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Indian startups are often accused of chasing hype instead of profitability. Part of that means they go after famous investors with deep pockets – be it Housing or TinyOwl or even a unicorn like Flipkart. But away from the spotlight, some have managed to survive for years without any external money.
They have made profits, ploughed the money back into the business, thought of creative ways to solve a crisis, and expanded at their own pace – all the while cherishing their freedom. It’s a freedom that the founders of many VC-funded companies trade for scaling up fast – only to regret it later.
That’s what bootstrapping is all about. It needs an awful lot of confidence in the product. It needs patience and financial discipline. It needs caution. In turn, it allows entrepreneurs the flexibility to make mistakes and learn from them.
Here we take a look at eight cool Indian startups that started out with their own funds and had the gumption to stay the course:
Offering online bookings and holiday packages, this startup steps in when people want to step out. Based in Chandigarh, Antilog Vacations claims to offer the cheapest prices available for tours – offline or online. And going by the number of travelers it has bagged – 30,000 travelers over the past three years – they might be on to something.
The company was founded in 2010 by two former Infosys techies and friends, Mohit Singla and Abhishek Jaiswal. Today it operates in 17 markets, the major ones being India, France, UK, the US, Germany, and Japan.
And yes, they are happy to be bootstrapped. “Without raising any money from investors, Antilog has grown organically,” its website says. The company believes “good word of mouth makes a better impact than good advertisements.”
We Do Sky
Want a bird’s eye view? Try Delhi-based startup We Do Sky, which sends up drones to create virtual maps. Founded by IT graduate Jaspreet Makkar in 2014, it is in high demand among construction and mining companies.
While still in college, Jaspreet made and sold projects of use to college students. He saved this money up and decided to put it to good use – by launching a data capture startup that would keep him close to his passion, drones.
Today We Do Sky is a team of engineers and drone enthusiasts who offer solutions that help enterprises make data-driven decisions. It counts top names like Proptiger, NDTV, and CommonFloor among its clients. Jaspreet has confidently kept the company bootstrapped as he believes it is going to be one of the big companies of the future.
Leading software products company Zoho Corporation was founded in 1996 by Sridhar Vembu. Based in California and Chennai, it has a 3,000 strong workforce.
The company makes the popular Zoho Office Suite, a set of office productivity applications that has 15 million users. It has 100,000 institutional clients the world over.
Sridhar, an IIT graduate who also holds a doctorate in electrical engineering, says venture capital has been funding a lot of losses and is sure his company will never go public. The rate at which they have grown was comfortable and easy for them to manage, he says.
What began as a quest for pocket money turned into multibillion dollar business.FusionCharts is a data visualization company based in Kolkata and Bangalore. In simple words, the company helps create smart charts with animation, designs, and interactive elements that can help businesses drive up sales.
Founded in 2002 by Pallav Nadhani, who holds a masters degree in computer science, it has more than 24,000 customers and 500,000 developers using it in 120 countries. Pallav was just 17 when he wrote an article to make some pocket money – and the idea of FusionCharts was born out of that.
But he has been steadfast about one thing – no investors. Pallav puts it politely: “As of now, we just want to build great products, and not get distracted.” He points out another advantage of being bootstrapped: it helps you approach a problem creatively instead of with money.
Founded by former Motorola employees Onkar Singh and Prakash Gupta, 42Gears is a leading provider of EMM solutions. That is, its products help businesses manage and secure their mobile devices.
Today they cater to more than 5,000 companies across 90 countries in industries like healthcare, telecom, education, aviation, and food and beverages. “We are a profitable set-up, bootstrapped and running successfully for the past seven years,” Onkar says.
They say they have never resisted growth partners, but operating in a niche space with very few players has obviously helped them scale up.
Yes, you guessed it from the name. San Francisco- and Bangalore-based SignEasy is a smart way for businesses and professionals to sign documents from their phones, tablets, and the web. It has been featured by Apple in its “What’s Hot” section.
The app has seen 3.5 million downloads across 150 countries since it was founded in 2010 by IIT graduate Sunil Patro. He says it has been profitable for three years. More than half ofSignEasy’s customers are in North America, 20 percent are in Europe and the rest are spread across the world.
“Being bootstrapped is not about ‘if I have x, I just spend it.’ If I have x, what will I do with it? The fact that we can make those mistakes with our own money, it makes us more cautious about it,” Sunil says. He believes it takes a lot of confidence in one’s product to stay bootstrapped.
Delhi-based Wingify aims to develop the world’s best tools for optimizing a website. A software as a service (SaaS) company, its products can help an enterprise increase its website sales, conversions, and signups without spending on advertising.
Wingify’s flagship product is a website testing platform called Visual Website Optimizer (VWO), which is used by over 4,000 customers in more than 80 countries. The company was founded in 2009 by Delhi College of Engineering graduate Paras Chopra, who was just in grade 10 when he first made money by selling a program.
Wingify has remained bootstrapped for over six years. Paras believes being bootstrapped has helped the company “stay very focused.”
This London-headquartered startup believes businesses can grow better through good customer service. Kayako is a multi-channel helpdesk. It was founded in India’s Jalandhar by another 17-year-old. Varun Shoor dropped out of college to start it in 2001 when online support “was clunky, frustrating, or just not there.”
Today Kayako has some 30,000 customers and a 140-member team that works across eight countries. It boasts of clients like NASA and Toshiba.
The company has not received any funding from external investors so far and is still profitable. Varun says he wanted to pursue his own dream and not work for anyone else. He believes it’s good to make mistakes and learn from them instead of having to bow down to investor expectations early on.
Image by Simon Cunningham via Flickr.