Lalit Indoria, Founder, ClearFeed – Interview on Building Tool that Helps People Run HelpDesks on Slack

Meet Lalit Indoria, Founder at ClearFeed, on a mission to make a Slack-Native Helpdesk for IT, Support and DevOps that uses AI to keep track of conversations and connects seamlessly to software like Jira, Zendesk and Salesforce.

Let us read through his story…

Lalit, Welcome to Yellow Chapter! The idea is to talk to you and capture your journey from the beginning. Where were you born? How were you as a kid? What was your parent’s expectation?

Lalit – I was born in Rajasthan, but we relocated to Chennai. My dad’s job was in Chennai at a transport company. My mom was a homemaker. My schooling and college were in Chennai.

I was good at my studies. My parents gave me the space to choose what I always wanted. I had a natural bent toward Science, Math and especially algebra. I consistently scored exceptionally well in Maths compared to History, Civics and other subjects. 

In grade 11th, I took my PCMB (Physics, Chemistry, Maths & Biology). I had a lot of interest in Biology too. Later in 12th, I realized that MBBS is not a small thing. I came to know to be a doctor; people study for ten additional years, post 12th. To start earning. I was not ready for it. So = Engineering.

YC – How was engineering? A lot of engineering students read my blog. They find these stories very inspirational. How can they make the best four years of engineering? What message would you like to give to them?

Lalit – 2009! I got through Anna University – B.E, Electronics and Communication. 

I got into Electronics and Communication engineering but was not liking the subject. In my second year, I found out about blogging. I thought it was really good to research and write about things people were looking for but couldn’t easily find on the internet. I started a technical blog, writing about modifying the android system and tweaking it as per our liking. With 35,000 to 40,000 hits a day. Around $1000+ monthly revenue.

Gradually the blog started ranking among the top mobile blogs in India. Whenever there was a phone launch, companies would invite the bloggers. To experience the phone and write a review. I used to travel to different cities. It was a fantastic experience.

I started earning by selling Ad.space on the blog. I was initially on an education loan, but gradually I was able to fund my education. I even had two or three people writing for the blog. 

Suggestion – Many of my batchmates got into engineering because they were asked to get into engineering. Not because they want to do that. During four years in college, I could see they were barely interested in engineering.

Atleast, in those days, the typical Indian parent wanted their kids to be either an engineer or a doctor. 

I believe that the earlier you understand what you want to do, the better it is. 

HOW? 

1. Meet a lot of people from different backgrounds.

2. What kind of work people are doing?

3. How are they earning?

4. Internships – Students should do a lot more internships. Do not limit yourself to the opportunities within the campus. 

YC – Can we talk about your professional journey?

Lalit – 2014! Sure, I was doing internships with Freshersworld.com. I was offered a full-time job, and I took it. Joined as a Software Engineer. 

Learnings :

1. Give employees enough opportunity to grow – I was responsible for building bulk emailing software. My managers never told me how to build. They gave me complete freedom to explore and deliver.

2. Seek help, do not hesitate – I was not from a computer science background, but I was able to code well. Whenever I was stuck, I reached out to my managers and senior colleagues for guidance.

3. You might get to work on a small part of a big problem. Try and get to the depth of it. While building cost-effective bulk emailing software, I learned about AWS, building a scheduler, different types of databases and many other things for the first time. I realized my true potential lies in coding and not just blogging.

Mid-2014! At that stage, I learned all of what Freshersworld had to offer. I realized it was time for a change; HolidayIQ.com – Full Stack Developer was next.

HolidayIQ was a great experience. It was a very fast-moving company. People would just be very hard. We would write a feature in the morning and push it to production by evening. And I enjoyed that a lot.

I worked on a lot of performance optimization. I built some APIs for the mobile apps. I learned a lot about how mobile apps work. 

Learnings:

1. Great feeling to see the impact – HolidayIQ’s blog was very popular. Initially, bloggers used to take around 40 – 45 minutes to write one blog post. With the new blogging platform I build, I could bring it down to 15 – 20 minutes. I could see the impact I was making with the software I built.

2. I could see the product in action and the business impact it had.

3. Great mentors make a lot of difference – I worked closely with Gyaneshwar Pardhi and Thejasvi Bhat, who helped me understand how backend systems are built for mobile applications.

@ Team HolidayIQ

Mid-2015! Qubole: The Open Data Lake Company – I wanted to enter B2B space. 

I realized, HolidayIQ was not very tech-focused. For them, technology was meant to facilitate function. Their primary revenue was from the travel business, not the software. So I want you to work in a company where the revenue is based on software. 

A software company would pay more attention to how the software is built. If you are a software developer or pursuing to be one, authentic learning lies with tech companies. So, even I wanted to work in a tech-focused company. 

I came across an opening in Quoble. I Googled to read about the startup. I was amazed to see a 4.9 /5 rating on Glassdoor. I knew the culture would be excellent. 

I also liked the idea of putting big data as a service on the cloud. At that time, not many products were built on the cloud, and the bet that most people would move to the cloud in the future was promising. And I have always wanted to work for startups. So I thought, Quoble would be a good fit. 

The founder’s profile was amazing. One of them was Joydeep, the current co-founder of ClearFeed. He was an ex-Facebook; he invented Apache Hive. 

Learnings:

1. Quality of Code – I always thought for a tech startup, speed is the key for the company to succeed. But when I went to Quoble, I realized that speed is not the only thing. There are other things that matter, is quality. The quality of code that you write. There was a significant focus on the way people were writing code. 

2. Culture – Such an open, collaborative culture was truly amazing.

3. Customer Interaction – The other thing that I learned was interacting with customers, which had never happened before. Eventually, I realized when we build software, we have to know what impact it will make on the customer. 

