Founders should do Content – iSPIRT content marketing roundtable

It has been one of the wettest April for Delhi in years. 5th April 2015 was no different. An overnight downpour had created a surreal Saturday setting for “Content marketing your way to multi-million dollars in revenue” at the 46th iSPIRT Playbook Roundtable. It was the 7th Roundtable in Delhi. The venue – the playful Wingify office at Pitampura in New Delhi.

View from the Wingify Office

Participants came from far and wide – Gurgaon, Delhi, Noida, Greater Noida, Mumbai, Bangalore – braving the rain, the puddle and the traffic.

The stage was set at the Wingify cafeteria. Interestingly, all the participating product companies were actually seated in a roundtable. A few table tennis bats uncharacteristically placed in the corner indicated that a TT table had made way for the roundtable.

Love all. Play !!!

Paras Chopra – CEO Wingify – opened the roundtable sharing that Wingify was now working with 4000 companies across the World helping marketing guys do technical experiments without writing code. He shared the iSPIRT vision of making India the place for software products.

After calling for a quick round of introductions, Paras initiated the roundtable sesion with the question, “What is content?”

Siddharth, Paras’ teammate and the marketer at Wingify also teamed in to lead the session.

What is content?

Even if you do not read the rest of the post, the following lines should be good enough.

Before inviting the forum to give their definition of “Content”, Paras set the tone for the roundtable.

He said, “Founders should do content”.

“I love writing. I have been writing since 14.”

“A founder is well placed to articulate insights. And it matters.”

Paras emphasised that content should not be one-off. Content – he says – should have rhythm. A collection of outdoor hoardings create better impact than just one isolated bilboard. He mentions the work of to illustrate his example, before opening up the discussion to the forum.

The forum was quick to put out a list – emails, landing pages, shareable content (viral), blogs, smart forms, CTA’s, e-books (gated and non-gated) and videos – at which the discussion came to an interim halt, thanks to Vidooly.

Vidooly – part of the TLABS batch – helps YouTube channel owners grow their organic reach and traffic using analytics. Subrat (CEO – Vidooly) mentioned about an impending VC round, but denied YouTube wanted to acquire them. He was quick to point out that DailyMotion was around.

On using videos for content, Paras pointed out the trade-off between a high quality video and the effort. Sub-par videos could compromise the brand.

On the other hand, the forum communicated its excitement about videos rattling out names like goanimate and powtoon that allow for creating quality videos, quickly. Ankit (MyPoolin) shared that they have attracted quality audience with videos, especially in the B2C context. Vijay (ZapStitch) seemed to agree. Subrat was agile to point out corresponding vidooly features e.g. meta optimization features that will help grow organic audience.

Is your business using Videos for content marketing?

Content ROI

Siddharth led this leg of the roundtable on Content ROI.

As the key marketer at Wingify, ROI is his daily job and he did not lose time to mention mixpanel to measure metrics, simultaneously dishing out the following:

  • TOFU
  • MOFU
  • BOFU

Though lunch was an hour way, there was now some food for thought.


Siddharth was describing the marketing funnel. Wingify was using marketing automation tools like Infer, HubSpot and Fliptop to measure how prospects move from TOFU ( top of funnel) to BOFU (bottom of funnel). It helps gauge how business is doing with respect to marketing and business goals. Siddharth built confidence by indicating that users appreciate the funnel and demonstrate desired behaviours.

Did you figure out MOFU?

Sudhakar (RippleHire), who was patiently listening to all this gyaan (knowledge) invoked his consultant avatar and pressed with a terse question, “What to post?”

The question resonated.

What to post? – A quick look at Buyer Personas

Paras and Siddharth teamed up to take this question.

Paras said, “The problem with us entrepreneurs is that we think that all are like us. When it comes to our audience, implicit segmentation is mostly not accurate. At Wingify, we have been scientifically studying our users and customers for the last six months – Who are they? What do they do daily? It all comes down to buyer personas. Your content has to resonate with them.”

“At Wingify, we have created posters (at times whimsical) to communicate to our team about Buyer Personas”.

Siddharth closed this question emphasizing how they did persona surveys, got on support calls, identified problems users were facing, studied linkedin profiles and established KPI’s to scientifically determine what content to post.

Outsource Vs Inhouse

Needless to mention, all were ears on this discussion point. Would this be black and white? Or would it be gray? Siddharth made it clear that each team member at Wingify had to write. Period. It was even integral to their recruitment process. (More on that later)

Ashish from Posist was very forthcoming about their outsourcing attempts. He even admitted that even though outsourced content was good, ironically it wasn’t exciting. It required Vaibhav’s (RankWatch) quote of “1$ per word” comment for a well-known content writer to bring back the fun in the discussion.

Have you experimented with outsourcing content?

Siddharth stressed on the importance of quality compared to quantity. He went on to share that at Wingify, they make a lot of effort to produce one quality post everyday. It is always quality that is priority.

Getting content noticed

If you thought doing content was hard, let us talk about distributing and promoting it. It is hard too.

Guest Posting

We began with guest posting and co-marketing. Siddharth began counting his fingers.

  1. Email influencers rather than commenting on their blog.
  2. Short and longer posts are both OK, but some publishers discourage longer posts.
  3. Important to communicate to publisher how your post is relevant to their audience.
  4. Always stick to guidelines for guest posts.
  5. It is effective to send a TOC first to publishers, instead of a final draft.
  6. Seek out high DA sites with relevant keywords.
  7. When sending in the final post to the publisher, always include 5 to 6 links within the post to increase odds of drawing traffic.

Being opinionated

Paras strongly recommended putting out opinionated pieces of content. Siddharth testified that for Wingify, opinionated blogs drew comments in numbers compared to simple blogs that would not get any. At this juncture, the forum could not help but discuss the Freshdesk Vs Zendesk episode.


The discussion was quick to move to click baiting. Surprisingly, most of us present in the room, admitted falling for it.

Have you?

Siddharth added that Wingify has consciously played trends to attract traffic. It had also done fun stuff like the A/B testing for the Savita Bhabhi website. (please search for the link on your own)

Organization Structure

This track saw everyone pick up their writing pads. While Paras spoke, a few founders were looking only at Siddharth. It seemed they had found the persona for their new content team member – Mumbaikar Dilliwala who gestures to emphasize his point; slighly overbuilt with a Che Guevara moustache.

Paras began by sharing how in the early days of Wingify he used to look at each content piece with a hawk eye. Over a period of time, Wingify has divided its marketing team into two – product marketing and demand generation. And it is looking good. Wingify has also hired a business analyst for content strategy where they are doing really detailed analysis like “what is the worth of a tweet?”. Wingify also has a marketing engineer as part of the marketing team.

How does Wingify hire?

Siddharth sounded sanguine about journalists with 1 – 2 years of experience saying that by that time the editors have chiseled them to write well within constraints. Siddharth adds, “Communicating clearly is fundamental to our hiring process. As part of the recruitment process, candidates are asked to write on a real topic”. Most candidates disappear at this stage.

Growth Hacks

Time was up. It was already quarter past 4 PM. Everyone was given a minute each to share their growth hacks.

