Kausambi Manjita, Co-founder, Mason – Interview

Kausambi Manjita was the youngest and most pampered kid around and started her entrepreneurial journey step by step. Her mom was full of mythological stories, and her dad was a lover of facts. She grew up in her world of science and fiction.

Showing her entrepreneurial urge quite early on, she tried her hands at a couple of projects, selling paintings, food blogging and setting up a jewellery store. She recalls them as fun projects!

Since 2020, she has been busy building – Mason – the eCommerce Conversion App loved by 10,000+ eCommerce brands worldwide.

Let us read through a fascinating interview with this amazing lady! 

YC – Welcome to Yellow Chapter!

I firmly believe that what we are today is shaped by what we have experienced in our childhood. Can we talk about the early days of your childhood, your parents, and the dinner table conversations?

Fact and Fiction

Kaus – I was born in the foothills of Assam, where my dad was posted. My dad was a doctor in the public sector. His true calling was helping people around, and he was never excited about earning a lot of money. For him, being in service was super important. We have been in a lot of places within India during our upbringing. 

My mom is a slightly strict parent, a fantastic writer, a disciplined homemaker, a great sitar player and a very religious lady. She has always been very artistic and deeply influenced by Indian Vedas and literature. My mother was an anchor of the art in the family, and my father was the anchor of science.

It was an interesting dichotomy, and it happened on multiple fronts.

For example, my elder sister Kavya had a ton of pressure while growing up, and I had none. My dad was super easy with me. By the way, Kavya is my best friend, but she also mothers me a lot. 

Our dinner table conversations were a lot of storytelling, anchored by my mother’s love for Indian mythology. Being the rational person in the room, my father always brought objectivity to the conversations.

As a child, I was very fascinated by science fiction. Science, for me, was something fascinating, thrilling and new. For me, it was the possibilities science could bring. When I was in 7th grade, my dad gifted me the Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov. My dad focused on what amazing things can happen if we embrace science. 

YC – Can we talk about your engineering days?

Kaus – Post-school, I was unsure what I wanted to do or where I fit it. I had to do something, and I was neither prepared for a year off. So I got into engineering at BMS College of Engineering, Bangalore. I am not a person who takes time off or steps back to figure things out. I believed in doing things upfront and paving the way ahead. I am pretty much the same now as well.

Baby Steps of Entrepreneurship.

Honestly speaking, I did many other things in college other than Engineering. I did one small venture of my own during the time:

Venture 1 – I like to paint. During my college days, I used to sell paintings for special occasions like birthdays, valentines day, etc. It was crazy back then, but I was enjoying it!

But now, being an entrepreneur and having a bunch of interns working at Mason, I would suggest three things to students out there:

  1. Explore various opportunities, do not just stick to your course. Get some practical knowledge of things. One can always continue to educate themselves. Education is a lifelong process but getting hands-on experience is equally important. 
  2. Discover yourself  – Try and understand the core of you as a person. Try to understand your personality. Try to find your true calling. I know it is tough, but if these questions are answered early, you will be able to make the right choices on moving forward, be it internships, jobs, or entrepreneurship.
  3. Don’t be in your bubble – It is so easy to be in a continuous bubble, especially online. If you think you are not good at certain things, push yourself out of your comfort zone and try. In college, we usually fail to understand how different things and functions have to come together to make things work.

I remember one of my college friends, Aanchal Maheshwari. She knew that her strength was evident in her head even back then. She was having such clarity that early on was truly amazing and inspirational for me.

YC – So what after engineering?

Kaus – 2007! I started my professional journey with IBM Commerce as an Analyst. Within a year, I was the Module Lead. In this role, I:

  • Managed a cross-country team that launched a new product for high visibility & fraud mitigation.
  • Essayed the role of Analyst & Mentor for various projects.

Learnings

  1. Exposure – It was a startup later acquired by Sterling Commerce and then reacquired by IBM. There were a lot of great folks hired from various IITs, IIMs and other experienced people, all working together with great synergy towards building great products. It was such a treat to be part of that journey. 
  2. It confirmed that I love to bring technology to people – to everyone. Being in different roles, I realised I liked getting empathy into the products we were building.
  3. Setting my milestones – I figured this out quite early on. There were many people around me rushing to get into a B-school. They were busy preparing for the GRE, CAT and other exams. But I was pretty straightforward, and I wanted to move more towards product management and do an MBA only if needed. Even with so much pressure around, I never lost my focus on figuring out my own life’s journey.

Little Steps Matter!

Venture 2

Somewhere around 2010-2011 – At the same time, I also tried my hand at food blogging. I had around 5,000 hits on my blog every month! I should probably start selling these ingredients, which I used for my recipes. But at some point, it just fizzled out. I killed it, and I regret it!

