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Bootstrapping with a Paycheck and Scaling in Coimbatore: Kovai CEO Saravana Kumar (Part 3)

Posted on Wednesday, Nov 4th 2020

Sramana Mitra: What happens in 2012?

Saravana Kumar: I got 30 more customers in 2012. I was single handedly doing everything. I was a one-man team. I did the accounting, support, and the releasing of the product. I decided that I wanted to reach about 30 customers.

I’ve been based out of London ever since I moved. I converted my living room into a small office and I first hired someone to support me on the non-technical operations of the company. Being that small, it was difficult to convince anybody.

I hired this girl that didn’t have a job for a long time and trained her. Gradually, I’ve grown the team to about five people in that small living room serving 60 to 70 customers. I was running it in that set up for about two years. 

Sramana Mitra: By this time in 2012, were you already full time with the business? Did you quit Fidelity?

Saravana Kumar: Yes, I’d quit Fidelity already. After the first 30 customers, I quit Fidelity. 

Sramana Mitra: When did you quit? Middle of 2012?

Saravana Kumar: It was at the end of 2011.

Sramana Mitra: Did you have 30 customers at the end of 2011?

Saravana Kumar: No. When I had the first five customers, I quit. Up until getting 35 customers, I was doing everything by myself. 

Sramana Mitra: I see. After 35 customers, you started hiring people. So you have 65 customers with these five employees in your living room. That brings us to 2013?

Saravana Kumar: Yes. 

Sramana Mitra: What was the revenue at this point in 2013?

Saravana Kumar: It would be around $500,000 to $600,000. 

Sramana Mitra: What happens in 2014?

Saravana Kumar: At the end of  2013, I saw the potential to scale the business. At the same time, I knew it would be very costly to scale this business in London.

In terms of cost, it would be impossible, so that’s when I decided to set up something in India. I thought about where to start it. I wanted to start it in a good city like Bangalore or Chennai because it would be hard to start it in my hometown in Coimbatore.

I didn’t have any good connections in Bangalore or Chennai because I had never lived in those cities, so it was going to be difficult. I decided to start it in my hometown thinking that at least I would get some support. I started in December 2013.

I started the India operation in a small 1000-square-foot office. I hired a couple of people there and I’ve grown the team to about 15 people and about 150 customers. I had 5 employees in the UK and 15 in India. This continued until May of 2015 when we moved into a bigger office. 

Sramana Mitra: In terms of finding talent in Coimbatore, could you describe your experience there in the engineering school that you were hiring from? What was the method and where were you finding these people?

Saravana Kumar: At the start, it was through the classic route of going through recruitment agencies. I got a recommendation from a friend who is running a recruitment business and they found the first five people. Luckily, we got some really good people in the beginning.

Four of the first five employees are still with us to this day. It’s a bit of luck to have really good people who joined us and they’ve grown with us. Now, they are leading different products. After we started scaling, it was a challenge to find the right talent. We were struggling to find some senior resources.

I was debating starting something in Chennai or Bangalore. We did an exercise for three months to set up an office there. I was also meeting Sanjay Parthasarathy. I met him in Seattle when I was visiting the Microsoft office. I met him in his office and I was telling him what was happening with my business.

He said, “Tell me how many resources you are going to hire.” I told him about 50 to 60. Then he asked, “What is the population of Bangalore? Are there good colleges?” I told him that there are 10 million people in Bangalore and the top 3 colleges in India are in Bangalore.

He then told me, “Out of the 60 people you are going to hire, you only need 10 people who are highly skilled.” That’s when I realized that there’s too much overhead to start something in Chennai or Bangalore. 

Sramana Mitra: That attrition would kill you.

This segment is part 3 in the series : Bootstrapping with a Paycheck and Scaling in Coimbatore: Kovai CEO Saravana Kumar
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