Meet Rohan, who is trying to revolutionise how businesses use social media to drive sales and engage with customers.
As the co-founder of SpurChat, a social media marketing automation platform, Rohan has developed a suite of tools and strategies that help businesses connect with their audience and turn immediate engagement into sales.
With a strong background in entrepreneurship and a passion for technology, Rohan has built a company that is making waves in the industry and helping businesses worldwide achieve success.
We interview Rohan about his journey as a founder, the challenges and opportunities he’s encountered, and his vision for SpurChat’s future.
YC-Rohan, Welcome to the Yellow Chapter. It’s great to have you here. We aim to understand who you are and your life experiences and learn more about Spurchat. Please tell us about your upbringing, family, and education.
Rohan- I was born into a typical middle-class family in Delhi. I grew up in Gurgaon.
My mom is a primary school teacher, and my dad is a mechanical engineer. He had temporarily worked for Maruti, but in the 2000s, Maruti suffered a significant setback, and he lost his position. He now owns a Maruti-approved workshop.
I have an older sister, Kanika. She is pursuing chartered accountancy (CA).
I come from a humble background. My dad was running a business, but it was not one of that magnitude.
My dad used to tinker with electronics despite being a mechanical engineer. I’ve noticed him playing with electronics since I was a kid. Naturally, I’ve been curious about it. He would spend time explaining to me how things worked. It instilled in me a desire to build and learn more about electronics.
My mom is the type of person who values efficiency and getting things done quickly. As a homemaker and teacher, she has a heavy workload and often looks for the quickest way to complete tasks. Despite her desire for promptness, she has also taught me the importance of not striving for perfection in everything and being resourceful. These qualities, including her curiosity and impatience, have been valuable assets in my role as a founder.
YC- Why Engineering?
Rohan- In India, if you have good grades, you are often expected to pursue a career in medicine or engineering. However, medicine was never an option for me.
I was eager to join the computer club when I returned to school after vacation. However, I could only participate in quizzes and other activities until 10th grade, and I would have to wait until 11th grade to start coding.
That’s when I decided to pursue coding on my own. I discovered a community called xDA developers. Many people in the community experimented with customising their phone software by creating OS layers on top of the Android OS.
Android is open source, so one can customise it, unlike Apple devices. I was excited to be able to experiment and learn more about coding through this community.
I got my first phone around that time. I was eager to explore all of its capabilities. The xDA community significantly influenced me. Finally, in 10th grade, I could use my skills to develop my version of the Android OS, publish it, and receive positive feedback.
I enjoy coding because it fosters a sense of community. People frequently lend a hand and share knowledge in coding forums. I continued to learn and grow my skills through these forums until 10th grade. However, I had to put my coding pursuits on hold during 11th and 12th grade due to the demanding nature of the curriculum.
In 11th grade, I became serious about preparing for entrance examinations. I worked hard to achieve a good score. My rank for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) was about 70,000, which qualified me to attend the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). However, my rank was not high enough to get me into the Computer Science program at an IIT.
It was a significant setback because I had worked hard and hoped to get into the Computer Science program at an IIT. It was frustrating to think that a single number could determine the course of my future. Despite this disappointment, my rank was still decent enough to get me into a reputable Tier-2 college.
2017: I joined the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi, for Computer Science Engineering.
YC- A lot of engineering students read my blog. Can you share some suggestions on how they can make the most of their college experience?
Rohan: 1. Get your basics right – For engineers, it is important to have a solid understanding of data structures, algorithms, operating systems, and system architecture. With six months of dedicated study, it is possible to acquire the basic knowledge needed to secure a decent job in this field.
2. Do projects – Get some valuable hands-on experience by stepping out of your comfort zone and sharing your ideas with the world. Real projects offer learning opportunities that you just can’t get in a classroom, and they can do wonders for your personal growth and development. So go ahead and try new things – embrace the learning that comes with it!
While attending college, I developed a passion for machine learning. If you’re interested in exploring this field, Kaggle is a fantastic resource. It’s an online community of data scientists and machine learning professionals who are always willing to share their knowledge and experience.
3. Ultimately, the key to success is cultivating a growth mindset and a constant desire to learn and improve. By being open to new experiences and actively seeking knowledge, you will be well-prepared and have a solid foundation to build. Additionally, curiosity and willingness to share your ideas and experiences with others can lead to new opportunities and connections.
YC- Based on your experience, what career tips do you have for engineering students just starting their professional journey?
Rohan- There are two kinds of engineers among my friends:
1. Those who prioritise a relaxed and comfortable lifestyle. They choose to work for a big company. They will be a small part of a larger organisation and have less job pressure while still earning a decent salary.
