Praveen Singh, Founder @ 1000 Founders Community, Interview on Building An Exceptional Founders Peer Group To Achieve PS Fit, PM Fit & Scale!

Meet  Praveen Singh, a visionary entrepreneur dedicated to putting India on the global map for successful founders. His mission is to help budding entrepreneurs grow and thrive, and he finds nothing more fulfilling than that. Praveen is the founder of 1000 Founders Community, a platform designed to guide and support aspiring entrepreneurs every step of the way.

Praveen is not one to get bogged down by minor details such as grades or impressing the startup community. For him, it’s all about doing what’s right and enjoying the journey. He firmly believes that success and failure are two sides of the same coin and that valuable lessons can be learned from both.

During our conversation with Praveen, we had the privilege of exploring his challenges, opportunities, and vision for 1000 Founders Community in depth.

YC – Praveen, welcome to the Yellow Chapter. It’s great to have you here. Our goal today is to understand better who you are as a person, your life experiences and choices, and learn more about 1000 Founders Community.  

Praveen – I was born in Mysore, a small town, in 1980. My parents sent me to live with my grandparents early in my childhood since Koler district in Karnataka had no English Medium schools. 

I had a somewhat independent and relaxed environment as a child. Growing up, I was a very notorious 🀭🀭 and an average student in school. Despite coming from an academic background, I’ve only cared a little about getting the best grade. I prioritised learning concepts and developing a deeper understanding of a subject.Β 

I come from a family with a doctor father, a homemaker mother, and a brother. My father had always supported me and backed me financially when I needed it. I made my own decisions and pursued engineering despite having a medical seat. This was because I witnessed my father’s struggles in obtaining his MBBS degree, and I believed I wouldn’t want to face the same difficulties. 

I opted for Computer Science instead of medicine, as I believe in following my strengths rather than family tradition.

@ Family

YC – Praveen, a lot of engineering students read my blog. Can you share some suggestions on how they can make the most of their college experience?

Praveen: I received an excellent engineering education at PS College of Engineering. Looking back, I realise that studying in a small town without many distractions was a blessing. 

I learned the basics of computer science thoroughly and always completed my projects independently, without copying. My priorities were hard work, learning the fundamentals, and doing what I loved rather than focusing too much on grades.

Suggestions : 

1. Focus on Fundamentals: To excel in your field, having a strong foundation in the fundamentals is crucial. Whether it’s algorithms, finite automata, or normalisation, invest time understanding the basics thoroughly.

2. Undertake Personal Projects: Completing personal projects can be an excellent way to apply your knowledge, develop practical skills, and showcase your abilities to potential employers. With most students not taking up such projects, doing so can also give you a competitive edge.

3. Stay Informed: It’s essential to remain curious and understand how your academic learnings translate to the real world. Keep up with the latest industry developments and news, and relate them to your studies to stay relevant and well-informed. This can prove to be a valuable asset when entering the job market.

YC- What advice would you offer engineering students considering changing or selecting a new job? What mindset or approach would you suggest they adopt when exploring new opportunities πŸŽ“πŸŽ“?

Praveen: 1) Try Different Things: Try various career paths to find the right fit. Experimenting with different jobs can help you understand your interests and strengths, leading to a satisfying career choice.

2. Find a Match: Finding a company that aligns with your values, skills, and interests can lead to job satisfaction and personal growth. Look for opportunities where you think you can add the most value and contribute to the company’s goals.

3. Be Proactive: To find the right career path, you must take calculated risks, be open to new opportunities, and be proactive in your search. Keep exploring until you find a job that makes you happy and fulfilled. Remember, changing careers is okay if you are not on the right path.

YC- Could you tell me about your professional roadmap? How did you go about planning your career path? 

Praveen – Oracle – 2003-2007 – Quality Assurance Engineer


1. What I didn’t want –  I had to overcome many obstacles to secure a job after graduating from my tier-two college, which didn’t offer any placement services. Searching for a job in Bangalore was challenging and time-consuming, but after six months, I landed a position at Oracle as a QA specialist. This taught me what I didn’t want for my career. 

