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Saturday, 30 July 2016

23-year-old Akshay Ahuja’s RoboChamps reaches 500 schools and 20,000 students through robotics learning

An alumnus of Chitkara University, Akshay Ahuja was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug at the age of 19. In the second year of his college, he undertook two projects-teaching school students basic circuits and electronic-related concepts, and a six-week industrial training for B.Tech students.
Akshay Ahuja, Founder, RoboChamps
Luckily, he managed to get 29 B.Tech students from all across Chandigarh to train them on the use and functioning of Atmega8 IC technology. Building a teaching centre while still a student was a challenging task. The students were provided training on the roof of a building under construction.

What caught Akshay’s attention was the speed at which kids at the summer camp were learning, in comparison to BTech students. This instigated him to try an experiment. He put one of the kids, Aryaman Verma, from the summer camp workshop in the industrial programme with the B.Tech students. To his surprise, the nine-year-old learnt the Atmega8 IC technology better than the B.Tech students. This confirmed to Akshay the need for RoboChamps, which he then launched in 2013 in Chandigarh.

Creation of robotics module

RoboChamps creates robotics modules for students to help understand various scientific and technological concepts. These modules are made keeping in mind the relevance they hold to the different scientific and mathematics concepts students learn in schools.

According to Akshay, the components for every kit are sourced from different parts of the country, including Delhi and Chennai. Some more sophisticated components like breadboards are imported from China. Currently, RoboChamps has close to 40 such modules.

The startup conducts workshops in its academies and has tied up with various schools to conduct open workshops. With the intention of giving back to the society, RoboChamps also conducts free workshops in slums.

We do not rent out or buy entire properties for our academies. Instead, we have tie-ups with different schools and organisations that allow us to use their premises for the required hours of coaching,” explains Akshay.
Bootstrapping

Akshay bootstrapped RoboChamps with his own money of Rs 20,000. More than the financial hurdles he found it difficult to get the right set of talent that was equally motivated. Other challenge he faced was the multiple rejections from schools, which found it difficult to trust a young entrepreneur.

Akshay Ahuja with students
In January 2013, RoboChamps' module was rejected by close to 50 schools. Akshay one day visited a well-known school in Jagraon, a district in Ludhiana and got the chance to meet the principal, who was impressed by the learning method. That’s how RoboChamps got its first client.

Overcoming all the initial hiccups, RoboChamps just started to take off, when Akshay’s co-founder scooted with all the money the company earned in the initial few months. With no resources left, Akshay had to put in a considerable amount of money again and start from scratch.

Today, RoboChamps has 10 academies and 50 teachers who regularly conduct classes and workshops in different cities in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, and has covered more than 500 schools and reached 20,000 students.
Creating a network of schools

RoboChamps will be conducting an event, Build Your Bot, on August 28, in Gurugram. It is set to bring together around 20,000 students and help RoboChamps associate with more than 100 schools from Delhi-NCR region as well.

For the upcoming Build Your Bot event, we require a good amount of money. But all of that will be raised through students’ fee and sponsorship deals. The money raised through the event will be used to open more eobotics academies in the coming years,” Akshay adds.

The robotics courses are priced at Rs 1,600 per month for a 16-hour training period, including training services. The company targets students from Classes III to XII. By the end of 2016, it is looking to open 32 robotics academies, in cities like Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Bathinda, Amritsar and Chandigarh.

Market overview

A recent report by Research and Markets estimates that the global industrial robotics market was $28.22 billion in 2014, and is predicted to reach $41.18 billion by 2020 at a CAGR of 6.5 percent for the period. Schools are now increasingly focussing on incorporating robotics learning as a part of the regular curriculum, and startups have sensed this as a huge business opportunity.

Similar to RoboChamps, Noida-based Robotech Labs is a service provider in robotics and embedded education that conducts training workshops for colleges. Jay Robotix built the ROBOX line of educational robotic kits for K-12 students, which include building blocks.Robotix Learning Solutions provides robotics-based STEM education to students from Classes IV-XII.

Friday, 29 July 2016

[Startup of the day] How two friends from Jaipur set up a global polo equipment brand

Two friends took the old adage ‘choose a job that you love and you will never have to work a day in your life’ to heart when they started up. For, Jai Singh and Vikramaditya, friends from Mayo College, bonded over their love for horses. The two would end up spending hours on end at the stables at their college.

“We would admire the beautiful imported riding gear that some of the students had. But what we found frustrating was that quality polo equipment and gear were not available in India, and if one had to buy, imported products were the only option. This frustration later became the seed idea that resulted in the formation of Polofactory,” says 31-year-old Jai.

Dedicated to polo and horses, Polofactory was established in Jaipur in 2012 to manufacture polo equipment and luxury lifestyle merchandise that is inspired by horses and polo. The brand’s luxury lifestyle merchandise includes clothing, accessories and luggage.

Polofactory today caters to different polo clubs, teams and patrons and also organises polo holidays across UK, New Zealand, Argentina and India. The team also provides consulting support on team management, tournament organisation, off-site polo events and polo infrastructure development.

Jai Singh(L) and Vikramaditya(R)
Bringing in the quality

The ride however wasn’t easy for the team. The duo had begun with their journey with building their signature product – the polo saddle.

Vikramaditya had gone on to work in New Zealand under the tutelage of Ross Ainsely, a leading polo pony trainer. He spent six years there learning more and more about horses and realised that the equipment one uses makes a major impact on the psyche and the body of the horse and therefore effects the performance of both the rider and the horse.

