Kaushal Cavale and Sumanth Raghavendra are childhood friends from Bangalore and the cofounders of InstaColl. After graduating from BMS College of Engineering and the University of Phoenix (Thunderbird), respectively, they worked in technical IT positions in the United States. They returned to India in 2000 to fulfill their dreams of starting a business. In 2005, they persuaded Sabeer Bhatia to invest in the company and become their mentor. The result is InstaColl, a collaborative online service competing with Microsoft Office.
SM: I would like to start at the point of the story where the entrepreneurs came together. Where does this story start?
SR and KC: We were childhood friends.
SM: Childhood friends? Where did you grow up?
SR and KC: Bangalore. We grew up in the same neighborhood, and we’ve known each other all our lives.
SM: Did you go to the same school?
SR and KC: No. We grew up in the same neighborhood, and we knew each other for a long time.
SM: Where were you educated, and what did you study?
SR and KC: I studied in Bangalore as well as in Singapore. I did my MBA from the Institute of Management in Bangalore. I also did a master’s at the University of Phoenix, Thunderbird. Kaushal is an engineer from BMS College of Engineering here in Bangalore.
SM: What year did you decide that you were going to start the company? Did you work for another company first, or did you start this company directly after school?
SR and KC: Twenty years ago, we decided we wanted to create a business together. We decided that when we grew up we would do something together. We didn’t really have access to funds or the family backing to set up something right away. That meant we had to work for other companies first. We both ended up working in the United States for a while at technology companies. I worked at Citibank and Kaushal worked for Screaming Media, which is an online content syndication company in New York City.
We came back to India in 2000 and started an IT services firm. We brought back business from the companies at which we had worked and got our start developing software for those companies. The goal was to develop a product of our own, but we were not presumptuous enough to believe that we could just come up with an idea and get going immediately. We wanted to build up a corpus by working for clients.
We worked only with product companies out of the United States. The crucial thing here was that it gave us an orientation to the process of developing a product. In India it is very difficult to have that experience, because most companies are service based. We developed the team and focused completely on products. The products happened to belong to other folks, but developing them gave us the discipline and regimen that we needed to develop a product of our own.
SM: What kind of product were you developing for other companies that gave you the discipline and orientation you refer to?
SR and KC: We worked for several very small U.S. startups. In the eight years we worked, we were working with technologies such as Java. The one thing that we focused on was architecture and design. A lot of the firms we worked with focused on Microsoft Office. That gave us a deep perspective into Office, Excel in particular, and the document formats that Microsoft used. A few years ago, the Microsoft Office document formats were closed completely, and there were only a few interface points that allowed interaction with the document object model. We had to reverse-engineer the document format to achieve any functionality we needed for our customers. That enabled us to develop an intricate understanding of how things were developed for Microsoft.