  • Vaibhav (Rankwatch) did facebooks ads comparing themselves to competition targeted only to the fans of the competition. They also sent tweets to conference speakers with some topic suggestions and inputs.
  • Ashish (Posist) shared how they gave the impression of a local company to Bangalore restaurant owners by using native language on the visiting cards of their sales team.
  • Shashwat (iflylabs) used the plugin directory list to gain traction.
  • Saurabh (Airwoot) tagged brands in its tweets telling them how poorly they were doing and with respect to competition.
  • Kanika (SquadRun) shared how text emails helped them hit inbox rather than the promotions tab.
  • Vijay (ZapStitch) made a list of top 100 saas companies on its website and promoted it.
  • Anand (Exclusife) ran a missed call for free recharges campaign.
  • Sudarsan (Ripplehire) sent cold emails to the intended contact’s colleague to get a response.
  • Vikram (RateGain) shared how they use ebooks around tent-pole travel events to generate interest.

With that it was a wrap.

The customary iSPIRT roundtable photo followed at the Wingify reception.

content marketing iSPIRT roundtable

Thank you Wingify for your initiative and enthusiasm.

I would also like to highlight the participation from Avinash Agrawal (Eko Financials), Mohit Bhakuni (Contify), Mrigank Tripathi (Qustn) and couple of more participants. I apologize I did not record your inputs in the proper context. Could I request you to add your comments to this post?

Corporate Trainings are now Fun and Digital, thanks to MindTickle

MindTickle – ranked by Business Today as India’s coolest startups – is a gamified social learning platform founded by four enterprising men, who are were so passionate about games that they decided to make it their vocation. While the three were hard at work, we managed to draw Mohit out for a quick chat. So here is Mohit Garg, CoFounder MindTickle.

ProductNation: Hi Mohit. Welcome to Product Nation. Let us begin with your story.

Mohit Garg: Thank you, productnation for this opportunity.

MindTickle has four cofounders – Krishna Depura, Nishant Mungali, Deepak Diwakar and myself.

I am an electrical engineer having studied and worked in the US. While in the states, I had a chance to work at some great software product companies like Aruba Networks. My experience with a software product company straddled the entire spectrum, when it comes to business outcomes. Not only was I witness to an IPO exit, but one of the companies (x) raised $100 million only to go down under. Such has been the intensity of the learning.

The four cofounders of MindTickle have been friends and work colleagues. Krishna and I were batchmates at ISB, while Krishna, Nishant and Deepak were colleagues at PubMatic.

The genesis of this idea came from our combining our personal interest with a market opportunity. The four of us had been hacking away on weekends to create quiz based games. In fact, our quiz based games for IIT Mumbai Mood Indigo and few sponsored contests that were integrated with Facebook were immensely successful.

Since all four of us were passionate about creating high engagement oriented digital products, the combination of corporate training and gamification just looked perfect. We had observed that corporate internal training programs were time-consuming, with very little excitement and no connection to business outcomes. Then one day in 2011, all of us decided to get started with MindTickle.

ProductNation: Interesting, tell us about the name, how did you guys crack it?

Mohit Garg: We wanted to pick a name that is appealing and fresh, yet has enterprise appeal. So we put down a framework to score many names and we got MindTickle.

ProductNation: Mohit, please tell us about your customers and your future plans.

Mohit Garg: Some of the World’s finest brands are the customers of MindTickle. Ebay, SAP, Yahoo, InMobi, MakeMyTrip all have experienced high engagement rates and consequently improved business outcomes with the products from MindTickle.

While technology companies in the market have understood the importance of engagement when it comes to corporate training programs, the traditional real economy companies are also realizing the importance of high engagement delivery. A dominant young workforce is also a driver in this shift.

Most of our enquiries at this point in time are from the US market. We have a sales team in the US as part of our business development efforts. And we continue to invest in that market which is a priority.

India is also tickling with opportunities and we are very excited about it. It is not just the Indian arms of technology giants that are taking interest, but even the domestic organizations.

ProductNation: MindTickle’s moment of glory, what comes to your mind?

Mohit Garg: We have won the GAward for the Best Use of Gamification in HR (Enterprise) in the World for two consecutive years in 2012 and 2013. That has been the proudest moment till date. We came trumps ahead of formidable competition that included startups as well as large investor backed companies.

ProductNation: What have been your big lessons – personal and professional?

Mohit Garg: On the professional front, first, there is too much focus (at least in India) on overcoming weaknesses. My experiences have shaped me into believing now that a successful professional career is more about playing to your strengths. Second, the power of being disciplined and diligent is often underestimated. Once you start any business you will find low hanging fruit in doing a better job than your lazy competitors. Therefore, often market share is a vanity metric, one should focus on how to develop a mind share among the customer segments that matter.

Third, there is a good chance that 10 people across the world are thinking or working on the idea that you just came up.

Have the tough conversations early in any relationship, things which could be sticky later are best addressed while there is little contempt in a relationship… “Familiarity does breed contempt” from what I have observed. Lastly, all said and done, speaking direct and clearly will provide better results with less heartburn and confusion in the long run.

ProductNation: What would you like to tell someone, who is struggling or planning to start a product company?

Mohit Garg: Product entrepreneurs should dream big and not be scared of competition or large existing incumbents. Market leader in a marginal niche is worse than a contender in fast growing and large market.

One has to take a very realistic view of the size, location and maturity of the target segment, especially in B2B. One should design experiments to validate those hypothesis and quickly focus on early adopters as opposed to going after large horizontal markets at least initially

Many product entrepreneurs take the market as a given. In my opinion and experience, the market risk is generally bigger than the product/technology risk

If possible and if you can pull it off, get professional money early. You can be more aggressive with your business plan, invest more for long term, and stay focused. Moreover, investors on the board forces a discipline which is really valuable in the long run. Having to worry about having enough to pay the bills and salary every month may sound romantic, but its only as romantic as war

Thank you, Mohit for talking to ProductNation. We wish you all the very best in living up to these challenges

How Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Kathapurushan became a Software Product Entrepreneur ?

From being the protagonist of an Adoor Gopalakrishnan national award  winning movie to a graphics trainer, from a book publisher to a printer, from services to products, our guest today has been there, done that. Meet Vish, the MD of Logical Steps.

ProductNation: Hi Vish. Welcome to Product Nation. Let us begin with your story.

Vish: I was born in an entrepreneurial family. My family ran a printing press in Kerala. So I grew up living entrepreneurship and also picking up skills to run a printing press. Childhood was exciting, as we were always creating something. As far as my education is concerned, I enrolled for an undergraduate Physics program at the Moscow State University. University had some of the finest minds in Physics teaching the subject. But, the 1991 coup cut short all this excitement. This brief stint while I was in Moscow, made me realize that college education does not prepare you for life. Though, I was not keen to go back to college, it was family pressure that saw me write three years physics papers in one shot. All this for a degree from the University of Kerala, Trivandrum. Isn’t degree everything?

It was around the same time that I got introduced to computers. My father had made investments into offset printing and desktop publishing. I soon found an entire computer science department to myself, right from laser printers to 486 machines. I learnt everything from scratch. It was time for my first fling with entrepreneurship. It was an MS-DOS pocket reference manual. Using a microsoft reference manual as the guide, I printed out some MS-DOS reference manual copies and handed it over to a local bookshop for sale. Surprisingly, the book shop came back for more. Simultaneously, I also ventured into Desktop publishing training, as the printing industry was moving in that direction. These experiments gave me the confidence that I could do something on my own

ProductNation: When did you get the time to do the Adoor Gopalakrishnan movie? And why do you consider it your first product experience?

