It takes vision and improvisation to mark yourself in an industry. Having an idea is not enough to do so. Read through the story of Vishesh and Siddharth, two college friends from BITS who are en route to success in file sharing and analytics – CloudFiles.io
The Journey on stowing & sharing by Vishesh Singhal and Siddharth Garg
Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.Henry Ford
YC - Vishesh, let’s start the journey from the very beginning. Could you please tell us about your background, schooling, and family?
Vishesh – I come from a small village in Rajasthan. I studied there up to my 10th standard and later moved to Jaipur. It was a significant shift for the village boy coming to the city. I was away from my parents and the medium of instruction changed from Hindi to English. I took Computer Programming as my elective subject, even after having no background. But programming turned out to be the right fit for me, I went deep into programming at about six months. After completing my schooling, I got into Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, Electrical and Electronics Engineering branch. I would say that my parents are simple people. They weren’t strict, but the environment around them was very disciplined. I was a disciplined kid, and my parents supported everything that I eventually wanted to do. YC – Let us now hear from you, Sid. What was your childhood like? Sid – I was born in Kashipur. My father is a retired banker, so we lived in many places. We lived in Dubai for three years from my 10th till 12th. Later we came back to India, and I joined BITS – Pilani, Electrical and Electronics Engineering branch.
YC - Let us now hear from you, Sid. What was your childhood like?
Sid – I was born in Kashipur. My father is a retired banker, so we lived in many places. We lived in Dubai for three years from my 10th till 12th. Later we came back to India, and I joined BITS – Pilani, Electrical and Electronics Engineering branch.
My parents were also not very strict in particular, but disciplined. It was easy for me to convince them for my first start-up, but the second time over definitely took some more discussions.
YC - How did you end up working together?
Vishesh – We lived in the rooms next to each other. We did a couple of projects together during various college events and were a good team. We teamed up out of friendship but later figured out to have lots of complementary skills. This has continued since then, even to CloudFiles. Ankit was a friend of my flatmate. We were acquainted during house parties and used to discuss tech. A discussion with Sid sprouted the idea that the customer base should be simultaneously developed along with the product. Three of us then decided to build CloudFiles into a real business.
Sid: I specifically remember that once someone asked me, “What are your thoughts on entrepreneurship?”, and I said that I am not one. I didn’t want to be an entrepreneur, neither wanted to open a company. I thus started a job after BITS. Within six months, the initial enthusiasm of getting a job died inside me. I realised that I wanted to do something of my own and build something on my own. My initial thoughts were developing an app for a centralized taxi booking system. It was in 2014, and there were no other major apps, but the idea didn’t come out well.
In 2016, I started working on a field management system called Navimate. I realised the safety of having a job was pulling me down, and I had to break the shackles to find success in my venture. However, even that didn’t work out so I went for an MBA in 2019 at IIM Bangalore and since Vishesh was so nearby, we were constantly in touch.
YC - How did you find the product-market fit?
Sid: Initially, we didn’t know what product-market fit meant. It took us a couple of months to finally realise that our vision and the set of features we’ve developed didn’t necessarily match the customer requirement. We ought to ask the customer about their use cases before developing any product. The customer might require only a part of our product and will be unmindful of the other prospects. We are still in the process of achieving that fit but the fact that we have customers paying for the product without having to talk with us even once indicates that we are on the right path. We have been continuing this approach, extending it to regular customer interviews and feedback.
YC - What are the most important learnings that you guys had by talking to your customers?
Vishesh/Sid – The important learnings from interacting with the customers would be :
- To know the use case of the customer. Rather than storming the customer with every feature of the product, we should understand the requirements of the customer. We should then brief on how our product could help them on it.
- Not to tamper with the customer’s workflow. There may exist a previous winning formula but to ask for a complete change is awkward. We should fit into their procedures, reach out to the existing tools they are currently using and then adapt to it.
- To support customers, especially for the business tools, is most important. A good support system guarantees a satisfied customer.
- To market our product the right way. We learned how to break the ice, customize according to use cases, and show value in the current workflows of people. We also pivoted around channel partnerships and customized our marketing strategy. We reached out to them in a generalised approach initially, but then shifted to a one on one approach and that has provided results. It was indeed surprising, as we had not changed the core of our product, just putting things in a different way changed things.
YC - What is your philosophy in building a team?
Vishesh/Sid – We are currently building the founding team, focusing on bringing in the right people to the core. The team is formed mainly around our college mates. We know their strengths and weaknesses and thus could place them in apt roles. We could have resorted to a recruitment campaign, but we chose otherwise. It’s tough to check the motivation level of a candidate from a resume, and that is why we have stuck on to the people we already know.
