Sramana Mitra: In 2009 was it still just you and Venkat working on building the company, or had you started hiring people yet?
San Banerjee: In 2009 my neighbor, Ashika Sripathi, was just getting back to our career after having a child. She had a background in sales. We had a good discussion on our front terrace, and she agreed to join and head up our sales. In 2009 Ashika and Venkat worked full time and I was part time. Today Ashika is our COO.
Sramana Mitra: How long was your sales cycle?
San Banerjee: It took anywhere from four months to two years.
Sramana Mitra: That is a problem with Indian customers in general.
San Banerjee: Not only the traditional Indian customer, but people who were working as volunteers. They did not have a job description that told them they had to automate processes. There was no boss for them to show the value of their work and the ROI of the software they purchased and implemented.
We discovered that when we found someone who was passionate about our software, they did the job of selling our software to the association. Homeowners would push back against paying for software. Apartment complexes were not used to buying software.
Sramana Mitra: What was the market subscription fee that the market was ultimately willing to accept?
San Banerjee: Over time we found that they were willing to pay 180 rupees per flat, per year. That becomes affordable for all apartment complexes.
Sramana Mitra: What happened in 2010? By then you had moved to an office and you were working full time for your own company.
San Banerjee: I hired another person to manage support functions. We were slowly approaching breakeven, and we were able to start paying people from the company funds. Venkat had a couple of colleges join him for a while, but we could not keep them for long. We were paying them far below market wages, and we did not know of any way to offer them stock options or have any guarantee what their value would be in future years. We really had no way to keep them with us. In short, in 2010 we basically broke even with exception of personal salaries for me and Venkat. We were cash positive on the 2010/2011 balance sheet.
Sramana Mitra: How much of your own money did you put into the company up to that point?
San Banerjee: We put in 8 lakhs. I don’t count our personal expenses in that number.
Sramana Mitra: In theory you put in a lot more than that then.
San Banerjee: Yes, especially when you consider the two salaries. In the middle of 2010 I called my bank and asked them what would happen if I stopped paying our EMI [equated monthly installment] for three to four months. That was during the time where we had sleepless nights about how to pay salary. That person asked me why I would consider defaulting on my EMI, so I explained what I was doing.
This was the same person we approached when we wanted to buy our home. At that time, this individual told us that with our salary we could purchase two large homes. We had a good relationship with the bank, and once they understood that we were running a business and trying to pay salaries he told us that he would put our EMI payments on hold for four months and then after that we would have to continue paying. Ultimately we did not have to do that, but I do recall that being a stressful time in the business.