Instart Logic | Interview with its founder & CEO – Manav Mital
In Palo Alto (CA), we meet founder and CEO of Instart Logic, Manav Mital. Manav talks about his story how he came up with the idea and founded Instart Logic, how the current business model works, as well as he provides some advice for young entrepreneurs.
Martin: Hi today we’re at Palo Alto with Instart Logic. Manav, who are you and what do you do?
Manav: Hi Martin, I’m the founder and CEO of Instart Logic. We are a company in the Application Delivery space. We provide a cloud based service that speeds, scales and secures modern applications. Our customers are basically online companies that make money by putting user experience in front of an online audience that includes e- commerce companies, online retailers, SaaS application publishers and we got some great customer like Staples, TUI Travels, Washington Post are using our service today.
Martin: And how did you start this company?
Manav: So our start has a very interesting history. We started as a gaming company, so I and 2 of my co-founders we were colleagues at a previous start up. We joined like within two weeks of each other and in 2010 we basically started building out what we thought would be a website where gamers would go, they would download games, you would keep track of their scores, you would pay them off with each other, we even raised a little bit of a seed round on that idea.
A few months in, we realized it was a very bad idea because of a lot of different reasons; it was a shrinking market, the value proposition was eroding. It was very clear that we would not be able to build a big company on this idea. But we had a few folks who had join the team, we had raised funding from a few investors and we had basically two option; (1) give the money, call it quits or (2) use the strengths we had build which was in the form of our network, the people who were betting on us, our advisers who believed in us and leverage the trends we had spotted in the market. And the big trend we had spotted was that, as people moved from desktop to mobile devices to consumer applications, almost every company is going to completely rebuild their applications from scratch to provide them a very seamless experience across those multiple devices and that’s going to disrupt legacy application delivery solutions. And that turned out to be a huge opportunity that we just decided to jump in. And that’s kind of where we started and that’s how we ended up on executing on that idea.
Martin: This sounds like Flickr, because from what I’ve heard they also started with a gaming idea. What I’ve heard is that they had a gaming idea and then they pivoted into something else which actually made sense.
Manav: Yes, In reality, I think it’s similar to two companies; Flickr like you mentioned, the other one is Slack, that also started out as a gaming company. And then Fiction started like this company named Pipe Piper on the Silicon Valley show. Interestingly enough, originally it was Game Piper. So you know its not a strange case.
Martin: And what did you do before you started the company?
Manav: So I was previously at Ask a Data which was an early big data company and I was a very early employee over there. My co-founders, Raghu and Hari, all of three of us joined within a couple weeks of each other. They joined as an engineer but towards the end, I was running a substantial part of engineering team.
BUSINESS MODEL OF INSTART LOGIC
Martin: You’ve nicely described the customer base. What are you making revenue out of? Is it a SaaS model or is it anything that you’re selling?
Manav: So we provide a service which follows a SaaS model. So our customer use our service, it is fully cloud base, easy to provision, easy to use and we bill them on a typical SaaS basis, monthly online subscription.
Martin: And are you depending on any partners?
Manav: So we have lots of partners in different areas. We have great partners who are basically allies but different view points on the performance space, they kind of know companies like Yidiodalic New Relic who offered performance monitoring solutions. We all know each other and we co-market together. We’ve got great partners who bring us revenue and partners we bring revenues for. So what we see is a very healthy ecosystem of companies who all see this problem in the space that application are completely changing, in terms of how they are built, how they are deployed, how they are consumed. That has created a void in the market place which a lot of companies are rushing to fill and then part of that ecosystem which is a distribution ecosystem to come up to fill this void.
Martin: Can you give us a little bit more transparence on, imagine I’m a company and today I’m following the old model; I have a desktop application and I have a maintenance apps, etc. and the new model which you are apparently tackling today?
Manav: Yes, so if you are online company today, so performance is going to be super critical for you. Typically what you will be doing is having a marketing team which will be good for building a mobile site or mobile app, you will be spending a lot of money, be it platforming your website or app, building a really good compelling user experience and spending money on campaign, SEO, etc, driving those users to those new sites, to those new apps. The problem is that the first experience typically is on a smart phone or a tablet in some crowded coffee shop over WiFi signal and the site or the app that takes more than three four five seconds to load, you lose all those users and you lose all that money. And one of the primary reason for that is that you’re using one of the CDN service; a content delivering network service for delivering those application to those end users. They don’t scale for mobile devices anymore and then what would happens is that performance becomes top of mine for every single executive in the company and that’s when instart would come in.
We would go work with your team, show you our value proposition. It’s a very simple replacement for your existing CDN solution. We would typically start using a mobile site or some single app that you really care about where performance is your biggest challenge, we would show you how faster we are than your existing solution. It would have a dramatic impact on your conversions, user experience, search ranking; it increase your overall top line. You’ll feel very excited about the value proposition of the product, about the technological road map and about the great service we can provide and what a cool partners we are and then follow a typical expand model, where you would say, “Look, I have all these different sites, why am I wasting money on a CDN why don’t I put all of it on Instart Logic” and that’s where this relationship would go.
ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS FROM MANAV MITAL
Martin: Cool. Imagine, you have a friend. What kind of advice would you give him if he said, “Manav, I would like to start a company, but I’ve never done it before”. What kind of advice would you give him?
Manav: You know, one of the biggest advice I give to people is ignore advice from people like myself.
It’s pretty interesting because I was actually talking to someone about it yesterday. When we started out, there was three of us, one of our very early investors, he wanted to introduce us to a chairman of a very large multinational corporation, thought they’d be a very good early customer. So he invited me and my co-founders to his house. We met with this guy, he looks at it and says it’s a very cool idea. He says, “How large is your company?” I said, “There is only three of us”. He looks at our investor, “You do realize the big risk that they’re taking?” You know what the investor said, he said, “If they knew any better they would not do it”.
So part of it as being an entrepreneur, in some sense ignoring a lot of risks that are obvious to experts, obvious to the reference, obvious to everybody else but just ignoring it, just believe in the few things that you really believe in, a few values that are really precious to you and hold on to them forever. And as the company gets bigger and you hire more people, you make more competitors, you have more customers, the life keeps on getting more complex, problems keep on getting more complex but the solution turns out to be surprisingly simple. And those solutions are always those few values and few things that you absolutely believe in, just make broad strokes.
The one thing I would advise entrepreneurs to always do, which I did, is to always listen to the market. The market is the only expert that you should probably listen to and that’s what we did at the start. Even going after the gaming market, we realize it’s a small market, there is a much bigger opportunity than if we went after that market in this world of application delivery. There are e-commerce companies, online gaming companies, SaaS publishers, lots of different verticals and there again we spoke to a lot of different customers, realizing ecommerce companies, travel hospitalities, news media, those are the largest most important verticals for us, we went after them. So that’s the only thing I would advice entrepreneurs to listen to experts.
Martin: What are the values that you have been focusing on in the first place when you first started out?
Manav: I think the one value that I really emphasized on was to hire A+ Players. Hire really smart people, really motivated with high head room, who are very competent and very low on ego, who basically work very well together as a team. At Instart, the biggest struggle that we’ve had is just hiring really good people. At any given point in time, we have as many vacancies open as the employees in the company. But we are very selective in terms of who we bring in to be a part of this company. We actually think it’s extremely special and that’s the one thing that we just never ever compromise on.
Martin: And how did you find the first employees that are ‘rock stars’?
Manav: So basically we went through our network. Because I, my co-founders, we have been in the industry working for the last three, four, five years; we went to some good schools. And you know when you work hard, people tend to notice that. If you are an A+ player, if we work hard, if we generate good results, if you are a very good team player, people remember those things. And you know our previous colleagues remembered us from our previous contracts and they were willing to make a bet on us and at that time, nobody else would. That’s how we hired our early employees. And then you started having this what I call the snowball effect. We had our first good three employees, we find the first good investor and then we find the first good customer. And it is all about only, sort of dealing with A+ folks in terms of brand for a customer or in terms of portfolios and track record for an investor or capability for an employee. And these people tend to attract people like themselves and that’s how we did built the company.
Martin: And with the customers? Was it the same way that you acquired the first customers via your network or was it more of a like a cold acquisition of customers?
Manav: It was basically a cold acquisition. The value proposition for Instart is very similar. If I came to you and I say, “Look we have some website, I don’t know what this website is, if I made it faster by 2x. Nothing else changes for you”. Like why would you say no, right? For us, that’s what we basically did. I wasn’t afraid to approach strangers so I approached a few early customers, who were technically very smart, had good brand and were forward leading and we spoke to them, and they were very excited and intrigued by what we could do. And most of them have been on our service ever since.
Martin: Can you please elaborate on your sales process? So what does a sales process look like today and what might have changed?
Manav: So the sales process hasn’t really changed, so if you think about Instart, Instart is the the result of a technology disruption. We’ve built a technology, we have pioneered a new architecture design for how to build an application delivery service and on the business model side, which seems to be basically the same as what most of the players would look at. It’s a direct sales model where we’ll hire field based sales people, you have them go call on different accounts. The lead generation for us is really very straightforward. Anybody who’s using CDN is a target customer of ours and we’ll call them up, the sales pitch is relatively very straightforward, “Look we can make your site faster. Faster site, faster app means these benefits for the top line, why don’t you give it a shot?”
Martin: Good. Thank you very much, Manav!
Martin: And maybe if you want to have a faster app or website, Instart Logic might be an option.
Manav: Thank you, Martin.
Martin: Great! Thank you so much!
Manav: Thanks for everything! Thanks!
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