I got a chance to be interviewed on FB Live with Yourstory, India’s biggest and definitive platform for startups and entrepreneurs related stories, in Hindi.
We’ve translated the interview for you. (Edited for brevity)
Ranjana, Yourstory (YS): Right now, with me is Santosh Shukla from f1Studioz, who had come from Hyderabad to Bangalore. And I thought, why should I hear his startup story alone, why not share with all of you?
So, let’s listen to how an IT Engineer started up, what motivated and excited him that he left his cushy job and started. Let’s hear from Santosh himself.
Santosh Shukla, f1Studioz (SS): Thank you Ranjana and all the viewers too. I always wanted to do something of my own.
I have worked with companies like Oracle, Infosys, InsideView etc and I was in Product Management department where we decide how to take the Product forward, what features shall go in the product and that is when I realized if we do something of our own, then the impact that we create can be much bigger and we would be able to share our perspective with a lot more people.
In Product Management, I realized that there is this shift happening across the world from Services mindset to Product mindset. So, this was the right time when I decided either we have to build a great product of ours or help others who are doing it. This is why we started f1Studioz, User Experience Design company and we have been successful in that mission and hope to going forward.
YS: For the hindi speaking audience, the word Startup is very new. A lot of people do not know what startup is. So, I would like the Entrepreneur to tell what Startup means?
SS: Startup is a concept which means that you wish to start something new, you have an idea that you wish to take to the world. So, the initial stages, where you are trying to identify whether the idea or product/service that you wish to provide to people, would be accepted by people or not? This phase of that journey is called a “Startup”.
There is no strict definition of this term, people have different variations.
YS: Smaller companies would fall in this category
YS: So, your company f1Studioz… How does it operate?
SS: We have a very open culture. Typically in bigger organisations, there is a big hierarchy — CEO, VPs, Managers and then Engineers or Designers. In a startup, everyone sits in the same office floor. Team spirit is much higher, and uncertainty is very high. You do not know what you are going to do next, what the next step would be. In bigger companies, you predict the roadmap for next three years. Here in a startup, we can decide and change the course very quickly. We can react to the market and environment very fast. The biggest strength of a startup is their agility. In a bigger company, there is a lot of bureaucracy and sluggishness. It takes time for the vision of the CEO to reach the last level of employees.
Since, in startups the team is together and very dynamic, we could work on problems very fast.
YS: Are you only in India or you have presence outside too?
SS: We are in two places in India — Hyderabad, which is our headquarters and in Bangalore. And we are also registered in the US and we have our Sales consultants there. We do a lot of business in the US. In fact, a large part of our revenue comes from US based organizations — companies like The Home Depot, CognitiveScale, Veraction etc.
Nowadays, a new buzzword in the industry is Artificial Intelligence. Many people do not know what would the applications of this technology be. We work on that and define how the AI applications’ user experience would look like or feel like.
YS: How long have you been in startup? When did you start your company?
SS: We started in October, 2012. We completed 5 years recently.
SS: Thank you! We are hoping that we continue to progress like this and proceed further.
YS: How do you see yourself from the time you started to now and beyond?
SS: I want to tell the audience that the word startup seems very exciting, sounds very good. Many people leave their jobs and careers to start up. However, the big fact is that 90% of the companies are not able to be successful. The initial first and second year are the most critical. I’d like to say that we have crossed those. The question that whether this company would work or not — is not there. The question is how big can we make it? We are in that phase.
The way I look at it is, since we serve the Product companies – the way we would grow is by having smaller offices in many geographies across the world, and not having thousands of people in one location like Infosys or TCS. We are in a very specialised, niche field.
YS: As you told me, that you are 2005 Engineering pass-out and then you worked with Infosys for a while and worked with various companies till 2012. So, when a well settled boy working in a big MNC, earning 7-figure salary, everything works well. When you decide all of sudden, that you wish to quit — Did the family not create any trouble or did they happily agree to your decision?
SS: That is a very good question. In fact, I had read this in one of your reports itself that the biggest reason in India to not startup is the pressure from the family. They say, “why would you leave a well settled job?”
I say that once you have reached the level where you are earning Lakhs, your family starts to respect you that you have proved yourself and if you’ve thought about something differently — You could be right.
This could be difficult for someone who is doing it just out of college. As others might say, “you haven’t achieved something yet and now you wish to start something new.”
I had good support. I am married and have a kid too. My wife supported me a lot. She is working herself, she is an HR Manager.
I would say we should take risks but well thought out risks. I had a good support system and assured that the house would run. My wife’s salary is there. My cofounder also took some time to join, he also saved his salary for a while. That is how people should plan.
Don’t just jump into the startup world visualising the rosy pictures, but also have a closer look at your circumstances too.
YS: So, did you start with Self funding? Are you still self funded?
SS: Yes, we started and are still self funded. Me and my cofounder own the entire equity. This helps in better control of the business. The good part since we are in the Services business is that there is a constant flow of income from projects. To grow from customers money is a lot better than from investors money, till the time you can.
Yes, if we decide on aggressive growth, we might think of external funding.
YS: With how much money, did you start the company? And what is the turnover today?
SS: We started with very less. In today’s world, because of the advent of technology, you do not need a lot of capital to start an IT company.
As far as I remember, we started with INR 50,000 (approx USD 750). Out of that INR 30,000 was spent on the incorporation and we took 2 flexi desks at CIE, IIIT Hyderabad. Since, we are a Pvt Ltd company, we don’t feel a need to disclose the numbers — But I would like to say that yes, our revenue is in Crores.
YS: What does your company, f1Studioz do?
SS: In simpler terms, for the benefit of audience — You use a lot of applications like Uber, Ola, Whatsapp. There are a lot of applications that even if you use for first time, you know what to do. Whatsapp can be used even by illiterate people.
This whole discipline is called User Experience Design. What should they see, what should their workflow be. This whole discipline is called User Experience Design. We also do User Interface Development (UI) which is also called Front-end coding. We have not diversified a lot. We are very focussed on what we do.
We feel that we are the #1 Product UX Company in India.
YS: Why Hyderabad? Why not some other city?
SS: I would say, that happened by chance. Because both of the cofounders were there. Hyderabad has a lot of potential. After Bangalore, Hyderabad is the biggest place for IT. All the big software product companies have their offices there like Google, Microsoft, Oracle. We were working with Oracle ourselves.
Ecosystem in Hyderabad is very good. The collaboration of the trio — Industry, Academia, and the Policy Makers (Government) is the best. That seamless experience is not seen anywhere else in the country. I would like all the other companies to establish themselves in Hyderabad too.
YS: But if everyone comes to Hyderabad, then the day is not far when infrastructure there too will start becoming a bottleneck. Let Hyderabad remain the good city as it is. (smiling)
SS: You are right in some sense. Geographically, Hyderabad has a scope to grow on all sides. That’s a big plus for a city. There is no constraint on any of the sides. So, that factor may help.
YS: I am hoping the audience would have got answers to a lot of their questions. And I felt very good talking to Santosh. He shared his journey with us. We will soon be back with a new journey, a new story…
SS: Thank you!
(Please feel free to ask your questions related to starting up, Entrepreneurship or UX to me at santosh(at)f1studioz.com)