The fathers of former schoolmates Yash Shah and Abhishek Doshi were hassled by the multiple emails and attachments they had to handle at their respective businesses. Searching through multiple emails, contacts and attachments, maintaining to-do lists and calendars, etc, was becoming more and more cumbersome.
Shah and Doshi took up this challenge as a new business idea - an affordable, easy-to-use collaborative tool to address the communication needs of individuals and small businesses alike.
And, Gridle was born.
"We had been participating in competitions. In 2011, one of the prizes we won was an internship with Sristi, run by Indian Institute of Management (IIM)-Ahmedabad faculty member Anil Gupta. As part of the internship, we were supposed to design and develop a portal to enable students to apply for internships," says Shah. After Sristi absorbed the idea, the duo transformed it into a blogtard, a blogging and knowledge-sharing tool.
"That is when we realised emails were becoming cumbersome and couldn't work well for collaboration with colleagues. Also, our fathers and some of our other friends were facing similar problems at their workplaces, where they lacked an affordable and simple collaborative platform that could enhance productivity. We thought this could be a potential business idea, as we didn't come across an affordable collaborative platform that could be used by individuals and enterprises alike," says Doshi.
"We had an idea in mind but we lacked technological expertise. So, we looked for interns in nearby colleges in Ahmedabad. That is how Anupama joined as a developer in December 2011, and after working for about six months with her and looking at her dynamism and skills, we offered her the role of co-founder and chief technology officer (CTO)," says Shah. Today, Yash Shah is chief executive officer and co-founder, Anupama Panchal is CTO & co-founder and Abhishek Doshi is creative head and co-founder of Gridle, a Microsoft Bizspark member, an IAN virtual incubatee and an iAccelerator, IIM-Ahmedabad portfolio company (being incubated at IIM-Ahmedabad's Centre of Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship).
The founding team had to hire interns for product development. For stipends, they arranged funds by participating in different business plan competitions at colleges and freelancing website developments. They participated in 13 business plan competitions and stood among the top three in nine of those.
In 2012, the founding team met an independent angel investor who, along with Gupta, mentored them. "Both mentored us and during the brain-storming sessions, we realised though blogtard was great, it missed a sharp value proposition," says Doshi.
But it was only in mid-2013 that the team struck gold - it won a prize of $4,000 at the Microsoft Bizspark competition. "We were nominated for Bizspark by YourStory, based on our entry… . Our goal was to win the competition, not to get investors for Gridle. Thus, we took into consideration the mindset of judges and studied previous winners. We went ahead with a strong and tangible IP plan and won in Ahmedabad. This left us with Rs 2,18,800 and $60,000 worth of Microsoft product and service credits," says Shah.
"Gridle brings the power of data-visualisation to collaboration, which provides context to communication. Each month, an average employee spends 28 man-hours managing his email, calendar and reminders; that is four working days a month. Traditional collaborative platform providers charge around $5-8 an employee a month, which eats into the limited budgets of small and medium organisations," says Anupama Panchal.
"Typically, a collaborative tool has 17-19 features. We have six perfectly crafted and well researched tools. We have devised an efficient feedback mechanism, in terms of who is working on which project, till what time and what milestones have been achieved. We have integrated Skype and Dropbox as well. We will be integrating Google Drive and Evernote, too. Sign up and data extraction from a Google account will also be put up," says Doshi.
The six features are file sharing, timeline, instant messaging, task management system, groups and planner.
For an entrepreneur-cum-mentor such as Rajan Vasa, president of The Indus Entrepreneurs' Ahmedabad chapter, an affordable collaborative tool is a must-have. "Today, there are so many technological platforms for communication. One has to be present over all these multiple tech platforms and maintain each of them with multiple logins and passwords. Storage space maintenance and internet security make these more risky. Through collaborative tools, you are able to get a combination of all these platforms at a single place. These tools also pool varied information and present it as one," says Vasa.
Gridle has replaced lists and grids of people and projects with single screen-space, a non-cluttered user interface, which Shah claims is 45 per cent more efficient and an activity log with an interactive 'board' that provides information in story-board format. The platform uses data-visualisation to generate and maintain a log of activity and due events, tasks and activities.
Globally, there are various others in this segment, though most are based out of developed economies. "Among them are Basecamp, Asana and JiveSoftware," says Shah. "Basically, the generic product in the market is priced at $5-8 per user, per month; we plan on bringing it down to $2-3 a user, per month. Since we are integrating APIs of popularly used services, we are able to bring down our pricing substantially."
"At times, we do ask ourselves why not roll it out in the West? But the Indian market is still the best bet; Southeast Asia is also interesting," says Shah. The other challenge is not letting the tool become another communication barrier.
The size of this market in India is estimated at $1 billion and growing at 23 per cent a year. "The market is too huge," says Doshi. However, the team feels there are very few businesses that use collaborative tools because the existing ones aren't easy and cost a lot. "Finding a vertical and the kind of people it appeals to is a challenge for Gridle," says Panchal.
The way ahead
Currently, Gridle is 10-people strong and looking to expand. "There are very few businesses that use collaborative tools because existing ones are not easy and cost a lot. Since our service is cloud, it is not required to be installed on the site. It can be used from mobiles, as well as multiple devices," says Shah.
Having raised Rs 10 lakh through an independent angel investor, one institutional fund and CIIE's iAccelerator programme in the first round, Gridle is looking upbeat about the second. "We have closed the seed round amounting to Rs 10 lakh, which would be used to validate our hypothesis, identify a product-market fit and design a go-to-market strategy. We are actively seeking funds for our next round to scale the product and make it available on various platforms such as mobiles, etc. As our second round, we are looking to raise Rs 80 lakh-Rs 1 crore, which would help us achieve the desired traction with business development, marketing and presence through various platforms," adds Shah.
"Our product is still in a trusted network and we are working things out; we do have clients who would use our product, as we launch phase-I by December-end. Currently, we are exploring more ways of interactively visualising data in collaboration. Of course, this is going along with our development on various platforms," Shah says. "Gridle is looking to raise another round of funding by March 2014, once our product sees traction on the web. This fund would be put into initial business development, marketing and making it available for various platforms on mobile, etc."
EXPERT TAKE: Sunil Parekh
Gridle provides important tools for organisations to optimise workforce efficiency and eases project management. Its ability to self-manage and sync-team is of value, while data-visualisation in collaboration is unique. There is a growing need for this in the industry due to extensive outsourcing, especially in the design, IT and consultancy sectors. At these times, when high-performing organisations and teams need to outperform, Gridle enables teams to monitor, track and work better, together. The start-up is meeting a fundamental need of industry and has the potential of making a significant impact on any company's most important resource - people. This makes the model highly viable from an industry perspective. Despite plenty of other similar products in the market, consumers still struggle with collaboration at different levels due to switching between platforms.
Gridle should continuously innovate. The start-up should enable its customers to keep gaining incremental value through new and better features and other platforms and tools. To be able to do this consistently, it needs to develop a bigger and stronger team which would lead to faster iterations, in terms of technology and positioning. Moreover, Gridle needs to continue demonstrating value for its customers. Therefore, the timing and need for Gridle's offering is vital. Focus and delivering value to the customer is important at this stage.
Sunil Parekh is founder, Gujarat Angels