While the idea was strong, they found it difficult to convince artisans to work in a particular way, stick to the design given, and use the best leather, quality threads, rivets and other raw materials. Jai adds,

We would reject most of what was made. Most people kept suggesting that we needed to cut a few corners, else the final product would be too expensive and no one would buy it.

There was some truth in what was said, as the cost of making their products turned out to be three times higher. Thus, their final product cost much higher than what people were used to paying. However, the duo were sure that the quality and durability wasn’t something they were willing to compromise.

When the duo found that the utility of Polofactory’s products was limited to polo players and horsemen, they decided to take polo and horses to everyone else, by venturing into fashion and lifestyle.Also read: This trio is ‘Making in India’ for the European markets

Spreading the reach

The core team at Polofactory currently comprises concepts and product design team, accounts, digital and offline sales, distribution, production and polo and horse training. Jai adds that the people on the team come from varied backgrounds like advertising, banking, software engineering, design & visual arts, polo, and NGOs.

Polofactory claims to clock a revenue growth of 18x since the time of its inception. From supplying to 10 clients in 2012-13, in 2015-16, Polofactory supplies to over nine countries including UK, Zambia, Australia, USA, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland, Kuwait, Kenya and Qatar.

Polofactory supplies equipment for over 300 horses and over a 100 players and to almost all leading Indian polo professionals like Samsheer Ali, Lokendra Ghanerao, Simran Shergill, Abhimanyu Pathak, Gaurav Sahgal and Uday Kalaan.

It also has now has begun to export to clients, like Micmar Polo, and Surrey Polo, across the globe. The startup aims to be the global leader in polo equipment. The current revenue model is a mix of direct online retail and wholesale supply to teams, clubs and stores.Also read: This Make In India ‘chair’ brings you closer to health and wellness goals

Smattering of equipment suppliers and manufacturers

However, polo is a niche sport in the country restricted to royalty, people in the army and a few teams. In India, there are several unbranded companies around regions like Kanpur that produce the leather equipment needed for the sport.

There also is SC Baug & Co in Kolkata that is known to produce bamboo balls and other equipment. Then there is SK Saddlery, which is a Kanpur-based polo equipment supplier, which claims that 85 percent of the equipment it sells is produced by artisans around Kanpur, and there also is Shamlal & Sons. However international brands like Casablanca, Oakley for Polo Glasses are still considered among the best.

Currently, Polofactory’s focus is to achieve better global presence. Jai adds that they are working hard to be more accessible to customers across the globe. The team intends to emphasise more on direct retail – online and offline and eventually distribute as a mono brand concept store that works on the franchise model.

“Such stores would be one-stop shops for the best in polo – equipment, fashion and services. Our current website is modelled on this idea. We are hard on expanding our product range and on increasing the brand’s visibility to move to this model. On the polo front we want to collaborate, provide support, co-brand with the biggest polo events in the world,” explains Jai.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Ten Year Old Indian Boy Is Addicted to Dog Milk

Meet Mohit Kumar, a 10-year-old boy from Manaitand, India, who has been feasting on dog milk ever since he was four. His parents are desperate to get him to stop sucking the milk of stray bitches in their town, but so far they’ve been unable to find a way.

Mohit was weaned at two years, but at the age of four he developed a rather strange habit – sucking the milk of stray bitches. “Once Mohit was playing with stray dogs outside and happened to suck on the breasts of a bitch. Since then he does the same whenever he gets a chance to do so,” his mother Pinky says. “Bitches of the area have also taken a liking to him and feed him whenever Mohit wants them to.” His worried parents don’t even allow the boy to go outside without supervision, for fear that he will seek out stray bitches to get his milk fix, but he sometimes gives them the slip. “We do not even allow him to go to school fearing that this habit may only get worse,” Pinky adds.

Photo: Ruptly/YouTube screengrab
Most of the female dogs in Manaitand know Mohit and let him suck on their breasts, but the boy did get in some trouble recently when a a bitch from another colony bit him. His parents had to take him to Patliputra Medical College Hospital (PMCH) for treatment, and he is now taking vaccine to avoid rabies, but they have no way of preventing this from happening in the future, as Mohit’s craving for dog milk seems insatiable.

The fact that Mohit was born mute makes matters even more complicated for his parents, who have trouble understanding what makes dog milk so appealing to him. Sometimes he runs off, and it’s only after neighbors come to complain about him sucking on the breasts of strays in the streets that they that his family learns what he was up to.

Speaking about the boy’s unusual addiction Dr D K Singh said that dog milk “is not hazardous to human life, but the risk of rabies infection is always there.” I’d say rabies is pretty hazardous to human life…

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Delhi-based student deals platform BigDeal raises funding from EVC Ventures

BigDeal, a discovery platform for students looking for discounts, has raised Pre Series-A funding from EVC Ventures. The round was led by Anjli Jain, Managing Partner, EVC Ventures.
(From L-R), Ashish Singh and Damanpreet Singh
The platform will use the funding to expand the team, further enhance its technology and pursue customer and merchant acquisition. It says that it is aiming for a tenfold growth in customers over the next six months and an increase in transactions per customer by 2.5 to 3 times a day.

“As a student, it was always difficult to find deals online or offline, relevant to our pockets. We as students have limited spending power, however, no platform curates discounts and deals exclusively for students,” says Aashish Singh, Founder and CEO, BigDeal. He has recently graduated from the Birla Institute of Technology.

