Ramu Sunkara went from a 9-5 job to full cycle entrepreneur. He’s now working on his second successful startup.
During our interview on the DealMakers podcast, Ramu talked about making the leap into entrepreneurship, fundraising in an economic crisis, the full cycle of a startup, and why you shouldn’t be afraid to take on really big companies.
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Have The Courage To Try New Things
Ramu Sunkara was born in Hyderabad, India. He did well in school, and with the choice of either becoming a doctor or engineer, he chose to attend Indian Institute of Technology at Madras for his undergrad education.
His father was among the first generation in his country to move from being based on farming communities to taking jobs in the new industrial world. He worked hard in his corporate job as an engineer and stayed with the same company for the next 35 years.
However, despite his conventional career path, Ramu’s father frequently took him to meet with entrepreneurs who were working on new and exciting things. He was inspired by their confidence and courage to go out and start something of their own. That ultimately became his own dream too.
For Ramu, nurturing this inspiration came in the form of saying yes to trying a lot of new things. That included jumping with both feet when the opportunity came to do his Master’s in the US at the University of Wisconsin. Then again, when he switched to studying software engineering and computer science.
Settling Into The 9-5
Sunkara began his working career with Digital Equipment Corporation. A company that soon taught him the perils of companies failing to change and embrace the future.
His next stop was Oracle. A big company experience that he enjoyed. There he had some freedom to tackle new projects, as well as witnessing the need for software to evolve with the changing times.
At Oracle he worked on several successful products, including Oracle Database for Clusters, browser based CRM apps and real-time collaboration products similar to Zoom and WhatsApp.
10 years later Ramu says he was still unable to shake the compelling desire to become an entrepreneur and do something on his own. On the day of his marriage anniversary with full support from his family, he left the safety of a senior executive position at Oracle, and started his entrepreneurial journey from his garage.
He admits it was a big change. It was again something new, but a slightly scary prospect, having given up the nice office and steady paycheck of corporate America. He says it was a good year and a half before he really got in the swing of entrepreneurship and this new environment.
He joined together with two co-founders to cover marketing and engineering and they took on the mobile video space with their startup Qik.
At the time there weren’t really smartphones like we have now. Nokia was the big mobile phone leader, and the iPhone still didn’t exist.
When Apple did release the iPhone and App Store Qik’s mobile video app was a hit. They were soon the #2 paid app and were making money.
When Apple followed up with their own FaceTime, Qik turned to Google Android, the mobile phone vendors and mobile operators. They struck deals with Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.
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This all happened right after they almost went broke, multiple times. They had successfully raised a Series A round in just one weekend. They expected the same for their Series B. It was 2008. When the financial crisis hit, all of their investors who had provided term sheets disappeared.
They stuck with it, and survived long enough for things to take off. The ended up raising over $16 million from some of the best investors in the world.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Ramu was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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Taking On Giants
During this time Skype had been growing and was doing well with its video and voice services on laptops. They just hadn’t gotten into mobile, and saw the urgency to finally do something about it.
They saw the relationships Qik already had and came knocking. In less than a month Skype closed the deal, buying Ramu’s startup for $150 million in cash.
Qik’s founders took their parents on vacation trips after this grand exit. Then joined the rest of their team at Skype before it was in turn acquired by Microsoft.
He says his biggest takeaway was to boldly look into the future and not be afraid of competing against big companies. They may appear to be big threats and competitors, but have plenty of their own challenges too.
- They can’t move fast
- Their infrastructure is now outdated and not equipped for building the future
- They are no longer hungry to go conquer new things
He says that in contrast startups have the edge in all of these areas. With a small focused team that keeps executing every day, and market timing on their side, they can overcome giants.
Meet Alan AI
Once you’ve experienced entrepreneurship you can never quit.
Ramu’s newest venture is Alan AI. A tech startup bringing us into the future with human-like conversational voice interface to control all apps.
With thousands of app developers already signing up to integrate Alan AI into their apps Ramu envisions a future where touch and type interfaces are extinct, and everything is voice controlled. A world he sees as more efficient, safer, productive, and for app publishers who fail 99.9% of the time due to controls, a lot more profitable too.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Building a brilliant founding team
- Choosing the best investors to fund your startup
- The ingredients of a successful startup that can weather the storms