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'How we got Facebooked by Sheryl Sandberg': the Maya story

John Paul
19th Jul 2017
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Maya, a Bangalore-based mobile app that helps women track their menstrual cycles, won the Asia-Pacific App of the Year at FbStart Apps of the Year awards, beating 900 submissions from 87 countries. The app won the approval of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who posted a photo of Maya’s Bengaluru team with a brief on its impact.

The Maya team.

It all started three years ago. My wife and I had this idea for a smartphone-based app that would help women track their periods and health. We built a prototype and started conversations with potential investors. Initially, no one thought it made any sense. We heard all kinds of rejections and theories:

-        “What makes you so sure you can build a world-class product?"

-        “A guy can’t build a product of this kind.”

-        “The app industry is a cottage industry and the entry barrier is very low.”

-        “I don’t understand this subject and am not too comfortable talking about it.”

But having seen and experienced the problems up close, we knew we were on to something that would change the lives of women worldwide. We also knew that women needed it as they struggle in dealing with this aspect of their life, day in and day out!

We decided to build it and started looking for alternate sources of funding. The banks wouldn’t lend us money because we had no collateral. The only viable alternate source of funding was to take part in hackathons. We participated in a bunch of them and won the Samsung Smart App Challenge with US$ 100,000 in prize money. The prize money was used to build and launch Maya.

Trial and error

Once we launched Maya, we went through rapid iterations. We took user feedback very seriously and worked on it almost everyday. This helped us in getting to the base product quickly, one that our users loved. We did make a number of mistakes along the way. We made updates that crashed and burned.

We added features that our users didn’t approve of. We got distracted with building products that were not core to our offering. And most importantly, we had competition that had more money to spend. One recurring thing along all these challenges is that we are quick learners. We paused, looked deeper and course corrected.

We ran out of money multiple times. We bet our farm but there was no looking back. Stopping was never an option. We are blessed with family, friends, well-wishers and even strangers who stood by us during these trying times. We have many people to thank.

Starting with the awesome team at Maya: full time, part time and consultants to folks in the startup ecosystem in Bangalore, fellow nerds, founders, mentors, incubators and investors. The medical fraternity who gave us guidance and inputs on building Maya also helped us immensely.

The media also covered our journey at various points; a special shoutout to YourStory, the first publication to feature us. And then there are the critics who have given us constructive and the occasional harsh feedback when we needed them. We are also ever grateful to our friends and family who lent us money so we could keep the lights on.

We were able to achieve much through a very lean team. Until 2015, we were all of five people. We developed Maya on three different platforms and launched it in 12 languages. Early last year, two fabulous investors joined the Maya journey – Prime Venture Partners & Rajan Anandan. They truly believed in our mission and their mentorship and guidance has been an incredible asset in accelerating forward. Since then, we have been focused on scaling our team, building a better product and launching Maya in India.

The face of Facebook

Facebook’s tools proved to be valuable in this journey. It helped us engage very closely with existing and potential users. It helped us run a bunch of experiments around the product and marketing. Facebook Analytics also helped us measure the outcome of these experiments at a very detailed level. Today, we have a great product that has clocked seven million downloads in 14 languages, achieved a 4.6 star rating from 15,000 reviews and a phenomenal +81% Net Promoter Score (NPS).

We understand your disbelief. All this doesn't seem like an account of how we cracked the competition. But really, there are no short answers or shortcuts. When the FbStart competition was announced, all it took was 30 minutes to submit our entry. However, it is the hard work of the team at Maya and the people around us over the years that culminated in this award. Maya has been adjudged a winner from among 900 submissions across 87 countries!

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, posted the news of the winners on Facebook and that was a huge surprise. We have always looked up to her – for the roles she played at Google and Facebook, and also for being a role model and inspiration for men and women of this generation.

Right after the awards were announced at the Rise Conference in Hong Kong, the team from Facebook came up to me and asked if I had seen Sheryl’s post. I almost dropped my phone in surprise when I saw a picture of the beaming Maya team in her post! It is a high we still haven’t gotten over. This is a milestone and a huge one at that.

While we are delighted at the recognition, we pinch and remind ourselves of the mission with which we started. That there is still much to be done to enable every woman in the world to lead a healthier life and truly, we have just scratched the surface.

We have miles to go before we sleep.

(John Paul is the Founder & CEO of Maya, a menstrual cycle calendar tracker app that helps women track their cycles, related symptoms, mood swings and overall health. Over time, it aims to be an all-round health assistant for women.)

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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