He adds that he wanted to solve this pain point and founded BigDeal as a platform to help connect students and merchants.

BigDeal’s tech was upgraded with the I-MADE Platform and is now the exclusive student discount platform for 35,000 institutions in India. It says that with this platform, it aims to help 20 million students save more money. It is present throughout the student ecosystem including deals, coupons, food, mobile recharges, online shopping and commuting.

It is currently live in more than 25 colleges in India and the US and has deals offered by more than 500 merchants. It aims to generate 1,000 transactions per day with 80 percent repeat users within the next few months.

According to the platform, the app aims to be both a discovery platform for students looking for discounts and a significant sales channel for merchants looking to tap the 16-25 year-old demographic, enabling retailers to operate a single cohesive student programme. Merchants can maintain the supply of real-time deals to students across sectors like, food & beverage, travel, mobile recharges and e-commerce with a hassle free, just-in-time platform to market their services.

"BigDeal is targeting one of the most sought after market segments- college students. And with its partnership with I-MADE, it is positioned strategically to be a leader in the space,” says Anjli Jain, Partner, EVC.

According to an estimate, O2O is a $40 billion market and various platforms are competing in it. Nearbuy (formerly Groupon), Crown-it and Little are the behemoths in the segment.

Last July, Zovi founders Manish Chopra and Satish Mani jumped on this bandwagon with the launch of Little, an app-only consumer lifestyle deals marketplace. They also raised $50 million in funding, led by Paytm along with a big, unnamed investor, with participation from existing investors, SAIF Partners and Tiger Global Management.

Starting out with a couple of rounds of angel investments, Crownit raised $5.5 million in a Series A round of funding from Accel Partners and Helion Venture Partners in May 2015.

Last August, Groupon India, the daily deals and local commerce company, rebranded itself as Nearbuy, in which its US-based parent firm, Groupon, does not hold a majority stake. Sequoia Capital, a venture capital firm specialising in startup investments, helped Groupon India split from its Chicago-headquartered parent firm.


Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Eyesight for the blind — Aami using NLP research to make reading easy

Four engineers — from different engineering streams and different schools — came together in Bengaluru over an idea that could make an impact on children’s lives. Nagasravya Tandule (21-years), Vikram Rastogi (24-years), Aneesh Durg (19-years) and Piyush Anand (20-years) met through online engineering forums to build a device that could make reading easy for dyslexics and the blind. According to the UN, there are a total of 15 million blind people in India, of which 25 percent are children. There are no numbers to estimate the total dyslexics in the country The four engineers wanted to go after this segment because of their expertise in Natural Language Processing technologies. In computing language, NLP means that the machine is trained to use human languages to communicate with people.


The beginning

The idea was born — in October 2015 — at ISM Dhanbad, where Nagasravya was in her final semester. She created a framework for a device that could use natural language processing algorithms and read books like a normal human being. She contacted Vikram Rastogi in Bengaluru, through a post on a social media channel that he was scouting to partner with projects that could change India. Vikram, being an IIT-Kanpur alum from 2012, was keen on working with ideas that could be challenging from a technology perspective and also from a social perspective. He was also awed by the entire IoT revolution that was sweeping the world. That’s why he teamed up with Nagasravya in January this year to build an affordable ring device that could read books. “The idea was to design and build a product that could be affordable and whose production could be scaled up to different markets,” says Nagasravya, Co-founder of Aami.

They were quickly joined by two more partners, Aneesh Durg and Piyush Anand. Aneesh is a sophomore engineer at the University of Illinois who again through a social media post discovered Nagasravya and Vikram. Piyush was Nagasravya’s junior at ISM. The company they formed was called Aami (‘ami’ in French means ‘friend’) and so was their NLP device. The four founders have invested a little less than Rs 3 lakh on their idea and have demonstrated the robustness of their product at SAP Labs and places like FICCI in Delhi.

The product is built on Python and C++ using open-source libraries like OpenCV and Tesseract. The four founders say that their product can identify text of variable sizes, fonts and orientation.

"It costs less than the commercial solutions currently available in the market," says Vikram, Co-founder of Aami. The best Braille reader machine costs $13,000 and the cheapest ones are around $1250. Aami is supposed to be one-tenth of that cost.

The company's product is still in the R&D phase and iswaiting to be signed up with hospitals and schools to spread the idea of using such a product for the blind. The product is worn on the index finger when the magic begins. Its powerful camera (working with software that behaves like the eye and the brain) reads every word in a jiffy. The product works on battery and for an hour's charge the device performs for over eight hours. It is also connected to an inbuilt speaker which reads out words to the user.

Several of the IoT companies in the market today, among which IoTranic, Altiux and Cooey are a few, are Aami’s competitors.

"Any company needs to validate the product in the market and only then will they be able to figure out the next phase of the product," says V Ganapathy, CEO of Axilor Ventures.

It would be nice to see Aami progressing beyond the idea phase, and to achieve that, the four entrepreneurs are in talks with a few companies to build a pilot case study to make reading easy for the blind. Let Aami be their friend.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Indore and Mumbai based Tsar Watches is building a lifestyle brand around wooden watches

Few products have undergone an evolution as dramatic as the watch has over the years. From being a useful tool for telling the time, it became a fashion accessory and post-that, a wearable communication device. Today, the Burberrys, Fossils and Calvin Kleins watch in dismay as Apple and Google make a forays into the market. It was in this scenario that two entrepreneurs with an artistic bend of mind dared to launch a wooden analog watch brand recently. Tsar (meaning Emperor in Russian) is a lifestyle watch brand that sells wooden watches.

