Episode 93 / November 29, 2020

Beerud Sheth on building Elance (now Upwork) & Gupshup

hr min

Episode 93 / November 29, 2020

Beerud Sheth on building Elance (now Upwork) & Gupshup

hr min
Listen on

“Always make more mistakes but make sure to recover quickly & learn from them.”

In this episode of 100xEntrepreneur Podcast, we take you through the journey of Beerud Sheth, Founder and CEO of Gupshup, the leading smart messaging platform. He previously founded Elance (now Upwork), which pioneered the gig economy and went IPO in 2018.

Throughout the podcast, Beerud shares his experience of over 22 years as an Entrepreneur building Elance and Gupshup.

Listen to this podcast to learn about:

Notes –

00:30 – His journey from IIT Bombay & MIT to founding Elance & Gupshup

05:21 – Transitioning from a Wall-Street trader to an entrepreneur

07:55 – How did the idea of Elance come up?

10:02 – Key pivotal moments during his early days of entrepreneurship

13:57 – Scale at which Upwork was operating when he left & why did he leave?

22:56 – How did the idea of Gupshup come up?

26:50 – Growing Gupshup to $100 Million ARR and plans of taking it to IPO

30:41 – Highlights of the recent partnership with WhatsApp Business

45:09 – Grit, perseverance & mental fortitude necessary for an entrepreneur

47:23 – Learnings from his mistakes from over 22 years as an entrepreneur

49:33 – Looking at resume value vs other soft-attributes while hiring


Read the full transcript here:

Siddhartha 0:00

Hi, this is Siddhartha Ahluwalia. Welcome to the 100x entrepreneur podcast. Today I have with me Beerud Sheth, who’s the founder and CEO of Gupshup, the leading smart messaging platform. He previously founded Elance, now Upwork, which pioneered the gig economy, and is now a public company listed on NASDAQ. Welcome to the 100x entrepreneur podcast.


Beerud 0:23

Thanks. Thanks for having me here.


Siddhartha 0:25

Beerud, we love to know your journey from your days in IIT Bombay to now currently the founder of a very large company, what has transpired from then till now,


Beerud 0:37

Oh, that’s a long journey. But I’ll give you the short version of it, right? Like, I grew up in Mumbai, you know, average middle-class family. I just loved math, you know, and science and so on. So ultimately, I ended up doing really well, and things like math, Olympiad and national Talent Search, and then, of course, IIT JEE. So, I was at IIT Bombay, doing computer science. And then, you know, I got the silver medal there as well. So I ended up at MIT for grad school. And I think all of that was just, you know, it was just fun. I love learning, I loved sort of discovering new things. Of course, you know, math and computer science are sort of the key focuses. So that was the journey once I got to MIT. I mean, it’s interesting, right? When you come to grad school in the US after doing undergrad in India, there’s a big shift around sort of the up till undergrad, mostly, the education system kind of tells you, right, you’re supposed to take these courses and do this. And they’re very little choice except for one or two electives. And then once you come to grad school, they say, Okay, what do you want to do? Right, and it’s entirely. And I was like, well, haven’t had such complete freedom. And it really takes a little getting used to. But I ended up doing some courses in business school, you know, economics. I was just curious about it. And then, of course, not just traditional computer science, but also, you know, at the Media Lab. So just really expanding horizons, learning about things just out of sheer interest, you know, not because you need to check off a box and so on. So, that was fun at MIT. Yeah. And, you know, I think I also realized very quickly that, you know, I was in the Ph. D. program, but I didn’t want to, I didn’t see an academic career for myself. I thought, just my subjective personal preference was more around, you know, doing business, So I wanted to focus more on that side. I mean, that’s why those are the kind of courses I took. And also, when I graduated from MIT, I ended up on Wall Street. Really, you know, it sounds strange, but Wall Street itself was kind of digitizing substantially, they were hiring a lot of math and computer science majors and so on. And so yeah, I, you know, I was briefly at Citibank, and then the bulk of my time, a year at Citibank for two years at Merrill Lynch. I was modeling securities and then ended up trading them as well. And sort of that’s you know, I think of that as my business school experience, so to speak. So that’s my, the early part of my journey.


Siddhartha 3:33

And surprising that in India, nobody asked you, even in post-grad that, what do you want to do, what you want to explore, just as you mentioned, some checkboxes. But it’s a different world, which you explored, and everything which you dabbled in?


