Exotel, a Bangalore-based start-up was born out of a need to bring together multiple phone lines of a company customer support into a single one. Setting up a traditional business phone system involves investing in infrastructure, hiring technology consultants, which eats into a small business's core focus. With Exotel, you will be provided a centralised phone system for all communication needs on call and SMS, hosted in the cloud.

With a Web interface, companies can define their Interactive Voice Response (IVR) flows and other marketing related functions.

Former Yahoo, Microsoft and Flipkart employees, Shivakumar Ganesan, the co-founder and CEO along with Ishwar Sridharan, Co-Founder & Head of Operations Siddharth Ramesh, Co-Founder & Head of Technology and Vijay Sharma, Co-Founder & Head of Marketing are the brains behind Exotel.

The idea for this venture came up when Shivkakumar Ganesan (Shivku) ran an online C2C marketplace called Roopit and would typically receive lots of calls for leads, and would use SMS and calls to run his business like any other SME in India. He ended up, on peak days, getting around 80-100 calls and would not be able to answer all of them, and every lead missed impacted his business. He, being a hacker all his life, with 5 years at Yahoo (Yahoo Best India Employee twice and Yahoo World-wide best Employee once) and VP, Tech & Products at Flipkart decided to build a system for himself. That's how Exotel came about.

There was a need for an SME (Roopit) which was felt by all other SME's as well. That's when he pivoted and built this cloud-telephony product.

Initial Challenges

As in a start-up normally, there are things like money, customers, people – but we actually did some right things or did not feel hurt

here much – in-fact, we quickly got good people on board, had good set of initial paying customers and had traction early-on itself.

Team-wise Shivku got his friends Ishwar from Yahoo, Siddharth from Microsoft and Vijay from Practo involved and excited which helped a lot in the early stages.

Challenges lied more with dealing with the Inventory bit of managing our vendors, and creating a system for them to work fast enough at our pace and make them realize the importance of the role they played. We soon realized making them partners was more important, and now focus a lot of our efforts on maintaining those relationships very well. We still hope to improve in this aspect today as well.

Is it unique?

While cloud telephony as a concept is not very unique, we feel that two things are unique to us; We strive to be a player who adds intelligence of the Internet with the telephone and provides all the data needed to run a business over Voice & SMS.

We are heavy on technology and are building a technology product and with the people we have on-board, we feel confident.

Raised money

We were looking to raise an amount to help us run for 1-2 years by hiring, and focus-sing on product development. We had a couple of good mentors and lots of investors were interested in the team and product.

We took around 4-5 months to complete the entire process. We raised a Series A round from Blume Ventures & Mumbai Angels of Rs. 2.5 Crore in March and they have been super-helpers in the growth since then, and even before. What worked in our favour were a couple of things:

a. Team

b. Customers

c. Product

We have only raised once via Blume and Mumbai Angles and had a bit of seed investment from friends for the early days.

Future Plans

We are very happy with the progress on the team – we have around 18 people in a year's time, and also 86 customers including likes of Mast Kalandar, KaatiZone, Urbantouch, Crazeal, Carwale, Bankbazaar, Godrej and more. This has all happened via word-of-reference and zero expenditure on marketing. The word about the product has hopefully spread is what we believe.

We are looking to make the product more self-sell-able and requiring less manual intervention so that anyone can come on the website and buy it off without any conversation with Exotel unless required. Once we can crack that, we will focus a lot more on Marketing. We look to keep building our team with nice, smart people in technology and other fields. Currently being in 5 Circles – Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi (NCR), Chennai & Hyderabad – we could move to a couple of more circles soon.

Target is to get more SME/MSME customers on-board and be able to provide them a product which does not make them invest in Physical Infrastructure like PBX/PRI lines and also have all the much-needed details, reporting, recordings to run a typical call-center operation. They can start their call-center operations via Exotel in 15 minutes after signing-up on our Web site.

(As told to Venkatesh Ganesh)