YC – Why MBA?

Strategic call!

Kaus – 2012! I wanted to be back in India, where all the startup action was beginning to pick up. MBA was a very strategic call. I realised e-commerce was there to stay, as it was pretty big in the USA then. I wanted to be on the experience side of e-commerce rather than the infrastructure side. I wanted to learn about running an e-com business, how to grow it etc.

Also, at that time, Asia was exploding with great e-commerce companies, with Alibaba and Flipkart picking up and doing fantastic. Experimentation was at an all-time high. Back in the US, businesses were afraid to rock the boat when something was working well. On the contrary, Asians were brave and took risks like Alibaba brought the concept of selling via videos too.

I wanted to be part of this mobile-first e-commerce experience. ISB happened, and I got the chance to be where the action occurred.

Learnings – 

  1. I figured out the process of working under a lot of pressure. It was an 11-month programme jam-packed with a lot of activities around. So basically, there are two ways to deal with stress – 
  • Going with the flow, which at times might lead to burnout.
  • Prioritising things well.

I chose the latter. 

  1. Reinforcing, and building your milestones and goals – We tend to forget this when working. Going back to school reinforced this for me. I realised that some people are good at x and some at y, so I have to carve my path according to my skill set. There will also be FOMO, and one has to learn to manage it and make peace with what we are doing.
  2.  Networking – I got to meet exciting people. I had a great and versatile set of experiences all under one roof. Interestingly most of them are doing great in different parts of the world.

@ Graduating ISB

YC – In 2013, you started your professional journey again. How was it?

Kaus – Product Owner – NCR Corporation, an MNC, was the primary builder of ATM Hardware, Software & Billing Systems for the Airlines Industry – one of the original names. I worked on the software side, and it was exciting bridging the world of hardware and software.
NCR was a short stint, and I wanted to move into the Indian e-commerce space rapidly. So I joined Paytm.

2014 – Product Management @ Paytm – Paytm was a real startup back then. They had a lot of things going on – a lot of experiments and a lot of learning. My role was:

  • To own and lead the Pay With Paytm offering (Web/m-Site) team – We built, launched and GTM for the complete product.
  • Paytm Wallet P2P App – I was part of the team that built, tested and launched the app.
  • C2C Marketplace (KaroSell) on Android, iOS and Web.

Learning – In retrospect would be :

  1. Clarity of vision – I still remember that in one of the meetings, Vijay(the founder) drew a payment infrastructure in the middle and asked how all services could be brought together to leverage that infrastructure. He was very clear about what and how he wanted to grow.

Now being a founder myself, I realise how important it is to have that clarity of vision for the team, investors, and the customer. It helps every individual in the company make the right decision!

@ Paytm Team

I decided to move from Paytm. I had always worked in MNC culture, and though Paytm was a great place workwise, I was looking for a change culturally. 

When I met the Myntra team and specifically Shamik (then CTO, CPO), I felt the role was more tech-entrepreneurial, whereas Paytm was more business entrepreneurial. Also, culturally I felt Myntra was a place where I would enjoy it more.

One step leads to another!

Post Paytm and before Myntra, I tried my hand at a jewellery subscription venture – Jewelup. The idea was to create a jewellery subscription brand with a great experience. I would source jewellery from Shanghai (my sister lived there then) and pack them in nice, cute boxes with a personalised note. I had a Facebook page for my store too! Though it was not as successful as the food blog, I had about 10-20 subscribers and worked on the idea for a few months.

Learnings – I never thought of building them in both the food blog and Jewel up for the long term. When I realised that, I decided that I would not be a person who has only ideas and never pulls through. I decided to commit to an idea and make it happen, even if it took much longer.

2015 – Product Management – Content Platform & Solutions – Myntra. At Myntra, I built up the Content Roadmap, Content Products and Toolkits from scratch, and helped create the platform and intelligence layers.

Learnings –

1. Moved close to retail and fashion again.

2. I realised I could continue to do this for years to come.

3. Learned so much about products and taking them to market. Products which people love to use and swear by.

The Entrepreneurial beginning…

Dec 2016 – I was very impressed by Shamik’s journey of having his startup. He had also worked at great places like Yahoo and StumbleUpon. I was inspired to start on my own too, but I like to do things with others and not alone. I met my co-founder, Barada Sahu and the two earliest founding engineers, Paroksh and Jophin, at Myntra. Our synergies matched, and we wanted to work on similar problems. 

Also, by this time, from my journey at Paytm and then at Myntra and even with my two small ventures, I knew if I had to be an entrepreneur, I had to commit myself long term. “Great businesses are not built in a day.”

