How we bootstrapped to our first profit

It feels nice. A full 24 months after we wrote the first lines of code of CutShort, we have finally turned in profit this month. A proud moment for a bootstrapped startup like us.

How did we reach here?

It looked hard but just stuck to the basics. We worked hard building a good product that solved the problems of our users. We optimized for growth & learning and not for revenue- in fact we were happy to have regular users who didn’t pay us in cash but in good will and loads of word of mouth.

Looking to bootstrap? Here is a caveat!

As we have explained earlier, there were two factors that worked in our favor. First, we were in a great market in which users had a BIG problem, one that they were accustomed to pay for. Hiring talent has been an established need and companies are accustomed paying for it. If you are trying to solve a new problem for which users have never paid in the past, it may not be so easy for you.

Second, our team was incredibly lean and cross functional. We just had 5 full time members who pulled the weight of our entire development, marketing & support operations. If you need to hire more and pay them enough salaries, your costs will be much higher.

What’s next?

Yes, this is a proud moment. It’s liberating to know that we won’t need to seed our bank account for outgoing expenses next month. But we’re aware that our costs are artificially low right now. We don’t pay the founding team and our costs will balloon as we grow faster.

So our next milestones are pretty much laid out clearly. We need to continue growing the platform, both in India as well as globally. We are excited about our new products such as Channels and Voila and will continue to make our flagship products stronger. Alongside, we absolutely need to organically grow revenues to fuel our growth and product development costs.

The first milestone took 24 months. We definitely believe our next milestones will come about faster.

Suggestions or comments? Feel free to comment below.

Banning Amazon and Uber won’t work; let’s help each other ?

In 2016, while the world seemed to look inward (e.g. Brexit, Trump), it’s great that we Indians managed to largely remain a liberal lot. We Indians retained our firm belief in free markets and unanimously voted against anything that threatened the level playing field. We shot down clever monopolistic ideas such as Airtel Zero and Facebook FreeBasics and became unabashed fans of global companies such as Amazon & Starbucks.

So it wasn’t surprising when most of Indian startup community joined hands in criticizing two of our most successful entrepreneurs – Sachin Bansal from Flipkart and Bhavish Aggrawal from Ola when they urged the government to support them  like China does.

The problem with China model

Sachin and Bhavish have their reasons, but are perhaps forgetting what they seemed to know so well until recently. While protectionism may help in short term, it only makes companies incompetent in the longer run. Driving out global companies from Indian market will also deprive us of the world class products that our consumers love and inspire our entrepreneurs.

This “fair competition” in India has been instrumental in preventing monopolies by local companies, which is what has happened in China where a handful of companies such as Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu completely dominate many markets. Without this competition, we simply won’t have created strong companies such as Paytm, Flipkart, Ola, Oyo Rooms, Zoho, etc in the first place.

But are Indian startups ready to fight this competition?

That said, Sachin and Bhavish (and a few others) do have a valid point. While we invite global companies to India, are we creating local companies that can compete with them?

Because if not, then the whole purpose of “fair competition” will be lost. Instead of monopolies by local companies it will create monopolies by foreign companies. In fact, this has already happened in India where many products from global giants such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon completely dominate the various markets.  And this domination is only accelerating – companies such as Slack, Dropbox, Snapchat and Airbnb have gained significant market share. And tons of others are preparing for the onslaught in near future – such as Netflix, Spotify, Stripe, Trello, Intercom, Medium, AngelList & ProductHunt.

So why do foreign startups win and how can compete with them?

Unlike a lot other people who blame the weak visions of our entrepreneurs for this, the truth is that we simply don’t have the supporting ecosystem to create world class startups. We still don’t have the 3 basic ingredients  — easy access to capital, availability of experienced talent and a mature ecosystem that offers mentors, initial adopters, supportive social fabric, better infrastructure and a strong legal system.

Yes, things have improved in last 5 years as far as funding and talent is concerned. But the big problem is – our startup ecosystem hasn’t improved much. Yes, startups are now more mainstream but we are still relative immature – we don’t understand failures and over glamorize startups.

The biggest opportunity missed here seems to be getting contributions from startups themselves. They often see themselves as only the “beneficiaries” of this ecosystem — not as “givers” who could help others too. Unlike the bigger startups in China which actively invest or partner with other startups in many different sectors (such as Tencent going out of the way to help Didi Chuxing) those in India seem to be more internally focused. Take a look at Alibaba’s investments in different sectors recently:

china startups

In contrast, contributions from Indian startups mostly come in the form of small angel sums or pep talks at startup events by their founders in their personal capacity.

