Nishant first became interested in engineering when he was in sixth grade. The adventure that began with the construction of a plastic churner has now culminated in the construction of a communication centre for product teams.
In this interview, we talk about his childhood memories, graduation days, professional roadmap, Olvy, his startup journey, current trends, and competition, along with words of advice for aspiring founders.
YC- Welcome to the Yellow Chapter. This interview aims to understand you as a person, your life choices, your professional road map, and finally, Olvy. So, can we start from the very beginning? Like, where were you born? Tell us about your parents, the dinner table conversations, about your siblings.
Nishant – I was born in a town called Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh. My father was a sales manager for a private fertiliser company. Due to my father’s job, we frequently had to move. Lucknow → Rudrapur → Bareilly → Kathauli → Rudrapur – that’s where we eventually settled. I attended Jaycees Public School, where I finished my education.
My mom is a homemaker. She comes from a very humble background. My nani used to sew clothes so that all her children could attend school. My mom always says, “Think on your own. work hard.” She constantly emphasised that we (my sister – Shanya and I) have to be independent. She would advise us to act responsibly. She had struggled in her life and didn’t want us to go through the same. She is the one who constantly pushed us.
Initially, our parents helped us with our studies. I did not take tuition till the 10th grade. Even after 10th, I took tuitions for maths and physics, the two subjects that I struggled with.
I still remember an incident from 7th grade. My mother had complained to my class teacher that I watched TV all the time. To my surprise, the teacher asked her to let me be. She said I was big enough to take responsibility and advised my mother not to interfere. My mother followed her advice.
That was the turning point in my life. She reminded me of one last thing: “Your father has a private job, we do not have any family business. You’ll have to find your way.”
When I was in 6th grade, one of my sister’s friends’ older brothers introduced me to the world of electronics. He had motors and wires and used them to build random things. I was fascinated by this. When I went home, I broke all of my toys to build those random things, like him. Once, I built a churner with plastic helicopter blades. However, I did not know that this was engineering. I just liked playing with things 🚁 🚁.
Later, I developed a taste for electronics. And I realised that I wanted to be an electrical or electronics engineer. Cars and weapons also fascinated me. I thought of joining DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) and wanted to build weapons. But I soon realised the army may not be the best option for me as I wasn’t into fitness 🏋️🏋️.
In 10th grade, I got my first laptop, yahoo…..💻. At that time, I was introduced to HTML, blogging and websites. I created a blog called insidetechtricks.com, where I shared random hacks that I came across. The first website I created was knowbasichacking.com. I was interested in hacking back then. I used to hack the Facebook accounts of my classmates, in a fun way.
By then, I was deeply interested in computer science. Hence, in 11th grade, I chose PCM over commerce, despite my father’s advice. In my board exams, I scored 67.4% 🤦🤦.
My friend Arnob, now a co-founder of Olvy, attended the same school as mine. He was the popular guy at school, while I was the nerd. We first spoke in the 11th grade and discovered we shared a passion for technology. His parents wanted him to move to Bangalore after school. So, he took the Consortium of Medical, Engineering and Dental Colleges of Karnataka (COMED-K) test. I also attended the test and did well, earning a decent grade. Finally, I enrolled in Bangalore’s Christ College.
YC- So you got into Christ College @ 2014. Based on your experience, what are a few suggestions that you would like to give to young graduates or students? How can they get the most out of four years of engineering?
Nishant – When I was in 10th grade, one of my teachers, Mr HS Dhaila, said something very interesting: “Every effort that you put in would finally count, Mehnath Kabhi Bekaar Nahi Jaati Hai.” So keep exploring and trying new things. There will be a point in life where you need something and have it because you chose to try and explore.
I got super motivated and got deep into coding. By 11th grade, I had created a blog, which had good traffic. I even built a website. In twelfth grade, I sold the blog for Rs.10,000 and bought my first smartphone 📱📱. When I started college, I realised one thing for certain: studies alone will not get you anywhere in life.
In college, I knew I wanted to build something on my own. But I only had experience blogging and writing some HTML and CSS. I didn’t know how to build apps. So, there was this Facebook group called Bangalore Startups – an open group for Entrepreneurs and Aspiring Entrepreneurs. I posted there that I am interested in startups and would really like to know how things work in the industry.
The founders were going to restaurants, getting people to pay using the platform + there were engineers working on the apps. The place was buzzing, there was so much energy and it was super cool. When they found out about my blog, they asked me to create a website for them.