2. Others have chosen to join startups or product companies, where they work long hours daily. For them, the desire to learn and improve is a strong motivator. It’s worth noting that they are often well compensated for their hard work and dedication.
But you have to pick what is right for you. If you want to get insubordinate returns:
1. Focus on finding a tech stack, company, or product that you are passionate about and willing to work on for long hours every day.
2. Ensure that you are genuinely interested in what you are doing, as this will help you stay motivated and dedicated to your work.
3. When speaking with a recruiter, ask about the potential for growth within the company. Some questions to consider include: what role can you play in the company? How much can you grow by working on this project?
If you aim to have a chill life:
Look for more prominent organisations. Take into consideration:
- Size and reputation of the organisation you are interested in.
- The work culture and team dynamics
- The product or service the company is focused on
Eventually, it boils down to your choices. The motivations and starting points are different for both categories.
YC- Now, can we discuss your professional roadmap?
Rohan- During my third year of college, I received an offer from Goldman Sachs. It was a relief because I had an education loan to pay off. Since I had some free time during my final year, I wanted to work on a project that was more than just a side hustle. I called up a friend to discuss this idea.
He ignored my suggestion for a month. But in our fourth year, we had a course called “Entrepreneurial Khichdi.” I encouraged him to take this course with me. Although I wanted to build a startup at the time, I told him there were no commitments. We ended up working together on this course.
Anupam Saronwala, an angel investor, led the course. He emphasised the importance of hands-on learning. He encouraged us to come up with an idea, get it approved, and then work on it to fully understand the process of creating and executing a project.
At the time, my father was searching for a website to list his car repair shop. It was amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and I recommended Dukaan to him as a solution. However, he told me that Dukaan is primarily geared towards selling products rather than offering services.
That’s when it occurred to me: what if we could create a platform like Dukaan specifically for services? And that’s how SevaShop was born.
August 2020- CoFounder @SevaShop
The concept behind Seva Shop was to provide a mobile-first platform that would allow SMEs to quickly and easily establish an online presence. We developed this idea as part of the course and then took it to InOut. InOut is one of India’s largest annual developer hackathons.
Everyone at the hackathon loved the idea. InOut used a quadratic funding model, which meant that the company would provide four times the amount of money a team could raise through public funding. We raised Rs. 100,000 — 20,000 from public funding + 80,000 from the company. This funding allowed us to work on the project and motivated us to continue developing it.
Around the same time, Devfolio, which organises the InOut hackathon, also launched the Build India Fellowship. The programme’s goal was to provide financial support to new founders and help them to build their products without worrying about money.
Since the organisers of the program loved our product, they encouraged us to apply for the fellowship, which included a grant of $5,000. We were fortunate enough to win it. This gave us further, and we started working rigorously on SevaShop.
Initially, our focus was on salons. We soon realised that a service-based business has many different aspects. That made it difficult for us to focus on one particular area.
One day, while on campus, I ran into my machine learning professor. I learned about the incubation centre at IIT Madras– the Gopalakrishnan-Deshpande Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (GDC)
They offer a rigorous 8-week cohort that helps founders learn about the startup philosophy and the importance of selling before building. We were accepted into this program. However, after completing the eight weeks, we realised that the problem we were trying to solve was less significant than we had initially thought, at least in the salon industry. As a result, we decided to call it off.
May 2021- Founder @CoWin Alert Bot
At that time, the country was going through the second wave of COVID-19. It was causing widespread issues such as oxygen shortages and difficulties booking vaccinations. I mentioned to my co-founder Royal Tomar that having a bot to handle these manual tasks would be helpful, and he agreed.
In three hours, we developed a bot– CoWin Alert Bot that would continuously check the CoWin website and send alerts when vaccine appointments became available. The bot could check the website every second, which is humanly impossible.
It worked well for our families and us. We continued to improve it to make it a self-serve tool. With this bot, people could simply add their preferences, and the bot would take care of the rest.
Within a month, we had 1.5 lakh daily active users for the bot. We received many thank-you messages and photos from people who had been able to schedule vaccine appointments. To cover the costs of maintaining the servers, we did some crowdfunding. During those two months, I used all I had learned in engineering. Because if the bot went down, it was my responsibility to fix it.
Not everyone enjoys every aspect of engineering. There are always a few courses that you hate. But I ended up learning those courses because the situation demanded it.
After three months, we took down the bot. By then, people saw we could create helpful tools, and we began receiving many ideas for new projects.
My work on the CoWin Alert Bot caught the attention of a friend. He asked if I would be interested in joining the startup he was working for at the time, Headout. The company was growing rapidly and still is today.
However, since I had already received an offer from Goldman Sachs, I declined the opportunity to join them.
