Sramana Mitra: I like the manner in which you are thinking, and it would be good to get additional revenue streams. I would not let go of the subscription revenue stream by any stretch of the imagination. What is the TAM for the subscription business?
San Banerjee: There are 4 lakh apartment complexes, and each has an average of 200 apartments. We could expect 180 rupees per flat on average.
Sramana Mitra: How much angel financing did you raise?
San Banerjee: Just enough to carry us for a 1.5 years in our build out effort.
Sramana Mitra: Do you also want experiment with the advertising revenue model with this round of funding?
San Banerjee: Yes, that is exactly what we would like to do. We will scale our subscription revenue with this round and validate our advertising revenue. If we raise another round in the future, then we can look to scale the advertising revenue with that round.
There are other integrations that we are looking at as well. More and more apartments are being occupied by parents while their kids are in the U.S. Those who are in the U.S. like the fact that their parents are in an apartment where everything is taken care of and they don’t have to worry about plumbing, electricity, or security. However, they sometimes encounter problems that are not covered by the management committee, such as a broken TV.
We are thinking about a concierge service or a home appliance maintenance service. There are companies that provide warranties here in India. They will track down the right TV repairman to come fix the TV. A concierge service would be nice to help in other areas as well. For example, what if the Indian couple needs to renew their passports? They could call the concierge service and get that task accomplished that way. We could look to solve problems for grocery delivery services as well.
There is also the case of electric utilities in some areas. The utility will send a bill every month to the apartment complex with the appropriate meter number. They do not map it to the name of the person using that meter. That is done by the apartment manager. The apartment manager drops the bill in the appropriate letter box. This creates a lot of problems for the utility. If someone is not paying their bill, they do not have a way of sending a reminder to that person. The only thing they can do us unplug the electricity. The problem is that they unplug the electricity for the entire complex.
Sramana Mitra: It sounds like you are looking at ways to impact the style of living in these apartment complexes.
San Banerjee: Exactly. It took us one year to work on that, but we are nearing completion of our integration with a utility right now. They are going to be able to present bills to flat owners online. We have mapped each meter to its flat. We also let them make the payment online through our payment gateway.
Sramana Mitra: How does the relationship between you and Venkat work? I have done a lot of stories of successful startups founded by couples.
San Banerjee: I was brought up knowing that I was no different from a man. That was important for me when I was choosing a life partner. It is difficult for most men in India to accept that, although it is happening more often than normal. Venkat was very different. In our college, he was fine working for clubs or associations where he was the vice president and a woman was the president. I really appreciated that in him.
In the business, he has done all of the hard work. At times it seems that I get all of the credit for the business. He seems all right with that. He is dedicated to the company’s success, and of course I try to point out that he gets credit for the technology. I think it is important to blindly trust someone else.
We talk business all the time. We have to work hard to talk about other themes so that we can stay interesting to each other! We also have to focus on keeping a distance at the workplace. We have to ensure that we talk to each other the same way we would to any other employee. We have been very careful about that. People are comfortable working for us knowing that we are fair.
Sramana Mitra: I think it is a question of mature egos versus insecure egos. You have expressed excellent judgment in choosing someone who has a secure ego. He does not need external validation and realizes the benefits of each of you working in a way that maximizes your strengths.
San Banerjee: Thank you, that is a very nice way of putting it.
Sramana Mitra: Excellent. I think you will have a long haul ahead, but I imagine you are enjoying your success. Congratulations. I really do look forward to following your success.
[This interview is featured in my Entrepreneur Journeys book, Bootstrapping With a Paycheck; Also check out my Entrepreneur Journeys book, Seed India – How To Navigate The Seed Capital Gap in India]