Starting a new innings

by Yash 0 Comments

I am hanging up my entrepreneur boots (for now) and beginning a new phase of my career. I have joined Schoolguru Eduserve as their VP of technology. SchoolGuru partners with leading universities and provides end to end online learning solutions.
sg
I have run Uconomix for 10+ years and I have spent 13 years in the  building software applications for various platforms. Building software is my passion. I love it. I did that at Uconomix but my last idea PhotoKeeper did not take off. So I think it is time for me to take break from the rigors of entrepreneurship and utilise my skills at another organisation and luckily I found an opportunity at Schoolguru.

A new journey begins.

PhotoKeeper is dead

by Yash 0 Comments

PhotoKeeper has been shut down. One and a half years of labour gone waste. Just 3 months into the launch. 12000 visitors to the site in the last 3 months, 300 signups, 12 paying subscribers. Visitors to subscribers ratio of 0.1%. That is not sustainable.

A had a captive target market of photographers who were already using my watermarking product uMark. More than 100000 email ids at launch. Don’t assume if you have a target audience they will still want your product. Do they really have a problem that you are solving? Even if they have the problem is your product really the one that solves it? When even photography blogs don’t bother covering your product despite repeated attempts you know you have created a product nobody wants.

Above all do you have money to carry on for a long period if your initial assumptions do not work out? If not do you have connections to raise funds? If you have neither don’t bother.

The joys and sorrows of being an entrepreneur!

Snapcast.in – share photos on multiple platforms at once

Snapcast.in – share photos on multiple platforms at once

We have just launched a new product – Snapcast.in. It is a web app to post photos on multiple platforms at once. Right now it can post photos on Facebook, Twitter, 500px and Flickr. What is special about Snapcast.in is that you can select platform specific properties for photos while posting them. So you can set keywords which will be used by 500px and Flickr and select a category for 500px. you can connect a Facebook profile, a Facebook page, a Twitter, 500px account and Flickr accounts. Once you have connected your various social profiles with Snapcast,in you can select up to 10 photos and post them at once on the selected platforms.

snapcast-post

The idea came to my mind for during my 365 project. Initially when I started the 365 project I used to go to each site manually and post my photo there. But doing that every day became cumbersome so eventually I stopped posting on other sites and was posting only on Facebook. Existing tools like Buffer do not have option of posting on 500px and Flickr.

Check out Snapcast.in

Do not use CCAvenue for international payments. It does not work!

I wasn’t completely happy with PayPal and was always on the lookout for a real payment gateway.

I don’t remember how but on the fateful day of 23 May 2014 I ended up at CCAvenue and signed up under their Privilege Scheme. They have two schemes one where you do not pay any setup fees but pay higher in card processing charges, second is where you pay one time setup fee and pay less in charges. And the stupid fuck that I am I chose the other one. I paid the setup fees on 27 May. Rs. 37,415.88.

I wanted USD processing. I asked for it specifically before paying the setup fees. I confirmed it with one of their reps from marketing department.

And the fun began. I had to provide them a list of documents, 13 to be precise. Even the Indian government doesn’t ask these many docs to issue a Passport!

Any way I provided the documents and my account was activated, I came to know I can not process USD!

Then I was told USD has a higher charge than what was promised to me earlier. I agreed. USD was enabled.

But it did not have MasterCard only Visa and American Express!

I contacted compliance team and I was informed on that it would take 15-20 working days to activate MasterCard.

After a long wait, some tweets, few phone calls and emails later MasterCard was enabled.

During the integration I realised the USD wasn’t actually enabled, again after a few emails and phone calls that too was enabled eventually.

And finally I went live with CCAvenue.

And first transaction failed! Card bin stop listed was the error I got. I asked one of my US based friends to test a payment and again the transaction ailed with same message.

When I asked CCAvenue about that I was told they are blocking certain international banks for fraud prevention. Perfectly valid cards are being denied just like that! Blanket ban all in the name of fraud prevention!

