Divyansh Saini, Co-founder, Houseware.io, Interview on Building One-stop Data Destination.

Meet Divyansh, on a mission to build a data apps ecosystem by empowering a new category of data users @ Houseware.io.

Believer in a simple philosophy,“ Keep on going on”, Divyansh along with his team is focused on solving for data.

Let us read through his story…

YC – Divyansh, welcome to Yellow Chapter. 

Let’s start the interview. The objective of the interview is to know you as a person. Later we can talk about Houseware.io. So I would like to start from the very beginning, like where you’re where you were born. Something about the parents? What were the expectations from you while growing up? Why engineering? Why BITS? 

Divyansh – I was born in 1996 in a small town called Dak Pather. It is a small hill town in the Dehradun district of Uttarakhand, India. 

My father was an electrical engineer @ Dakpathar Barrage – A Hydro Power Generation Plant, which was set up back in The Independence era, one of the first.

My mother is a homemaker. She’s one of the people who has inspired me the most. She’s a compassionate person. Whoever she speaks to, she always thinks from their perspective too. Trying to understand where they are coming from. I picked up this skill from her. Being empathetic is a super important skill. Not just for building a great business but for life in general.

We (my sister and me) never took tuition till eighth or ninth grade. She was the one who used to teach. Later, she left studying to us, saying, if you need me, tell me. I will not be telling you how to study and what to study. I think this is another critical skill to let people be at some stage. And that’s something again; I picked up from her.

I have an elder sister – Dr Aditi Saini. She’s a radiologist right now with AIIMS Rishikesh. She has always wanted to be a doctor since fifth grade. Some of our relatives were doctors, and she was inspired by the kind of work that they were doing. She spent a lot of time sitting with them in their clinics.

My father took a transfer to pursue a better education for the children. We moved to Noida, where I was brought up most of my life. I did my entire schooling from Nodia. My parents still live in Noida. 

Both our parents were pretty relaxed about where we were spending time as kids. I spent a lot of my time reading books, solving puzzles, playing cricket and doing other things. I was not the most diligent student, nor did my parents force me to be. 

My father was an engineer, and my sister wanted to be a doctor. I pretty much had a choice to be an engineer or a doctor. 

@ Family

I also gave thought to give SAT Admissions Test. I looked up all the promising entrepreneurs I knew back in the day, and l realized all of them went to either of the four high schools in the US – Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, or Harvard. And I was, I like I wanted to go to one of those schools. I thought, it seems like all the great people are coming out of all those schools. 

In the tenth standard, I discussed the same with my parents and realized financials wouldn’t work out. I ended up doing the next best thing, preparing for JEE. In the hope of eventually starting my own business one day. 2014 – I got through Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani (BITS Pilani). 

Divya, for your readers – Founders of Postman – Abhinav Asthana|  Hotmail – Sabeer Bhatia | BlueJeans – Alagu Periyannan|  Swiggy – Sriharsha Majety, attended uni at BITS Pilani. 

YC – Talking about BITS, how was it? What were your significant learnings? I’m asking this because many students, especially engineering students, read my blog. They find these stories very inspirational and relatable. What would you suggest to students out there? 

Divyansh – Back then, when I was 17, I was desperate to start working. In the first semester itself, I landed an internship. The only skill that I had pretty much at that point was I knew how to Google. 

I used to spend hours just applying to startups. Writing them cold emails, saying, “Hey, I’m interested in working at startups.” I made a resume, which did not have any experience but mentioned things that I thought were unique to me and just put them out. 

I also mentioned a very basic SMS generator I built in school. 

Problem statement  – We used to apply for engineering entrance exams. All these websites would constantly update with new announcements, exam dates, and results announced. I realized that everyone is checking these websites every time. 

Solution – SMS generator, the tool would tell me when and where an exam website is updated. 

Initially, I used it, but later I made it available to a few of my friends in school. It went sort of viral.

2014 – I managed to get an internship as a Market Research Intern with SocialCops – A data for good social tech startup. On a mission to confront the world’s most critical problems through data intelligence.  

Founded by two very young folks (Prukalpa Sankar | Varun Banka), founders of Atlan now. Back then, they were 23 themselves. They recognized me as someone saying they could probably see themselves in me, and decided to give me a chance. They both are my biggest mentors, still after eight years.

Learnings from BITS: 

1. Very early on, I realized that you don’t need to study as such, like if let’s say you’re looking to be at a place where you want to make an impact, and you want to be leading a team of people, you want to be doing something really meaningful in the world. Just got for it.

