marketing Officer – U2opia Mobile/Woo, I am responsible for marketing, brand management, and growth strategies internationally. I am also the business and P&L owner for the entire AdTech and the content platform.

At Utopia Mobile, our personalization strategy is derived from the fact that every platform has its specific need, its own messaging, and unique consumer categories.

 Since U2opia Mobile on its B2C side of the business has multiple apps right from dating to gaming, it is evident that the end-users are vastly different in each case. How do you ensure your brand delivers personalized experience across channels and user categories?

Ritesh: As a CMO, this is precisely where my job becomes enjoyable. As you would agree, marketing has shaped up to be more performance-based and ROI driven. And to ensure this, our aim has always been to understand the customer segments and position our platforms based on insights. At WOO, for example, we are building the largest platform for young Indians to connect socially and romantically. At present, we have a base of around 10 Million subscribers and growing. We believe that technology, layered with the right human insight, has immense power to remove barriers and help connect people and create the magic.

In terms of categorization, at WOO, we have identified that most of our users are the migrant population moving to different metro cities in search of jobs or education. A dating app like WOO becomes a catalyst for them to form new connections and socialize in a completely new environment. However, with this change comes more unique challenges of culture, privacy, and the need for security and reliability, particularly in the Indian context. Being a country where the male to female ratio is not equal (Indian Dating industry figures suggests that it is 80% males to 20% females), and hence, females often feel overwhelmed compared to a western world where online dating is commonplace.

-WOO caters to a much-matured audience in the age group of 24 to 35 years and positioned as the app for more meaningful relationships that helps you meet like-minded people. WOO was never created for casual or frivolous dating

– Secondly, Woo is driven by a woman-first approach, and the idea is to provide an excellent platform for them to meet their respective matches in a safe environment. We categorically made sure that the app was customized for the female audience specifically. This strategy was enforced after much primary research on the Indian user base where we identified that for a dating app and more for a female user, privacy and security is the primary differentiating factor.

– Thirdly, we also ensure that the female users could comfortably rely on the conversations they were exchanging. Thus, we have developed many female-centric features in the WOO app like WOO phone, Woo hide, Woo secure, Woo globe, etc.

E.g., The WOO Phone feature enables women to call their matched profiles from within the app without revealing their phone numbers, and inversely, the male counterpart cannot call them back, giving the female users tremendous security and empowerment till they authenticate the conversation and wishes to share their details.

– We also have another feature, i.e., Woo Hide, through which female-users can browse profiles in ‘incognito’ mode until they are ready to match with a potential profile and connect personally.

These are some of the things that we have been able to achieve over the years which compliments to our positioning because at the end of the day the user community needs to trust the platform for continuity.

However, when we look at the fantasy or the gaming app, we cater to a separate set of audience. These are users who are predominantly the much younger generation, like the college-going teenagers. They are in the app to indulge in online games and earn quick money to satisfy their instant desires of socializing. Out here, the messaging and content are much different as compared to the WOO app, which is predominantly English. The fantasy gaming app has a user base across the regional geographies in addition to the metros. So, our primary mode of communication is Hinglish here.

Looking at the demand for regional content, we have launched a Hindi YouTube channel for our content platform- Mr. Phone, that already has close to 80K subscribers. We plan to launch other regional language content in the coming months.

Hence, our personalization strategy is derived from the fact that every platform has its specific need, its own messaging, and unique consumer categories.

AI is more of a strategy and not a solution that needs to have measurable goals, and accordingly, the marketing tech stack systems need to be created.

What’s your take on the use of AI and ML by Indian marketers, and how it is done at Utopia. Please share some use cases.

Ritesh: In my opinion, though Indian marketers are using multiple facets of digital marketing and leveraging customer data, they still are not well onboarded with AI on an extensive scale. AI is already disrupting the core functions like Ad targeting, media buying, content creation, propensity modeling, and so on. However, I feel AI is more of a strategy and not a solution. AI is a strategy that needs to have measurable goals, and accordingly, the marketing tech stack systems need to be created. However, to achieve success with AI, all organizational departments will need to work in tandem. AI cannot work in silos.

One AI use case with WOO is that we use technology to vet user inclusion on the app since the community itself is built on trust. At WOO, we use the Amazon Recognition engine for face detection for ensuring the users on the app are genuine people. This resulted in our user onboarding drop-off rate to reduce by 30%.

Additionally, we also have a user quality scoring mechanism based on interaction feedback from other users. Hence, with AI, we now have a quality platform that is based on data and authentication metrics. We plan to work with Amazon Lex through its proprietary NLP functions to ensure that the communication across the WOO app is healthy.

Predictive analytics, anomaly detection, ML for cybersecurity, and app experience are the few trends that every marketer should work towards.

How do you see the Indian market shaping up with the use of AI-led personalization, what are the emerging trends?

Ritesh: In my opinion, there are a few trends that every marketer should be aware of. They are:

  1. Predictive Analytics: Marketers in any segment should follow and imbibe the possibilities of using past and present data to anticipate the oncoming roadmap.
  2. Anomaly Detection: Very linked to predictive analytics is this possibility of anomaly detection based on the analysis of all the existing data. This will help them prepare and counter unforeseen market changes and probably create stickiness campaigns around the anomalies.
  3. Machine Learning for Security: This is one significant trend. ML is driving cybersecurity big time, and marketers should leverage it for the privacy aspects of their users across platforms.
  4. More User-Friendly AI platforms: The ability to instinctively use the platform without any prior knowledge is the way towards ensuring maximum adoption of any app.
  5. AI for productivity and work balance.

Now that the coronavirus outbreak disrupted normalcy, do you see that signups on platforms like WOO are increasing? If so, how are you dealing with it in terms of retaining them even after?

Ritesh: For us, in the COVID-19 lockdown scenario, the two platforms that have seen a surge in usage are the dating app WOO and the gaming app Hypr. Both these platforms have grown at a rate of 20% to 30% organically. However, we, as an organization, will need to maintain the growth even after the lockdown ends. We have some customized features like the Woo calling, Woo Hide, and Woo Globe. Woo calling allows women to call from the app without revealing their phone number. In this lockdown period, this feature usage has gone up by 30%. We need to ensure that we keep engaging our customers with customized solutions and keep innovating and be relevant to the times.

Keeping in mind the current scenario, we have integrated games to our shopping and offer platform – Cashbuddy to entice, engage, and retain users. We have changed our entire strategy on our technology content platform. YouTube videos have become more innovative and relevant as per the current trends. We hope to keep our business growing in these testing times by being consistent, creative, and opportunistic.