Beerud 3:49

Yeah, I think that’s really important. You know, and I think, see, the, in general, you know, all of us that came through the Indian education system, I mean, there are many things that are great about it, but some things that are not great, you know, you don’t have a lot of freedom or flexibility. Now, maybe there’s a reason for it, right? Because there’s too many students, and you can’t give everybody too much choice and so on. So I understand the constraints. But the consequence of it is, most people don’t think what they want to do, you’re just sort of follow the herd, if you will, you know, everybody, you know, oftentimes people do what their friends are doing or what you’re, you know, what is highly regarded by others. Right? It’s a bit of just, you know, you’re in a race, and you just want to be the best and the highest and sometimes but but real life is not like that, right? Real Life is multidimensional. It’s not the sort of you know, that everybody’s going for the highest grades or the highest rank in the same year, single exam. There are thousands of choices and you got to find your own journey, you know, create your own path sometimes. It’s very different. I think, you know, it takes a little bit of transitioning, but people who can do that successfully, I think they’ll end up actually being, you know, finding more Uncharted paths and, you know, discovering new opportunities and so on.


Siddhartha 5:18

Yeah. How did you end up being an entrepreneur from a Wall Street trader?


Beerud 5:25

Yeah. So I think, you know, I really enjoyed my time on Wall Street, and no question about that. But I think I was also, remember, this is in the mid 90s, where something very dramatic was happening in the tech world, right. I mean, the internet was just being born. And I don’t mean, technically, but as a business, right. So of course, like, while I was in grad school at MIT, these were very early days of the internet and early 90s, and so on. There was a clearly in academia, everybody was using, you know, the internet for a while. But, but by the mid 90s, when you had Netscape that went public, and then soon thereafter, you had Yahoo, and Amazon, and eBay, and, you know, much later on Google and so on. So I think there was a great transformations going on, lots of industries were starting to get digitized. And it sort of, there were two things going on. One was, you know, I liked the business experience on Wall Street. But ultimately, a lot of it is about just sort of buy low, sell high. And you kind of, you know, least for me it you know, I want to do you know, meanwhile, there’s there’s this whole internet transformation going on, and you feel, you know, like, if it’s a, you know, I didn’t want to end up decades later wondering when you know, something really as dramatic as the internet was happening, or what were you doing, right, I mean, on the sidelines, got to be in the game, really. So I think that that’s how I felt about it. And just my really my personal preference. You know, I love the business aspect of technology. Right? So sort of that intersection, I found was sort of the entrepreneurial role. So that’s where I was really itching to do something. And then, you know, in any case, I think in the late 90s, you had, there was an emerging market currency crisis, where Wall Street itself was in a lot of turmoil and a lot of disruption. Right, it was one of the big crises at that time. So it sort of just a whole lot of things came together. And, you know, meanwhile, I was always either investing in public companies or discussing, brainstorming ideas with friends and things like that, right. So, in fact, we were doing that. Me and my co-founders were sort of doing that. And finally, when finally, we just, you know, took the jump.


Siddhartha 7:55

Fantastic. And how did the idea of of UpWork came among you and your co founders? And what was the journey of building it like?


Beerud 8:02

Sure, so my co-founders were Ashwini and Sanjay, who was actually my classmate from IIT as well. And it really, at least for me, you know, it was a combination of sort of three sorts of life experiences that I’d had until, until that point in my career, right, which was coming from India, I knew that there are so many talented people all over the world, right. And, of course, not just in India, but even Brazil, Turkey, wherever. Given my sort of computer science background, at that point, you could see all the technical and social transformation that the internet was driving, namely, in connecting people in far-flung places that previously could not communicate with each other. Right? And then, thirdly, was my wall street experience that allowed me to, you know, realize that you could create a marketplace for any kind of item. It’s not just highly liquid items, but even illiquid, or unique and different kinds of items, right. So for example, I was trading derivatives and derivatives are highly customized, each one is a little different. But still, you find these fairly liquid marketplaces on Wall Street, right. So it’s not just your stock and bond market, but you have all these other kinds of custom products also trading. So if you take sort of those three ideas, which is a global talent, pool, and internet to connect them and the marketplace to facilitate transactions, well, that’s what you end up with, you end up with an online services marketplace, that that you know, we called it Elance in the beginning and later became Upwork.


And how’s the journey you know, during those seven years at Upwork, what are the key pivotal moments?


