Innovation is the driving force behind any successful startup, and Tohands is no exception. Founded by Shanmugavadivel, Praveen Mishra, and Sathyam, this dynamic company is making waves in the market with its innovative product.
In this exclusive interview, we sit down with Shanmugam to discuss the journey of building Tohands, the challenges and opportunities of entrepreneurship, and the industry’s future. Shanmugam generously shares valuable insights and lessons learned throughout the process and offers advice to aspiring entrepreneurs who aim to impact the world positively.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into the interview and learn more about the exciting world of Tohands.
YC-Shanmugam, 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 Tohands. Please tell us a bit about your upbringing, family, and education.
Shanmugam- I was born in Palani, a temple town in Dindigul, Tamil Nadu. It is home to one of the most sacred shrines dedicated to Lord Muruga. 🛕🛕 My father is a farmer, and my mother is a homemaker.
I have been fascinated by electronics from a young age, starting with the toy cars 🚗🚗 I played with as a child. While I was an average student in school, I have always been more interested in practical applications rather than just theory. This is one of the reasons I enjoyed studying physics. 🙂🙂
My elder sister Prabha Devi is a doctor. 🩺🩺 She is currently pursuing an MS in ENT at Thanjavur Medical College, Tamil Nadu. Though my parents kept a careful eye on what I was doing as I grew up, they have always encouraged me to pursue my interests.
YC- What motivated you to pursue a degree in engineering?
Shanmugam- The school I attended only offered two options for 12th grade in addition to Maths: Biology or Computer Science. I had initially planned to choose Computer Science, but a staff member at the school who was close to my family and me convinced me to pursue Biology instead.
My sister is a doctor, and they wanted me to follow in her footsteps. I had zero interest in Biology. I couldn’t appreciate the subject, and it reflected in my final score. 🤦🤦
Quick suggestion – It is essential to follow your instincts at times. It can help you build self-confidence and self-trust, which can be invaluable in personal and professional situations. I learned it the hard way!
After school, I decided to opt for engineering.
2016-2020: B.E Electrical and Electronics Engineering @Kongu Engineering College
YC -A lot of my readers are engineering students. Do you have any suggestions for them on how to make the most of their college days?
Shanmugam- Unfortunately, the current education system, whether in school or college, is essentially the same. It follows a pattern: Study→Memorise →Reproduce in the exam.
Suggestions for Engineering Students 🎓🎓
1. Take up internships: Besides theoretical learning, gaining practical experience is critical to prepare for your professional career. People will expect you to be able to deliver value from the moment you start your job, and your career progression will depend on your performance.
Gaining hands-on experience through internships will help you develop the skills and confidence needed to succeed in the workplace.
2. Embrace self-learning to stay ahead: As an engineer, it’s essential to improve your skills through self-learning continuously. The mindset that someone else will train us is not productive. If you get stuck while coding, finding the solution on your own is crucial.
Even the best coders in the world read extensively and seek out resources to improve their skills. Join online forums, All About Electronics, Electronics Stack Exchange, EEVblog, Electronics for You and more.. subscribe to YouTube channels like Great Scott, EsteemPCB, Electronoobs, and Fedevel Acadamy. Take advantage of the many learning resources available. Remember, learning leads to growth!
Students who actively seek out opportunities for learning and development, rather than just scrolling through social media, tend to be more appealing to top companies and are more likely to secure better job offers with higher salaries.
Things to consider when choosing or switching jobs:
1. Growth potential: Generally, a product company will offer more learning and career advancement opportunities than a service company. For example, joining a well-established company like Microsoft early in your career can provide excellent learning and career prospects, while joining a service-based organisation like TCS or Wipro may offer only a marginal increase in pay and limited growth opportunities.
2. Responsibility: Consider joining a startup early in your career. Startups often handle all aspects of product development in-house, which can provide more responsibility and learning opportunities for employees.
YC – Can you discuss your professional journey and the lessons you have learned along the way?
Shanmugam: While in college, I had the opportunity to work on minor IoT projects with my mentor, Mr Jeevaratnam and my friend Mr Palani Kamaravel, who had a strong interest in the field. As I worked on these projects, I became more and more interested in the area myself.
Along with my friends Palanikumaravel, Sanjay and mentor Jeevanantham
My mentor also helped us acquire clients, and we were able to generate a monthly revenue of Rs.10,000 to Rs.15,000. I could earn money on some of my projects while gaining valuable knowledge and experience in others.
Based on this experience, in 2017, I founded IcOnT, an electronics company that provides end-to-end solutions from idea to production.
After I completed my course, I had two choices: to pursue an off-campus job or turn IcOnT into a full-time business. I initially chose to work for an electronic company while running IcOnT on the side, but after a few months, I felt a strong desire to venture out on my own. With a relatively light workload at the time, I thought it was worth taking the risk.
