The Economic Times |By Masoom Gupte, ET Bureau | 3 Sep, 2015 |
Meet Lookup’s Deepak Ravindran, a CEOentrepreneur who chose funding over finishing college and got his competition (no less than Twitter co-founder Biz Stone) to invest in his venture
If high-adrenaline action is the surest sign of transmitting a message, Deepak Ravindran is sending out one loud and clear. His Bengaluru-based startup Lookup, which has Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and Infosys’s Kris Gopalakrishnan as investors, is in the final stages of closing its latest round of funding. And the CEO and founder of the hyperlocal messaging app, that allows businesses to connect with local consumers, reveals the announcement can be expected within a week. Inspiration for Lookup struck Ravindran while visiting his hometown of Kasargod, Kerala. “I saw my mom chatting with her grocer over WhatsApp and placing her order. That was an eye opener about the way people use chat,” Ravindran says, in a telephonic interview from Bengaluru. With WhatsApp, he noticed one needs to save the number for ease of communication. Once that is done, you can see each other’s frequently changed display pictures, which may create privacy issues. He addressed those with Lookup, ensuring consumers do not have to worry about chatting with storekeepers they’ve never met before. The messaging industry has been this 30-year-old serial entrepreneur’s core strength, with this being his third venture in the space. Keeping an eye on the shifting tech landscape, he has morphed the form to suit changing needs. His 2007-launch student startup Innoz for example, was an SMS-based search engine. “It was a time when mobile phones were becoming popular. But internet was still not so common. We saw the potential for an offline search engine,” says Ravindran. But by 2014, with data lording over voice, Ravindran realised the rules had changed again. To meet the challenge, he decided to merge the two big trends of messaging (chats) and apps. Lookup was born out of this union. Ravindran’s story at 18 wasn’t typical of the average Indian science student. He gave his medical and engineering entrance exams, securing ranks in both. He liked computer science, so he picked engineering.
He had discovered the internet just a few years before at 15. Logging on via a dial-up connection, he was fascinated by the worldwide web. He says, “I started looking for inspiring stories and read about Steve Jobs and a few others. I read how he started a company at a very young age and that idea stuck.” By the time he entered Lal Bahadur Shastri Col lege of Engineering in Kasargod in 2005, Ravindran had decided that he would use it as a fertile ground to found his own company. He did so in 2007, with three classmates. When his startup was picked by IIM-A’s iAccelerator program that promised funding of Rs 3-5 lakh, things came to a head. The founders had to shift base to Ahmedabad, which meant a choice between college and the accelerator. The quartet made their choice. They dropped out of college. “Dropping out is a fad now. But it was extremely risky back then. The only reason we did it was because we were getting funded for the first time,” says Ravindran, disclosing that they did worry about getting good placements if things didn’t work out. For a month, the families of Ravindran and his friends believed they had quit college to pursue an MBA at IIM. “It sounded all fancy,” he said. It eventually worked out, as from dropouts, they went to being the largest recruiter at their erstwhile engineering college, taking on over 100 students within a couple of years — first at Innoz and later at Lookup.
From competitors to partners
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone was Ravindran’s competition at one point. After Innoz plateaued in 2013 and the team failed to sell it off, Ravindran decided to move to US for an MIT incubator program. He founded a Q&A platform Quest, that competed with Quora and Stone’s Jelly. Stone was interested in acquiring Quest for a possible expansion into the Asian market. But Ravindran managed to raise just $50,000 over a year, falling way short of the $500,000 target. That’s when he decided to wind Quest down and return to India. Incidentally, Stone’s Jelly failed too. In an interview with Mashable, he even admitted that today, a small group of dedicated users is the only thing keeping the app alive. But a previous failure didn’t hamper Ravindran’s prospects according to Stone, who came on board Lookup after a San Francisco meeting in April. Undoubtedly, things are looking up for Ravindran at Lookup. – Courtesy / Visit Lookup