Vish: Adoor Gopalakrishnan is a family friend and I had done a small role in one of his earlier films. He talked me into playing the lead role in a film called Kathapurushan. It went on to win the National Award in 1996. He knew about my background in printing. So, during the film, I got involved into many aspects of the movie production – recording audio, printing of collateral and special books. And working with Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who cared about every little detail and to experience his passion and leadership. I consider that experience extremely precious and a sort of first in making a product.

ProductNation: Which were the other movies you did?

Vish: No, I went back into computer training with a company called Tandem. Tandem, which was based in Trivandrum, sent me to CDAC Pune for a course called DACA – Diploma in Advanced Computer Arts. As a trainer, I was to learn this course and come back to Trivandrum to teach. At this course, I was the only one from a non-arts background, as the others were all from JJ and similar schools. But, I topped the class and got a break into advertising with a Kirloskar group company – Pratibha Advertising. One of the noteworthy projects that I did while at Pratibha was a digital kiosk that was showcased at the first Auto Expo in New Delhi. I quickly realised that digital advertising in India at that time was still very early. So I packed up my bags and went to Singapore for a teaching assignment with a University. But, I ended up joining a digital marketing company there. It was here that I spent close to five years till the dot com bust in 2000 consumed it. During my stint here, I got in depth experience into e-learning.

ProductNation: Is that when you started your current company, logical steps ?

Vish: Yes. I came back to India, after the dotcom bust. And that is when we started Logical Steps. We began by supplying learning content for television. We were paid 10% of the contracted amount. That is when I understood the trouble of doing business in India. So, I went back to Singapore to source business and keep the business running. It was challenging. I was using my salary to finance the business. I was not keen to close down and let go of my staff who had picked up extremely useful skills. So, we kept going. It was during this that we got a chance to service AIG for one of their projects. So that is how our services business started.

ProductNation: What happened to e-learning, then? And the platform? How did you start silver bullet?

Vish: An opportunity came up to create an e-learning engine for the US Market in the area of Medical Entrance exam called MCAT. A doctor who was considered the guru of MCAT had already created a large amount of content plus created analytics metrics to appraise students. We were given the project to create a platform that could provide all of this. This project gave us tremendous exposure to learning frameworks and gave us the idea to create a product on our own. That is how the idea of SilverBullet came up.By that time, I had also realised the limitations of a services business. So, we were all set for a product pitch in late 2010. While we built the platform quickly, content became a challenge. So we had to invest resources in training teachers to address this issue of content. This consumed our resources and it was our services business that was feeding silverbullet. It took us some time to adjust to this new reality, as we were dealing with an individual customer, unlike a corporate entity as in our services business.

ProductNation: Let us talk about silver bullet? Any learnings that you would like to share.

Vish: Silver Bullet is an online learning system for engineering and medical entrance examinations in India. There have been tremendous learnings. Unlike servicing a business, in this case, it was a B2C online product. It took us some time to figure out our Go-To-Market approach. We felt schools were the touch point, but it wasn’t so. Then we tried facebook, and it wasn’t the touch point. The most profound insight came from my 10 year old daughter, who frankly said that students are not interested in adding more studies to their daily work. She went ahead and said that no one would like to put themselves into trouble by opting for a Free Trial. How true? Students are already overworked. In all this, we figured out that it is the parent who is the touch point. And the parent was in a totally different world and a world that wasn’t online. The only way to reach them was through traditional media. It was then, that we checked out the media budgets of other online learning companies and found that they spend 19% to 20% of their revenue on ad budgets that run into crores, it is a totally different league. And that is how these companies are reaching out to parents. Parents are more than happy to add to the kid’s collection of material to consume.

ProductNation: Interesting, allow us to end this interview, with a difficult question. Looking back on your career, it is easy to see that you have been all over the place. How has it helped you in approaching your product business?

Vish: [Laughs] The product business is much like the movie business. If you see, my experience in diverse areas has given me ideas and the aptitude to create a wonderful product. Whether it is design or delivery, content or its packaging, all my earlier experience have served me well in developing Silver Bullet.

ProductNation: Wearing two hats at the same time i.e. services and products. What would you prefer? And what challenges do you face, while doing so?

Vish: Product without a doubt. It is something that you can own. But, when working on a product, especially when you are just starting off, managing the internal aspirations of the team becomes difficult.

ProductNation: Thank you, Vish for talking to ProductNation. We wish you all the very best in living up to these challenges.

Profit from Price, Always – The Bootstrapped Story of RateGain

This is part of our “Podcast with a Product Entrepreneur” series. Do check out the 30 minute podcast!

His first fling with business was a video game exchange, while at school. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, the question was never about the “Why”; it was only about the “When”. A computer science and finance graduate, his stint with Deloitte saw him starting up with a technology consulting business that later led him to this technology product idea.

Meet Bhanu Chopra, the Founder and CEO of RateGain – a B2B price comparison SaaS product for the travel industry –  as he talks about starting up, go-to market strategies, the CNBC Award, challenges and some priceless advice for all software product entrepreneurs.

In business, Bhanu has demonstrated tremendous agility by making quick decisions. His initial idea of a price comparison website focused on the US market, quickly morphed into a B2B offering, given the challenge of marketing to US out of India. Then by licensing technology and acquiring a few beta customers, he not only validated the idea, quickly, but also generated revenues for reinvestment.

Bhanu advocates a Go-To market approach built on two parameters:-

  • Power of a Brand built on thought leadership, where Bhanu humbly accepts being “late in the game”
  • Sales Structure customized to the channel and prospective customer personas


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Straddling across the hospitality value chain with RateGain, Bhanu sees tremendous opportunities for existing products as well as newer products on pricing optimization using Big Data and predictive analytics.

Also an angel investor, Bhanu recognizes the tremendous passion amongst product entrepreneurs but highlights the imperative to persevere and think about the global market. While the team is critical, he concedes that team building would always be a challenge for product companies in India, given the latency of IT services in influencing engineering talent.

We conclude the interview with Bhanu mentioning two of his favorite product companies – Google and ….. – an awesome data visualization company that is just about to IPO on NASDAQ. If you haven’t guessed the name, do listen to the podcast.

I didn’t have a Job, when I graduated. But, I was clear about Entrepreneurship – The iXiGo Story

It was an early December late afternoon that Avinash and I got together to interview Aloke Bajpai, the Co-Founder and CEO of iXiGO – one of India’s most loved travel websites. Whether you are trying to save an extra rupee by comparing air fares across portals or planning your next trip with that saved money, Aloke’s iXiGO will GO with you.

As I sat in the reception area waiting for Aloke and Avinash, a board with many yellow colored A4 size posters caught my eye. It was actually a timeline that told the story of iXiGO. Starting from 2006, the sequence of posters talked about the many successes iXiGo achieved over the years. It looked easy. Or was it? It was time for the real behind-the-posters story.

Listen to Aloke’s story(Podcast) of perseverance as he describes his tumultuous iXiGO journey in this exclusive podcast brought to you by the good people at ProductNation.

