Rohith started a services company in his hometown – a small town on the west coast of Karnataka, India. Fifteen years later, the company is generating $18 million in revenue and has raised two sizable rounds of VC funding. I found the story exhilarating!
Sramana Mitra: Let’s go to the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Rohith Bhat: I was born in Udupi, India. It’s a small town on the west coast of the country. Then I went to the local school and university and studied engineering and computer science in 1992. Once I finished engineering, I had an opportunity to go on to work for a company in Japan for Recosoft. I worked for this company for around three and a half years.
Sramana Mitra: Japanese society is not fluent in English, so you must have had some difficulty adjusting to that.
Rohith Bhat: Yes. This was in 1993. That was the time when the Japanese Yen was at its strongest and Japan’s economy was strong. They were challenging the US on so many different industries. How could a country build itself to an economic and technological power?
That was pretty challenging. I was taken with their culture. They’re very respectful. Their work ethic was impressive. That was the genesis of my startup. As a country, Japan was a major inspiration for me. I said, “Once I go back, I’m going to start something.” My job there was building Japanese word processor on the Apple Mac platform.
Sramana Mitra: Did you pick up Japanese in this process?
Rohith Bhat: Yes, but I’m not very fluent. I could speak in Japanese enough to get by a weekend in the country. I came back to India in late 1995. I decided that I should start something. I knew only two things back then. One is I wanted to do a startup and second was that my expertise was building products on Apple Mac platform.
Apple was just coming into India at that time. They had a 20-people team in India. Everyone on the team was either a marketing or a sales person. None of them were technical. Because they needed a technical guy, I was happy to tag along. The first project was for Apple. They were building Indian language capabilities.
Sramana Mitra: You were doing this out of which part of India?
Rohith Bhat: I was in Bombay at that time. When I started the company, I started in Bombay. We got some good money out of it. I built that project with two other freelancers whom I knew from an earlier stint. That helped me get more follow-on engagements. I traveled to the US for their developer conference. Apple started introducing us to their partner companies in Singapore, US, Europe, and Israel. That helped us to start building something. The first two years was in Bombay.
Sramana Mitra: How were you getting customers?
Rohith Bhat: Apple was referring us to them. We were executing the work based on what Apple gave us. They would do email introductions. We would interact with them through email. They would send the job specification. We would build the software based on that.