Pune based backup software startup Druvaa has gone from being a 3-person startup that presented at proto.in 18 months back, to a 16-person company that is profitable, and sponsored proto.in this weekend. We caught up with Jaspreet Singh of Druvaa during proto and had a conversation with him about how they are doing.
Note: Please turn up the volume. The sound quality is not-so-great. (Hopefully future videos will be better.)
Please also check out the older PuneTech articles about Druvaa:
Interesting note: You’ll notice that over the years, Druvaa has shifted gears from selling continuous protection (which they started off with) to remote backups (which is their primary product now). This is a feature of any startup – adapting to the needs of the market.
Proto.in is in Pune today, and one of the ideas they are pushing this year, is live online coverage of the event. The idea is that while only 400 people can attend the event in person, many more should be able to follow the details online. With this in mind, this proto promises to the the most connected proto so far.
Here are the different ways in which you can follow proto online:
http://proto.in/live: is proto’s live portal where you can follow all the proto activity. It aggregates all the live tweets about #protodotin. Bloggers can also submit their live-blogs and selected ones will be put up on this page. You can download information about the companies that are presenting, and you can leave feedback for the companies.
@PuneTechLive will be live-tweeting the event. Unfortunately, twitter search does not pick up punetechlive’s tweets, so the proto.in/live page and the twitter search pages will not show you these tweets. So you have to follow punetechlive in twitter (or go to http://twitter.com/punetechlive and refresh periodically).
On an experimental basis, PuneTech will be trying to videoblog. We will have short (1 or 2 minute) interviews with various interesting people throughout the data. Check PuneTech’s youtube page and refresh periodically.
Keep checking this page also, we’ll try to keep it updated with …umm… updates throughout the day.
PuneTech is also trying out live-video updates of proto.in. Check out this video:
Highlights of Proto.in Presentations
Here is what we feel were the best parts of proto so far:
Vardenchi motorcycles on stage. Awesome audience impact!
HyCa presenting a product based on very complicated chemical process in words that we understood.
EnglishSeekho demo – The product speaks for itself. No explanation needed
EnglishSeekho founder asking: we could be providing pesticide info to farmers, we could be providing information about contraception to rural girls, in a convenient and confidential setting, we could be providing life-changing, life-saving information at the right time, at the right price (maybe Rs. 5). Isn’t that better than spending time building websites that sell movie or airline tickets or books online?
TouchMagix demo of Magix 3D Sense. Someone on twitter pointed out – proto.in felt like TED for a moment!
Demo Tips for Startups
Based on what we saw at proto.in presentations, here are some tips for those who presenting their startup:
Dress conservatively! You don’t want to draw attention to your dress. Definitely do NOT dress in a white suite and white-and-brown shoes.
If you have 30 minutes, then spending time on the educational and professional background of the team makes sense. If you have just 6 minutes, skip it. Go straight to your product.
You shouldn’t need to spend half your time motivating your product. Just show your product, and the audience should be able to see the motivation. Otherwise your product is not compelling enough (or you are pitching to the wrong audience)
These are reactions of Pune tech community regulars to the proto.in presentations:
Update: The “contest” part has ended, and the winner (amongst those who want a pass) is Annkur. But, please keep the suggestions coming in. We have some great suggestions up here. In a week or two, we’ll have a follow-up initiative to identify which specific ones to actually implement immediately (and who will do it). Thanks!
Pune’s tech scene is rocking.
How do we rock it more? How do we get more people involved? How do we get more students involved? How do we get more people from large companies (Infosys, Wipro) involved? Please give ideas.
Maybe you have an idea for a new series events that will be very useful. Maybe you have an idea for how to get more people to collaborate with each other. Maybe you have an idea for an interesting use of technology to improve the ‘community’. Maybe you have an idea for how to get people to contribute more to our wikis/social-networks/mailing lists.
PuneTech is giving away a proto.in pass (worth Rs. 750) to the person with the best suggestion. But please don’t let that be your motivation. Even those not interested in the proto.in pass please give your suggestions.
Here are the approximate rules:
The suggestion does not have to be about punetech.com. It can be about improving any aspect of the tech community in Pune. e.g. you can suggest how to make the Pune OpenCoffee Club more useful that it already is, or something to do with the Pune Linux Users Group, or anything at all.