Aloke’s fling with entrepreneurship began in a business plan competition while he was still studying electrical engineering at IIT Kanpur. It took the 2000 dotcom bubble burst to get him onto the conventional job path.  Starting a career with Amadeus – a European technology travel company – Aloke realized in a few years that work wasn’t exciting. He says, he was done with code. And as he puts it, he took the “Indian Solution” of doing an MBA.  It was at INSEAD that he decided to take a serious shot at entrepreneurship taking courses pertaining to entrepreneurship and was lucky to find an iXiGO advisor in his Professor – Patrick Turner.

Aloke’s stints at Amadeus and INSEAD seem scripted, for it is here that he met his co-founders Rajneesh (Amadeus and IIT Kanpur) and Yash (INSEAD).

In the podcast, Aloke talks in a free spirited way about how one fine day – he just left his job. A quick move to Gurgaon was followed by figuring out what to really do and how iXiGO came about. He shares how his INSEAD batchmates seeded the idea on good faith and how a brave trip to Singapore got them their first serious investor – William Klippgen. This after their idea had been politely refused many times over (read as no response) by a number of angels and VC’s. Hear from Aloke the sense of exultation when they did get their first smart money.

Good times don’t last long so much so for the King of Good Times. The 2008 credit crisis and a renegade potential investor almost brought iXiGO to the brink. iXiGO not only survived but grew stronger since none of the employees left after the consensual 50% pay cuts. iXiGO’s business model was validated during that time as travelers were looking for best deals using price comparison.

These days iXiGO is busy with the Travel Planner. Aloke describes how the idea came about and how they leveraged a set of early adopters to fine tune their market offering?

When it comes to team building, Aloke’s been a success. He stresses the importance of being transparent, involving the team in creating and owing new initiatives and gives some sound reasons why each employee needs to read all customer feedback. This man is sure going places.

Don’t miss the podcast. The secret is right there. If you have a 55 minute car drive, look no further, you have got the perfect companion – Aloke Bajpai of iXiGO on your car music system. Just in case, you don’t, check out the iXiGO trip planner for some 55 minute drive options.


Organize BarCamp and Build a $ 119 Million Idea: The Amazing Story of SlideShare

The first Indian BarCamp was help in 2006. At this unconference, it was the fortuitous breakdown in managing the distribution of speaker presentations that led to the Idea we all know as SlideShare. Today, we hear their story in an interview with the SlideShare Co-Founder – Mr. Amit Ranjan.

ProductNation: Hi Amit, Welcome to ProductNation. We are really looking forward to hear your story. So please share all the excitement and emotion that you have gone through in your journey as a product entrepreneur.

Amit Ranjan: The team got together in 2004. We were three founders including me of which two were based in the US. We built another product before SlideShare.

We were building an online research application called MindCanvas that had a narrow focus on design, user experience and usability. We started building in 2004 and launched it after eighteen months. We were a team of 7 – 8 people then.

Once launched, it started doing very well. But, what we realized that this product was suited to the B2B consulting space and thus would scale with people and not technology. So that was a disconnect. And we asked ourselves if this is what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives? The Answer – No.  So we started looking for other options.

ProductNation: SlideShare, you mean

Amit Ranjan: SlideShare as an idea happened at this juncture. The SlideShare idea was born in Delhi itself.  Avinash is aware of this. The story goes something like this. We were instrumental in organizing the first BarCamp in India. This was in March 2006 at the Adobe office in Noida.

A BarCamp is like an antithesis of a conference where attendees interested in a particular topic come together and put up a show. The SlideShare idea was born at that Bar Camp.

As the organizers we found ourselves sandwiched between two groups – presenters and attendees. The presenters wanted to share the presentations and the attendees wanted to have them. So, pen drives were being exchanged and emails with attachments were flying across the BarCamp. At the same time, there were a bunch of guys who had taken photos and videos of the presentations to put it up on YouTube and Flickr.

So, presentations that formed the Centre stage of the conference, their sharing process itself was broken. So, we started looking around if there was an online tool available to share presentations. And we found that nothing existed. So that was the starting point for SlideShare.

ProductNation: Wow. Amit, would you like to talk about your pre-2004 days? How were you thinking about entrepreneurship? Was it something that you had it in yourself? Would you like to describe that journey?

Amit Ranjan: Entrepreneurship has been accidental. It is not something that I had planned. I am an MBA and a mechanical engineer. Post MBA, I worked in the consumer products sales and marketing space. I worked with Asian Paints for four years in the Sales and Distribution function and then with Pepsi. So, I did not come from a technology background. My six year experience in the Corporate Sector was good, just that I could not see myself doing that for the rest of my life. And there was a lot of exciting stuff happening around. It was not planned that way, but when an opportunity came to try something new, we went for it.

ProductNation: Superb. Please tell us about SlideShare journey, the acquisition by LinkedIn and the future plans.

Amit Ranjan: SlideShare was started in 2006. Thankfully, since then we have seen continuous growth. This meant scaling up in technology, hiring a team, which meant funding. The sheer frenetic pace at which the application was growing taught us all about building a startup.

We had an office in Delhi and in the US Bay area. At the time of the LinkedIn acquisition we had 35 people in Delhi and 13 in the US.  Delhi team was always dominant.

In terms of the acquisition, we had a relationship with LinkedIn since 2008. LinkedIn has an application platform in which they had invited a bunch of companies. SlideShare was one of them. LinkedIn knew the company and the people. So, a relationship already existed and acquisition was a logical next step. LinkedIn is the World’s largest professional network and SlideShare, a large professional sharing community. We all agreed that there was a strong product level fit. So we began acquisition talks in the beginning of 2012.

ProductNation: Would you put the LinkedIn acquisition as your moment of glory?

Amit Ranjan: The acquisition, the way I see it was a logical step in the evolution of the company. For me, the greatest thing is SlideShare itself that we could build something large and useful. The evolution of SlideShare has always been centre stage. After five years of starting up, in 2012 when the LinkedIn opportunity came by, we saw the possibility of having more resources through a large company to grow SlideShare. And we went with it.

ProductNation: What are the future plans for SlideShare at this moment, Amit?

Amit Ranjan: SlideShare will continue as a LinkedIn subsidiary. Going forward, you will see more integrations being offered to users.

ProductNation: What has been your key learning’s while building SlideShare?

Amit Ranjan: Sharp focus on Design, Engineering and Product Management. The web is changing furiously. Applications are being launched at the drop of a hat. Most die in days. So, if you are in the products space, you have to get on top with Design, Engineering and Product Management. No doubt about that.

ProductNation: Do you have a Top 3 for a budding product entrepreneur? Top 3 things you would like product entrepreneurs to register when approaching a products business.

Amit Ranjan: An engineering culture. In the long run, you need to have a strong engineering oriented culture in the company. Because culture would define a lot of things. It defines the organization itself, the people who join, the way you work, the way you tackle competition and the way you tackle markets.

The product and technology should be built for speed and not initially for scalability. This way you can focus on acquiring users, initially. There are cases where products optimize for scalability but struggle with the initial traction.

Thirdly, access to strong mentors. At SlideShare, we had some great advisors and mentors who really helped us think clearly. Having a bunch of good advisors really helps.

ProductNation: Amit, can you please explain this tradeoff between speed and scalability with an example, if possible?

