Amravati is a little known town in central India and at the center of it there is a little known slum. Amit Mishra, co-founder of SaaS startup, Interview Mocha, was born and brought up in this slum, where his parents still reside.
“My father is a social worker and runs a vernacular newspaper with a circulation of around six thousand,” Mishra told me when I met him and his co-founder Sujit Karpe at the Corinthians, a five star hotel in the outskirts of Pune. Looking at the palatial surroundings, it is clear Mishra has come a very long way. However, his story is not unique.
There are hundreds of smart boys and girls from India who are emerging from the shadows of scarcity to a life of plenty. There is one thing common to all them – they are meritorious, hardworking and ambitious. “I have been a scholarship holder all through my academic career,” Mishra said, confirming my theory that success comes to those who strive to succeed.
In contrast, the background of Karpe is rather sedate. But make no mistake – I saw the same gleam of ambition in his eyes and hunger for success in his body language. His passion for this venture was unmistakable. He bubbled with enthusiasm and frankly they complement each other.
After college, both Mishra and Karpe joined IBM in Pune. Back in those days IBM was based in an office near Swargate and had fewer than a thousand employees. “The environment was eclectic and I learnt all about work culture from here,” said Mishra. In fact, IBM is a dream company for any employee in India and therefore joining the company was in itself a major milestone.
Nothing can go on forever though. And as Jaime Buckley in Prelude to a Hero put it: “There comes a moment in every life when the Universe presents you with an opportunity to rise to your potential.” Therefore in 2007, both chucked their jobs and began their entrepreneurial journey.
“During my visits abroad I discovered a novel world inhabited by inspiring people. It was an ‘aha’ moment for me,” Mishra said. While for Karpe the impetus was provided by his brother, a successful first time entrepreneur. So together they launched an IT services company in the business process management space, grew it to employee strength of 70 and exited in December 2012. In the process, they pocketed a cool $100,000 between them.
“We had the money in hand and were waiting for an inspiration,” said Karpe. In fact, they only had to wait for four months before hitting their next milestone.
“We were sitting in [Indian chain] Café Coffee day when we zeroed in on our next venture,” continued Mishra. Since they were drinking Mocha coffee, it was inevitable that they had to name their new venture Interview Mocha.
Interview Mocha seems like a well thought out SaaS venture aimed at small businesses looking to find the right talent. “In the past we faced challenges in [the] pre-employment testing process,” explained Mishra. “While researching the existing players, we noticed solutions like proveit kenexa (an IBM company). [Yet] only big enterprise customers could afford them. [At the other end of the scale] there were testing platforms without content. We observed a definite gap in the market and started Interview Mocha.”
They pooled in $100,000 to develop the product. Within a short period they attracted customers from all over the globe like Credit Suisse, Nielsen, Nihilent and Booxware among others. Mishra revealed that they are in the process of receiving funding from a German angel investor and will be able to share details in late March.
In fact, the startup journey of Interview Mocha has been aided by numerous initiatives. I was introduced to them by Vartika Manasvi who runs marketing and communications at NASSCOM for 10000startups. While Mishra was also all praise for the GenNext program, an accelerator in Mumbai run by Reliance and Microsoft Ventures.
“We were one of the eleven startups selected by GenNext from over 300 applicants,” Karpe interjected proudly. While Amit acknowledged that the mentoring by senior members of GenNext was mainly responsible for the class of product they have built.
“What next?” I asked them, as it was obvious that the duo weren’t about to rest on their laurels.
“We aim to add thousands of tests on multiple subjects over the next few years.” Mishra concluded. This is a very long way indeed from a slum in Amravati.