He gives an example of Paper Boat wanting to know when there’s a “stockout” (a product becoming unavailable due to selling out) at a shop.
So, Bhise decided to build a “workflow automation platform” on a “mobile-first cloud”. Accessed via a monthly pay-as-you-go SaaS offering. However, India’s geographical and demographic complexity means each brand will have different product mixes, processes, and distribution structures across states. Therefore, the new software platform had to be flexible and customizable so business users could modify it using a drag and drop interface.
Thus, he was born Bizom.
By the end of 2013, Mobisy had close to 40 CPG and SME customers. What it didn’t have was enough money. “I told my team, again, that we didn’t have enough money to pay them. So they could either leave or stay back,” recalls Bhise.
Most employees left. Again. But five stayed back.
“Which meant we could actually pay them their salaries,” says Bhise.
That dawning realization
Like its first avatar, Bhise and Mobisy had attempted to earn money by selling software services to clients to fund product development. But with Bizom seeing rapid traction, albeit with most customers just paying in the tens of thousands of rupees each month (each user license cost around Rs 500-750 [$7-10] per month), the organization couldn’t do both. It had to make a choice.
So, Bhise shut down the services business devoted to making apps for clients. With that gone, most of Mobisy’s revenue also vanished.
Bhise had raised a small seed round of Rs 1.4 crore (~$205,000) in March 2013 from Ojas Ventures, which was headed by Rajesh Srivathsa, also one of his closest advisors. But the company burnt through that money. Mobisy’s customers were “high-demanding and low-paying”, meaning it was earning less than Rs one lakh ($1,470) each month from all of them put together.
Thus began the slow and painful process of yet another rebirth for Mobisy.
Confidence shaken, Bhise soldiered on thanks to the wisdom of advisers who told him not to give up on his vision.
Easier said than done.
Going back to the drawing board for the third time, CEO Bhise, CTO Vasudeva Manjunath and COO Shree decided to think out of the box. Since they couldn’t afford to pay above-market salaries to attract the best developers, they turned the problem on its head.
“We started what was called an “Entrepreneurship Acceleration” program within Mobisy. Potential employees would get modest salaries, but they would be taught how to become entrepreneurs. The company ended up attracting a sizeable number of employees willing to compromise on their salary in return for empowerment and the freedom to chart their respective growth paths.
Today, nearly a third of Mobisy’s 150 employees are former failed entrepreneurs of some sort.
Stretched for resources, this new team came up with unique ways to solve problems. For instance, Nilesh Chhajed, a former failed entrepreneur who joined Mobisy to set up its Mumbai operations, came up with the idea of evangelizing Bizom’s usage among its subscribers and charging them for it (convincing customers that higher usage by sales staff would lead to higher revenue).
“My relatively idle customer support team handling inbound calls was now doing many more outbound calls, and we were getting paid for it. We call this “algorithmic jugaad”,” says Bhise.
Chhajed also leads a team of more than 40 employees called “farmers”, whose job it is to grow revenue from existing customers by sharing best practices and insights with them.
The organization also doubled down on the space it was targeting — the last mile of retail and CPG — and the kind of product it would require. Mobisy understood that the typical sales guy isn’t fluent in English, so complex global software products don’t work. Instead, they developed their simple “Paanchvi Paas” (fifth standard-pass) ecosystem. Simple to use, driven by icons and numbers, it minimizes the need for text entry. In addition, it requires neither an active Internet connection nor manual syncing.
By January 2015, Mobisy was back to profitability. Again.
But is it for real this time?