My friend Ganesh joined me in founding IcOnT. While he was more interested in programming, my passion was in hardware.
We also developed an innovative consumer electronics product funded by the Government of India with a check size of 5 Lakhs. But Unfortunately, we failed due to a lack of Product Market Fit. But as they say, failure is the stepping stone to success.
In January 2020, I decided to work on IcOnT full-time. My freelance clients became regular customers, and around the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. I didn’t take on any new projects and focused on completing the two I had already begun in June 2020. Fortunately, in 2021, I could secure a major project on a banking alarm security system that required us to deliver 1000 units. This project generated a revenue of 1 Cr for my company. 🥳🥳
2021 – Co-founder @Tohands 🧮🧮
Beginnings: My journey to becoming a co-founder of Tohands began when Akash, a startup enthusiast from my school, attended a cohort in Bangalore and met Praveen, the other co-founder. Praveen mentioned he was looking for a freelancer with hardware expertise, and Akash recommended me for the role.
I spent a year working with Praveen before joining the company as a co-founder. That’s how it all came together.
Praveen, Akash and Me
YC- Can you share some numbers, your ideal customer demographics and the competitive landscape in which your startup operates?
Shanmugam- Tohands is a powerful smart calculator designed to assist shopkeepers in tracking income and expenses, generating daily, weekly, and monthly reports, and providing analytics.
Scope: There are approximately 20 million small kirana stores in the country that require optimisation. We are initially targeting 2 to 3 million of these stores, which do not have billing machines and rely on outdated systems requiring manual inventory entry.
These machines can be costly to purchase and maintain, with upfront costs ranging from Rs.40,000 to Rs.50,000. One also has to hire someone with basic operating system knowledge.
Our solution is an intelligent calculator that allows store owners to record transactions directly and sync the data to a mobile app. This gives them a full breakdown of daily expenses, monthly profits, customer credit, and more. The calculator is priced at Rs.3000 and is designed to replace ledger books, enabling business owners to track their cash flow more effectively.
ICP – Our target audience include:
- shopkeepers who don’t have billing machines and rely on manual bookkeeping
- stores with 150 to 200 daily transactions
- stores with high demand where the shopkeeper needs to serve 4 to 5 customers within a 5 to 10-minute time frame
Apps: Currently, we have two separate apps:
- A cash book app allows shopkeepers or users to record their sales or purchase expenses and keep track of them. They can also export these statements.
- A seller app that enables users to list items and transform their physical store into an online store.
These apps operate independently, but we have plans to integrate them in the future. With this integration, users can record transactions in the cash book app.
Users base: Currently, we have approximately 8,000 users on our seller app, with 20 of them being paid users at Rs. 2000 per month. We have received around 7,000 downloads for our cash book app, with 2,000 to 3,000 actively using the app regularly. This app is offered for free. We plan to integrate our smart calculator with the cash book app.
Plan: We intend to release 500 units initially. The devices will be sold both online and through our distributor network. We have also hired a marketing firm to help us promote the product. We are also working on integrating popular online payment apps such as PhonePe and Gpay, along with dynamic QR codes for UPI and more interesting features.
Pre-orders: We already have 35 pre-orders. Customers currently using our app will soon have the option to purchase the calculator and sync their data directly from the device.
Competition: This is the world’s first smart calculator. We are also in the process of obtaining patent rights. In the market for smart calculators, we have no competitors. However, we face competition from other players in the broader app market, such as CashBook | Khatabook. The integration with the smart calculator is our USP.
TAM: The Total Available Market (TAM) for our product is estimated to be between $7 and $8 million, but the serviceable market we can currently target is limited to $3 to $4 million. Despite this, we are working to optimise our product to be valuable to a broader audience beyond our original target customers.
End Goal: Our ultimate goal is to integrate inventory management into our smart calculator, allowing it to perform all the functions of a traditional billing machine and more.
Funding: We have secured seed and angel funding to support this project. We raised approximately Rs.30 lakhs through the Startup India Fund and an additional Rs.35 lakhs through angel networks, including T-Hub Hyderabad.
Targets: Our target is to sell 25,000 units by the end of 2023.
YC- What advice or suggestions would you like to share with other startup founders?
- When starting a business, it’s essential to focus on identifying the problem and followed by developing a solution.
- Don’t get too caught up in thinking about your product as “great” without considering whether it is something that people will buy.
- Remember that it’s not just about creating a product or service that you think is innovative or unique, but one that addresses a real need and is easy for people to use.
YC- What motivates you personally? 🎯🎯🎯
Shanmugam- I am motivated by my curiosity. Additionally, I read a line in Late. APJ Abdul Kalam’s book stuck with me: “If you need something, you will have to get it. No one is going to get it for you.” This quote has always inspired me to take control of my own goals and work towards achieving them.
Shanmugam, it was a pleasure having this conversation with you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I wish you the best in all your future endeavours. Yellow Chapter!