Sramana: Did you form a business out of one of the software projects you had developed in your study group?
Girish Rowjee: Not directly. In 1993, after we finished college, a couple of folks in our late-night programming group stayed in the area to study for their GRE. Three of us from that group decided to start a company. The group included Sayeed Anjum, who is a co-founder of Greytip.
Sramana: You come from a family with entrepreneurial traditions. Did Sayeed’s family have an entrepreneurial background?
Girish Rowjee: No. Neither of the other two came from entrepreneurial families. Their parents were looking for jobs for them.
Sramana: Did the parents support their wishes to create a company, or did they create a fuss?
Girish Rowjee: Even though the practice of starting a company out of college was not readily accepted back then, somehow their families were OK with what we were doing. They were not especially happy, but they did not actively discourage us from our pursuit.
Sramana: What did you intend to do when you set out to start that company?
Girish Rowjee: The grand idea at that time, in 1993, was to start a bulletin board service. We were looking to model what AOL had been doing and planned to do it out of Mysore instead of Bangalore. Those were the days when modems had just been introduced at a rate of 9,600bps. We were completely excited about the idea of writing bulletin board software, but we never wrote a business plan. We never thought about who would purchase the software or what the market would be. We only had one Sun computer in our entire university, but never thought to ask how many modems there were in Mysore.
Sramana: Did you get paid to develop the software for someone else, or was it your own initiative?
Girish Rowjee: We were building it for someone else. We got paid about 5,000 rupees once the project was completed. We were just happy that we found someone who was willing to pay us to write software. We developed our software to connect to AOL and download messages from AOL. We envisioned building a grand email connector for people in Mysore who wanted to use AOL.
The problem we encountered is that we did not have a computer. There was another co-founder whose father had an old 286 machine. We borrowed that machine and decided that once we received our payment for the first project, we would use that money to purchase our own machine. Our business plan was to write the software, get the money, and purchase a new 386 machine.
It took us about four months to complete the task. This was Mysore in 1993. We had frequent power outages, and we did not have a UPS [uninterruptible power supply] or stabilizer for the machine. We would start coding, and then we would get a surge of power. The moment the power surged, some component in the 286 would break. We would then get on a bus to Bangalore and purchase the replacement part before jumping on a bus back to Mysore so that we could fix the machine. This happened about once a week.