Team Tsar Watches
Driven by the passion for introducing eco-friendly and sustainable products, the Tsar founders advocate craftsmanship and vintage fashion. Based in Indore and Mumbai, Tsar Watches sold 72 watches within four months and had a revenue of Rs 3.15 lakhs in that period. “Today, we get around 300 visitors on our website and around 80 collaboration requests every day,” shares Co-founder Abdul Kadir Bhandari (23). Abdul, along with his friend Haider Ali Lashkar (23), founded the startup in September 2015. Most of this traction has been from India and the Middle East and recently, they started operations in Africa. For the Southern India operations, however, they roped in their well-wisher and guide Abbas Akbari who was with the Ford Motors Company earlier.

“People prefer a brand while buying a watch. So we created a brand that sounded European, conveying Middle Eastern values and paid a lot of attention to craftsmanship,” adds Haider. Tsar Watches are made of koa wood from the USA, dark sandalwood from Africa and walnut wood from Canada. “Each wood has a different kind of characteristic, like walnut wood helps us in developing clarity and focus. When you wear wood, you notice its color evolving over a period of time. Unlike metal watches that wear down over time, wooden watches actually look even better with age. The natural oils on their skin personalize the wooden watch to its owner,” adds Abdul.

But anything to do with wood is directly related to trees and the environment. “For this, we have a policy of planting a tree with each sale. We have tied up with a noted national NGO ‘Grow-trees’ that works in the field of environment conservation. This forms our core values and also fulfills our CSR activity,” informs Haider.

Tsar Watches Founders

‘Every wrist is their real estate’

Tsar Watches has a simple revenue model of online and offline selling channels. Apart from its own website, Tsar is available on Amazon, Paytm and Flipkart and with certified Instagram retailers. “We have agents or channel partners across the country like in Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Kuwait, Dubai, the UK etc. They are responsible for heading the operations in various cities. They not only stock the products but also bring in institutional sales, facilitate various collaborations, grow dealer networks and help in buzz promotion and directing the feedback. In addition, we have offline retail outlets that form the major chunk of our sales. We don’t give any kind of credit to the retailers but sell to them on full-cash. If any retailer is not satisfied with the purchase, then he/she may return the remaining products within 60 days from the date of sale and claim for refund. This way their money is also safe,” informs Abdul.

The Indian watch market grew by 19% in 2015 to reach total sales of Rs 76.7 billion in India alone, thanks to the role played by urban consumers and growing luxury consumerism (Source: Euromonitor). “Although the Indian watch market is mostly dominated by global brands like Timex, Fossil, Diesel, Cartier and Tag Heur, the likes of Titan are giving stiff competition to these MNCs. Yet India lacks indigenous watch brands in this sector,” shares Haider.

Tsar Watches prices range from Rs 3500 to Rs 5000. “In International markets, we do have competition in wooden watch sectors where Jord, We-wood and Original Grain are established brands. Their major operations are in the U.S. and Canada only. However, these brands are also not older than five years,” he adds.

They don’t seem intimidated. Abdul says, “We would appreciate more competition as this would generate greater buzz about this concept.” Tsar has plans of building a team of professional designers, marketers, PR professionals, artists and expanding in various other cities of India like Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Jaipur and Chandigarh, as well as other Tier II cities. There’s international expansion on the cards too in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Egypt.

“We currently operate from Indore, Mumbai and Kuwait offices while our allies are present in Chennai, Delhi and Dubai,” says Abdul, adding “We are working on more designs which are not just attractive but also deliver the TSAR experience. We have plans in the pipeline to increase the collection and offer more choices to our patrons.”

Abdul, an alumnus of Shishukunj International School Indore, did his BMS from Narsee Monjee College, Mumbai and M.Com from the University of Mumbai. He has worked in Home D├ęcor and ezzybazaar.com. Haider, on the other hand, has done his BMS and M.Com from Hinduja College, Mumbai and has worked in Al Jawhara Press, Wood Ware and New Carpet House. The two believe that “brand is not created overnight but after a gradual series of multiple functions which should play simultaneously.”

Saturday, 23 July 2016

70-year-old scripts startup success story with Rs 2 lakh in hand

Every day, we share success stories of youthful India, which is brimming with energy and potential and stacking up revolutionary businesses. Tales abound of entrepreneurs, many in their early 20s or even younger, who are making a mark in the startup ecosystem. But, how often do you come across a man who steps into the shoes of an entrepreneur post-retirement, at the ripe age of 70?

Lalit Mohan Mathur (third from left) with his core team members
While working for a company that made specialty wires, Lalit Mohan Mathur visited a customer in New Zealand who complained about the poor quality of cables he was importing for comfort heating applications from another manufacturer.

A while later, after retiring from the company, he contacted the New Zealand importer and asked him if he still faced the cable problem; and offered him a possible solution.

Lalit sent the customer some samples made on improvised, hand-made machines. Delighted both with the samples and the price, the importer decided to source his complete requirement from Lalit. This spurred Lalit on to launch a company.

In May 2005, at the age of 60, he incorporated Wipe Hotwire India Thermal Equipment (WHITE), a manufacturer, supplier and exporter of insulated heating wires, cables, mats and heating equipment.

