Bootstrapping A Tech Product Company From India

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Some of us have worked relentlessly for decades to bring about the change in India from a largely services-driven technology industry to one that today produces credible products sold all over the world.

Ameyo is one of the early examples of this shift, and CEO Sachin Bhatia, an early visionary in this journey. Sachin is also a long-term reader of this blog. It is always a great pleasure for me to do the Entrepreneur Journeys of my long time readers who have benefited from these stories and the invaluable lessons shared by so many entrepreneurs since 2006.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s go to the beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born and raised? What kind of background did you have?

Sachin Bhatia: I was born in New Delhi, India. I graduated from IIT. I’m a computer science graduate. I did my Bachelors in Computer Science in 2001. I have my whole family in India. My father was in the manufacturing business. In our college days, we thought that India should make some more products. That is how the journey started. I started this with a couple of my batchmates at IIT.

Sramana Mitra: You started it right after IIT?

Sachin Bhatia: No, we started when we still had jobs. The idea was started in IIT. I used to tell this story to all our early hires and it’s good to repeat. In early 2001 to 2002, we used to ask folks to give us five global companies that they respect in IT. People used to say Microsoft, Oracle, Adobe, Google, and HP.

After that, we would tell them to give us 5 Indian companies that you respect. They would say TCS, Cognizant, and HCL. This question was such a disturbance. Why is it that there is no product company out of India? You could count them on one finger. This question kept bugging us. It was there at the back of our minds. We joined our jobs. I joined a company called Geeks Software Systems.

Me and my co-founder Bishal used to do telephone stacks. We were trying to seek counsel on this question. In 24 months, we decided that we would try it out because in either case if we fail, we will know the answer. If we succeed, we would have found the answer.

Sramana Mitra: If you were following the blog for a long time, you know that in 2005 when I started this blog, I was writing extensively about this topic. The topic of needing product companies and the need to move India from a service industry to a product industry. Zoho was the first big example that I found that broke out into the world. I met Sridhar in 2007. Now it’s great.

Sachin Bhatia: He is a hero in the community here. Even before that, there were Tali and Vedika. You could count the product companies in India on one hand. That was the motivation — not the domain and the idea of the product but just the idea that there has to be a product company out of India.

Sramana Mitra: I did a product company out of India back in 1997. I raised venture capital in Silicon Valley. It was an absolutely uphill task. No one would believe that you could build a product in India and sell it globally. It was an absolute nightmare. It was early.

Sachin Bhatia: Those were the days when the company used to be called Drishti instead of Ameyo. There is a story behind that also. When we were leaving the company we asked ourselves, “What do we have? Is it a product idea or it is a domain?” All you have is a vision. We were absolutely in love with Sanskrit, so we named it Drishti.

Sramana Mitra: What did you do in 2003 when you were getting started?

Sachin Bhatia: We all came from a middle-class background. There was no option of raising capital. We didn’t know how to do that. We were doing it all out from IIT and into our jobs. We invested 1.5 to 2 lakhs.

Our first job was to make sure that we had enough money to build a product. For the first one and a half years, we did a few service projects. We could build anything, so we said, “Let’s just make sure that we have enough money to bootstrap this business.”

From 2004 to 2005, we were picking up projects in the space that we knew well. We were able to generate around $100,000 which we used to bootstrap our company. We were getting more service projects, but we said, “Okay, now is the time to execute the plan for the product.” We diverted all the resources to the product.

There is a story behind how we discovered our first product. We asked ourselves what we could make. There were a few ideas in the telecom space. The first idea was that we could run the whole telecom company on a Lynx. People were buying Sony Ericsson and Nokia and you could actually run a telecom through a Lynx box. That was a great idea.

For validation, we started to look for pin codes in other countries that would pick up this idea. We couldn’t even get a meeting with them. After that, we thought that this could be a wrong idea. There was one idea that actually clicked.

At that time, there were these small BPOs in India. There were a lot of calls happening in India across the US and the UK. This was a telephone card that used to go in a server and then into a socket. This is a very expensive card. That idea clicked. We were now selling to small and medium businesses, and could run a contact software on the Lynx box.

Even if I charged half the license cost, our margins were still high because there was no hardware involved. That idea got us our first million in a couple of years of running this product. That is how the contact software happened. This was off serendipity.

We were trying to find out which spaces we could build our product on and find the customer. Back in 2005, we knew that it had to be a contact center because there was very good traction. That is how the journey of how Ameyo started.

Our conversation continues here.

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Founder of the 1M/1M global virtual incubator