Arjun R Pillai is one of the founders and the CEO of Profoundis, where Nithin Sam Oommen, Anoop Thomas Mathew and Jofin Joseph are the other founders. The four belong to the 2010 batch of CEC, and have been proactive members of the batch during their stay in the campus. Their dream, as the CEO puts it, Profoundis, has been making a commendable growth which CEC can be proud of. Today, Arjun talks to us about their journey.
How it started
It was June 2010 and I was graduating as an Engineer from College of Engineering Chengannur with 3 good placements. I had a fully worked out (inside) plan by then. By third year end, I had decided that I was taking the management route and not technology (Nothing against technology, I liked it and was pretty good at it, but I liked management more). So my game plan was to get an MBA:
- Crack GMAT in a decent way
- Join a company and work for 2 years.
- One year into corporate, apply for my MBA in Top 100 Business Schools in USA and get through (hopefully)
- So I could resign from my job after gaining 2 years of experience.
Note: My calculation was 4 years of engineering (decent academics), 6 years of IEEE volunteering including international roles and recognitions, good GMAT, good recommendation (again IEEE), thought-through MBA application can land me up in a GOOD business school.
We make plans and life unfolds.
So I started executing my plan. I cracked GMAT with 700 (90 percentile I think), joined Infosys and started off my career. Unlike many of the experiences you read, Infosys was great for me. I had all my friends with me (that is why I chose Infosys), I got a great technology (SAP Business Intelligence) to work with, a great development project and amazing managers.
1 year into corporate, ‘doing something of my own’ started gripping me. Parallelly there were a lot of discussions on our alumni page about starting up. When I got an idea, I called up 3 people and all 3 of them said YES. Thus, Anoop, Jofin, Nithin and myself became THE team. We planned for almost 9 months while working.
After thinking some backup plans, we decided to take the leap of faith. Thinking back, I had absolutely no clue of what I was getting into. I didn’t know about company, startup, entrepreneurship, teams, or even registration of company. And hence started the greatest learning journey of my life.
We failed, failed again, failed again until it felt like we are starting to change the world
I believe that there are two ways to startup (1) Young and Stupid (2) Old and Wise. We were (1). We had 24 hours of our time, bone breaking effort, happy faces and stupid thoughts to believe that we could do it. Our first product failed at concept stage, second one failed at half-build, third one at full-build, marketing and initial traction.
In all fairness, a startup might probably have 1 up for every 10 downs (if you are lucky). I would categorize ourselves as lucky because at different points of time, we got a few achievements:
- We got into startup village.
- We got top 5 startup award from Startup village
- We got into Microsoft Ventures accelerator
- We got into Startup Chile program (first external funding of 40,000 USD as grant)
- We got into Blackbox Connect Silicon valley program.
- We got some amazing mentors.
To build a business, you should always cater to problems/needs of people. According to Paul Graham of YCombinator, the best entrepreneurs are the ones solving their own problem. While doing marketing and selling for our failed product, I noticed my problem and we decided to solve my problem with a product – Vibe. Vibe started attracting people and we slowly began to understand that we were onto something.
More problem came our way, but we kept forging ahead.
Having a few things going your way just doesn’t cut it in a startup, because there are far too many things that are going way off. While Startup Chile grant kept us going for sometime, we needed to raise money as external investment and being the CEO, the responsibility was on me. With no prior experience, I started the ‘Fundraising’ activity which is arguably the most difficult job in a startup. I got calls, meetings with many investors; they gave me all good words except ‘Yes, I will put money’. I might have went into some 60+ meetings without ‘Yes’.
And finally, Yess started coming; It is bound to; when you try with all your heart, mind and soul, it will come some day. Right. We started hiring, growing our ‘Profoundis team’ (our public pride) into a globally known product.
Where are we now?
Oh. Now? We are doing alright. We grew from a team of 4 into 72 when I’m writing this (hopefully more by the time it comes online). We have filed couple of patents for our technology algorithms. We have over 100,000 users from over 150 countries. We are serving over 100 companies in some way.
About the journey
The journey so far with Profoundis is like a longest, most thrilling roller coaster ride. An entrepreneurial journey is one of the most humbling and gratifying journeys.
- Everyday you learn something more – I made some 14 financial sheets before my financial projections started reflecting what I had in mind.
- You meet amazing people – when I was at Infosys, I used to talk to my HR. Now I can talk to Kris Gopalakrishnan himself.
- You see your impact – when I walk in our office now with 70+ people on either sides, trust me, nothing gives more happiness than direct impact to them, their families and even our country
- You start appreciating everything and everyone – I was in Silicon Valley with zero dollars in my wallet. I’m not sure whether my credit card is working. I went into an empty Chinese restaurant and requested the shopkeeper to swipe my card; if money comes, give me food, else don’t.
- You become a better professional – You get better at managing time, money, pressure, team, communication and even your ego.
Way forward – Off and away. #Godspeed
I will keep this short for now. In all probabilities, we are up for an amazing road ahead. 🙂