Recently Funded Entrepreneur, Prabhanjan Gurumohan, On building a Successful Cloud Enterprise – The GENWI Story

GenwiFrom 2007 to 2010, the app economy has witnessed more than 10.9 billion downloads, says Socialcast. Pew Research estimates that nearly one in fourUSadults actively uses apps. More than one third of the Americans who own smartphones download apps at least on a monthly basis. A 2010 comScore study revealed that the primary concern of consumers in the market for smartphones was the quality of the operating system. And the second most important factor leading to the buying decision? Selection of apps.

And the footprint is only expected to get bigger. So, does that make the developer who creates apps, all-powerful? Maybe. But what if everybody could create apps? That’s what GENWI (pronounced “Gen Y”), a California-based startup founded by Bangalore-bred Prabhanjan Gurumohan, aims to enable through their cloud publishing platform for smartphones and tablets. GENWI has just raised $4 million in Series A funding from Nexus Venture Partners and is looking to establish its presence inIndia andSouth East Asia, both key markets for mobility.

In this chat with YourStory.in, Prabhanjan speaks about his entrepreneurial journey, the business idea, the differentiators, how Nexus was the right fit and the way forward for GENWI. Read on to know more:

Prabhanjan, can you please introduce us to the business idea behind GENWI?

GENWI’s comprehensive cloud publishing platform enables rapid design, deployment, and management of visually stunning native or HTML 5 Apps, with no native device OS programming while incorporating rich media capabilities and real-time data.

As opposed to custom building apps for each device form factor, GENWI affords publishers the ability to publish once and deliver interactive apps across all smart mobile devices – including iOS, Android, and HTML5.

Publishers and mobile marketers can now build out their entire mobile strategy on the GENWI platform as opposed to creating piece meal solutions for various devices from multiple services.

Resulting live publications in the form of interactive apps offer a visually stunning experience along with real time content delivery and interactivity while affording the publisher a cloud publishing platform with unparalleled scalability and an incredible time to market advantage.

Simply put, we’re in the business of transforming online media and promotions into live, social, and engaging tablet and smart phone applications

Genwi

Tell us more about yourself. We understand that you grew up in Bangalore.

Yes, that’s right. I graduated with an engineering degree in  late 1999 – early 2000 from BMS College, Bangalore. IBM had just re-entered India at that point and I was recruited by them from campus along with few others. They put us all through a training program and soon, I was put into the AT&T project while the other continued to receive training. I did not know the implications of it then. But that project eventually led to a billion dollar implementation and it continues to be a huge breadwinner for IBM, involving thousands of employees.

At the end of 8 months there, I resigned and went on to do my Masters from Arizona State University. My adviser there was a great man and inspired me to do something entrepreneurial. At around this point of time, I made my way into a corporate leaders program. And eventually when I got done with my post-graduation, IBM offered to hire me for the Silicon Valley facility. To the consternation of my family, I rejected the offer.

The thing was that my father was a military guy and I grew up in a socialist low-income group type of scenario. Things were in pretty bad shape at home. So, rejecting a plush job was that much more difficult. Anyway, I ended up doing my Ph.D and my thesis was in wireless mesh networking and traffic pricing.

So, when does GENWI come into the picture?

Well, after my Ph.D, I decided to start out on my own and went about trying to raise some money. I happened to win $10,000 in a business plan competition at that point and tried to build the business around wireless mesh networking.

When I started putting things together, I realised that it was a very heavy business and that it was more fun to be a conduit to delivering content over wireless networks. This was around 2005-2006. So, a friend and I put our heads together and soon, we were convinced that all content would become digital and would be delivered to digital platforms. We also realised that content had to be aggregated on the cloud (called “web services” then) for better delivery.

So, we wrote a crawler to trawl the web and started GENWI (short for Generation Wireless) as an RSS reader. TechCrunch reviewed it to be better than Google Reader. But eventually, the partnership went sour and I started working with a couple of startups as technical head on a freelance basis, just to pay the bills.

And then, in mid-2009, iPhone came out.

That’s right. But more importantly, the App Store was there. Suddenly, the entire infrastructure that we had built (the crawler, the cloud delivery bit) became incredibly useful. So, using the GENWI platform, The Stanford Daily put together an app. That was the first app created on GENWI. This avatar of the company came into existence in January 2010. We went on to help a lot of famous universities publications come out with apps.

And suddenly, we were an internet sensation for 3 – 4 days. The number of apps being created on GENWI hit the roof and while I can’t share names or numbers, a lot of big companies sat up and took notice.

