[Techie Tuesdays] Harish Krishnan, the lifehacker who built 'Slack', 'Quikr' and 'BookMyShow' equivalents years ago
Harish Krishnan has been a life hacker since his childhood. Right from the day he got his cricket ball back from his neighbors compound using a coke bottle, a hand like structure and a stick. Fast forward a few years, he built his own projector in 1991 and used discarded film reels and negatives to project on the neighbor’s wall. DIY (do it yourself) might have become popular among the youth at a later stage, but Harish has been hands-on since his school days.
His talent could have been ruined by the pressure of competition and clearing entrance examinations. But Harish made sure that this did not happen by remaining an average student with his above-average aptitude. He’s our Techie Tuesdays for today, not because of what he did in his childhood, but for what he did in the coming years.
A prize which never came!
Harish learnt the assembly level language in college days. He once wrote a program to solve scrambler and used it to win the ‘Deccan Chronicle’ scrambler. Though he managed to win the competition, he never received the prize. Harish had found his love in the language by then. His tinkering with hardware devices since early days helped him to execute projects like disco lights (programmed in assembly language) in his graduation.
Graduated in 2002, Harish found it difficult to find a job in the super-competitive technology segment. His average academic performance didn’t help much either. However, Harish thanks his stars for his unemployment. Being himself a fresher out of college, he was teaching UNIX at Satyam learning centre to fresh graduates only.
Three kickass products in three years
Somewhere, only logic and algorithms didn’t make much sense to Harish and he went back to the doors of technology. He joined Azri Solution in Hyderabad after an interesting round of interview. He recalls,
I was interviewed by an Austrian kernel hacker who was one of the core contributor to Open ACS, a framework on the lines of JAVA J2EE. Open ACS lost to the competition but I got my first programming guru.
For three years, Harish was actively contributing to the open source community while working at Azri Solutions. In 2006, when startup wave started hitting the shores in India, Harish decided to put aside the opportunity to go to Silicon Valley and instead sail through it. Though he couldn’t manage to raise funds for any of his ideas, he learnt a great deal out of it and the experience injected a business sense in him. He spoke about those three ‘ahead of its time’ products where he played the role of product and technology guy:
- Same Page – It was similar to what Asana or Slack is today. Then, Internet Explorer 6 was in mainstream and they ended up building the complete stack for Same Page, something like angularJS on its own. Harish and his friends had invested their own money in the idea and had a developer team with people from countries like Brazil and Estonia. But SamePage was too early for the Indian market and they failed to raise capital (due to 2008 crisis), hence had to shut it down.
- Ticketgaga: Harish worked on a low-cost ticketing setup on an OS called pico linux, a version of linux with a very short memory footprint and monitor priced at less than Rs 10000 which could be deployed in tier 2 cities. It would send out ticket confirmation using SMS. The Telugu film industry wanted a BOT (Built Operate Transfer) solution which Harish did not agree to and hence the idea didn’t survive.
- Marketplace in 2007-08: Harish worked on a listing portal similar to OLX and Quikr but couldn’t take it to the market.
And finally the sight of success
Harish co-founded Amgonna in 2009 with his four friends Sandeep Dev, Mohan Sunkara, Prasanna Venkatesan, and Niranjan Uma Shankar. Amgonna is a service which connects people with similar real-time intentions, i.e. who share common interests. However, the learning from the US market made them realize the heavy competition in the consumer-focused apps and they pivoted to focus on conferences with Hubvents. Since mobile was taking over at that time, it made lot of sense to have the social component in conferences. Today, Hubvents is a data driven platform for events which links data to an event’s audience to see who they are and what they need. It is helpful for the participant, sponsors, people looking for stalls and other stakeholders of an event. The Hyderabad-based company is bootstrapped and profitable at the moment with team members in Hyderabad, Washington, and Bengaluru.
Hacking for development, the Devthon way
One of the biggest concerns Harish has is the unnecessary pressure on youth from families to take up a job. Harish says,
I know many amazing hackers who are doing accounting jobs. They are the people who would never think of subjects but think of problems and how to solve them. They’ll do whatever it takes and learn in the process.
To solve this problem and to get these hacker minds out of boring jobs, Harish and his friend from Amgonna, Prashant Venkatasubban and Venkatesh Goteti started Devthon. Launched in 2014, Devthon is an innovation platform that blends the principles of design thinking, co-creation and rapid prototyping to trigger innovative thinking as well as innovative products and solutions. With Devthon, Harish aims to find local solutions for local problems. He says,
If a municipality in India wants to use machines for cleaning, it’s always better if it’s conceptualized in India. A machine made in another country would be made according to the roads, corners and dimensions of that nation and city. Can we look at these problems which are very local? Can we inspire solutions based on the deficiency we have?
Right now, Devthon has been focusing on healthcare and smart cities. Three products from their recently held Bioasia healthcare received monetary support up to two lakhs and an incubation support at BITS Pilani, Hyderabad campus.
Seven prototypes came out of the Cybereabad security Devthon and one app for challan alert service, Traffic buddy is in use today.
With Devthon, Harish wants to bring new ideas, prototypes and businesses and prototypes to the world.
Philosophy and Values
According to Harish, technology is a promise for a new way of life, for a lot of broken things and for a new experience. He has a philosophy,
There’s science and engineering (application of tech) for answering most of the questions that we human beings have. At the end of the day, we need instruments to understand things around us and to go further. We can create better experiences using technology and design.
He’s one of the founding members of Pecha Kucha Nights Hyderabad -- an informal and fun event where creative people get together and share their ideas, work and thoughts. Harish says,
Honesty makes everything around you enriching. Working with people who are passionate & honest motivates me. If your actions and mind are aligned to your passion, you’ll be happy.