Prashant Mahajan, the co-founder of Zeda.io, has been a leader from his childhood. He found his prowess in Product Development and Management early on in his career. He planned his way to success, acquired supplementary skills and then executed his entrepreneurial idea.
Let us read through his journey on setting up India’s leading one-stop Product Management suite!
YC: Can we talk about your childhood days?
Prashant: I am from Amritsar, Punjab. I did my schooling from DAV Public School, Amritsar. I was a bright student and scored well during my school days. I participated in various academic and extracurricular activities. I won the first prize in the Bournvita Quiz Contest of 2004. I was also my Class leader.
My family is in the retail business, and quite naturally, I was supposed to join it. But retail was not my thing. I did not find it exciting and challenging enough. I thought Engineering would be something to try out and decided to go for it. I had a great bend towards Chemistry, and I got into Dr B R Ambedkar National Institute of Technology Jalandhar – Chemical Engineering.
YC: How were the four years of BTech?
Prashant: College was good. I chose chemical engineering but realised it was not my thing. I was interested in tech. I liked reading about tech, trying new apps and exploring their features. Even now, I read about tech a lot. I was quite into extracurricular activities at college as well. I organised various events, a few being – Techniti (Tech Fest), Utkansh (Cultural Fest), and Chemcon 2012.
During my internships, I went to manufacturing plants of companies like Coca-Cola. I gained insightful knowledge of how back end processes in FMCG companies operate. It was nice to see their assembly lines and understand how various processes contributed to the making of a final product.
Placement time! I was very keen on getting placed with a tech company. Paytm visited our campus for hiring. Thank god for my good CGP I was able to appear for the written round. I was quite confident that I would make it to the next round.
Next round was challenging. Though I was lagging in technical terms, I was able to convey ideas on how to make Paytm a better product. Voila! I was able to clear it. This was for a business role. My interviewer suggested that I was more of a product guy than a business guy. They gave me a chance to begin my journey with Paytm.
YC: Your suggestions on making career choices?
Prashant: Based on my experience and exposure, I have 3 simple suggestions:
- Prioritise your needs – Understand what you want to do in life, and choose what will supplement your journey. Though a lot depends on – what your situation is, where you are in life, and what you want in life!
For me, I wanted to learn and build things quickly. I tried my best to remain close to the product roles and when the time was right, I took the plunge.
2. Think long-term – In India, the future is mostly short-term. We are always solving for the next step. Like, post 12th – Engineering – MBA – Job – and so on. We are not taught to think long-term.
Think and research well. Figure out what to do in the next ten years, and make a path backwards. If tech is your passion, you can still build a career out of it, even if you are from a non-tech background. Just plan and execute things well.
3. Get out of your comfort zone fast – You have to get out of your comfort zone. It could be getting to a new domain or even learning something new. Today, things have been democratised and it’s just that you have to take the first step. You can get help online and just have to take a leap of faith.
YC: Can we talk about your professional journey?
Road to Zeda.io
Prashant: I enjoyed the journey very much. I started at Paytm which was indeed a turning point.
2015 – I joined Paytm. I launched a bunch of products including the QR code, Paytm B2B, Paytm Payment Bank and Paytm Merchant SDK. I worked there for two years. I then made a mistake when I decided to switch to Airtel for a short period. People suggested that Airtel was a big brand and that I should go for it. But the work culture there didn’t match my appetite and I quit.
2017 – I joined Tokopedia, an Indonesian technology company specialising in e-commerce, as the Lead Product Manager in 2017. I worked there for almost two years making Engagement, IM, and Data products. Within a year I became the Senior Lead Product Manager setting up teams and developing a marketing automation platform.
We were using Branch in Tokopedia, and I met the founder of Branch during one of the meetings. I wanted to explore Silicon Valley and decided to join them.
2019 – I joined Branch – an enterprise mobile growth and attribution platform in California. Branch was a great learning experience. At Branch, I learned two things:
1. Appreciating diversity – In our team, we had twelve members of twelve different nationalities. I was exposed to so much diversity for the first time in my life. I learned how to work and interact with a variety of people.
2. Why – We Indians do not have the habit of asking “why”. We feel uncomfortable facing questions. We usually follow a certain set of instructions blindly, without questioning. Initially, I had a tough time working with my colleagues. But gradually all my arguments and suggestions were data-backed. So I was not afraid of it anymore.
I also met Vaibhav, my co-founder at Branch. I moved back to India to build a team in India. It was then that Covid happened. The plan to set up the team got shut down and I was stranded. So I had to quit and take a call in life to move on.
YC: What were the options you had?
Prashant: There were three options,
- Go for higher studies. I was five years into my career, and it was a good time to go for higher education in an Ivy League.
- Join a company. I could apply for a company and work anywhere in the world.
- My own startup. I had been facing the problem of Product management. I now had a chance to try solving it out.
But I did not start up, instead I took a job. I joined PayPay, a Fintech company (electronic payment services) in Japan. I joined them as a freelance Product Consultant. I had a startup idea, but I needed time to evaluate it. There is a difference between being passionate and being stupid. I never wanted to be the latter.
