Striving for glory is common. Striving for knowledge is a different league, which only a few pursue. To learn, and to creatively pursue the little thoughts is no less than great.
Here is one such journey of relentless learning, of Jatin Arora, the Co-Founder of Utilize.app.
The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imaginationAlbert Einstein
Utilize – Co-founders Interview
Let us read through his life journey, and his way to Utilize.
|Table of Contents|
|1. Co-founders Interview|
|2. Company Profile|
|4. Tech Stack|
|5. Key People|
|6. Current Job openings|
YC: Can we start from your early days- schooling, parents and childhood?
Following in the footsteps…
Jatin: I am from Delhi. My father worked at the Indian Meteorological Department. My mother was working too but later turned into a homemaker. My upbringing has been pretty normal. My parents always supported me and I had a good childhood.
I did my schooling in N.C. Jindal Public School, near Punjabi Bagh. I had a couple of cousins in the same school. I mostly followed in their footsteps, before making some of my own decisions. I just followed the system for most of my schooling. I had an interest in Maths. The calculations always fascinated me. I also like the fact that you get to prove things in Maths.
I joined the coaching centre for JEE preparation, as most of us do. But I could not manage coaching and school together, hence could not crack JEE at the first attempt (spoiler alert: couldn’t do it the second time as well).
“I can focus on only one thing at a time, this is my weakness as well as strength.”
Owing to the stubbornness in my head, I dropped a year. I prepared again for JEE and was able to get through Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology. I initially got the Biotechnology branch and then got upgraded into IT.
YC: How were the four years of BTech?
The Rat Race!
Jatin: The initial days of my college life was a rat race. Most of us enter college and start getting into it, trying to figure out how to get good grades. I did the same which resulted in a great decrease in academic performance in my second semester. I also failed in my computer practicals.
“The thought process of a rat race is always something that can haunt a person, or can make the person lose their perspective very easily.”
I knew I had to pull up the socks. The first level of screening is based on grades for placements anywhere. So I joined programming coaching outside our college, focused, and went that extra mile to get back on track.
My first internship was not the best. I joined Wipro, through one of my relatives. It was basic website development. There was zero utility added and absolutely nothing of value, except for that I learned HTML and CSS.
Next internship, I decided to explore options outside the college for real-life learning. I have this curiosity around how games are built, so the next internship was with an IT consultancy where we worked with the Odomos brand. We made a small game where mosquitoes were the villains and we had to kill them by spraying Odomos. Though it was less of programming and more of a tool where we were trying to create a narrative, it was a new experience for me.
YC: What are your suggestions to the students in college to make the most of those years?
Suggestions to Sophomores!
- Do more valuable internships, pick up a skillset. Pick up what you want to do. It might not be what you want to do long term, but start somewhere and then take an internship corresponding to it. Today, a lot of companies are looking for interns. Grab the opportunity to gain some real-life experience.
- Create real-world projects. Create tools, projects and stuff that adds value. Until you ship something to production, you do not know that you’re always living in this small world. The first thing is to get a good internship and a skill set that you would want to improve upon. Then ship something to production. Let people use it. This will differentiate you down the line and give you a lot of confidence.
- Have a good set of people around you with a similar mindset. Having such a peer group will help you in getting better.
- Don’t get into the rat race. Don’t do things just to achieve something amongst your peers, do it because you want to learn. It’s easy to lose perspective, but it makes sense to take a step back. Do something that you want to explore and everything would connect down the line.
- Don’t learn all the technologies. There is something to be said about lazy learning, you don’t need to learn everything upfront. You learn when the opportunity arises. When you have to do something else, learn it and then do it.
The Placement Season…
YC: How was your placement season? What would you suggest to the newbies on placements?
Jatin: I applied for almost all companies in the placement drive. I was shortlisted for companies like Facebook and Walmart, but couldn’t get through any. Then my friend and I got placed with Infibeam.com. They asked us to join as interns before joining as full-time employees.
We thought it might be a good option and we joined as winter interns. Both of us used to spend a lot of time in the Delhi metro, about three hours to and fro. We made the most out of these journeys, brainstorming a lot. We used to pick up programming problems and try to find solutions. Sometimes we were able to find a solution and sometimes we were not able to, but we kept going.
Developing such a habit is essential. It keeps you up to date and even forces you to think out of the box. We found new questions, and with each question found, we learned something new!