Criteria for evaluation will be: practicality of suggestion, what are the chances of success, ease of making it happen, and the impact it will have.
Leave your suggestion as a comment on this post; or you can put it up on your own blog and leave a link from here.
If you’re not interested in winning the proto.in pass, please say so in your comment, so that the prize can go to the next best comment
The best comment received until 5pm on Friday (24th) will receive the prize. Please ensure that you leave appropriate contact info so that we can contact you on Friday evening if you win.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you should be aware that Proto.in, India’s premier startup event, is happening in Pune this weekend. Around the end of proto.in, there’s an event for Facebook application developers, which is actually open to all developers, not just those registered to attend proto.in. So all Pune facebook app developers, or potential facebook app developers should make a beeline for this event – a great place to meet a lot of experienced facebook developers from not just Pune, but the whole country.
Proto.in will be partnering with Facebook to organize the Facebook Developer Garage. It will have Ruchi Sanghvi, senior product manager at Facebook participating as the speaker. She will talk about how developers can create web applications on Facebook with social utility and business potential targeted towards the rapidly growing Indian market on Facebook. According to Pune Mirror Ruchi is:
a Fergusson College pass-out now settled in San Francisco. Ruchi, the product manager for Facebook News Feeds, is one of the brain’s behind Facebook’s current look.
The Garage should be useful for web developers who are interested in the Facebook developer contest (which has a total cash prize worth US$14,000. For more details on the Facebook Developer contest, please visit http://www.facebook.com/developercontestindia.)
As a passionate web developer trying to make an impact, you certainly cant miss this opportunity.
It will be at 5pm on Saturday 25th July, in the Dewang Mehta Auditorium, Persistent, S.B. Road. Just show up. It’s free, and no registration is required.
Proto.in, the premier startup event in the country, is happening in Pune this Saturday, so the who’s who of the startup world will descend upon Pune. This is a chance for Pune’s entrepreneurs and wannapreneurs to meet interesting people. Unfortunately, proto.in had limited seats and they are all gone, so, on popular demand, proto. in has created a pre-proto networking event for all those who will not be at proto.in – to give them a chance to network with the visitors who are coming in to town for proto.in.
The event will be on Friday, 24 July, from 5pm to 7pm at Hall No. 5, MCCIA Trade Tower, ICC Complex, S.B. Road. A fee of Rs. 100 will be collected at the door. If you want to attend, send an email to Maya at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What to expect at the event? There will be some sort of a panel discussion on “Transforming Business Environments.” I have no idea what that means, and the topic is so generic that I’m sure the discussion will also be generic. But don’t let the prescribed agenda fool you. The agenda and panel discussion is only there to get all the people in one room. The real benefit of going to such events is the networking that happens before and after (and some of it during) the event. You meet people who can help you find customers, people who can provide some useful service to your startup, people who just generally give you some insightful piece of advice that can change the course of your startup, people who over time become advisors for your startup (we met the most important advisor of our startup at one such event).
3 hours and Rs. 100 is a low price to pay for all these opportunities.
In addition there is a free CRM workshop by iWare Logic, from 10am to 5pm, at their Baner Road office. “Know CRM” is an intensive short duration workshop where we don’t just talk about CRM concepts but how they can be implemented usefully in your day to day operations. CRM consultants will share their knowledge and experience with you and help you understand the components of an effective CRM solution through guided demonstrations of Oracle CRM On Demand.
There’s a meeting for all those interested in volunteering for Proto.in. Proto is India’s premier startup conference, and it is coming to Pune in July. There is a lot of work to be done, and for this to become successful, a lot of volunteers are needed. This is your chance to get involved in the startup community in India – interact with the who’s who of the startup community, see the best startups in India at close quarters. And make Pune proud by making this the best proto. No registration required. Just show up.
And there also the monthly Pune Linux Users Group meeting from 4pm to 6pm. This meeting happens on the first Saturday of every month at 4pm in SICSR, and is definitely the place you want to be if you are interested in Linux in particular, or free/open source software in general.