Fortunately the customer whose transaction failed later made another transaction using PayPal and it went through.

I asked CCAvenue to disable the BIN check for my account at first they just told me to ask my customers to pay using some other card!

Anyway after some haggling over phones and emails and after I demanded a refund of my setup fees, they switched the acquirer for my account. Previous it was ICICI then they switched it to something else Electra or Citi may be. I asked my friend in the US to try paying again and this time the payment went through. I thought finally things have been sorted out so I put CCAvenue live again.

And in last 2 days 7 transactions have failed! Only 2 went through, one paid on the third attempt, the second one paid using AmEx after his first attempt to pay using Visa failed. Rest all paid successfully after I routed them to PayPal. So 2 months and 37000 in setup fees later I am still sending my customers to PayPal.

I really don’t know what to do at this stage. All I wanted was ability to accept payments from my genuine customers who happen to be based outside India. I was using PayPal and I thought India’s oldest and largest payment gateway will make things easier and cheaper for me. But all I have faced is troubles. And my money that I paid as setup fees is stuck.

I don’t know who is at fault here, is it RBI and it’s stupid rules? Is it the paranoid acquiring banks or is it CCAvenue?

Paulo Coelho said when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it, but it seems in India if you just wish to accept payments from international customers the Indian financial system conspires in stalling you!

Reserve Bank of India and its senseless policies!

F*** you RBI! Because of YOU I can not use balance in my PayPal account to make a payment abroad! Every time I spend $$ for something where I could have used my PayPal balance I have to give a cut to some worthless Indian bank for using the credit card!

You know what, your stupid policies have made sure I will never launch a product or service for Indian audiences! When I launch my next subscription based idea I will register a company in the US just to be able to use something like Stripe!

And then people say why India doens’t have its Facebooks and Googles.

Gadhe jab desh ko chala rahe hai to desh ka kya ghanta kuchh hoga!!

Online personal diary

A lot has been done on the Internet to share stuff with people –

You want to share photos? There’s Flickr, Instagram, Facebook.
Wanna share status? Do so on Facebook and Twitter.
Share videos? YouTube.
Share location? Use Foursquare.
Want to share links? go to Reddit, Digg or StumbleUpon.
If you want to share your thoughts and ideas in details blog about it on WordPress and Tumblr.

But not everything is for sharing. Some things are personal. You want to keep them to yourself. There are certain things in our lives which we want to keep to ourselves or may be share it only with some people who are really close to us. Like a personal diary, sort of a semi autobiography.

I have kept a personal diary on and off in the past. Right now I am keeping a private blog on Tumblr. But I am not happy with it. An ideal personal diary service should motivate the user to write something daily. Something that will send me an email at the end of the day if I haven’t entered anything for today. And it should give me hints in the form of simple questions as t what I should be writing in the diary. Very simple hints like –

How was the day in general?
Did you meet anyone new today?
What did you have in lunch?
How was the school/college/office today?
Describe something funny that might have happened today.

That’s what I am building next. An online personal diary service. Such questions will be asked randomly, 2 or 3 different questions everyday. It will have a web interface, a mobile app and ability to add entries though email. You can just reply to the daily mail you received and it will be added to your diary.

There are a few decent online personal diary services out there. Most notable amongst them being Penzu, but its too feature rich, I like something with the simplicity and ease of use of Tumblr with the ability to add entries though email and hint questions.

I have created a survey to know people’s views about keeping a personal diary. You can take the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/personaldiary

The web version of this diary will be launched in a couple of weeks and mobile apps and more features will be released subsequently.

Bidding adieu to IT services

I started Uconomix in 2005. The intention was to build a company. A large company over a period of time. It’s been six years and I have seen lots of ups and downs. I started the company from a spare room in my house and moved into a proper office with a team of 8 at one point. Now I am scaling down. On May 31st I have stopped working on the IT services. All the people are gone except one.

