the big bang geek: Tenmiles founder, Shalin Jain on starting up at 18 to passion for music

NextBigWhat brings interviews of interesting geeks and doers, that range from Techmeme editor, Palsule to hard-core geeks who just believe in doing stuff.

This week, we have Shalin Jain, founder of Chennai based Tenmiles with us. Tenmiles is the company behind HappyFox and the successful app, Wonderful Day. Shalin (@shalin10) started up at a very young age and has deep interest in music.

NextBigWhat: Walk us through your startup/entrepreneurial journey. You started working at the age of 17 and ended up starting your own company at 18. How did it all happen?

Shalin Jain: I was first exposed to computers in 1989 by dad, I was 7 years old. I was actively playing games on computers ever since. I got my first personal desktop at the age of 15. It all started then. I almost gave up gaming and started picking up a lot of designing, flash development and web programming. I had a job with a technology company that had over 100 employees. I was the youngest and working really hard. I started skipping every possible class that wasn’t interesting in college.

Shalin Jain

Shalin Jain

In no time I landed up with 79% attendance and that meant I had to make my parents meet the Vice Principal of the college apart from paying a fine. My dad and VP told me that it would be better of if I quit and started focusing on building up my grades and plan for my masters in US. I didn’t do much to fight against what they had said, after all that was a standard path.

I soon quit my job. I could go straight home after college and felt a huge vaccum. I was re-considering pursuing my piano grades more aggressively. In 3 days of being home, I was asked to rejoin another company that I worked in the past as a freelancer. I refused saying I don’t want to travel 16kms every day, I don’t even have a driving license. So, it was a no-brainer to go solo, start a company and call it Tenmiles (just about the 16 kms I didn’t want to travel).

NextBigWhat: You are also deeeep into music. 

Shalin Jain: Music is my first interest, hobby and love. My mom is an amazing singer. She has never performed professionally but she is gifted and known as a Lata Mangeshgar in our closed circle of friends and family. She is so naturally gifted with music that i think I got some from her in my gene. I started playing synthesiser when I was 5 years old. I sat through most of the carnatic music classes my sister attended.

I was so much into music and I always imagined that I would become a music director.

NextBigWhat: Initial days of TenMiles  –  it must have been a struggle..?

Shalin Jain: My first three years were solo. I was making good deal of money without any overheads. I launched out my first product during this time and bootstrapped very successfully.

When I was done with most of my education, I decided it was high-time I actually setup an office and got some people onboard.

Hiring was not so easy, you could get people only with reference. Startup wasn’t a buzz word at all on the contrary service companies in ’03-04 were probably giving unbelievable pay checks.

NextBigWhat: From web designing to building products – how did that happen?

Shalin Jain: The transition took about a year. Doing services all by myself was very taxing, there was only very little you could deliver as a single person. The linear model of the services business wasn’t interesting at all. I used to build a lot of flash media and the immediate product idea for me to convert all of that into installable screensavers. Screensavers and wallpapers were probably the most popular channel of branding in 2001. Every computer magazine would put large stickers on their front page what their screensaver or software give away this month was. This was a huge success for me.

NextBigWhat: How much of influence does music has in your ‘code’/ product? How do you relate the two?

Shalin Jain: Music is always with me. I have been through many genres. My job before starting the company exposed me to bands like Queen, Eagles, Def Leppard, Dire Straits and other classic rock bands. I don’t remember coding without listening to music. I actually don’t even remember studying without listening to music in my school and college days. I think music helps me gain amazing about of concentration, leaving no room for distraction.

NextBigWhat: Music you listen to while working?

Currently, I am listening to Coldplay. I usually pick an artist or genre and stick to it for months and even years without listening to anything else. I have spent a few years just listening to Ghazals and Hindustani classical. Lots of rock and some selective pop in my early startup days. Loads of Rahman too. I don’t listen to much of music from movies usually and cannot listen to music if the lyrics ain’t great.

NextBigWhat: Are you a multi-tasker?

Shalin Jain: I am not sure if I should call listening to music and working multi-tasking. I think I am actually bad at multi-tasking. When I was at college and in class, I would be absolutely focused listening. I was a first bencher. My memory of a classroom lecture would last long enough to clear my exams. I never had to study when at home or a lot before the exam, that way I could spend a lot of time working and learning new things.
I did have multiple hobbies and did everything that I wanted to – cartooning, poetry, pot-painting, learning guitar, composing music and photography. Every few years I have tried my hands on different things ranging from climbing and learning snow boarding in the alps region to learning hindustani classical music (vocal).

NextBigWhat: You still perform? How do you manage your startup and music interest?

Shalin Jain: I did perform in school and college but have never performed professionally.

I got into writing lyrics for an independent musician and one of the songs that I wrote is also available in the iTunes music store (song I wrote: Khwabon Ki Pehli Manzil). I hope I get an opportunity to work with more independent musicians in the years to come.

I don’t play piano as much as I did in the past. Growing a company has definitely consumed a lot of my time but this year I have a very strong reason to go back to my piano playing – my daughter will turn two this year and she is picking up good amount of music already. Music is a big driver for me and constant source of inspiration.

Nothing refreshes me more.


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