It was then that Hike Messenger came to college. With some jugaad I managed to appear for the placement and I got selected. Hike Messenger was a major opportunity. It was a startup and they offered a decent package. So I decided to join Hike.
My suggestions to the upcoming students would be:
- Go for value. Don’t think, “this seems like a good firm and I have to get a placement here.” It’s good enough to optimise for money, but I would suggest going for value.
- Have faith and keep working. It is natural to be perturbed while you watch your peer group march ahead and get placed. Understand it is normal, but keep moving forward.
- Go off-campus. Look for more placements and apply for the company you like. Start as an intern and learn from there. Join the firm if it is good enough. The job market is now open for all, and campus placement is not everything.
YC: The journey from Hike to PhonePe.
Jatin: I worked as a Senior iOS Engineer with Hike for over two years. Although a great company, I felt stagnated. I was comfortable there, this made me realise that I was learning nothing new. That was in my first year when I wished to move out.
I had a word with my manager who asked me to stay a bit longer. My manager felt it was not the right time. He said if you’re spending a very short time, you’ll not understand the long-term effects of what you have created or worked upon. I decided to stay.
Now that I think of it, my manager gave me good advice. I waited for a year and then was convinced to move on the following year which I did. I wanted to grow. It was then my former manager invited me to PhonePe. I seized the opportunity and thus joined as a Software Engineer.
YC: Can you tell us more about your journey on PhonePe?
Jatin: The days I worked with PhonePe were the ones where I learned many things. It was the first time I was working on a fintech product. Shipping the first version of the PhonePe iOS app was a great experience. We received great feedback from the customers and it gave me a sense of accomplishment. That was also my first time interfacing with companies, representing PhonePe.
One of the major learning came when I helped third parties with PhonePe SDK integration. I developed my interpersonal skills there, communicating with people at different levels. I learnt how to talk to non-tech folks about tech products.
But all this time, I never stopped trying out various things which resulted in the creation of a few apps.
YC: That sounds interesting! What were these apps and their utilities?
The Parallel Journey…
The First App…
One fine day looking at the office whiteboard filled with sticky notes gave me the idea to build something to digitise and organise sticky notes.
An app that can recognize what’s written on the sticky note and then sort of digitize all the sticky notes individually. I used optical character recognition or OCR but it did not work with human handwriting then. I was able to create an app that would just recognize and cut out the sticky notes in an image. Shipping it to the app store gave me a lot of learnings. I didn’t try to market it though, because I made it only out of curiosity.
I like working out, so one day while talking to one of my friends, I realised there were many calorie counter apps, but none of them were focused on protein alone.
So I came up with the idea of a protein counter app. An app for counting protein intake specifically. After working at it for one and a half months, I had to drop it. The learning was that I didn’t do a sound technical analysis of it all. I just went ahead and started building it.
I visited an escape room with a couple of my friends and liked the experience. I thought, how about bringing the escape room experience to our homes.
Apple had just come out with its augmented reality kit at that time. My friend and I started working on the idea after our office hours. We slept for just 4-5 hours for a few weeks. Built a prototype, and was very excited to launch and market the game. The game was the first multiplayer AR game on iOS.
But as we approached the Apple app store promotion team, we met with some resistance. The feedback was – the concept was good, the execution was decent, but the design was not that great. After shipping a couple of versions, we decided to drop it.
Though I still want to complete what we started whenever I can …
YC: What was your journey at Entrepreneur First?
Jatin: PhonePe was incorporated in December 2015. In April 2016, the company was acquired by Flipkart. In 2018 Walmart acquired a 77% controlling stake in Flipkart. I owned some shares and it gave me the capital to start something of my own. I thought of it as a good time to move on.
It was then that a friend suggested Entrepreneur First (Where the world’s most ambitious come to build) to me. It’s a program where a lot of people come from different backgrounds and they try to mix and match based on different skill sets. You try to form teams there, try to come up with an idea in the first three months. There’ll be a stipend too.
StretchCloud was born then – Bringing the power of edge computing to India. Our thought was to develop micro data centres to reduce the network latency on mobile devices and facilitate concepts like cloud gaming. The idea was that any program run by a data centre was limited by the speed of light in transmission. We could transcend this boundary by establishing micro data centres at mobile towers or so.
We had to gain traction with just the idea in three months before presenting it to the investment committee. We cleared the investment committee to raise $50k. But a couple of weeks before the demo, I decided that my heart was not in it.
The tricky thing about accelerators and incubators is that they are artificial pressure cookers. I was trying to succeed at building a company rather than building the company that I wanted to build. I realised this and decided to move on from StretchCloud.