YC – How did Zeda.io happen?
The Dream Comes True!
Prashant: While working as a freelancer, I was parallelly researching product management tools and evaluating the possibilities. My research said:
Product management was chaotic. There were tools in the market but a lot of gaps were to be filled. In every company that I worked with, I never had a good onboarding. I was never even provided with a sound understanding of the product.
- The way product management was done was unproductive.
- Communication gap – Misalignment of deliverables between developers, designers and the business team (I had personally faced this issue many times).
I spoke to hundreds of Product Managers all over the world to understand the market potential and possibilities. There were other products in the market, but I knew I could pull off a better product.
Vaibhav and I could see the initial idea taking some shape and discussed taking it forward. And thus Zeda.io happened. We help Product teams and entrepreneurs to define, manage, and collaborate on their Products.
I started up not because I wanted to start something of my own, but because I wanted to give product managers a better tool. I would suggest others follow the problem rather than the idea of entrepreneurship. Unless you love the problem-solving aspect and have a deep conviction to do a better job, you will not be able to strive through the years of toil and torment.
YC: Suggestions to fellow founders?
Prashant: Building a good product is a never-ending process. A few things that helped us at Zeda are:
- People relate to the problem, not the product. Don’t sell your product, instead sell the problem because people can relate to it better.
- We tried to define the product, but failed. We were trying to solve the problem of how to build a product, but people didn’t know what to build.
- Building an audience. One important thing we had built was an audience even before the launch of the product. We had about four thousand people as our audience before we gave access to the product. Three weeks after the launch, we reached ten thousand. Building a community is therefore very important.
We haven’t done any paid marketing and are not keen on doing it either. We are very active on our social media handles. We engage with our potential customers, create newsletters and write blog posts. We are focussing on building a community. Today we have around forty paying customers.
YC: Zeda has raised $1.2M in seed funding, how did you convince the investors?
Prashant: We convinced them what we would be building, how we would build it, and they agreed to it. In fundraising, you have to have a story with 2 main characters:
Character 1 – Villain – The problem or the issue, along with the validation.
Character 2 – Hero – You, who will fight the villain and eventually solve the problem.
Lastly and most importantly, why “you” are the hero. If the investors are convinced, they will invest in you.
Also, early-stage investors take more risks. They take a risk on three things;
- Market. You have to show there is a problem and a market for your product.
- Team. You have to convince them that you have the perfect team to be chosen.
- Product. You might not have a product or not even an MVP. But you can always explain it on paper. Make sure you have all the possible details well laid down. We did the same and were able to convince them of the idea.
YC: Zeda is a global product, what’s your suggestions to the founders who are exploring the global market?
Prashant: At Zeda, we are still learning, but there are a few things that worked for us:
1. If you wish to go global, think global from day one. Through our primary, secondary networks and communities, we were in touch with various product leads from the very beginning.
2. We hired a marketing intern even before hiring our first engineering intern. People should know about your product, or else your efforts will be in vain. Think and initiate marketing from the very beginning, and make sure your marketing strategy is centred around your customer.
3. Engagement through social media. We are active on LinkedIn and keep posting relevant content for customer engagement. We focus on all our potential customers through our network.
YC: Any community that other founders can benefit from?
Prashant: There are different communities for different domains. For us, they are – OnTech, Creator of Product – A community of, by and for creators, Product School – Largest Product Management Slack Community, are some of them. SaaSBOOmi and SaaS Insider are good communities for SaaS founders.
YC: What are your suggestions for the next in line?
Prashant: Take a step back, think and then act. People constantly keep on doing things, but introspection first and action next would be more helpful.
- Hiring is very critical. Hire the right people. It is worth spending for talent.
- Product should be shipped in 3 months – Don’t take too much time to build the product. Build it quickly, ship it, and start getting the feedback. Afterwards, analyse the pros and cons of your work based on the feedback. Adapt your product according to the new learning. You could thus make your product better, without wasting time on anticipating the requirements.
- Startup is just a part of your life, not your life. Maintain a healthy work-life balance. Meeting people outside work, pursuing a hobby and having downtime is very important.
YC: What keeps you going at hard times? People whom you would like to thank.
Prashant: There will be a hard phase in everything, be it a job or a startup. Never have a negative outlook towards things that happen in your life. If you consider hard phases in entrepreneurship as negative, you will very easily quit. When you have to tackle a pressure situation, consider it as an opportunity rather than a challenge. Always remember that life is a journey of ups and downs, tough times and good times.
I would like to thank Vaibhav (my co-founder), my investors (BEENEXT, 021 Capital, Whiteboard Capital, First Cheque, Paradigm Shift Capital) and all my advisors. All the people who motivated us through our journey, people who tried our products, and gave us super valuable feedback. I thank every one of them in this humble journey.
@ Team Zeda
It was great to hear from you. Yellow chapter wishes you all the very best in the coming years.