With economic policies easing regulations and making the playing-ground suitable for new business ventures, a whole lot of student-entrepreneurs have cropped up — bursting with ideas, energy and confidence. These 20-somethings have new-age products/services all chalked out into feasible business plans, convinced their hesitant family, refused big pay-checks from big multinationals, and are all raring to go and make it big in the wonderland of entrepreneurship. And chances are that, they will succeed and make it BIG.
Ideophone is one such team of three — Sundar Lakshmanan, Sandeep Bhaskar and Anenth Guru. They build solutions to “help commuters travel cheaper, safer, faster, together, and stay more informed using location and journey awareness.” They are currently in Ahmedabad for a 3-month boot-campunder the iAccelerator program of IIM-A!!! With funding and incubation support from the program, the trio is now working to build their platform product for travel apps.
Thrilled about their fantastic growth path, we asked them a few questions. And despite slogging it out inside the demanding walls of IIM-A (as the picture suggests), they obliged. Enjoy reading what they have to say about the labour pangs of starting-up…
What brought you guys together as a team?
Our alma mater, IIIT-B (http://www.iiitb.ac.in/).Sundar was an alumnus from the 2004 batch, but kept participating in the activities of Open Systems Lab under Prof.SrinathSrinivasa. He was also being mentored and advised by Prof.Sadagopan regarding his career and non-profit activities.
Anenth and Sandeep were still masters’ students at IIT-B when Sundar proposed doing a mobile solution for the common pain points of auto-rickshaw commuters. They teamed up and built Suruk, that went on to be a great success. And, the rest… is clichéd.
How did you decide your product/focus area? Did you access the market requirement first?
Suruk was borne out of our personal pain points and frustration. Sundar was commuting almost 22km per day in autos and was facing meter-tampering and rude drivers quite often. Anenth and Sandeep too felt the same. They did an email survey with the help of students from Christ College and the need was validated.
Or was the decision based solely on your core strengths?
Our strengths allowed us to solve this problem, but that was incidental. In fact, Anenth particularly chose an internship with the Nokia Emerging Markets group in order to develop the expertise and domain knowledge in tackling commuters’ problems. Similarly, Sandeep took up an internship at The Astonishing Tribe, Sweden to pick up mobile development skills.
What setting up issues have you faced/ face?
Most of the setting up issue was in convincing ourselves and our families that we are onto something even before we had a concrete roadmap about our business. Much of the common setting-up issues like incubation support were resolved because of the generosity of Prof.Sadagopan and Prof.Rajagopalan– they virtually incubated us during the crucial early months.
How do you tackle the ‘money-woes’ ?
During the initial months, we leveraged almost all free and near-free online platforms and tools. We didn’t commute, but used Skype and set up a virtual office. A number of friends pitched in with pro-bono or inexpensive services in all areas including web hosting, legal advice, business plan consulting, marketing and so on.
Our products Suruk and Autofare won significant cash prizes in the Intel AppUp contest and txtWeb app2fame contest. Moreover, we got support from Nokia and Windows Phone 7 platforms that gave us test phones for our apps. We are also a truly lean start-up. Once we started making some revenues, we were able to manage our expenses. On the personal front, our families are our pillars of strength. They are our funders, insurers and even counsellors at times.
Finally, what did you guys do to get into the IIMA program ?
We were being nice and built things that people found useful. To elaborate, since our apps were solving pain points that few cared for, we got a tremendous amount of goodwill from our users and other ecosystem players.
Our users were our beta testers, marketers, product managers, and what not. We also got a good amount of love from online and print media that took us places with zero marketing cost for us. That is how we got a whiff of available opportunities as well as got access to the right people at the right time. To cut the long story short, the nice people at Yourstory, who featured us in a couple of articles, connected us with people behind the iAccelerator programme of IIMA.
And, we fortunately made sense with Pranay, Tanvi, and Maneesh who interviewed us. They liked our vision of helping people commute cheaper, safer, together, and better informed. And, our apps already in the market showed them that we can execute. Now, we are now on our trajectory to the next orbit thanks to all the support we get from the programme and our investors.
Such struggle-success stories are contagious — they force us to believe in ourselves. Best Wishes to the Ideophone team !! Website: www.ideophone.in