This Chennai-based runner-up of the video conferencing grand challenge made its platform in 10 weeks

Instrive Softlabs, a runner-up in the Innovation Challenge for Development of Video Conferencing Solution by The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), aims to emerge a major player in providing video conferencing and webinar solutions in the Indian market.

It’s not an easy task to create an alternative to Zoom, the popular video conferencing tool that grew unprecedentedly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Zoom grew to 300 million participants in March 2020 from just 10 million in December 2019.

It’s tougher still, to create it in 10 weeks – which is precisely what Chennai-based Instrive Softlabs did with its video conferencing solution HydraMeet.

Ashok Kannadasan, Founder and CEO of Instrive Softlabs.

HydraMeet was launched by a four-member team that included engineers, management consultants, and digital strategy specialists in true startup-mode.

“Ours is the only product that has been developed in the last 10 weeks. Most of the other competitors in the challenge have had an existing product. As a startup, we responded to opportunity by rapidly forming a team, and are now taking to market,” says Ashok Kannadasan, Founder and CEO of Instrive Softlabs.

HydraMeet is the fifth product of Instrive Softlabs, a tech startup founded in 2019, to solve for highly-secure video conferencing solution needs of India.

The startup, which presented its product HydraMeet for the ‘Innovation Challenge for Development of Video Conferencing Solution’ by The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) two months ago, has been selected among the winners. It was chosen as one of the 12 companies for the semi-finals that include PeopleLink, HCL, and Zoho.

What’s different about HydraMeet

The Instrive Softlabs team, of course, didn't create a me-too product. They pushed the innovation needle further to set it apart from all the other solutions to create India's very own security-first, video conferencing ecosystem.

“HydraMeet has been designed from the ground up to give users full control of their time, experience, privacy, and security,” Ashok says.

“We want 90 percent of the population of India to use our product today, irrespective of whether they are literate or not, where they are from,” he adds.

What sets them apart

"Global brands such as Zoom or Google Meet are all targeting the segment of users who are already using it. Our focus was to reach out to masses who are not a part of the economy in a mainstream manner to use a product like this," says Puneet Gaharana, a consulting professional who helped create HydraMeet.

He adds, "Our philosophy is to make it useful for the people in the street or those who have never used a computer before. How can we enable the people to get on to this, talk to people, get clarification, use the platform to communicate to different people."

The startup has also brought in nine different languages to its system with an aim to make it real and not a quote-to-quote translation of its website.

The team claims that the technology used in HydraMeet was built to enable low bandwidth usage. Thus, it is suited to be used anywhere — be it New York, New Delhi, or even rural India.

Another proposition that the team focussed was on administration control of the product.

Puneet adds, “We are going to offer the highest level of administration controls to the users. I don’t think anyone offers the level of granularity at which you can regulate the meetings, before, during, and after.”

According to the team, HydraMeet lets users invite other people, remove them, and even bar them from joining again. A host can mute participant mics, videos, and cameras, and even disallow document sharing for single or multiple users at a time.

“It is very flexible from a control’s standpoint, and that is something we are proud about,” Ashok says.

The team is still in the process of finalising a price for its product. They are keen on focussing on affordability and a pay-per-use system rather than a fixed fee.

The startup further claims that all the data in the system are AES256 encrypted end-to-end, following the security standard.

For access, the user can enable one or two factor authentications on the system. A participant can get the password, as well as an invite link.

Ashok and Puneet’s entrepreneurial journey

Ashok has around 10 years of experience in software development. Hailing from Trichy in Tamil Nadu, Ashok did his schooling and college there.

A week after graduating from engineering college, he moved to Chennai and began work in a startup where he oversaw the technical side and helped develop its first product.

After working there for about eight years, he quit his job to set out on his own entrepreneurial journey. He developed two products on live chat applications but was unable to launch them in the market.

He then joined another organisation but wasn’t really satisfied with what he was doing. It was during this period, over conversations with his friend Puneet that he discussed how to make the products reach customers, while also discussing non-incremental new solutions to the market where the consumer is impacted significantly.

Puneet has been part of the team to develop HydraMeet and has been responsible for conceptualising the solution and developing the strategy.

The discussions eventually led to the formation of Instrive Softlabs in July 2019. The startup began with just one employee in its first month. Within six months of operation, Instrive had 11 employees – each deployed across various projects.

While the startup initially focussed on digital management tools, live chats, and solutions for data innovation, the team was keen on doing something truly challenging and impactful.

The Innovation Challenge couldn’t have been launched at a better time for the team. It propelled them to put their best foot forward and do it despite regular work, with deliveries and expectations to meet.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Atmanirbhar Bharat- an inclusive approach

Both Ashok and Puneet are all praise for the government for the inclusive approach taken by the ministry.

“The whole journey was very encouraging, transparent, and professional. We are happy with the opportunity that has been provided to us and other companies,” says Ashok.

“It would have been fairly easy for the government to do it by involving just the large enterprises. But including the small and medium enterprises across the nation has helped us truly embody the spirit of Aatmanirbar Bharat,” says Puneet, signing off.

(Edited by Ryan Frantz)