“Call me Deepak. Some years ago, never mind how long precisely, nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”
The previous quote, a bit modified, was from Melville’s Moby Dick, as some of you might have noticed. Since the quote, ever so perfectly, captures my state of mind while having left my home and exploring the New World, I decided to have it as the opening sentence. Looking back and dashing forward to cross the 1000th day of my life as an entrepreneur, I found it just amazing that it changed my life and gave me much much more than I bargained for!
Deepak, Abhinav, Ashwin and Hisam — four engineering students from LBS College of Engineering, Kerala, had one thing in common: not to join the rat race of job seekers and a passion to do something new. Innoz was born in 2008.
Starting up young has enough advantages – chasing dreams with no other commitments and, people care more.
Finding a great team is really crucial. They should be convinced that this is going to work if we all put together. The team should be complimentary in skills, same in attitude. College is a good place to find it, as there would be plenty of raw skills and young blood.
We developed our first product, SMSGYAN, from our college dorm room. Also a college final year project, the service attracted millions of students through pure word of mouth empowering them with instant informations – be it a Q&A or a LIVE cricket score.
Chase a market which is bigger and brighter. Keep the technology minimum so that people can easily understand. Solve a problem. The SMSGYAN idea was hatched one day when one of my co-founders was in transit and wanted to know the meaning of a word and found that his basic phone was of no use to get the information. We realised that this is quite common for people on the move and especially in a country like India, where mobile penetration have already overtaken that of the personal computer and Internet penetration, this would be a good opportunity.
Mentorship is extremely important even more than funding for young startups. Lack of experience can only be matched with advice and inspiration from the veterans. Advice is FREE, never take too much of it but take a handful. Angels moreover treat you as family, take you home and get you dinner. You need to find some people like that – preferably within the business you are in.
Practice story telling. Entrepreneurs should be good storytellers. Because when there is a story to the media and people, they will follow you. Keep them posted about your updates, let them know how we are doing things. Take external sources of funds only when necessary. Your clients are your biggest investors. Partner with the best, partner with big clients – the advantage of partnering with big clients is that we can learn more from them in terms of corporate culture and bring them inside. The best way to impress your clients is your response time. Be it small or large, they will like it. Remember, relationships build business. And this is the right way to build respectable brands.
One of my mentors always says – you have to think of ways and means to survive the downturn and to emerge as a stronger company. Keep expenses at the bare minimum as it’s easy to spend out hard to earn. Also keeping the team together is a challenge but the core strength lies in the team. I would not have been able to drive up Innoz unless we had a strong operational team behind me working 24X7.
Never fear of competition. The dominance of companies over this field never bothered us because only when something new comes up do people realize the opportunities and opt for the new product to make life more comfortable. Take it as a challenge. Trust me, when there is competition, there is business!
Innovation is inevitable when it comes to doing well in business. Making good products is the backbone of any company. Our motto was pretty simple: “Never try to beat anybody, only try and beat ourself by innovating all the time. “Don’t ever listen to what people say to shoot down your ideas. There would be a million times where people tell you that you can’t live your dreams – Never Say Never!
At the end of the day, it’s your dream – your biggest inspiration. Entrepreneurship cannot be taught. The best way is to experiment. No one stops you from doing it. Be it a success or a failure, the learning curve is worth more than anything. Keep a very high and positive frame of mind. Realize that our brains, passion and intelligence are second to none in the world. If a Silicon Valley exists with brains of twenty something’s creating some of the most exciting businesses and Fortune 500 companies, so can we ride a buoyant economy, innovate and create successful brands and businesses.
About the author: Deepak Ravindran is Co-founder and CEO of Trivandrum-based Innoz Technologies, a fast-track startup in the area of mobile and wireless. He was recently named one of the MIT Technology Review outstanding innovators under 35 for Innoz’s flagship product, SMSGYAN, an SMS-based mobile search engine. The company was founded in 2008 by Ravindran and three college buddies.