How Goa has become a hotbed for startup activity and talent

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#360o Turn How Goa has become a hotbed for startup activity and talent Here are seven other startups that chose to bootstrap themselves amidst the surf and sand: Ishani Duttagupta | 18 October 2015, 10:55 AM IST Follow ETCIO Share Goa is all about sun, sand, siestas and sundowners, right? Completely wrong is what a bunch of young entrepreneurs mostly in their 20s and early 30s are doing their best to prove. In fact, all of them are putting their money, talent and faith into setting up diverse startups in a place that is best known as India's tourism hub and party capital. Most have relocated to Goa to set up their businesses and are in various stages of scaling up.So, why of all places, Goa? The answers vary from an ideal work-life balance to the perfect environment for innovation. Add to that connectivity and physical infrastructure that are fast improving, and a supportive state government that's trimming the red tape, and what you have is a startup paradise."While Goa has the advantage of availability of a large number of engineering graduates from the colleges here, there are other unconventional areas such as food processing, clean technologies and solid waste management that are focus areas for the state government and are attracting young entrepreneurs to the state," says DS Prashant, general manager at the Centre for Incubation and Business Acceleration (CIBA) in Goa, a public-private venture set up in April 2012 with support from Department of Science and Technology, government of India, and Department of Science, Technology and Environment, government of Goa.Another incubator in Goa, set up by the Indian government's Department of Industries Trade and Commerce and the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is the Goa IT Innovation Centre (GITIC), which mentors and facilitates funding for startups through low-cost infrastructure and access to business networks. "Goa has a strategic location advantage with accessibility via road, rail, sea and airports, which is why entrepreneurs are setting up base here," says Jervis Pereira, director, GITIC. Informal estimates suggest that there are now over 250 IT startups that operate out of Goa.Adwait Samel, who moved back from Australia a year back to set up a cloud-based IT services startup, Rightscope Technologies, obviously sees the advantages of being in Goa. "After living in Australia for eight years, first as a management student and then as an IT professional, I decided to move back largely because of the education of my two young boys. Here in Goa there are a lot of infrastructural advantages besides of course family support," says Samel, whose wife's family is from Goa. The fact that his company was bootstrapped by CIBA helped him to make up his mind in favour of Goa rather than Pune, his hometown. Here are seven other startups that chose to bootstrap themselves amidst the surf and sand: Smart City Slickers When they were interns at Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) as students of IIT Kanpur's civil engineering department, classmates Amarsh Chaturvedi and Ashwani Rawat realised the huge potential of hyperlocal information systems to make city planning and processes smarter.
"We were in fact talking about smart cities and information systems that provided business logic to perform city tasks like municipal taxation, water supply and sanitation and asset management back then," recollects Chaturvedi.Even though they know that dealing with government-related red tape would probably be their biggest challenge, the duo decided to go ahead. After stints at Jones Lang LaSalle (Chaturvedi) and Trimble Navigation (Rawat) in Gurgaon, the two took the plunge to set up Transerve in 2009. And that's where the Goa connection was made. "This was our first choice because it made sense to be in a territory where we could easily find early adopters for our products. While in other states, it is typically difficult for startups to reach out to a customer base in the government sector, it was quite easy in Goa, where the bureaucratic structure is much leaner and people are far more accessible," he adds. To be sure, their product was accepted in various government departments including public works department, forest department and Mormugao Port.Transerve now has clients outside Goa too including municipalities in Maharashtra (Beed and Kopargaon), Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Arghyam, a non-profit run by Rohini and Nandan Nilekani, too, is a Transerve client. While initially the duo started up by investing their own savings, Transerve received Rs 20 lakh from IIM-Ahmedabad's Centre for Innovation, Incubation & Entrepreneurship and Rs 25 lakh from CIBA as seed funding, which helped rejig the business model from services to products.Attracting talent from local engineering institutes is a big advantage of being in Goa. And, as Chaturvedi points out: "We have even started attracting international MBAs for long-term internships Europeans feel very comfortable in Goa and many of them are looking at gaining work experience in an Indian startup," says Chaturvedi, though, he does add that hiring experienced people for senior roles is a problem. A 360o Turn Nikhil Hedge and Amit Bhardwaj shifted base a few months back from Hyderabad to Goa. With good reason: the founders wanted to be in a place where creativity and ideas would flourish. After all, their startup 6Degree is a technology platform for fashion professionals, students, bloggers, employers, designers and photographers in short everyone who has anything to do with the world of fashion.