Amit Ranjan: Technical example – Databases. Relational databases hit a wall when hitting a certain number of users. But, it is easy to find talent for relational databases. So, when starting off why bother optimizing with some other database. Scalability is a Rich Man’s problem.

ProductNation: Superbly put and aptly summarized. Amit, you have been in the products space for a while. Do you see entrepreneurs committing mistakes and it’s too late before they even realize it?

Amit Ranjan: Difficult to generalize. If you ask me personally, if I start again, would I do things differently. The answer is YES. And it would be Time Management. When building a startup, there is a lot riding on the entrepreneur. Looking back, I reckon if I had hired senior / specialized people for a few functions, I could have focused time on the product. That is one area, where I could have really done better.

ProductNation: Amit, how much did the US presence, being in the valley help SlideShare?

Amit Ranjan: I wish I could make a claim that SlideShare is completely an Indian company. Unfortunately that’s not correct. Our origin has a mix on India and US. The product was born in India, two of the three founders are Indian, the majority of the team is in India, but the company was headquartered in the US as the business was more US centric. Having a presence in the Bay Area and being connected to the early adopter crowd there is a great advantage. But unlike our times, now in 2012, an environment is now available in India.

We had Dave McClure as a mentor and there was no way we could have accessed him in India in 2006. But now Dave McClure’s fund is extremely active in India. They are looking at opportunities. So entrepreneurs in India now have the opportunity.

ProductNation: Before we let you go, you have to take this one. Name Top five hot products from India.

Amit Ranjan: Oh gosh. While a lot depends on how you define a product, but I would like to mention Zoho, InMobi, SlideShare. There are some smaller startups that are creating a global impact like Fusion Charts, Visual Website Optimizer.

ProductNation: Last question. What is next for Amit Ranjan on the professional front?

Amit Ranjan: I am part of LinkedIn. I continue to head the Delhi office of SlideShare. With the LinkedIn angle, we want to take SlideShare to the Next Level. That goal stays and I work as hard as before. Being part of LinkedIn, we have a better chance with access to resources and talent. So I am busy.

Product Nation

Amit, thank you for talking to ProductNation. Good luck to you and your team

You May Not Like Your Payslip, but We…Love It

SAP acquired Success Factors and Oracle acquired Taleo in billion dollar transactions. Workday recently listed at a billion dollar valuation. The boring enterprise HR software market is suddenly hot – red hot. This excitement is also rubbing off onto a decade old HR Software Product company from Bangalore that aspires to be the first choice provider of HR and Payroll Software to businesses in India.

Today, we hear their story in an interview with the Chief Executive of GreyTip SoftwareGirish Rowjee.
ProductNation: Welcome to ProductNation. We are really excited to speak to you. Please share your story and your journey towards founding GreyTip. Why did you get started and what prompted you? Please tell us all.
Girish: When we were studying in the 1990’s, the normal practice for most of the engineering pass outs was to do the GRE, get an MS and then get into a job.
Obviously, my co-founder and I did not belong to that dataset. So, during engineering, most of the times we were hanging around the Computer Lab, keen to do a few things around software. Primarily, we wanted to do something in India, not that we had any business plan, but that was the intent. We were driven by the sheer excitement of doing something real. Our first fling was with a Bulletin Board System in 1994, when we had just passed out of college in Mysore.

That is how the whole thing started.

Just to jog the readers’ memory, this was the time when the internet was nascent – dialup modem and text interfaces. But, we were thrilled at the prospect of writing software.

ProductNation: Girish, can you please share details on the equipment you had at that time?
Girish: We had ONE assembled 386 machine ably supported by a stabilizer. The big debate back then was whether we should take a 40 MB or a 120 MB hard disk, as the three thousand rupee difference was 30% of the capital that we had borrowed.

The Bulletin Board Service (BBS) had developed did not take off in Mysore, so we decided to move to Bangalore in November 1994 and start this company. It was called Delphi Software. We decided to stick to BBS in the endeavor to be an information portal for Indian consumers. We realized quickly that this may not work.

At the same time, we got an opportunity to work for a company called Brooke Bond Lipton. This was around developing reporting tools for their HR management information database. It was a new area and a new experience for us as we ourselves were getting introduced to data warehousing. But, we pulled off the project successfully.

Following that the HR team also asked us to build a HR database. It was a critical assignment as it was part of their KRA’s and the appraisal season was just a month away. We were able to do that job successfully as well.

That is how it all truly began. And when the HR staff from Brooke Bond moved to other companies, we followed and that is how we got more work.

ProductNation: That means in the initial period, you guys were helping out companies with IT services and special projects. Is that correct?
Girish: Yes. We even wrote ERP software for a garment manufacturer. At that time, it was the thrill of writing software that was driving us rather than money, business plan, topline and the works. We were making enough money from a self-employment perspective.

It was in 1999 when we started thinking on the need to move beyond a generic IT Services for Business approach. We started focusing on the HR software product. We already had 20 – 25 installations of the product. Payroll was an area we were comfortable with. At that time, many companies were doing payroll but the quality wasn’t enterprise class. That was the gap we were after and we had the competency to address it. With this the HR software product idea got crystallized. We stopped doing everything else and just focused on doing HR software product.

ProductNation: Those were the dotcom days. How did it all go? What did you name the product?
Girish: Yes. During the 90s, eight character names were needed as DOS supported only 8 character file names. And since our product stood for people, we had named it Folklore. We were one of the firsts to do e-pay slips in companies like Microland and Compaq. Customer referrals helped us acquire more business. Referrals have always been our critical channel and explain why we haven’t really invested big time into marketing initiatives.
Not everything was good. At the height of the dotcom boom, our development team left for better opportunities. So we had our share of ups and downs. But, we persisted and hung in there.

We drifted for some time and it was only in 2007 that we decided to go for the SaaS option in the pursuit of scale. It took us two years to commission the cloud based product. In the first year, we managed only 50 users in the Bangalore area. The cloud concept was still very new and market acceptance was very cold as compared to today. But, over the years companies started developing comfort with SaaS and cloud concepts. This helped our case.
2011 was a very good year and we currently have more than 1000+ accounts on our cloud platform. We expect more growth going forward and are feeling confident.

ProductNation: Girish, what have been you BIG lessons in your entrepreneurial journey – personal and professional? And what would you like to share with other young product entrepreneurs?
Girish: Any entrepreneur who is setting out for the first time would do well to develop an initial set of customers. These customers should see enough value in the offering. These customers should miss you when you are not around. This also gives the entrepreneur valuable validation of the idea – pricing, potential and scale. This I believe is a much durable milestone to target than VC funding or exciting financial models on spreadsheets.

ProductNation: Well put Girish. An initial set of paying customers sounds really logical, simple and powerful. What about lessons on the personal front?  How has it been for you? Any tips here.
Girish: Couple of things. One, an ability to dream and visualize your future realty now is extremely important. You should develop a fair idea how things are going to look two to three years down the line. And of course, an ability to follow that path in a planner manner.

Another is that you should have an ability to convince a few set of people into your vision. These people should be other than your customer – your employees. If you are able to develop this initial set of employees, it would help in your go-to-market.

Passion and desperation are absolutely critical to success. It is only when one is desperate that things start to happen. Money is just a corollary to the value one brings to customers. This is what I believe.

