big bang geek: Prem Sagar [How a blog post resulted in a startup moment]

As part of bigbanggeek series, we interview doers from the tech space and today we have Prem Sagar, founder of Tapprs, Bangalore based lens rental startup.

For Prem, Tapprs was a serendipity moment – he wanted to do a startup in analytics space, but a blog post changed it all!

Prem Sagar

Prem Sagar

Read it up.

1. Describe the journey from a hardcore techie to an entrepreneur.

I don’t know if you could call me a hardcore techie, but I was a passionate data warehousing guy with significant interest in data mining / analytics. Also, I was always obsessed with collecting data and organizing it, even for personal needs.

I wanted to start something on my own in the analytics space, but kept dabbling with other things I was interested in too, like photography, travel, etc. I believe in serendipity and one ill-written blog post about how I have too many lenses and that I would like to rent them out has now turned into a business. Much of my initial efforts were towards building an analytics venture, which went no where and in the meanwhile, the rental business kept doing better and better. After an initial hesitation, I simply turned the rental venture into a full fledged business.

2. You’ve never stopped fiddling with code, and the next tool/idea, right? The marketplace, the credit-worthiness and a whole lot of tools inside Tapprs now!

Yes, we still have to figure out a ton of things and we keep nibbling at it in an iterative manner. When we started out, I only knew data warehousing stuff and no web development expertise. Much of our business was run on a WordPress platform making use of excel sheets for inventory and such. Hard core techies might balk at the idea.

We have since moved on to a pretty decent home-made application now. Slowly, we added things and today we have a pretty decent online booking / inventory management application, simple customer profiling tools, delivery management system, etc. As always, we are trying to make use of the power of database and we try to capture a lot of things into it even if we do not have a need for it today. Like you said, we are working on more stuff too.

3. What’s a typical workday like? How much of it is still technology?

Being an operationally intensive business, much of my day is spent on overseeing operations. However, I keep note of what is taking much of my time and write programs to automate it, wherever possible.

We had a dedicated tech person in the team, but he left in September. We then had 2 interns, who found bigger tech companies lucrative and they left too. Since then, I have taken up much of the tech work myself and spend 3-4 hours a day on it. Its a bad idea to be coding and not spend time on building the business. But its addictive and fun, and for the moment, its helping us. Soon, we intend to have a proper tech team again.

4. As you scale, do you see that change? What should/is likely to take up focus?

Absolutely yes. Coding is a time sink. You get a sense of doing and yet, you may be doing little to actually build the business. As soon as we are 2x from here, I see myself doing very little coding and mostly business development.

5. How did you resolve the buy/build questions?

I favor the build answer for these reasons:

- we are very iterative often shoot in the dark. Buying a solution is not feasible as its always a moving ground and what we need changes every month. Also, it would become expensive to be doing frequent changes if you were to go with the “buy” option.

- if tech is going to be a core competence anytime in the future for you, I guess its okay to spend that extra effort in building. The experience gained would be worth it, which would help you in your future.premsagar

- if you do not know whether there would enough adoption for your offering, iterative development is the only way through. We’ve started with very crappy designs using static pages done with WordPress and stuff like that and improvised on it as demand picked up.

However, if tech is outside core competence for whatever you are trying to achieve, I guess buying is a better choice. You are better off building your business and focusing on other things that fall in your circle of competence.

6. Tech stack, tools you use?

- MySQL, PHP, Codeigniter (PHP framework)

- Piwik for web analytics (we use Google Analytics too, but we love to own our data, so use Piwik)

- We use Gnucash (not Tally), but we are moving onto our own solution.

- WordPress is pretty useful too (many a time, we have started with just WordPress)

7. Lifehacks/tips that save you and Tapprs time, or enable something.

- There are a ton of things that are available in the open source world that would cut down your development time. We try to make use of them.

- Have your office near your home (or work from home, at least initially).

- I have all my stuff in the cloud and that helps a lot.

- Have a dashboard from day 1 that gives you an immediate picture of your 3 core metrics

- If it can be automated, it should be, instead of someone having to do it repeatedly.

- Apps that help (I use a Macbook Air): Sublime Text 2, Launcher, Evernote, TextExpander, Dropbox,etc

8. Suggestions/thoughts for techies starting out?

- Launch fast.

- Iterative development is the way to go.

- Define who your target customer is going to be. Visualize him and write a few things about him on paper. Why he would need your service, what earning category he would fall into, what channels he would search for to reach you, what his behaviour with existing services is, etc. Understanding customers / users better will help you a lot.

- Ignore vanity metrics like page views, downloads, etc. Focus on metrics that tell you the actual usage of your service / product.

- Any business involves stepping outside your comfort zone. Being techies, its easy to get too cozy inside the world of coding (or whatever you are already comfortable with) and avoid the uncomfortable. Avoid that trap.

- Run (or exercise). It does wonders to your mood.

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From the bigbanggeek series: