Rajdip Gupta, the founder of Route Mobile is a true visionary who has always moved ahead of his peers, with the curriculum during his college days and in his professional life, to reach where he is now.
With his farsightedness, he was able to see the untapped potential of SaaS at a very early stage. Here’s a glimpse of his life journey which is indeed an inspiration to us!
YC: We believe that childhood shapes an individual. Can we hear about your background?
Rajdip: I was born and brought up in Mumbai. My school and college days too were spent there. I graduated from National College, Mumbai. I have a brother. My parents, like all typical Indian parents, have spent a lot of time and money to educate us. My parents were the first entrepreneurs we looked up to as we grew up. They invested in both of us, they inspired us, and we followed.
I specialised in Physics and Computer Science. During our time there were no internships, so I joined a computer course with Aptech. There I realised programming languages had the power of creation which led me to understand that programming was the future.
YC: How did Aptech influence your journey?
Rajdip: I was always ahead of what was there in the college curriculum. I owe much to Aptech for that. I also worked there as an instructor. I started my career with Rs.1,800 as a salary. I still cherish the moment when I received my first salary in life.
At Aptech, we started building lots of enterprise solutions. As projects, we would build an Inventory Management System or an Aviation Management System and even sell them. It helped us to understand the value of software during that era. To sharpen my programming skills, I picked up the job as an Instructor with Aptech after college. Basically, I was learning new languages at Aptech’s cost.
YC: The thought process of starting Route Mobile. How did that journey start?
Dream, Backup, Sustain!
Rajdip – To take that plunge into entrepreneurship you need 3 things:
1. Dream. I was working on a project with IBM in the UK. I was part of their innovation lab in mobile telecom solutions, especially on MTM Technology. Working in such a large organisation, I felt that I wasn’t using my entire capability. I wanted to build something which creates more value. If I had to build something of my own, the only option I had was to start my own company.
2. Backup Plan. I had a dream job with a good salary in the UK. The tech industry was still in its budding stage, but I wanted to start my own company. I knew that if I failed in my startup, I always had the option to go back and work. I knew I had worked well, and also had a good rapport with my bosses. This backup option gave me the courage to go forward.
3. Sustenance. One should have finances in place, till things start looking good. So plan to live for a few years with zero returns. This will help you focus more on your startup.
YC: What were the initial days like?
Rajdip: The initial days were tough, hard, but a great learning phase. Capital was the biggest issue as there were no fundraising options back then. To sustain for a long period, we had to maximise the ROI. I did some research and found out:
- Telecom in India was expensive when compared to the other markets.
- Middle East countries, especially Dubai, being a luxury shopping destination, spend a lot of money in staying connected with the tourists and potential shoppers via SMS.
- Earning a dollar was more profitable than earning a rupee.
Hence, we built the product for the International market, starting with Dubai. We got in touch with small scale stores and malls and helped them promote their deals via SMS. We got an encouraging response in Dubai and were quite clear the next markets we pick will be Asian, European and African.
YC: Product- Market Fit is a major worry to the founders. What is your take on it?
Rajdip: There is just one way to find the product-market fit. Pick a real-life problem and design a solution to solve it. The founder should be convinced that his product is the way to solve the problem. One should build a tech company out of that conviction. We followed the same approach.
In 2003, when you lost your credit card while travelling, or if somebody misused your credit card, the only way to notify you was through email. We built a product to get an instant alert on mobile phones within seconds. Most of the banks and customers were facing such issues. We built the product fulfilling the necessity and that conviction helped us to get into the market.
YC: Your take on acquisitions? Any acquisitions that you are planning on in the near future?
Rajdip: Our philosophy is “customer-first”. Customers really don’t care whether you have built or acquired a product. They are looking for solutions to solve their roadblocks. All enterprises want to have multiple channels of communication to have a better engagement with their customer. We are also aiming to increase our customers’ stickiness. We want to make sure that we become a one-stop shop for any enterprise or customer. Hence we acquire companies, merge them and offer a holistic service to the customer. Route Mobile has now acquired many companies such as 365squared, Call2Connect, Cellent Technologies, SendClean, Interteleco, Masiv & the recent being Mr. Messaging.
