If high-adrenaline action is the positive sign of spreading a message, Deepak Ravindran is giving out one loud and clear. His Bengaluru-based startup Lookup, which has investors like Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and Infosys’s Kris Gopalakrishnan, was in the final steps of ending its latest round of funding. And the CEO and founder of the hyperlocal texting app, that allows businesses to connect with local customers reveals the announcement can be expected within a week.
The inspiration for Lookup hit Ravindran while revisiting his hometown of Kasargod, Kerala.
Ravindran said “I saw my mom chatting with her grocer over WhatsApp and placing her order. That was an eye-opener about the way people use chat.”
With WhatsApp, he noticed one wants to save the number for ease of communication. Once that is completed, you can see each other’s often changed display pictures, which may create privacy problems. He addressed those with Lookup, assuring consumers do not have to worry about talking with merchants they’ve never met before.
The texting industry has been this 30-year-old serial entrepreneur’s core energy, with this being his third venture in the space. Keeping an eye on the shifting tech view, he has morphed the form to suit changing demands. His 2007-launch student startup Innoz was kind of an SMS-based search engine. “It was a time when cell-phones were becoming popular. But the internet was still not so familiar. We saw the potential for an offline search engine,” says Ravindran.
But by 2014, with data ruling over voice, Ravindran realized the rules had changed again. To meet the difficulty, he decided to merge the two big trends of messaging, texts (chats) and apps. Lookup was born out of this union.
Shaped after Steve Jobs
The story of Ravindran at 18 wasn’t typical of the ordinary Indian science student. He secured ranks in both the entrance exams of medical and engineering. He liked computer science, so he chose engineering.
He had heard of the internet just a few ages before at 15. For the very first time he logged on via a dial-up connection; he was influenced by the worldwide web.
He says, “I started looking for inspirational stories and read about Steve Jobs and a few more people. I read how he began a company at a very young age and that idea stuck.”
By the time he joined Lal Bahadur Shastri College of Engineering in Kasargod in 2005, Ravindran had determined that he would use it as a prolific area to found his own company. He did so in 2007, with three of his classmates. When his startup was selected by IIM-A’s iAccelerator program that promised to fund of Rs 3-5 lakh, things came to a head. The founders had to move base to Ahmedabad, which meant a choice between college and the accelerator.
The quartet made their choice. They dropped out of college. “Dropping out is a fad now. But it was hazardous back then. The only reason we did it was that we were going to be funded for the first time” says Ravindran, revealing that they did worry about receiving good placements if things didn’t work out.
For a month, the parents of Ravindran and his friends understood they had quit college to pursue an MBA at IIM. “It sounded all fancy,” he said. It ultimately worked out, as, from dropouts, they went to being an essential recruiter at their former engineering college, taking on over 100 students within a couple of years — first at Innoz and later at Lookup.
From rivals to partners
Biz Stone, Twitter co-founder was Ravindran’s competition at one point. After Innoz plateaued in 2013 and the team slipped to sell it off, Ravindran decided to move to the US for an MIT incubator program. He founded a Q&A platform Quest, which competed with Quora and Stone’s Jelly.
Stone showed interest in acquiring Quest for a possible augmentation into the Asian business market. But Ravindran managed to raise just $50,000 over a year, falling way short of the $500,000 mark. That’s when he decided to turn Quest down and return to India.
Unexpectedly, Stone’s Jelly failed too. In a conversation with Mashable, he even agreed that today, a small set of a dedicated team is the only thing keeping the app alive. But an early failure didn’t hinder Ravindran’s possibilities according to Stone, who came on board Lookup after a San Francisco meeting in April.
Unquestionably, things are looking up for Ravindran at Lookup.
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