Dhruv’s journey is a testament to the power of perseverance, passion, and purpose. He has always been motivated to create something meaningful that can positively impact people’s lives. From celebrating the small wins to acknowledging the mistakes, he has continued to reinvent himself and evolve as an entrepreneur.
Dhruv’s current venture – Casa- is an innovative model that adds value to society and creates a sustainable and ethical way for individuals to monetise their social media presence while supporting brands they believe in🤝🤝.
Join us as we delve into his journey, uncover the lessons he has learned along the way and learn more about Casa – Helping D2C brands build community.
YC: Welcome to the Yellow Chapter! We’re excited to have you here. We’d love to hear about your experiences growing up, career aspirations, and any intriguing family stories you would love to share.
Dhruv: Sure, that sounds great. Thank you for having me. I appreciate that Yellow Chapter is building the opportunity to cover stories of bootstrap and early-stage founders who often need more coverage.
I was born in Bombay (Mumbai) in 1988, but my family relocated to Delhi, where I spent most of my childhood. My younger brother, Arjun, who is six years younger than me, was also born in Mumbai. He now works for Microsoft in Seattle.
I am very fortunate to have had great, strict, but caring parents. My father is an engineer who specialises in setting up power plants for companies in Europe and America. He has a successful career, and I was always impressed by his work ethic and professionalism.
My mother is a talented businesswoman, just like her father. Despite her skills, she could never pursue her dreams due to her responsibilities at home. She always says, “To be successful in business, you need to offer value and earn the trust of your customers.” I encourage her to start her own chocolate🍫🍫 business because she makes the most incredible chocolate I’ve ever tasted.
Growing up, my family had a very middle-class lifestyle, and my parents were careful with spending. We didn’t have many luxuries or toys, and my brother and I had to work hard for everything we had. While I did well academically and usually finished in the top three of my class, I always preferred sports to study. At one point, I even dreamed of becoming a professional football player.
My decision to pursue engineering was crystal clear in my mind. My parents always encouraged me to strive for excellence, believing that studying at IIT or abroad was the best way to succeed. I must say my parents were amazing, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.
Though I didn’t get into IIT, I didn’t let that setback deter me. Instead, I applied to several top engineering colleges in the US and explored my options. Fortunately, I received acceptance letters from many of them and chose the one that aligned with my priorities and goals.
2007-2011 – Bs. Computer Engineering @ University Of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
YC: What practical advice would you give engineering students looking to make the most of their BTech and achieve a successful career, particularly those aspiring to start their own business?
1. The Importance Of Identifying Your Passion – Understanding what motivates you beyond the monetary gain is essential. If you pursue an idea solely for money, you may be inclined to abandon it when faced with obstacles or setbacks. Therefore, it’s vital to prioritise something you feel genuinely passionate about.
2. Mastering And Balancing Technical and Business Skills – The key to establishing a successful business is developing crucial business skills, including selling and building, even if they don’t come naturally to you. As an engineer, you may need help with sales and marketing, but working on these skills early on is crucial to ensure your business thrives.
3. Building a Long-Term Professional Network – I suggest building a network of people who can help one learn and grow over the long term, not just those with power and influence. It’s important to focus on relationships beyond short-term gains and prioritise those who can be mentors, peers, or exchange ideas.
YC: What strategies can engineers use to make informed decisions when selecting or changing jobs to avoid accepting a wrong fit?
1. Prioritise learning over money: As a young person starting out in your career, give more importance to learning over monetary gains. While salary is important, finding a job where you can learn quickly and build your skills will pay off in the long run.
2. Evaluate the company culture: Make sure to conduct research on the company, its founders, and its founding team by reading online resources, news articles, and other relevant information. Consider reaching out to current employees or former employees to gain additional insights.
3. Speak to HR, hiring managers and other employees: Ask about the new projects and initiatives the company is pursuing and assess their interest in industry trends and advancements. This will give you an idea of the company’s direction and future goals and help you evaluate if their values align with your own.