I was super excited and started building. Once I was done, their CTO asked me for the Git Link. I had no clue what it was. Until then, I had only sent zip files. He advised me to start a GitHub profile if I am aiming for a career in engineering. That’s when reality hit me. I had all this confidence that I was going to create something. But I realised I didn’t know anything, I had no idea about creating apps. This incident shaped the engineer in me.
At college, since it was the first year, they were teaching us the basics of C and C++. I had already dealt with it at school and was good at it. I used the time to learn to code. My personal blog has a detailed account of how I learned to code.
I learned Ruby on Rails and the basics of GitHub. At that time, Mozilla had a blog called Mozilla Hacks. I made my first open-source contribution there. And I felt— now, I’m an engineer.
My first app 🔊🔊
I went on to build an app called Prorei. I wanted to build a LinkedIn clone. My focus was not on credentials, but on skills that would eventually translate into a hiring app.
Meanwhile, my co-founder and roommate, Arnob, got big time into designing. He also did a lot of projects and worked with a few companies. After college, we thought, “What if we built a company together?” And that’s how Olvy was born.
Suggestions for engineering students:
- If you want to get into coding, start building as early as possible. Work with smart engineers. I knew CGPA was a means to get a degree, but what actually counts is the work that you have done.
- Try to work with good people. Look for seniors and profs in college or explore people online.
- Once you have started with something, don’t stop. Go deep. If you are using a library or a framework, just get deep into it. See how things actually work. Keep asking questions until you have a good grasp.
YC- Can we talk about your professional roadmap and learnings?
Nishant – I will start with my internships and projects. They were super helpful in shaping my career. Education + Social Impact + Knowledge Management are three domains that are very close to my heart.
Internship 1 – Education – I interned with #Learn. HashLearn was an e-learning tool that allowed students to get their doubts cleared by teachers. There, I met a lot of interesting folks. I learned a lot of new things – front end, react and building interactive apps. The company was acquired by Byjus in 2021.
Internship 2 – Social Impact – I interned with SocialCops – The world’s leading data for good company. Richa, one of their product managers, had answered a question on Quora about team cultures, which I found very interesting. I applied there for an internship and got selected.
By the end of the internship, they extended me an offer to continue the project, if I could manage both college and work. It went on for four more months. I fell in love with that company. They had a good work culture. To date, that’s the best company that I have worked for.
At SocialCops, I saw them working on Ujjwala Yojana, the PM’s project to provide gas connections to rural households. The company was given the task of finding the best places to open LPG distribution centres – dashboard. A photo of the woman with the LPG cylinder was added every time SocialCops made a new connection.
This inspired me a lot!
For my final semester internship, I wanted to intern with a startup in Delhi. However, I had a backlog in one of the papers- Digital Signal Processing. This was referred to as the ‘degree-stopping-paper’ as most of the graduates took extra semesters to clear it 🤦🤦.
Internship 3 Clarisights – At Clarisights, I learned the best engineering practices. Earlier, I used to think building apps was just coding. However, it was during this internship that I learned things like documentation and testing. Thus, the coder in me was transformed into a software engineer.
Our engineering college, like any other, had placements. But seven of us opted out. The companies that came for placement drives were mostly service-oriented like TCS and Infosys. I wanted to join a product-based company. I am someone who’s emotionally attached to the things I build. In service companies, you build a product, operate it, and then transfer ownership and move on to the next thing. I did not want to do that.
Project MatterWiki (Knowledge Management) – Wiki software is too complicated for small teams. Matterwiki is just that—a simple wiki for teams to store and collaborate on knowledge. People use it to store documentation, notes, culture guidelines, employee onboarding content and everything else they want. Launched it on Product Hunt – It ranked 3rd Product of the day for Jan 15, 2017, with 156 upvotes and 7 comments + got 2000 stars on GitHub.
My first option was SocialCops. I got a chance to work on DISHA – India’s National Data Platform. They were in a transition phase. Through DISHA, SocialCops has had an impact but the new vision was to increase impact by 100x. That’s where the seeds of Atlan were sown -a new way for data-driven teams to discover, understand, trust, and collaborate on data assets
1st Job Atlan – 2018 as Software Engineer II.
YC- Three suggestions that you have for a college graduate who is applying for their first job?
Nishant – First – Figure out what it is that you want to work on. Right now, I am interviewing many people. Most of them talk about packages and careers, but they lack clarity when it comes to specific industries/domains or problem spaces that they are interested in. I believe the problem space has a significant impact on the quality of your work and performance.