After the incorporation of the company, various related issues started rearing their head. “There weren’t adequate testing facilities in the country for specialty cables and we had to put in effort to get international certifications. There was a problem of finding skilled manpower since the product is primarily for export and the domestic market doesn’t offer a training ground. The issue of funding was another major factor which would decide the growth of the company,” says 70-year-old Lalit, Founder of WHITE.

Lalit, who holds an engineering degree from the University of Baroda and is an alumnus of Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, began his career with Tata Electric Company at Mumbai. He subsequently worked with state electronic development corporations KELTRON and Uptron, in their R&D department. His last assignment before retirement in 2005 was managing the R&D portfolio for a mid-sized manufacturing unit for specialty cables.
Institutions refused to stake their money

Starting out with a modest sum of Rs 2 lakh from his personal savings, which went into buying raw materials and machines, Lalit struggled to find an investment source. After incorporation, WHITE quickly got a kitty of orders and applied for a loan with a nationalised bank. The loan was promptly turned down because the company’s founder was 60 years old and it seemed a risky investment for the bank.

Later, Lalit’s two friends, who became his partners, invested around Rs 12 lakh in the company, which he put in buying some critical machines, raw materials, and in hiring talent. In 2010, the platform raised an investment from its client in the Netherlands.
When slow and steady wins the race

Starting out with modest production, the company claimed to produce three million metres of cable and clocked a revenue of Rs 12 crore in the last fiscal.

Lalit set up a small unit in Sahibabad. In a few years’ time, he moved the unit to Neemrana in Rajasthan. Currently, he runs two production units in Neemrana, driven by a 100-people workforce.

According to Lalit, the company build its credentials primarily by word of mouth via customers. WHITE also participates actively in trade shows around the globe – that helps it connects with new customers and suppliers, as well as stay abreast with upcoming market trends.

Today, the company caters to the world market, primarily Europe and New Zealand, and is trying to enter North America.
Sharks in the seas

According to Ken Research report, India’s wires and cables market revenues have grown at a CAGR of 16.4 percent from 2009 to 2014.

According to the research report, the country’s wires and cables market will grow at a considerable CAGR rate and will reach over Rs 590 million by 2019 due to the increasing number of manufacturers and rising investment in different sectors.

According to experts, the world wire and cable market was valued at $4.65 billion in 2014 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8.7 percent from 2015 to 2020. Currently, the commercial and residential application holds a large share in the underfloor heating and snow-melting market. The growth of this market is fostered by increasing concerns about energy efficiency and the global environment.

In the cables category, especially which offers solutions for heating needs, there are only a few large companies in India that have a similar product portfolio. Thermopads is one of the largest manufacturing and export companies. Tefkot and Garg Associates are other two NCR-based companies that are in exports.

And these Indian companies face fierce competition from another market, China. They say they face severe competition from big and small manufacturers in China, Mexico, and Russia.
Give back to society

“Having fostered WHITE for 10 years, I feel content that it has served its objective of providing employment and training to the youth. Through WHITE, I am also fulfilling my desire to give back to society – we actively support a charitable eye hospital and have adopted a primary school at Neemrana,” concludes septuagenarian Lalit.

Friday, 22 July 2016

How college dropouts Ajay Thakur and Bhupinder Nayyar built a blogging website and reached 76,000 monthly active users

As they say, “Failure is the key to success.” Failure did not stop these backbenchers of Brahmrishi Mission School, Kullu (Himachal Pradesh) from creating a blogging website in the urge to make money and try something new. 21-year-olds Ajay Thakur and Bhupinder Nayyar started Bameslog in 2013 at the age of 18, which they claim to have more than 76,000 monthly active users now, and everything with zero marketing spend. Bameslog allows users to watch videos, read content, create pictures and share stories, one-liners, thoughts and information with followers.
Bhupinder Nayyar and Ajay Thakur
Back in 2013, the duo was distressed about their books and board exams. Neither did they understand those long formulae and accounting entries, nor did they have any interest in what they were studying. They started losing hope and were termed ‘dumb’, ‘insane’ and ‘good for nothing’ by the school teachers.

Owing to lack of experience, knowledge and vision, they failed to build the website on the first attempt. Initially they have created a website called Apie.in and gained huge traction as well. But they were unaware of the fact that one organization already exists by the name of Apie, so they had to shut it down.

Having studied until the 12th standard, both of them landed in the HCL learning center in Chandigarh to learn advanced programming in April 2013. In the span of four months, a proper plan was created and Bameslog came into being in August 2013.

For about six months, they kept experimenting, connecting with new people, and finally, expanded the team in December. In April 2014, Ajay went to Bengaluru, where they had planned to set up their headquarters, and Bhupinder joined university and started working remotely.

The whole year of 2014, we kept working hard in expanding our team, coding, creating prototypes and taking Bameslog to the global level. We managed to convince 15 individuals to write for us for free, which is next to impossible in today’s competitive era,” says Ajay.
Launch of Public Beta Version

The public beta version of Bameslog was launched in August 2015, and within a few months, it started serving more than four lakh readers every month, spread across 12 countries. The initial set of readers came from tier II and III cities, mostly young students who wanted to share their experiences and connect with different people on ideas and thoughts. They managed to get the readers by reaching out to colleges and universities, persuading people to write and join the community.

