Think of Bengaluru and the word ‘startup city’ comes to mind. Meet these dynamic entrepreneurs whose innovations are making waves in the city, and beyond. By Barkha Kumari &Nikita Puri
BENGALURU continues to cement its place as the Startup Capital of the country and grab eyeballs of the tech czars in the Silicon Valley. Last year, three of the city startups, Little Eye Labs, Impermium and BookPad got acquired by Facebook, Google and Yahoo respectively. Earlier this year, in January, Twitter made its first Indian buy with Bengaluru’s ZipDial. And, Twitter is at it again. Its co-founder Biz Stone has picked up another city-based startup for a big investment. This spotlight on Bengaluru can be credited to an ever-growing army of young entrepreneurs, either born and bred in the city, or those who eventually make it their home for better prospects in life. We meet a few under-30 entrepreneurs who make the city proud.
All things Women
Startup: Eat.Shop.Love | Founder: Oindrila Dasgupta, 27
USP: ‘Moments’ — the package offers end-to-end solutions for women to host a date, a party for friends or a grand bachelorette
Investment highlight: $3.5 million | Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: Take up one task at a time and see it through with perfection
At 27, Oindrila Dasgupta is a mother of two, and heads an online fashion brand, Eat.Shop.Love (ESL), which she founded last July along with her design executive husband, Shayak Sen. Most recently, she’s been in the thick of opening ESL’s new office in Mumbai. But her uber-busy self doesn’t usually show through. That’s because she likes to be organised. Dasgupta credits this lesson to her former boss at JWT Bangalore. She used to work in the media industry before ESL, a website that sells curated fashion apparel and accessories for women, came calling.
ESL, especially its most sought-after product called Moments, is an extension of her philosophy — Women must pamper and look after themselves. More so, if you are an entrepreneur.
“Once in a while, us women, want to be our own queens, right? With ESL, we are trying to create an ecosystem, where if a woman wants anything, from a cab, a dine-out option, a dress, or a piece of jewellery to flowers, she can get it all,” says the CEO, who conceived this idea during her first pregnancy in 2013. She was studying social media marketing at IIM-Bangalore then.
Here’s how Moments is helping ESL stay different from other e-commerce sites in India. Moments offers end-to-end packages for a woman planning to organise a date, a bachelorette party, or rejuvenate herself in a spa. The USP fetched ESL $3.5 million funding this May. “We are already selling in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi, but we want to be in the top five sellers in these markets. I also plan to make Moments bigger,” Dasgupta shares.
Gone in 60 Seconds
Startup: Headout | Founders: Varun Khona (25), Vikramjit Singh (27) and Suren Sultania (26)
USP: Easiest, fastest on-demand travel app
Investment highlight: $1.8 million seed funding | Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: No matter how difficult it sounds, if your gut says it’s the right thing to do, just take the plunge
When city-based Varun Khona and Suren Sultania were travelling across France, they had the one problem that every tourist faces – how do you decide where to go, and how to go? “The pain travellers experience in a new city, that fundamental construct remains the same no matter which country you are in,” says Khona. And it was in this pursuit of “looking for a solution that was easy and made sense” that Headout was born, with Vikramjit Singh joining in. As a mobile marketplace for experiences, the app is currently live in New York and Las Vegas. “We aggregate tours and activities in these cities. The idea is that we take care of the entire discovery angle, and you trust us to know what’s the coolest thing the city has to offer. And our transaction process is simple – it takes just 60 seconds,” says Khona.
The team triumphed over their initial financial challenges pretty quick too. “We launched in July 2014 and got tremendous response in the first three months — we grew almost 100 per cent month over month. By September, we were selected by 500 Startups (Silicon Valley seed fund and accelerator). We believe that fund-raising isn’t a challenge for a company that’s doing well,” Khona shares. What began with three founders, and one intern, Headout today has offices in New York, San Francisco and Bengaluru. “In the next few months, you’ll see us live across 10 big US cities. Early next year, we plan to launch in Dubai and Singapore. We’ve already served a few tens of thousands of users; each month, we see about 50,000 new users signing up,” elaborates Khona. The app is likely to launch in India by 2017. “The reason for that is we don’t have enough quality suppliers that can provide enough experiences,” he explains.