Did we miss anything? If you are aware of any tech events in Pune (this weekend, or anytime in the future) please add them to the Pune tech events calendar at upcoming. This is an open calendar – anybody can add events to it. Please do so for the benefit of the tech community at Pune. Any event added there automatically gets added to the calendar at PuneTech.com.
By the way, don’t forget about the inaugural event of PuneChips today (Thursday, 4 June, 6:30pm: details). PuneChips is a forum for semiconductor industry (chip design, EDA, applications, VLSI, embedded systems) professionals in Pune. Please come today to meet and network with others in Pune working in this area, and to help us figure out what the activities of this forum. And in case you need more incentive to attend, Abhijit Abhyankar, head of Rambus India will talk about the emerging opportunities in the semiconductor industry. Please forward this info to your friends who might be interested.
Proto.in is the premiere conference for startups in India. The most recent edition was held in Bangalore last week. The next one is now being planned and the organizers are asking whether it should be in Pune or Mumbai.
Instead of making it simply a twitter popularity contest, I say let’s give them a host of compelling reasons why it must be Pune. In the comments to this post below, please suggest some good reasons why the next proto.in should be in Pune. I’ll collate the top reasons and create a new post out of them and forward it to the proto organizers.
To get you started, here are my reasons:
Pune the undiscovered country: If you go to a typical startup event (proto, headstart) in Bangalore/Mumbai/Delhi, you’ll run into the same faces over and over again. Pune is different. There is a lot that Pune has to offer that the rest of the ecosystem is not aware of (some examples below). Now would be a good time for proto to start the process of reaching out beyond the top 3 metros.
Pune is a hotbed of activity: Just look at the tech events calendar for Pune to get an idea of the various and varied activities. Multiple pages of them – note the Page 2, Page 3 etc at the bottom of that page.
Students: The future of the startup ecosystem is in the hands of students, and in our ability to get them interested in startups. And what better place to start that than Pune. We have boat loads of students. Who are enthusiastic and motivated. Gnunify a Free and Open Source conference organied mostly by students of Pune is expected to attract 600+ students.
These are the first few reasons that come to my mind. Please add to the list.
See the comments section for many more great reasons. A couple that I wanted to highlight right away:
Atul points out that: Pune has very few professional VC offices. VCs visiting Pune in the context of Proto.in might find obvious funding choices that they would have otherwise missed on.
Enthusiastic and others point out: It’s cheaper to organize it in Pune
Santosh points out: Pune OpenCoffee Club (550+) energetic Volunteers, Startups, and Entrepreneurs
and also: Doing it in Pune will definitely draw out techies in numbers for Startup Shotgun
and finally: Pune weather is far better than Bombay weather
And there are more below. And more keep coming in. If you are reading this in an email or RSS feed, please visit the website to see the full list of comments. You can subscribe to PuneTech comments feed (RSS, or email) too.
It’s the middle of the night, and your prepaid phone runs out of credits, and you need to make a call urgently. Don’t you wish that you could re-charge your prepaid mobile over the internet? Pune-based startup ApnaBill allows you to do just that. Fire up a browser, select your operator (they have partnerships with all major service providers), pay from your bank account or by credit card, and receive an SMS/e-mail with the recharge PIN. Done. They have extended this model to satellite TV (TataSky, Dish), with more such coming out of the pipeline.
PuneTech interviewed co-founder and lead developer Mayank Jain where he talks about various things, from technical challenges (does your hosting provider have an upper limit on number of emails you can send out per day?), to unexpected problems that will slow down your startup (PAN card!), and advice for other budding entrepreneurs (start the paperwork for registration/bank accounts as soon as possible).
On to the interview.
Overview of ApnaBill:
Simply put, ApnaBill.com is a online service for facilitating Prepaid and Postpaid Utility Bill payments.
Available now, are Prepaid utility bill payments like prepaid mobile recharge and prepaid vouchers for Tata Sky, World Phone, Dish TV etc.
Organizationally, ApnaBill.com is an offshoot of Four Fractions. It aims at being the single point of contact between service providers and customers, thereby minimizing transactional costs. The benefit of this is directly passed onto our customers as we do NOT charge any transaction costs from our customers. Its an ApnaBill.com policy and would be applicable to all of our product line.
