Goa always brings to mind relaxed vacations, but dig a little deep and you’ll find that a startup ecosystem in the state is thriving despite the odds. YourStory spoke to several of these daring young entrepreneurs – most with no connection with tourism – who’ve chosen to put down roots far away from metros and are flourishing in the sunny state. But first, here’s an introduction to these potential superstars(in no particular order).
Founders: Luke Sequeira, Chris Atkinson, Hannah Bain, Joshua Silveira and Aprup Shet. Raised $180,000 in 2015 from angel investors Tim Chen (CEO, Nerdwallet) and Sanjay Venkat (former VP, Bank of America),partner at Cadian Capital. (Detailed story here). They also run DCCPER, a design and development company, which delivers web and mobile applications for startups. In two years, they have grown to 50 people with offices in three countries.
Founders: Gurpreet Singh and Piyush Goel. Raised nearly $1 million from Seedfund and Krishnan Ganesh in April 2014. Helps online merchants manage their orders and inventory for multiple e-commerce marketplaces. Has grown from 10 people in 2014 to 175 currently; expanded from SaaS to enterprise.
Founder: Saurabh Nanda (IIT Kanpur alumnus). Current product is a combination of a back-office platform and booking engine, and includes a supplier-side mobile app for tour and activity operators. The two-year-old firm has about 1,800 customers.
Founder: Gourav Jaswal. Recently tied up with actress Gul Panag to co-found MobieFit, a start-up focused on fitness-centred mobile apps. Launched their first product, FirstRun, a coaching app for running enthusiasts earlier in 2015.
Founder: Prajyot Mainkar. Mainly works with startups and specialises in developing user-focused, strategic solutions on native and cross-platform mobile development. Their blog publishes Android-related news. Also organizes Goa's Android-dev conference, Nitrodroid.
Related read: Meet the Android man of Goa, Prajyot Mainkar
Founder: Abhishek Sarda. Helps brands develop beautiful websites and other digital products. Has worked with 150 clients across 27 cities and 11 countries in three years.
Founder: Tyrone D’Souza. Less than a year old and has clients across the world. Its USP is that it works on cost per install (CPI) basis rather than the traditional cost per click (CPC) basis preferred by traditional ad networks.
Founder: Viresh Vazirani. Focuses on the mobile space and claims to have a few big tech startups as clients. Previously worked with EDMofy.com , Startupgoa.org, Goa.me. Launched GrowthGravy after realising startups’ need for growth hacking.
Founders: Pranav Pai Vernekar and Vinayak Joshi. First claim to fame was Minion Bot. Now working on NetPlug, an IoT device that helps manufacturers of electrical appliances, electronic devices and industrial machinery connect their products to the Internet. Also lets users control different devices via a smartphone app, social media and other web-based tools. Clients include Mukunda Foods (IoT dosamaker), SS Electrical (IoT lighting) and Ashwini Agarwal (IoT hooter).
An initiative by Alok Kejriwal, (cofounder and CEO of Games2win), The Rodinhoods is a community for entrepreneurs that is almost 10,500 members strong. They hold regular offline events across different cities for entrepeneurs. The website and events are run, co-ordinated and managed by Asha Chaudhary, the co-founder and editor, who is based in Goa.
Given that Goa is largely perceived as a holiday destination, hiring and retaining talent can be a significant problem. Mobobeat’s Tyrone D’Souza says people from larger cities are hesitant to move here. Fleetrover has faced similar problems – few engineering graduates consider Goa a place to get jobs with high growth potential. “The biggest downside is the lack of experienced technical and design talent,” says Co-founder Luke Sequeira. Compounding this problem is the brain drain – local talent heads to big cities or foreign shores.
On the other hand, people like Mohan Krishnan, Chief Planning officer at Prototyze, who has lived in Goa for 14 years, won’t consider moving out. “In the last year, we’ve been able to attract quite a few senior professionals to Prototyze,” he says, reeling off names of those who’ve left big cities for Goa.
Some companies have hedged their bets by keeping their headquarters in Goa but opening branch offices elsewhere in the country.
So who does want to move? Saurabh Nanda of Vacation Labs says young bachelors are generally happy to work in Goa, adding, “For married couples, even if one of them is willing to move to Goa, finding a job for the spouse is sometimes an issue.”
