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