Apart from regular Utility Bill Payments, we are also exploring some seemingly blue ocean verticals which have not been targeted by the online bill payment sector – yet.
We have managed to make our business model such that despite absorbing the transactional cost, we’ll be able to make profits. They would definitely be low but the sheer amount of transactions (which we would attract because of no-transaction-charge policy) would put our figures in positive direction.
Moreover, profit generated from transactions is just one revenue source. Once we have a good traction, our advertisement revenue sources would also become viable.
We are definitely looking at a long term brand building.
Technical Challenges – Overview
Contrary to popular belief, technology is generally the simplest ingredient in a startup – specially because the startup can generally excercise full control over how it is used and deployed. And with increasingly cheaper computing resources, this space is becoming even more smoother.
However, following problems were a real challenges which we faced and solved.
Being a web 2.0 startup, we faced some major cross browser issues.
Minimizing client side internet connectivity and page display speeds
Thankfully, ApnaBill.com is running Ruby on Rails under the hood – and all the solutions we designed, just got fit into the right grooves.
Technical Challenges – Details
Ruby on Rails a one of the best framework a web developer can ask for. All the solutions to the above problems just come bundled with it.
To overcome mail capping limits for shared hosts, we devised our own modules which would schedule mails if they were crossing the mail caps. However, we later discovered that there’s a great Ruby gem – ar_mailer to do just that. We are planning to make the shift.
If you see our homepage, no JS loads up when the page is loading up. However, once the page is loaded, we initiate a delayed JS load which renders our news feed in the end.
Database versioning is an inbuilt feature in Rails. We can effectively revert back to any version of ApnaBill.com (in terms of functionality) with standard Rails framework procedures.
Integrating various vendors and services was visibly the biggest challenge we overcame during the (almost) 9 months development cycle of ApnaBill.com.
Getting the organization up and running was another big challenge. The paperwork takes a lot of valuable time – which if visioned properly, can be minimized to a manageable amount.
Payment Gateways are a big mess for startups. They are costly, demand huge chunks of money for security deposits and have very high transaction costs. Those who are cheap – lack even the basic courtesy and quality of service. Sooner or later, the backbone of your business becomes the single most painful factor in your business process – specially when you have no control over its functioning.
Thankfully, there are a few payment gateways which are above all of this. We hope to make an announcement soon.
The process of founding ApnaBill:
When and how did you get the idea of founding ApnaBill? How long before you finally decided to take the plunge and start in earnest? What is your team like now?
In June 2007, one of the founding members of Four Fractions saw a friend of his, cribbing about how he cannot recharge his prepaid mobile phone from the comforts of his home. He had to walk about 1 km to reach the nearest local shop to get his phone connection recharged.
This idea caught the founder’s attention and he, along-with others formed Four Fractions on 20th December ’07 to launch ApnaBill.com as one of their flagship products.
ApnaBill.com was opened for public transactions on 15th June 08. The release was a birthday present to ApnaBill.com’s co-founder’s mom.
Our team is now 5 people strong, spread across New Delhi and Pune. As of now, we are self funded and are actively looking for seed funding.
What takes most of the time:
As I mentioned earlier, getting various services integrated took most of the time. If we had to just push out our own product (minus all collaborations), it would have taken us less than 3 months.
There was this funny thing that set us back by almost 1 month…
We applied for a PAN card for Four Fractions. First, our application somehow got lost in the process. Then someone in the government department managed to put down our address as 108 when it was supposed to be 10 B (8 and B are very similar looking).
None of us ever envisioned this – but it happened. We lost a precious month sorthig this issue out. And since all activities were dependent on official papers, other things like bank accounts, payment gateway intgrations etc also got pushed back. But I am glad, we sorted this out in the end. Our families supported us through this all the way.
Every process like creating Bank accounts, getting PAN cards etc are still very slow and manual in nature. If we can somehow improve on them, the ecosystem can prove very helpful for budding startups.
About the co-founders:
There are 3 CoFounders for ApnaBill.com
Sameer Jain: Sameer is the brain behind our revenue generation streams and marketing policies. He is a Post Grad from Delhi University in International Marketing.
