As Reid Hoffman aptly describes, an entrepreneur is someone, who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down, says Ganihar
(Altaf Ganihar will speak at Echelon Asia 2018 to be held in Singapore on June 28-29)
Twenty-four-year old small-town boy Altaf Ganihar was one of the most-celebrated Indian entrepreneurs of 2017. Ganihar, who hails from Hubli (a small town about 410km away from Bangalore), is the founder of Snaptrude, an app that converts a hand-drawn sketches to 3D models with materials and estimates — all within a few seconds.
Snaptrude, started when he was an undergrad, has already attracted an investment round from several big names in the realty as well as venture capital industries, and is now on a high growth trajectory.
Ganhihar shares his entrepreneurial journey with e27.
What was the trigger to start Snaptrude?
Prior to founding Snaptrude, I was an Engineering undergrad student at BVB College of Engineering in Hubli. During my undergrad days, I was an active researcher in the field of computer vision, graphics and geometry processing and was part of the project in which we were able to digitally reconstruct the cultural heritage site of Hampi (a UNESCO world heritage site in India) in 3D. During this course, we did a lot of original research and published 10 international papers.
During this period, I noticed that the architectural process and tools employed during the design phase are extremely slow and require a lot of laborious and manual tasks of 2D drafting, 3D modelling etc and hence the architects and designers shift focus from the real art of architecture.
I started working on a project to automate the manual tasks to ease 3D visualisation, so that architects can focus more on the real art of architecture. Meanwhile, I was invited by some of the reputed professors from various international universities for opportunities to pursue direct PhD and was keen in pursuing a career in academics.
But after a few interactions with architects and builders about my hobby project, I quickly realised that the problem which I’m attempting to solve is very relevant in the industry and that I could be really onto something interesting.
One can say that a moment of wisdom struck me and I decided to plunge in completely into building this product and founding Snaptrude right after my under graduation and now I feel that it was one of the best decisions I have ever taken.
What it takes to startup after undergrad? What are some of the real challenges faced by undergrad aspiring entrepreneurs?
Starting up at any given point of time is extremely hard and that’s the reason why entrepreneurship is known to be one of the most difficult professions. However, starting up right after undergrad school makes it even more hard, especially since all the odds are favoured against you to succeed.
As Reid Hoffman (Co-founder of LinkedIn, author and VC investor) aptly describes, an entrepreneur is someone, who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down. I would like to add to that by saying if you don’t have the skillset to assemble the plane, or if you cannot survive the fall, then don’t jump at all. For someone who is in his early 20s, it’s extremely difficult to have mastered a skill, but one has the temperament to recover from failure, which for people in their 30s or 40s is not the case. But in all likelihood, one would have mastered a skill and gathered valuable experience by that time.
For me personally, starting up after under graduation was a complex decision, as I was more inclined towards research at that point of time. But I had been working on this hobby project, which later on turned out to be compelling enough for me to pursue full time.
I believed in myself that I could pull it off, but when looking back, I feel I underrated how difficult entrepreneurship would be. But eventually, I feel we are on the right path now and have the unique opportunity to be able make a huge dent in an industry, which has been known to be stagnant for quite some time.
I would say that I’m very fortunate to have made most of the rookie mistakes a first-time entrepreneur commits during the early stages and I am glad to have got some of the best investors and mentors, who have helped me figure things out. Moreover, the primary ingredient to be able to succeed as an entrepreneur is to be persistent and accepting of failure, which unfortunately is vilified in our society especially in India. Fortunately, it didn’t turn out to be a demoralising thing for me, as I was always ready to accept and learn from failures.
What are the key things to take into account before building a product, especially in India?
Most startups fail because they are not solving an urgent problem for their users and in case of product startups, it becomes difficult to validate the readiness of the idea. Most founders (including myself) typically make the mistake of over-engineering the product before actually testing out the relevance and necessity for the product amongst the users.
In case of product companies, more often than not, building the first version requires significant investment of time and resources which in all likelihood turns out to be fatal for early-stage startups if users don’t accept it. The key towards building a product would be to validate the necessity of the product before investing valuable resources by ways of minimum viable product (MVP) and there are great many ways to build an MVP.
Once the need for a product is validated, converting an MVP to an minimum sellable product (MSP) relies solely on the product team’s prioritisation skill and its ability to iterate quickly in conjunction with the user’s feedback.
Listening to users is extremely important, but founders have to realise that they cannot solve all their users’ problems. However, the trick would be in identifying the low hanging fruits and prioritising the conversion of the MVP to an MSP in the least possible time. Founders who come from tech background like myself take some time to realise that the first version cannot possibly have all the features one envisions and techies are extremely good at filling the product roadmaps with extensive features and being over optimistic with the timelines.
What it takes to build a deep-tech B2B product out of India (or Asia)
Attracting and retaining talent is one of the biggest issues for deep-tech product companies out of Asia as most of the talented crowd moves to the West for opportunities. Moreover, for a founder in his early 20s, it’s extremely difficult to attract good talent. But I am very fortunate to have been blessed with an excellent team of dedicated individuals.
Further, persistence is an extremely important trait which founders should develop during the early stages of the startup, especially in case of deep-tech product companies, as the gestation periods are very long in this case.
In the past few years of being an entrepreneur, what I’ve come to realise is that more often than not, you’ll miss the planned timelines, but it’s always good to be optimistic and it’s very important to realise that nothing great gets built overnight.
Again, founders coming from the tech background have an inherent tendency of over-engineering and over optimising products during the early stages. I have always believed and now more than ever enforce the philosophy that premature optimisation at any phase of product development leads to the doom of great products and Donald Knuth described “premature optimisation” in his most famous quote as “the root of all evil”.
What are the opportunities in proptech sector?
Real estate is one of the largest industries globally and is estimated to be over US$7 trillion. Unfortunately, real estate industry also has a reputation of being the least adaptive to technology compared to any other sectors.
A McKinsey report published in 2016 says that construction industry globally spends less than 1 per cent of its revenues on technology, which is extremely low, compared to other sectors like the BFSI industry, which sees an extremely high penetration of technology. Moreover, most of the real estate projects (over 80 per cent, according to the McKinsey report) go way beyond schedule and incur huge amounts of wastages during the construction process.
However, it goes without saying real estate industry is still one of the biggest industries globally and is ripe for disruption with plethora of opportunities with sectors like building information modelling (BIM), digital collaboration, prefabrication technologies, IoT etc. With Snaptrude, we are making BIM more accessible to the real estate community using our patent pending design automation technologies.
What are Snaptrude’s future plans, in terms of expansion and product development? Are you looking at global markets?
With Snaptrude, our vision is to make real estate designing faster, efficient and seamless and we already seem to be on the right track with simplicity and automation being one of the prime attractions of our product. We intend to make BIM accessible to all architects and designers to help make the design process more collaborative and impactful.
Our current focus is on making our user love the product even more than they do currently. We are currently running a closed invite-only programme and very glad to share that we have received an overwhelming response with over thousand subscribers already from over nine countries.
Our primary goal for the near future is to roll out a stable, scalable solution and deliver the product to a wider audience. We would be demonstrating our product in the AIA Conference on Architecture 2018 to be held in New York in June this year. We are actively looking to expand our team and are on the lookout for passionate individuals to join us and help change this industry for good.
Are you in talks for VC funding? Can you share details?
We have already raised an investment round from a very popular institutional VC a few months ago. We were part of the Brigade Real Estate Accelerator Program, following which we raised a round of funding.
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