Genwi

We believe that happened because the product (which was essentially the GENWI platform and which we branded as “iSites”) addressed a huge pent-up demand. We had the answers to two very big questions – can anyone be a developer & can everyone make apps? The answer was yes and my guess is the simplicity of the platform and the fact that no coding was required really connected with publishers. We reduced the total cost of ownership and got their apps to market at remarkable speed.
That’s right. So, we raised about $1.1 million as seed capital from Inventus Capital Partners and Quest Venture Partners. The premise was that consuming content and buying ought to become more natural and more useful. The concept of content discovery changed with the entry of apps. Till then, search reigned supreme. Personal devices like smartphones and tablets brought the ‘personal’ bit back to the content curation experience.You also managed to raise some seed capital for your cloud publishing platform at that time. The cloud publishing and smartphone/tablet market apertures were just beginning to get recognized. What made you bet on that?

And why cloud publishing? We looked at the evolution of publishing and by publishing I’m referring to the dictionary meaning “prepare to issue for public distribution or sale”. First, we had desktop publishing. Adobe ruled the roost there, with their Creative Suite. Then, we saw web publishing. WordPress did wonders with that. But it was mostly HTML and CSS-related.

Now, we extrapolated that directly to smartphones and tablets. Apps had spawned a whole range of service companies, either to ride on that new wave or the guys, from the previous wave, who were pivoting. So, we wanted to create something organically for smartphones and tablets.

At that time, wasn’t fragmentation the biggest problem that GENWI solved?

To be honest, it is still a big part of the problem that we solve.  The publisher got a developer to do the CMS (content management system) integration, the social media integration, the ad network integration, etc. for the iPhone. Now, if he/she needed the same thing for the iPad, it had to be done all over again. And then, they had to do it one more time if there was an Android version as well.

We solved it by scooping all of the content on to the cloud, repurposing it on-the-fly and serving it seamlessly. It could be a magazine or even a catalogue. E-commerce and content consumption are becoming increasingly immersive. For instance, a fashion brand doesn’t want to sell people shirts. Looking at pictures of hundreds of shirts won’t get consumers to buy anything. It’s trying to sell the person a lifestyle and we’re creating that experience delivery mechanism for them.

Today, as far as solving problems is concerned, GENWI helps businesses focus on the essentials like the experience, monetization and delivery. We handle the back and the infrastructure, be it iOS, Android or HTML5.

But what’s your big differentiator? How is GENWI different from any other do-it-yourself app builder?

Apart from the fact that the GENWI platform has a very highly-developed range of options to suit those at any tier of the value chain, it also allows the publisher to make structural changes to the app, once it’s on the app store, without having to recompile the app.

Each app built on the GENWI platform is designed to be ‘smart’ and keeps communicating with the GENWI cloud. If it recognizes that some elements have changed, the changes get deployed immediately. We’ve filed a patent on this and as a content publisher or a marketer; this is a big boost as it allows you to constantly recurate the content without any friction caused to the end user.

And the analytics piece is also very strong. We can accurately tell publishers what’s being read, where it is being read and how many times it is being read. With more and more apps being built on the platform, we’ll eventually become an app network of sorts.

Genwi

Take us through the recent round of funding you’ve raised from Nexus Venture Partners. We understand that you have plans to expand to India & South East Asia.

That’s right. We’ve raised $4 million as Series A round from Nexus, with our earlier investors participating as well. Currently, 98% of our customers are from the US. We have more than 34,000 publishers, 1500 active apps and 400,000 active users on the GENWI platform.  And the need that we’re addressing is global.

Nexus, therefore, is probably the best partner to help us take GENWI ahead. They’ve worked all over the globe, have a strong entrepreneurial mindset and own some great relationships. They have the experience and reach required to build such businesses. And more than anything else, they’re such great team mates. In fact, we’ve already struck some great partnerships with some of their other investees. For instance, we already have Vdopia ad network integrated into GENWI.

And with respect to how we plan to use this capital, we’re definitely setting aside some of it towards infrastructure development. We’ve crawled over 65 million posts so far and we have over 100,000 posts being added every day. So, we’ll definitely up the ante on the cloud infrastructure front.

Also, we’ve noticed customers using GENWI from Europe, South East Asia and India. Android is exploding down there and the GENWI platform suits the rapid deployment type of requirement that happens in India. So, in the next quarter or so, we’ll start sales and marketing offices in India and in the future, we may have some of the development also moved there.

We at YourStory.in wish Prabhanjan and the entire team at GENWI much success. By providing publishers the platform to create both native and HTML5 apps, GENWI may soon emerge as the destination of choice for anyone creating content to deliver them on to mobile computing devices. The market’s big, the technology’s proprietary and the game’s only getting more interesting by the day. We’re going to be bringing you updates. So, do watch this space. Also, do let us know what you think of this story by writing to us at feedback@yourstory.in.

Sriram Mohan | YourStory.in | Bangalore| 14th October 2011