2020 was the year of the pandemic, faced the locked down then accepted it as the new normal. In Dec 2019, I had decided to quit my job in Dec 2020. By September 2020 I had started the explorations and conversation. I entered 2021 with a lot joy and excitement ready to set the stage for new beginnings.
Jan: Beginning of the beginning
3rd Jan 2021, I moved to Bangalore. Within weeks things moved way more than they moved in past few months. Week 1 I got an amazing intern to code out the project me and Vaidehi were planning. Week 2, I resigned from my job. Week 3, the idea around search started catalyzing with conversations with Kumar Krishna. By end of Jan, I had a pitch deck about the business, an intern already executing on a project and lots of ideas around how we’ll make it big.
Feb-March-April: The take off
Friday, Feb 12th was my last day at HelpShift and by weekend, I had a working prototype of the search project ready. I had a mentor, Kumar Krishna who was supporting with regular discussion and planning, and I was in a very stimulating environment where things were moving very very fast.
March 8th I tweeted out the first version, March 19th I had completed the YC application. March 28th I launched our new search engine on HackerNews.
In April first week, the former SVP of Google ads, and a partner at Greylock Ventures reached out to me about Neera, and that was super surprising.
Mid April, I decided to focus on an plugin based search architecture and within a week it was in production. By April end the second wave of covid started. With a collaboration with a random (and nice) stranger on twitter we launched a portal to help find covid resources. April 26th I moved back home to Delhi because of fear of lockdown in Bangalore and April 28th I had an interview with YC.
They were super fast three months, and in those moments I remember telling myself we can be faster.
May-June-July: Gathering Help
Main reasons the takeoff was fast was because I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew how to do it, so I was able to code out things really really fast. But now after the YC rejection, I was in unknown territories. I had built out the initial product, but I had no clue how to market it. I had no clue how to get investment for the product. I had realised, the way things were going, I can keep coding out forever and the business won’t go anywhere.
This allowed me to focus my energy on other stuff. In May I started conversations with investors, but I had no clue how to go about that, so tried to ram through it. I had conversations with every investor in the Indian ecosystem, Sequoia, Lightspeed, Accel, Matrix, PrimeVentures, NexusVentures, everyone. Some said this is too hard, some said talk to us when you have more traction, some said build a product first and a platform later. It was fun, strange, interesting, I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know what to ask for. So nothing in particular really came out of it. So by June end, I ended those investor conversation.
In July I decided, I need more help in managing our interns, so I onboarded Himanshu as a part time interim CTO. I also realised I need lot more help in communication, things like emails, talking to investors, vendors etc. So onboarded Tanvi as a communications coach. Also I hired Aaditya Vaze to help us improve the design of the website.
August: Getting stuck
By August I started to feel stuck. We applied to an accelerator, called Hyper, put a lot of energy into into and it didn’t lead anywhere. Raghav and Sahil’s effort created lot of more tech, we had a slack search, search on Notion documents, a Google Drive integration and a stackoverflow integration. But I knew the product wasn’t enough. It was a product which worked, but it wasn’t super polished, not something where people just find and start coming in troves. I didn’t know marketing to make the site popular in users, I didn’t know design to make it shiny. I didn’t know what to do to convince investors to give me more money and resources. I didn’t know what to do, and I spent a lot of the August in the stuck state.
September: Getting out of the rut
I knew Silicon Valley is the right place for me to be, in September I found the right excuse through OnDeck Founder Fellowship. Sept 2 I realised I need to go, Sept 4 I booked the tickets and Sept 8, I was off to Dubai. The travel situation was complicated because of Covid19, that time there was a travel ban from India to the US, so I had to stay in Dubai for 14 days. It was lot of money, red tape in form of tons of tests and uncertainty due to covid and visa situations. It was very stressful but all went smoothly and I entered US on 23rd September.
October: The American Dream!
Through OnDeck I met a ton of people, talked about the business we want to build. Lot of lot of positive feedback, comments and suggestions. Which gave a lot more confidence that we can make this work. There were some conversations where we were told what we are doing is childish and this is not gonna work at all. In fact those conversations gave us even more confidence because we went offline, dissected their arguments and got a stronger hold on exactly why their arguments didn’t made sense.
November: First Cheque
By later October, we had decided to raise a friends and family round. Most of the November was spent on figuring out the logistics of the round. Hired a lawyer, learned about a bunch of rules and realised that the initial plan won’t work because we needed the annual income of people investing to be more than 200K, and most of my friends don’t fall into that category. Anyway we changed the plan, got the first investment from my friend Prudhvi Dharmana. Second investment came from Rishi Mehta who is a senior from undergrad and the third cheque came from Brantley Beaird, a friend from OnDeck.
December: New Partner(s)
Spent the December having more conversations for the friends and family round. Heard a lot of no, and some yes. Spent a lot of December talking to immigration lawyers, and the later part of the month figuring out the paperwork to get a cheque cleared from one of my uncle who decided to invest. Also spent a lot of December in planning/organising and deciding what to do next. In December I also spent quite some time trying to figure out who are the right “kind” of people we want onboard as team members, advisors and investors. Because having the right partners makes all the difference.
Looking forward to 2022
Startups makes you learn so much about everything, the world, the ecosystem, about yourself. You feel like growing everyday. When I entered 2021, I had no clue what it will look like, but I made the leap and I am glad I did.
A lot of 2021 was about figuring out what to do, a lot of 2022 will be figuring out how to do it well and I look forward to it.
Here are some photos from 2021!