2. Didn’t wish to climb the corporate ladder – Although I had strong communication skills, I quickly realised that being a manager in a corporate setting for 20 years was not what I wanted for my career. I wanted to build things rather than climb the corporate ladder, so I transitioned to a smaller company called webMethods. This was a risk, but it was a wise decision when the company was eventually acquired, and I received some shares.

3. Exploring and following my passion – I learned the importance of taking risks and following your passion from this experience. After a year at webMethods, I moved on to VMlogix, a smaller company that allowed me to continue exploring my interests and strengths. 

Choosing a fulfilling career path requires:

 1. Taking risks.

2. Trying new things.

3. Following your passion, even if it means leaving a comfortable job or taking a chance on a smaller company.

Finally, I want to thank my director Sriram Gopalswamy at Oracle, for teaching me so much.

2007 – 2008 – Quality Assurance Engineer @ webMethods – was an enterprise software company focused on application integration, business process integration and B2B partner integration.

webMethods was acquired by Software AG for $546 million and was made a subsidiary.

Learnings : 

1. Stepping out of your comfort zone for career growth is crucial to professional development. When we choose to take on challenging work with increased responsibilities, we allow ourselves to develop our skills, knowledge, and experience. 

It may be uncomfortable at first, but the rewards of stepping out of our comfort zones can be genuinely transformative.

2. Calculated risk-taking often leads to significant rewards, particularly in entrepreneurship. For instance, when taking the risk of joining a startup, the potential rewards can be significant, such as offering shares after an acquisition. 

Ultimately, taking calculated risks is essential to professional growth and can lead to meaningful and tangible benefits.

2008 – 2010 – Quality Assurance Manager @ VMLogix – Provides virtual infrastructure management technologies that streamline software development lifecycles.

Learnings – 

1. The value of being heard and valued as an employee – I observed that VMLogix, a small company, encouraged employee creativity and patent filing. This led me to realise that smaller companies offer more freedom than larger ones. The director even contacted me personally to suggest thinking beyond my routine job. This experience motivated me to join a 20-person startup, also called VM Logix, that specialised in virtualization.

2. Join a startup in a growing industry:- The virtualization industry was rapidly growing, and with the completion of Oracle databases and Enterprise Service, I decided to join the startup. What made the decision even easier was that the founder had an MBA from Harvard Business School, which was a valuable learning experience. I was quickly promoted to manager and led a team of four or five people.

3. Appreciate the true nature of startups: Despite the long hours, I appreciated the opportunity to experience the true nature of a startup. I am grateful to Ravi Gururaj and team VMLogix for this learning opportunity. 

Later, VMLogix was acquired by Citrix Systems. I am proud to have been a part of the team that contributed to the company’s success.

2010-2019 – Founder @ 99tests – A Remote QA Team – A crowdsourced testing platform which helps companies identify, Quantify & Manage Risk in Software Applications through 95% Test Automation, Test Case and Exploratory Coverage.

During my time at VMLogix, I had the idea for 99tests. 

Problem statement – I noticed a problem where some QA engineers performed better, but their salaries remained the same. 

Solution – I hypothesised that a marketplace could be built to reward QA engineers who filed more bugs. 

It was a simple yet effective idea that I decided to pursue, and I left VM Logix to join a smaller company to become a top player in the industry. It was about taking risks and pursuing my dreams, not just climbing the organisational ladder.

Soon after launching 99tests, we gained early customers excited about our new approach to QA testing. The marketplace model allowed us to attract a large community of QA testers who were motivated to do their best work and earn more money. With 99tests, we revolutionised the QA testing industry and provided a unique opportunity for testers to showcase their skills and earn recognition for their hard work.

Today, 99tests has grown to become a leader in the QA testing industry, with a global community of over 25,000 testers. Our marketplace model has proven successful, and we continue to innovate and improve our platform to provide the best possible experience for our testers and customers. I am proud to have been a part of the founding team of 99tests and grateful for the opportunity to pursue my dreams and positively impact the industry.

