More than 20,000 users, including some of the hottest startups in Silicon Valley use software modules built by a few developers sitting in a tiny office in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. Startups like 3DLT, a 3D printing marketplace and Hlaska, founded by Youtube co-founder Chad Hurley are among them.
We aren’t talking about a division of a billion dollar chop shop in India. This is the story of a bootstrapped startup, born in a dorm room back in 2009.
Vipin Sahu and Vinay Yadav started Webkul, a company which builds open source plugins for popular e-commerce and cms platforms like Magento and Joomla when they were in college. The bootstrapped startup sold software worth Rs 2.5 cr last year and employs 35 people now.
“We started developing plugins for open source platforms when were were in the second year of our studies,” Sahu recalls. By the time the duo finished college, they had about Rs 50,000 and lots of gumption saved up to start on their own.
Sahu rejected a job offer from TCS & Yadav followed suit. They rented a single room flat in Noida and set up Internet. He used to sleep in the day and work late into the night so that the computers would be free for someone else to use during the day. “We said we will eat Maggi and run the company!”
As the modules they built started getting sold, slowly, money started trickling in. “We started buying computers and reinvesting profits back into the business,” says Sahu.
Webkul now has over 500 products selling on different platforms.
Sahu was an open source buff in college. The two were frequent visitors on various online groups. After seeing that they were learning much from the Internet, the two decided to do their bit for the community.
The modules they built were free to begin with. When more and more people started using their modules, they started developing pro versions that sold for a few dollars on open source marketplaces.
The first paid module they built in college integrated Facebook and Twitter to a website. In 2009, it was still early days for these sites. “We made it simple for users to integrate Facebook with their sites. It was easy,” said Sahu.
Webkul never borrowed money from family and friends or raised capital from investors. “Bootstrapping was the right business model for us,” said Sahu, who incorporated the company in 2010. “We were profitable from day one,” he said. Last year, the company earned Rs 2.5 cr in revenues. It now employs 35 people. Prakash Sahu, an experienced technology professional joined the company as a co-founder.
All the money they made from early sales went into buying equipment for the office and hiring new people. To conserve cash, they shared an office space with another startup for a while. Now they have a two floored building all for themselves. “As we grew organically, we started investing more,” he said.
No Sales People Please
The startup has never hired salespeople. Salesmen were asking a 30% commission and there wasn’t any budget for marketing either.
By making good use of search engine optimization and search engine marketing, the team pushed its products into the market. Webkul’s sales strategy is a mix of clever SEO, an affiliate program and content marketing (Read: 3 Inbound Marketing Lessons for Startups).
Much of the sales was generated through the company’s blog, which shows up high on searches. “We structured our site in an SEO friendly manner,” he said. [Watch: Growth Hacking Training Series] The focus was to sell in Europe and the US.
Hiring in Early Days
Hiring for a startup is never easy. Webkul did the obvious. By spreading the word around in their college and posting on Facebook, the startup was able to attract its first few employees.
These are good days for Webkul, but what looks easy from the outside, is often not. It doesn’t mean that the journey isn’t worth it.