Eventually, they introduced Bameslog Thoughts and Bameslog Knowledge Graph. Bameslog Thoughts is a whole new way to share short stories, one-liners, photo memories, thoughts and information with followers and Bameslog Knowledge Graph is an intelligent learning system which learns about the content consumption and interests of the user, and improves itself every day to keep the readers engaged on the platform. Bameslog has 90 percent return users.

“We came up with the idea of Bameslog to solve the problem that people across the world were facing when they had to switch to different websites to serve their interests,” says Bhupinder, who in 2016 left graduation half way and went to Bengaluru to start working full time and to strengthen the power of their product. They have used the co-working space at BHIVE.

They claimed that the content platform of Bameslog is powered by Artificial Intelligence and therefore every reader gets a unique feed based upon a knowledge graph (Machine Learning Engine) and interests.

Reaching a million users

Currently, Bameslog has a team of eight members. Bhupinder states that for Bameslog,Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now able to generate knowledge and learn more about every user based upon user activity, but in upcoming months, AI will start suggesting content. This will help users save time as AI will be able to suggest predictable content to users and increase user engagement.

Our core focus will be on building great technology and a product that will help our users in so many different ways. Our philosophy is simple- build a great product and let your users bring more users,” says Ajay.

Bameslog aims to reach 50 to 100 million monthly impressions in the next two to three years. Currently, they are not generating revenues and their burn rate is Rs 30,000 per month, including the co-working space and their accommodations. Bootstrapped so far, Bameslog has been awarded with the Amazon Web Services’ cloud credits, which will be running the servers and technology for the next six to seven months for free.

The company will have tools for promoted content and other native promotion tools that are likely to generate revenue in the future for them. Ajay states that the tools will be similar to facebook adverts, where small business and brands could target audiences with sponsored content or a native ad based on user interest, the only difference being that Bameslog will be sharing revenue with people creating content on their platform.

Although few in India consider blogging a viable career option, it is an easy way to earn money. In the past few years, many have penetrated the blogging space, thereby inspiring others to experience it too. Blogging full-time is not the only way to make money — many are earning well just by blogging part-time. Amit Agarwal of labnol.org, ShoutMeLoud’s Harsh Agrawal, and Clinton Jeff of UnleashThePhone are a few of the country’s well known professional bloggers.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Small town boy from Rajasthan Kavish Gadia aims to earn Rs 45 lakh in revenue by 2017 through his venture Stones2Milestones

Very few people have the courage to choose entrepreneurship at the age of 18. Though no easy feat for a college student, Kavish Gadia experimented his entrepreneurial streak in stock trading business, commodities trading business and an import/export business. A graduate from Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya, Indore, Kavish got into IIM Lucknow in 2003.

During his stint at IIM, he learnt that it’s not wealth that makes people richer or poorer, but a difference in their access to opportunities. Kavish was an avid reader since childhood and attributed his academic success to his love for reading. At the age of 26, he decided to inculcate the significance of reading among children in their early stage. Hence, Kavish along with his friends Jagruti Gala and Nikhil Saraf founded Stones2Milestones in October 2015. The same year, they decided to set the organisation on its mission of “Creating a Nation of Readers”.
Stones2Milestones Team
Gurgaon-based Stones2Milestones integrates the programme with language curriculum for grades one to three, which involves three to four sessions per week. The sessions are usually taken by S2M certified trainers. The programmes use effective methodologies such as reading aloud, group work, discussions, reflections and application of understanding through worksheets. An assessment process also takes place in the school every year to track a child’s transition and skill improvement. The school is provided with the teacher guide, teacher session plans, and student work books for each child.

Journey of a small town boy

Hailing from Siliguri, West Bengal, Kavish moved to Jhunjhunu (a district of the state of Rajasthan) in 1992 at the age of 10, where he was raised by his maternal grandparents. He co-founded a financial services firm Resurgent India along with Stones2milestones and therefore had to go through a financial crunch. But he eventually survived with the support from his family.

While Stones2milestones was in the experimental stage, Resurgent was growing phenomenally. Over the last seven years, Resurgent has grown to more than 40 qualified experienced professionals with its presence in five cities and has closed deals worth Rs 10,000 crore in the last financial year.

Stones2milestones primarily have invested in improving science learning, communication skills, leadership development at schools with reading skills and building programme. After the experimental phase, Kavish quit Resurgent and dedicated his full time to Stones2milestones.

That’s when Kavish met Nikhil, a graduate from MICA who have experienced failures twice - online collaboration tool for students and an intelligent activity recommendation engine. Influenced by the vision of Stones2Milestones, he joined the venture and now takes care of product and marketing functions. Jagruti was the Founder and Managing Trustee of AURA, a non-profit that provides free education in India.

Scaling up

Stones2Milestones till 2009-10 has been operating the programmes as a chain of after-school learning centres across Gurgaon, Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Vadodara. In 2010, they presented their work in multiple forums and managed to sign up with schools. And in 2014, nine schools started using their programme. Currently, Stones2milestones has 23 schools with 4,500 children across Gurgaon, Delhi, Amritsar, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Bhilwara, Laxmangarh, Indore, Jhunjhunu and Hisar.

The cost for implementing the full year programme would be Rs 55 per student per month. The training and support fee is Rs 55,000 per annum. Student workbook and other required materials are charged at Rs 450 per student per year at the time of dispatch of material. Stones2Milestones has a team of nine people, including the co-founders.
Going forward

The startup is likely to close the year at Rs 45 to 50 lakh in revenue. And by 2017-18, it has a target of more than 100 schools and revenue of Rs 1.5 crore. They are also planning to launch one product for parents called 'Freadom', which will be available on the smartphones of parents of children in the age group of five to nine years. By 2020, their target is to reach more than one million children.