My co-founder, Naveen Kumar,  and I were thrilled when companies like Flipkart and Practo started using our product at 99tests. We began with a simple model and gradually began to scale, raising an angel round and eventually securing $1 million in funding. The journey with 99tests was fascinating, but it also taught me valuable lessons about what not to do as a founder.

Despite being a first-time founder, I was fortunate to have the support of billionaire investor Kris Gopal Krishnan, the founder of Infosys, who believed in me and my vision. 

However, I learned from my mistakes as a leader, earning the title of a “million-dollar educated founder.” Unfortunately, as a first-time founder, I made several mistakes, which were the sole reason 99tests did not scale. If it had survived until the COVID pandemic, I believe it could have scaled.

@ 99tests

2017 – 2018 MBA @ IIM Bangalore

Need for MBA -I felt I wasn’t contributing enough in conversations with my team, so I decided to pursue an MBA from IIM Bangalore in 2017 to improve myself. My goal was to learn how to scale a business from 10 to 100 million and avoid the mistakes I made with 99tests. Through the program, I gained a theoretical framework and an understanding of what it takes to scale a business and successfully achieve growth at that level.

During my MBA, I even questioned why entrepreneurs were in a class with managers and shared my purpose for being there. The experience was eye-opening, and I gained insights from my peers and professors, broadening my perspective and skills. Pursuing an MBA was a valuable decision that equipped me with the knowledge and tools needed to be a successful entrepreneur and leader.


Learnings from MBA πŸ“šπŸ“š– 

1. One significant learning from my MBA program was studying Porter’s Five Forces – A method used to break down and understand the competitive nature of an industry or business. 

2 Secondly, the case studies of Walmart and Northwest Airlines were particularly insightful, showcasing how their founders effectively sold and scaled their businesses. 

Despite operating in a competitive industry, Northwest Airlines remained a stock market favourite for three decades, while Walmart’s founder’s unconventional approach to growth was fascinating. These case studies provided valuable insights and demonstrated that success is achievable with the right founder mindset, which was an important takeaway.

YC: Could you share some of the mistakes you made as a founder?

Praveen: My nine-year journey and $1 million investment in 99tests taught me valuable lessons, especially the mistakes I made as a first-time founder and leader.

1. Product-market fit first, scaling later – One of my biggest mistakes was attempting to scale 99tests into three markets with just three Crores in my account, allocating one crore for each market segment. My naivety led me to believe one of these three would work, but I soon realised that focus and achieving product-market fit before scaling were crucial. I learned that rushing to generate high revenue without identifying the right customer segment is a recipe for disaster.

2) Importance of Equity Sharing with Co-founders in Startups – One of the critical lessons I learned was the significance of equity sharing among co-founders. Initially, I held a majority of 90%, while my co-founder held just 10%. 

However, I realised that offering equity in the right proportion is essential to incentivize co-founders to work towards a common goal. People are often motivated by incentives, so giving appropriate equity to co-founders at the right time can significantly influence their behaviour and commitment to the venture.

3) The Power of Customer Selection: Lessons Learned from 99tests – As a founder, choosing the right type of customer is crucial. Not all customers are created equal, and being selective about the customers you want to work with is important. 

One of my biggest mistakes was working with high-churn customers and only returning once every three months. If I had focused on specific customers who pay a monthly subscription, the business could have been much more successful.

4) Building the right team culture: I learned the significance of cultivating a positive team culture. It’s crucial to hire employees who align with the company’s growth expectations and share the same values, as it influences the overall culture of the workplace.

5) The importance of choosing the right investor for your startup – I learned that choosing the right investor is crucial. Any idea can be taken to one or ten million with the right investors, customers, employees, founders, and co-founders. After my journey, I realized that getting these factors right can make a significant difference in building a successful business.

2019-2020Founder – Friend Of Friend – A Health App!