How the engineering team code or the sales team pitch to clients, is a small part of the problem, because they can always learn it. The bigger is how they think and what kind of a person they are. If we have to evaluate a person, we’ll just tell him the whole scope of work without giving him any events, or briefing. Whatever they can come up with in one day, tells you how good and varied they think and how deep they can do both horizontal and vertical thinking.
YC - How was the experience facing the investors for funds? What are the three points any entrepreneur should keep in mind while approaching an investor?
Vishesh/Sid – We raised funds around last month and announced the same recently. Initially, we followed a very standard format of preparing the deck. We went to some investors and one thing that we realised was that whatever your deck is, whatever format you follow, you have to have a really good story.
Our never-ending conversations on CloudFiles helped us to figure out the right story. Initially, we were not thinking about making CloudFiles a global product. But then, retrofitted the whole application from a global standpoint. With a lot of reductions and iterations, we now have a better road map. Each time we were rejected, we sort of sat down and figured out what the problem was and then rectified it.
Three key points while approaching an investor would be –
- To study the investor. It’s important to know the type of investment, if large or small, and approach accordingly.
- The second thing is to be very confident, that’s again very important because sometimes investors do stress interviews as well.
- Another essential thing is to present the answers beforehand. The investors would have questions in mind, and asking yourselves these questions before the meeting and indirectly presenting the answers shall be helpful.
The Y Combinator application was beneficial. Its conciseness, clarity, and breadth of the questions, helped to put our business into perspective. It is also important to engage with people who help to figure out what your business is about, what your competitive advantage is going to be, and how exactly you are going to go about it for the next few years. Y Combinator provided a great opportunity in achieving these.
YC - What are the important learnings that you would like to share with us?
Vishesh/Sid – We committed a few errors in the beginning.
- The first mistake we committed was our cold outreach. We expected people to reach out back to us, but that wasn’t the case.
- We bent too much on the general partnerships too but realised that no one else will sell for you and that you’d have to sell it for yourself or fit snugly into the seller’s process by first understanding it.
- We also have come to realise that being cheap is not a good thing. You have to add value to the customer first, and you need to make sure the customer does better rather than lowering the prices for competence.
YC - What are your targets for the next few months? Are you planning a second round on gathering funds?
Vishesh/Sid – We are focusing on marketing now, as it is essential in product growth. We would then be eyeing the sales. We would also spend on employee culture building, and to have an office where we could have the whole team together. Although we could work remotely, it is necessary to increase productivity and our overall development.
At present, we try to build the product for customers. We cannot keep an investor in mind and then build the product. We have to reach a certain revenue and a number of customers and then approach the investors.
Our customers are organically achieved without direct outreach. Since we are scaling at marketing we would have to wait for 3-4 months to get a clear picture. Our targets are primarily on revenue rather than funding.
YC - What is your strategy for converting downloads to paying customers?
Vishesh/Sid – As of now, we have around 400 downloads and 40 paying customers. We have lost customers due to the lack of features. It takes time to build a new feature, we’ve lost many customers due to such complaints and shortcomings. We have developed certain foundational features, we’ve been restructuring the welcome campaigns, so that we could prevent any further customer loss. We’re focusing more on understanding the customer right now.
YC - Is there something that motivates you at times of being low?
Vishesh: I believe that everything eventually gets fixed. You just have to stay calm and plan out your best response to the problem. I believe in focusing on the next small step rather than bringing up drastic changes. I also believe in my team, and consider teamwork very important.
Sid: I see life as a cycle. Whenever it’s an up, I realise there will be a down, and when there’s a down I know there is an up following. Being the head of the team, I have to be satisfied with the effort, and for me, the key thought is “We always have a next time!”
YC - What will be your three suggestions to the next in line?
- I withheld my dream for at least two years, did thorough background work and then worked it out.
- The next thing is to never deviate from the hard way. Shortcuts are easier initially, but you’re certain to fall.
- To have the customer first. Build your products for the customer and then care for the funding because you are doing it for yourself. The people first, customer second, and investor then is the way to go.
I had already made my mistake, spending two years on a product without a market. The techies generally make something that they have in mind, not what the customer needs. If they had known the customer requirement at the time of production, they could very well have built the exact product. They should first think of the customer, it is important.
YC - Is there a role model for you guys?
Vishesh – I have learnt a lot from the founders of my previous companies, Ashish Garg & Dylan Baskind. While working with them, I saw firsthand how to build a great product & a great team.
Sid – My teachers. It was Dr. Y L R Moorthi, my professor, who turned out to be a major influence. He, along with Professor S Rakesh Kumar, taught me the importance of conceptual learning. Dr. Anshuman Tripathi was also instrumental in shaping the customer-oriented approach I have imbibed.
I hope to see CloudFiles winning the markets across the globe, thanks to both of you.
We’ll meet again for more stories!
Thank you for reading.
|Interviewer: Divya Jain|
Reviewed by: Vishnu Vijayan