It has been slightly more than a year since YU, the sister brand of Micromax, which was targeted at value for money seeking Indian geek consumers, was launched. And while it was a year that saw both highs and lows, it is fair enough to state that by the time the dust settled on 2015, YU had made its presence felt in the Indian smartphone market. And who better to discuss YU’s first year than its co-founder and the person many consider to be the “face” of the brand, Rahul Sharma? The man has been a tad hard to find of late, not least because he married one of India’s leading actresses, Asin, in January, but we did manage to get him to answer our queries about YU’s first year on mail!

1. YU completed a year of existence. What are your thoughts on 2015?

Our first year has been pretty exciting! With just 4 phone models and a couple of accessories, we marked the year being the No. 1 online brand. YUREKA, our first smartphone became the most searched smartphone of the year as per the Google annual report. We announced our foray into software services with the launch of our ambitious project ‘Around YU,’ which has received phenomenal feedback from our consumers and media alike. Our first flagship – YUTOPIA became the first smartphone in the world to be integrated with Around YU- a suite of basic services to help the users organize most aspects of their daily life. The industry will have to follow this benchmark going forward.

2. The brand started out with a budget device in 2015 and by the end of the year had come out with a premium one, the Yutopia. Was this part of the plan from the very outset or was it something that emerged in the course of the year?

For the brand YU, we had a vision to make software services an integrated experience along with the mobile device. We announced our vision right at the launch of the brand last year in December 2014. We want to ensure that we provide great hardware through our devices and differentiate the experience by way of enabling those devices with services. Just after YUREKA, we had started the planning for YUTOPIA. Flagships do take time, you need to visualise the product many times in your head and then in your heart, before it goes into development stage.

We had been investing in a lot of brands and services that we believed had excellent product offerings such as Ixigo, Scandid and many others. We realize that a user spends a lot of his time with his mobile device and at various times of the day he or she may be looking for entertainment (music, video content), shopping, food, travel, etc. While doing that multiple apps need to be installed on the device and that leads a user to juggle between too much information. With Around Yu, we have smartly integrated most of these functions and have done backend tie–ups with the best in class providers in the category. It took us almost a year to recognize the right partners, the right services and off course the technical integration into the product.

3. Sticking to the Yutopia, it was driven by a very high profile social media campaign but things have been a bit quiet since its launch. How has the market responded to it? There were some complaints about the fingerprint scanner and buggy software.

We are a young brand and we have set out to achieve a lot in a very short span of time and we are proud of the fact that we are consistently testing deep waters. YUTOPIA is a global first attempt to come with integrated software services. We have received overwhelming response from our consumers for the smartphone. As a brand we have always believed in taking feedback from our fans and customize our products as per their needs and feedback. We immediately heard the feedback on some touch issues and our advantage is that we have a robust community to work with and we are always eagerly listening. We released an OTA update to fix the touch issue reported by our users and solve it with immediate effect.

4. What would you call the high point for YU in the year?

The high point for us was not one but many. To begin with – to have a phone that is the most searched according to Google from a company that is less than a year old was something that gave us real confidence. In just one year we have become the No. 1 online only smartphone brand. It is testimony to all the efforts that we had put in creating a brand that would be for the users and by the users. A brand that not only resonates technological prowess but brings alive the vision of a connected mobile ecosystem. We announced our foray into software services with the launch of our ambitious project ‘Around YU’- a suite services rolled into one discovery window for the users. Our flagship smartphone-YUTOPIA became the first smartphone in the world to be integrated with host of services to help the users organize most aspects of their daily life; making it the most innovative and powerful smartphone ever.

rahulsharma

5. And well, we are going to ask you to be brutal on yourself and also pick out the low point for the brand? Or to put it differently, if there was one thing you would change about 2015, what would it be?

We are a young brand and we like to raise the bar every single time, sometimes we did stumble a little and weren’t able to deliver everything we promised, however, having said that, we are working very hard – day in and day out to build better and better product experiences.

6. In a year, we have seen YU come out with phones, speakers, a printer, a fitness band, and software. That is a pretty diversified portfolio – any plans to add or subtract from it? Also, which of them do you really think represents YU?

If you look at each of the product – you will see how the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. The puzzle ends up building a mobile connected eco-system where while the mobile remains at the centre, the idea is to provide the customer the best experience that is there to provide. Currently, we are strongly looking into building our service offerings which we introduced with Around YU recently. The ability of a phone to articulate a person’s demands and act like one’s personal assistant is what we are trying to create.

7. We saw a lot of back and forth from the brand in 2015 – you started with Cyanogen, seemed to move to stock Android, went back to Cyanogen. Similarly, you started out as an online-only brand but now some of your devices are available offline too. Why did this happen?

The changes that we incorporated was all customer feedback. We are not a stiff brand and neither have the intention to say that we are always right. When our users told us that they wanted stock Android experience, we incorporated that. Some of our users felt a little ostracised and as a brand, you would want more and more people to come and join us. On your second point, again, our users told us that they wanted to touch and feel the phone before they bought it, and with our strategic partnership with Reliance, we made sure that our consumers would not be deprived of their demands.

8. You had said that YU would be releasing only 4-5 models per year. Is that something you plan to stick to or is an increase or decrease being considered?

We believe in reading the pulse of the netizens and working on devices as per the needs of the consumers. We may look at more devices, but the idea is to make lives of the people more convenient. Our services will be determined by the actual needs of our consumers.

9. Coming to the close: what do you think are the lessons you learnt in the market in 2015?

The year 2015 saw the Smartphone industry grow and introduce products that not only changed the user experience but enhanced it by many notches. Users are now demanding a powerful computing experience packaged well in the handheld device itself. We have seen launch of octa-cores, curved display smartphones, wearables and almost edge-to-edge display phones with great camera in the market. The future of mobile devices, however, is about to stretch a lot further than simply cramming a full-fledged computer into your pocket. The tech-savvy millennials are the new face of India. They are looking for smartphones that offer advanced functionality and an unparalleled experience which is customizable as per their taste and preference.

10. This is the obvious one: what can we expect from YU in this year?

We want to surprise you, always! Come with offerings that are interesting and act as an enabler. For YU, this year as well our focus will be in making services the main business while hardware or devices will be an enabler. Our recent investments also portray a clear picture of our focus on services and you will see many additions there. The time is not far when you will see us making all kinds of devices and services people use or may use or wear in daily life. We also expect more disruption in terms of both technology and pricing. We plan to make it bigger, better and grander this year.

When is the Yureka 2 coming out? Or wait, is there a Yureka 2?

You will have to wait for the news ☺


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Editorial Mentor

Nimish Dubey has been writing for more than a decade now (well, Windows 3.1 was around and Apple was on the verge of being finished when he started). He has been published in a number of publications including The Times of India, Mint, The Economic Times, Mid-Day and Femina on subjects that vary from tech write -ups to book reviews to music album round ups. He managed to interview Michael Schumacher once and write two books for young adults along the way.