Student Startup to Getting Acquired- Ankit Gupta on Innovese's Journey
Talk to us about the idea of Innovese. How did it come about? What problem were you trying to solve?
Innovese Technologies started out as a college (BITS-Pilani) outfit that provided web/design services and consultancy. Since October 2010, we were dedicated towards working on their new product named yo!CAPTCHA- An innovative form of online advertising where they deliver ads through CAPTCHAs. This is a very interesting and powerful platform that replaces the regular warped-text based CAPTCHAs with crisp and clear advertisements. Instead of asking a user to recognize and type a random string, they are asked a simple question based on the ad. This solves the problem of the whole irritating user experience of solving a CAPTCHA, makes publisher earn revenues out of them and advertisers get a brand recall and cognitive advertising, with an impact like never before! When I met Neeraj first in my third year, he used to run a small outfit by the name of Cube Inc. from college and I had a tiny initiative ADShack Studios. Neeraj had hardcore programming experience, and I was consulting small organizations with creatives and graphic design. When we met and discussed, it immediately clicked, and frequency matched. We immediately decided to start working together and give it a more professional way to proceed. Hence, we formed Innovese.
Tell us about your experience of being a student entrepreneur? How exciting or challenging was it? What have been your key learnings?
The "student" tag for us proved to be both a hindrance and a boost. Sometimes it was difficult to convince clients on some major projects that we as a student firm are reliable and can really deliver great performance. Most of the times, being a student helped. While starting up as a student you have lesser risks to put on stake. There are lot of avenues and opportunities available for student run companies and network like NEN and a lot of other international organisations too have special programmes for students. Being a student is a very energetic phase of your life, there are no days or nights. Our experience was also exciting as well as challenging. Not appearing for placements was a big decision, and sometimes made us re-think.
Your very first venture got acquired by a conglomerate. We are sure this was exciting, but can you take us through the experience? How did you make this happen?
We were acquired by Networkplay (A Gruner+Jahr Company) in September last year. The path till acquisition wasn't an easy one, the digital advertising industry in India is very relationship-driven and tricky. We were working with Networkplay as our exclusive partners for sales for about a year, which gradually developed into buy-out conversations. Networkplay saw yoCAPTCHA and our team as the right fit for their company at that point of time and finally the acquisition was decided. We were happy with the exit and being a part of a large media company has helped us and the product a lot. Moreover, this success story at a young age has added humongous value to start our next venture aggressively.
How has this success changed you? What are your goals now?
Our previous experience has definitely made us raise the bar. I think the entire team has grown leaps and bounds in terms of financial and market understanding, dynamics of business in India and this maturity reflects. The phase of Innovese & yoCAPTCHA has been a tremendously challenging, humbling and learning experience for all of us. My goal is to set up a successful consumer internet company from India, with a vision of technology built in India for the world. I am already working on shaping my next venture and the journey shall continue.
As one of the early participants of the TFD platform, what were some of the key things you were able to take away? What do you believe participants today should focus on?
One of the biggest thing to take away was "credibility". As students, specially, when you're in services business (which we were when we started), it's very tricky to make your customers trust you and rely on you. TFD gave us that brand value which made our pitch stronger. Secondly, it was a golden opportunity to tap into NEN mentors network. We were able to get valuable advises from industry veterans, NEN helped us connect to not only business advisers but also to legal/patent attorneys. We also received much help from fellow start-ups and their founders, many of them are good friends till date. TFD participants are students, and in all likelihood are working on their first venture. TFD comes as great opportunity to connect with like-minded people and be a part of one of the finest mentor networks. My advise would be to connect with as many fellow entrepreneurs and mentors as they can. They should also watch out for various NEN events which happen, and try to attend as many local events as well.
Do you have any ideas of how the startup ecosystem can support student entrepreneurs? Do you believe more can be done?
I think starting early is a challenging but an immensely learning phase of your life. Today we have a far more developed start-up ecosystem in India as compared to our time around 4-5 years back. There are numerous accelerator programs, incubators, mentor-ship networks which entrepreneurs can make use of. This is definitely very healthy and encouraging. The start-up ecosystem today can support young entrepreneurs with loads of services be it tech, business, legal, hiring and much more. Being a part of it definitely eases the difficulties which you face while running your company and are out of your control and skill-set. According to me we need a more internationally exposed ecosystem (efforts have started on this, but they need to expedited) as most of the ideas today are not necessarily localized in nature but could be viable at a global level.