Many experts crib when funding is put ahead of 'building a startup' and becomes a priority for a founder. Funding is definitely only the start of the game but if there’s no cash, there’s the constant fear of burning out. So was the case with Knowlarity, now a Sequoia funded company. The founders had to struggle a lot before bringing the company to a stage it is in currently. Here’s the story of their hustle, straight from founders, Ambarish Gupta and Pallav Pandey…
As a small business owner, you are more often than not cash crunched and almost like a duck, paddling like hell under water but giving a calm façade. The fact is – funds are hard to come by when you’re relatively unknown. Banks refuse funding on one pretext or the other – if you lack a sound business plan you will fail to get funding from anywhere. Forget funding for capital investments for the moment, even something routine as opening a line of credit becomes an exercise in futility.
In retrospect, we could not have chosen a more unsuitable time for starting our business. 2009 was year Annus Horribilis for the investment industry. Banks were still in a trance after a number of big banks defaulted in 2008. The investor community was bruised, bloodied and battered.
Investor Street looked something straight out of a warzone. Finding someone to fund your business in this environment was like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack with your eyes blindfolded. I wish we could’ve started out in 2000 when Venture Capitalists were more generous with their funding.
With no funds in sight we were up against the wall. Quitting would’ve been the easier thing to do but we decided to fight back. Looking back it was the right thing to do. Sure I could’ve gone back to my old job in Silicon Valley, but then I would’ve lost my one shot at making a difference. This is how I started hustling.
Personally, I knew we had a great product - trouble was finding a buyer in the market. Businesses were still wary of new emerging technologies. Talk about the cloud was just a lot of hot air. People were stuck in outdated technology in a fast changing world. We had to prove that we had something that would change their lives for the better.
It was tough in the beginning. But we kept our eyes open, we were looking for different avenues. An things changed with our first big break – U. P Government’s Mid Day Meal Scheme. Convincing the UP Government to use our IVR technology to monitor their Mid Day Meal Scheme was a huge achievement. I had to convince them that our IVR system was better, faster and more reliable. It worked like a charm. In no time we proved that the decision to go with our technology was the right one. As the UP Government’s social initiative gathered momentum and we were back in the game.
The SuperCaller was our next big achievement. We were able to market it to politicians across the length and breadth of India as a sounding board. With one push of a button political parties could send messages to their constituency. The SuperCaller was used by Naveen Patnaik, (Chief Minister of Orissa) and Jyotiradita Scindia (former minister of state, IT and Telecom) during their election campaign.
Getting these seasoned politicians to use our product and services was a big achievement in those days. In those days even getting face time was difficult because our company was relatively unknown. But we kept trying. Finally we succeeded and our earnestness and sincerity won us the day. I have to say that winning is not everything and you’ve to “enjoy the chase”. If you truly enjoy what you do, you will succeed eventually. Businesses fail because they’re not prepared to go the extra mile day in and day out. You’ve to be very persistent with your marketing efforts.
Startups have to be very diligent with their marketing. Persistence pays. You’ll have to be lookout for new ideas, new uses for your product. Sometimes you don’t even know the extent of the market at the time of making the product – look at biometric technology. Politicians were the last thing in our mind when we designed SuperCaller but our decision to market our product to this constituency turned out to be a good one. In order to be successful you need to be more innovative with your marketing efforts. Most importantly, it is important to know your product. Look out for new markets. Create a need for your product by innovative marketing.
It has been a very exciting journey for us. All along, we have stuck to our aim of producing the best product we can. We have succeeded. Now we are international. With SMB marketing gaining momentum everywhere we’ve the potential of becoming a major player in the cloud telephony market. Stay strong, keep hustling!