Today, the American Dream can happen anywhere. All you need is an internet connection.
In 2014, Gaurav Nagani was a college dropout with less than $100 in his pocket. He left his hometown in India to learn to code and make his fortune as an entrepreneur. Determined to learn everything he could about modern startups, he even swept floors at an ecommerce company for $50 a month.
Eight years later, Gaurav and his cofounder, Darshan Tank, run a successful mobile development agency with over $200,000 in ARR. More promisingly, they’ve created a SaaS app called Desku – one of the fastest-growing CRMs in India.
Gaurav noticed many Indian direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands relied heavily on customer support, yet it was also their largest bottleneck. They communicated with customers via direct message on WhatsApp, which works fine for a few dozen customers but becomes a splitting headache for small teams communicating with thousands.
In December of 2021, Gaurav used his coding skills to create a drag-and-drop chatbot and knowledge-base builder for his clients to use while they contracted with his agency. Clients enjoyed the automated chat system so much that they told their friends who clamored for a subscription. In March of 2022, just three months later, Desku launched its first premium version and reached $22,000 ARR.
Here’s the story of how Gaurav and his cofounder, Darshan, went from being aspiring tech entrepreneurs to owning one of only ten tech startups in their town.
Middle-Class Life on $60 a Month
Gaurav is a first-generation entrepreneur from a middle-class family in India’s Gujarat State. His mother manages the household and his father works as a diamond manufacturer after a brief stint in farming.
Growing up, Gaurav always knew he would need to support his family. Unlike in the US, middle-class life in India is not a house in the suburbs, two cars, a mortgage, and one international trip a year. “Middle class in India is usually a family of four living in a ten by ten room on sixty dollars per month.”
Despite wanting a career to help his family, Gaurav dropped out of college in 2013. He just could not see how his education would help him find a useful job. However, he’d heard about growing opportunities in neighboring cities in industries like IT and software.
Later that same year, Gaurav told his parents he would go on vacation to the neighboring city of Rajkot. They told him that once he returned, he would need to find a job to help support the family. Gaurav didn’t tell them he planned to stay and find work, no matter the cost.
Upon arrival in Rajkot, Gaurav joined a new ecommerce company selling traditional women’s apparel throughout the country. He scraped in just fifty dollars a month and did everything for the company including cleaning the floor. While some might complain, Gaurav was in his element. “It was a great learning experience,” he says. “I just wanted to do anything that had to do with computers.”
That same year, Gaurav enrolled in web development courses at a local school. Here, he learned the skills that launched his development career and met his future business partner and friend, Darshan Tank.
After he left the training academy, Gaurav’s father called him. He said it was time for Gaurav to come home to work. Gaurav was reluctant. “I told my father I needed to stay here and find money,” he says. “Instead of forcing me to come home, my father sent me five hundred dollars and told me to do something with it. I could come home once it was used up.”
Wielding the sizable sum (for his part of India) gifted by his father, Gaurav and Darshan joined forces in 2015 to create a contract mobile development business called thirstyDevs. They rented an office in the city that was little more than a small room with two tables and chairs for about $60 a month and got to work.
thirstyDevs, Hungry Brands
Gaurav and Darshan grew thirstyDevs from a $100 investment into a $200,000-a-year business over five years, completely bootstrapped. Much of this astronomical growth was because they offered an in-demand service at precisely the right time.
thirstyDevs was a complete software and mobile development company that became increasingly targeted at direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands in the wake of Covid. The Times of India reports the DTC industry could be worth as much as $100 billion in the country by 2025¹.
“Covid changed everything,” says Gaurav. “There weren’t that many entrepreneurs in India before then. Before Covid, people worked for multinational companies on lower pay. During Covid, they learned of bigger opportunities if they started their own businesses.”
Since most DTC businesses in India took off post-Covid, many of Darshan and Gaurav’s clients were still in their early stages, especially in customer support.
“You can’t grow your customer base to 200,000 users in just a couple of months with WhatsApp.”
The vast majority of DTC brands ran painfully simple websites with little more than a button connecting a WhatsApp account – the preferred communication method in the country. There are about 487 million WhatsApp users within India’s borders, almost four times that of the next largest contender, Brazil². “You can’t grow your customer base to 200,000 users in just a couple of months with WhatsApp,” says Gaurav.
To help their DTC clients grow their business, Gaurav and Darshan tried to move them to standard customer communication hubs like Zendesk and Zoho – but found these systems too unfriendly for growing businesses relying on communication through SMS.
“Zoho and Zendesk are for enterprises and we were working with startups,” says Gaurav. “People are paying thousands of dollars for Zendesk consultants because it is such a complex platform. If you are just starting as an ecommerce brand, two to three people handle everything. You can’t just go hire new people to run one communication app.”
A fast, scalable way to talk to customers seemed like a simple project for two software developers. In 2021, Gaurav and Darshan put their heads together and created Desku – a simpler customer-support and query application. Within months their tools would become so popular that they created a spin-off business and had VCs lining up to invest.
The Drag-and-Drop Interface Clients Needed
Desku originally was meant to be an internal tool for thirstyDevs. One they could deploy to help clients answer customer questions about new developments on their websites. Clients could log customer queries that the thirstyDevs team would answer on one searchable portal.
Clients loved how much time they saved when they didn’t need to go back and forth with every customer over WhatsApp. Soon, they began to talk about Gaurav and Darshan’s system with their friends. Some would show up to the thirstyDevs office to ask to use their system.
Gaurav and Darshan realized they could easily monetize Desku with so much demand. They created a webpage and updated it based on feedback to provide more features to founders. Today, it’s begun to resemble a CRM rather than just a customer chat. Using their automation tools, Gaurav claims a single person can handle as many as 150 clients per day.
“It’s a knowledge base, live chat, chatbot, and help desk,” he says. “You can leverage the power of all four platforms in a single dashboard and build your own chatbots using our drag and drop builder.”
In just three months after their 2022 launch, without any marketing, Desku went from zero to $22,000 ARR. They also received two acquisition offers which they turned down with a smile.
“That was when I knew we had validated our product,” says Gaurav. “In my city, there are only ten startups yet people outside are trying to acquire us. They know what it can become. They also gave us offers for partnerships. Branding is most important for sure right now.”
Entering the CRM Space
Fifty percent of sales managers say CRMs are difficult to implement, reports Hubspot³. There has also been about a $55 billion increase in CRM revenue⁴ between 2010 and 2020. Considering those statistics, Gaurav and Darshan believe Desku should enter the CRM space next.
However, Gaurav plans to run the business for at least one and a half years before exploring that option. His team is small and he doesn’t want to rush growth – especially since most still work at thirstyDevs. Gaurav placed his money-making business on autopilot with senior managers while he and Darshan decide exactly how Desku will interact with their first project.
“I wish I had found the right mentor in my early days. Right now Desku could be twenty times bigger than what it is today if I had.”
Gaurav advises other founders to start and modify their businesses early. He also believes founders are better off seeking help in the early stages rather than growing their business alone through trial and error. “I wish I had found the right mentor in my early days. Right now, Desku could be twenty times bigger than what it is today if I had.”
As for Gaurav’s parents, he says they are happy with how he spent their money, even if they aren’t quite sure what he does. “They just say he does something on computers,” he laughs.
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