Many clouds of questions surrounded my mind after working in the United States for a while. My inner voice was telling me that I needed a greater purpose in my life. I didn’t want to devote my entire life to a job, so I informed my employer, resigned from my job, and within two months, was back in India.
I studied engineering at Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University in Hyderabad. It’s commonly referred to as JNTU. During my college days, I had a casual attitude toward studies, and I felt there was so much more to explore than just studies. As time passed, I moved abroad for my master’s degree, but my mindset remained unchanged; I still lacked seriousness about what I was doing. I was spending my time hanging out with friends, boozing, and having fun, and as a result, I failed in my first semester and missed all of my semester courses, and these failures pushed me back to reality. And at this point in my life, I realized that I needed to change my outlook on life.
Despite being a computer science student at the time, I used to despise computers, but as I became more serious about my life, I began to learn new things. I remember that I bought a PC and worked for three days to complete a specific task, and during that time I didn’t even feel like sleeping, and this little success changed my feelings about computers, I felt like I could achieve bigger goals with the computer, and this led me to explore more things, I started coding and developed a keen interest in it, and I also started developing applications, which I now believe was the real start in my career, and later I got a job.
But now I was back in India, and that job was left behind for a greater purpose that was yet to be discovered. I wasn’t sure, but I knew I wanted to serve my people and my nation. At that time, I was deeply inspired by my friend Harish, who had joined a political party called Lok Satta, and I too joined Lok Satta as a volunteer to train youngsters in coding through the party’s youth division. But after a few months, I realized that I wanted to build an environment where I could build things. So I approached one of my previous employers and chased the Vice Chancellor, the Director, and other people at my college, JNTU, for permission to start an incubation center, which I got after 3 months. Then we hired people who are jobless and trained them to work, and soon this idea turned into a 3-million-dollar business.
As a first-generation entrepreneur, you face so much resistance from your family that you begin to doubt your own decisions. My parents always saw me as someone who was struggling in life, but I told myself and everyone else that I was going to keep walking on my path no matter what.
I recollect the early days, back in 2005, when we started working on Keka, which means “amazing.” We weren’t completely focused on Keka at the time and were working on other projects. We finally started working in 2016, and in late 2016, we released our product, with Modern Intelligence being the first customer to use our project. But things were not so simple; just one week before releasing the product, we discovered that our competitors were in the news for raising funds; it was difficult, but it gave us more courage and belief in our product.
But apart from that, the biggest challenge we faced was getting the customer’s attention. As a new company in the market, it was difficult to even get customers to talk to us; many times, we had to wait for so long at reception, and mostly, in the beginning, we got customers by going door to door selling our product. Dheeraj, the current VP of sales now, and I used to go to various organizations, IT companies, and government agencies. We also went to conferences. However, once we were able to demonstrate the product, we were able to capture their attention. However, we were aware that this approach was not scalable.
So, we formed a marketing team and invested in organic SEO, which led us to a point where we had so many customers that the customer support team was struggling, and we even raised the price of our product three times, but the revenue stream kept flowing. This was a clear validation for us and proof that the market was willing to pay for a good product, and we had succeeded in setting a benchmark for HR platform pricing. For this and many other decisions, I am always proud of Keka and us.
And now, our HR tech platform Keka has raised the largest first-round funding in SaaS. I believe we have reached our first major milestone. I am grateful to my employees, as well as to myself, for the years of struggle that refined and reshaped me into a better entrepreneur, we have 5500+ existing customers now. And we want to be the best in customer service among B2B companies. This is the goal we want to achieve in the next year.
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