6 years, 4 products, and 5 continents — what is this New Yorker doing in India?Tarush Bhalla
A hidden wanderer, Adam Walker has gone to the extent of using his education loan to start up. Adam’s tryst with starting the perfect venture has taken him from Europe to Africa and now to Asia.
But what caused this downtown New Yorker to finally bring his aspirations to India? The answer lies in his narrative.
Adam’s journey as an entrepreneur began at the age of 22. He started a small wind turbine company called Kosovo Wind Garden in Pristina, Kosovo (Europe). The idea was to addresses the country's lack of reliable electricity. Running it for a year, the idea eventually fizzled out in March 2012.
However, his love for creating a social impact took the shape of his next venture. Looking at electricity being stolen by businesses and consumers, he built an objective meter reader with other co-founders, which monitored electricity consumption along with intelligent load shedding. The idea picked some steam and seeing an active market in Chile, he enrolled the venture to the Start-Up Chile Accelerator programme in 2012.
While settling himself in Chile, things took a turn, as his investor was caught by the FBI for illegal money laundering from Russia. He was shocked of the happenings and was even ousted from the organisation. Things became bitter, but Adam wouldn’t stop taking his chances.
It was too soon to call quits.
Taking a page from his book, Adam remarks,
A problem in my history is jumping to work on something without really thinking of setbacks and reflecting on the options.
Operating in the electricity monitoring space and looking at the condition of bill generation, Adam with an ex-colleague started a mobile billing subscription software, RemoteCycles in May 2013. The aim was to correct operational efficiencies preventing different customers from paying different amounts for the same service.
Looking at the boom of mobile money amongst the population, he chose Nairobi, Kenya, as his next test ground.
After moving there, Adam soon realised that he fell into the classic problem of addressing the solution before the problem. Utilities in Kenya were majorly governed by public companies, and lack of competition caused these companies to have no incentives to improve operations.
This time the loss was big, and his firm was bleeding money and time.
In the same year in July, Adam went back to the US and did all kinds of odd jobs to support the venture. He reminisces,
It was really difficult being over-educated and underemployed. The times were really stressful.
A person who had his bachelors in Physics and Philosophy from Carnegie Mellon University and a Masters in Science, Technology and Public Policy from Rochester Institute of Technology was walking dogs and stacking wood at saw mills to keep his venture alive. The tough times didn’t chose to leave his side.
Although working in various countries, all of Adam’s businesses were incorporated out of the US.
In December 2013, the co-founder left and Adam moved back to Kenya. Dearth of personal funds led Adam to move to a servant’s quarter in Nairobi. Building his fourth venture called HummingBill, he continued with his odd jobs, unlocking phones (imported from US) and tutoring students in Biology.
But things took a turn, when Paul English, Founder of travel metasearch Kayak, and Africa Angel Network chose to fund his venture for $45,000. Looking at the limited scope of the market, his advisors kept asking him to move out of Kenya.
But clarity struck Adam only after an exploratory trip to Mumbai in July 2014. Understanding that he gave his very best, Adam realised the need to move to a bigger market.
And, in December 2014, Adam flew to Mumbai to give his dying startup another lifeline.
Trying to understand where he went wrong, the learnings were fairly simple.
He believes that the environment and people with whom he started the company weren’t the best. Also, the culture in these geographies lacked intellectual capital in terms of experience and product understanding, not to forget the difficulty to raise capital.
But, there is a silver lining to his story, where all his experiences haven’t gone in vain.
It’s been more than a year for Adam in India, and his B2B automated billing and invoice generation solution Hummingbill finally seems to have taken off.
A new start called Hummingbill
Forty million small and medium sized businesses in India experience cash flow issues. In 2015, 97 percent of those B2B businesses reported consistent late payments from their clients, where their average Days Sales Outstanding was 65 days, the longest in Asia. Further, one in three invoices unpaid in India is due to the seller's fault, predominantly from their clerical errors while drafting invoices.
Looking at the enormous market and the depth of the problem, he moved to the tech capital of India — Bengaluru — to build a solution that allowed vendors to track invoices in an intelligent way, moving invoices to cloud.
Further, mentorship became easier as India had not just a history of indigenous software, but also talent migrating from the Silicon Valley.
The software solution called Hummingbill helps to remove the dependency on an accountant, allowing sales representatives to create and send invoices.
Integrated with payment gateways like Razorpay and Instamojo, the invoice comes with a payment button which vendors can use to pay the raised invoice. Integration with payment gateways also allows Hummingbill to automatically reconcile the payment.
Sitting as a Gmail plugin, the data are made available to sales representatives in a personalised manner. The solution helps businesses provide visibility into the designated sales representative responsible for invoices, while removing operational inefficiencies to the process. Reminders to businesses for payments due are also automated.
Additionally, aging reports, a tool used by collections personnel to determine which invoices are overdue for payment, are automatically generated and customised depending on the designation of the person in the organisation. This helps to bring complete automation to the process.
The software automatically syncs with Tally software, which seems to be dominating the market. The firm has raised $100,000 from a mix of angel investors from Singapore and Dubai.
While starting up, one of the major threats Adam saw was from manual accountants, which would help businesses manually create invoices monthly. The key was to disrupt them and sync the invoicing solution to Tally, which was dominating the market. He adds:
In India, there is a slight resistance towards newer technology. Further, there is a high fallback on the population for doing these tasks. However, in billing it doesn’t scale with a lot of companies still having bad books.
According to the company, over 300 businesses have downloaded Hummingbill, and uploaded over 9,000 of their clients onto the platform. Since its beta release in June, over 18,000 invoices have been tracked. The firm has garnered Rs 40,000 in revenues since June and claims to be growing at 45 percent month-on-month. Having a workforce of four members including Adam, the team is equally divided amongst engineers and sales representatives.
The company also faces competition from bigger brands like Zoho Invoice, Zoho Books, Beyond ARM and ezyCollect amongst many others in the accounts receivable management software market.
In the next nine months, the company is looking to raise a bigger round of $500,000 to triple their team size and also looking to break even.
The Adam Walker of today
The vision for this entrepreneur remains to be even bigger. While things seem to have finally picked up, Adam seems to be nothing like his past.
Although a sense of regret lingers in him, he owes a better sentiment towards his life experiences and past failures.
Having learnt a lot, he questions and validates every move before taking a sound step. He did that while launching Hummingbill in India too.
But his failures haven’t deterred him from taking leaps and jumps forward, because as it’s said the rolling stone gathers no moss.
Tarush is driven towards delivering unbiased and accurate reportage while engaging with as many mediums as possible to narrate a fresh perspective. Working for the past few years in the digital space with YourStory, he has covered the Indian technology ecosystem extensively, focusing on new age Fintech companies, while building strong connects within the industry.