What if your job or the problems you’re working on aren’t interesting to you? You’ll obviously do your work, but you may not have fun doing it. So the first step is to identify your problem space.
Second, early in your career, focus on getting your foot in the door. Don’t worry about packages or scale. Don’t look at the company, instead, focus on the people that you are working with. It’s not the company that teaches you things, but the people around you. Interact with them and learn. So that’s what I did when I joined SocialCops, and later at Atlan.
Third and most important – Always focus on learning, everything else will eventually follow. Don’t be afraid to get in on the ground floor of new things.
YC- What were the three major learnings from Atlan?
Nishant – First is shifting from a solution mindset to a questioning mindset. As an engineer, you naturally go for solutions the moment you encounter a problem. At Atlan, we gave priority to the problem. Problem first, followed by solution.
Second thing I learned is related to the first: not to jump to final products too soon, experiment and iterate. On the first try, figure out the problem completely. Then, iterate to the final solution.
Third – how to build a startup. How to start from scratch, how to look at problems from zero to one and eventually build what your users want. I got a chance to work directly with the co-founder Varun + great teammates – Divyansh, Gaurav, Utkarsh, Krishna, Mukund, Amit and Yatin.
I remember one incident in particular. After one of our customer calls, Varun came back to us and said, “Startups are like a roller coaster ride. One day, you would feel like this was never going to work and the next day, you feel that you would rule the world”. These emotions are ones we very often face at Olvy. Before Atlan, I was a software engineer but Atlan converted me into a product builder 💪💪.
@ Team Atlan
YC- How did Olvy happen?
Nishant- I’ve always aspired to create something of my own. The mindset was to first learn how to build and then build. I was working on numerous side projects even as I was employed at Atlan. I built a tool called Athro – Crowdsourced Learning Maps for the Open Web. Atlan, as a company, was also supportive of these side projects. They nurtured learning 🌳🌳.
On 31st December 2020, Arnob called me to wish me New Year. At the time, he was working at Qubole, another big data company. And he proposed the idea of starting something new. Within a week, we jumped on a call and discussed many ideas.
We realised SaaS was coming up big time. As a SaaS founder, apart from great products, you need to have many allied services like a customer support desk, status page, feedback management systems etc. to give a flawless experience to your customers.
But these services/ systems don’t talk to each other, they are not flexible enough. Hence, they are very inconsistent. However, as a company, I want two things:
- Everything should be consistent.
- Everything should look like my own brand.
We realised there was space for a completely flexible, and well-designed system.
Initially, we explored many ideas — building a status page, support desk, an email tool or a change log. We knew all these tools had been built, but we knew we could do it better. It’s like – telling an engineer that something already exists, is like telling a musician that there’s already a song about love 🎵🎵.
We started with a change log tool and named it Olvy. Olvy was initially a side project as I was still working at Atlan. Initially, the intention was to learn and keep building. However, we hoped to build something big in this domain, at some point.
Arnob is popular in the indie hacker community. He talked to a lot of those people, giving us a lot of early intros. We started something called the builder’s programme. The idea was to get early users to use the product and turn them into loyal customers. So that, when we launch, we will have social proof, an existing customer base, and the product will also be very stable.
In August 2020, we launched the first version of the product and did our first demo. We were #1 on Product Hunt. We made some revenue as well. I was still working with Atlan and Arnob was also working at a startup.
One tip that I would like to give creators – If you are working on a side project, it’s better if you are working for a larger company. Because if you’re working in a startup and you’re doing your own side project, it might become difficult to manage. You won’t have the bandwidth to work on two projects simultaneously.
So that’s what happened to us. We couldn’t invest a lot of time in Olvy, as both of us were busy with our respective jobs. We were just shipping a few features on weekends. However, we realised these limitations early on. We knew if we did not give 100% attention to Olvy, it would not go anywhere.
We were thinking about quitting our jobs. While we were discussing our options, an investor who found us on Product Hunt approached us. We pitched him the entire idea -our long-term vision.
We started thinking in terms of TAM. We realised that just building a change log tool was too small a market. Also, while building Olvy, a lot of user feedback was coming in from different channels.
Problem statement – We noticed we don’t have a single platform that could help us make sense of user concerns, and close the loop with those users. We decided that was one problem we had to solve.
Solution – We wanted to bring all the user feedback together in one place and help you find insights from this information. Hence, Olvy.co – Manage your user feedback like never before.