Oh, I think it was quite a rollercoaster ride, I think. So in the beginning, you know, starting out now, you know, as an immigrant in the US, right, you have limited resources, there’s no family money. I mean, you just, you know, you come here with, with maybe a little bit of pocket money, and then you figure out your own way. Right. So and it’s too early in your career to have a lot of savings and such. But what we did have was a wealth of networks and relationships, right, either friends, or classmates or alumni. You know, in my case, from IIT, and other places, but, you know, so just getting started itself was hard. Where do you get the initial funding from, right, but we fortunately had about, you know, among the founders, we had about four or five friends, each of whom also brought in, you know, three or four other people. So we ended up having 10 to 15, angel investors and raised about a million dollars to get started. I think just, it took a while, right, I’m sort of summarizing it, but, you know, many months, and lots of pitches, and lots of travels and so on. But I think Luckily, we were able to get that done right after that is just basic things like, you know, office space and hiring a team and so on. Right. So, in New York, right, in Silicon Valley, usually when people start startups, technically, you know, people talk about garages, right, basically some extra space that’s inexpensive, and you build it there. Now, New York, you know, doesn’t have garages, right, and sort of, so we ended up taking an apartment, a two bedroom apartment, which actually, you know, Sanjay, who was moving from Los Angeles to New York needed a place to say, so he said, Okay, we’ll take this to get apartment that can serve as an office in the daytime and his bedroom at night. And, you know, he just sort of improvised, we made up furniture out of boxes, and tables and things like that. So, yeah, I think in the beginning, you know, it also helped us because in New York, a lot of real estate, landlords will ask you for really long leases, and you don’t have that much money, right to sign a five year lease, right? Because all the other companies in New York at that time, were either financial services, or, or, you know, entertainment and media companies and so on, right. But as a startup, it was, you know, it was harder. At that time in New York, I know, things have changed now. But anyway, we grew to about 20 people in this two bedroom apartment, you know, then building out the product, the technology, getting, you know, building a two sided marketplace is really hard to do. You know, if you don’t have enough supply, then you’re not going to get the demand and without the demand, you’re not going to interest the supply. Even that we had to, you know, improvise and you know, find freelancers, in fact, even for that, I went to my juniors, who are still at IIT, doing their summer internship and said, Look, you know, on the side, you can make money off of the website by doing projects, right freelance projects, and they love the idea, of course, you know, sitting in Mumbai, if they can make money in dollars, a great idea. So they really jumped to it. And you know, there was the earliest validation saying, Look, there will obviously be a lot of interest from freelancers. And then on the other side, we put in a lot of other projects and so on. So, I think that kind of loaded.


Siddhartha 13:56

Yeah. And yeah, and till you were there at Elance or Upwork. What was the scale when you left? And why did you leave?


Beerud 14:07

Oh, okay. All right. So, fast forwarding a little. You know, Elance did a million dollar round. And then we raised $12 million, from Kleiner Perkins and a few other investors. And then we did a $50 million round from growth investors, and so on. Now, fortunately, we did this funding round just before the 2001 stock market collapse, right bust as they talk about it. Fortunately, we had enough money to survive those difficult days, right, which was again, very, very challenging. One of the things that happened was, you know, that time the conventional wisdom was that you know, b2b, or other b2c is going to be dead, right because Building consumer businesses requires a lot of marketing. Because acquiring customers is harder. And with bust, it’s not going to be easy to have a lot of huge marketing budgets. So it’s very hard to build b2c businesses, but b2b, you know, businesses still have money, and they still need software, and so on. So he kind of, you know, gradually transformed in about 2002, or we three sort of started, for me hired a CEO who’s very experienced to the enterprise business, the b2b business. And, you know, I was there for quite a while, even through that transition, but eventually, it was becoming a different kind of slightly a different kind of business, then we started out with, and I had less experience on the enterprise side, and, you know, I had already spent seven, eight years there. But it was very amicable and that sort of long notice. And so when I finally left and said, Okay, I’m gonna, you know, start something new, as well. So that’s how it happened.


Siddhartha 16:13

But you were there when they merged and Elance formed Upwork. And you rang the bell on NASDAQ?


Beerud 16:23

Well, no, no. So I think, you know, so the funny thing is, after I left, actually, a couple years later, Elance sold off that b2b business, and we refocused on the original idea, the freelance online freelance platform, okay. But by the time obviously, I had left, I was still on the board of directors, I was just not working there. Right. So I still had my shares. I was on the board, I was involved in some of the, you know, board level decisions, all of them, but I wasn’t actually working there. Much after that, I think the merger only happened in 2014. Right, and so long after Elance, another company called Odesk had started and the difference was Elance focused on fixed price projects, while Odesk focused on hourly projects. Right. So, both were growing and, in some sense, the two companies are competing with each other on, you know, the marketing spend and AdWords and things like that. So, you know, the two boards decided to merge the company that happened in about 2014. And maybe a year later, I think they rebranded. You know, it was briefly called Elance Odesk, which was, you know, I had an awkward name. But then they rebranded to Upwork. And then the IPO itself happened in 2018 on NASDAQ now. I hadn’t been working at the company for many years. Right. So, so I can’t really claim any credit for running the company in the last few years. You know, but like I said, I was the founder. And I was there for the early part of the business, you know, and so on. So, usually for these occasions, right? you can only have a small group of people, so they invite the founders and so on. So that’s how I was involved in ringing the bell. And, yeah, but I’m still, you know, the number one cheerleader for the company. I’m a big fan of it. It’s kind of funny, right, that we were talking about remote work 20 years ago, trying to pioneer this whole gig economy. And today with this pandemic, you know, we have this forced experiment in remote work, everybody, right? In fact, now you have companies going permanently work from home. And it’s, you know, I kind of joke with some of my friends, my co founders, and so on. So, you know, while I don’t wish that there was a pandemic earlier, but, but if it had to happen, wouldn’t it be nice if it would have happened 20 years ago, when we are trying to convince the world that, you know, work from home is a better idea. So anyway, you know, so no complaints. I mean, the stock is doing well. Now, I think it’s benefited a lot from this whole trend to the shift to remote work. And the opportunity is still enormous. I mean, globally. You know, I think the whole world The future of work is remote. Everybody is going to work, you know, remotely. And there’s so much still to be done. And I think a forecast as a very, very, you know, good future ahead of it.


