During his stints as a government consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Ernst & Young (EY), Thousif Mohammed got to see up close how the bureaucracy works. Being inside the system, he also saw thousands of ordinary citizens losing their way in the corridors of government offices in search of information on programmes to rules to procedures.
When Mohammed quit the plum, yet hectic work at PwC and decided to start his venture, he wanted to offer a solution to the problems of the many whom he met in the office corridors. That's how, in 2020, he started Tesz, an online interactive platform that helps people find answers to their government-related queries.
A native of Alappuzha, Mohammed (35) is now settled in Thiruvananthapuram where he is building his business, step by step. He is an engineering graduate in Computer Science from TKM College of Engineering, Kollam, and an MBA from IIM Raipur. In between, he worked at TCS for two years.
Three years after its launch Tesz, has grown up to be a web platform that registers over half-a-million user footfall monthly. Over the three years, the platform has recorded over 25,000 questions and answers. One can post her query on the Tesz website by logging in using an email address. The questions are answered either directly by the government departments concerned or by experts.
The departments that have been responding to the queries on Tesz actively include the Sakala Mission of the Karnataka Government, Team Digilocker under the Ministry of Electronics and IT, the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), the Kerala State Financial Enterprises (KSFE), the Indian Highways Management Company Limited and the Kerala Startup Mission. The platform also has nearly 100 experts on board, all of whom lend their service free.
How does Mohammed manage to convince government departments, which is often accused of moving at a snail's pace, to be active on a third-party platform? And how does he get the service of the experts, including commercial consultants, for free? This is where, it seems, the business strategist within the IIM Raipur alumnus comes to play.
In the case of the government departments, Tesz's trick is to play the role of a morale booster. For private experts, Tesz turns out to be a referral site that helps them improve their own business interests.
"While working as a government consultant at EY and PwC, I understood that officers at the top layer work harder than anyone. They are rarely appreciated for the work they have done but are the first to take the blame for anything. Media is quick to criticise government employees but no one appreciates their work. So, I had this belief that if I start something that celebrates the good work done by the government, it will work out," Mohammed said.
By interacting with the public on Tesz, government departments can save valuable time, he said. "Several departments are already active on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook answering citizen queries. They boarded Tesz because an answer provided once on the platform will be available on Google when someone searches for it. This prevents the helpdesk from answering the same query multiple times," he said.
"At the beginning of every month, we send performance mail to the department heads. This brings goodwill to the helpdesk within their department. Because of this, we witnessed a spike in the number of answers during month-end. Every year, we provide Best Citizen Caring Government Department Awards to departments that answer people’s queries consistently. This is modeled on LinkedIn’s Best Startups or Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work recognitions. Departments celebrate the recognition," he said.
"Most of the experts we engage with have some kind of business or consultancy related to their expertise. We provide them with a WhatsApp chat button below their answers. So, the readers can directly reach out to them. It's a Win-Win-Win situation for the expert, user, and platform. Some of the experts also have their own Youtube channels. They can add their videos to the answers they provide. Hence, more views, more revenue." He also cited people's helping mentality as a reason for the active interaction on the platform.
Mohammed said Tesz has been able to give answers to 80-90 per cent of the questions posted on the platform. “Around 25 per cent of the questions are answered within 2-3 days while the rest may take up to a week to find a reply,” he said, giving a rough estimate.
Funding and revenue
As a startup that required lesser infrastructure and human resources, Tesz was bootstrapped by Mohammed after he quit his job at top consultancy firms. The company is yet to raise any funds, but in its second year, it won a productisation grant of Rs 7 lakh from the Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) in 2021. The company was pre-incubated at the KSUM in the previous year.
"Currently, we use ads to monetise Tesz. A few government departments advertise on our platform. We also run Google Ads on the website. We are planning to move to an affiliate model now. As per this, we are planning to facilitate the opportunity for NRIs to directly interact with experts who can answer their queries," Mohammed said.
Tesz is also a member of the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Public Sector Startup Ramp. The programme helps startups build and scale innovative solutions. It offers founders the tools and resources needed to overcome challenges and give their startups a head start.
Tesz has also won the Best E-Governance Startup Award from the Kerala government for 2019-20 and 2020-21. It is also a winner of the Citizen Innovation Lab 2022, an initiative of Omidyar Network and CIIE of IIM Ahmedabad.