Not Just Another Pie in the Sky

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Transcript of Not Just Another Pie in the Sky

  • 1

  • 2Contents Page

    A note before you begin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . II

    Chapter 1

    Cold-coffees, 10-pins and the quest for pocket money . . 1

    Chapter 2

    The quest becomes a business . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18

    Chapter 3

    The acorn sprouts, growing bigger by the day . . . . . 31

    Chapter 4

    Take a bow, FusionCharts has arrived . . . . . . . . . 46

    Chapter 5

    A dent in our universe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66

    Chapter 6

    Act 1, Scene 1, charting a new beginning . . . . . . . . 75

  • 3A note before you begin

    Hi, Im Sanket Nadhani.

    I am here to tell you the story of how a quest for pocket money became a multi-million dollar venture. The story of how a company grew from a shared bedroom to one that has 20,000 customers and 450,000 users in 118 countries today, powers more than a billion charts per month and does $7M in annual revenue.

    I tell the story as an insider, since the bedroom the company grew out of was the same I shared with my brother. I was a part of the story too, heading Marketing and Sales at the company from 2009 to 2011.

    I think this is an unconventional story for two reasons. I will tell you one of the reasons now, and you will know of the other at the end of the book. The first is that this is a story of persist-ence. In an age of scale-fast-or-die-quick, this is the story of the decade-long trials and tribulations of a company founded by a 17-year old, with no business knowledge whatsoever, and in a country not exactly known for its software products. Read on to know the second one.

    I hope you will have as much fun and inspiration reading this book, as I have had writing it.

    Sanket Nadhani15th October 2012


  • 4 III



  • 2It was 2001. Pallav Nadhani, a bubbling 16-year old, was in high school. Like any other teenager back in the day, he wanted to go bowling and sip cold coffee in cafs. In the hot and humid Kolkata, cold coffees are always a good idea. Its just that the boy didnt really care much about the coffee. He was there for the cute girls that hung around in these cafs.

    Baristas are charitable to your cause only if you look good in a short skirt and going bowling caused a sizable dent in the pocket too. There was only so much pocket money Pallav had, but he wasnt ready to give up on his new-found vices for fun anytime soon. He had to make more pocket money.

    When it came to after-school jobs for teenagers, the Indian society sported a stiff nose to pretty much everything. Waiting tables at a restaurant was frowned upon by the society at

    Cold coffees, 10-pins & the quest for pocket money

  • 3large, as was working in a mall. Nobody from a respected family did that, and more importantly, nobody gave teenagers a job. Teenagers went to school, studied hard and attended a good college to become an engineer or a doctor. When they werent studying, they played cricket and discussed the state of Indian cricket as if it was a fundamental duty mentioned in the Constitution. But we digress. Essentially, teenagers had to make do with whatever pocket money they got. Pallav wasnt exactly ready for that.

    Meanwhile in the world of Information Technology, the landscape was changing. The era of eager investors putting sacks of money into online pet-supply stores and grocery delivery business was over. The world was coming out of the dotcom hangover and was ready to experiment with new technologies. And users were ready to pay money for things that solved an actual problem.

    Pallav had been helping with the web development arm of his dads firm for a couple of years now, which developed websites for local businesses. While at it, he got a pretty good hold of creating dynamic websites in ASP and jazzy animations in Macromedia Flash 4. Concocting these two technologies together could yield interesting results; he just needed to create something useful that people would pay for.

    While the search was on, he chanced upon a website called ASPToday. The website paid handsomely for writing articles

    Cold coffees, 10-pins & the quest for pocket money

  • 4that talked about how to do cool stuff with ASP. Handsomely meant anything from $600 to $1,500 depending on the size and usefulness of the article. This was a godsend.

    The idea for the article struck quickly too. Pallav was sick and tired of the boring charts Microsoft Excel generated, someth-ing he had seen and made tons of for his school projects. Flash was jazzy, Flash was fun. Why not use it to make sexy animated charts for web applications? And ASP could then help connect the charts to databases, thus making it actually useful. What people were using those days were bulky components that put a heavy load on the web servers, and generated boring output at the end of it all. This was it.

    He wrote a long article on how to combine the very-very-business ASP with the hey-how-you-doing Flash to create animated charts for web applications. The concoction was a first to create charts for web applications. He sent the article to the ASPToday guys at the end of 2001, who published it on their website and featured it on the homepage for a week as well. Developers hanging out on the website were intrigued by the idea and liked the output. Most importantly, $1,500 hit the bank. One thousand five hundred dollars!

    The ASPToday community also started suggesting feature additions that Pallav could make. Not having much to do after school, he started working on these features and bounced them off with the techies who had suggested them. They quite

    Cold coffees, 10-pins & the quest for pocket money

  • 5liked what they saw, and soon the idea of converting it into a

    product started germinating.

    The pre-cursor to FusionCharts

    At the start of 2002, Pallav began work on converting his find into a product. Specifically, a product he could sell in the market. The only business learnings he had were the pickings from his dads web development business. Unlike today, not every startup was telling every other startup how to a run a startup in those days. The web was a small place with limited business lessons, so this was going to be an experiment. And Pallav was determined to run with it.

    By March, all the coding was done and it was time to get ready for the launch.

    He put together a 12-page documentation on how to use the product. While it sounds like a hastily done job, it was all of what you needed to get the charts up and running. His dad had a website that offered web development services for local businesses, and sold accounting and payroll-related software. Even though there was no overlap between the two target markets, he didnt have to pay for a domain name and web hosting. A penny saved was a penny earned for the boy.

    He decided to call the product fXgraph for a reason he doesnt remember today, except that it sounded cool back then. Heck,

    Cold coffees, 10-pins & the quest for pocket money

  • 6it sounds pretty cool even now.

    It was time to figure out two more things and get rolling. How much should the software cost and how should the money be collected, in that order. The order that was ultimately followed was the exact opposite. Since Pallav didnt know how the complex world of finance works and that too with the plethora of rules and regulations in India, he sought his dads help. Kisor, Pallavs and your dear authors dad, recommended having two payment options checks, just like his business had all these years, and online through credit cards.

    They started looking for an online payment gateway. They identified a company called Virtual Software Store that charg-ed a hefty 25% fee for processing online payment in addition to the bank remittance fees but back then, they didnt know better. Now on to the final barrier, the price. They wanted to keep the software low-priced but without any international exposure as such, they couldnt exactly place a finger on what was low. Luckily for them, the price chose itself. The lowest a software could be priced on the Virtual Software Store was $15, and that was chosen as the price for fXgraph. They also introduced another version at $49 for people who wanted to buy the source code of fXgraph. The idea behind making the source code available for purchase was that people would feel safe about their purchase even if fXgraph went down under, they could keep their charting up-to-date by building on the source code. Nobody was really going to buy the $49 version

    Cold coffees, 10-pins & the quest for pocket money

  • 7 it was a lot of money to pay for a charting component but just in case. The $15 version was called the User Edition and the $49 version the Developer Edition. There was one small problem, however.

    Virtual Software Store required a $29 setup fee. Not only was that a reasonably big amount for a setup, neither Pallav nor Kisor had a credit card. They decided to get started with checks itself, and that they would come back to the online payment option if there were enough people asking for it.

    fXgraph was launched in April. The first version had four chart types. You could toggle between the chart types using icons at the top to see the same data represented in different forms. Supposedly, each of these different forms gave you different insights into your data and animated the chart again something that was so fancy people would want to see it all day long.

    To promote fXgrap