2. BITS was a place to meet really interesting people. Form bonds, which transcend academic, time and space. It’s been eight years since I entered Data Space. Some of my closest friends ( Devansh Chaudhary | Aditya Agarwal | Saumil Gaonkar), mentors and confidants (Rishabh Kaul | Sahil Aggarwal ) are from BITS. 

@ Friends

3. I also learned to pass on good karma between people. A BITSian would help without aiming for anything in return, which is rare. No matter how old an alumna is or how young a person is, they don’t care about it. If let’s say you need something and a BITSian can help you, they would go out of their way to help you. 

This builds your trust in the system. You feel like giving yourself, which is why it’s almost like a feedback loop. Ten people have helped me; I feel like helping like twenty more. 

Suggestion : 

1. Engineering is when you have a lot of time to yourself. Using it wisely in the right things is definitely in one’s hands, especially in a college like BITS, where there’s zero attendance. Students are left to themselves to do whatever they want to do.

Few things helped me because I got to read a lot in college. I read different kinds of books. Some fantastic books which created a huge impact. I was sharing these with the team last week: 

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder Book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – His theory of human beings is anti-fragile because they take feedback and even break at some point. It helped me to form some perspective on the world. 

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos – Before reading this book, business for me was like a profit and loss-making venture. After reading this book, I realized it’s much more than what a good customer experience means from the lens of a founder who has built such a massive business. 

More importantly, building such a massive business with care impacted me. I just recently shared this book with one of my colleagues. However, I read this book five years ago but apply some of the principles at Houseware now. The book impacted me so much.

2. I would like to quote Harry Potter – “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who deserve it.” – Dumbledore.

 I think a college is a similar place. You have to go out of your way to ask people for help. Don’t expect someone to knock at your door and say, “Hey, let’s do something. It always has to be you who’s taking the first step. 

So that’s something I would suggest to anyone looking to do anything. Feel free to reach out to people. Ask for things which you think they might be able to help with.

3. Just enjoy it. No matter how much capital, either financial or social, whatever money you get in life, that time doesn’t come back. Live at the moment rather than thinking, what will I do for the next 20 years? 

YC – Now, can we talk about your professional journey?

Divyansh – Sure, I was interning with SocialCops while in college. I interned with them for close to a year in 2015. And this is while college was going on, I used to shuttle between Delhi and Pilani. It’s a 200-kilometre ride, and I spend 90% of my time in Delhi working at the startup and 10% of my time in Pilani.

Eventually, I joined them full-time. Let me take a step back. In my final year of college, I was looking to start my own company called Korpus – Aimed to build the Indian language corpus

Problem statement – There are around 17 or 18 major languages in India. All of the products back in the day were available majorly in English. There were so many eCommerce websites which were penetrating India. I realized that these companies would have to convert their applications into 17 or 18 languages. 

Solution – A service which would make any company like Myntra or Flipkart allow them to easily convert their entire catalogue of products into like 17,18 languages. For example – Someone in Tamil Nadu can change the language to Tamil while browsing the website. So I built this life for close to six months. 

WHY corpus of language?

I was very interested in the intersection of social good + tech. I was exploring ideas in this space. I had done a few internships in this space; I had done a public policy boot camp as well. I was actively looking for ideas and talking to people about this. 

I ended up speaking to a few folks who were working in E-commerce companies. They mentioned localization is a big challenge for them. 

In Pilani, I went around talking to people, fruit sellers, Kirana store owners etc. Asking them, do you use this app? I requested them to download the app. See what the experience is like and realize it’s a pain on both sides. 

In 2017, somewhere in October or November, I started working on this with a few friends. I made an early prototype and started getting feedback on it. 

Dec 2017 – Feb 2018 – Did an exciting internship with Thinkerbell Labs – Showcased on Shark Tank. I was exploring a niche sector in hardware + social good. They’re building a device called Annie for the blind and visually impaired kids to understand and read Braille. I learned a ton but decided the space was not for me.

April 2018, Varun, founder of SocialCops, gave me a call saying, “They are working on a new project, it would essentially look something like GitHub is for engineers, it would be something like GitHub for data teams. And he’s like, do you want to come and work with us for one month as a consultant and see if this is something that you want to help me with?”

And I’m like, Yeah. I’ve worked with Varun. I like how he works, how he thinks. And one month wouldn’t mean a lot. I thought I was still figuring out how to start Korpus and get it off the ground; I was still about to graduate. 

May 2018 is when I joined them as a consultant for one month and ended up being like four-month consulting. And by the end of those four months, I was deep diving into the entire data, ecosystem and space and figuring out what this product could look like. 

