It was back in 2006 when Deep Ubhi came to India with an idea of building a consumer internet product. He found his partner in Anand Jain who had also returned from the US after spending time with the likes of AT&T and Motorola. Both of them had seen the dot com bust in the US and the rise of the startup ecosystem. “India in 2006 was a barren land in terms of startups. JustDial wasn't much of an internet company back in the days and the dot com bust had wiped out any trace of a rising startup wave,” says Anand. Post 2000, whatever little was happening in the internet domain in India went on a decline and a startup culture was pretty much non-existent.
It was in these times when tucked away in a corner in Mumbai, Deep and Anand started working on their idea of a restaurant reviews website, Burrp!. They pooled in some capital to give them a runaway and set up an office behind a small shop. “People didn't know what a startup meant. When people came in for interviews, they thought we were a back office of a company operating in the West,” says Anand. “We are the office!” the duo had to explain to befuddled job applicants. It was clear that only a person who really liked the work would join them.
It was during their recruitment phase when the initial seeds of an entrepreneurial culture were sown. Their first employee was Avlesh Singh, now the co-founder of one of the most promising SaaS companies being built from India, WebEngage. Avlesh co-founded WebEngage along with a fellow Burrp!ian, Ankit Utreja. “When Avlesh came in, he was an expert in one programming language and we didn't need that language. But his grasp over the concepts was so clear that we knew he would pick up anything,” says Anand. The focus was on the attitude and once you interact with a person for a few hours, you know if he or she will fit the bill.
“I have always believed that as long as you are hiring smart people, you don't need to 'manage' them. For a long long time at Burrp!, we focused on building a great product and not managing people. You get the best out of people in that scenario. More importantly, you build confident employees who can think on their own,” says Avlesh. Another person from the team who has gone on the build a solid venture in the consumer space is Nischal Shetty with JustUnfollow. Rakesh Pulipati and Sameer Mhatre are also ex-Burrp! employees helping build JustUnfollow.
Building an open culture
Starting up is infectious and it drives everyone. “Around the time when I started working on JustUnfollow, I could see Avlesh working on Webklipper. I could see a few others discussing their own startup ideas. No one was really thinking about quitting and starting up. They were essentially side projects to satiate their thirst for building something which people use. This came from the fact that they were working on a product which was already being used by a lot of people,” says Nischal. This goes on to speak volumes about the kind of culture that Burrp had created. This also supports the trend started by Google where employees are allowed to work on anything of their interest for the 20% of their time. Such policies can go a long way in keeping a healthy culture and invigorating minds.
The Burrp! tree
“Burrp had made sure to recruit exceptionally talented folks. When these guys wanted to get better at what they do, starting up seemed like an obvious next step,” says Nischal. Here is the list of the people who've either started up or done a phenomenal job at high growth startups:
Anand Jain and Sunil Thomas: The duo went on to co-found WizRocket, an online behavior-targeting tool that provides people-based analytics and segmentation.
Avlesh Singh and Ankit Utreja with WebEngage
Nischal Shetty, Rakesh Pulipati and Sameer Mhatre with JustUnfollow: A social media management app.
Deap Ubhi's wife, Aarti Jesrani with Jaypore: Even the spouses have been infected! Jaypore is an online e-commerce store for jewellery and apparel.
Sunit Singh is the Chief Designer at Cleartrip
Sunny Nagpal is the India MD at Httpool
Jayesh Sawant with Quicli, a clinic management solution
Sourav Ray has founded FoodKite and was earlier with TapToLearn
Santosh Navlani with MoneySights (now shut down)
Aakash Dharmadhikari is navigating the startup world with multiple efforts, including C42, Codemonk and currently TrustedRishta
“Zero hierarchy means complete freedom for the execution team. We didn't do anything special, we just hired the right people!” sums up Avlesh.
Burrp! went on to get acquired by Infomedia18 for INR 4.25 crores and the initial team joined Infomedia but people have slowly dropped off. Since the acquisition, the company has been on a decline. “Things could have been done in a much better way. Burrp! was in a brilliant space and had a lot of choices in front of it but things went downhill around the time of acquisition and even more so post it,” says Anand.
Be that as it may, Burrp is yet to see its final phase but what it has left behind is a legacy of entrepreneurs who have contributed immensely to the startup ecosystem in India. And as more and more startups mature, we'll see a pool of extremely talented people and networks that'll give rise to another set of ventures.