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 Software – Girish 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.