Things are changing, though. Companies are promoting jobs at Goan startups to local engineering and technical students through the Startup Goa job board, run by Luke and others, and other initiatives that connect college placement officers with startups. Prajyot Mainkar of Androcid says awareness of IT in Goa is growing, especially the fact that many startups here are working on exclusive, cutting-edge technology. “Thanks to YourStory for talking about startups and IT in Goa instead of tourism,” he adds.
Once they do get talent on board, people tend to stay on because of the quality of life that the state offers. The traffic isn’t crazy, costs are low and work/life balance is a reality. “You can be in a city on a weekday and on a beach on the weekend. Ultimately, Goa is a great place to work because it is a great place to live,” says Luke.
Tyrone, a native of Goa, says, “In my years of traveling across the globe for work, I’ve found that no other place offers such quality of life.”
Infrastructure too is improving. High speed leased lines are now available across most of Goa though costs are higher and service and power outages occur regularly. Most companies make up for this with power backup and multiple high speed leased lines.
While positives also include lower operational costs, lower pollution, cheaper petrol and shorter daily commutes, public transport is a downer. The state has a bus service, but taxis are overpriced. So having a bike or car is necessary. “The nexus between politicians and taxi operators means that cab aggregators have failed to enter the market,” explains Saurabh.
Offsetting that is cheaper real estate. “My place is six km away, but just 10 minutes from my office and my rent is a fifth of what I would pay in a far-off suburb in Mumbai,” says Mohan.
The party scene is always around the corner, and for young entrepreneurs, that’s a definite bonus. Viresh Vazirani of GrowthGravy says, “Since I also run an electronic dance music portal (EDMofy), I'm updated on the party scene, which actually runs through the year.”
For Saurabh, though, Goa was a strategic choice:“It’s one of the world’s largest travel and leisure markets, so being here means we can test our product and work closely with operators. Our entire product and development team is based here.”
And then there’s the fact that most young Goans are well versed in English so hiring for sales and marketing roles becomes easier.
The Goa government is drafting policies to make the state more entrepreneur-friendly. IT parks and incubation centres from CIBA and GITIC are in the works. With Google considering a centre in Goa, the future looks interesting. But more than new players coming in, Prajyot would like to see what can be done to help the existing 100+ IT companies in the state.
According to him, the lack of mentorship is a critical problem. “For someone starting up an IT business in Goa, there are no platforms besides the meetups or individual connects where one can meet high-skilled mentors who can guide us about strategy,” explains Prajyot.
While Fleetrover and Browntape have raised funding, most early-stage startups in Goa lack exposure and guidance on how to raise funding.
Puranjaya Singh, Managing Partner at PAN Enterprises got into angel investing by chance and first invested in Mettl, an online assessment firm, in 2010. As a resident of Goa, he is optimistic about the startup ecosystem.
Many startups are doing well and some are very close to raising funds…One aspect which I see lacking in Goa is diversity of talent compared to cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru.
As an angel investor, Puranjaya feels that most Goa-based startups are not on investors’radars but believes this will change soon. For him, the team and the business take priority over where the company is located.
“Contrary to popular belief, not many meetings happen on the beach in Goa,” laughs Luke. Most startups meet clients at their own offices(mostly housed in villas) or at cafés. It’s rare to have a meeting – and never a formal one – at a shack or a beach (those are for internal meetings only).
Hiring meetings very often happen at the office itself. Vacation Labs prefers to call people to their office in a villa overlooking a cliff and the river. Saurabh says
That way people get to meet the entire team. If it’s a full-day interview or meeting, we end it by visiting a nearby beachside restaurant.
The state is hosting a growing number of events each year. CIBA invited YourStory to talk on the startup landscape in India back in 2013, which has now grown in leaps and bounds.
The Goa Chamber of Commerce's YEF monthly meetups feature networking and knowledge sharing sessions. GEMS – Goa Entrepreneurs Mentoring Services organizes mentoring sessions for SMEs. Androcid has monthly coffee meetings to connect entrepreneurs with local talent. Tech Fridays and Web Folks focus on networking within their respective niches. StartupGoa.org too focuses on connecting people and leveling the playing field.
(If you’re a Goa-based startup that’s not on this list, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add you.)
Related read: Pune fast turning into the latest hub for startups