Continuing with our In conversation… series, this time we decided to sit down with someone we all know as an ocean of knowledge when it comes to the product development of smart vending machines at Vendekin Technologies.
We got talking to the Vice President of Product, Mr. Ajit Nair, an expert in product management and network security, about his vision of making the retail vending experience a truly touchless and cashless experience that works seamlessly across a user’s multiple devices. We also spoke about his philosophy of innovation, product development and the future of vending and Vendekin!
How did it all start for you?
As a child, I was interested in building and repairing things at home. That's where the builder mindset kicked in for me. Over the years that builder mindset shifted to building products for
Telecommunication grade Signalling stacks to Billing and Charging stacks, handling millions of calls and billing data daily
Network Security stacks
Telecom Virtualization products and finally
Consumer Applications and SaaS Enterprise software
Subconsciously this builder mindset then shifted to a common thread, i.e every piece of work that was done did make a difference to those around me.
The difference could be in the form of helping people connect with their loved ones, creating systems where people could share their private information to access services without worrying about their data’s security, or even ensuring that a late hunger or craving could be fulfilled late in the night without having to rummage for cash through cashless and touchless smart vending machines.
The shift in mindset has also made me realise how to strategize about a product for the future and make decisions according to what a consumer would look for as a natural progression for the service. This forward-looking mindset has helped my love for building products grow alongside the intention of building a sustainable business. With Vendekin Technologies, the learning has not just been quick but also helped me grow as an individual. To be agile and resist making decisions based on gut, instead relying more on data received from the product and its users.
What technologies do you work with and what products have you developed so far?
The products I have developed so far include SS7 stacks (Signalling System for PSTN), telecommunications mediation product for billing and charging, network security stacks like SSL, IPSEC, EAP, IKE, PKI - Certificate Management, securing a popular gaming console, secure policy management (MAM, MDM) for mobile phones and consumer mobile applications and SaaS Enterprise software for unmanned retail.
What is your philosophy of innovation in product? Enhancing user experience or making operators' lives easier?
As a smart vending machine company in India, end-users and their aspirations are the central theme at Vendekin Technologies when it comes to creating products. This is a philosophy that emanates from Aroon Khatter (Founder and CEO), right down to the teams like product, marketing and sales.
To explain this philosophy further, let me give an example. We have around 30 million cabs in the world today providing services of moving people to move from one location to another. There are at least 10 major platforms bridging the gap between these commuters and cab service providers, such as OLA, UBER, GRAB, LYFT etc. Now imagine, there are around 100 million unattended retail kiosks but no one platform to connect consumers to these machines. That is the problem that the Vendekin’s product team is focused on solving. That of creating smart vending machines. The opportunity is immense with layers of complexity in solving it.
When Vendekin started off this journey, my philosophy was to just "dispense the product” and give the consumers an “untouched experience” with intelligent vending machines. Though the core philosophy still remains, the “untouched experience” has now become the main angle instead of merely vending.
As the unmanned retail industry grows in India, efficiency of operations and delight in the customer’s experience are becoming more and more important. Luckily, with some foresight, at Vendekin we have always believed in creating a mobile-first and platform-agnostic product.
Tell us a bit about your journey with Vendekin Technologies.
It all started on a rainy morning three and a half years ago. I was ending a long stint with a services-based company and was looking for a new challenge. I wasn’t quite sure how this would work out, as I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone, by working for an Indian startup for the first time.
Interaction with vending machines always brought out my worst! I could never get the product I wanted, never had the right cash, and here I was looking at the very same sector with no idea how the industry worked.
Somewhat naively, I believed that making consumer apps was child’s play and there was little that could go wrong. I thought that the ride would be as easy as riding a cycle for the first time. Little did I know that it would end up changing my perspective, with newfound respect for people who create consumer apps and the invisible systems that run behind the scenes for keeping a service active.
I got into Vendekin to manage the product with very clear instructions to get too bogged down by the technical side. The first challenge to work on with the product team, was to reduce the time spent by the consumer to view the value proposition offered by Vendekin from 25 seconds to 10 seconds. The realisation that it is much much harder than learning to cycle hit me quite early!
What was the first product you helped develop at Vendekin?
When I had joined Vendekin, the stage of the organisation, which was reflected within the product, was to find the right "Product-Market fit".
The idea validation and product thought process was to maximise the value proposition for the end-users with the limitations posed by the nature of the industry. This is a journey that every startup follows. The best part about this journey was the focused approach taken by the leadership, which sometimes meant saying NO to extra feature requirements from customers.
And what were the initial challenges faced?
The major challenges faced include:
Getting to a semblance of Product-Market fit
Creating a viable business model
Finding ways to reach out to early adopters and champions for the product on a limited marketing budget, since the unmanned retail sector was still at a pretty nascent stage in India then.
What does your team comprise of?
I lead a team of 15 brilliant professionals, working in departments like UI (User Interface), Consumer and Customer Mobile Apps, Microservices, Database, Business and Consumer Web App.
Together, we've created some of the products you might know as VCommerce, vNetra, the mobile consumer app for digital payments and automatic dispensation, the mobile customer cpp for business owners like vending machine owners and business operations and the “app-less” progressive web app for consumers, where no application download is required and no code customizable for business owners.
For me, smart, unmanned and automated retail points to consumers that are "untouched" by Vendekin's touchless experience.
Tell us about the Machine-agnostic solutions created by Vendekin
One of Vendekin’s solutions is the retrofit box (Retrobox), which is a plug and play device that works with any smart vending machine or old-school vending machine. It requires a one-touch configuration and provides device life-cycle management. This plug play device can be configured in less than five minutes!
How does Artificial Intelligence (AI) play a role in making Vendekin's vending machine solutions smart?
Vendekin uses AI for image recognition and route management to get efficient outcomes for the business operations (BOPs) team. AI in BOPs has a direct bearing on the consumer experience, which is where Vendekin’s vision and Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) align.
Can you explain the integration of cloud computing in connecting and managing Vendekin-powered machines?
We use Google Cloud Platform (GCP) to run our enterprise grade system. As we expand into other markets we do believe that GCP gives us the right platform to quickly scale up.
Vendekin has been a believer of a cloud-first approach for creating a platform for the unattended retail segment. As we progressively move to connect more of these unattended retail kiosks to our platform across geographies, product at scale on cloud gives us the right impetus for Vendekin’s growth.
What is next for the unmanned unattended retail sector?
Digitization has been making great strides in the last few years across multiple segments and unmanned retail has also been impacted by it.
The challenges that Vendekin foresees and plans to tackle are more focused on obtaining operational efficiency, dealing with expired products finding their way into vending machines, shifting the end-consumers' mindset to look at the unattended/unmanned retail segment as an integral part of their retail shopping experience, and nearshoring the store to the end-consumer. Finally, as more and more consumers are comfortable with using digital currency, it is now expected that any unmanned retail store should be cashless and accept digital currency.
Intrigued by the product journey of Vendekin Technologies? Your retail business or your existing vending business too can become a smart vending machine company. Drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or call +91 9555712713 to know more about the several ways that Vendekin Technologies can help your brand or business become future-ready.