Siddhartha 19:37

Fantastic. Like you were one of the fathers of gig economy, I would say then, you know, who conceptualized this around 20 years ago.


Beerud 19:45

Exactly, I mean, I think we literally, you know, with hindsight, I mean, we were literally the only company from that era that has survived right like Elance we founded it. In December of 98, right, and there were, there were a few other companies, there was one called guru, there were some one called moonlighter, and a few other companies that were trying different variations on the same theme. But as far as I remember, none of them have survived to this day, right? We are we were the earliest I mean, even Odesk. started, I think, much later in 2004, or something, if I’m not mistaken, or so. So the point is, yeah, we were literally the earliest company that came up with the idea and built a successful business around it. And even, you know, companies that came much later, right companies like Uber and Ola, and swiggy. I mean, these are all variations on the same gig economy, right? I think the only difference was when we were doing it in 98. You know, the, the only way you could use the service or, or the only devices available then were laptops and computers, using the internet, which means you couldn’t be location specific. Right? It was only after smartphones and GPS came around that you can, you could do the gig economy at a very hyperlocal level, right, like find a car driver nearby or find a food delivery guy nearby. So so it’s really the same idea. But when you can do it location based, it opens up new opportunities.


Siddhartha 21:26

Yeah. And recently, fiber also became a $6 billion company.


Beerud 21:31

Yeah, I think they’ve also been doing some different things. I think there are many, many different ways to, you know, slice, the gig economy, and different companies are going after different parts of the market. So


Siddhartha 21:47

yeah. And that’s what made you invested in a recent company with great money from you and lightspeed called Pepper like you have been a father of this economy.


Beerud 21:58

Yeah. So as you can imagine, right, I think anybody doing anything in the sort of in the freelance space, you know, they’ll often seek me out to get some advice, get some input, you know, get some feedback, and or, you know, do investments and so on. So, yes, I think Pepper was something that I just invested in, there’s another company called Turin, here in the Bay Area, that’s also doing very well, for matching software developers on our long term base contract basis, with, again, not for freelance, but still sort of a long term relationship with companies and so on. And then, you know, I do some other investments as well related to other areas. But yeah, these two are in, in sort of, broadly, the freelance work gig economy area,


Siddhartha 22:49

How did the idea of Gupshup came to you and what was the process of building it?


Beerud 22:56

Sure. So I think, you know, sort of if that started, you know, initially, Rakesh Mathur is a good friend. And he was an accomplished entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. He was, you know, he had started, he started many, many companies and so on, but I think he was, you know, starting something, and he told me as I was leaving Elance, you know, we sort of got together and we started with is the initial idea was something different. We call it Weburoo, and it was about offline search but that idea didn’t work. And then we were just looking around, right? What are the other options, what we could do, and that’s, again, very commonplace in startups, where sometimes, you know, things that you think will work, don’t, and then you have to pivot and adjust, and so on. So at that time, we realized that, you know, the mobile revolution was happening now, you know, and this is in 2007, or eight or something, and, you know, mobile in many parts of the world, I mean, that was the biggest thing going on. But most of it was on feature phones, right? It wasn’t on smartphones, that came a little later in terms of the mass market adoption. But what we found was the lowest common denominator was SMS. Right. So we realized, sort of the ubiquity of SMS makes it incredibly powerful, you know, and messaging is a very, very powerful service. So so that was the key insight. And because there was messaging and chat oriented, we sort of rebranded to Gupshup. Right, which as you know, means chat, though, there was appropriate and for a brief time, initially, we actually launched a consumer, sort of service there was almost like Twitter, right? We As a publish subscribe kind of pub sub model, and that anybody could publish their thoughts like tweets, and people could follow them and receive it. Now it was both Twitter and Gupshup were inspired by the same idea. But Twitter being in the US, became much more of a web product, one capture, you know, remain as an SMS product. And it actually grew to 70 million users in India at a time where Facebook and Twitter had only like 1 million users in India, right. So, it was sort of way ahead of its time. Very, very successful in some ways. But the problem was, we were subsidizing all of that traffic, meaning we were paying for all those SMS messages. And we initially thought that as the volume increases, the prices would go down. But for a variety of reasons that didn’t happen. And also for regulatory reasons we couldn’t advertise, right. So now we are in a situation where you could neither subsidize nor monetize. But, you know, we figured out a lot of this high volume messaging, technology, right, so So again, this was a pivot from a b2c model to b2b model, right? Where we said, Look, you know, we have all this technology, but consumers are not going to pay for it business as well. So why don’t we sell it to enterprises and get them to use it? So sometimes, you know, these things, they evolve through twists and turns. But I think, you know, once we narrow down to that model, I think business took off, and we’ve scaled substantially since then, and today, you know, we have a fairly sizable enterprise messaging platform and scaling up and I’ll tell you more about it. But that was the long journey.


