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Taking On Microsoft And Google From India: InstaColl Founders Sumanth Raghavendra, Kaushal Cavale, And Their Mentor Sabeer Bhatia (Part 1)

Posted on Wednesday, May 5th 2010

Kaushal Cavale and Sumanth Raghavendra are childhood friends from Bangalore and the cofounders of InstaColl. After graduating from BMS College of Engineering and the University of Phoenix (Thunderbird), respectively, they worked in technical IT positions in the United States. They returned to India in 2000 to fulfill their dreams of starting a business. In 2005, they persuaded Sabeer Bhatia to invest in the company and become their mentor. The result is InstaColl, a collaborative online service competing with Microsoft Office.

SM: I would like to start at the point of the story where the entrepreneurs came together. Where does this story start?

SR and KC: We were childhood friends.

SM: Childhood friends? Where did you grow up?

SR and KC: Bangalore. We grew up in the same neighborhood, and we’ve known each other all our lives.

SM: Did you go to the same school?

SR and KC: No. We grew up in the same neighborhood, and we knew each other for a long time.

SM: Where were you educated, and what did you study?

SR and KC: I studied in Bangalore as well as in Singapore. I did my MBA from the Institute of Management in Bangalore. I also did a master’s at the University of Phoenix, Thunderbird. Kaushal is an engineer from BMS College of Engineering here in Bangalore.

SM: What year did you decide that you were going to start the company? Did you work for another company first, or did you start this company directly after school?

SR and KC: Twenty years ago, we decided we wanted to create a business together. We decided that when we grew up we would do something together. We didn’t really have access to funds or the family backing to set up something right away. That meant we had to work for other companies first. We both ended up working in the United States for a while at technology companies. I worked at Citibank and Kaushal worked for Screaming Media, which is an online content syndication company in New York City.

We came back to India in 2000 and started an IT services firm. We brought back business from the companies at which we had worked and got our start developing software for those companies. The goal was to develop a product of our own, but we were not presumptuous enough to believe that we could just come up with an idea and get going immediately. We wanted to build up a corpus by working for clients.

We worked only with product companies out of the United States. The crucial thing here was that it gave us an orientation to the process of developing a product. In India it is very difficult to have that experience, because most companies are service based. We developed the team and focused completely on products. The products happened to belong to other folks, but developing them gave us the discipline and regimen that we needed to develop a product of our own.

SM: What kind of product were you developing for other companies that gave you the discipline and orientation you refer to?

SR and KC: We worked for several very small U.S. startups. In the eight years we worked, we were working with technologies such as Java. The one thing that we focused on was architecture and design. A lot of the firms we worked with focused on Microsoft Office. That gave us a deep perspective into Office, Excel in particular, and the document formats that Microsoft used. A few years ago, the Microsoft Office document formats were closed completely, and there were only a few interface points that allowed interaction with the document object model. We had to reverse-engineer the document format to achieve any functionality we needed for our customers. That enabled us to develop an intricate understanding of how things were developed for Microsoft.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Taking On Microsoft And Google From India: InstaColl Founders Sumanth Raghavendra, Kaushal Cavale, And Their Mentor Sabeer Bhatia
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Good to know Sabeer Bhatia ventured this initiative. It will keep us motivated. But really wanted to know why we feel that we cant make gr8 products? What i personally feel we are definitely capable of making killer apps n products but to make it happen. There is lot more augmentation needed to product. Like Market research, analysis to target the market. launching the product with context to market for e.g. Indian market is price sensitive and others are not exactly vary about price.
We cannot make product like Gas blown up balloons left open to fly on its own, rather it need to be flying kite.. up in the air and connected to ground, this what balance.

Ankur Sen Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 12:57 AM PT

Inspired story of friendship and goals.Good Luck to both.

Arpitha Aradhya Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 4:29 AM PT

good luck guys

Harsha M V Friday, May 7, 2010 at 12:50 AM PT

Hi Sramana Mitra,

You shared such a nice and inspiring story of entrepreneurship. I am observing that in India, entrepreneurship is developing in shade of service Industries. When fund is available then why only in service Industries?

Well I have been looking for this answer since many weeks.

Rituraj Friday, May 7, 2010 at 11:22 PM PT

1M/1M emphasizes on boot strapping, will Instacoll fall under that category?

Navneet Monday, May 10, 2010 at 9:42 AM PT

wow, taking on directly the big boss of Office 🙂

All the Best and Keep up the Good Work !!

Deep C Saturday, May 15, 2010 at 4:38 AM PT

Good work guys, Keep it up. One day u guys beat facebook and google.

chandra gupta Friday, December 17, 2010 at 7:05 AM PT

I thought instacoll got thrashed by techcrunch. I dont think these two are going anywhere. They have practically have not held onto jobs or started successful businesses from 2000 to 2005. Poor Sabeer Bhatia has invested in a failed venture and in the process has also been thrashed by techcrunch.

sukdheep Monday, March 12, 2012 at 10:39 PM PT