At some point in those four months, I faced the dilemma of working on two things simultaneously. One is the Korpus, the other what is now called Atlan (back then, it was Project Athena). 

Working on this at some point, I realized there’s a natural pull toward the enterprise software space. Coming out of college and getting thrown into this wild enterprise SaaS world seemed very appealing. I enjoyed it a lot more just because working with the team was much more fun. 

At that stage, I realized I got to learn a lot more, learn the tips and tricks of running a company with promising founders, good capital and good investors. + I also realized Korpus has a very limited TAM.

In Oct 2018, I joined SocialCops full-time as a Product Consultant. 

@ Team SocialCops

As the company’s first employee, there was so much to do. I had a lot of things to be figured out. At times it was scary. I have a deep respect for founders who start fresh out of college.

2020, Atlan came out of stealth mode. A data democratization company that helps teams collaborate frictionlessly on data projects.

YC – What were the major learnings from Atlan? 

Divyansh2018 – 2021 – Atlan is today because they see themselves as the home for data teams. Every team, every function inside a company has a home. The sales team has a home like a Salesforce. Engineers have a home in something like GitHub, which is where they go; they work and collaborate.

 Data teams are a new concept, being formed over the last 5-10 years. And we realized this team doesn’t have a virtual home where they can go live and collaborate. We were trying to create this virtual home essentially. 

Atlan is a collaboration tool for data teams. There are so many questions about data and metadata that need to be answered when the teams are collaborating and working. 

Two significant learnings from there were:

1. The most significant learning, I would say – Foundation of any business success is the team. I think it’s probably not worth doing zero to one or a startup journey if you don’t have the right team in place. The right co-founder is very important because it’s a challenging journey. 

If you have good people around you, who have your back at any moment, it makes the whole journey worth it. Start with someone whom you can trust. Then you’re not worried about whether that person is giving the 100% because I’m giving 100%. 

The initial team of Atlan was entirely focused on just getting end-user value. Very tightly knit as a team. It was a small team of like five or six people ( Nishant Arora | Krishna Sumanth | Gaurav Sehgal  | Paras Chhabra | Ritu Gatiyala | Rishabh Raj).

2. As a person coming out of college, I did not understand what the markets meant until I started interacting with customers—getting their feedback and looking at the market at a macro level.

Earlier, the companies I thought of building were limited to what I wanted. Now I think of it from a perspective where it’s a mix of what I want to do + what the market is. Where is my value in the ecosystem? 

I think Atlan helped me get into the data ecosystem, which is a buzzing space right now, + helped me understand how a market’s nuances exist. How do you talk to customers? How do you get users? What are the kinds of customers that buy a product? Why do they not buy a product? What are the needle movers for a particular business? All these things are not taught in college; they are learned on the go. 

@ Atlan

YC – While working in Atlan, what pattern did you see and decide to start Houseware.io?

Divyansh – 2021! One of the good things that happened in Atlan is that I was a generalist doing sales, account management, and partnerships. In some cases, I was also the data analyst from the customer’s perspective. They would think of me as an embedded data person in their team. 

I got a chance to work with companies like Unilever | Postman | Plaid, almost being a part of their data team. I got my hands dirty, rolled my sleeves, sat with the data team, figured out the challenges they were facing, and executed on top of that. Product is just a way of solving it. You can also solve it outside the product.

One of the most significant gaps I saw was – Data teams; even though they have evolved rapidly in (FinTech startups, SaaS companies, D2C startups, and philanthropic organizations), there’s so much investment that has happened in the tooling. Still, there’s very little value in giving an outcome to a decision-maker who has to run the business.

Example – Typically, when people think about the output of a data team, it’s thought of in terms of either report or excel sheets. And those are not actionable. You can look at that; you can open it and tweak it. But it’s still not something that a person can tweak around with data. So data teams have taken all the workload of playing around with data on themselves rather than empowering other people inside an organization. 

How should data play a role? It should empower every purchase person, whether in finance, marketing, growth, or sales product; all of these functions should ideally be empowered by a data team. They should not be handed over reports and dashboards.

Since databases were born in the 1970s, excels, reports and dashboards are a big thing, which has been happening in the ecosystem for the last, not just like two decades, over the previous five decades. 

I saw this gap much more in tech-first companies like Postman and Plaid. Working with them made me realize there can be much more done with data, which is where we started  Houseware.ioA revenue analytics workbench that enables anyone to build internal data apps on the Snowflake Data Cloud. It connects to more than 150 data sources.

Houseware.io started as a side project. Houseware is essentially the flip of the word warehouse. The warehouse is where most data teams centralize all of the data into one place. It is the single source of truth. 