4. Identify growth-oriented companies and individuals: Look for companies and individuals who prioritise growth and constantly develop new ideas. Consider revenue, growth potential, and competition indicators when evaluating a company.
Additionally, individuals examine their pedigree and past experiences to determine if they have a track record of growth and success.
YC- Tell us about your professional roadmap and its associated learning.
2011-2013 – Software Engineering @ NetApp – Data Management Solutions for the Cloud.
Dhruv: In college, I discovered my passion for distributed systems and pursued an internship with NetApp, a leading company in this field. They were my top choice, with $5 billion in revenue and prestigious clients such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.
I received a pre-placement offer from them, and although I received other offers, I was content with NetApp because of my interest in distributed systems.
1. High Collaborative Environment: Employees supported each other’s growth and worked as a team. It helped to foster a sense of community and positive work culture.
2. Common Goal Setting: NetApp also emphasised the importance of the team moving fast rather than individual people moving fast. This approach encouraged collaboration and helped ensure everyone worked towards the same goals. It also helped to build a strong sense of team spirit and camaraderie.
3. Wealth Generation Opportunities: This allowed employees to share the company’s success and reap financial rewards. Their stock purchase programs and other wealth generation opportunities were ahead of their time and not commonly offered by companies of NetApp’s size.
4. NetApp’s positive workplace culture: A key to attracting and retaining top talent: NetApp had a great workplace culture, consistently ranked as one of the best in the world. Employees were happy and engaged, and the company’s leadership team was highly respected. This positive culture helped to attract top talent and retain employees over the long term.
I would like to mention Kiyoshi, my manager. He was very supportive, and we were able to build a lot of cool things under his leadership.
2013-2014 – Associate Product Manager @ Brightroll – Programmatic video advertising platform. (Acquired by Yahoo!).
I wanted to transition into product management, but unfortunately, NetApp needed a clear path for engineers to move into product management roles. Since it took a lot of work to transition to product roles in more prominent companies like Google, I started looking for opportunities in startups.
Brightroll was an up-and-coming video ad exchange startup that big VCs in Silicon Valley funded. It was the first video ad exchange platform, and I was excited about the opportunity.
1. Exposure to Silicon Valley culture: During my time at BrightRoll, I had the opportunity to experience Silicon Valley culture firsthand. It was a fast-paced environment focused on moving quickly and breaking things.
2. Speed and agility in product development: At BrightRoll, I learned the importance of flexibility and adaptability. People worked hard to build and launch features quickly, often in a week. Customer issues were addressed promptly, sometimes on the same night. This experience taught me that moving rapidly and responding to market demands in a startup environment is critical.
3: Leadership in the industry: BrightRoll was a video ad exchange space leader then. Working with an industry-leading startup can provide numerous benefits.
Firstly, it offers the opportunity for growth and exposure to innovative products and services. Additionally, you can learn from industry experts, receive competitive compensation, and have the chance to impact the company’s success significantly.
Coworkers @ BrightRoll
2014- Relocation to Bangalore, India.
After spending around six and a half to seven years in the US, I realised I was not enjoying it professionally and personally. Although I gained valuable experience and progress in my career, I felt unfulfilled from a personal standpoint. Having spent a significant amount of time away from India, I yearned to come back home.
1. Taking A Leap Of Faith: India was experiencing a surge in growth and development at the time, and I was intrigued by the prospects. Despite having no job offer, I decided to take a leap of faith and return to India. Looking back, having a job in hand would have been better, but I was interested in exploring the startup scene.
2. Navigating India’s Startup Ecosystem: I came to India specifically to delve into startup ideas for about six months. I was passionate about social impact ideas. But I needed to figure out how to execute them. However, none of them gained any momentum. And then, well, things took a bit of a detour.
3. A New Idea: Problem statement – Using public restrooms in India was a big challenge.
Solution – An app to easily find toilets in a city.
In the US, the concept of portable toilets allows for easy installation in various locations, including events or parks, enabling the use of public spaces.