"The brand Goa is much more than the stereotypical tag of fun and leisure. Goa is the epicentre of the creative belt and with the presence of several prestigious technical and management institutions, it now boasts of high quality talent that can be comparable to any metropolitan city," says Hegde. Hegde and Bhardwaj came across CIBA and made a pitch for incubation for 6Degree. The duo who met in Hyderabad where both worked for the Tata group have already got associated with India Beach Fashion Week, which is one of India's top fashion properties. 6Degree is also an official partner to several fashion events such as Lakme Fashion Week, Fiji Fashion Week, and Mysore Fashion Week.6Degree was founded in Hyderabad in 2014 after Hegde returned to India with an MBA degree from University of Leeds in the UK; the business model of the startup is an extension of his student project there. "The concept of a network for the fashion community was part of my student project and was adopted by the incubator at Leeds University. It also helped me get an investor visa in the UK and I was assigned prominent UK investor Phil Wilson as a mentor," he explains.6Degree's first round of funding of about $75,000 came from Wilson and Indian entrepreneur and investor Nitin Agarwal. Now CIBA has initiated the next round of funding with $1 million likely to be closed in the next few months. "Besides interacting with the fashion fraternity which has a strong presence in Goa, we are also looking at revival of traditional arts and crafts from this region," says Hegde, who is from Bengaluru and has also worked at KPMG and Bharti Airtel. Eat, Pray, Work He moved to Canada for higher education and then stayed on with a job but Luke Sequeira always considered himself a Goa boy. Which is why the return to home base was inevitable. "The immediate trigger for moving back was when a work permit for a cushy job I had back in Vancouver was declined," says Sequeira, who flew back into Goa and turned entrepreneur two years back. And now, funnily enough, he is close to the Canadian government and routinely connects other companies keen to enter the Canadian market.
Sequeira's first startup DCCPER, which works with entrepreneurs around the world to help them build scalable web and mobile apps, is a little less than two years old. "We bootstrapped the company and now have 21 clients in seven countries. Most importantly, we're profitable," he adds. In 2015, Sequeira cofounded FleetRover, an enterprise fleet tracking and management platform for logistics and supply chain management companies, with partners Chris Atkinson, Hannah Bain, Joshua Silveira and Aprup Shet. "Now we have nine employees and clients in Canada. We plan to launch the product soon in the US and India," he says. Despite the intense involvement with his two startups straddling two continents, he still enjoys his life in Goa. "I no longer feel like I work. I just live in Goa," he says.For Sequeira, the biggest challenge is about the perception among outsiders about the work culture. "Goa is usually portrayed as a party destination where you do drugs, gamble and drive an open air jeep to the bar," he rues. "I do my best to change this perception through the initiative we run, as well as by avoiding driving open air jeeps, especially during the monsoons," Sequeira says with a straight face. Liqueur is Quicker He likes to describe himself as Goa-born, Portugal bred and UK-educated. For former Deutsche Bank investment banker Oscar de Sequeira Nazareth, moving back to Goa after having left for Portugal with his parents when he was just four was really about "only so much of investment banking that one can take"."From 8 am to 7 pm every day I was crunching complex equity derivatives products in the 'City' (the financial district of London). Honestly, I needed a break," he says. The break came during a vacation at his family home in verdant south Goa when he tried out an old family recipe for an orange and spice liqueur.
"The result was mindblowing; I had never tasted anything like that at any of Europe's top cocktail bars," he says. Nazareth was spurred into running a quick basic simulation on a spreadsheet, after which he decided to chuck up his high-paying job in the City, put up his tony apartment in London's hip Docklands on rent and move to Goa for good, in March 2012. "I bootstrapped Armada and started it as a venture to commercialise my family's spice liqueur recipe. And obviously I must have got the formula right because we are now exporting the product to Finland and the UK and have won the spirits world's top medal twice in succession, a feat no Indian product has ever achieved," he proudly says.Nazareth's challenge in the domestic market is to explain the difference between liqueur and liquor, and find takers for a product priced at Rs 840 a bottle. But he is willing to be patient, and educate people via tasting sessions and cocktail master classes. The Homecoming Tyrone D'Souza cut his teeth in the world of mobile advertising at InMobi where he worked for four years across different roles including ad operations and leading the account management team. He was also closely associated in setting up InMobi's China business.So when it came to turning his dream of becoming an entrepreneur into reality, a mobile performance network was not a difficult business model to zero in on. And locating the business in Goa was even simpler since it was his hometown where he grew up and where his parents run a computer training and education business in Mapusa, a town in the north.
