There are very few true technology product companies out of India that have made it to the global market. Varun Singh founded one of them, ScaleArc. The company is currently headquartered in Silicon Valley and is executing well. Some of the others are: Druva, InMobi, and Freshdesk.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your story. Where are you from? Where you were born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Varun Singh: I’m from the north of India. I was raised in Chandigarh before I left and started working.
Sramana Mitra: Did you do all your schooling in Chandigarh?
Varun Singh: A majority of it. I travelled around a bit but pretty much, a few hundred miles of Chandigarh.
Sramana Mitra: When you left Chandigarh, where did you go?
Varun Singh: To Mumbai.
Sramana Mitra: To work?
Varun Singh: I was in Ambala for about five years. I was finishing my schooling there. I had a lot of friends who were doing, outside of school, a lot of computer stuff. One of my friends in Chandigarh started a BBS, a bulletin board system. This is pre-Internet.
Sramana Mitra: What year is this?
Varun Singh: 1996.
Sramana Mitra: That’s pretty early.
Varun Singh: He was the lead developer for CentOS, which had recently been acquired by Red Hat. He was my mentor at that time.
Seeing him do it, I wanted to do a BBS of my own, and I did that. That took a lot of work. I didn’t have a computer that could handle a modem. I didn’t have the hard drive space to hold anything useful and to be able to share it with somebody else. This is when I was in ninth grade. I went to my computer reseller and said, “I can go ahead and set up a BBS. I know how to do mail routing. You can offer commercial mail services and figure out a way to monetize it. Just give me the equipment and I’ll get it built.” That was my first project.
When I started my BBS, I got linked to all these guys from PC Quest, which is one of the top computer magazines in India. I started doing freelance work for them. I started writing articles for them and started contributing software downloads for their CDs. I started contributing some of the work for the Linux CDs that they were doing. I spent my tenth and eleventh grade holidays there. By the time I got out of school, I was conflicted. Do I want to go there or do I want to go to college? I went to college and didn’t like it. I was there for three days and got back to PC Quest. Before I knew it, I got an offer from Chip Magazine, which is in Mumbai. I moved to Mumbai at the age of 18.
Sramana Mitra: What happened to school?
Varun Singh: I finished twelfth and didn’t do college after that. I just went to Mumbai at that point. Till then, I was going back and forth as an intern. I was not full-time. They were looking for somebody to do full-time product reviews. I was a product reviewer.
Sramana Mitra: It was a not a technical job. It was reviewing technical products.
Varun Singh: Yes, that’s the reason why I got into journalism in the first place because it was where I could get to test the products that I really wanted to touch but couldn’t possibly afford. I worked at PC Quest for exactly that reason. You get to see exotic hardware pretty early on. When I got to Chandigarh, videogames got me really interested again.