However, in India, the reality was different. After speaking with numerous individuals, particularly women, including my mother, I learned that accessing proper restroom facilities was a significant challenge.
4. Struggles With Funding – I reached out to IIM Ahmedabad’s incubation centre with my idea, and while they initially expressed interest, they eventually stopped responding to my emails. Despite trying for several months to secure a spot in their incubator program, I struggled to progress my idea beyond its conceptual stage.
5. Challenges Of Conceptualising To Implementing: In 2014, when the Play Store was starting to gain popularity in India, I created a basic prototype of the app and shared it with a few individuals who started using it. Their positive feedback was encouraging, but I soon realised that developing the app was just the first step.
I was uncertain about how to grow and take it to the next level. I attempted to contact incubators and investors, but unfortunately, no meaningful connections were established.
To be honest, I was pretty lost. This was my first foray into entrepreneurship, and I had no idea what I was doing. I had this idea that I thought was important, and I spoke to as many people as I could about it. They all seemed to agree it was a worthwhile cause, but I didn’t know how to turn that enthusiasm into action.
6. Other Startup Ideas: I explored a few different ideas, mostly around event aggregation in a city. I had an idea for a simple app where users could search and book upcoming events. However, I never fully pursued those ideas. I followed the traditional startup path, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out. Besides that, I didn’t explore other ideas beyond events and finding ways to monetise the app.
So, after my failed startup attempt, I realised I needed more guidance and mentorship to build a successful startup. Although I had previous experience working in a startup, I still needed to learn how to turn a product into a company. With this in mind, I decided to apply to up-and-coming startups through AngelList to learn from experienced mentors.
One startup that caught my attention was Admission Table.
2014- 2015 – Product Manager @ Admission Table -Real-time counselling to help students reach their dream universities.
Admission Table addressed a significant issue I had personally encountered: connecting students from India and Vietnam with universities in the US.
I needed help identifying suitable colleges, developing compelling admissions profiles, and differentiating myself to secure a university acceptance. I was impressed with the impact and solution that Admission Table was providing. They were part of the 500 Startups accelerator program, had established partnerships with universities, and boasted a growing user base.
1. Building a successful startup often requires the guidance of a mentor or advisor who has experience navigating the complexities of starting a business.
2. While technical expertise is essential, more is needed to ensure a product’s success in the market. Entrepreneurs must also understand how to build a sustainable business model, identify and target a customer base, and effectively market their products or service.
3. Joining a startup already making waves in its industry can be valuable for gaining guidance and experience. By observing and learning from successful entrepreneurs, individuals can gain insight into building a successful startup.
4. A sense of purpose beyond simply making money can be a powerful motivator for entrepreneurs. Whether creating a more sustainable future or solving a pressing social problem, having a more important mission can help entrepreneurs stay focused and committed to their goals.
5. Successful startups often start by identifying and addressing a significant problem or unmet market needs. By solving a critical pain point for consumers, entrepreneurs can create a product that truly resonates with their target audience.
6. Learning from experienced founders can be invaluable for aspiring entrepreneurs. Observing successful entrepreneurs’ thinking patterns, actions, and decision-making can provide valuable insights into the key elements necessary to establish and expand a thriving business.
7. Joining an accelerator program can help startups gain the resources, mentorship, and network needed to gain momentum and achieve rapid growth. Startups can accelerate their learning and development by connecting with other entrepreneurs and industry experts.
8. Learning from failure is vital to building a successful startup. By analysing what went wrong and why, entrepreneurs can gain valuable insights that can help them avoid similar mistakes in the future and build a more substantial, more resilient business.
2015-2016 – Senior Product Manager @ Ixigo – AI-based online travel portal.
My goal was to work on product development for a startup with an established user base. While the Admission Table team was engaging, they only offered a few product development opportunities.
