Sramana: You said you built the prototype products in 2000. Where you working under a company name at that time?
Zafar Khan: At first we looked for a dot-com to use, but the only one that we found available was RegisteredPost.com. By chance we were able to get rPost as the shorter version. People in the U.S. typically refer to “mail” rather than “post,” which is a term often used in other parts of the world, so we decided to call our product Registered Email.
Sramana: When you started the company you offered a free version of the software. What were the circumstances around financing the company and how did you raise awareness of the product?
Zafar Khan: At that time it was a bit more expensive to develop prototypes than it is today. All of the building blocks were not in place like they are today when it is very easy to rent servers and the technology was a lot more raw back then. The time it took to have a demo built from the concept was about eight months. In that period we had to self-finance the project. We were certainly talking to investors but without something that was tested in the marketplace it was very difficult to raise outside capital. We focused on covering the initial costs ourselves.
Sramana: How much did you have to put in to get the company rolling?
Zafar Khan: Excluding labor-related costs, which was essentially our own time, the third-party costs to reach that first stage was about $150,000. It may have even been more. We financed that amount ourselves.
Sramana: When were users and customers able to start using the prototype?
Zafar Khan: After the initial successful tests we still had to sit down and think hard about the business plan. We had to figure out how to make it a major opportunity. Our goal was to build a company that would create the next legal standard for high-value Internet correspondence.
Sramana: Would you explain in detail how you validated the market? There is a difference between casual email verification and becoming a standard recognized by the legal community.
Zafar Khan: We did a grassroots guerrilla marketing event at Internet World in Los Angeles in 2000. We did not have a booth or a display. We hired a man to walk around on stilts in front of the convention center while we walked around with post cards and pens that we handed out. This was all that we could afford to do to gain market exposure. One blogger in particular, LockerGnome, wrote a one-paragraph blurb, and we believe that is what caught on and allowed the service to be used in countries around the world. People started writing about us and stated that our approach was just the way it should be done on the Internet.