Siddhartha 26:47

And currently, if you can share, what’s the scale of Gupshup in terms of annual revenues in the last recent report?


Beerud 26:58

Yeah, so I think we, you know, so Gupshup is scaling very rapidly, we are well over 100 million dollars in revenue. Yeah, and so business has grown. In fact, it’s grown even more after COVID, as the whole world moves towards sort of digital adoption, right. So the more commerce the more banking, that happens, right? So if you think about it, you know, when banks and e commerce companies and travel and retail companies, they need to send notifications to their customers, right? So when you when you swipe your credit card, your bank sends you a message, right? Or you buy something on Flipkart, you get another message or package delivery tracking, you order food, your book, or flight or a taxi and so on, you get all of these notifications, right. So these are all important, the transactional messages, they are messages that consumers look for. And these businesses, you know, they connect to gupshup. And in turn, gupshup delivers the message to the user. Right. So yeah, so I think we’ve grown, we handle about four to 5 billion messages a month. It’s scaling very nicely, very rapidly, all the big brands that you know, about in India, you know, the vast majority of them are our customers, but also a lot of startups and, you know, developers and small businesses as well. And the exciting thing in this business, actually, is that it’s also transforming very dramatically, right? So if you think about it, for the longest time for the last 10-15 years, right? The bulk of that messaging was happening through SMS and it still happens through SMS, right? Because SMS is, like I said, the lowest common denominator, it’s ubiquitous, you can reach every consumer this way. However, there are some limitations as well. Right? It is plain text only. It is limited to 160 characters. And there’s other limitations, right? Sometimes you can’t do multi lingual messaging, and so on. So there’s a new kind of messaging emerging, right, which is all based on IP, meaning on Internet Protocol, right? So or they use the data network. For example, Whatsapp is one such messaging channel. They now allow businesses to send messages to consumers. And then even Gupshup is pioneering new IP messaging, right. We call it GIP for short, because it’s Gupshup ip messaging, so gip. And then I think RCS is coming soon. You have Google business messaging, there are multiple other channels that are now emerging. And the great thing about IP messaging is, it’s much richer, right? Meaning you can add an image or audio-video, you can put in cards with buttons. And even better, you can have a two way conversation between the user and the and the business. Which means now it opens up this whole world of conversational commerce and engagement and so on, right, so businesses can now link it to their customer support desk, or to AI-enabled chatbots, and so on. So it really, you know, expands the whole messaging industry by opening up new use cases, it makes the experience much more delightful and much richer. And I think, you know, we are super excited about this evolution or this expansion of messaging from SMS to IP. And even as SMS continues to grow, IP messaging will grow even faster. And it just going to be a lot more popular as well.


Siddhartha 30:41

And I believe you have signed a large partnership with WhatsApp for business. Please help us, you know, enlighten on that.


Beerud 30:49

Yeah, sure. So, Whatsapp has many partners. See, to be able to use the WhatsApp business API’s, the Enterprise need a lot of infrastructures to do that. And sometimes, you know, instead of each enterprise having to do it by themselves, you know, we at Gupshup, just do it once and then offer it to all the enterprises. So we really make it easy for them to use, you know, because they already very likely use Gupshup for SMS messaging, and therefore adding WhatsApp messaging or other channels, right is a lot easier, because Gupshup does all the heavy lifting, and gives the enterprise a single API. Right. So, we make it much easier. Now, you know, Whatsapp does have many partners worldwide, right? Dozens of partners around the world. I think we were, and are probably one of the, you know, one of the bigger partners, or one of the earliest ones, in terms of driving the adoption of WhatsApp business API, right, we saw the power, the potential, the evangelized, and educated enterprises and developers to take advantage of this new channel. And to figure out, you know, the use cases and the integration, you know, the technology infrastructure of the API integrations. And you also have to keep track of user preferences and so on. So anyway, we took care of all of that stuff that makes it easy for businesses to do that. Right. So. So we’ve been signing up hundreds of customers every month, right? So there’s like a few thousand customers now using the Gupshup platform, to access WhatsApp business API’s? And I think, yeah, it continues to grow very, very rapidly. There are some many, you know, you know, as many businesses that are now starting to use WhatsApp, I expect this to grow quite substantially.