YC: What are your suggestions to the next in line while applying for accelerators?
- Know what you want to build. Keep your focus on the product. Don’t just go after the money or success at funding or succeeding at an accelerator. Those are secondary things. Once you provide value, they’ll automatically come.
- Keep having checkpoints and reflections on what you’re doing at the moment. As I said, it’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day.
- Have confidence in making your own decisions, even if someone is telling you otherwise. Opinions of others can be one data point in your decision matrix, but it can’t be the whole decision. A person’s perspective comes out of their own experiences. Your journey is different, so decide for yourself.
YC: What was the idea behind Utilize?
Jatin: The initial thought process behind Utilize was to democratize software creation so that anyone can build software. But soon we realised that this was a very broad problem statement. So we narrowed it to an application or a software builder for business processes.
Today, Utilize is a no-code tool to build customized apps for businesses without any coding.
A lot of businesses work mostly on spreadsheets before they scale and move to some other system. Instead of introducing those businesses to use Utilize as a database, we use their spreadsheet as the database. So you link your spreadsheet, you can build logic on top of it, create custom applications on top of it for order management, inventory management, dispatch production line, franchises, et cetera.
YC: Can you tell us more about the functioning of Utilize?
Jatin: Utilize is bootstrapped at present. We have also actively started talking to angel investors interested in the no-code space. Sameer (my co-founder) and I divide the work among ourselves. He handles most of the product and marketing part, and I handle the tech. But it is as flexible as it could be, as both of us can take up the other’s work any day.
“I think the first and most important thing in building a company is being open to talking about your company. Keep talking as the information about what you’re building should reach people. Else, you’ll be doing a disservice to your work.”
YC: Can you please share some numbers with us? And how do you prioritise customer feedback?
Jatin: Sure, around twenty-five businesses, use Utilize, and we have seven or eight paying customers.
You would probably get a lot of customer feedback. Those might be genuine ones that you should listen to, but not always act upon. Staying true to what you’re building is the most important, even if it comes at the cost of losing a potential customer.
The thought process of the Indian customer is way different from that of a US buyer. We are planning to expand to the US. Hopefully, in the next six months, we will have strong traction in the US market.
YC: Founders of SaaS startups generally go global. What are the steps you follow to get into the international market?
- Cold emailing- This is a great way to start a conversation with a company, though it has a drawback. We might reach out to the customer at the wrong time, but it still is an effective start.
- Find communities where your product might resonate and reach out to those communities.
- SEO is important. It is best to reach out to someone while they are looking for you. It’s a role reversal. The person is coming to you, so it’s the right time for them ‘to be marketed’.
YC: What are your suggestions to the upcoming entrepreneurs?
Jatin: I have just one thing to say,
“Talk to customers and write code”
We are glad to have you with us. Wishing you great success in future!
Utilize- Company Profile, History, Founders, Tech stack, Job Openings and Competition
Utilize – Company Profile
Utilize is a tool to build apps for teams and partners just from their spreadsheets, without any coding. It serves as an ERP alternative for startups and SMBs, by building custom apps for different internal processes without a technical team.
Utilize is best suitable if you are a young startup or business (5 to 200 employees) with no or limited technical team; looking to digitize and scale processes by using internal apps.
Utilize is an application and web development tool founded in 2019. For the past couple of years, it has been helping companies who are unable to find simple customized internal apps for their teams.
- Frontend – React & React Native to create apps & the app builder.
- Backend – Node for the infrastructure.
- Utilize uses Typescript across these codebases.
Utilize- Key People
Utilize- Current Job Openings
- Content Marketing intern – https://www.linkedin.com/jobs/view/2861442492/
- Full Stack Developer (React, Node)
Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
|Company||Total Funding Raised|
New York, USA
St. Louis, USA
|Acquired by Google|
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/utilizeapp/
- Blog: https://www.utilize.app/blog
- AngelList Talent: https://angel.co/company/utilizeapp
- Crunchbase: https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/utilize
|Industry||Information Technology & Services|
|Headquarters||Bengaluru, Karnataka, India|
|Area served||Asia-Pacific, USA|
|Services||Application development, Web development|
|Number of employees||2-10|
|Interviewer: Divya Jain|
Reviewed by: Vishnu Vijayan
Fact checked by: Jatin Arora, Utilize.
This page was created on 11th January 2022, at 9:00 (IST)