Sramana Mitra: Up till what point were you operationally involved?
Beerud Sheth: I was there until 2005, or about seven years in the company. In 2001, we started this enterprise software and we sold it in 2007. While the company was heavily focused on the enterprise side, I was a little less interested in that part. I was itching to start something else. That was when I moved on with Webaroo.
Sramana Mitra: What was the concept behind Webaroo?
Beerud Sheth: Webaroo has been a mobile messaging company from the beginning. Around that time, which was pre-iPhone days, we ended up building up a text messaging platform. For a variety of reasons, we ended up focusing on Asia, India in particular.
Sramana Mitra: You moved back to India at that point?
Beerud Sheth: Our engineering team was there. I was commuting from here. At some point, my wife got fed up of my commuting and said, “Pick a place and stay there.” It was in 2010 that we moved to India.
Sramana Mitra: What does the mobile messaging platform cater to?
Beerud Sheth: On feature phones, the only way to reach users is through text messaging or voice calls. We saw SMS as the transport layer, so to speak in delivering content and bite-sized messages. For enterprises, we built a platform where whether it’s social company, banks, airlines, or e-commerce, they can send confirmation or transaction alerts to their customers. We even briefly built a consumer platform. It’s almost like Twitter where people could publish their own content and others would follow that content. Twitter was inspired by SMS but it essentially became a web product. Our consumer product was wildly successful but for a variety of operator and regulatory challenges in India, the consumer part didn’t scale but the enterprise part is doing extremely well. We are the largest SMS platform in India right now.
Sramana Mitra: The carriers pay for it?
Beerud Sheth: Enterprises pay us and we pay carriers. We buy capacity from carriers.
Sramana Mitra: The enterprises are using it to send confirmation and marketing messages.
Beerud Sheth: Exactly. Meanwhile, smart phones happened. That’s when we came up with the idea of team chat. That’s what we are focused on right now.
Sramana Mitra: Just to get the basics, did you venture fund Webaroo?
Beerud Sheth: Yes, we’ve raised about $50 million from Charles River, Helion, and Globespan.
Sramana Mitra: That funding was done in Silicon Valley? Helion is an Indian fund.
Beerud Sheth: Exactly. We are a Valley company with an Indian subsidiary.
Sramana Mitra: But your market is mostly Asia?
Beerud Sheth: For the text messaging portion, yes. I think it’s going to be a global market.