Increasingly, people are giving up lucrative careers to start something of their own. But the act of leaving behind comfort for the unknown isn’t as easy as it looks. When friends Shilpa Bhandarkar and Amit Rai decided to quit their jobs at Linklaters and Nokia a year ago to start ‘Let’s Coo’, a communication app, they were enveloped by a film of excitement and fear.
“The first couple of months are liberating, euphoric; then the fear sets in. It’s always worrying to try something new and take a chance. It’s been a year and we still look permanently stressed and happy at the same time!” explains Shilpa with a chuckle.
There’s not a hint of regret in the two; instead, they are enjoying the freedom that comes with starting a company, without dismissing the challenges. “In a global firm, every decision gets made slowly, and its implementation takes even longer. That’s different here. We are responsible for every decision, from hiring to the design and content creation. This keeps us on our feet because we have to look after the employees,” she adds. Good, bad or ugly, we have to live by our decisions, are her resounding words.
One of the biggest challenges they face as entrepreneurs is finding talent. “Currently, we are a team of five; we don’t hire at random. We see something specific in a person and take them in for that (though that can also backfire). But it’s difficult to match market prices. We can't afford to pay high salaries as in large companies. And on most occasions, equity isn’t an option,” says Shilpa.
Talking about the venture, Shilpa says, “Amit and I had taken our children to a park in London when we overheard them complain to each other. My daughter mentioned how I forgot to send her a pound to buy cupcakes at a charity event and Amit’s son was upset that his mother had forgotten to take him to a birthday party. As parents, we have hundreds of things to do but as kids, they remember only the ones you forget because everything is important to them,” says Shilpa.
This got them thinking and they decided, as a joke, to make a list of all the events they, as parents have to keep a track of. “Assuming we have two children, we took information that is publicly available and made a list of activities or events a parent will have to remember. We stopped counting after 500! Sports days, off days, fireworks night, no uniform day… The list went on. We were shocked. And these are events parents can’t afford to skip because they are an important part of their child’s life.”
Each parent feeding 500 such events in to their individual calendars didn’t make sense to Shilpa and Amit. So, they decided to create an app that would collect information from different sources. “Let’s Coo is a way for parents to share the burden.”
Similar to WhatsApp groups, the app lets a person create numerous groups and compiles that data in to one calendar. Football practice groups, tennis class groups, dance, theatre and gymnastics groups… “I even have a family group since my parents, brother and I are in different countries. And another for my husband and I, with activities that don’t include the children. It’s a way for everyone to know what you are doing and not get worried if you don’t receive their calls immediately,” says Shilpa.
Beta product and funding
The company was founded in January, 2015, and the beta product was released in September of the same year. After raising funds, another version was launched in July. A tailoring later, it will officially release this month. The B2C company takes its users seriously and improves based on their suggestions.
Shilpa says they plan to keep the app free and monetise in three different ways: “Sponsorships in a Snapchat model; institutional accounts and e-commerce. We want to provide curated deals for parents.” And most of their investors are parents who they meet through various channels. “We’ve approached our ex-colleagues, bosses and business school alumni. Both of us attended Harvard Business School (HBS) which has helped us reach out to people from different places.”
Acknowledging the role of her management degree from HBS, she adds, “Without my business degree, I don’t think I could have done this. Rather, it would have taken much longer. The beauty of a management degree is that you learn across disciplines; sales are just as important as marketing.”