We are building a communication centre for teams in one place. Once this information is collated, companies could find patterns and convert them into common themes that need to be worked on. This way, you can easily assign tasks to your engineering team. And once those issues are dealt with, you can automatically close the loop with the users, eventually turning them into product champions because they see you’re listening. We managed to raise pre-seed funding. And in between, we also quit our jobs.
@ Team Olvy
YC- Hiring is one of the biggest challenges. What are your suggestions?
1. If you think hiring is easy, it’s not. Though it looks like it from the outside, it is not. I learned it the hard way.
2. Think about what you value in your product: We are the most beautiful changelog tool right now, with V1. For V2, we are focusing on design. So figure out those values in your product, and then hire for those values. Initially, we were focused on skills alone. Skills can be learned, but can the person think from the product perspective? So we started designing our interview process according to that. Regardless of the position you apply for, one interview question you can expect is about design.
3. Always iterate.
4. Depend on proof of work: I’ve met a lot of people who perform really well in interviews. They will say all the right things. But when it comes to the task stage, they fail. So having tasks in the interview process is very important. Focus on proof of work and not on credentials.
5. Since we were a small company, we initially tried to hire people from our network, but it didn’t work out. So we started hiring openly. One major filter that I used early on was to see if a person was focused on himself or if he was also interested in the company and the problem they were solving.
At that time, we didn’t have a product. We had a V1 and a vision for a V2. A lot of questions came in, like how big the team is, about funding, and about product development. We were more interested in people who asked us questions like: How will this work? How much data will we process? What scale would we be working on? and so on.
When people ask questions, we know that this is the right person asking the right questions. Contrary to this, a lot of people were only interested in the working hours and team divisions and never went into the product. Our criteria were simple. If somebody shows interest in the product side of things, that means they’re a product thinker and will be a perfect fit for our company.
YC- SaaS founder has three big problems. One is product-market fit. And the other two are marketing and sales. What is your take on marketing and sales?
Nishant- I once believed that a good product would sell itself. But it doesn’t go like that. Even the best product would be rendered useless if no one was to market and sell it. Similarly to this, if you don’t have a great product, it won’t sell no matter how skilled your sales team is. Both have to go hand in hand.
Arnob handles marketing and sales completely, which comes in handy. Talk to as many people as possible about the product you are about to build. You need to start marketing even if you don’t have a product. Before you start building, start selling.
YC- Let’s talk about some typical SaaS numbers?
Nishant – We are currently in beta. So I can’t share any numbers yet. But many companies like CodeSandbox, Hireology, LottieFiles are using our product. With Version1, as a side project, we raised $1,000. In the launch month, we made $5,000. Our MRR was around $500.
The good news is that we will be launching the website soon. The product launch will be done later this year. With V1, we were able to get early users and early adopters. We hope to do the same with V2.
For TAM, our conservative estimate is $1 billion. Companies like Jira, Qualtrics, and Typeform still communicate with customers using outdated methods. But then, the entire scenario has seen a shift. Nowadays, every company has a community page, such as the Discord community page. Project management tools are evolving into something new with tools like Linear.
In India, we don’t have many competitors. There are companies trying to solve a part of this problem, but we are looking at it as a whole. Globally, our competitors would be ProductBoard – incumbent in this space | Canny | UserVoice. However, we are approaching the issue from a completely different angle than they are.
We are building the comms centre for your product team. We bring all your user feedback together and help you convert it into tickets. We also help you close the loop with those users by notifying them, wherever they are. Say, if feedback came in from Slack, we would close the loop on Slack.
Long-term vision –
We’re on a mission to help product teams by enabling them to build better products. Once we bring user feedback together, we plan to bring in product context as well. If you’re building a product, you can’t do a good job without information like Figma documents, product requirements and knowledge base documentation. We want to create a builder hub for all this product context. Using this, product teams can perform way better.
YC- Three tips for fellow founders?
- Don’t work alone: Find a co-founder who complements your skills. Don’t do it alone.
- Focus on the product: Make sure there’s at least one person on your team who cares about the product + the end-user experience. Most tools are utilitarian. But not many think about the experience it provides. Focus a lot on the product experience.
- Don’t ignore marketing, sales and finance. As an engineer, your code is just a means to solve a problem.
YC- What keeps you going? What is the mantra?
Nishant– Hahaha….it’s quite simple; I want to do my best work. At the end of the day, I should feel satisfied that I have done/built something worthwhile.
- Zero to One by Peter Thiel
- Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.
These are two excellent books that will inspire you to action.