Rohit Paranjpe is now on his third company. He has learned a lot of critical business lessons on his journey. Those learnings appear set to enable him to bring connectivity to billions of new internet users worldwide.
During our conversation on the DealMakers Podcast, Paranjpe shared his story of accidental entrepreneurship, how to fail hard, and just keep going, being resourceful, and his approach of going for big customers out of the gate.
India’s Boom Of Engineering Entrepreneurs
Of the over 200 top-funded entrepreneurs, and those founders with the biggest exits that I’ve interviewed on the Dealmakers Show, it is incredible to see how many are Indian born entrepreneurs with backgrounds in engineering. It is like they are just minting or cloning hyper-successful founders over there.
Rohit Paranjpe is certainly one of them. He grew up in Mumbai, in a typical middle-class family.
He says that growing up in this environment gave you a keen focus on education, and essentially only three choices of career. You were either going to become a lawyer, doctor, or engineer. Biology didn’t seem to be his thing, and he had little desire to go into law. That left him with the choice of studying engineering. Which he did in Mumbai.
Another pattern I’ve seen with hyper-successful startup founders is being well-traveled. It provides an enhanced perspective of the world. Rohit is no exception to this either. Between his own studies and early work and visiting his dad who was working in the global petroleum industry, he was enabled to enjoy extensive travel. Not only within India, but to the Middle East, Canada, and even Alaska.
These travel experiences also gave him a lot of exposure to technology. This all provided the foundations of his thinking and which has unfolded into quite an exciting career as an entrepreneur.
Rohit Paranjpe says he never set out to become an entrepreneur. Even after co-founding two companies he really didn’t see himself as an entrepreneur. Coming from that engineering mindset, he just set out to solve problems.
Coming from a very risk-averse background, Rohit became the first entrepreneur in his family. For him, it was just about doing what needed to be done. That ended up being starting, building, and scaling businesses.
It all started when he was approached by some friends who had been doing training, and wanted him to help. He did.
While working on this business training company, he was taking an auto-rickshaw back from the office at night. His driver offered him a stack of CDs to choose some music for his ride home. He did and gave the driver a 10% tip.
He woke up the next morning inspired by the idea of entertainment for transport. He called his partners, told them his heart wasn’t in their project anymore and set off to pursue this venture.
Rohit’s studies had been focused on chemical engineering, not technology. So, the first thing he did was to take apart a computer. Then he asked how can you miniaturize every single component so that it could be put inside a taxi cab.
More than a year and a half later, after going from HP to Android, they had their first product ready.
Their first customer was a 2,000 vehicle cab company. One of the largest fleets in the huge city of Mumbai. On average 72% of travelers engaged with their system. For every 45-minute cab ride, users engaged with the content for an average of 32 minutes. They picked up advertisers like Blackberry and Microsoft.
Embracing Curiosity & Failure Over Prizing Expertise and Comfort
One of the toughest days any entrepreneur will have to deal with is having to pull the plug on their own company.
With a company that relies on hardware, there are a lot of potential risks. Rohit discovered that disconnect when revenue isn’t consistent or fast enough to make those ends meet.
He kept running with his own money, and investments from friends and family, until they, with their unbiased outside opinion, called it a dead end. He closed it down.
Both Rohit and I agree that failure can provide many more learning opportunities than an easy success. In fact, one of his top pieces of advice for new entrepreneurs is not to hold onto or cherish moments and situations when you feel you are an expert or are in your comfort zone.
He says it is when you venture out into the spaces where you are not an expert yet and follow that curiosity is when you make progress and is where the magic happens. He certainly credits these steps with all of the innovations he has made.
Two of the other big learnings he took away from this experience were:
- Don’t rely on advertising for revenue, especially in an asset-based model
- Your business will never make it until you nail your unit economics
The Next Evolution Of Digitainment
When they shut down Mobie, they realized the greatest asset they still had was a year of rights to some great content. That was close to $400,000 in value sitting there.
So, his co-founder came up with the idea of creating a content distribution platform. Together with an additional two cofounders, they started Digitainment. They landed Nokia as their first customer.
After making money for two years, they started to bleed it again. The competition came in and drove up content acquisition costs by almost 550%. They shut it down and rolled their learnings into a great new success.
SugarBox is Rohit’s latest venture. The service enables consumers to access relevant content at super-fast speeds.
They essentially setup SugarBox zones across Transport, Hospitality, Retail, Healthcare, and even Public Places so that everyone can enjoy high quality, buffer-free, on-demand entertainment without being dependent on access to 4G or broadband.
They’ve already raised $80 million to expand, and expect to use that money to move into serving billions of new customers around the world in the next couple of years.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Rohit 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.
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Pitching big customers first
- Finding product-market fit
- What SugarBox is doing that is so hot
- How to embrace failure