This was originally posted on Pluggd.in, a blog covering Digital Media, on Aug 1st 2008. The intro part is written by Ashish Sinha of Pluggd In & you can find the original copy here.
Here is story of one kickass startup that in the first place sounds very lucky (they have got all the cool partnerships and mentors in place) - But the real story is quite different and is a mix of extremism, courage and of course, fun! - These guys raised 200K USD when they were studying and are kicking everybody’s ass since then!
But, Prashant’s earlier post on ‘on ‘Can Indian Society produce Gates/Larry/Zuckerburg?” got an emotional (and quite a lengthy one!) reply from Sony and with his permission, I am sharing the mobme story here (as-is)
Let me start by saying that we’ve had a very different experience altogether! Ashish had asked to write about our journey some time here on pluggd.in but never really got the time to do it. But this post makes me write a bit about it. Consider this as a trailer!
Lack of forward thinking at early age
Prashant explains the lack of computers in educational institutions & opportunities for a teenager to fool around at an IT giant’s place.
I don’t disagree with the first part. You know what we did? We bunked college as much as possible! The entire team was academically above average/brilliant till 12th & after joining Btech realized that you could crack this in the last week of study hols for semester exams. So we had a lot of free time.
We made a lot of money while in 4th sem in college by coming out with a special sim for college students in Kerala in association with the then BPL mobile. It was a pure viral marketing stuff with no advertising but we managed to make close to a million in under 3 months. That gave the much needed kick & a thought in our mind that bunking classes (not exams) is not that bad an idea.
We registered a company, got good tech hands (we were mostly marketing types & couldn’t even think of coding) and then went back to BPL with a zillion ideas and finally put up voice servers in their Kerala circle to do outdiallers & in-diallers. Can you belive that? Bunch of teens hanging around in their data center trying to figure out what is SS7 & PRI and all. We finally cracked it on Asterisks (open source) cos we didn’t have the money to put the proprietary ones! Also we managed to do stuff on the lines of what a hungama & mauj does on content business. Still very much in our teens & before 6th semester we had tie-ups with Onmobile, Hungama, Nazara, Mauj, India Times almost all others in the content business. We had sealed the malayalam movie industry & held rights for ALL the major artists.
While all this happened, we had also registered in Technopark, Trivandrum as Kerala’s first student incubated company & had strong support from IIITM-K, STPI, Kerala Government & most importantly, the education department & our university. So our attendance shortages also stopped giving us bad dreams. Had a tough time with some teachers but pretty much we were extremely lucky nothing nothing tragic happened to our studies. We chose the start-up route & left the idea of getting high marks in college.
Our Aversion toward extremism
Contrary to this, we got some really brilliant tech guys who never wanted to waste their life working for high paying IT jobs but wanted to work with an exciting start-up. Again lucky on this front, but there are lots of people like that. Our lead tech person actually left us for a year to join Uzanto (slideshare.net) & came back after product release with tonnes of experience & excellent exposure. So now you know that extremism is the norm out here.
Our Approach Toward Money
This will drive you crazy. We raised a neat $200,000 while in 6th semester from Angel investors in Kerala. We knew that if wanted to make it big, leftovers of our college earnings wouldn’t help much. If could do this at 19, a lot many people can do much better. And as Ashish had posted once, we took in a second round of funding just after 8th semester - same amount but 10X valuation from more Angels. And trust me, these Angels are really ‘Angels’. They stand with us no matter what. In between we have had small investments for minority stake sell outs from people who saw the passion in us. We are lucky to have a lot of really good mentors/supporters. From hot shot CxO’s in the IT industry to movie superstars to really good finance guys to some amazing bureaucrats to conventional business biggies to silicon valley chiefs to top brass media people.
Our Approach Toward Exploration
We traveled the length & breadth of the country cos we felt that business never happens in India if you haven’t even met the person with whom you are trying to do business. We make it a point to meet everyone atleast once & then technology steps in to take things forward. Just out of college we went to Dubai on an absolute exploratory trip & in two weeks got some good inroads to a lot of business opportunities. Now we interact with them almost on a daily basis over emials/calls but the first trip really helped forge the relation.
Lack of Role Models
All of the people in that list plus a lot more of them are our inspiration. Internet helps a lot to keep track of what’s going on in the industry, especially with many high quality blogs like this in every part of the world. They give you a lot of insights & information & analysis, i feel there is not much lack of role models around. From ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ of Robert Kiyosaki to ‘Screw it, Lets Do it’ by Richard Branson to ‘IT happened in Inda’ by Kishore Biyani, there are so many wonderful inspiring stories around you.
Luck factor - I’m adding this one
I’ve started believing that fortune favors the brave! The BPL we started out with became Hutch & then Vodafone. Now we do stuff nationally cos they know us since ages. Many decisions you make are subject to a lot of luck. We were lucky to avoid all the 5 points (ref. to prashant’s post) above. We got investment at the right time. Met people at the right time. Media people loved us so much that the attention that we got in regional media was amazing. Maybe its because there weren’t much business stuff happening in Kerala after all the ‘hartals’ (strikes)! So much attention that we ended up even meeting the president (Dr Kalam) at his office - a 45 minute chat that inspires you to achieve the unachievable.
Now we personally know/mentor a dozen such start-ups from Kerala who are working hard to do tread the same path. Its such a joy when you receive a call from a new teenage ceo in the middle of the night saying he enrolled with Technopark as a Student start-up. You can feel & see what in his mind & what lies ahead for him. We are happy & thankful to all those people who supported us.
At 22, journey so far has been really exciting. Its been a thriller all the way. Lets wait n watch what more is in the pipe.
BTW: Being a trailer, the most of the ‘most exciting stuff’ have been carefully kept aside for the big one