Building ecosystem is a shared responsibility

However, let’s get it straight – supporting other startups is not a responsibility of only the bigger startups. There are thousands of startups who could pool their resources to build a strong ecosystem. They are often too internally focussed and are uninterested to do simple things that could help the ecosystem. They could be early adopters of other startups, mentor young entrepreneurs, promote them in their marketing channels or provide office space to others.

To give a small example, at our startup, when we research products or services to buy, we make it a point to check the Indian alternatives available. If they offer desired quality of service at similar price, we try them out first. Today we use Sendx (instead of customer.io), Pepipost (instead of Amazon) and SendOTP (instead of Twitter Digits).

We also offer free promotion space to some high quality startups in our online events that attract thousands of high value professionals:

promote your startup

Depending on your startup, you way to help others might be different. You could perhaps partner with your favorite Indian startups, give them honest feedback to improve or simply have a Friday post to feature them on your Facebook page.

Let me know if your startup would like to play a more active role in building the startup ecosystem in India. We can explore some ideas and take it to the 1600+ startups that use our platform.

Let’s do this in 2017!

SocialHelpouts is now CutShort!

Yes, that’s true. After a year of experimentation and learning, we are changing our name to “CutShort”.

Why? SocialHelpouts was a great name, but only when we had explained it to someone for a good 10 minutes. When an average attention span is less than 10 seconds, asking for 10 minutes online is like asking for someone’s life.

“CutShort” is short, sweet and just explains our mission well. After all, we want to cut short your long winding path to the right jobs or candidates. Really short.

It took us about 10 days to rebrand our system. And it will give us an extra 10 minutes in our conversation with users. Not a bad bargain.

What should we use those extra 10 minutes for? How do you find CutShort? Eager to hear your thoughts!

 

 

 

Why we didn’t raise funding early on

 

race-for-funding

Are you guys funded?

Everyone loves to ask this question. People at startup events, college buddies on WhatsApp groups and even co-passengers on flights.

And sure, I get it. In the world littered with umpteen startups, funding reflects a certain external validation and “seriousness” of your venture. So nothing wrong with this question, really. But what gets to my nerves is the way the conversation goes next:

I: No, we are bootstrapped.

The guy: Uh oh. Yeah, funding is a big problem these days.

Wait a minute. I only said we are bootstrapped.  Did it automatically imply that we failed at raising funds? Is raising funds the only way to build a startup?

Of course not. There are many successful startups that bootstrapped to success including the likes of Mailchimp and GitHub. But these are heady startup days and most people equate “funding” with “success”. In an emotional post recently, Sumanth Ragahvendra put it this way:

We no longer care about what a startup has achieved or aims to do, the problems it solves, the benefits it provides or the impact it has had.

We only care about one thing — how much funding has a startup raised. And that amount determines where you are slotted in the startup caste system…

At SocialHelpouts, we decided to skip raising funds early on. Our product idea could be applied to many markets and we were not sure which one would work out better. And even after choosing a market (“network hiring”), our biggest task was to figure out what problems we would solve best for which segment of that market.

At early stage, our biggest task was to choose a market, test it and find our sweet spot. Funding was not going to do it for us – we had to do it ourselves.

So in last 10 months, we evaluated different markets problems and experimented with different solutions to tackle them. We played with positioning and tried different ways of acquiring our users. Along the way, we worked on creative initiatives such as easyConnects, helping laid off employees form PubMatic and Foodpanda and doing highly focused hiring events such as JoinTheRocketship. These things not only helped us test different approaches to solving problems but also helped us identify our own strengths and weaknesses as a team.

Yes, angel funding exists to solve exactly this purpose. But finding a good angel can still take months and cause distraction away from the much needed customer discovery process. We had sufficient funds of our own that we found more convenient to dip into.

But let me add some caution – bootstrapping can be hard. Expenses on even simple things like hosting and office space can add up quickly. The reasons we have been able to do this are:

We had a lean and cross functional team: We have had only 3 full time employees to cover the entire gamut of operations – development, marketing and support. We all believe in our mission and are happier with more equity than cash.
We had sufficient funds to last 12+ months: This is not about just surviving 12 months. You should be able to provide a great experience to your users. For instance, we spent a disproportionate amount on our website infrastructure, customer experience (Intercom!) and an air conditioned office that kept our team productive.
There was a tangible path to revenue: We were operating in a proven market with a clear revenue potential (hiring companies). Companies will pay for a hiring product that helps them hire, there was never a doubt about that. To at least survive, we just had to build a decent enough product.