Sandeep Kumar: Sandeep comes from billing (technical) background. With him, he has brought vast knowledge about billing processes and solid database knowhow.
Myself (Mayank Jain): I come from desktop application development background. I switched to Ruby on Rails almost 18 months ago – and since then, I am a devoted Ruby evangelist and Rails developer.
Luckily, we have a team which is just right. We have two polarizing ends – Sandeep and Sameer. One of them is constantly driving organization to minimizing costs while the other is driven towards maximizing revenue from all possible sources. I act as a glue between both of them. Together, we are constantly driving the organization forward.
About selection for proto.in:
Proto.in was the platform for which we were preparing for from almost 2 months. We had decided our launch dates in such a way that we would launch and be LIVE just in time for Proto.in.
Being recognized for your efforts is a big satisfaction.
Proto.in was also a huge learning experience. Interacting directly with our potential users gave us an insight on how they percieve ApnaBill.com and what they want out of it. We also came across some interesting revenue generation ideas when interacting with the startup veterans at Proto.
There are a lot of people who are currently doing a job somewhere, but who harbor a desire to start something on their own. Since you have already gone that route, what suggestions would you have for them?
Some tips I would like to share with my peer budding entrepreneurs…
Focus, focus and focus!
If you are an internet startup, book your domain before anything and get the right hosting partner.
Start the paperwork for firm/bank accounts registration as soon as possible.
Write down your financial/investment plan on paper before you start. Some plan is way better than a no plan!
Adopt proper development process for the tech team. With a process in place, development activities can be tracked rationally.
Get someone to manage your finances – outsourcing is a very attractive option.
The most important factor for a startup besides anything else – is to keep fighting during the adverse scenarios. Almost everything would spring into your face as a problem. But a team which can work together to find a solution for it – makes it to the end.
Just remember, more than the destination, it is the journey that would count.
Q: Hover.in was born out of constant frustration that most bloggers and web publishers face regarding their content presentation and monetisation. Could you explain how hover bridges this gap?
A:? As a professional blogger, one of my main problems has been monetising (making money) from my blog without compromising on user experience. Normally, a visitor does not like to see too many ads on a blog or a website. Most of the new visitors will turn away from the blog on seeing too many ads. Hover was born to address this pain point!
Hover.in is an in-text “customised content” and “customised ad” delivery platform for websites and blogs. It enables web publishers to link and monetise keywords or phrases within their existing content.
Till date, in-text technology has been primarily used only to display contextual ads – mostly automated, without any publisher control. However, with hover.in, publishers can create and customise the content appearing within the hover bubble (hoverlet). Hover.in goes even further, allowing the publisher to change the look and feel of the hoverlet as per the theme of the website or blog.
hover.in provides web publishers and bloggers with in-text customized content display. It also provides opportunities for contextual in-text ads for increased revenues to publisher. More information about hover.in from the PuneTech wiki:
Complete control of what appears within the hover window, via an administrative panel
Publishers can choose between hundreds of 3rd party contextual widgets or browse applications within the hover.in community
Improve reader engagement by displaying targeted content for particular key phrase of choice, or choose default applications
Customize the interface, add your own content or integrate advertisements from third party ad networks
Compared to how things were a few years back, the Startup Community has come together in such a fabulous way. We have OpenCoffee Club meets, Startup Lunches, Startup Saturdays, Mobile Mondays, Barcamps, Ideacamps etc, etc, and the plethora of other activities that organizations such as TiE, NEN, NASSCOM, etc are providing to benefit this same target audience.
All that said, we understand that most of these benefits are enjoyed by those who live in the major cities, and in most cases in the cities down south. There hasnt been much activities going on in cities such as Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkatta, Ahmedabad or any where in Kerala to bring the community together and to share, ask questions, and receive support from one another.
In an attempt to bridge that, we are hosting an online meet this Saturday at 3pm at http://chat.proto.in. Most of you would know how to login, and the process is quite simple. Visit the URL, enter a nickname and you could join in.
If you would be participating, do send a reply to this mail, and feel free to ask any questions if you do have any. You are also more than welcome to invite your friends, should they be interested, and ask them to join.