[YS Exclusive] Co-founder Niraj Ranjan Rout on how Bengaluru-based SaaS platform Hiver raised $4 million from Kalaari, Kae Capital
Some of you probably already know and use Hiver. The software sits on Gmail/Gsuite and helps users collaborate over emails. Today, SaaS platform formerly known as GrexIt announced that it had raised $4 million in a funding round led by Kalaari Capital and Kae Capital.
Founded by Niraj Ranjan Rout and Nitesh Nandy in 2011, Hiver is a pure product play story. Both founders are engineers from IIT Kharagpur. While Niraj did his B. Tech in Electronics and Communications in 2002, Nitesh completed his B. Tech in Computer Science in 2007. Together, they earlier started Mobicules, an app and web development company based in Noida.
The software was previously known as GrexIt, but in September 2015, it changed its name to Hiver to avoid confusion with the term Grexit, then being used to refer to the probable exit of Greece from the Eurozone. The firm, however, retains GrexIt, Inc. as its legal name. Following the fund raise, Kae Capital’s Gaurav Chaturvedi and Kalaari Capital’s Rajesh Raju will be joining the Board of Directors at Hiver.
What got us excited at YourStory was not just the funding that Hiver raised but how they have been running the startup so far. Hiver had earlier raised a small, $130,000 round from the Citrix Startup Accelerator and Paytm Founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma. Since then, they have been virtually bootstrapped and grew the company to 1,100+ paying customers and a 50-person team – all from the revenues they generated. Consider this:
- More than 60 percent of their 1,100+ customers are in the US, and the rest are mostly in Europe and Australia.
- They have been ranked by G2Crowd (the top independent SaaS review site globally) as one among the top 10 helpdesk software programs of 2018. They have 144 reviews there: https://g2crowd.com/products/hiver/reviews
- Some of their notable customers include Harvard University, Hubspot, Vacasa (a top vacation rentals company in the US), ExtremeReach (a leading video ad tech provider) and the Chartered Management Institute of the UK.
So, we decided to have a chat with the founders to discover how they’ve come so far and what their plans are going forward.
What got the investors excited about this deal? How long did the process last?
Niraj Ranjan Rout: I think what got investors excited the most was that we had demonstrated that we could get to the core of a problem experienced by virtually every knowledge worker in the world and build a world-class product to solve that problem. Investors were also excited by our frugality, and our focus on making inbound marketing channels to drive growth.
The entire process from initial conversations to signing took five months. We got a term sheet pretty soon after starting the conversation, and a big part of these five months was spent going through the due diligence process and finalising the paperwork.
How do you plan to scale Hiver and who would you consider competition?
Niraj: Our most obvious competitor is Frontapp, as they approach the email collaboration problem from a very similar angle. We also compete a lot with established helpdesk tools like Freshdesk, Zendesk, and Helpscout. However, our unique value proposition is the fact that we're completely Gmail-based, so our users don't have a new interface to learn and get used to. Our customers can get started with the product and start deriving value in under 5 minutes, because, well, everyone knows how to use Gmail and we build on top of it.
We plan to scale Hiver by first continuing going deeper into the problems we solve and increase the value of the email to a business by a huge magnitude. An email is a tool that every business uses but was never built to solve the problems that they try to solve with it. There's a huge opportunity for us to build on email as a platform to solve communication problems for businesses.
Our go-to-market strategy would continue to be heavily built around inbound customer acquisition. We believe that we're in a really good position to be able to scale the demand for our product by doing good quality marketing around content and paid search.
What is exciting about what you are building?
Niraj: It’s the fact that email is something every knowledge worker in the world users, but it was never built to solve the problems that they try to solve with it. Consider a simple scenario: you are in a team with 10 other people. You have an email coming in that you want someone else in your team to deal with, so you forward it to them. Over a day, your entire team might be forwarding dozens of emails all around, and at the end of the day you have a mess - you don't know what is done, what needs to be done, and who is doing what. Email fails even at a simple, widely prevalent use case like this.
We see a huge potential in looking at email as a business communication platform and building tools and solutions on top of it to solve the most prevalent business communication problems.
How did you onboard so many reputed customers?
Niraj: Our customer acquisition is almost completely inbound and free! We have very good quality content around the problems we solve, and we rank very highly on some really contextual and relevant keywords. Our product has been built for low-touch, self-serve onboarding, and almost all our customers have been onboarded with zero or very little handholding.
We think it's about identifying a good problem to solve, solving it well, and telling the story about your solution in a way that can reach your audience and impress them.
Tell us about your team.
Niraj: We're a team of 50 people now. We were just 24 people six months back, so we've more than doubled our team size. Three-quarters of the team is made up engineers, designers, and product managers. Our marketing team is just two people, and we've also recently built an inside sales team with six people, a four-person support team with a goal to provide 24-hour support, and an admin and HR team to help run operations and scale up our team.
What can the market expect from you in the next 12 months?
Niraj: Expect the product to get a lot stronger than it is right now. We want to be the number one product (that) companies think of when they feel overwhelmed with email and want to make their communication more efficient.