Your situation might be different. May be you need to raise funds early or may be you need not. But whatever you do, please don’t just assume you need funding because everyone’s seems to be raising it.

What do you think? Do you think startups are focusing more on getting funded than working on achieving product-market fit?

 

Startup hiring: How is SocialHelpouts different?

Startup hiring is hard. Not because there are not enough hiring solutions but because they deliver more noise than actual results.

For example,  it is not uncommon to get 100+ applications on job posted on say LinkedIn, Naukri or HasJob. But most of these are irrelevant or come from fence-sitters. No wonder that one of the startups hiring on SocialHelpouts reports a ratio of 600 applications to 1 hire!

We have designed SocialHelpouts to make startup hiring easy and efficient. Here’s how:

  • Smart matchmaking

startups hiring made easy with a strong matchmaking

SocialHelpouts heavily uses matchmaking to suggest only the jobs or candidates that fit your needs.  This saves time and increases the quality of interactions that get initiated on the platform.

  • No spam. No frivolous messages.

Thanks to our unique credit system, a user can initiate conversations with only a limited number of people. So,  a candidate can only reply to a handful of jobs and an employer can only contact a limited number of candidates. This cuts down on noise drastically.

  • Referrals from your entire network

startups hiring on SocialHelpouts get referrals from their entire network

SocialHelpouts unifies ALL your existing connections on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. This means a candidate can find mutual friends across different social networks. For a hiring startup, it means not only your current employees but your entire network may introduce an interested candidate to you.

  • Unleash the power of your trusted network

Network recommendations- the key part of startup hiring

SocialHelpouts gives you valuable intel when someone in your network starts looking for new opportunities or recommends a candidate that matches your needs.

But that’s just a start. Startups can also involve their trusted network of friends, colleagues, investors and mentors in hiring.  With SocialHelpouts, these users can easily recommend and refer interesting candidates without doing a lot of hard work. It’s like putting referrals on  autopilot.

Result? We have happy users such as Gaurav Misra from Letsintern.com, who was able to close a critical hiring in just half a day.  Or Abhimanyu Bhosale from LiveHealth who was able to hire 4 key employees in just 2 weeks. Or Gaurav Sava from Adkarlo who closed 2 key positions within 2 weeks of using SocialHelpouts.

Try it yourself and let us know how can be improve: http://socialhelpouts.com

How we facilitated 150+ meetings in 1 day at PuneConnect 2015

Connect with the people you want.

Sounds simple, isn’t it? But it can be deceptively difficult.

Take for example big events such as TieConPune and PuneConnect . One of the biggest reasons we go to these events is to meet other interesting people. There are tons of people around, some of which are the ones you most want to meet such as investors, mentors, early adopters or geeks. Randomly bumping into people and kickstarting conversations is often wasteful, sometimes awkward and hardly foolproof.

Our attempt to solve this problem
We had experienced this pain in our earlier experience of attending events. Since we are on a mission to let people connect with the right people (check out how we connect startups with talent) , we just couldn’t stop ourselves from taking a stab at it. So a few months ago we built a simple prototype – a mobile optimized web-app that let people discover other event participants and show interest in meeting them.

We had also validated an early prototype at TieConPune15 and Unpluggd summer edition. Following Paul Graham’s advice of doing things that don’t scale – the product emailed every meeting request to Anubhav who would then manually text it from his personal phone.

The PuneConnect2015 story
When we showed this prototype to Navin Kabra and Amit Paranjape from the PuneConnect tech team, it immediately resonated with them. Having attended and organized tons of events over the years, they liked the practicality and simplicity of the idea (Needs no app download!) and recommended it to the PuneConnect 2015 organizing team for an official go-ahead.

Once we got the approval, our team got busy completing the actual product, with in-app and SMS based notifications. This was the final design:

SocialHelpouts easyConnects

The D-day: 28th Nov, 2015
We reached the venue early and secured a desk near the registration area (thanks Vrushali and Navin!) and started generating awareness about this application. People loved the idea and instantly started pulling out their phones to sign up.

4 hours later: 150+ meetings and several smiling faces

When the event ended, these were the final numbers:

pune-connect-stats

Numbers aside, what fires us up here at SocialHelpous is the happy faces of our users. And they seemed aplenty at the event. Here are some who happily agreed to even come on video!

Feedback? How can we improve?
Did you use easyConnects at the PuneConnect event? If yes, please give us feedback. Know organizers at an event that could benefit from a platform like this? We would love to offer this to them for free – please drop us an email at hello@socialhelpouts.com.

We would love to interact with you – please sign up for our monthly newsletter on the right.

Cheers,
The SocialHelpouts Team