After nine years of running 99tests, my co-founder left after the funding ran out, and generating only one or two crores in revenue didn’t make sense. We weren’t returning anything to investors for just five lakhs a month, so we decided to shut down the company. 

After that, I started FOF, a health app that utilises your second network. 

Why A Health App – Friend of Friend is based on the idea that many job opportunities and relationships occur through second-degree connections rather than direct ones, a theory supported by the “strength of weak ties” and “six degrees of separation” concepts. 

Problem Statement – Currently, no digital platform enables easy access to these networks. 

Solution – The core idea behind Friend of Friend is to create a platform that allows users to digitally access someone’s second and third-degree networks without needing personal introductions. 

Monetization – The idea is to incentivize individuals with strong networks to connect with others and make successful referrals on the platform. For each successful referral, the referrer receives a 5-10% commission of the bounty amount. The goal is to enable people to earn up to five lakhs monthly through their referrals.

While initially a consumer-facing app, I have realized that developing requires significant time and money. Initially, I tried to get it developed through an agency, but that didn’t work out.

Though I am planning to relaunch the platform.

Learnings from FOF :

After launching FOF, we faced significant challenges that we didn’t encounter with 99tests. Unlike our previous venture, we struggled with a lack of customer understanding and slow user adoption. While 99tests took off immediately, FOF required us to return to the drawing board and reevaluate our approach.

2020 – 2021 –  – Test Automation Made Easy

Yadwinder Sharma, one of the co-founders, was a friend I had known since 1990. Since Nimble was a QA company and I had a background in QA, Yogi asked me if I could help with sales, and I agreed. I managed to secure some enterprise customers and worked there for a while, but ultimately; Nimble did not work out for me.

Learnings : 

Although it was a brief tenure, my time at Nimble taught me an important lesson: while having a strong sales team is essential, it is equally important to have sufficient resources to provide customers with satisfactory service. 

For a business to thrive, its operations must function like a well-oiled machine, with both the demand and supply sides operating efficiently. If one part of the system underperforms, it can create a bottleneck that harms the entire enterprise.

2019 – Founder @ 1000 Founders Community

The inspiration behind starting 1000 Founders Community: 

1. As a community builder, I have a proven track record of bringing people together to create something greater than themselves. One of my notable achievements is building a thriving community called 99tests, which consisted of 50,000 members, with 1,000 actively participating daily. This experience has been the driving force behind my passion for building communities. 

2. During a conference I attended, Sridhar Vembu of ZOHO spoke about the need for 1,000 leaders in India to create 1,000 successful companies. This message resonated with me and inspired me to take action by launching a new initiative called 1000 Founders.

Vision –  To help each founder achieve $10 million in revenue by 2030. 

Problem statement – I noticed a gap in the market where there are plenty of communities and fundraising companies but not many resources to help founders scale their businesses to reach significant revenue milestones. 

Solution – I began with a small networking group on WhatsApp and started to help founders, bringing in old friends from the ecosystem, such as Lalit Mangal from AirMeet. AirMeet, for example, has since raised $40-45 million, and its ideation took place with the help of 1000 Founders. Initially, we helped founders reach their seed or angel rounds, raising around 40-50 lakhs, but now we see founders raise upwards of $10 million.

Our work – The success of 1000 Founders has been remarkable, and it’s still growing. We’re helping founders across India build sustainable businesses that can scale to great heights. Our community has become a hub for founders to learn, network, and share resources, and we’ve been fortunate to see many success stories come out of it. 

With the right support and guidance, I believe that the next generation of Indian entrepreneurs can achieve their wildest dreams, and I’m committed to helping them get there.

@ 1000F Event at Bangalore Golf Club

YC: Regarding SaaS founders, what are the top three challenges that most founders face, which you’ve observed in the journey of 1000 Founders?

Praveen: Most of the founders I work with are in the early stages of their business, ranging from ideation to developing a minimum viable product. The three most common challenges are:

1. Many of them have a potential solution but are still in the process of identifying the specific problem they are trying to solve.

2. Identifying the correct customer designation, company size, and revenue level that aligns with their product offering to address a specific problem.