As a part of expansion strategy, Stones2Milestones is likely to expand the offering to children in the age group of three to 14 years, launch a product for improving reading skills and develop interest in reading for adult age group (from 18 onwards), create an independent large scale platform for assessing reading and extend the product to non-English speaking countries.
Market opportunity

According to India Brand Equity Foundation, India holds a very crucial place in the global education with more than 1.4 million schools and 227 million students enrolled. When it comes to e-learning, India is considered as the second largest country after US.

Startups in the edtech space are betting big not only in finding the best institutions, but also making quality education accessible in Tier II and III cities. Vedantu, Simplilearn, Toppr,Iprof, Talentedge, and embibe.com are some of the names one would likely take to leverage the education methods and technologies like real-time book updates, online tutoring, edutainment, and online test preparation.

The edtech startup space has witnessed a couple of investments in the past few months. Toppr raised Rs 65 crore for expansion in May, Bengaluru-based Vedantu raised $5 million from Accel Partners and Tiger Global Management, and Simplilearn raised $15 million in its third round of funding in April this year.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A shaman inspired this 17-year-old million-dollar heir to renounce everything, become a yogi, and startup a worldwide chain of ‘happiness’ studios

“Who are you?” I ask Sarvesh Shashi straightaway, for I know him to be someone who has internalised several identities, each more watertight than the last. And as the charismatic young man greets me with an odd sense of endearment and familiarity, I immediately understand how – he has the knack of making his own everything he sets his eyes on and everyone he meets. Would he open with, “So, I am the son of a wealthy Chennai tycoon who imported the World Trade Centre when it fell”? Would he say, “I am a college dropout who went on tour with the Indian Premier League and almost played for the country”? Unexpectedly and to my delectation, he replied, “I am just a guy who stumbled upon the religion of happiness, and pledged his life to spreading it.”

Taking happiness very seriously
Sarvesh, now 23, has a rags-to-riches story of his own: it may not have so much to do with his outward belongings, as it does with his karmic possessions inwards. “I know most startup stories have a founder sleeping on the roads, but I claim nothing of that sort,” he says.

Sarvesh lived to perform, excelled at every sport he experimented with, played cricket professionally for his school and his State, Tamil Nadu, and was steps away from that dream every little boy dreams, but only those fated 11 achieve – being on tour with the IPL.

But there was something else about him that wasn't like your average 17-year-old. He was hungry and inquisitive. And serendipitously enough, the answer presented itself in an odd turn of events. “I was very intrigued about what enlightenment and sixth sense is. Around then, my dad took up yoga, and paid for a guruji to come over. But he couldn't complete the course and asked me to take the remaining classes," Sarvesh says.
The shaman

He got his life's greatest lesson in the course of the training. ‘If you think I can enlighten you, you’re a fool and I am a bigger fool,’ said the shaman to a child who then understood perhaps the simplest yet most evasive principle to live life by.

His guruji saw the spark in him, and started giving him implausible tasks – observing 40 days silence, celibacy, abstinence from all forms of entertainment, no fancy clothes. Sarvesh explains,

I followed the five precepts: no non-vegetarian food, smoking, drinking or other vices, to establish control over my senses.

He knew then, that he had started on his path to self-discovery. One fine day, his Guruji called him over and told him he wanted to release a book with him called ‘Right-Brain Management.’Sarvesh had mused - If we don't have a base, who will buy our book? For who is Sarvesh, and who is guruji?
Creating the 'Room of Requirement'

That 'base' is what we have come to know today, as the chain of ‘happiness' hubs, that over 650 people have come to crave as their second homes - 'Zorba: A Renaissance Studio.'

“I told my father, the only help I need from him is the space," Sarvesh explains. He took an unsecured loan from his uncle, and drew a spartan plan with an initial budget is Rs 5 lakh, which the keyed-up team overshot by Rs 12 lakh.

The first Zorba opened late 2013, at Mount Road, Chennai, and stood like an oasis in the din. "We didn't want to make it a yoga studio - we wanted to convey that this is one's happy place.” Zorba construed disciplines like zumba, yoga, aerobics, meditation into novel training programmes, amounting to 14 different forms of yoga, 12 forms of meditation, 122 types of pranayama, various dance fitness modules, and dance meditation, added a spin to their names, and the modules spread like wildfire.

On April 19, 2014, they broke even, Sarvesh informs me. “This got to my immature 21-year-old head, and I took off to Udaipur for May and June," he adds.

As it happened, the company wasn't ready to stand on its own two feet yet. “We hit the lowest point. Hardly two registrations in two months, my balance went down to minus Rs 3,000. My dad yelled at me for being so irresponsible. I ran back to Chennai," he quips.

The next fortnight was a blur and in 20 days. 6:30 am-7:45 am, Sarvesh would take class, after which, the broom beckoned. He would clean, step outside, register a person, park someone’s car, and come back and take class again. In 20 days, he brought the balance up to Rs.3.2 lakhs. Fun fact - Sarvesh still follows that routine, when he is not traveling the world to crack global deals for Zorba.
The valuation

Sarvesh then wanted to focus on honing one studio, but the opportunity to open up a second one beckoned and his father insisted he take it. So, in 10 months, they opened up a branch at Harrington Road. By June last year, they had a third in Anna Nagar.

