[Also check out my Entrepreneur Journeys book, Seed India – How To Navigate The Seed Capital Gap in India]
Selling technology to small businesses in India is hard work. Customers are uninitiated to technology’s sophistication, and have expectations of high-touch customer service even when they pay little in subscription fees. Knowlarity is succeeding in a market where many have failed. Sequoia Capital and Mayfield are backing the company.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your personal story. Tell us where you’re from. Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of circumstances?
Ambarish Gupta: I grew up in Kanpur. Kanpur used to be a great industrial town with a lot of government-owned industries. As a child, I watched this city go literally down the drain. I grew up in a business family. I had a lot of interest in Physics and Mathematics.Growing up, as everybody else, I aspired to get into IIT. I got into IIT-Kanpur from where I got a degree in Computer Science and Engineering. I graduated from IIT in 2000. Earlier, I used to think that I would like to become a scientist. While in IIT, I figured that it was very academic.
When I graduated, I took a job at Fraunhofer. That was during the dot-com boom. I didn’t want to go to US directly. I wanted to see the world before I went to US. So when I got a job offer in Australia, I took it. I did my internship in Germany and spent a year in Australia.
After that, I went to Silicon Valley. Around 2003, I realized that software engineering was not very exciting for me. I always wanted to start something of my own. I came back to India to start my first company. We were doing apartment brokerage on the web. It didn’t eventually work out. It was a pretty bad time to start the company.
Sramana Mitra: Where were you based to do that company? Were you based in Kanpur?
Ambarish Gupta: I was in Bangalore. It was a pretty exciting experience. I had $40,000, but it ran out very quickly. I struggled in Bangalore trying to sell software and trying to hire people. I guess I didn’t really try that hard. I then went on to do MBA from Carnegie Mellon. While I was in MBA school, people were saying that without experience, it’s unlikely that you’ll be taken in right after MBA. So I did some strategy consulting to build up my experience. I did an internship at Booz Allen.