The warehouse is where the decision-maker should look when they want to look at decisions. The decision-maker only wants to understand KPIs, like daily and monthly active users.

But a data warehouse is still a data and engineering resource. Data analysts are tweaking the tables, rows, columns, and schemas, not the decision-maker.

So how do we flip the value of the warehouse? is why we started Houseware.io

@ Houseware

YC – Were there any pivots when you gave demos? Talked to the actual customers? Went live?

Divyansh – Yeah, actually, I wouldn’t call it pivot. I keep repeating to the team that our allegiance in this market is to the problem, not the solution. So the problem, thankfully, has remained the same. 

It’s a big problem to solve that we are taking upon ourselves. The problem is, “how do business users become creators of data rather than just consumers of data and reports.”

We talk about the creative economy so much. We talk about prosumer tools, which are helping people do more. But why is the business user thought of as someone who cannot create their own things and has to rely on Excel at best?

Excel was founded like 30 years ago. So how do you create a new experience where they can use this data? 

Ideal customer  :

We quickly realized that we couldn’t solve this problem for everyone. Data teams are everywhere today, from philanthropy organizations to NGOs to FinTech to SaaS companies. We realized that we understand SaaS data teams the best as a founding team. We know the problems, so let’s start from there. We are not going to boil the ocean on day one. So that’s the first market we picked and chose. 

Use case – 

We started looking at their problems like a few interesting use cases came to mind after making around 50 conversations:

  • All the SaaS companies want to become product leads.
  • They want to give out a free trial. 
  • They want to give people a 14-day trial.

But they’re having trouble identifying a potential paid customer from those taking free trials.  

Example – Sales team reaches out to you saying, hey, you have been using the free trial; how’s it going? Do you want to pay for it? How do the sales team prioritize the list? Which customer will pay?

Problem – We realized sales teams struggled with it. 

Solution – Our tool will help in identifying the paying customers.

That’s where we started. We started building the product for the following use case in October 2021. We built the first version of the product within five weeks. We gave it in the hands of users and realized it’s one use case that we’re solving end to end; it’s providing value to the people. 

But we realized that we want to be solving not just this one use case. We want to solve a lot more use cases that arise. 

The product needs to be flexible enough. The product needs to be custom built, where the user should be able to build these use cases themselves. Just like Excel, you start with a blank sheet, you can build models etc. Excel has endless use cases.

 So we wanted to build a product like that, which is not just limited to one use case but allows SaaS teams to create any use cases across functions. So quickly, we realized it is an experience problem + a data problem. 

How do you structure the data that makes sense for people inside these functions we are talking about – sales, customer success, marketing and product. We started to think about how to solve this in different ways. 

Jan 2021, we completely shifted our approach from just being a product lead growth tool to becoming a workspace tool to create data apps. So our goal now is “To empower business users to create their applications.”

We believe they have enough context and enough knowledge to create their applications. We just have to give them the right tools to do this.

The best use case for which the product is most used – is to create quick, custom-built data apps without writing a single line of code. Use-cases such as revenue reconciliation and campaign-to-cash workflows are now easily possible on Houseware.

YC – Can you talk about some numbers? How big is the market? How big is the opportunity? Any competition within India or the US market? 

Divyansh – Sure, we are serving the SaaS market. We’re only targeting companies in the US because that’s where the majority of those companies match the kind of product we are building. 

There are 25,000+ SaaS companies in the US today that are potential target customers for us. The target market size right now for the initial market is around $1.2 billion that we are going after because these teams are heavily investing in data and analytics.

And more importantly, just because they’ve invested so much money in data analytics, they want to give value to the business users. So that’s where the budgets come from. So $1.2 billion is the starting target market that we are going after right now.

Our biggest competition right now is behaviour change. People are already using Excel. We see competition as anything a user would use rather than us. So instead of just looking at startups, I think Excel is probably the most significant competition we want to defeat in the long run. 

YC – What is your take on marketing and sales? Is it one of the biggest challenges for SaaS founders?

Divyansh – Sure. We haven’t made any efforts to do marketing yet. And we don’t plan to do much of it. Marketing is like speaking to 100 people. Sales is like talking to 10 people in-depth and understanding their challenges. We prefer sales over marketing.

We follow the customer discovery process. Every person we reach out to, we don’t sell to them. We simply talk about our journey. We tell them what challenges we saw; we understand where they see it as a challenge. 

We reach out to potential customers on LinkedIn, saying we saw what you’re doing in your company in the data role. We are people who have done this ourselves; this is what we are building. Would you be open to speaking for 30 minutes?

