This is how I started up… over kids and masala chai

mylyappOver umpteen cups of masala chai and a heavy dose of guilt, the discussion between Madhup and I was clearly pointing out that we were not involved in our kids’ progress at school. Leave alone being involved, we were not even aware of half the things they were doing at school.

[ Good To Read – How to Turn Your Great Idea Into a Great Business ]

I had two kids and a job that required me to travel to the US frequently, and spend late hours in the office. Madhup also had two kids and was working hard to expand his family business of distribution of stationery products which meant he was on the road at least 10 days a month. Our wives, expectedly so, were unhappy at having to cope up with all the school diary notes, messages, misplaced circulars, cryptic SMSes and various fees payment schedules!

madhup and gaurav
me and my co-founder Madhup Bansal on right

We realized that there was an app for my bank, my health records, and even cab booking, but where was the app for our kids’ school? In this time and age, it was hard to believe that the schools still used archaic paper diary systems and printed paper circulars. We realized that this was something that had not changed in the last 25 years! We started meeting with schools and parents to see if having a mobile app for communication between schools and parents would be of use and to our delight not just the institute and parents but the teachers and students were enthusiastic about it too. Our start-up was born!

We set up EduCommerce Technologies as a private limited company in September 2014 and continued our extensive market research. In January 2015, we communicated to our respective organizations that we wanted to get relieved of our duties and pursue the new venture full-time.

Thus, began the journey. Initially, we wanted to create a mobile platform for schools to communicate and transact with students. Based on our guidelines, we found a software company in Chennai to develop the same so that we could focus on the product rather than spend time on coding. Then, we also decided to start a student-focused e-commerce portal and got a prototype developed. However, we quickly realized that we were fighting a losing battle and decided to close down the e-commerce portal.

The outsourced development didn’t go well either, as the vendor could never understand the vision of the product and we could never document it enough. In March we got fed-up and decided to bring the development in-house. Here came the second learning. Despite managing large teams in the past we could not convince anyone to join our grand dream. No one was willing to joinus as we were “too young”, “unstable” and “not financially secure”. However, we kept trying and our persistence paid off when we hired a brilliant graphic designer to get our website going. Then we hired a web designer who desperately wanted to move to Jaipur, where we were based. The team grew from there on. One key takeaway was to be ready to sell your dream to people who would be a part of it.

In our run-up to getting investors interested about myly, Prajakt Raut, a dear friend I have known for many years, asked us to create our startup profile on Applyifi – his portal to assess startups. Firstly, the questions asked on Applyifi got us thinking hard. We had to verbalize things that we were only comfortable (wishfully!) thinking about. Applyifi actually got us thinking to the extent of going back and making changes in our strategy and b-plan. The detailed report from Applyifi further highlighted areas for us to go back and fix our strategy on both – macro (strategy) and micro (operational) levels. We are very thankful to Applyifi for being an integral part of our journey.

We put together a team of programmers and put out the beta version in May and first release in July 2015. The product was called SchoolA2Z and we decided to charge customers INR 10 per student per year. The next learning was not too far away. Schools took forever to decide, on what we thought was a very small amount. Sales cycle was never ending.

We ended up making the product free. Things turned on their head!!!

Suddenly, we had schools picking our calls and sometimes even calling us back (yes, actually!) to sign-up for Myly. The product was maturing and so was our sales pitch.

Another interesting development happened when we got calls from hobby classes and coaching centres that they wanted to use the product but were hesitant because of the name SchoolA2Z.

We were meeting with potential investors at that time and in one of the meetings a certain gentleman told us to make two changes: change the name to something more neutral and market the product to not just schools but all kinds of educational institutions. We debated hard internally and agreed that there was merit in the idea. We called him in the evening to tell him that we agreed to his suggestions, and he in turn said he had made up his mind to invest in our company! We renamed our product – myly.

In parallel, we signed up an agreement, which gave us access to a physical sales team of 500+ people who would go to schools, colleges, hobby classes etc. to implement myly.

[ Also Read – Building A Startup Doesn’t Make You Special ]

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