"At Mobobeat our USP is that we work on a cost per install basis, as compared to the traditional ad networks that operate on a cost per click basis," explains D'Souza who moved to Bengaluru for an MBA degree after his studies in Goa. Mobobeat clients on the advertising side include app developers and ecommerce clients looking to promote their apps and on the publishing side include utility apps and game apps. Spanish investor Luis Martinez manages the tech side from Spain and D'Souza runs the sales and operations from Goa. D'Souza believes that there is no other place in the world offering the quality of life that Goa has."Working in Goa is stress-free," he says. Of course there are challenges such as erratic internet connectivity and power outages. Local talent is also reluctant to stay back, but D'Souza reckons that as the startup ecosystem takes shape, that outflow could be stemmed. "We have regular startup meetings where we meet and network with fellow entrepreneurs.Many Goan entrepreneurs are moving back to set up businesses here. Besides, many foreign nationals too have tied up with local Goans." Clearly, D'Souza and his ilk are keen to bust the cliches of Goa being a land of siestas and sossegado (Portuguese word for a contented life). In Vacation Mode Back in 2006, IIT-Kanpur alum Saurabh Nanda had spent 11 months in Goa, working for Synapse Information Services, a marketing and advertising agency. Later, during a five-year stint in various roles at travel portal Cleartrip, he made at least 32 trips to Goa. So it wasn't really a tough decision for him to zero in on the coastal state when he decided to take the plunge as an entrepreneur."Since I was bootstrapping the startup initially, Bengaluru and most other places seemed to be too expensive to set up shop," remembers Nanda, who moved to Goa early in 2012 and was later joined by his wife and fourmonth-old daughter. Between November 2013 and December 2014, Vacation Labs closed two rounds of angel funding in which Zishaan Hayath (of Toppr) and Abhishek Goyal (of Tracxn) participated. In May 2015, a seed round of about $1 million came from Sanjeev Bikhchandani's Info Edge.
His experience at Cleartrip explains why Nanda chose to start up in the travel and tourism business with Vacation Labs. "We are the Shopify (a Canadian firm that provides a platform to online merchants) for travel and tour operators and provide them with an online marketplace for a range of activities. Our customers are empowered with a website for their travel business within minutes, complete with an online booking engine, various digital marketing and distribution tools," says Nanda. And while Vacation Labs thinks scuba diving and weekend getaways on behalf of its customers, the company runs out of Sky Villa, an idyllic bungalow in Goa's Porvorim district amidst verdant forests, birdsong and balconies with mind-blowing sunset views. Nanda is upbeat about the engineering talent in Goa and hires from the local engineering colleges."We also have a lot of interest from young engineers to relocate for freshers below 27, Goa is almost a dream destination to work in." Nanda, however, points out that finding senior people is not as easy with people not wanting to relocate from the cities where they live as their spouses would not find suitable jobs in Goa." Nanda's wife Rati Bajpai, a classmate from IIT, had no such problems, though; she is now a yoga teacher. Game for Goa The idea of starting an online marketplace to cater to the sporting needs of youngsters got wings when Kavita Naik, one of the cofounders of Zooter and a graduate from Agnel Polytechnic in Goa, was trying to find the best cricket coaching academy for her son in Goa. It wasn't proving easy as there was no platform that provided verified reviews or information about such facilities.This set her thinking and a lunch-table discussion with her friend Aditya Chintawar, an alum of engineering college BITS, Pilani's Goa branch, led to the two kicking off Zooter.Bootstrapped with funds from friends and family, the two are actively pitching to investors. "India is the capital of the world but there is a lack of intelligent, validated and structured information about coaches, academies, training facilities and the like.
This is the primary reason for building this product to revolutionise the way cricket (and other sports) is learnt, played and enjoyed not just in India but across the globe," says Chintawar, who gave up a job with Deloitte and moved to Goa from Mumbai to start Zooter. Besides training facilities, the product, which is currently in beta-testing stage, also helps locate sports equipment shops nearby and even sports bars. Users can add their own profiles and reviews and share photos. The decision to move back to Goa for Chintawar was more instinctive than strategic, driven by the years spent on the BITS campus. While the startup has got off the ground, it is facing teething troubles some of which are related to the lack of a startup ecosystem. "We do miss quality startup events and an exposure to current industry trends. Besides, finding quality talent in terms of coding as well as business skills is also a problem in Goa," says Chintawar. But it looks like he's here to stay. "We're out to prove that despite the problems in Goa, there are also reasons to be here and the entrepreneurial energy is growing," he says.