Eventually, I joined Ixigo, a well-funded startup with an established user base of over 2M+ users who use their product to book flights and hotels. They had raised substantial funding from notable investors and had a tie-up with MakeMyTrip. Ixigo was in a stage where there was plenty of room for new product development and growth.
Learnings – Professional Skills & Soft Skills
1. From conception to launch: I learned the end-to-end product management process, from conception to launch, which involves speaking to users and working collaboratively with designers, developers, and other teams in the company.
2. Feedback to improve the product: A key takeaway from my experience was actively seeking customer feedback and incorporating it into product development, allowing us to continuously improve the product and maintain its relevance in a rapidly evolving market.
3. Scale – 2M+ users using the app.
1. Managing large teams and working towards a common mission.
2. Improved my communication skills: Articulate ideas clearly —> listen to others’ opinions —->, collaborate with individuals with different perspectives and skill sets = improved com skills.
3. Delegating tasks + addressing team conflicts.
Undoubtedly, my experience at Ixigo was the most transformative of my life.
2016-2017 – Senior Product Manager @ Truly Madly – Dating & Matchmaking App
After a year and a half at Ixigo, where I learned and grew as a senior product manager leading app development teams, I left for Truly Madly. It was time for a new phase of learning and fresh challenges.
1. Dating is a complex industry.
2. The dating industry in India has a skewed gender demographic, with a lot more men than women on the apps. Balancing the marketplace to ensure users can find matches they are interested in is challenging. Additionally, the prevalence of harassment and other forms of abuse on dating apps makes women feel unsafe, which is a significant barrier for any company trying to create a successful dating app in India.
3. Seeing the demographics of the industry, I was struck by how much dating and relationships could contribute to people’s happiness and fulfilment in life.
4. High churn rates among women on dating apps pose a challenge to building a sustainable and successful business in this industry. Women often leave quickly due to factors such as harassment, bad experiences, and a lack of matches.
2017-2018- Product Manager @ Ola
I left TrulyMadly due to downsizing and instability within the company. Additionally, I had personal reasons for wanting to work for a more well-funded and stable company while remaining in the startup space.
1. Efficient Resource Allocation in Large Organisations.
2. Overcoming Communication Barriers.
3. Prioritising User-Centred Design for Product Management.
4. Navigating Dynamic Market Landscapes.
Coworkers @ Ola
2018 – 3 Months Program – Entrepreneur In Residence @ Antler – Business Incubator and Startup Accelerator
2018-2020 – Co-Founder, CEO @ Product Planet – A platform to learn Frontend development, UX Design, and Mobile Development skills
Idea – My initial idea was to create a coding app for kids to learn computer science through practical means.
I have always admired how kids in the US learn computer science through logic at an early age, while many Indian kids, including myself, grew up studying maths and physics. I found computer science challenging until I finally picked it up in college and fell in love with it. I want to help children experience the beauty of logic, which is the foundation of computer science.
1. Social Impact Ideas are tough to monetise: Despite its popularity, I needed help securing funding and generating revenue for the app. As a social impact idea, profitability was a challenge.
Pursuing social impact ideas requires a different approach and mindset. This includes seeking alternative funding sources and creatively generating revenue while prioritising the social impact mission.
2. Focusing on Two Different Markets: We faced a challenge targeting two different markets with our app. It was designed to teach computer science to kids in government schools who lacked access to it. While these kids loved and wanted the app, those in private schools with access to computer science found it redundant.
3. Founder market fit was missing – Despite the app’s popularity with over 10,000 instals on the Play Store, I received emails from kids worldwide seeking my help to solve certain levels. However, I realised this did not align with my interests as a tech founder, and I wanted to build products closer to my expertise. After a year and a half of working on the HR model, I decided to exit.
I received a job offer from Alida, and I decided to take on that job.
2019 – 2020 – Product Management @ Alida – A customer experience management and customer insights platform
Despite finding the work fulfilling, I needed to look into the opportunities for new businesses and products that presented themselves at this particular time. That’s what drew me back to startups.