2018 – Meeting my co-founder + two earliest founding engineers + my role at Myntra, and + my past experiences, all of this just kind of came together and thus Kubric.io happened, followed by Mason! Most importantly, our skills were complementary, and we could see building a business together.

YC – Why Kubric.io?

Kaus – In all my past experiences, I have been building e-commerce enablement platforms helping B2B teams succeed. So it was apparent that I wanted to continue in the same direction. As a team, we were very excited about solving for brands and helping brands grow faster.
We wanted to build technology for brands, so Kubric was an obvious choice.

We were pretty clear we wanted to build technology for brands, so Kubric was an obvious choice. 

At Kubric – We use technology to help large enterprises in Asia speed & scale up their content and design operations. From Myntra, Flipkart, Swiggy, and Amazon to Dunzo.

@ 1st pitch event in 2018 at San Francisco for Kubric

YC – Why Mason?

Kaus – 2020 – 2020 – From mid-2018 to 2019, I travelled a lot as my family was in Toronto. I met many brands & business owners who used Shopify. While interacting with them, I realised that they were facing issues similar to the big brands, but the way they were experiencing it was different. Digging deeper, we saw that the online store conversion rate for small brands – the mass of retail -was around 0.5%, whereas big brands operate at 4% to 5%.

We (the founding team) realised our vision was always to democratise technology and bring it to everybody. Though Kubic was doing good and making money with big brands on board, we felt the founder-GTM was not there. 

We discussed and realised we felt more connected to ‘a lot of people’ v/s continuing to work with big brands, who were already doing a great job. It was more about optimisation for big brands, but it was about independence and life & death for the masses. We chose the latter; Mason was born!

YC – Can we talk about the initial days of Mason?

Kaus– Mason was a fresh start altogether. At Mason, we wanted to build a super-powerful product and bring it to many people. We knew:

  • The product had to be super simple. 
  • Needed a new team and a different set of people.
  • We had to build a new philosophy and a new culture as well.

In May 2020, Mason’s first version went live. It was an MVP (minimum viable product) then, and we took some time to convert it to an MLP (minimum lovable product). We got good traction in the early days and realised we finally found founder-market-fit (GTM).

@ Speaker in GDG Summit

YC – Can we talk about some numbers and future growth and competition of Mason?

Kasu – Today, we power around 12,000 to 15,000 stores every month. Initially, we did not monetise as the idea was to find the product-market fit. But now, very recently, we have started monetising

The majority of our users, around 85%, are in the US (North America) and Canada. Another significant pocket is the APAC. India, too is picking up. We also have users from Germany, France and Europe. 

By 2025, e-commerce will be a $10 trillion market space. As more retail players come online, they need technology to enable them to create sustainable businesses and grow to be independent, successful businesses. Today so many brands have to be in leading marketplaces because it is hard – very hard – to be available in all channels from app to web to social and give the same great experience to the buyer each time.

According to a CNBC recent report, around $2 trillion is lost due to poor conversions in online stores. Store conversions are not as simple as just setting up a website – it’s about bringing the brick and mortar experience online. We at Mason are solving this. We help brands and retailers grow online!

Competition 

Globally, some teams are solving different parts of the problem. Customer reviews and loyalty are one significant segment, and Yotpo is a big name in the industry, solving for it. We are focused on data-based decisions to run everyday store strategies like sales & launches – for example, the inventory, how the SKUs are performing, how the customers are engaging with the product, etc.

YC – What worked for Mason in sales and marketing? What would you suggest to fellow founders?

Kaus – For sales and marketing, founder market fit and founder go-to-market (GTM) fit are essential. As a team, you have to see what skill set you can leverage most effectively to bring results to the table. In the early stage of a SaaS startup, you have to pick up the things which you do well. 

For some teams outbound works. For some inbound. Even feet-on-street work well for others.

For us at Mason, SEO and product lead growth was a natural fit, and it worked out well for us. We are very integration heavy and brand heavy too.

YC – Little philosophical question, but what keeps you going in tough times?

Books and Beings!

Kaus – Hmmm… It is about the incredible inspiration that I get from people around me. You might get a little anecdote or inspiration from anyone you meet if you look close enough. I try to learn as much as I can from people around me. A few people I speak to sometimes to get some energy & inspiration are Raghu from Yellow.ai, Krish founder of Chargebee, Ajay Sethi from Accel, and Shamik.

Another thing that keeps me going is reading. It helps! ‘Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX’ is a fantastic read, super inspirational and teaches so much about grit! I even gifted this book to my team during our recent offsite. 

The other is That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix by the first CEO and co-founder, Marc Randolph. 

@ Mason Team

We are sure that our readers will be inspired by these words of yours. Yellow Chapter wishes you all the very best in your future endeavours!

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