I never liked the fact that some engineering teams built products in silos. They need to see the product impact and what people perceive when they use the product they have built.

4. Mentors – As mentioned earlier, having good mentors is a blessing. Joydeep has inspired me the most. 

 Idera, Inc. Acquires Qubole. Leadership got changed. I started looking for options – in Nov 2020! Udaan.com came along. It was a startup with great founders in the B2B model. I decided to join. 

YC – How did ClearFeed happen?

Lalit – July 2021. Joydeep and I were in touch and discussed ideas about what to build next and why. We wanted to solve something that a lot of people could benefit from.

Working at Udaan was good, but it was a huge company. What I was doing was just a tiny part of it. 

Having my startup was already in my mind for a very long time. Blogging was my first attempt to be an entrepreneur. Though at that time, I was young and inexperienced. But now I knew it was time.

We discussed a couple of issues we discussed which we had faced in Quoble:

Idea 1 – Now, in every company, there are a lot of Slack Channels. A single person cannot monitor so many Slack channels. Even we could never keep track of all the conversations within Quoble. There were a considerable number of unread conversations. We would miss replying to some people. There are so many things that we keep doing; we just miss things. 

We applied the same logic to the Customer Support Team – It is the most critical part for any startup. Typically a customer support team is one person managing multiple channels with various customers.

Also, Slack Connect was launched – To allow users of different organizations to chat, share files, and communicate. We knew data flow would increase many folds now.

Idea 2 – We wanted to enable a manager to build a simple page and show the kind of work their team is doing. Who all is part of the team. What products they are building, technologies they’re using, and all that.

Right now, jobs are posted online because they just say there’s an engineer position. Some companies still mention the team. But citing the team is not enough because you don’t know who you will work with or what kind of work you will do. 

We picked up Idea 1. WHY:

 1. We had a very strong feeling that this was a really huge problem to solve. We had experienced it firsthand; we knew that it was worth solving.

2. We spoke to many companies and figured out this is a big pain point for many. Helpdesk solutions space – the market size for which is anticipated to reach $11 billion by 2023.

3. We strongly believe that Slack will be used as a helpdesk internally and externally. People provide support, onboard customers and interact with them over Slack connect. Internal teams use slack as a helpdesk for IT, HR and DevOps. Unfortunately, there is no visibility into how much work goes into providing support on Slack. 

We also understand that Slack isn’t the only way people provide support. They use other tools – like Zendesk & JIRA which is why we could build integrations so people can stay where they are and simultaneously track their work on a ticketing system. 

Hence, ClearFeed – Monitors and syncs conversations across Slack and Ticketing systems and nudges engineering and support teams to close customer conversations faster.

Quick Update – 

We have recently onboarded a few customers using the product daily to track requests on Slack and sync them to a ticketing system. They also use our Slack Insights to understand their support metrics on Slack.

Competition – Halp (acquired by Atlassian) provides a slack-based helpdesk solution like ours. We complement the solutions provided by Zendesk, Atlassian, Freshdesk & Salesforce by making sure people stay productive while they use these multiple tools.

Funding – We’re backed by Sequoia Surge and 8vc and some top angels in the valley. We have raised $2.5mn in total.

Ideal customers for ClearFeed will be Series B-funded startups, better if they are in the SaaS domain. If they use Slack as a helpdesk for IT, DevOps or support, they would be the perfect customers for us.

Tech – We use TypeScript across the stack – Nest JS on the backend and Next JS (server-rendered React) on the front end. We are hosted on AWS and use it heavily on the infrastructure front. The entire infrastructure is written in Terraform – we use it to spin up new environments easily

Scale – We monitor information that comes to us from different platforms in the form of events and process them to figure out important stuff using AI. We process thousands of them now; we project it will be millions/day soon. 

Important information is spread across tools and it flows like a river – acting upon that information at the right time and with the least manual effort is something we are solving for. If you believe you face this problem too, get in touch with us – hello@clearfeed.ai

@ Qubole India team

YC – Suggestions for fellow founders?

Lalit – Frankly speaking, I am a first-time founder. I am not very sure, but still, from my experience so far:

1. Solve the issue you have faced – Talk to many people (globally) around regarding it. Read + explore. 

2. Keep a very close eye on the competition. 

3. Getting good engineers on board is challenging for a tech founder. Most engineers want to join startups for stock options. That is the actual value of a startup for them. There is nothing wrong with it. But I genuinely believe it’s our responsibility as founders to reward them with good stock options and help them understand how you are trying to solve a huge problem and what is their contribution to it.

4. Hiring: 

  • For senior hires, set up the first call with the person the engineer will directly work with. It helps in conveying the idea right + Give good stock options. Show them the scale they would be working on. 
  • For junior hires, it is essential to discuss the technologies and frameworks they will be working on.

5. Founders should be socially active – Giving current and potential hires clarity about what they are building | and how they are building is very important. I am active on engineering blogs – Dev.to | Reddit | GitHub. I am pretty active on many slack communities as well. 

6. Feedback – Initially, the tone is very important while giving feedback. Initially, I was very blunt in giving feedback. But later, I realized to get the best out of people, you have first to understand them. Be nice to everyone.

Book recommendation – ‘Moneyball the art of winning an unfair game by Michael Lewis’

                               ‘Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel’

YC – Lalit, I genuinely believe many people contribute to where we are in life. They are our family, friends, teachers, mentors etc. People you would like to thank in your journey so far?

Lalit – My parents have been super supportive. My dad is my friend. My wife (Pooja Sharma) has been a real pillar of support. My brother Yashwant Indoria and lastly, my mentor is Joydeep.

@ Family

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

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