While working at Alida, I recognised the potential of SaaS and learned that creating a technology product can generate recurring revenue.
This newfound understanding inspired me to delve into SaaS ideas.
1. Validate ideas before building: Earlier, I was more focused on building and hoping it would sell. I realised the importance of market research. Identify areas where SaaS products were generating revenue and where there was potential for differentiation quickly and avoid wasting time on ideas that were unlikely to succeed.
2. Importance of Community Spaces: I learned that community spaces are invaluable, especially during social distancing and isolation, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic. I noticed that social media was losing appeal due to the negativity and lack of real connections. People were craving genuine relationships, which presented an opportunity to build online community spaces that could fulfil this need.
3. Persistence is key: I faced challenges with generating revenue and fundraising during my previous startup attempts. However, I persisted and continued to explore different ideas and approaches. This persistence ultimately led me to discover the problem of building community spaces, which I realised was worth solving.
2021-Present – Founder @ Casa – Helping D2C brands build community
The idea – I’d say Casa was born in 2020, and while there were several ideas and pivots along the way, the ultimate goal has always been to facilitate community-led growth.
Discovering & Creating A Saas Product -During my time at Alida (formerly Vision Critical), a Canadian enterprise software company, I became fascinated by SaaS. I witnessed firsthand how developing a valuable product for businesses could result in revenue growth in the right way.
1. Our initial idea was to create a community platform or forum for companies. If you had a website or a Shopify store, you could have a forum where you could manage all your community members, and they could post in the forum and share videos.
We had a few people interested in this idea, but we quickly realised that the major challenge they faced was how to grow their community. The real challenge was figuring out how to get the first 100 or 500 community members, or if they already had those people, how to grow it to thousands.
People could use free tools like Slack and Discord for this, so we had no compelling reason to be in that market. This led us to pivot our idea as we needed help figuring out a way to monetise quickly and were not solving a significant problem then.
2. After realising our first idea wasn’t solving a significant problem, we pivoted to a new tool that enabled users to manage their communities on Discord and Slack. We discovered that many people were already using Slack to manage their community members for free, so we needed to provide additional value.
Early adopters told us that a tool to manage and grow their community members would be helpful, so we built a platform that allowed users to do just that – manage their Discord and Slack communities.
Introduction To Casa – We manage our clients’ brand ambassadors to harness the power of word-of-mouth marketing. These ambassadors receive discount codes and promote the product on their social media handles, helping the brand reach new customers through advocacy and sharing content.
As a brand ambassador, you’ll receive a coupon to share with your followers, offering them a discount on the brand’s products and a discount coupon for yourself. We keep track of all activity on our platform to ensure smooth operations. In the future, we plan to explore revenue-sharing models to allow brand ambassadors to earn cash and discounts.
YC – Can we talk about typical SaaS numbers for Casa?
Revenue – As we are currently in the initial stages of collaborating with brands, we are generating little early revenue.
PMF – As we are very early in our journey, we have yet to attain Product-Market Fit.
Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) – Our customer acquisition has been entirely organic thus far. LinkedIn is a crucial channel for us, and I personally reach out to prospects through the platform.
We also have a Community Cafe Newsletter with approximately 170 subscribers. Finally, we utilise Instagram as our third channel, where I initiate discussions with brands via direct message.
Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) – Our target audience comprises Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) brands generating more than $250k in annual sales and leveraging Instagram for growth. Our focus is primarily on B2C brands.
Customers – Our target market has a global reach, and we currently engage with individuals from various regions worldwide. Our initial customer base is spread across India, Canada, and other countries, reflecting our global focus.
We are collaborating with five brands to develop our product; some are actively using it, while others are still onboarding. As a result, we have a total of five early customers.
Team – At present, the company is primarily run by me. We had a few interns until last month, and I plan to hire a couple more in the near future.
Plan – We recently launched our platform on Shopify, and though the process took approximately a month and a half, it was an exciting experience. The launch has allowed us to expand our reach overseas, with two brands already utilising our platform as their base – one in the US and the other in Europe.