Startup: Practo | Founder : Shashank ND, 28
USP: Commitment towards improving healthcare for both doctors and patients. The largest healthcare platform in Asia, and does not use third party data
Investment highlight: $125 mn in three rounds of funding | Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: Founders should share the same line of thought of where they want the company to be — one year from now, and 10 years from now
In 2009, when Shashank ND asked his doctor to mail him a copy of his medical report, he said couldn’t do it because the specific software didn’t have an email button. “Email was widely used then yet no one had thought of putting an email button in the software,” says Shashank, an alumnus of National Institute of Technology, Surathkal. His batchmate, Abhinav Lal, came on board, and in 2009 they launched Practo Ray, a cloud-based clinic management software. In 2013, the duo launched Practo.com — a doctor discovery platform that helps consumers find the right doctors and book instant appointments.
Currently, Practo lists over 2,00,000 healthcare practitioners, 5,000 diagnostic centers, and the idea is to expand from 35 Indian cities and three countries to over 100 Indian cities, and 10 countries across the globe by March 2016. “Practo comes from ‘practice online’ — it originated from our intent to enable healthcare practitioners to bring their practice online,” says Shashank, founder and CEO. The biggest challenge was to source reliable information about doctors and clinics, he shares. “We decided to build our own healthcare map of the world. We have an on-ground team that goes street by street, city by city, to get information, which is then put through a rigorous verification system to ensure we have genuine doctors with accurate details,” he says.
Another big challenge, he says, is building the right infrastructure to scale the product. “We’re growing fast — from April to now, our search volume has grown 6x! So the infrastructure, servers etc. have to keep up, while maintaining the highest levels of security and encryption,” he elaborates.
Twenty-seven-year-old Varun Agarwal has failed nothing in his career but his engineering degree. His first venture, at the age of 19, Last Minute Films has close to two million YouTube views. It also fetched him work in Bollywood. He later footed a social media marketing firm, Reticular with much success. It was followed by a college merchandise line, Alma Mater, in 2009. Later, he turned author with the book, How I Braved Anu Aunty & Co-Founded A Million Dollar Company, and sold 2,00,000 copies. Alma Mater, co-founded with college friend Rohn Malhotra, raised an undisclosed amount two months ago, and half-a-million dollar in 2012. “We kept failing in everything you call success today. But yes, there are tricks and life hacks. Writing the book was the hack. I thought and researched on what was the best way to spread the word about your company. Well, it is to tell its story, so I wrote the book and maintained a blog. We spread the word without investing a single penny in marketing. That’s our USP,” says Agarwal, who’s writing a sequel now.
Startup: Aisle | Founder: Able Joseph, 28
USP: Screening of profiles put up by users
Investment highlight: $100,000 | Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: Learn a lot of skills – from coding, handling finance and product designing to marketing and talking to people
For testimonials of the success of the matchmaking website, aisle.com, look no further than its new office in Indiranagar. Able Joseph, its founder and CEO, is getting married in three months. As soon as the 28-year-old relaxed his rule of not looking up profiles on his own website last December, he found a life partner in Jancy Mathew. Then there’s Bivin Benny, 32, who joined Aisle as a co-founder along with Razee Marikar, 30, this January. He also found a match. “All my friends, who’ve signed up with us, have found ‘somebody’ now,” says Joseph beaming like a proud parent, quantifying the success of Aisle, targeted at modern, affluent Indians. Currently operating out of Bengaluru and Mumbai, Aisle scored $100,000 in seed funding this January, within just six months of operations. It has 26,000-plus active users at the moment.
“After a break-up in 2013, I also signed up on a matrimonial site. After going through hundreds of profiles, I had a feeling ‘I will never get married’,” Joseph laughs. Around that time, he realised finding a partner is a big challenge. It needs to be solved.
So, what works for Aisle, when there are tons of matchmaking sites? “We weed out almost half the profiles created on Aisle. I cannot elaborate on how we do it; that’s our USP. We basically look for Indians who are global citizens; if we put like-minded people under one umbrella, chances of finding a partner are high,” he explains.
“We recently launched a stand-alone product called Planner, where you can find wedding photographers, choreographers or planners, across India. This will soon be available as an app too. We also intend to make dates happen by partnering with Uber and Zomato. From meeting online, booking a cab to finding a restaurant for the first date, we want Aisle to facilitate all of it,” says Joseph.