3. It’s crucial to ensure that the product is aligned with the customer’s needs and that there is a clear understanding of the specific pain points the product solves.

YC: What framework can be used to identify the ideal customer profile (ICP)?

Praveen: To help founders establish a clear vision for their business,

1. I encourage them to take a top-down rather than a bottom-up approach. This involves considering their ultimate revenue goal and annual revenue per customer. 

For example, if their goal is to build a VC-funded company that generates $100 million in revenue, they need to calculate the number of customers they need to achieve that goal. By understanding their annual revenue per customer, they can determine how many customers they need to acquire over a specific timeframe.

2. Once we establish this framework, we can identify the ideal customer profile (ICP) and develop a plan to reach them at the required scale. The focus is on achieving a problem-solution fit and converting those customers into paying customers. 

This is the typical process I follow when working with early-stage founders. It has been effective in helping them establish a clear vision for their business and identify the right customers to target.

YC: What are some effective marketing and sales channels and methods, and how can founders determine the appropriate budget for these activities?

Praveen: While I don’t specialise in marketing, my partner Ayush Poddar is highly skilled. He developed a “4Cs Growth Marketing Strategy (Community, Content, Conference / Events, Consult).” 

 Also, events to help founders create a robust growth marketing engine. By utilizing this approach, we can generate qualified leads cost-effectively, which has been a successful strategy for our clients.

@ 1000Founders Goa

YC – Praveen, can we discuss the following aspects of the 1000 Founders Community: ideal customer, number of founders, business models, competition, and monetization plans?

Praveen: Sure, let me share some details about the 1000 Founders Community. Initially, we relied on personal connections and referrals to bring in our first few founders. 

ICP – Solo or Bootstrap Founders who can build a $10M revenue company in 5 years.

No. of Founders – However, we have come a long way since then. Currently, we have 500 + founders in our community, with five of them generating approximately $10 million in revenue, 21 in the million-dollar club, and about 50 in the 100k to $1 million range. Our community offers various events and catch-ups to help founders network and share knowledge.

Most of our founders are Indian, but we also have some global founders from countries such as the US, Canada, and Luxembourg, and a few non-Indian founders. However, the majority of our founders are Indian.

Business Model – To support our founders, we have developed a fractional leadership model as part of our partnership program. This approach allows us to bring in experts in different areas, such as Sales, Design, Tech, PR, Media, and GTM, to work on a fractional leadership basis and help startups grow from one million to ten million.

Monetization – We also have a monthly subscription model priced at $99. Additionally, we generate revenue through subscription, partnership, and referral fees. For instance, we charge a 3% fee for fundraising services and take a 10% cut of any partnership fees our partners charge when they work with clients. Some of our founders are members, which helps us maintain a growing community.

Competition – I am unsure since most communities like ours require taking equity. So, we may be the only ones. One challenge with equity-based models, such as Y Combinator, Upekkha, and Antler, is that partners have limited time and must simultaneously manage and curate many startups. This can result in less personalized attention and support for each startup, which may reduce the value added to their growth and development.

Our primary focus is on generating enough qualified leads to ensure that startups can thrive in a bootstrap manner. Our goal is to provide the necessary resources for founders to succeed in building their businesses, especially in areas where they might need more expertise. 

We aim to support our community of founders in various ways, including:

1. Networking

2. Fractional leadership,

3. Revenue generation.

Most of our founders are Indian, but we also have some global founders from countries such as the US, Canada, and Luxembourg, and a few non-Indian founders 🌏🌎. However, the majority of our founders are Indian.

Plan for 2023To empower founders to reach $1 million or $10 million in revenue without the limitations of the accelerator or equity models.

We have ten dedicated partners working with our community members. We aim to increase the number of founders in the $1 million range from 20 to 50 over the next year. By 2030, we aim to help 1000 founders achieve $10 million in revenue through our community’s resources and support.

YC – Praveen, based on your experience as an entrepreneur, what advice or solutions can you offer other founders or leaders?

