I hate queues. I think most of us do. In fact, I just survived one a few days ago – that picture on top is of the queue I was in, just to renew my passport in Pune, India.
Daljit Singh, 72, in the same queue complained, “They don’t even have a separate line for senior citizens.” This was the second time he had to come to the passport office, merely to submit a document which was required. There is even a term for the slow aggravation one suppresses when we have to submit to such mindless waste of time and energy; it’s called “queue rage”!
Queues are an everyday reality for most citizens of India. They hark back to the pre-80s socialist era. An era epitomized by queues to get a telephone connection, or to buy a car, the years it took to get them. The gratingly detached voice intoning in your exasperated ear “aap katar mein hai (you are in the queue)” when you made a trunk call, after finally getting a phone. The brutally long lines at railway reservation counters, plodding lines through kafkaesque labyrinths of government offices, lines at banks, at cinema halls, to get a refill of your gas cylinder, you name it! And, though things have improved somewhat these days, queues to access various services continue to be a bugbear for most of us.
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Of all the hated queues, the ones at the doctor’s clinic have to be the most vexatious. On top of being sick, there you are stuck in what seems an interminable wait, just to meet your doctor, often despite prior appointment.
Exasperation fathers innovation
In fact, it was the exasperation of waiting at doctors’ clinics that was the reason for Shachin Bharadwaj coming up with “See Me In No Queue”, or the Sminq app.
Shachin, who is the CEO and co-founder of Sminq, explains: “When my wife was pregnant, we had to go to the gynec for monthly check-ups. Invariably, she used to feel hungry while we waited at the clinic. So we wanted to go out and grab a bite and come back in.”
But when Shachin and his wife asked the receptionist if she would inform them when their turn was due, so that they could come back in time, the reply they got was: “Can I call 50 people when each one’s turn comes?”
To be fair, clinics and hospitals are overloaded in India because of a shortage of doctors.
It took his mind back to a similar experience while he was at his earlier startup Tastykhana, which got acquired by Foodpanda a couple of years ago. There he had met Niket Kadde, who had wanted to develop a queue system on the phone after experiencing the lines when his mother had to go to hospital.
So, about a year after selling their startup, the three Tastykhana co-founders – Shachin, Santhosh N, and Sheldon Dsouza – joined hands with Niket to start Sminq. Earlier this year, it raised a seed round of US$1 million from Saama Capital and Blume Ventures.
In a nutshell, Sminq eliminates physical queues by making them virtual. You get real time information about your queue status on your mobile. Therefore, you no longer have to wait interminably at any queue just to hang on to your spot. Hence, you could do other stuff, while Sminq handles your queue status, and be just in time for your service when the app alerts you. Plus, you can join your queue from anywhere, via the app.
When I tried out the app on my phone, I found it fast and simple to use. On registering, you get a list of doctors and clinics, their addresses and specialties, and available time slots. You get a token number if you join a virtual queue. You have the option to cancel or reschedule. And to overcome Internet issues, you also get your queue status via SMS.
The one vertical that affects people the most
Sminq currently manages queues only for doctors and clinics. I wondered why it hadn’t been enabled for other uses.
“When we started we did a pilot across multiple verticals. For example, Sminq can work in Ganapati pandals too,” agrees Shachin. (Ganapati, or Ganesha, is a revered elephant-headed Hindu god. During the 10-day festival honoring him, people throng to the pandals, or temporary structures, set up to house idols of the god.)
Banks, food courts at malls, admission time at schools and colleges, sports stadiums, events – there are innumerable places where Sminq could be used. “But we decided, let’s take the one vertical that really affects people – the medical sector,” says Shachin.
However, expanding to other verticals and cities is also on the cards, by early next year. “Maybe to Mumbai next,” says Shachin, “because of the geographical proximity to Pune. We want to get our base strong here, get the processes and systems completely in place, then expand to other cities.”
The biggest challenge lies in getting doctors and receptionists used to the idea of using it. Currently, 67 doctors have signed up on Sminq. The unique users who have used the app number 120,000 plus, so far. And the remote bookings per month are 10,000 plus, says Shachin.
Sminq has two apps, one for users, which is free, the other for vendors, for which they are charged to use Sminq’s services. Currently, the app is available on Android, though availability on iOS, and other channels, is in the works.
I decided I would check out with my friends and neighbors what they thought of the app.
Umesh Gite’s eyes widened with interest immediately as the potential of the app struck him. “Are our locality doctors on it?”
“Good point,” I said. “In fact, if you don’t see your doctor on the list, there is an option on the app where you can suggest a doctor.”
As Shachin had told me, “We would like to get information from the users also. Since it’s a new concept for doctors also, it’s a better validation if a patient actually tells their doctor about it… Actually, all our doctors till date have come through references.” So now they are getting onboarded doctors referring them, along with patients who have liked Sminq’s service.
Rashmi Mullick, a neighbor, says she will tell her doctor about it. “The doctor I go to for my diabetes has a huge waiting crowd. It usually takes 3 to 4 hours of wait. There’s nothing you can do about it, because he is very good and so he is in great demand. This app would be perfect for him.”
Aniket Aghaw, 33, a father of two young children, had an interesting query as he downloaded Sminq on his phone, “What if people are unable to use their mobiles, how do they get alerts if they book a time with their doctor?” He explained that in his wife’s office they have to put their phones away in their lockers while at work. He suggests that there should also be email alerts.
Shachin replied: “The phones locked away in lockers is a good feedback, we shall consider sending email alerts also in future updates.”
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Healthcare apps like Practo and Lybrate also enable booking appointments with doctors, but Sminq focuses on queues and availability of doctors, which makes it easier to use. Besides, it will soon be extended to queues in other domains.
Bangalore startup Lucep, whose main business is artificial intelligence for sales, also has a system called VirtuaQ for enterprises to help their customers avoid the hassles of queues. It’s not a separate app and integrates directly into the apps of enterprise clients. Lucep CEO and co-founder Kaiesh Vohra tells Tech in Asia that it will soon be activated on the cloud for smaller companies to use as well.
If you see a line anywhere, people queuing to access any service, it is evidence of inefficiency. It is a manifestation of an obsolete, pre-technology era. That’s what Sminq and Lucep want to change.
India has become the second largest smartphone market in the world. Exceeding 220 million users, India has surpassed the US, and yet it is still under served and continues to grow, according to Counterpoint Research. Tech-based apps like Sminq can tap this burgeoning smartphone user base to solve inefficient ways of doing things.
This article originally appeared on Tech in Asia.
Courtesy : Express Tribune