ProductNation: Nicely articulated, Girish. What is next for GreyTip? Could you share some of your future plans?
Girish: We want to the first choice provider of HR and Payroll Software to businesses in India. Across India, we cover about 51 cities and 1000+ accounts. We have gained traction online as well and we would like to focus on the online channel in the future. For this we would endeavor to reach out to Tier II cities helping out organizations with their payroll automation and statutory obligations. We are catering to both enterprise and SME organizations in this pursuit.

ProductNation: Thanks for sharing that. Any moments that you would always cherish as part of the GreyTip story. Would you like to share?
Girish: I would like to narrate an incident. There was a client of ours, a fairly senior person in the corporate World. He said that he wanted to come to our Bangalore office and talk to us. Generally, people don’t come over. So, we were a little unsure. He came over. And shared –“Look, We have used five softwares in the past. But after using your software, the only reason why I am making this visit is to say ‘Thank You’. You have done it for us and relieved us of our headache.” And coming from a fairly senior person, it just made our day. We were really happy that we could make a difference.

It is instances like this that drive us. It is moments like these that mean more than any award or bank balance. In the end, it is the joy of the customers that does the trick for us.

ProductNation: Thank you for speaking to Product Nation. We wish you and your team many more such unusual client visits. Good Luck, Team GreyTip.

And You thought Friday was just a Day of the Week…

What happens when six engineers with cushy corporate jobs decide to invest? And that too in a Whiteboard and an imported Smartphone. Yes, they grow up into mobile entrepreneurs creating android apps that millions the World over love. If you are reading this on an Android device, quickly search for “Friday” on the Play Store.

Today, we hear their story in an interview with the Chief Executive of DexetraNarayan Babu.

ProductNation: Welcome to Product Nation. We are really looking forward to hear your story. So please share all the excitement and emotion that you have gone through in your journey as a product entrepreneur.
Narayan: I was mentored by my Dad. My father used to be a CDAC Scientist (it was called ER&DCI then) and a member of the team that created Param – The First Supercomputer from India. So, Binary and Boolean Logic all came to me at an early age.

When I came into college after school, I realized that I could do technical stuff well. I could code and program, but I had no people skills for a startup. But I always wanted to do a startup like my father. So this startup was always playing at the back of my mind. While at college, I did create a portfolio of websites and apps (they were called applications then) but never made money as I hesitated to ask.

After college, I joined Bosch as an engineer. Bosch had an amazing culture and it gave me a nice view of the Corporate World. But it is a great place for the 9 to 6 crowd. The only problem – I did not find the work challenging enough. In three years at Bosch, I also found a good team. And it dawned on us that we better do something before growing old. So I pulled in two hackers from my college and two others from Bosch.

At that point in time, there was no idea. But we were all excited about doing a startup. So we began thinking, what to do?

Luckily, at that time Android was just announced. Incidentally, I was working on the WinCE and few other mobile platforms at Bosch. The platform was unwieldy and so I began experimenting with Android. The Android interface and features were just fascinating. At that time, Google conducted the android app developer contest and giving away US $ 100,000 as prize. We could not participate in the first edition, but it was a fascinating entry into the world of apps. We saw very simple apps being awarded US $ 50k and US $ 100k. We found it pretty cool and thought that we should do something around Smartphones.

Our first investment was in a Whiteboard, to brainstorm what all could be done on a smartphone. So, we listed down all the features of the smartphone and we realized that there were 7 – 8 data point sensors on a smartphone compared to almost no features in a desktop computer. And then in an “Aha” moment we thought we could do something using all those sensors – A diary of one’s life maybe. We really went crazy with the possibilities. Crazy because at that moment neither we had any smartphone nor there was any android phone available in the market.

Coming back to our senses, we decided to create a basic version and participate in the next Google App Developer contest. We only had a month and we were able to put together a crude version of it, and eventually we didn’t submit our app. When the winners were announced, we saw that most of the apps were very basic and not as grand as what we were thinking. This made us think if our idea was too grandiose. But, we worked on it and after two months of effort, we felt that we could pull it off.

ProductNation: What was the name you gave to this initial app?

 First, we called it Chrone (for chronology) and then owing to the confusion with the Google product, we called it “Instinct”.

ProductNation: Ok. Please continue
Narayan: So, it was end of 2009 and we got our first android phone. It was an HTC phone with a 3.5 inch screen – a rare feature then. We ordered it from the US and specially took leave from office to receive the courier. And when tried running our app on it, it crashed. That is when we realized that emulator and the phone were different. So we had to work on the app, again.

Meanwhile, the android app marketplace had reached thousand apps or so. We decided to try something simpler. An android game which was a cross between pacman and Mario. We called it tintumon. And we launched that game. The app became popular, got 10,000 download and qualified for the Google Nexus One phone prize. It went on to do about 60,000 downloads. This was a big morale booster. That was when we started thinking about leaving our jobs and doing this full time. I had support from home and my other team members though concerned were way too excited about starting up.

This is when things got serious and we got our 6th founder. I reached out to one of our college mate who had done his MS and asked him to help us raise some money so that we could move into a place and leave our jobs. Basically he was the business guy we wanted in our tech team. He spoke about the app to a number of people and then finally an Investor who used to do only investments in rubber estates got really excited about it and put twenty lakhs into the business. So we quit our jobs and started Dexetra in April, 2010.

For a couple of months, we played around with all the mobile platforms – iOS, Blackberry, Android. We used to make apps, sell them for Free and also some for paid. One of our iOS games apps became the top 50 paid app in the App store. It was exciting. But it was time to focus on the main idea – Friday.

In the end of 2010, we shut down everything else and just focused on Friday. In two months we released the Alpha version and the users loved it. It was like SIRI but almost a year before SIRI. We got covered by Techcrunch and it was good fun speaking to all who covered us.

In this version, all the data was being collected locally on the phone. So the next step was to move all this data to the cloud. And we started working on the Friday cloud part. Quickly we realized that we had to build for scale. Since, we had been in a startup mode for close to a year, we understood issues of scale. So we consumed lot of information on scalable architecture to put it all together.

This was the time we met Vijay (Founder – One97). He instantly liked the cloud first version and the next day he signed the term sheet and put in a crore of rupees. This way we could recruit a couple of more guys into the team. Around this moment, the product was a little more than fifty percent ready. But in cases like this it is the last 20% that really takes the time.

ProductNation: Was that time when the Apple SIRI came by? Tell us about it and the eight hour SIRI bet.
Narayan: Yes. It was October 2012 when Apple launched SIRI. The World was touting it as the next big thing. We were irritated as we had been trying to put something together since 2009. And SIRI was not even close to what we had planned for Friday. But yes, conceptually similar.
Internally, we took up a bet to create an app exactly like SIRI in 8 hours flat. We managed a version and called it IRIS. It wasn’t for the public marketplace, but a tweet was picked up and it went viral. So we released it into the public marketplace. It got a million downloads in the first month, two million the next. Then, Micromax Aisha also leveraged IRIS.

IRIS becoming a sort of distraction and it was becoming hard to manage two entities. After spending a couple of man months, the team gathered itself and decided to focus most of its efforts into Friday. And it made good sense since we were just ten people then.