“One fine day, my dad read the valuation of Flipkart in ET, and asked me, 'why can’t your name come here?'," Sarvesh recalls. Humouring the idea, Sarvesh went to various valuation companies to get a sense of where he stood.

While meeting companies to get a valuation, his friends at a Dandekar Capital connected him to the gym chain Talwalkars, which was looking into investing in alternative fitness. “They didn't seem keen, but gave me a five-minute meeting that turned into a two-and-a-half-hour meeting and an offer to buy 50 percent stake. I was skeptical at first, as they wanted to start 100 studios around the world in 18 months,” Sarvesh says. He took it. Little did he know his world was about to be upturned- for the better.


Here's how

“Seven immediately, and fifty-one studios eventually, across Bombay, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Guwahati, Kochin, Bengaluru, and Amritsar in three months,” he rattles off. That was the target they were chasing.

Hot yoga, paddleboat yoga, and posture correction were three of the many new disciplines they were introducing in India.

Additionally, he had other tie-ups: a book, in association with tarot card reader Pankhuri Agarwal, a line of organic yoga party wear, with Swathi Jagannathan, and the next Zorba in Chennai as a multipurpose zone with a coffee shop and sports arena.

With 650 registered members in the existing three studios, their youngest student is six and the oldest is 87. “Zorba has healed cancer. We haven’t cured it, but we have improved the reports of a patient drastically. People come and tell me that the only god they know is Zorba. We’ve treated diabetes, healed thyroid, lowered cholesterol, cured fibroids and depression,” Sarvesh says.

The hungry yogi who has a past filled with dance and sport, still moonlights as a cricket aspirant. “I do want to make a comeback and play for the country," he adds, as an afterthought.

“Oh, and that valuation, the whole reason we got into all this,” he messages me all casually, later that night, “is Rs 100 crore.”

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

How Angle Paisa is helping budding entrepreneurs chase their dreams

Having eight years of experience in financial modelling, fund management and business advisory services, chartered accountant Himanshu Kumar realised that there is a huge gap between the demand and supply of funds in the market.

Angle Paisa Team
According to a estimation by The World Bank, approximately 70 percent of all MSMEs in emerging markets lack access to credit. The current credit gap for formal SMEs is estimated to be $1.2 trillion and the credit gap for both formal and informal SMEs is $2.6 trillion.

Soon, Himanshu stumbled upon the idea of reaching out to a large number of investors to bridge the gap and back startup ideas. Founded in last September, Angle Paisa acts as a bridge between startups and investors by providing early-stage funding to startups. It helps startups raise equity investment from friends, family, community, independent investors and public at large.

With the help of Angle Paisa, startups can explain one’s business idea, narrate the startup story, describe the target market and strategy and the quantum of investment to be raised in exchange for the equity on offer. They can also engage investors using videos and photos.

Angle Paisa’s experts then evaluate this plan in detail to ensure that the campaign is fair, clear and not misleading for investors. Once the campaign goes live, the investors study the proposal, evaluate it in order to invest in the startup.

We create opportunities using Internet as a medium, to raise investment for businesses online, outlining the associated benefits and risks in a clear and easy-to-understand manner,” says Himanshu.

Seed stage

An expert in Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and International Financial Reporting Standards, Himanshu provided support to many transnational companies. In 2013, he returned to India and started working on Angle Paisa. It took almost one year to channelise the process and kick-start Angle Paisa, where a person is considered as angel investor when he/she invests Rs 5,000.

Angle Paisa was bootstrapped with an initial corpus of Rs 50 lakhs, which was primarily utilised in setting up its website and social media campaigns and online presence.

Angle Paisa has around 34 investors and five startup ideas. While evaluating startup ideas, it considers business model, environment, feasibility, funding required and founding team. So far, it has invested Rs 3.75 crore in the startup community.
Revenue model and traction

Angle Paisa charges a fee between three and six percent, depending upon a few criteria such as nature of the project, quantum of investment required, dilution of stake. The company has a team of four people across finance, management, social media and IT. By next year, Angle Paisa expects to have more than 200 startups and 2,000 investors.

Further from the perspective of increasing our current set of skills and knowledge, our venture has been supported by some well-renowned CXOs from various sectors working with us as mentors,” says Himanshu.
Crowd Funding market in India

Crowdfunding is generally defined as an online platform for small businesses and startups to increase their opportunities, investment base and funding prospects. The concept is believed to have started primarily in the US and UK and entails the use of the Internet and social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

It India witnessed a couple of crowdsourcing success stories, before the term even became popular. Dhirubhai Ambani's Reliance Industries, a small but successful textile business, was crowdfunded by communities across Gujarat.

According to SEBI, crowdfunding is defined as solicitation of funds (small amounts) from multiple investors, through a web-based platform or social networking site for a specific project, business venture or social cause.

SEBI is currently in the process of establishing regulations on crowdfunding, which will be a boon to the SME or early-stage startups to raise funds from small-time investors.

According to a study by World Bank, the global crowdfunding market could will reach $90-96 billion by 2025, which is 1.8 times the size of the global venture capital industry today. The last couple of years have witnessed the srpouting of a few platforms in the space, such as Mumbai-based Wishberry, Bengaluru-based FuelADream, crowdfunding fintech platform Impact Guru, actor Kunal Kapoor’s Ketto and Mumbai-based Catapooolt.