Pivoting in the cloud – the BlazeClan story
It had been a difficult few days at the BlazeClan office when 4 friends (and the co-founders of BlazeClan) sat down to discuss the future of their company. BriSkGap – their cloud based ecosystem to share online courses with an idealistic vision to bridge the skill gap among masses - was not going where they had hoped. Having taken a decision early on to bootstrap the company and not look out for funds for as long as possible, they were struggling to meet their expenses. Even though they had developed what they believe is a best in class platform, they were frustrated with the bureaucratic hurdles they faced in trying to sell the product to large scale education providers and the government, and wondered what to do next.
The passionate 4
As Kishore Kumar immortalized – “Jahan chaar yaar mil jaayen vahin raat ho gulzar”. Gurmeet, Varoon & Veeraj had known each other since their days in engineering college. Supratik had worked with Veeraj in UK and easily found camaraderie in their group. As Varoon put it, “For us, 4 co-founders, starting up was not a question of if, but when. We had decided upon the name of our company, BlazeClan before even before we had an idea. We wanted to have a different sounding name, one that would convey what 4 of us collectively stood for - passion.” It took them sometime to figure out on what they wanted to do, but once they hit the idea of BriSkGap, BlazeClan was born. However, the initial days were extremely tough and brought the 4 to a cross-road regarding their future.
Pivot 1: Product to services
Opportunity comes in different ways but as they say, it always helps to help a friend. While developing BriSkGap, the core team gained good experience on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and in developing scalable SaaS applications. So when a friend working on his start-up asked if they could help him with putting his platform on AWS, they did. The friend referred them to 2 other startups and a new business opportunity was realized.
According to Varoon, “Services around AWS were a massive opportunity. There were a range of companies looking to leverage AWS Cloud Computing platform but were not able to find skilled people to help them. We definitely had the companies willing to pay us for those skills. This is when we decided to start working on to the services around AWS. Companies were approaching us to help them with AWS, rather than us reaching out to them.”
Within 8 months of focusing on AWS, BlazeClan was raised to the AWS Advanced Partner level. This resulted in increased number of inquiries and better business opportunities. BlazeClan has now served 16 customers from 5 countries (including a large insurance company in Pune and a NASDAQ listed multi-billion dollar enterprise), helping them develop and deliver highly scalable applications on AWS.
Pivot 2: Bring on the products
BlazeClan’s expertise on AWS helped them with some new product and solution ideas; one of them is Cloudlytics.com - a self-service SaaS platform that helps customers to process and analyze log files generated by some of the popular AWS services like S3 & CloudFront. Development of Cloudlytics started in March, 2013 and the product already has more than 80 users from 15 countries. Customers range from some large media houses to super-hot gaming companies, all looking for analytics on AWS. Last week, Cloudlytics got listed on the AWS Marketplace. Varoon believes that “This will help us building trust with our customers. We see the registrations picking up and more users to start subscribing the paid packages.” BlazeClan has also developed a portfolio of solutions which help them reduce customers’ cycle time for the transition to AWS.
But the introduction of products is not a pivot in the conventional sense, as services will continue to be an integral part of the BlazeClan portfolio. As per Varoon, “We do not wish to be molded in to a typical services organization or a single product strategy company. Our aim is to develop products, reusable solutions and templatized frameworks that will provide value to our customers while they use Cloud Computing.”
Making it all work
Managing multiple lines of business for a startup can be extremely tough and this is where having 4 co-founders helps. Varoon is a Computer engineer and leads BlazeClan. He is responsible for developing and executing strategies and giving an overall direction for the growth of the organization. With an MBA from Great Lakes (post Electronics engineering), Gurmeet was the natural choice for heading Marketing and the Inside Sales team. Aside from being an Electronics engineer with a certification in telecom management, Supratik is a good public speaker and heads Business Development. He is responsible for developing strategies around adoption of Cloud in Indian enterprises. Veeraj, with a background in Computer engineering is the geek in residence, responsible for giving shape to the Technology road map.
Varoon shared that BlazeClan’s initial challenge was to find the right people for their teams – “It was difficult to convince people to work for a startup on a new technology, both of which they had never heard of before. We were not an IIT/IIM alumni startup so it was even more difficult. This still is a challenge but things are changing fast as we are growing now and people know us in the domain we work in.” Aiming to create an environment of mutual trust and respect, BlazeClan’s efforts resulted in the company being voted among the Top 15 Awesome Startup Workplaces in 2013.
Competition and growth plans
With large global System Integrators either being slow in focusing on Cloud Computing or ignoring it altogether, this has given rise to many ‘born in the cloud’ companies with expertise on delivering solutions on Cloud and AWS. On YS Pages itself, YourStory has almost 170 companies listed under Cloud, with a majority of them playing in the services space.
Speaking about the competitive landscape and future for BlazeClan, Varoon said, “There is competition from specialty players but we’ve been able to create our niche and have been fairly successful. Short term target includes releasing stable versions of 3 our top solutions/products and gain maximum traction with the customers. We need to ensure that we capitalize on our strengths in the AWS space and keep innovating and adding up to the IP we have already created. We are also launching an initiative to consult start-ups for free on AWS. AWS is an incredible platform and provides a lot of value to internet start-ups. With this initiative, we will guide start-ups on how best they can use AWS as a platform, avoid common mistakes and help them design the underlying infrastructure.”
BlazeClan is aiming to reach a leadership position in the Cloud Computing consulting space in the next 5 years. Varoon added, “We intend to have a bundle of profitable and scalable products that sell on their own (big cheeky smile) by bundling them as Software as a Service. We should be a publicly traded company by then.”
Words of inspiration
“Never ever, give up. There will be ups and downs in your journey but you need to be sure that you keep on moving. You need to be passionate but that passion should not stop you from taking definitive steps. In our case, there were quite a few naysayers who had written us off after not so successful run of BriSkGap, and many of them cussed us for turning in to a consulting company. We had an option of returning back to our cushy jobs and let go our 2 years of hard work and learning, but we persisted. We have not only been able to build a business model in technology consulting area where we deliver more with less and have become a name to reckon with, but also have launched a new product which has shown promising results in less than 4 months since it’s beta launch.”
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