ProductNation: What prompted your team not to pursue IRIS?
Narayan:  One, we were occupied with Friday. Second, for IRIS to scale, it needed a strong content pipeline. This would have entailed partnering with a number of content providers. All this meant a different set of skill sets. That doesn’t mean we gave up on iris, just that we put most of our tech energy behind Friday.

ProductNationSo, you guys got back to Friday.
Narayan: Yes. February 2012 end, we launched Friday beta on a closed basis. After four months of improvisation based on user feedback, we released it into the Android marketplace in July, 2012. Friday sees about 100 million documents in the cloud with a 30% daily user engagement.

ProductNation: What should we expect from Friday, going forward?
Narayan: We are focusing on making smartphones intelligent. We are making efforts to put context into smartphones with powerful software. e.g. your smartphone instead of showing “recently dialed numbers” should prompt you with the names of people depending on the context of location or time.

Those are the things we are working on. Plus we are working on building the UX as well. You would soon see a major new release on Friday.

ProductNation: Are you doing the UX internally?
Narayan: I am doing it myself, internally. It is challenging to get external UX guys working on a consistent basis. And UX needs sharp focus. And it has been painful to source UX guys. I have tried freelancers and outsourcing it to experts overseas. The problem of getting UX done outside the team, is to really get the job done. The creative guys are a different set altogether and they have a challenge adhering to timelines. Also, the external guys are not able to experience first-hand what is happening with the product. So, you need a UX person internally who can feel what’s happening.

ProductNation: Narayan, why the name Friday? Do you guys take off that day, is it?
Narayan: We wanted a simple one word name. We started with Chrone that came too close to Google Chrome. We tried Instinct. Then we hit upon Friday. It sounded crazy, it sounded bizarre, so it sounded good. ‘Friday’ sounded happy and it went well with the established meaning of “Man Friday”. And above all, it was easy to remember unlike the names of other apps, which you struggle to recollect at the right time.

ProductNation: What has been your learning’s during this journey? What would you like to share with an entrepreneur?
Narayan: We went all in. There was no plan B. We went all in with one plan. Many people ask us quizzically that you spent two years just building an app. But we did that and survived well too. It just makes sense to sell out to one meaningful idea.

I like the quote by Drew Houston, the founder of Dropbox – “It is better to fail than building a mediocre product”.

ProductNation: Before we let you go, would you like to share the complexity of your six-member founding team?
Narayan: Yeah. Investors used to express shock on the size of our founding team. Fortunately, inspite of having different backgrounds and personalities, all of us were excited about the startup. We do have differences but is mostly around the product. And most powerful bonding force is that all differences apart, we all want to build something really praiseworthy. This single thought ties all our efforts together.

ProductNation: Narayan, thank you for talking to Product Nation.
We wish the entire Dexetra team many more million downloads soon.

Your neighborhood mom-and-pop Shop is an SBI Branch, thanks to EKO

It is not a usual day if Bill Gates pays a surprise visit to your office. And if the Microsoft Founder spends two hours understanding your business and your product, you might be onto something with a potential to change the world. Hence, the ProductNation team caught up with the Co-Founder and CEO of EKO – Abhishek Sinha – to find out if the World had indeed changed since the Gates visit.

ProductNation: Abhishek, thank you for speaking to Product Nation. Please share the story of your entrepreneurial journey.
Abhishek Sinha: After completing my engineering, I joined Satyam in 2000 and was posted in Hyderabad. Following the usual onboarding and training; I was deputed to Jaipur to work on assignments at couple of mobile network operators. I was never great with coding, however, it was on these projects, that I met Abhilash with whom I co-founded my first company – 6d Technologies.

There was no detailed business plan, we just wanted to do something on our own and since we were in the mobile space, we decided to hit it out by offering communication solutions to Mobile Network Operators through 6d Technologies. At that time, we were pretty much newbies, no family or home pressures. So it was manageable to do all this crazy stuff.

As we went about building 6d, we were on the ropes most of the times. It was a deal that we got from Oman that swung our fortunes. I still remember the generous credit line that our travel agent offered us. For some reason, he believed in us more than we did on ourselves. So this is how, it all started happening for me.

ProductNation: Wow. Thanks for sharing, Abhishek. Who inspires you?
Abhishek Sinha: (In a Snap) – Mahatma Gandhi. I am also encouraged by Dhirubhai, Google founders, Mark Zuckerberg and Flipkart founders. Gandhiji certainly has been a huge inspiration.

ProductNation: Tell us about EKO. How did you start? Why the name?
Abhishek Sinha: Abhinav (Co-Founder & COO – EKO), my brother and I were in Bangalore. We saw a number of people approaching a nearby shop to recharge their mobile phones. Perhaps, oblivious to the shop owner, there was a sophisticated m-commerce transaction happening, right there. It was this exchange that prompted us to think about EKO with the objective of providing financial access to the unbanked. So I left 6d to build EKO.  As far as the name is concerned, it stands for “Echo” and luckily we managed a shorter form.

ProductNation: Please tell us about your customers and your future plans with EKO.
Abhishek Sinha: Our initial market was focused towards Delhi-NCR, Bihar and Jharkhand. We have expanded to 11 states in the country. Importantly, this financial year we are expanding to Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and industrial areas in North India – Baddi, Ludhiana, Amritsar, Panipat, Sonipat, Murthal, Jaipur, Kanpur, Lucknow among others.

Over the last one year, the model has matured and stabilized. Since June this year, we are adding in excess of 200 outlets per month and should close this year with more than 5000 EKO outlets. The idea is to increase our presence and be a dominant player in the domestic money transfer space. Money transfer segment is attracting tremendous interest from the unbanked population. Moreover, fungibility provided by EKO is fueling it further.

ProductNation: Abhishek, what have been you BIG lessons in your entrepreneurial journey? And what would you like to share with other young entrepreneurs?
Abhishek Sinha:  People say that you should not repeat mistakes, but I must confess that I have repeated mistakes. It takes a lot of time to understand and comprehend that you are committing and repeating mistakes. It takes a while.

The advantage of starting young is absolutely unmatched. Start Young. The naivety and foolishness helps. It is important to persevere and consciously exhaust ones options to loose. At 6d, there were situations when survival itself was at stake and such episodes would worsen the family pressure to get back to a job. However, doing my own thing was and remains my identity, very thought of going back to a job would make me shudder. I thought I would lose my self-respect. I was very conscious that I must exhaust all my options to lose. One has to increase their stakes substantially. One has to be continually hungry.

I never thought in college that I would be an entrepreneur and start a company. Even five years ago, if somebody had told me that I would have to raise tons of money to get this company started and bring it stability, I would have never started. I had no experience of a consumer-facing or payments business. Sometimes following your heart and taking the plunge without analyzing, helps. With EKO, we lost money and we could have gone down-under but I had to take my chances. There is no harm in facing failure. The loss due to failure is measurable, but the gains of success are gratifying and limitless. This is what I have experienced in my last ten years as an entrepreneur.

Product Nation: Abhishek, very profound insights indeed. We wish you and EKO super success.

Jalandhar School Kid drops University builds a Global Software Product Company

NASA.GE. Disney. A global software product – Kayako. Jalandhar – a growing city in Punjab,India. And a school kid who opted out of University. Sounds like the script of the next “The Social Network” hollywood movie. The truth – the movie might have to wait. Because this success story from India’s hinterland is only getting started.

