Sramana Mitra: You had established your company and sold to your first customer by the beginning of 2009. Venkat was on sabbatical from his job. Did you keep working full time?
San Banerjee: I worked at SAP when we moved to India and stayed there through almost all of 2009. It was interesting for a while because we had our baby in 2008. At that point I basically became the project manager. I gathered the requirements and researched the market need. [My husband] focused on engineering and developing the product. I had to keep my job with SAP because it was the only income that we had.
My mother-in-law was also living with us. She was the main reason why we came back to India. We originally planned to make a lot of money in dollars before returning to India. My mother-in-law, who was a widow, wanted to join us in the U.S. However, her visa application was rejected twice because she did not have a husband or any other source of income. That was a harsh reality for us. We had to stand and beg outside of the consulate of a foreign country to have our own parent joint us. That was a big reason why we decided to return to India in 2006.
My mother-in-law is very efficient and is a person who loves owning the kitchen. Right from day one she took over that area. That arrangement enabled me to keep working and supporting our living expenses while we started our company.
Sramana Mitra: At the very end of October, I released “Feminine Feminism,” which has fabulous role models of female entrepreneurs. When I talked to those entrepreneurs, I asked them how they handled issues such as raising children. In most cases they were stories where in-laws played a very big role. You are reinforcing everything else I have heard.
San Banerjee: I would not have been an entrepreneur without her.
Sramana Mitra: Your mother-in-law is a venture capitalist, and the other venture capitalist was your paycheck.
San Banerjee: Absolutely.
Sramana Mitra: In the 1M/1M program we have a formalized methodology of entrepreneurship that we call bootstrapping with a paycheck. We encourage entrepreneurs to hold on to their jobs and do the entrepreneurial tasks in a creative way until they have a steady revenue stream. There really is no substantial seed capital money in India. Investors want validated businesses which just take time. That’s true in the U.S. as well.
San Banerjee: There is another thing that worked out well for me. Our customers were managing committee members who also had their own jobs on Monday through Friday. Most of our customer demos happened during the evening hours or on weekends. I never had to compromise my primary job. Most of my work was done on Saturdays and Sundays.
Sramana Mitra: What was your sales process like?
San Banerjee: Our first customer gave us a lot of word of mouth [publicity]. People would approach us and ask us to show them what we were doing. We would go to their apartment complexes and present the product to them. In the early days we were more interested in their input than anything else. We received excellent inputs from each demo we conducted. For the first two or even three years, our sales meetings doubled as requirements gathering meetings.