What exactly is IT services?

In simple language, IT services is creating computer software for clients as per the requirements and maintaining it on a daily basis – fixing bugs, adding new features etc.

Why am I getting out of IT services?

It’s a bread and butter business
Providing IT services is not much different than working as a daily labourer. Difference being we work from an Air Conditioned Office and get paid more. But only if you are an employee. If you are an employer, it’s an earn-from-clients-and-pay-employees game for you. Revenue is directly proportional to the number of programmers you have.

Running a small IT services shop is a challenging task. Your playing field is way too small. The real juice and money lies in big mega contracts. Small companies only get small projects, small clients and small profits. Just enough to pay salaries of the team and the owner. And there is no inherent value of your business if you don’t have recurring income clients. And that is no different than a job.

It’s also a restless job. Yes it’s a job. 24×7. You will get a call from client at mid-night, on a weekend, on a vacation. And they expect you to take care of the problem immediately. Because they know you are a programmer and you have the means and capability to provide an instant solution.

People problem
IT services business is all about people. Employees want more cause larger players are paying more. If you can’t pay to that level good people will leave. You cannot really afford to pay that kind of salary because your client does not pay you what an Infosys’ client pays. Cause if client could afford to pay more why would he come to me in the first place? He would rather go to Infosys. So it’s a catch 22 situation.

Lack of passion amongst programmers is another reason. Nobody likes fixing bugs in code someone else has written. The best projects that pay well are also the lowest quality! You don’t get anything new to learn. That’s why they are most profitable because there are no challenging tasks, less chances of bugs, and overshooting the estimates. Really smart programmers will never work on such projects for long. They will move on no matter what you pay them.

And most of the new guys just get in the industry to make a quick buck. Nobody really cares about developing a solution for client’s problem. Everyone just thinks of it as writing code as per requirements.

Projects that go on forever
Software is funny thing. It’s too damn subjective. And there are One thousand dependencies. You take care of them all and your code will break on the issue number one thousand one! It will go on back and forth, forever. No matter how well you have defined the scope of the project, some items will never be agreed upon. Requirements will change constantly because clients are humans and humans are full of ideas. If people on the team change, new people will bring new ideas. Projects that are stretched beyond a limit start costing money to both sides and after a while the software becomes a nightmare for everyone. Seemingly simple tasks take so many iterations.

Client will say I need a registration form. You say it’s a couple of hours job. And you do have the form ready in couple of hours you show it to the client on your server. Now the game begins. Client will ask for changes in copy, font, colors, thank you message. Hey can you also capture the IP, the date of birth, the date of separation, number of cats, number of puppies your dog has, count of people killed by Rambo in all movies?! If you say no, client has the ultimate weapon, I won’t pay until this is added – its a small job. Yes its a small job but lots of small changes make it a big job!

Then you move it on client’s server. No one has the FTP info. It takes three days to get FTP info from client’s host then the email is not working. You spend your time figuring it out on client’s server why email is not working. And there you are. A simple registration form took you a week! Then client will say I will test this for a week and then pay you for the couple of hours!

It’s a small incident, but the story for larger projects is no different. Projects are stretched, you don’t get paid but you still have to pay the salary to your programmers.

Tired of begging money
It reminds me a dialogue from the movie Coolie starring Amitabh Bachhan. Bachhan works as a coolie and he says “Majdoor ka pasina sukhne se pehle use apni majdoori mil jani chahiye”. A labourer should get his wage before his sweat disappears. I wish it was true for IT industry as well.

Clients will never pay on time. Especially the Indian clients and especially the large Indian clients. One Indian client of ours paid after 1.5 years! A large fortune 500 company! That is ridiculous. They won’t pay any advance, they won’t pay in phases. And they won’t pay your usual rate. Why do you work for such clients then? To get the dues of the last project cleared you have to accept more projects!

