At one point, I was al­most to­tally broke, says Paper­flite co-founder

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - SUNDAY SPECIAL -

us­ing our con­tent an­a­lyt­ics, you can cre­ate bet­ter con­tent.

How has the jour­ney been for Paper­flite? The com­pany is largely Chen­nai-based, but it is in­cor­po­rated in the US. Why?

All three of us were work­ing at Cog­nizant when we were de­bat­ing the idea of a new ven­ture. Cog­nizant has this busi­ness ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gramme to test out ideas in­ter­nally and we came up with this idea called ‘Fastest.’ When we worked on it, we re­alised our strengths — that I was most suited for sales and mar­ket­ing, Yega for prod­uct and de­sign, and Anand, our CTO, was the en­gi­neer­ing and tech­ni­cal ex­pert.

So we quit Cog­nizant to start Paper­flite. We wanted to open shop in the US for three rea­sons. One, it would be eas­ier for our cus­tomers in the US to fa­mil­iarise them­selves with the com­pany. Two, it would be eas­ier for us to get fund­ing. And three, as a SaaS plat­form, our busi­ness model de­pends on re­cur­ring pay­ments by auto-debit. Some­thing that isn’t pos­si­ble in In­dia be- cause of RBI reg­u­la­tion on two-fac­tor au­then­ti­ca­tion.

We hear you all did not take a salary from the com­pany for months...

Many startup founders and CEOs don’t take salaries out of their com­pa­nies for months and even years. And even af­ter the ven­ture has bro­ken-even, they still take very nom­i­nal amounts of the busi­ness. I know many CEOs who take as salaries far less than what they pay their top ex­ec­u­tives.

We needed to pump in money into the startup. So we didn’t take out much in salaries, ex­cept for our ba­sic ex­penses, and that too af­ter we turned prof­itable in July this year.

At one point it got so tough that I didn’t have money to pay for petrol. The petrol pump as­sis­tant made three at­tempts to swipe for Rs 500, be­fore I re­alised the trans­ac­tion er­ror was be­cause of lack of money in my ac­count. So I parked my ve­hi­cle at the bunk and told the boy I’d go to an ATM to with­draw cash, as a ploy to gain more time to fig­ure out how to han­dle this. He said he would ac­com­pany me. I couldn’t shake him off. We tried again, and ob­vi­ously it failed. Then I told him maybe it’s a prob­lem with the card. Mean­while I told my co-founder my plight and he im­me­di­ately wired me Rs 2,000. But it still took an­other 5 min­utes, 5 min­utes of pure hell and em­bar­rass­ment. That was a real low point, that af­ter 14 years of job ex­pe­ri­ence, I could still go to­tally broke.

What were some of the other highs and lows?

So there was this cus­tomer who came to us for a small trans­ac­tional deal worth $500. They just wanted a ready­made track­ing so­lu­tion. We had that. They paid. But we didn’t stop there. We kept look­ing into ways in which they could fur­ther en­rich the cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence. We kept talk­ing and en­gag­ing with them. And see­ing our gen­uine in­ter­est and the fea­si­bil­ity of our so­lu­tion they ended up plac­ing a $50,000 or­der with us. That was a high.

On other lows, there’s this funny story. When our of­fice rental con­tract ended with one owner, we had to move even though our new place wasn’t ready. Worse, the car­pen­ter who had to fix the bath­room doors got drunk and passed out. So for two whole days, till he re­cov­ered and the doors were fixed, ev­ery time some­one wanted to use the loo, some­one else had to stand out­side to stay guard. But all the dis­com­fort, strug­gle and hard work have been worth it, as we never imag­ined we’d be here to­day.

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