And yes the school kid who was only seventeen in 2001 at the time of launching this enterprise helpdesk product is still leading from the front as the Founder and CEO.

ProductNation is excited to bring to you this riveting story through a heart-to-heart talk with Mr Varun Shoor. A lunch interview was quickly planned and Varun suggested “Punjabi By Nature” at Cyber City Gurgaon.

On interview day, we met at Varun’s swanky 16th floor office at Cyber City Gurgaon that houses the product engineering team. RFID check-ins, Apple Machines, top of the line interiors, extensive use of glass and a panoramic view of Gurgaon would be some add-ons if you consider employment opportunities here. After exchanging pleasantries and a quick discussion on the quirky weather, we did a quick jaunt across the road to the “Punjabi By Nature” restaurant.

Raghav Arora – Varun’s schoolmate and core member of the Management team also joined in. A quick scan of the Menu slate (yes, it is a wooden slate) and we were sorted with our orders. It was time. 1-2-3 Action!

ProductNation: So Varun, we are eager to listen to your story.
Varun Shoor: Right from childhood, I was a geeky kid. None of my sister’s electronic dogs survived the second day. My dad felt that if I went to a hostel, some sense would dawn on me.

At the hostel, I saw computers for the first time. 286, DOS, monochromatic display and there I learnt the programming language LOGO where in you draw shapes by issuing commands. That was fascinating. The first four years in hostel, I used to hungrily look forward to the Computer Class each day and excelled with 90% marks.

After I came back from hostel I asked dad for a computer. This was 1996. Fortunately, my dad could afford one. It was a Packard Bell 286 with Windows 3.1.

Back then there was no internet in Jalandhar, only in Delhi and metros. Luckily there was a cyber café in Jalandhar which used to dial out to Delhi. I used it to look up the latest apps, download them. Fascinating it was, especially the noise of dial up and Rs 15 per minute internet charge.

We all burst into a nostalgic laughter. If you are wondering why, then your association with the Internet is at best recent.

ProductNation: Please continue
Varun Shoor:  Sabeer Bhatia then had sold off Hotmail. That was when I decided to start a web design firm – Cyfox Graphics – using Dad’s card to buy a domain name – domains were US $ 100 then and web hosting. But as I devoted more time to computers, academics went down and long distance STD call bills were going up. One day, an internet bill of Rs Rs 60,000 greeted my family. Promptly, Dad took away the credit card. That dream was over.

Studies was tough. In Class VIII, I was conditionally promoted. And in class IX, I was kicked out as I had just 39%. From the beginning though I was not good in studies, I was a bookworm. I always knew more than the teachers. But, I was never good in cramming for the exams.

Parallely, I did couple of websites and a solution called Shoutbox service that provided chat rooms on websites where visitors could enter. This became popular but I could not pay for the server. Then I came up with a service called Deskpost that was like hotscripts, a script directory.

Since I was into web hosting, I used to be active on a web hosting forum called Web Hosting Talk. I saw people buying a service called Wonderdesk at US $2000. I made something similar called Active Support and wanted to try selling it.

For that I needed three things – domain, hosting and credit card processing. So I went to dad and no guesses for what he told me. So here I am, with a product but no resources.

So I went into IRC chat rooms asking for a domain I could use. I was banned but I kept trying with proxys. Finally one guy reverts saying he has two domain names – and You know what happened next.

Then I needed hosting. My friend in Jalandhar agreed on the condition that I would pay him in six months.

Last was a credit card processing tool. I wanted Tool Check Out. It is still very popular. It came for US $ 50. Where do I get US $ 50? I go back to the chat rooms announcing that I will give a US $ 2000 product for US $ 50. And I didn’t need the money, just the Tool Check Out account. So again banned, kicked out of forums.

Then a guy who runs a hosting company becomes interested and transfers the Tool Check Out account to my name. Then I create a website and launch the product. Version 1 comes into picture.

Money accumulates to US $2000 which is the minimum withdrawal threshold for Tool CheckOut. I wire that money to a friend’s account and ask him to ship a Compaq Laptop to me. I tell my dad that I have bought a laptop and it would reach in a week’s time.

A week, no laptop. Two weeks, no laptop. Three weeks, no laptop. Every day I am asking about the laptop parcel and dad was pretty irritated. On a positive note, the money started accumulating again. I tell my dad, I have US $2000 and please give me your bank details and I will wire it. Reluctantly lest I hack his account, he gave me the bank details.

So I take the details and tell mom and dad that by next Thursday they would see a wire transfer of US $2000. Thursday is here, but no money. Friday, no money. And I am pestering them every hour if there is any credit. They were sick by then.

Come Monday. Since I used to work in the night, I was sleeping when my Mom jolts me out of my slumber in the afternoon. She says – “paise aa gaye, paise aa gaye, tu jhooth nahin bol raha tha” (The money is here, money is here, you were not lying). And I say – “I was always telling the truth. You never believed me”.

The very next day, the Laptop arrives. And that was how the company began. No money, no nothing and we started this company. Closer to Class XII, I told my father that I did not want to go to college and wanted to do Kayako for life. My Dad having heard about Sabeer Bhatia stories encouraged me to go ahead.
And we started Kayako in November 2001.

By that time, the Raan and the Tikkis had soaked the story enough to be guided to their rightful destination. The Raan was sliced just right to whet our appetite even further. Yeah, it is highly recommended.

ProductNation: Very interesting. When you were setting up Kayako, companies like Infosys, Wipro were playing the IT services card. Did you ever contemplate that?
Varun Shoor: I am an introvert who was forced to become an extrovert. And I did not have it in me to meet clients, convince people, sell something. So services were out of the question. Secondly, I was enjoying what I was doing.

The Raan was just awesome. There was no need to outdo it. So, the simple fare of yellow dal and makhni murg with Naan that followed was just right.

ProductNation: Nowadays, IT entrepreneurs in India are focused more on products and not services. What would be your message to them?
Varun Shoor: First, do not chase money. If you do, you will lose focus. Second, your product has to have a VOW factor. It has to be awesome, period.
Third, start building around things that actually generate sales – a good website and a strong trust factor. How do you do that? Testimonials, client portfolio, live chat, updated news feed, active social media accounts, phone number on the site answered and engaging plus trusting website copy. Last, Think global, thing Big. Then your standards go up and your market has no limitations. And this also cushions you against business cycles.

Product Nation: Where do you want to see Kayako in next 3 – 5 years? How do you want to position Kayako?
Varun Shoor: Honestly, we are going with the flow. We are trying to be better than yesterday. Where this takes us, we have no idea. On positioning, we are focused completely on the product. On what really matters. Making sure each of our customers is happy. We are passionate about support and helpdesk. And we want to continue with our sharp focus on that.

It was time to focus on the desserts now. So it was a sinful hot chocolate fudge for Varun and Gulab Jamuns – the size of golf balls – for Raghav and us. A quick check out and we were out into the hustle bustle of Cyber City Gurgaon.

We then ask Varun – “What is the next opportunity you would like to pursue?” Without batting an eye lid, he responds – “A Five Star hotel”. And adds. “I like change and I am fascinated by architecture. And if I find something interesting in IT, I could take that up as well.”

And as we prepare to bid good bye, he says, “We are planning a strong initiative that we intend to go live in March next year. So watch out”.

Good Luck, Kayako!