[Also check out my Entrepreneur Journeys book, Seed India – How To Navigate The Seed Capital Gap in India]
Girish Rowjee is the CEO of Greytip Software, a company that specializes in HR software. Girish is responsible for strategic direction, day-to-day operations, product delivery and international business. His “never say die” attitude and excellent analytical skills have made him indispensable to the organization. Girish holds an engineering degree from Sri Jayachamarajendra College of Engineering (SJCE), and he is a corporate member of NASSCOM and a member of TiE.
Greytip has pioneered the SaaS model in India. They have successfully bootstrapped a SaaS company while keeping their primary focus on Indian corporations. In spite of numerous challenges they have proven that with perseverance and strategic adjustments the SaaS model does indeed have a place in India. While valuable for everyone, this is a key case study for Indian entrepreneurs.
Sramana: Girish, what is your background? Where do your entrepreneurial roots come from?
Girish Rowjee: I was born in a small town about 300 kilometers from Bangalore. I did my basic education there before moving to Mysore. My family has generally been an entrepreneurial family. My grandfather ran a bus service between several small towns, which was the first time bus service had been made available [in that area]. He then branched out into several retail shops where he sold electronic goods. Today my father runs operations of the electronics retail business that my grandfather founded in 1937.
Sramana: After your standard education, the equivalent of 12th grade, you moved to Mysore. What year was that?
Girish Rowjee: I moved to Mysore in 1989. I enrolled in engineering courses at SJCE.
Sramana: What type of engineering did you study?
Girish Rowjee: I studied computer science. My family background was in electronics, and everyone at that time was very keen on electronics. Electrical engineering was definitely a cool subject to study at that time, especially when compared to computer science.
Sramana: When did you finish your engineering degree?
Girish Rowjee: I finished in 1993 after four years of coursework.
Sramana: What did you do after graduation?
Girish Rowjee: I spent the first couple of months trying to figure out what to do. The normal route at that time was to study for exams like the GMAT, which was followed by a graduate degree in the U.S. From there it was fairly easy to get into a cushy job. I was not OK with that idea.
Computers were very rare at that time in India. Computer time came at a real premium. I was never able to just walk into a computer lab during college and have easy access to a computer. Students generally only had 30- to 45-minute slots allocated to them to get their work done on the computer. We had to stand in a long line and fill in our name next to the desired time slot.
There was a group of guys who were really good at getting the first spot in line. They took the morning and afternoon slots. There were generally six or seven of us who would lose out and get stuck with the late-night slots. Generally the midnight slots were the only ones available by the time we got through the line. That led to a group of us working in the lab at the same time every night.
We did some interesting things in that group. In 1991 and 1992, we set up a small mailing system because email was not popular or prevalent. We wrote a basic interface in C++ which would send and receive emails. We then wrote a filing system that would move data from one operating system to another. We did a lot of projects like this during college.