It is very difficult to focus when you have distractions glaring at you from all around. An IT company has a plethora of options to venture into and saying no becomes hard with every opportunity (read- distraction) that is passed on. Darpan Saini, Co-founder and CTO of Cloud Lending Solutions did exactly the same when he decided to focus only on microfinance. Darpan is our Techie Tuesday for this week.
Darpan spent his childhood in Bengaluru watching businesses grow. His father was working as a site engineer in Shapoorji Pallonji Engineering and Construction Ltd and had helped set up the company’s office in Bengaluru. In the first few years the office was running from home, giving Darpan a good insight into how businesses function. Today, his father is the CEO of Shapoorji Pallonji Engineering and Construction Pvt Ltd.
The only attachment Darpan had with computers was playing games. Though he wanted to study electronics engineering, his CET rank didn’t let him. Darpan opted for computer science instead and this proved to be a blessing in disguise. Soon his interest in the subject skyrocketed and he wrote his first massively used programme. The BMTC trip planner, it was used by BMTC on their website - http://www.mybmtc.com/.
"This was my first programme which got used in public. I got in touch with BMTC through a friend. I built this programme as a part of my database course. It involved connecting buses and finding links between destinations using basic graph theory. At the end of the program, I left my contact details and people started writing to me," Darpan notes he loved building things that had utility. “There was nothing like it earlier and BMTC site wouldn't let people know who made the program. It was on their website from 2003 to 2006,” he says.
During his engineering degree, Darpan took interest in programming languages and functioning of compilers. He went through an internship at IBM and then got placed there. At IBM, he was working on code generators. After working a year there, he went to the US to pursue his masters in software engineering and language design at Carnegie Mellon University. While there, he discovered his interest in languages and decided to pursue a PhD. Darpan joined UCLA for a PhD programme but dropped out of it and joined Oracle. Life was good at Oracle but as time passed he started to find his corporate job boring. There were bigger teams and he didn't have much stake in the game.
"You are contributing to the bigger picture sitting in a corner but don't understand why it requires 200 people to build what you are building," he explains.
During his stint at Oracle, Darpan kept in touch with Snehal, his old roommate at Carnegie Mellon. Darpan and Snehal did a course in social entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon. They had started a microfinance venture at Carnegie Mellon known as 30df.org(USD 30 fund). This would help people by getting others to contribute USD 30 each and provide help to underprivileged. Though the project didn't succeed, they got to meet with a lot of microfinance institutions and this propelled Darpan’s thought process in that direction.
One of the major issues he came across while meeting so many microfinance institutions was most had their operations running on pen and paper, with no proper system in place. Darpan and Snehal wanted to help solve this problem. They started Cloud Lending to provide cloud-based solutions to micro-financial institutions. Darpan says,
"Cloud democratises internet. A small company in Nagpur and Citibank use same technology for their banking needs."
He adds: "People are fed up when it comes to banks. Inside the financial services domain, there is a lot of attention being given to payments and payment gateways, like Paytm in India. People are realising that the last innovation banks had was ATM."
Though Darpan was interested in learning programming languages, it was unusual to see him get directly into microfinance technology. Darpan says he wanted to use technology to impact people’s lives. Building a company is not an easy task and Darpan had to face his own challenges. One of the biggest challenges he faced was hiring the right people. Darpan recounts an interesting incident:
"Once a person dropped by our office and said I am looking for a job. I asked him a couple of questions, he didn't know anything. I told him he could study and come back the next day. That person went back and studied and came the next day and was able to answer all my questions. You can teach people technology if they are sincere about it"