Turning points: from Nepal to New York and beyond
Niraj Shah, cofounder of EventGrid, an online event management and ticketing platform based in the US, talks about some of the turning points that shaped his career.
Turning Point 1: Getting into IT
After graduating class 12 from New Delhi, Niraj Shah made a decision that would alter the course of his life. It wasn’t a big decision. It was a route that most young Nepalis take — he decided to move to Australia to pursue a career in Computer Engineering. But what followed is something he had not dreamt of. From being a regular engineering student, Shah went on to become the cofounder of EventGrid, an online event management and ticketing platform that currently works in five different countries across the globe.
Turning Point 2: Juggling work and business
In 1997, while Shah was still a post graduate student, and when the internet was still in its early stages of adoption, he started a small company that supplied computer parts to students. His first exposure to entrepreneurship made him realise his potential as a businessperson. “When I started selling a lot of hardware, I realised entrepreneurship suited me,” says Shah. His job made him focus more on his company and he sold more parts, ranging from networking equipment to LCDs. But Shah eventually got bored with what he was doing as it did not call for him to be innovative.
Turning Point 3: One-way ticket to the Big Apple
Life had bigger plans for Shah. While he was working in Australia, he was offered a job for three months from Council Travel, a company based in New York. He decided to take it up,and take a break from being an entrepreneur. So he bought a one-way ticket to New York in July 1999 and start afresh. Council Travel was impressed with his skill sets and asked him to work with them longer. He worked at Council Travel for two years before moving to another travel company, Octopustravel.com, where he worked as an online marketing manager.
Turning Point 4: The future cofounders meet
Oftentimes, spontaneous decisions create the most pivotal turning points in life. Shah left Octopustravel.com to work in a software company called Electric Vine. There, he met Eric Popivker, a Ukraine-born American, who was a Director of Technology at Electric Vine, and had been working at the company for four years. Shah had been mulling over the idea of starting his own software company after he witnessed the inefficiency in upper management. And after meeting Popivker, Shah convinced him that they should start their own company. Within just a week, Shah and Popivker had registered their company, EN-Tech Solutions — ‘E’ and ’N’ being the initials of two cofounders of the company.
The start of their entrepreneurial career was rough, like with most startups — money wasn’t coming in, and they didn’t have customers. Shah and Popivker had both left their jobs to focus on their newly founded company. Shah started cold-calling everybody he knew to inform them about the software company and to ask if they needed the services he and his partner were offering. After a lot of phone calls and meetups with people, Shah happened to run into a friend who wanted a product to be built. It was a booking software that allowed people to make reservations for anything. EN-Tech Solutions’clientele base soon started growing as people began talking up the duo’s expertise in DOT NET programming. Within a few years, EN-Tech Solutions started building software for Fortune 500 companies.
Turning Point 5: From providing services to creating a product
What differentiates an entrepreneur from everybody else is the hunger to do something new. EN-Tech Solutions had shown a lot of talent in the software market, but they felt like they had not been innovative enough.“We wanted to do something new. That’s when we thought about creating our own product,” says Shah.
The year 2011 gave birth to a new methodology for startups with Eric Ries’s book The Lean Startup. Shah read this book and absorbed everything in it that was associated with starting lean. Shah, with his team,decided to go lean with their new product.The cofounders decided not to join any incubators or approach any VC; rather they boot-strapped the product for a couple of months to see what would happen. They came up with a management application idea and started making a minimum viable product to test in the market.
Turning Point 6: Finding the product-market fit
But the management platform didn’t work as the duo had intended. They thus tweaked a few things and turned it into an event-management application and called it EventGrid. EventGrid was launched in the market in early 2014, but it took them 10 months to get their first customer. They would send the product to their potential customers and ask for feedback; they then made changes based on the feedback received. “We initially wanted to build a platform that had features for managing everything. After many changes, we narrowed our focus to building a platform just for managing events. Had we not done this, it would have taken us years to build the software and we’d have eventually lost all our money,” says Shah.
Turning Point 7: Steering the start-up and growing
EventGrid now has 12 people working for the company and has customers from five different countries. It conducts multi-million dollars worth of transactions every month. “When we started building the platform, we focused on the 10X method. Meaning, for every feature we would build, we would focus all our energy into making it 10 times better than other products in the market. It could relate to time, money, efficiency or any other variable, but we had to be 10 times better, because we figured that would be why people would prefer our products over others,” says Shah.
In the startup world, there is a well-known saying: “If you don’t grow, you die.” EventGrid and its founders have internalised this dictum. EventGrid’s next plan of action is to grow the business to other non-English speaking countries and slowly take on the world.
(Turning Points is a series that maps the pivotal moments in the journey of a startup or an entrepreneur)
— Nirajan Shrestha
*First Published by the author in M&S VMAG.
Originally published at startupsnepal.com.