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A tale of two coders and how they created Knowlarity, Asia’s No.1 in cloud telephony

Binjal Shah
posted on 26th April 2017
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Growing up, Ambarish Gupta saw the spirited town of Kanpur, once known as the Manchester of the East, go into a state of stupor. The prime example was the Lal Imli Mill–one of the most successful Indian brands for woolen material, which had the most famous factory in Kanpur–that suffered an unproductive spell for many years when the government intervened and started doling out salaries as a peace-keeping mechanism. Thus, a town that had earlier shone with the sweat of hard work was now ambling about through card games and aimless discussions.

This slow disintegration to a stagnated land happy to sustain on the almost non-existent salary provided shone a guiding light on Ambarish's future path. He resolved to always be an initiator rather than sit on the fringes waiting for support.

Ambarish Gupta

Lost in the right direction

This fervent entrepreneurial spirit guided him through his years at IIT Kanpur, pursuing Computer Science, throughout his corporate life, and eventually even led to him starting his own company as early as 2003 (which, unfortunately, didn't have a successful crowning). Immediately after his undergrad, he chose to work as a traveling research assistant, and went to countries such as Germany and the US, where, much later, he completed his MBA at Carnegie Mellon University in 2007. This exercise, of buying for himself the basic luxury of time, helped him garner perspective and greatly shaped his worldview.

So, unlike some other entrepreneurs who identify a problem when they face it, Ambarish was able to anticipate the demand for Knowlarity’s services much in advance. “The business atmosphere in 2009-10 was picking up, and the competition too had increased. Organisations could not afford to lose even a single customer call anymore, and they needed a mechanism that would record, respond, and track every call received. Business telephony was a derivative of consumer telephony, and Indian companies had to adopt this kind of communications technology as most of them did not know how to manage calls,” he explains, adding, “And most businesses also felt that having a professional and personalised response mechanism would enhance their goodwill. Anticipating this need, I came upon the idea of Knowlarity.”

He was working in India as a strategy consultant with McKinsey & Company at the time–but he was cracking away at filling the gnawing need for cloud telephony in business every time he so much as took a breather at work.

By 2009, Knowlarity was in business.

Knowing Knowlarity

Knowlarity’s products possess a plethora of features, such as call greeting, call recording, routing-rerouting, integration with CRM (customer relationship management) systems, analytics, empirical data generation, and storage of data, as well as myriad other features. “We provide business numbers, national as well as international, and provide comprehensive services to meet a business’ communication requirements,” says Ambarish. They cater to all kinds of business, and offer free business numbers and initial services to startups as well.

What is Asia’s largest business cloud communications provider today started as just two people working out of an office in Delhi, doing nothing but coding extensively. Says Ambarish,

“From the beginning, we wanted to ensure that all our products were legally compliant with the regulations of Indian telecommunications. Since we were the first to introduce the concept of cloud telephony in India, I was a bit apprehensive about the response it would receive. And while it was formally launched in 2009, Knowlarity’s roots date back to 2008, when work on SuperFax was started. This ‘electronic fax’ service made fax usage as convenient as email.”

At the same time, realising that fax was on its way out, Knowlarity began working on a system–SuperCaller–to broadcast voice messages. After seeing how well this voice message broadcast system worked in the Odisha state elections, Ambarish realised that there was an untapped market here, with many organisations needing a reliable and affordable system of voice communications.

The evolution of Knowlarity

In 2009, Knowlarity started work on its Knowlus cloud platform, which now lies at the heart of its various products. That year was also when Knowlarity became resolute in turning into an affordable provider of call centre solutions–and Ambarish himself decided to focus on inbound call handling.

In 2010, with a team that was now 40-strong, Knowlarity expanded its focus to IVR applications, resulting in the creation of the Smart IVR service. This year also marked a moment that would change the course of Knowlarity’s history forever–the launch of their call conference/call centre product, Virtual Receptionist (now SuperReceptionist), which, over the years, has gained tremendous capabilities to become Knowlarity’s flagship product, an addition immensely close to their heart. Able to communicate with customers, store and analyse data, and ensure that not a single call went missed, it became one of the most popular products offered by Knowlarity.