In the first couple of conventions, the intent is just to learn, and people appreciate it. People really like it when you’re reaching out intending to learn and not to sell. Many of our customers today have come from those we have been speaking to for the last nine months.

My co-founder (Shubhankar Srivastava) and I have made almost 300 conversations to understand the problem and keep evolving our take on the issue. We also have to keep updating ourselves as the market is updating. 

@ with Shubhankar

YC – Great, you said who has spoken to 300+ customers; what were the top three problems they stated?

Divyansh – Sure :

1. Every company struggles with the standardization of metrics. What is ARR, CAC meaning marketing context, what does it mean across finance context etc.

2. There is very much a SaaS overload inside organizations. Every function inside an organization, as it grows, uses its version of tools. These tools store data in their version, eventually leading to the non-standardization of metrics and data being scattered in all silos. 

3. It is less of a problem and more of a science of the times that we live in. Earlier, sales, marketing, customer support and finance, all these functions were typically treated as non-technical functions. 

But now, with the ease of tools, everyone in an organization is much more hands-on with data and wants more. 

Lately, many new roles have emerged, like analytics engineers, growth engineers, sales data analysts, and marketing data analysts. 

The demand for data and the opportunity to grow with data is something which keeps us going. 

YC – I was reading somewhere that you have a very lean team. What’s your take on hiring?

Divyansh – We have six full-time people + three interns at the moment. It’s summer going on. So we’ve also taken on some interns at the moment.

One of the good things that happened is my co-founder, Shubhankar Srivastava is a second-time founder in the SaaS space. And some people who joined us early on worked with him in his previous company. So we pretty much had a head start there.

I don’t think of hiring as an exercise we are doing for today. A person who might not be looking to join us today may be looking to join us two years down the line when we are in different company stages. We still keep talking to them. We still keep telling them how we make sales conversations. We still keep telling them, what are we building? How are we building it?

I treat hiring as just conversations and keep that going, at least with good people. So you’re not in a hurry to build a rapid team, you’re not one of those teams that want to hire mass, or like to hire like 20 people this year. We want to be diligent about who we are hiring and how we are hiring them. 

YC – Quick questions around hiring?

IshanTechnologies and frameworks you are working on – Data Stack: Snowflake/BigQuery, dbt, Fivetran | Tech Stack: React, Go

What scale do you work on – We are processing billions of rows of records every month across SaaS tools.

How do you measure employee performance – We are too early to have a system around it – but we are trying to build a culture that rewards both outcomes and efforts.

Path of career progression – We are looking for folks who can join as an IC and can grow into becoming individual team leads. We have a specific bent towards folks who would like to start their own companies in the future – they typically tend to enjoy the 0-1 phase that we are in much more than a lot of other folks.

YC – Who is the ideal customer for Houseware? 

Divyansh – Any SaaS company which is series C or series D, because that’s the time when they are thinking about data challenges. We are mainly targeting companies based out of the US, but even Indian companies who are essentially looking to scale up the data processors, we are happy to work with them.

Right now, our focus has been on sales and customer discovery at the moment. We will kick off our marketing efforts at the end of this year.

YC – What keeps Divyansh going through tough times?

Divyansh – Understanding that the worst is not that bad + Starting from zero is okay if things don’t work out. 

Conviction of we’ve done that, and we’ll do it again + the dedication to keep working and building a product that people love and create a meaningful impact on the world. So I think the combination of these things is what keeps me going.

Book recommendationThe Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz is a very interesting book because it talks about the tough times and the good times that go with them together in the same book. 

It’s about the founding journey, which is like a sinusoidal wave. It keeps going up and down. It helps you get accustomed to maintaining your calm and intensity (whenever needed). 

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius – The book is like the diary he wrote. In his diary, he talks about how his day went. What are the challenges that he faced? 

And you realize that this guy, who is like the king of the earth at that time, is still facing all those challenges that any normal human being faces on a normal day. It helps you resonate with the fact that no matter where you get, it’s a single-player game that you’re playing. So might as well have fun while you’re doing it?

People I admire – My ex-bosses – Varun Banka and Prukalpa Sankar. I admire them a lot for the kind of company that they built. And I got a chance to work with them closely. 

Parker Conrad @ Rippling. I like how he’s approaching building Rippling – The Employee Management Platform. 

The founders of Snowflake Inc – A cloud computing–based data warehousing company – Benoit Dageville and Bob Muglia, are profound technical people who have built a massively scalable business. 

Divyansh, it was a great conversation. Thank you for your time. Yellow Chapter wishes you all the very best in your future journey.

Leave a Reply