As a businessman you are constantly thinking of meeting your costs for the month. A programmer working on a project is better than the one sitting idle. So you get sucked into the vicious circle. You start thinking in the terms of – Ok this project covers 3 programmers’ salary for a month. Take it. And you get taken! And once the project is done you virtually have to beg for your money from the mighty client! And client won’t pay till the nth grammatical error is fixed for the 835th time.

No clear direction
Seriously I was just running day by day. I had no goal whatsoever of where I want to take my business in one year, two years or five years. Business is good and you tend to just play along. And I spent six years doing just that. One day I woke up and said to myself. WTF am I doing? I was doing a job! I was going to office, communicating with clients, working with my programmers and coming back home. Taking a vacation a year and the life was a drab routine! This is definitely not what I had in mind when I started the company.

May be I was never into IT services. I never really wanted to become next Infosys or Wipro. IT services was meant to be the bread and butter that will find the development of the real thing. Products! But that never really happened. Way back in 2006 I had created uMark – my first product and at one point I was selling 100 licenses a month! Life was so good. But the IT services side was so better then because of its seemingly larger cash flow that I virtually neglected the product for next 5 years! Biggest blunder of my life!

But better late then never.

So what’s next?

I am back to products. I have let everyone on my team go except one guy named Arokkia. And we have just launched a new version of uMark. I have many more products ideas in mind and soon I will decide upon the next product.

I was really inspired by the story of Nirav Mehta. Nirav is one guy I have always followed. Nirav was my first boss at Magnet. He inspired me to start my company. Magnet was in fact a breeding lab for entrepreneurs. Many of my ex Magnet colleagues are running their own small companies today. Nirav’s is an amazing story. He made Magnet really successful in IT services business but then had to scale down drastically probably because of similar circumstances. But he rose back like a phoenix. He built a products business from scratch. His success story was probably the impetus I needed to make the tough decision to close my IT services business.

I am lucky that I already have a super star product in uMark with more than 3000 customers. As I write this post, my existing customers are upgrading to the latest version of uMark and I don’t have to beg for the money! And I know that my software is making some difference to their lives.

Bye bye IT services. I will not miss you.

Why am I an entrepreneur

by Yash 4 Comments

I guess I was an entrepreneur since my schools days, while in school I used to write comic books. Super hero comic books. I had my own characters, I would write the stories, and draw the comics although the readership was limited to my class mates, I guess that was my first entrepreneur venture. As a kid you are full of energy and kids want some way to use the energy. Most kids spend it playing cricket or video games. We did not have any neighbours back then and certainly no video games so my energy found a creative vent in the form of comics creation. It was more of a hobby but it was different than what all of my friends were doing.

After college I started my professional career. I am a computer programmer by profession. Why I chose this profession? Cause my mom wanted me to learn computers and one of my cousins had been in this field and had shifted to US. I did not have any Greencard dreams but I guess my mother certainly did (She still has!). So because of her insistence I landed at NIIT center just to enquire about basic computer courses and the counselor sold me and my dad on a 3 year programming course! I didn’t really enjoy it for the first couple of semesters until I started learning Visual Basic. Learning VB was really fun because our faculty was a good programmer herself and she would give us assignments which were not in the book. I learnt to find my way through and started enjoying the programming challenges. By the time I finished the NIIT course and my graduation, I was game on the career I’d choose. From the original batch of 30 odd students in that course, I am the only one who is in the IT field today and I still enjoy the programming!

So I joined a small company as a programmer and then went on to join Mastek – a large IT company. Soon I got frustrated at Mastek. In the small company I knew how things worked, I knew how I could get projects from freelancing sites and earn a good side income. I joined Mastek hoping I would get some insights into how things worked at a large concern. CMM level 5 was a big deal then. I got frustrated at Mastek because everything was done by the book and by the rule. My frustration grew over the fact that they were paying engineers more than me because they had the BE degree and I was a mere BCom. That I had experience of 1.5 years on Microsoft technologies did not really matter. I figured this difference will remain throughout my career. And even before I had joined Mastek I had decided I am gonna have my own company someday. (During my first job interview my boss had asked me where do you see yourself five years from now and I had replied – “I see myself running a company like you!”) Getting a degree like MBA only for career progression didn’t really appeal to me cause I figured I could do some more useful things in that time. So I started mulling the option of starting on my own.

