In this hyped up era of valuations, funding, MVPs and more, you rarely come across good strong profitable products, lead by lean teams, working without any external funds and growing year on year. Add to that the fact that they don’t operate out of Bangalore or Gurgaon, but out of Delhi’s famous Janakpuri. 6 years and counting, this startup by two brothers who also happen to be from NSIT (Netaji Subhash Institute of Technology) might be one of India’s least talked about, yet extremely helpful product for businesses. This is the story of Siddharth Gupta and Invite Referrals.
After graduating from college, Siddharth joined ibibo’s development team where he honed his coding skills. An year later, he moved out and started off on his own, with a product called tagnpin, a loyalty product aimed at businesses which wanted customers to ‘earn points’ and redeem later. The team did not find much success with this product and decided to pivot to something more interesting and useful. That’s when Invite Referals happened to make way for Notify Visitors later. More than 15,000 companies globally use their product and the company even helped a political party raise more than 2 crore rupees because of one of their products! All this and more in a freewheeling chat with the founder Siddharth.
Q. After graduating from NSIT and working at ibibo, you could have gone on to work for fancier companies at even better packages. What made you switch and start up?
A. I always wanted to build an organisation from scratch. Ibibo acted as a catalyst for that. When I got to work with like minded people, my passion to start up got even stronger.
Q. How important was working on live projects in college and the stint at ibibo before starting off on your own? Do you think it’s necessary to gain experience so you make lesser mistakes in your own company?
A. I tried to build a product around drug testing at college but could not successfully complete that. I learned to accept failure and start afresh with my first attempt at entrepreneurship. Then came the opportunity at Ibibo where I was given responsibility to conceptualize and build products under some very good mentorship and team. Ibibo gave direction to my thought process and gave me experience to build products. I will always recommend people to gain relevant experience and start a business only when they can see a clear opportunity.
Q. While we are a country of Engineers, very few end up developing products. Why did you take the risk of developing right away and not opt for a safer option to offer some services?
A. Services business is difficult to scale. I always wanted to build a platform that could be used by multiple businesses as is. Though product business takes time to generate revenue but it scales faster compared to services business.
Q. TagNpin was a loyalty program meant to offer points, cashbacks among other rewards to consumers. At what point did you feel that you needed to pivot and what were your major learnings from running tagNpin?
A. Tagnpin started as a loyalty program company for online businesses. We were able to get 500+ customers for the loyalty product but we realised that customers were no longer interested in earning points and use them later. People were looking for instant gratification. That is when we launched InviteReferrals, refer a friend software.
Q. InviteReferrals today looks like a product many businesses would need, when did the need for this product truly pick up? What all can a business do with this product?
A. InviteReferrals enables any website or mobile app to quickly integrate the refer a friend program for organic customer acquisition. Refer a friend program were particularly made popular by dropbox and Uber who acquired majority of their customers through friend referrals. We were among the first movers to offer referral program as a SAAS model. Demand for our service increased as many businesses now wanted to run a refer a friend program similar to Uber.
Q. When did you create NotifyVisitors and what prompted you to initiate it? What can businesses gain out of product like this?
A. We were doing well with InviteReferrals and having 10000+ online businesses using our product. We realised a big need to personalise the communication to customers. We created NotifyVisitors in 2014 to automate communication across mobile app and website based on customer segmentation. Notifyvisitors automates browser and App push notifications, Onsite and Inapp banners and surveys, and mobile app install tracking. We leveraged our existing customer base to get initial traction for NotifyVisitors.
Q. You helped the Aam Aadmi Party raise close to 2 Cr during the elections of Delhi 2013. How did this opportunity come to you and what made it so successful?
A. Aam Aadmi Party has one of the most innovative digital marketing team. They approached us to enable their “Challenge a friend to donate” program. Anyone donating to Aam Aadmi Party could challenge his friends to donate as well. This campaign did really well and boosted the online fund collection for the party.
Q. How many companies and individuals have signed up to use your services so far? Which have been some of your prestigious clients?
A. 15000+ online businesses have signed for our services so far. Some of our clients include Healthkart, Lenskart, MakeMyTrip, Shopclues, Times group, American Express and TataSky.
Q. You recently won at the HDFC Bank’s Digital Innovation Summit. What was that about and what are some of the other awards you’ve won over the years?
A. We were among the 5 companies selected by HDFC through their Digital innovation competition across India. Our other achievement include – Lufthansa Runway to Success Winner, Top 10 companies out of Startup Village, Microsoft Bizspark regional winners, Nasscom 10K startup and Blackberry Conquest winners
Q. What are the biggest challenges you faced in building your organisation and taking its products to world? What would be your piece of advice to budding developers out there?
A. The biggest challenges I faced were making the product market fit and acquiring the initial customers. Another challenge is building a passionate team. It is very difficult to get people to join your team at initial stages, as every one sees a risk joining a startup.
Q. From 2 members you’ve grown to 20 and are currently one of the World’s top 3 products in your segment. What is the plan ahead and where do you wish to go from here?
A. We want to be the marketing automation software for SME’s. We would effectively be the Adobe marketing cloud or Eloqua for SME’s who can not afford these expensive softwares. We are focusing on expanding our international sales over the next few years and also looking for passionate people to join us.
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