Praveen: 1. Effectuation – I am a big proponent of the entrepreneurship model called effectuation, developed by Saras D. Sarasvathy. An approach to making decisions and performing actions in entrepreneurship processes, where you identify the next, best step by assessing the resources available to achieve your goals while continuously balancing these goals with your resources and actions.

1. Achieving Goals with Available Resources: I believe it can lead to better outcomes than the traditional VC-driven model. My advice to fellow entrepreneurs is to understand and apply effectuation in their businesses by working with the resources they have at hand and setting achievable goals. We often think we need a certain amount of money or resources to make something happen, but I have learned that this isn’t always the case. Focusing on what you have and working towards achieving your goals within those constraints is essential.

2. Avoiding Distractions as an Entrepreneur – Another critical piece of advice that has helped me stay focused on the problem I am trying to solve. As entrepreneurs, we can easily get distracted by new opportunities or ideas. Still, it’s crucial to stay laser-focused on the problem we are trying to solve and the value we are trying to create for our customers.

3. Delegation and Team Building – Additionally, I have learned the importance of building a strong team and delegating tasks to them. It can be tempting to do everything yourself as a founder, but having a team of experts who can help you achieve your goals is crucial. By delegating tasks and responsibilities, you can focus on the big picture and ensure your business moves in the right direction.

4. Networking and Relationship Building – Another critical lesson that I have learned is the value of networking and building relationships. Building relationships with investors, customers, and other entrepreneurs can help you open doors and create opportunities you might not have otherwise had. It’s important to invest time in building these relationships and nurturing them over time.

5. Embracing Failure – Finally, I would advise fellow entrepreneurs to embrace failure as a necessary part of the journey. Learning from your mistakes and using those lessons to grow and improve your business is important. Failure is not the end but a stepping stone to success.

YC: What are three crucial factors that founders should consider to prevent the need for shutting down their business operations?

Praveen: Indeed, there are certain things that founders need to be mindful of to prevent their operations from shutting down:

1. Paying taxes on time is crucial to avoid any legal trouble. Having a good CFO or financial advisor who can manage the finances is essential.

2. Maintaining a healthy and transparent relationship with co-founders is critical. Disagreements and conflicts can harm the company and affect its growth. It’s important to establish effective communication and resolve any issues promptly 🀝🀝.

3. Keeping all stakeholders informed and updated on the company’s progress and vision is essential. This includes investors, customers, employees, and family members. Regular updates can help keep everyone aligned with the company’s goals and understand why certain decisions are being made. This can lead to a stronger sense of engagement and support for the company’s mission.

@ My investor Kris sir

YC: What personal philosophy or mantra keeps you motivated 🎯🎯?

Praveen: If I had to give a funny answer, I’m unemployable. On a more serious note, I desire to add value to people’s lives, especially to fellow founders.

The entrepreneurship journey can be challenging; many founders need support to navigate it successfully. I am committed to making this journey more collaborative and helping founders grow their businesses. 

I am also driven by the desire to see my country reach its full potential and become the birthplace of the next Google, WhatsApp, or Microsoft. The possibility of this happening keeps me energised and focused on my work.

Book recommendations:

Praveen: I’ve been reading a fascinating book called Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration  which I highly recommend. 

The book delves into the topic of creativity and explores the development of groundbreaking inventions such as the Diners Club card and the Wright Brothers’ work in aviation. It provides valuable insights into the principles of creativity and the key factors contributing to significant successes. If you’re interested in exploring the topic of creativity, I highly recommend giving this book a read.”

Another book I found insightful is Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking by Matthew Syed.

The book provides a unique perspective on organisational structure and offers practical strategies for achieving scalable success. The author draws examples from various industries, including the US military and industrial complex. Although the book’s examples may not directly apply to India, the insights in “Rebel Ideas” are thought-provoking and worth considering.

Our conversation was genuinely enlightening, Praveen. Thank you for generously sharing your knowledge with us. We look forward to seeing your continued achievements in the future!

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