India is a land of rich cultural heritage. From the mystical stone carvings of Ajanta and Ellora to the majestic architectural splendours like the Taj Mahal, India has been bestowed upon with many exquisite heritage monuments. However, quality access to these heritage sites is unavailable for all; thanks to government disregard and lack of facilities like trained guides.
Tourists normally end up at the mercy of touts, posing as guides, who have converted these places into money minting machines. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is Gautam Shewakramani’s Audio Compass, a company that aims to make our heritage accessible to all through the use of audio guides.
Confluence of technology and entrepreneurial mind can create innovative products, and that’s what happened at Audio Compass, a company that makes standalone audio guides and tour apps for smart phones. While at MIT Sloan, for his MBA; Gautam was paired with a professor who had created a location based software for indoors use. He ended up testing the product in the tourism industry and thus were sown the seeds of Audio Compass. Today the company has audio tours for the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Mumbai (Heritage district and Bollywood homes), Khajuraho, Sanchi and the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad
Tours for Mumbaikars
For Mumbaikars Audio Compass has two exciting audio tours, the Mumbai Heritage District Walking Tour and the Bollywood Star Homes tour. The heritage district audio tour is unique thanks to its style of story-telling which has two characters taking you through two different eras of the city. “There are many layers of history in Mumbai, but they are largely ignored by tourists. This tour helps the tourists to unearth those layers,” says Gautam.
Bollywood being an integral part of the charm of Bollywood it was imperative for Audio Compass to make an audio tour for Bollywood fans. This tour takes you on a journey that begins at the iconic Mehboob Studio, through the Bandra, Pali Hill and ending near Jalsa, the home of Amitabh Bachchan.
The sheer scale of foot-falls that these monuments receive is unprecedented, and proved quite a challenge for his team! “Designing a product for such volumes was a task no company had undertaken before,” exclaims Gautam. Managing the entire project remotely from Mumbai was another monumental task, both from the point of view of processes and financial auditing.
Building technical expertise and knowledge were the other significant challenges that the start-up faced. A typical audio tour takes anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks to complete and out this almost 70% of the time goes on the script. “Getting the right tone, the right voice, and getting the facts right is important,” explains Gautam.
Audio Compass has an employee strength of 23, most of who are present on-site. Gautam’s partner Chhavi Sachdev helps him out on the creative side of the business. Chhavi, who holds an MS in Journalism from North-eastern University, is an experienced multimedia journalist with extensive experience in radio.
“She works on the script, selects the writer, supervises them and ensures that the script turns out polished,” says Gautam. The scripts, once ready, are tested at the venue by conducting walk through and reading aloud. Sometimes friends and family members are roped in to help test the script. “Focus groups are prohibitively expensive for a company of our size” he says.
Innovation Is The Name Of The Game
Being an innovative start-up Audio Compass is constantly looking to evolve. They started out tying up with monuments first and then developing an audio tour for it. However they soon realized that they need not be present at the site to sell their product. “Now we make the product, distribute it on mobile and then we approach the sites for a tie-up,” he says. The same innovation can also be seen on the marketing front; recently they tied up with an influential tweeter @cyclingsultan who tweeted the entire walk through of their Agra fort audio tour. You can read the complete tweet-walk here – http://bit.ly/12jOSRn
Future expansion at Audio Compass is happening through new tours and new distribution mediums. They are particularly keen on the mobile platform and are working towards creating numerous mobile only tours. A new app is being developed and should be out in the market in 3-4 months, the plan being to replace multiple apps with a single one providing access to all tour content.
On the distribution front, they are adding ‘Culture Calls’, a product which provides users access to audio tours over a phone call. “Culture Calls is our way of democratizing our heritage, making our culture accessible to a lot of people,” explains Gautam. The calls are priced at an introductory rate of Rs. 10, much cheaper compared to the Rs. 100 for the mobile apps.
So Mumbaikars, dive into your city’s history and discover interesting facts about your city through these apps and don’t forgeet to tell us what you think of them! Happy touring!