Kochi: When they started it all, Kerala was nowhere near the startup buzz it boasts of now. AI was a hot topic only among the IT elites. Ten years down the lane, the south Indian state is emerging as a startup hotspot and AI is an entry in the Oxford dictionary. And, Riafy Technologies – a startup co-founded by six youths based in Kochi – is a true representative of the two trends that the past one decade shaped up. 

The six friends – four of them studied together in school and four in colleges – started their own venture in 2013 soon after they completed their bachelor’s in engineering. Their only investment was their passion for tech and the excitement about a college project – a crude form of AI application — which appeared to have some potential. It was a tool which could identify common factors shared by objects or entities not directly related to each other. It was developed with the intention to make a college quiz a little more exciting. 

The six boys had a Sputnik moment when they tried to get patent for their technology. From the patent office in Chennai, they learned that a similar technology was already being used by tech giants Apple, Google and Microsoft. They were excited to find themselves among the big league, but it was also a challenge. They had to find new ways to move forward.

‘Riafy’ is an anagram of ‘fairy’ — the co-founders share a common interest in fairy tales and imagination. However, the real story of Riafy started as they got the much-needed advice from a US expert who visited the Maker Village campus in Kalamassery. He told the youngsters about the need to put their technology into a product to get it validated. None of the six co-founders came from any business background. 

John Mathew is the company’s CEO while Neeraj Manoharan is the COO. The other co-founders are Sreenath K V (CTO), Benny Xavier (CIO), Joseph Babu (CMO) and Benoy Joseph (CFO).

Riafy has around 60 members in its team. Photo: Special arrangement

“Our first passion was to take our technology to the world. We were not bothered about other things. However, we had also by then realised the need to make money as we started our venture ignoring the job offers we had,” Joseph Babu, the CMO, recollected the initial days of Riafy. 

The startup then turned to app-making. Riafy hit the market with its flagship product Cookbook, a recipe app which became a hit all over the world. The startup then became the first Indian developer to be featured at Google I/O consecutively for five years from 2015.

Riafy started making revenue from its Cookbook ads and the company decided to introduce its product in Indian vernaculars, eyeing more consumers and more money. However, the algorithm failed them, serving them a hard lesson in business. However, they bounced back soon by pivoting their business model. They shifted to in-app purchase model. Still, a major share of the company’s revenues come from the app, according to the co-founders. However, Riafy has grown much beyond an app-maker.

In 2020, Riafy partnered with Federal Bank by creating Feddy, the Aluva-based bank’s omni-channel present AI-enabled banking assistant. The startup is currently associated with five banks, an aviation major and a premium carmaker by providing them its AI products. Riafy is also recognised as one of Google’s Developer Partners. It is Google’s only generative AI partner from India.

Team Riafy during an outing. Photo: Special arrangement

Riafy’s major business model has now been shifted to product licensing. It charges an installation cost and a monthly licence fee for its AI products. 

When it comes to its B2B services, the startup is confident of its early bird advantages. “All industries are now looking to adapt to AI. To finetune any such service, customer data is needed but companies don’t often want to share it. At Riafy, we don’t client company’s user data because we already have our own data set. We can also implement projects fast. We are also confident about building ethically rounded AI systems, sticking to the clients’ requirements,” Babu said. 

Riafy, despite being in the startup ecosystem for a decade now, has not taken any external investments yet. “We don’t have any aversion to investments, but we are trying to reach the next stage on our own,” Babu said.

(Startup Saturday is Onmanorama’s weekend series featuring promising startups from Kerala. Find the previous stories here)