Founded by Soubhagya Sahoo and Sapna Patel, Gray Routes is one of Asia’s Top 4 Tech Innovations, as voted in UK’s Leaders In Innovation Fellowship 2015, and India’s leading B2B Hyperlocal Logistics Technology and Analytics platform. The company caters to Fortune 500 firms as well as SMEs in the food, retail, pharmacy and bakeries sectors. We chat with the founders about the venture. An excerpt from the interview:
- What made you start your venture, Gray Routes?
Around six years ago, in a dense shopping area in Guwahati, I was training as an ASM and appraising the work of one of my sales reps. I realized that we needed a more intelligent way of remembering the locations of the stores visited that day. This would allow me to visit those stores exactly after a week to check on the rep’s actual performance underneath his fake promises.
With Sapna, we both realized that use of GPS technology and the derived location intelligence could fundamentally overhaul not only how FMCG distributed goods but also impact pharma, logistics, manufacturing and retail, mail and express, banking, construction sectors, not only in India but also internationally, as the world was looking at India for last-mile best practices.
We both had a clear vision of how GPS would help streamline distribution, and improve the lives of these last-mile workers and their bosses, bringing to them for the first time, joy at work. This led to the starting Gray Routes with our first product, GrayDrop, that won the ET Power of Ideas award the same year, and angel funding within 3 months of incorporating the venture.
- What has been the key to Gray Routes’ success?
The focus from the get-go was on building a brand that stood for trust, authenticity, and knowledge. In order to formulate and test product concepts across a more varied sample set, I started off with a few consulting assignments for a mix of firms of different sizes including Nivea, GSK, P&G and a few international market entrants, that allowed me to validate the wide applicability of the mobile app prototype, while simultaneously building trust as a vendor to clients.
As our startup is into B2B selling, we followed a simple first principle to steer our business towards success – large businesses pay for services from people first, product next, and company the last.
- What are the major challenges in your line of business and how did/do you overcome them?
Employer branding was easy for us to begin with, as we started out in 2013 with a batch of talented interns from IITs, and reputed institutes, and the fun workplace with the innovative culture around Lazy Mondays attracted passionate full-time candidates in hoards.
As the startup ecosystem got crowded with funded me-too players, and free-flowing capital drove salaries skywards, the job got harder for us, as we wanted to stay lean during the technology development phase, so we just put our head down, worked doubly hard and plowed ahead.
With dumb capital subsiding as rapidly as it set in, we are emerging as favorites among sincere techies and senior executives alike, who value the fact that we’ve created a highly positive gross margin offering that our esteemed clients love to recommend to others, and our HR innovation in the form of competitive tasks for interns and our mission to spread Joy at Work continues with full steam ahead.
We’re cognizant of the fact that the ongoing Nuclear winter is the economy’s way of flushing out the junk, and retaining only the well-grounded business models.
- Do you have a mentor who guides/advices you on matters of the business?
Absolutely, we have a number of seasoned industry veterans who have helped us steer through the best of times, and the most nuclear of winters. We have a clutch of intelligent, highly successful angel investors from one of the most successful PE firms in the world, who guide us in business and financial deals.
We are advised on international matters and data-monetization by HBS-alum and Bloomberg COO Nikhil Bharadwaj. In today’s high-intensity startup ecosystem, these advisors and mentors help keep us on our toes and alert us on industry trends and tips sourced from their vast networks.
- Have you benefitted from the use of any specific technology for your regular operations?
We made a wise choice of choosing Google Cloud early on, from even when it wasn’t public, for hosting our tech stack. We use both AWS and GAE for distinct cloud processes, besides IBM cloud credits where useful that we won from our performance in Top 30 B2B SmartCamp 2014.
We invest heavily in building our proprietary technology, and have 2 patents (international and domestic both) for our inventions around last mile mapping and logistics, that truly captivate our prospects the moment they set their eyes on it in action.
We see a lot of use of misappropriated data and IP by some of the players in our industry segment, and hence prefer to engage with clients that value the bank-grade security and data confidentiality features as part of our authenticated and patent-protected solutions. We are confident that our early investments in IP will prove to be a market-defining move as we sustainably ramp up our international ops.
- What strategy do you follow for Customer Satisfaction & Expansion?
An almost magical visualization of customer analytics data provides disruptive benefit to our clients, who are immediately able to find answers to their field execution questions.
Thus, in a fragmented but cluttered automation market with no clear market leader besides the cost prohibitive, non-visual and complex Salesforce.com, we are fast emerging as the most Customer Satisfying solution provider.
We provide truly responsive Support remotely or onsite, where applicable, use the latest capabilities from Freshdesk platform, mobile in-app support and a host of internally refined implementation tricks that make geographic expansion a breeze for our clients.
Referrals – Sales folks talk, they mingle, they job-hop, and they refer all things great to their network, and to our benefit, besides giving us multiple leads, they also very vocally help bring all sub-standard things down.
- What, according to you, are the top 3 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Passion and Creativity – two personality facets that go hand in hand, and are essential to solving complex problems without wasting a lot of resources. Organizational Planning – if you can’t plan, you can’t execute, and you can’t build sustainable businesses.
Without planning skills, an entrepreneur could at best just build the fake promise of a business – a pack of cards that won’t last four seasons. Instinct beyond Analytics (at times, one is left with a torn jacket just before the prom, and you have to take tough calls in split seconds – whether to patch up the jacket, pick up a not so special one, or turn up with a torn jacket). No amount of reasoning can justify any of the choices, and skipping the prom is not an option, and instinct is what drives you to make the right choices.