I knew I could get freelance project from sites like eLance and RentACoder and I thought I can employ a few programmers who would write the code and I can have a business! I started bidding and soon landed a project that was matching my annual pay at Mastek! That was the moment, I put in my papers at Mastek and started hunting for programmers to employ. I found some ex-programmers from my previous employer who were willing to join me. I had spare computers at home from one of my earlier venture – a computer coaching class – that came in handy. And thus I became an entrepreneur. I stared from a spare room in my home, put computers and recruited three programmers.

Its been five years since I started my own company. I have a team of 8 people now and we work from an office. I haven’t grown the business much in the past five years. But considering that I did not take any partner or any outside investment, I guess I have done well. My initial investment in business was about Rs. 2,00,000. From then to here. Without any help, on my own I guess that’s an achievement!

Most of all entrepreneurship gives me freedom and a sense of ownership and fame! I can come to office anytime I want. I work from home, often at night. The best part – I work on things that I like the most! I am a programmer and I love writing new programmes. Being an entrepreneurs I can work on my pet project during the day time! At work and still get paid for it ;) I have launched several products under the brand of my company which started as my pet projects and there are tons of semi finished products lying on my computer.

Another motivating factor behind me being an entrepreneur is fame. Since childhood I have liked being in the limelight, and being the center of attraction. If I creating a ground breaking software for a large company or even small company its that company and its founders who are going to get the recognition. Ratan Tata gets credit for creating Tata Nano, Bill Gates steals the show for Windows, Narayan Murthy gets the accolades for Infosys scaling new heights. If I work for another entrepreneur, he will get the fame for my hard work. If I work for myself, the fame would be mine! I am not coy about it! I want to get recognised for my hard work. I want to see my photo on the first page of some newspapers somewhere down the line. I can achieve that only by working for myself and not for someone else.

And money is of course a motivating factor. If I manage to build a successful business I will reap huge dividends. And I will get recognised too! Its a gamble for sure – entrepreneurship is fraught with risks and sacrifices have to me made. But I am in the game for name, fame and money. I don’t mind if it comes a bit late. Better late than never! And I am sure I will achieve what I am set out to achieve.

Real purpose of an entrepreneur

Read this article Find Your Purpose by Roy Spence on Entrepreneur.com.

The author is talking about the purpose of an entrepreneur. He says entrepreneurs should think about improving people’s lives and not about making money. To an extent he is right, but rest is BS! The guy is trying to sell his book! Purpose of the business is to make money! Entrepreneurs get in the business to make more money! Not because they want to change the world!

Roy says if you think about improving people’s life, create value for them the money will follow. I agree with that – nobody’s gonna pay you for a product that doesn’t solve a problem. BUT I don’t agree with the ideology behind that! It’s a simple fact that you should make what you can sell and not the other way round. The motivating factor is money! Not some inner desire to improve the world and blah blah! Nobody gives a damn whether you start a business or not!

Entrepreneurs have two motives – fame and money. The notion of making a difference, improving people’s lives etc are driven by these two motivating factors. I want fame, recognition and I want to be rich? How? Okay people have this problem, lets solve the problem and I will make money. Most of the entrepreneurs think that way. Its not like oh People have this problem, lets do something for them. Such people are rare and they start Wikipedias and Craigslists of the world, not Googles or Microsofts or Apples! People with such noble intentions go and do relief work in Africa, not start companies.

When people sell you something they don’t want to improve your life! They want to improve their own lives by improving your life!