Serial investor Prajakt Raut, who is also the founder of New Delhi-based Applyifi (which connects startups and investors using an online pitch deck), tells us what investors look for in a startup before closing the deal
Quality of the team: This is the most critical component. Investors prefer teams which have diverse yet complementary skill sets. For example a techie, a marketing person and a salesman would make for a nice team. The founders should be passionate about their ideas. Part-time founders, or founders who are doing more than one venture, don’t interest us.
Scalability: If a business is likely to remain small, despite being highly profitable, it is not going to excite investors.
Market size: This is quite crucial because we invest our money, time and energy in businesses, which are in early stages
Quality of the product: The product or service should stand a reasonable chance to become a dominant player in that segment.Your venture may meet all the above criteria but still not be relevant to a section of investors. That’s because investors like to go for a category of startups that they have an understanding of, and where they can add value based on their work experience.
The Q&A Genius
Startup: Lookup | Founder: Deepak Ravindran, 28
USP: First-of-its-kind hyperlocal app in India, which connects shopkeepers with customers on a chat platform
Investment highlight: $3 million | Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: Start early in your career
Here’s why Lookup is spiking investors’ interest, including Twitter’s co-founder Biz Stone. In fact, it will be Stone’s first-ever investment in any Indian startup. Deepak Ravindran’s Lookup helps shopkeepers, who run stores in your locality, do business over WhatsApp. Alternatively, it lets customers ask them, ‘Do you have this dress material?’, ‘How much is the atta today?’, ‘Can I get a small pouch of Bru?’ and more, by chatting, exchanging photos for reference and, even smileys to close the deals.
With 60,000 shopkeepers signed up, and over 10,000 users downloading the app daily, this first-of-its kind hyperlocal app has fast gained acceptance. It’s ruffling up duplication as well. “There’s always the pros and cons of being the first mover. When we started in December, Lookup was a new concept in India. Now, I see a hundred similar ones. There’s even almost a clone of our app already,” Ravindran laughs.
His confidence comes from experience. As Ravindran says, he’s made a career by only “answering questions”. It’s what he is passionate about. After dropping out of college in Kerala in 2008, he started SMS Gyan under Innoz Technologies. Here, users, who had no access to Google, could ask questions over SMSes and get answers. Years later, he footed Quest in the US. Yet again, users could do Q & A amongst themselves. Unlike SMSGyan, Quest could not catch up. But Ravindran saw an opportunity in this failure.
“Many shopkeepers were doing business over Quest. This lingered at the back of my mind. Then I happened to travel to China last year, I saw WeChat (a chat platform like WhatsApp) being used for everything and by everyone, fro m businessmen, politicians to even schools. I wanted to explore the usefulness of this in India,” explains Ravindran, about the birth of Lookup.
Pursuit of Happiness
Startup: Zoojoo.be |Founder: Avinash Saurabh, 30
USP: A habit-forming platform based on behaviour sciences
Investment highlight: $1million in first round of funding | Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: As Richard Branson says, “Screw it, let’s do it.”
Designed to create long- term wellness habits, Zoojoo.be uses game elements to engage users. Knowing how much companies around the world are spending on their employees’ wellness, mobile and web app, Zoojoo.be has gone the B2B2C (business to business to consumer) way. “I love the idea of taking learnings from games and applying it to non-gaming, business scenarios. Our mission is to measurably improve the happiness levels of people. Our mother matrix (or how we measure our success) is happiness. And habits go a long way in making people happy,” says founder and CEO of Zoojoo.be, Avinash Saurabh. (The name is inspired from Rajinikanth’s dialogue: ‘Yena Raskalla, jujube’). People struggle to form good habits because traditionally, shares Saurabh, habits are associated with motivation, or guilt. The platform presents good habits as virtual challenges, and goal reinforcement comes in through peers. Be it jogging, swimming or yoga, on Zoojoo.be, you could choose the activity of your liking and then share your progress. Currently, the platform has over 35,000 users across clients such as Mindtree, Unisys and GE and has operations in India and the UAE. Originally from Patna, Saurabh quit his MNC job knowing he wanted to start something, but wasn’t clear of ‘what’. “I worked on a blog for six months, and the intent of that blog was to interview entrepreneurs and CEOs and learn from them. The process helped me meet great people, who went on to support the company,” he adds.
|Our mission is to measurably improve the happiness levels of people. Our mother matrix (or how we measure our success) is happiness. And habits go a long way in making people happy|