Headout offered me 20% more than Goldman Sachs in terms of salary. However, I had to consider the brand value of each company. After careful consideration, I realised that Goldman Sachs is a finance company. So, engineers are less influential than they are in tech companies.
Ultimately, I decided to go with Headout because I was interested in working for a startup
Learnings from Headout 📚📚
1. Find product-market fit before building a large codebase. When I joined Headout, their technology was in a deplorable state. Although they had achieved product-market fit a few years prior, they were well-funded.
I knew that improving the technology was a priority. I focused my efforts on fixing the technical issues and increased developer productivity by an impressive 1100%. My experience at Headout inspired me to write a blog about the importance of technology in achieving and maintaining product-market fit.
2. Effective feedback is crucial for the success of any development project. When developers receive feedback quickly, they can promptly identify and correct mistakes, leading to faster development and increased productivity.
However, it’s important to note that even the most efficient development process is not as important as achieving product-market fit. Without a clear understanding of the needs and wants of your target market, all the productivity in the world won’t matter. Product-market fit should be a top priority for any development team.
3. To succeed in your organisation, you must communicate with people from all departments, not just those within your team.
At Headout, I observed that employees often only interacted with others in their department. For example, engineers would only interact with other engineers and marketers with other marketers. This can create an internal bubble that limits exchanging ideas and understanding different perspectives.
By interacting with people from different departments, you can break out of this bubble, learn more about the organisation as a whole, and better understand and empathise with the challenges and needs of other teams.
4. Don’t hesitate. As an engineer, it can be easy to become consumed by technical tasks and spend most of the day interacting with computers rather than people. This can lead to a tendency towards social isolation, but it’s important to remember that we are all social beings and need human connection.
I’ve noticed that this is common for many engineers, including myself – we may become more introverted when coding but more outgoing during the sales phase. However, this doesn’t have to be a curse of the job. By connecting with others and cultivating a sense of community, we can find a healthy balance between technical work and social interaction.
YC – Could you tell me more about your decision to leave Headout and the circumstances that led to the creation of Spur?
Rohan- The inertia of the CoWin alert bot led to new opportunities for us to create other projects, including a chat tool for selling products. My co-founder and I found this project particularly interesting, especially given the recent updates to platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram that have made bots even more efficient. The momentum of the CoWin bot continued to drive our success and opened up new possibilities for us to explore.
Our first version of the bot was designed to sell premium groceries through a Telegram bot. We received an offer of 60,000 INR for the project, so we developed and delivered it. However, we soon realised that Telegram was not the best platform for this product, as the audience there tends to use the platform more for downloading pirated content. This led us to consider alternative media for our bot.
We were very clear about not building a product until we found a buyer. We used no-code tools to create a prototype and demonstrate our idea quickly.
At the time, no-code tools were viral and allowed us to create a solution quickly. However, it’s important to note that while no-code answers can be helpful in prototyping, they have several limitations, including a lack of scalability and a slower iteration process.
I was still working at Headout. Royal was looking for a job in design but couldn’t find a role he was interested in. After searching for a job for two months, he received a few offers, but we both had enough confidence in our project by that point, and he turned them down. In the meantime, I could repay my education loans and save money while working at Headout.
I decided to quit.
My co-founder Royal and I had complementary skills – he was experienced in design, and I was skilled in coding – which we knew were essential for building a successful product.
Both of us narrowed down to solving for marketing, Spur – Omnichannel Helpdesk, Marketing & Commerce Integration for D2C Brands.
YC – Rohan, can we discuss numbers, ICP, business models, and competition?
Rohan- Our company is still in the early stages of development, as we only launched on September 5, 2022. Currently, Spur is used by 91 brands across the globe (80% from India, the rest from Indonesia, Pakistan, Europe, US)
The average monthly cost of our software ranges from $15 to upto $400 dollars for our big clients.
Some overseas brands are currently using our free plan, and we are working to understand what factors may prevent them from upgrading to a paid plan. Overall, we are excited about our progress and look forward to continuing to grow and serve our customers.
TAM- The conversational commerce industry is worth $5 billion and is growing at an annual rate of 20 per cent 📈📈.
Shopify + WooCommerce + Magento + Big Commerce can help us reach $100 million in ARR.
ICP: Right now, we are focusing on lifestyle brands that use Instagram for marketing and have a high level of engagement with their followers. We strongly understand how to convert that immediate engagement into sales. This is our target market at the moment.
Competitors: We face a significant amount of competition in both the global and local markets. Gorgias is a major global competitor, although they are more established and focus mainly on the help desk.
We know around 15-20 competitors in the local market, including Interakt, ByteSpeed, and Conclo. Interakt has a substantial advantage due to its distribution network, which Jio backs.