Our goal for the next three months is to onboard 100 additional brands, which will help resolve many of our current challenges.
Pricing Model: Our pricing plan consists of four tiers: the free plan, followed by the $15/month, $29/month, and $99/month plans.
We offer a free plan as our entry-level option, mainly to quickly generate Shopify reviews. As many Shopify stores do not generate significant revenue, offering a free plan is an effective way to gain traction and visibility. Shopify reviews are crucial to our success, as they contribute to our search engine rankings and attract organic traffic.
YC: What are your top five tips for tech founders struggling with marketing and sales?
1. Start Now – The most critical step is to begin promptly without dwelling too much on the potential outcomes, even if your first attempts are unsuccessful. What matters the most at the moment is to start.
2. Prioritise Value – Instead of just trying to sell your product, prioritise providing value to your customers in all your marketing and sales efforts. Focus on how you can assist them in solving their problems and meeting their needs.
3. Playing the Long Game – Recognise that marketing and sales can be long, and building a customer base takes time. Practise patience and maintain confidence in your product. Avoid short-term planning and remember that it typically takes at least nine months to one year to see results in the SaaS industry.
4. Get Comfortable with Discomfort – Challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone and become more comfortable engaging with people. Try conversing with at least five new individuals daily, even if they are brief exchanges.
5. Finding the Sweet Spot – Set the right price for your product or service, neither underpricing nor overcharging. Establish clear goals for offering discounts or free promotions. Experiment with channels that best suit your customers, such as SEO, LinkedIn, social media, partnerships, or events, to determine the most effective approach.
YC: As you’ve attempted to start a few startups that didn’t work out, what are your top five suggestions from an entrepreneur’s perspective?
1. Focus on multiple income streams💰💰: Diversifying income streams can reduce the risk for entrepreneurs in uncertain market conditions. By avoiding reliance on a single source of revenue, founders can gain stability and flexibility to pursue new opportunities.
2. Keys to Building a Strong Network: Authenticity, Positivity, and Genuine Connections: Focus on building genuine relationships when building a strong network for success. By taking a sincere interest in others, spreading positivity and motivation, and investing in building real connections, you can become the person who attracts opportunities and opens doors for others.
Reading the right books and cultivating a positive mindset is also crucial.
3. Starting Your Venture: Balancing Stability and Entrepreneurship: Start your venture while keeping your job to avoid undue stress and pressure that can negatively impact creativity and productivity. By working on your business on the side, you can build up revenue and test the waters without risking financial stability.
With the ease of building SaaS today, working on your side hustle alongside a full-time job is possible. Start small and take calculated risks to achieve success.
4. VC Funding: Key Metrics and Strategies for Success: To increase your chances of receiving VC funding, it’s crucial to understand that only a small percentage of startups are VC-fundable. Determine the metrics your startup needs to achieve, such as TAM and other key metrics, to become VC-fundable.
YC: As we approach the end of this interview, let’s switch gears and make it a bit lighter. With experience in multiple places, what keeps you going, and what’s your mantra?
Dhruv: For me, the ultimate satisfaction comes from creating something that people genuinely enjoy. I’ve had the opportunity to experience this in various companies I’ve worked for, but being an entrepreneur offers a unique challenge that can’t be replicated in a traditional product management role.
As an entrepreneur, I’m involved in every aspect of the journey, making it incredibly rewarding. I’m passionate about building products and find receiving positive feedback from just one customer extremely fulfilling. These moments motivate me to continue building and innovating, even when it gets tough.
YC: Do you have any book recommendations📚📚 or suggestions that you’ve read recently?
I highly recommend “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman. It’s a top-notch book that every product builder should read.
Another book I found helpful is “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson. It’s all about developing a thick skin and caring less about the things that don’t matter, which is especially important as an entrepreneur and in life in general. That book is excellent and has helped me.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. Your passion and dedication to your craft are commendable, and we wish you all the best in your future endeavours.