The year 2012 brought with it many paradigm shifts in the company’s narrative. A highly successful round of Series A funding, with Sequoia Capital investing $6.5 million, also sent Knowlarity on the path of transformation from a startup to an established enterprise communications provider. “I gradually realised that the business' entire process was becoming organic and it did not need to be constantly supervised, which gave me greater freedom to focus on the products, look for newer markets, and offer more innovative services to our clients,” he explains.

Streamlining their operations also meant that Ambarish took the game-changing decision of hiving Knowlus off as a platform. Ambarish explains,

“The separation of services and platform laid the groundwork for the easier, faster development of more reliable and feature-packed services.”

In 2013 came another massive jump in capability for Knowlarity’s SuperReceptionist call-centre solution–the ability to integrate with CRM packages. Weighing out all the possibilities in a swiftly changing startup ecosystem, they decided to shift Knowlarity’s headquarters to Singapore, in order to position themselves as a global player.

This attracted all the right energies and synergies–in 2014, Knowlarity went in for their Series B round, raising $16 million from leading VCs including Sequoia Capital and Mayfield Fund. This round needed them to become ubiquitous–to push towards customers in smaller towns through increased customisation, as well as to ramp up their efforts in the enterprise segment, with a renewed focus on large businesses and corporations.

The next two years were spent consolidating the empire they were on to, with special efforts made to boost customer satisfaction, new templated solutions being offered, and a move towards a deeper, consultative approach towards business partnerships.

The most recent round of funding also took place in 2016, with a Series C round resulting in an infusion of $20 million from several investors, including Delta Partners, Sequoia India, Mayfield, Blacksoil, and Trifecta Capital.

Over the years, Knowlarity has won over 75 awards, and its products have also been chosen by government agencies to revamp public services–notable among these is Knowlarity’s work on the mid-day meal project, and on tracking the medical services provided to hospital patients in Uttar Pradesh.

Today, with over 300 employees and 15,000 monthly paying customers across 65 nations, Knowlarity is one of the world’s most prominent business cloud communications providers in both the SME segment and enterprises. They have grown more than 120 percent YoY over the past few years. “Our biggest growth hack is our superior product and customer centricity. They are the drivers of our growth!” Ambarish exclaims.

Telephony in the time of cholera

Almost every quarter or so, there are a few moments where you see your hard work almost perishing, and get that sinking feeling of the cookie crumbling.

But in late June 2016, Knowlarity faced its biggest crisis ever–when telecommunications authorities in Delhi suspended more than half of the lines to their clients based on the assumption that their services were non-compliant with the regulations. “Some employees and I remained the entire night working in the office, trying to get the connections working again, handling client complaints and trying to establish contact with the authorities and explain the situation. The problem was fixed, and our clients fully supported us during the ordeal, for which we cannot thank them enough. I learnt two important lessons that day–howsoever big a crisis, it can be solved through courage, logical thinking, and teamwork, and secondly, innovations will always remain ahead of regulations!” explains Ambarish.

During that phase, they were also raising capital, and had just started turning profitable – so, they took a three-pronged approach to damage control, directed towards investors, customers, and employees. They had to assure the investors that the organisation was poised to survive and thrive, continue to provide uninterrupted services to the consumers, and lastly, let go of the profits in order to sustain the company in the long run. “This worked in our favour. Those who were trying to sink us by maliciously feeding information to the media had to bite the bitter pill when our investors praised our adept handling of such a situation and invested more funds into Knowlarity,” reveals Ambarish.

Flattery or ambush?

When they started in 2009, there was no other company serving the business communication category. “Companies coming in later and copying our products, strategies, and so on was disturbing to an extent, but slightly comforting as well. Their following our moves gave us indication that we were essentially doing things in the right manner,” he says.

Ambarish says that their scale, quality, range of services, and efficiency in operations put them in a different league, as compared to the current gamut of competitors.

They are not currently introducing any new product or service, but are trying to optimise the revenue from the market demand of SuperReceptionist and other extant features. “We are also looking forward to consolidating and expanding our market share in the regions we are already operating in. After that, we would try and look into bringing more unique services that would redefine how businesses handle commercial communications in digital times,” says Ambarish, signing off.

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