We have grown our revenues with respect to our customers. We focus on revenue expansion through a wider range of services and solutions to our existing customers. We are also looking to get into a new product line offering, one that is mainly into voice or blockchain. We also aspire to expand to 30 countries focusing on Africa and Latin America.
YC: What are your suggestions to the founders aiming for an IPO?
- Plan well. It looks simple from the outside, but it’s very exhaustive. To be honest, getting listed is a lengthy process. You need to be ready at least two to three years before you plan to do that. We failed in our first attempt and succeeded in our second.
- Evaluate multiple banks. If you’re planning to launch your IPO make sure you don’t rely on a single bank. My advice is to have at least three banks in line. It is also best to interact with the maximum number of investors. Meet as many people as you can, it will also help in marking your presence.
- Corporate governance is important. Make sure the corporate governance is fully compliant with the company. It is very critical for founders.
YC: Which market did you find the most competitive?
Rajdip: The Cloud Communication platform is a $70 billion market. There is room for everyone. It depends on what strategy you follow for your customer, how you plan your stuff, and how good your products are. That, in my opinion, decides your success.
We strive to be the best version of ourselves every day. And we focus on creating solutions that solve our customer’s problems. When your customers are happy, you are happy which is reflected in the growth figures. We develop omnichannel communication offerings along with innovative solutions for our customers. Problem-solving is the ultimate recipe for success.
YC: A community or forum you follow, which others can take advantage of as well?
Rajdip: I attend MWC Barcelona every year. There are lots of telecom events organised by GSMA, as well. I am a strong believer of attending such events, for 3 reasons:
1. People should see you as a company and know that you are offering the product. It is about marking your presence. Based on their feedback, you ought to deduce where the momentum is going and take the next call on your product.
2. Networking is one of the biggest advantages you get from these conferences as you get to meet so many people in one place.
3. You gain a market understanding and all the factors that are influencing your customers’ expectations. If your competitor is not providing it, you can grab the opportunity of building and deliver it.
YC: Any mistakes which you have done in the past?
Mistake + Correction = Learning
Rajdip: I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Three years back we invested almost Rs.10-12 crores in a wholesale voice business, but it didn’t work. We started the business without understanding the market and it failed.
It is okay to commit mistakes, we all do as first-time entrepreneurs. What is important is to learn from them. The lessons learned from our mistakes were:
- Understand the market before you invest in certain products.
- Some products look very lucrative initially, but may end up different when implemented.
YC: What according to you, is the key role of a founder?
Rajdip: A founder’s key role is to build for the future. One needs to be visionary enough to build a product three years ahead. Every product has a shelf life, and the founder should know that of his product. Create a futuristic product that has more value, and keep building new products that can guide the market right
Product and customer understanding are also critical. This helps the founder to formulate the right market strategy.
YC: How should an aspiring founder move forward?
Rajdip: I really can’t comment on the B2C space, but for a SaaS founder, starting a company just coming out of college is not a good idea. You don’t know how a company works. You don’t know the processes and issues, so it is always advisable to work for a few years (preferably a startup) and understand all of it.
Knowledge and experience gained during professional life will help in identifying the problem better. Well-defined problems lead to good solutions, hence great products. Also, whatever mistake the startup makes, you will never commit it when you start your own venture.
YC: What suggestions would you like to give the youngsters?
The Tenets …
Rajdip: Just one. Live your conviction. Live your dream. You will have to work hard, convince a lot of people, understand the local as well as the global market to build the conviction. Once you’re convinced of what you’re building, give it a try!
Be a customer and critique of your own product. If you think it is solving your problem, your product will work. If your product solves a problem, you will get customers!
Lastly, never be complacent. Understand that whatever I’m building may fail tomorrow. If you have that mindset, you will keep on fighting every single day. This way, trust me, you will always go beyond!
It was a pleasure hearing about your inspiring journey. Yellow Chapter wishes you all the very best for the future.
Interviewer: Divya Jain