Siddhartha 32:50

Beerud, you never publicize it, but by revenue numbers, and by valuation Gupshup is already a billion-dollar company.


Beerud 33:00

Yeah. See, what happens is, a lot of the companies that kind of get press around valuation, and so on, are the companies that are doing a lot of funding. Think about it, right? Many of these companies do a lot of funding, generally, because, you know, they’re not yet profitable. And therefore, they need to build out a runway, they need to invest in things, and therefore they go raise money. Now Gupshup, on the other hand, has been profitable. I mean, our last round was in 2011. Right? It was a $10 million round. And since then, we’ve been profitable for a very long time. We haven’t done any major funding rounds, we’ve just been quietly building our business and scaling up dramatically. So you’re right. I mean, our valuation is probably some big numbers like that. But I think we’ve just focused on building a sustainable, viable, profitable business for the long term, rather than, you know, just, yeah, just scale up in unprofitable ways.



What’s your next milestone for Gupshup? You want to take it public in the coming years? Because you’re already a profitable company?



Yes, so, you know, I think we are already hearing so many bankers and investors suggesting exactly that. We are exploring our options. And, you know, I mean, obviously, so it’s likely that in the near future, you know, we could, we could end up there, right, because we do have the scale, we do have the profitability, the growth, the margins, to be an interesting public company, which as you know, in India, I mean, unless, you know, many big tech companies, but if they’re not profitable, it’s difficult currently under the current rules to go public. Right? But, for a company like Gupshup, I think it is certainly a possibility. And we are actively, you know, considering that so so yeah, that would be an interesting milestone. But I think, you know, ultimately, look, as an entrepreneur, you got to focus on building value in the business. And if you do that, it opens up lots of possibilities, right? You could do funding rounds, you could do an IPO. And, you know, at least in my case, I think I’ve done or at least one of my previous companies has done an IPO. So I’d love nothing more than to take another one public as well.


Siddhartha 35:39

But in terms of business scale, where you want to take it.


Beerud 35:42

That’s a great question.So here’s the thing about the messaging business today, When most people think about the messaging industry, you know, they evaluate what they call notifications, right. And notifications is about a $50 billion industry globally. And, you know, maybe in India, it’s half a billion to a billion-dollar in revenues, right. But, but when you look at IP messaging, right, it dramatically expands the whole opportunity, because now IP messaging can do customer service, right, which is, I think 200 plus billion dollar industry globally, enables commerce, which is like a $2 trillion industry right now, I’m not saying all of it will come on to messaging, but enough of it will, where it opens up new possibilities, a lot of apps will get actually replaced by messaging-based chat bots, and so on. So, what’s happening is, you know, messaging is no longer just a tool for one way communication, but it’s becoming a platform for a wide variety of services. And if this sounds like a crazy idea, you should just look at it further and then China and WeChat, in China is incredibly popular. And it’s really a full fledged platform or an operating system, you could say, because, you know, people use Chinese consumers use WeChat, not just for communication, but also to, you know, for content consumption, or to book, you know, buy, shop and pay for a whole bunch of things. It’s become a cashless society, primarily, because payments are very deeply integrated into messaging and so on. So, our vision is really, you know, we really boil it down to a simple phrase that of smart messaging, right, smart messaging, it’s richer, more engaging, more intelligent, with a lot of capabilities that allows you to do all these advanced things. And, you know, literally Gupshup I think we are one of the leaders in the space and globally, where we are enabling these services, enabling these tools, there are many new technologies we have in the labs that we are planning to announce, like very soon over the next few weeks, that I think will, you know, incrementally enable a lot of these capabilities. So the sky’s the limit for the messaging industry, we are very excited about the potential, and we are actually hard at work, you know, inventing the future of messaging as we speak. You know, I’ve always loved these sort of really big and far-reaching ideas. I mean, if you think about freelancing, right, I mean, it sounded like a very niche idea in 1998. But today, as you know, right, I mean, you know, very soon we’ll get to a world where everyone who’s working will be working from home and working as a freelancer of sorts. Right. Now, you have a long term contract, but you’re still working remote work, right. And it’s the same thing here. So, that is literally every person on the planet, right, essentially. And I think same thing with Gupshup. And messaging, I think messaging will be a foundational element for a wide range of services. And, you know, Gupshup is in a position to enable all of that. Fantastic.


Siddhartha 39:15

And what you mentioned is, you know, these have been the core two elements, you know, communication between consumers, which messaging enables and from business to consumer, which also messaging enables various formats. And the other trend, which you spotted very early on, you know, the gig economy like today, 10s of billions of dollars of ventures have built out of the Ola Uber Zomato Swiggy. They’re all built out of essentially the gig, various versions of the economic.