Despite the competitive landscape, we realised that none of our competitors offers self-service options. Their technology is not up to par, and they all require customer support.
With Spur – Brands can go live within 5 mins on their Instagram and Whats apps. We provide both marketing automation + support automation.
Model: Although there are many competitors in the market, we saw an opportunity to offer a self-serve, user-friendly product that is easy to understand. Many of our competitors do not understand technology well, and their products require customers to rely heavily on customer service. We saw this as a weakness and an opportunity to differentiate ourselves.
Our target market is B2C, and we offer support and marketing automation. Brands using Spur can have their Instagram and Facebook automation set up within just 5 minutes and can experience the benefits of our product within as little as 30 minutes. Last week, a brand that installed Spur reported their first paid sale within 30 minutes of using our product, demonstrating the speed and technological integration we offer.
We recently added a new integration to Spur that allows users to easily sync and segment their Shopify contacts and start a WhatsApp broadcast. This feature makes it easier for businesses to reach and engage with their audience. Overall, our goal is to provide a product that helps businesses succeed by making it easy to automate and manage their marketing efforts.
YC – Marketing and sales can be challenging for founders, especially in the early stages of a business. What advice do you have for tackling these issues and achieving success?
Rohan- We are still figuring out the best approach to sales, but we have learned that it’s important to focus on a specific niche rather than trying to sell to everyone. Customers are more likely to consider a new solution if they are experiencing problems with their current one. We can pitch an effective solution by demonstrating how our product or service can solve specific issues, even if the customer’s problem seems small.
For example, we recently talked to someone who had an issue with Shopify and was able to show them how our software could fix the problem, resulting in them switching to our solution.
Through experience, we have learned that sales is about identifying problems and offering solutions that meet customers’ needs. Our initial sales calls were challenging, but now we can sell effectively in just 5 minutes by focusing on specific issues.
We have learned that creating a sense of greed in the customer can be an effective technique in the sales process, mainly when selling marketing software. We can make compelling claims like “20% more conversions” or “10x returns” to drive sales by appealing to people’s desire for better results and higher returns.
We are still working on our marketing strategy and trying to generate more inbound interest. Some typical approaches to generating inbound interest include creating high-quality content that resonates with our target audience and highlighting the success of existing customers.
In India, follower culture is very influential, so if one big brand has successful results using our product, others are likely to follow. Currently, 25 brands use our product and can market their results to encourage other brands to follow suit.
YC- As a startup founder, what advice or suggestions would you like to share with others who are just starting their entrepreneurial journey?
1. One of the critical pieces of advice I have for other startup founders is to always sell before building. This means keeping your target customers in the loop and getting their feedback and input as you develop your product or service. However, balancing selling and building is important as following through on your promises.
2. Always experiment and be willing to try new approaches. At Spur, we ask ourselves, “What’s the dirtiest method to test this?” and “What is the one method that can tell if it will work?” This mindset helps us to be creative and find the most efficient ways to test and validate our ideas.
3. Besides experimenting, it’s important to ship promptly and be impatient and quick in virtually everything you do. At Spur, we have a competitive edge because of our speed – we receive feature requests on Monday morning and deliver them by the evening of the same day.
This level of impatience and urgency helps us stay ahead of the competition and meet the needs of our customers.
4. To truly succeed, it’s crucial to understand your customers’ needs and engage with the communities they frequent. We are a part of several B2C networks, including B2C Insiders and Startup CPG, and we read the discussions in these groups to stay updated on industry trends and customer preferences. This type of engagement could have a significant impact on your sales cycles and lead to a lot of conversions.
Rohan- I am deeply committed to making my business successful and making a positive and meaningful impact. My curiosity drives me to keep going and explore new possibilities, and I have confidence in my ability to make a difference. Even when things don’t go as planned, I remain determined to find a way to overcome challenges and continue building.
Ultimately, my passion for building and creating something meaningful keeps me going, and I am dedicated to doing everything I can to succeed.
YC- Do you have any recommendations for books or communities that you found particularly helpful when starting your own company?
Book Recommendation 📖📖
- The Almanack of Naval Ravikant for reading about life in general.
- The Almanack of Balaji Sreenivasan, which I’m sure will be fantastic.
- The Psychology of Persuasion helps you to crack sales and marketing.
I’ve been reading about psychology to understand primary human motives better.
- Follow Naval Ravikant, Kunal Shah, and Balaji Sreenivasan on Twitter.
- There is also this YouTube channel, Backstage with Millionaires.
- You should also listen to The Ken’s podcast, The First Principles.
Rohan, It was a great conversation. Thank you for your time. Yellow Chapter wishes you the best in your future endeavours.