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Cellphone theft

To catch a thief


A Mumbai-based start-up promises to make life easier for victims of cellphone theft.

"When I left my mobile in an auto, and realised it wasn't going to be returned, I just sat down and cried. More than contacts or mails, all I could think of was that my children's pictures were stored in the phone and how I didn't want some creep looking at them. "

- 35-year-old marketing executive and mother of two, Bangalore

"Someone whacked my wallet on the local train. By the time I got home, located numbers of the helplines and called them to get my cards blocked, my debit card had been used to make a purchase of Rs 10, 000. "

- 27-year-old banker, Mumbai

These modern-day laments have become far too common for anybody to pay much attention beyond a quick mental 'there but for the grace of God, go I'. But one Mumbai-based start-up identified these pain points and has created solutions that will minimise the damage caused by these disruptions.

OneAssist has a motto, 'Live uninterrupted', and through a year-long process of focus group research and what it calls 'anxiety mapping', the company has come up with products and solutions that they promise will help you get back on your feet within no time, whether you lose your phone or misplace your passport on a foreign trip.

Much like the popular Delhi-based startup Akosha. com, which helps consumers fight to get their grievances addressed by companies and government agencies, OneAssist is a consumer-facing company. But unlike Akosha, it offers pre-emptive help through subscription. Their products - WalletAssist, MobileAssist, EverydayAssist and TripAssist - are available in the form of packages divided into two grades corresponding to basic and premium.

The packages have been developed quite imaginatively. If you opt for WalletAssist, for instance, a Rs 1, 599 subscription will ensure that if you lose your wallet, a single call to the company's voice-based assistance cell will get your bank cards blocked, you get a lost card fraud cover up to Rs 2 lakh and your PAN card and driver's license will be replaced too if they were in the wallet. If this happens while you are travelling, the company helps you settle your hotel bills, buy tickets to get back home and also loans you cash to tide over the emergency. That sympathetic touch? They give you 1, 000 bucks to buy yourself a new wallet.

When it comes to MobileAssist, a premium package of Rs 1, 499 will ensure that your phone data - contacts, text messages, photos and videos - are backed up in real time and incrementally (data gets backed up as you keep adding to it). If you lose the phone, you can call the OneAssist number to block your phone and SIM, lock your phone remotely, wipe out all data and send out messages to your contacts alerting them to the fact that you have lost access to your phone.

If there's any chance you can locate your phone, the OneAssist phone app will set off an alarm and send you an alert if the SIM has been changed. You also get a lost SIM misuse coverage and the company gives you a temporary handset for seven days.

But will people pay up? "A mobile is such a valuable home for your data. As one consumer put it, it is a second brain, " says Gagan Maini, one of the co-founders of the start-up. "Given that the packages work out to about Rs 3-5 per day, it's not that much to spend for peace of mind, is it?" Interestingly, their consumer research has thrown up a social truism: that India lacks a DIY culture, and Indians pay for services that ease their lives.
"When you step out of your house, carrying your wallet and mobile, it's like leaving home with a loaded gun, " says Subrat Pani, the other founder. He and Maini are veterans of banking and payment gateway giants like VISA, ABN Amro, ICICI Bank and SBI-GE and have around 40 years experience between them.
They set up OneAssist Consumer Solutions a year ago, and spent the next year in consumer research and developing products with a lean 12-member team. The products were rolled out two weeks ago, and the company has also got funding worth $3. 5 million from Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners. "The funding will ensure that we get the best back-end partners, " says Maini.

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