Beerud 39:45

Oh, absolutely. I mean, look, you know, the next generation, like our kids will wonder saying, people used to go to something called a factory or an office. What does that mean? Right? Because you bring the office into the home and you work wherever you are. I mean, you could live in Goa, or you could live in Hawaii, and you could work anywhere in the world. And it doesn’t matter, what timezone or what geography you’re in, you know, you can reach anyone, and I think it’s really the similar kind of thing with messaging, you know, they’ll say, Okay, what are you using websites and apps for, I mean, I can just message something, I mean, you know, have you heard of this sort of analogy where your smartphone could technically be a remote control, universal remote control to, to control everything in the world. So for example, you press a button and a taxi comes, which happens today, right, or you press a button and some item comes, which happens today, but tomorrow, you press a button and activate the vending machine, you could press another button and switch on the light or the fan, right, you could press a button and get the offer from that billboard, or at a restaurant again, you know, you can just order and, you know, order, eat and pay without talking to anyone. So the opportunities are just endless. As you know, once all of this infrastructure is built out the whole platform capabilities are built out. It enables all kinds of transformative possibilities.


Siddhartha 41:18

It’s already happened, you’re right. In restaurants in India, when we go today, in many restaurants, you can’t order at the counter, you have to scan a QR code, you have to place an order, and then you go and collect your order, or somebody will deliver it to your table. But there’s zero physical interaction.


Beerud 41:36

Exactly. So it’s happening in sort of small pockets. But take it a little further, right? Oftentimes, when people want to order or buy, like, when you go in person, you’ll ask Oh, can you make this a little mild? Right? It’s not too spicy? Or can you give me the the Jain version of it? Or can you replace, substitute this with that, or I want gluten-free or something? Right? So in those kind of situations, you need a conversation, you can’t just you can’t talk to a menu, right? You still want to talk to a person before placing the order. Right? So that’s where so imagine if you had the whole unified experience where you know, the chatbot, where you can ask it questions, right? before you’re buying. Because whenever there is a consultative sale, right, then you you have to have a conversation, and then you then you buy it. And once you’ve done that, then of course you place the order, do the payment. And then when even when it arrives, you know, you have a conversation or you want to add something more, and so on. So I think there’s I think, you know, the transaction and the payments are just sort of two parts of the entire sort of commerce cycle. And I think conversations is the thing that becomes, you know, the lowest common denominator, again, it’s sort of the most universal thing, because it is the most flexible, it can take care of every situation, right? Not just food ordering, but you could, you know, imagine you’re buying some jewelry or some dress, where, you know, you want to ask a question, right? Do you have the same thing in a different color or a different size? Or, you know, can you? Or in some cases, right? You could probably even haggle, right if I buy five of these, so they get a discount, right. So there’s a lot of these possibilities that are not covered by the simple, specific applications today. But once you have conversational experiences, all of this will become much richer and engaging.


Siddhartha 43:42

Fantastic. Beerud, so, we are coming towards the conclusion of the podcast. So what are the three mistakes, you know, which you would advise your son or daughter that maybe you committed in your two businesses that you would advise them not to commit? And what are your three right decisions? You know, if you have to highlight between the two businesses, or the recent one, which you will advise your son or daughter to imbibe?


Beerud 44:08

Oh, okay, I think there are just so many that sometimes it gets a little challenging, but let me let me pick a few. Right, I think, you know, one is, get started on this entrepreneurial journey for the right reason, right? It can’t simply be making money. Of course, you know, money is a way to keep score. It’s a way to track progress. But there’s lots of other easier less stressful ways of making money then entrepreneurship because here it takes over your life it becomes you right. So I think it has to be something that you’re passionate about and really excited about because you know, even if nobody paid you and there were no returns, this is what you’d be doing because you are you like you know tinkering around problem-Solving or figuring things out and persuading and convincing, and so on. So anyway, that’s one part of it. The other is just, you know, grit and perseverance and sort of the emotional and the mental fortitude, that you’re going to need to go through it. Because it’s a roller coaster journey. And you have to, you know, the highs are super high, and the lows are extremely low meaning you know, you get a funding round anything while you’re going to conquer the world. And then you know, something bad happens or a competitor, you know, a large competitor launches something better. And then you’re like, Oh, my God, we’re gonna be dead tomorrow. Right? And the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. So you got to be level headed, even-keeled. You know, and almost Zen like, you know, indifference to what, to the emotional rollercoaster and sort of you keep working on it, I think that would be another important thing. Another is probably, you know, something I learned the hard way is that you need to not get caught up in the small stuff, so that you leave time to focus on the big stuff, right? What happens is oftentimes, the urgent takes precedence over the important stuff, right? So the urgent so after a reply to this email, that person is waiting for me this and that. And when you add it all up, you’re so busy in the flow, that you never step back, think about, Is this even the right strategy? Are we even doing the right things? Okay. And usually, it’s not the small stuff that will kill you. It’s big stuff that kill companies. So. So really, there used to be a time where I used to think, oh, if I work, you know, 15 hours a day, or when I used to, I drive, you know, that would be that would lead to more success. And it actually in many cases can lead to less, right. So I’m not saying you shouldn’t work hard, but just block out chunks of time, where you’re deliberately not going to work on the day to day micro stuff so that you can think about the biggest things. What are the other things?


