There were 30 days to go. The cash registers were silent. The co-founder had quit unable to deal with the mess. The office space had to be vacated, as paying the rent was no longer possible. Is this what entrepreneurship is all about? This was not what Dinup Kalleril had in mind when he left home with big dreams.
The days were dark for Dinup in early 2013, and so were his thoughts. Maybe his parents were right; he ought to have finished his engineering degree and found a job. The online T-shirt company he had set up wasn't working, the Rs 25,000-investment was long gone.
His parents assumed their son would be the first one in the family to finish a college degree, find a good job and settle abroad, but this son of a plumber had different plans.
He chose the travails of entrepreneurship and it has been a journey ridden with challenges. The online T-shirt company long sold, Dinup has bounced back with another startup—MonkVyasa, an online astrology consultation platform. He claims the platform, set up earlier this year, has daily transactions of Rs 75,000 to Rs 1,00,000.
But in early 2013, the only course of action left was to become a delivery boy and work his way upward.
"Sachin Tendulkar was my hero. So my school vacations were spent playing cricket or swimming in the nearby ponds. I didn't know what I wanted to do but the appeal of a 9-5 job didn't hold," says 27-year-old Dinup. Nevertheless, like most of his peers, he ended up joining an engineering college, but soon recognised the move to be a blunder.
"In the second year of college, I decided to become an entrepreneur. I got many ideas and discussed those with my friends. I tried my hand at trading scrap, selling SIM cards and conducting tours for agencies. With the money I earned I got a computer in 2008," recalls Dinup.
The world of Internet and computers enthralled Dinup and he knew he had to take the plunge. So that year, he quit his university to focus on starting up. But all hell broke loose. His father refused to speak to him until he changed his mind. Finding it difficult to live in the such an environment, Dinup decided to move to Chennai.
Staying in Chennai for two months, he worked as a salesman to sustain himself. "I came back from Chennai with the idea of starting an online shopping portal for T-shirts. In 2012, online shopping was not popular in Kerala," says Dinup.
But all didn't go as planned and one of the biggest challenges was to meet the expenses. The money from most transactions was cash-on-delivery, which would take a month to reach them and that's when Dinup decided to become a delivery boy for his own venture and for other delivery companies as well.
"I delivered products for six months in Kochi. For many Kochities, I am familiar as a delivery boy," he adds.
Challenges were not new to Dinup, who was born in Pattimattom, 25 km from Kochi, into a family with a humble background. As he had studied in a school where the language of instruction was Malayalam, Dinup had to learn English when he joined college. He also did odd jobs while studying, to get some cash as he did not have pocket money.
Dinup eventually sold the business to a chartered accountant in Kochi and got out.
While his first venture didn't pan out as he hoped, Dinup continued his efforts to make ends meet and find a sustainable entrepreneurial venture. He ended up being the go-to guy for any online-related services.
It was serendipity that led him to his new venture. In December 2013, while at his friend's house, Dinup saw that his friend's father was going to consult an astrologer. Dinup immediately asked him why he didn’t try consulting an astrologer online.
"I took my friend’s laptop and searched for astrologer consultations online but I could not find any website that offered such a service," says Dinup. After going through some websites related to astrology, he figured out about 'automatic horoscope report', which is a technology that generates an online horoscope based on inputs like date, time and place of birth.
"That was the Eureka moment for my new venture. I realised that astrology is an important part of decision-making for most Indians. But in this Internet era, we could not get astrology services online like other services," says Dinup.
However, Dinup knew he needed a strong technical team. One evening, after four months of relentless search, Dinup happened to be sitting in a teashop near Kochi's international cricket stadium, and he met his college friend Sarath KS, who was then working as a software developer.
"When I talked about the idea of a marketplace website for astrologers, he was very excited. We met several times at the same place discussing the idea and plans. Soon, he decided to quit his job and joined me as the Co-founder of Monkvyasa," says Dinup.
The duo took two months to design the entire flow chart and UI before starting work on the coding. The next challenge was to get astrologers on board as most were not Internet-savvy. They took time to convince astrologers to try out their platform and trained them on giving online consultations.
However, technical glitches made them go back to the drawing board. They had built a video consultation platform that had worked well during beta testing with 10 astrologers. But the payment gateway integration and video consultation together did not work.
They shut operations on the website and re-launched in April 2015 after working further on the product. Dinup by then had become a member of TIE Kerala and soon got mentorship and seed funding from Sanjay Vijaykumar, Chairman of Kochi-based startup incubator Startup Village.
In April 2015, Monkvyasa had 15 astrologers on its platform and began with close to 22 consultations in a month. Today, it has 25 astrologers on board and provides over 22 consultations in a day.
While the team gets over 500 enquiries and 200 online enquiries for astrologers, it is taking things one step at a time. "We want to be absolutely sure of astrologers' credentials before we on-board anyone," says Dinup.
The team charges a 15-per-cent commission from the astrologer for every transaction made. Users looking for a consultation can choose between an online video chat and an offline phone call. The payments are made online with the average cost of a consultation being Rs 500.
The vision is to bring the best astrologers in India on one platform, Dinup says. The company is targeting to on-board 2,000 astrologers in three years and reach transactions of $200 million.
"Entrepreneurship has given me freedom even in the toughest of times. I don't think there is anything else I would want to do despite all the stress and struggles," says Dinup.