Indian Entrepreneur In Paris

In a bid to get France up there with Silicon Valley as a startup hub, the French government is issuing visas to promising entrepreneurs to come to France to incubate, develop their startup idea into a full-fledged innovative tech product or service that will change the world. Chennai-raised Mani Doraisamy and Guesswork is one such example.

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Hailing from Chennai, Mani Doraisamy and his cofounder Boobesh Ramalingam took their startup named Guesswork to Paris, after winning a residence permit and related kitty in the first season of French Tech Ticket. Mani is back in India for a few days to help spread the message that there are other avenues for growing your business besides going to Silicon Valley or hunting down VCs. He will be also speaking at Nasscom Conclave, Bangalore, in October.

Guesswork has an interesting proposition.

It calls itself a product recommendation engine for ecommerce companies. For example, remember those products Amazon recommends to you based on your searches? That’s possible because of software like Guesswork.

“80 per cent of people who look at ecomm sites don’t register, they just look at the products, they don’t even leave an email address for the ecomm company to add to their database. Out of the 20 per cent that do register, 18 per cent won’t buy anything. Only 2 per cent will buy something.”

Those are astounding numbers, and not the kind of numbers ecommerce companies are probably showing their prospective investors. Even for Mani and co. it took 6-9 months to come up with this finding.

With this insight, they decided to focus on the 98 per cent of users who haven't bought anything yet. They have built a technology that recommends the right products to these users and converts them into first time buyers.

Read more about Guesswork on BWDisrupt, here.

Guesswork’s growth curve

It was founded in 2014. By 2015 it had acquired Zalora as a client. Zalora is headquarted in Singapore and is a leading ecomm company in the South Asian region. "So we were post-revenue when we applied to French Tech Ticket in 2015."

Since getting through French Tech Ticket, Guesswork has reached mid-growth stage. “We have reached good revenue generating ability. Profits have grown 8 times since last year.” We try to deal only with clients with more than 20 million customers and currently we have about 12 such ecomm clients and serve more than 100 million customers a month.”

Why did you decide to be based out of Paris? Isn’t the ecosystem and funding available larger in India?

"Yes, the ecosystem is larger and there is more funding available in India. However, we applied to French Tech Ticket for strategic reasons.

Our final goal with Guesswork is to create the largest consumer database in the world and to level the playing field for the entire industry of ecommerce. For this, we must work with as many ecomm players as possible and Europe sounded like the right place to expand, since the US market is already monopolized by Amazon.

Being based out of Paris gives us easy access to interact with businesses in the whole of the EU. You have probably heard of Rocket Internet based in Germany. It’s a VC that funds ecomm companies around the world (including Zalora). We took this opportunity so that it will give us access to other Rocket Internet companies in Europe.

Besides that, French Tech Ticket has provided us with allowance for living, a space to incubate, access to mentors, and other consultants. It’s a good option, so why not.

Currently some of our Indian clients include Babyoye, StalkBuyLove and Times Internet’s ecomm platform. In Europe we work with ecomms like Deerberg and Linio in South America.

In terms of funding, we will be looking at it in the next 3 to 6 months most probably. Currently we have not raised any institutional funding to scale and expand the business. After we have proven the concept of our business and that it will work for any region in the world, we will decide when, where and how much funding will be required.

One way to think about entrepreneurship is the ability to seek out opportunities that others do not see. In that sense, moving to Silicon Valley and raising money from VCs are not the only ways to reach new markets. Startup initiatives like French Tech Ticket are untapped, great opportunities that entrepreneurs can use to grow their startup." [Mani has also participated in TechCrunch Hackathon held in San Francisco]

What does France get out of offering entrepreneurs to work from Paris?

"It truly did not come with any such conditions, there were no such strings attached to the deal. The main objective of French Tech Ticket is to turn France into a leading tech startup hub in the world, and for these tech startups in turn to create employment in the region."

Starting up in India vs. Starting up in France – some observations.

"The ecosystem in India is much larger than in France. In France, Paris is really the best established hub for startups, while in India, most of the metro areas will have its own startup ecosystem and own support mechanisms and idiosyncrasies.

Also in France, most of the traditional retailers are also the big ecommerce companies. However here in India, startups dominate the ecommerce space, not the retailers. So the sales cycle is very different in India and Europe.

Within the startup ecosystem, understanding each other culturally and on a technical, business level is easy. The challenge is outside this. There is a slight language barrier.

Funny story, I still have to use Google Translate to ask for a haircut or coffee in French.

Overall living in Paris is nice. Both countries share the same pluralistic value system related to socialism, secularism and democracy and it suits us very well. But of course we would definitely love to come back one day and work out of India. That’s where home is."

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