Siddhartha 47:23

Mistakes that you’ve committed in your business, which you will advise not to repeat?


Beerud 47:29

In terms of mistakes, I think. Lots of it. So let’s take one thing, right. I mean, in both my companies, you know, as I mentioned earlier, we had to pivot away dramatically from what we were doing earlier, right now, maybe the initial idea, you could say was a mistake. But not really, because, you know, as they say, you have to fail forward. Right. So anytime something doesn’t work, you really have to step back, think about why it didn’t work, what did you learn from it? And how do you, you know, come back again, with the with a different idea. And that does not repeat the same mistake. Right? So, so yeah, because I think making mistakes is sort of, it’s inevitable, and actually very common, because most entrepreneurs are venturing out into uncharted territory, right? Nobody knows. Nobody knows how this will react? Or is this even technically possible? Or will consumers pay for it? Or how will they respond to it? and so on, right? So ultimately, you kind of have to build something, put it in front of people, and only then can the market react to it, right? So, Make more mistakes, but recover quickly from it, always keep analyzing, you know, the market feedback, right? Ultimately, the customer feedback is the primary source of insights, and so on. What else I think, you know, hiring is another super critical thing. You know, oftentimes, I guess, when I was younger, I would hire just based on resume value, right? You look at Oh, somebody has this experience, and that experience. And when I was a lot younger, I didn’t have that kind of experience, even though I was the founder. And you think, oh, let me let me, you know, check off this box and that box, but ultimately, if it’s not the right attitude, and the right culture and the ability to roll up your sleeves, and you know, work in a, in a smaller company, and if they’re not a good fit, if they’re not somebody that you’d want to work, you know, that you’d enjoy working with, then don’t make that mistake of hiring, you know, just for resume value as opposed to all the other sort of soft attributes as well. I guess yeah. I mean, those are some of the big things I mean, I you know, I could go on how much time do you have.


Siddhartha 49:54

Just on the last leg of the journey as an angel investor. So, which company are you angel investing. You’ve mentioned two of them Pepper and one more.


Beerud 50:03

Sure. So I guess yeah, I mentioned pepper and Turing. I mean, I, you know, I love investing in startups and entrepreneurs, you know, part of it is giving back, right, paying it forward as they say it because there were many entrepreneurs that came before us that helped me in my journey. And in the same way, I’d love to help them as well. Now, of course, i’m not saying it’s a it’s a charity, which it’s not, but but I think, you know, you invest not just for the financial returns, but also, it’s really just sheer joy and pleasure working with, you know, really young, hungry, motivated entrepreneurs trying to solve unsolved problems and so on. Right. So, it’s really I just really like the bet about creating new businesses and ideas and so on. But anyway, so specifically, as a company I’ve invested in called Fitcircle, they have a, or they have a brand is called OZiva, and they sell nutritional products, and they got recently funded by Matrix as well. You know, very, they’ve had dramatic growth and success recently. So that’s doing very well, another company called Quick work, which is a platform for building automations and chatbots where they have a really powerful platform that makes all of this easy. And you know, as we get into this world of, of automation, and conversational, I think they’ll do very well. And in fact, they were basically x Gupshup people, you know, Milind was my co-founder at Topshop. So you know, the team and the people. What else? I think there are a few other, you know, many other companies in the Bay Area as well. There’s one that’s super interesting. There’s a company that is building a chai machine, an automatic machine to brew authentic DC style Chai, right with, like boiled milk and so on, which most coffee machines don’t do, right? Because it’s easier to boil water, then milk. So anyway, it’s a longer story, but a really good friend of mine who has started it. And I’ve invested in it. And there’s, I think, yeah, there’s another classmate of mine is running a company called flex money. So, Yezdi is the founder of that company. And I think they enable payment and lending infrastructure in the consumer lending at the point of sale. Right. So I think they are also growing very rapidly and doing very well in India. So that’s another one and maybe a few others. But let me just stop there.


Siddhartha 52:42

Thank you so much, Beerud. It’s been a pleasure talking to you, and thank you for sharing your experience and your wisdom.


Beerud 52:51

Yes, you make me sound like an old guy. But, I like to think I’m young at heart.


Siddhartha 53:03

Entrepreneurship doesn’t let me old.


Beerud 53:05

I know, Thank you for having me here. I really enjoyed the discussion, I think, a lot of great questions and I was able to share some insight so hopefully, you know your listeners like it, and good talking to you.


Siddhartha 53:20

Thanks, Beerud.


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