About Founders Speak: A series of conversations with our founders on the journey they’ve had so far.
We recently spoke to Satej Sirur (Founder & CEO, Rocketium) about his entrepreneurial journey over the last 5 years, how they pivoted from a game-based content platform to a creative automation platform, how brands that lie at diff stages of the growth cycle use Rocketium, the challenges Satej faced as an entrepreneur, his learnings about org building and org culture, scope of AI in video-creation processes, and more.
You can watch the full video here. And read the full transcript below.
P.S. This transcript may contain unintentionally confusing, inaccurate and / or semantically wrong transcription errors. This is because sometimes even the best transcribers get the editorial nuances wrong (when they don’t have sufficient context to the subject material)
Transcript of the conversation
Vinay Rao: Hello and welcome to the show Satej. Glad to have you on the show.
Satej Sirur: Thank you.
Vinay Rao: So Satej you’ve been a product guy, right? And like all good academically-oriented Bangaloreans, you went to RV college first. And then you went to Cornell and then you went to ISB. What was that journey like? I would love for you to walk us through your early years? Did you grow up in Bangalore, by the way?
Satej Sirur: I grew up in Mumbai, but after class 10th, I came to Bangalore, and for the first part of my life, I was just going from one default choice to the other, and then I started making decisions on my own. The first decision was going for computer science. Actually, no, computer science was not really a decision, that was a default choice. I wanted to go for chemical and I saw everybody else going for computer science, I went there. I didn’t know the computer till I went for the engineering degree and this was back in 2000. FOMO wasn’t a thing at that time, but maybe some sort of FOMO saying, okay, maybe there is something to this computer science thing. Let’s do it. But yeah, after that, again, not much of a decision, I had a job placement on campus from one company, which I cannot name, not a great company, but I thought it was excellent and they were doing good work, and all of that. And then Microsoft came to campus and it was, I don’t know, if you remember those dream options and stuff like that, where people could ditch the job that they have and sit for another placement.
Everybody on campus was applying for it, computer science or not, everybody was applying and I ended up being among the five people who got that job. So, again, not much of a decision between Microsoft and that company, it was very clear. But yeah, after three years over there, then I started making decisions for myself.
One is I said, I have to be in a place where a lot of smart people are doing smart things and doing more innovative stuff, so I went for my master’s degree. So that was the first choice I made. After that, I had a job offer, a six-figure salary, and all of those but I really wanted to be a part of the start-up ecosystem. I ended up taking a job at a start-up in New York. Was paying New York state tax, New York City tax, and had a low start-up salary, but it was worth it. Got to build some interesting stuff.
But yeah, after that, two, three more important decisions followed, one was leaving that start-up, because they were not really shipping anything, I wanted to be a part of something that actually shipped stuff, because real users using the product is something I really wanted. I went to AWS. Then over there, I had decided that I would be there for two years no matter what, in 2012 I will have to come back to India. I didn’t care how I would come back. By the time the clock came close to 2012, I said, ‘okay, let me do an MBA because I thought it’ll open up more options and it will give me one more year to transition and then figure out the next steps.’ So yeah, after that was joining Blume portfolio company Taxi For Sure, as their only Product Manager, then went on to head the Product team. So that was another decision. I had a couple of other job offers, but really wanted to be a part of the Indian start-up ecosystem, so ended up taking that role. And then the final decision was starting Rocketium. After 2007, I’ve taken a lot of decisions which are extremely counter-intuitive. Where almost in a sense, I was going away from where the money is, where the default choice is taking the other option.
Vinay Rao: Very interesting journey that you’ve had. In one of your previous interviews, you’ve spoken about building a company that you can personally endure, right? One that you and your co-founders would love coming to every day. And the fact that the product itself is incidental. So would love to talk about the product during the very early years. You started out as a B2C company, you didn’t start as a B2B creative automation platform, you started out as a B2C product. And I also read this anecdotal piece of Trivia that you were an avid gamer, and how that formed the genesis for the original concept of Rocketium. What was that journey like? What was the industry back then like? So would love to hear that part of the journey.
Satej Sirur: Yeah, absolutely. One reason to start a company which was to work in a place that you’d like to come to every day, and the reason to start that product was it was a niche that I had to scratch for a long time. This game that I used to play was called The Sims, in which I had these virtual characters who are living these amazing lives here. They had tons of friends, they used to do interesting stuff, very were well-read and doing interesting things, but by spending only a little bit of time every day on those specific activities. So the whole crux of the product was that if you have a plan, and you have a gamified way to keep up with that plan, and you have a way to consume information that is making you better, and the community is helping you discover that sort of information and stick to it and work on it, then you can become better and which is why the name of the company was also Rocketium. It was an elemental form of a rocket. The idea was that with this product in your life, it should make you like a rocket. It was meant to be aspirational, and help you become somebody better and improve and those kinds of things. Tthe crux was always around self-improvement, continuous learning, growth, those kinds of things. So that’s really how we started this product.
Didn’t really think about the industry, market size, who needed it, no real validation, or any such thing because really, how would I ask this to somebody? Like, would you want to get better? Of course, yes sir. I mean, it just felt like I should solve the problem for myself. But very quickly, we realized that how we wanted to manifest this into a product where we wanted people to come to this web app of ours, and then create this mini gamified version of content and share it with people so that they could play it and, in that process, learn something and then share it with others. That was really very challenging because nobody wanted to share this sort of stuff, especially in this complex format, like a game. And so that was our very first in a brush with reality, and product market fit and those kinds of things. That you could have any of these ideas, you could think you have a good understanding of customers but really, until there is a real problem to be solved until somebody is doing that on a daily basis and hitting a wall, you can’t really manufacture problems for them and give a solution to that. There are people who could do it, there are amazing marketers who could create that problem in people’s heads as if they’re the cast of Mad Men, but I can’t create need, and which is why B2B is so perfect.
Today, we obsess about how somebody works, you take somebody’s day to day job, you look at their eight to four, nine to five, whatever hours they work, and you say, in their day, what are those big blocks of time where they are doing something that is not really what they should be doing because software could do it. And then ask, can our software do that? And then take up more chunks of their time and then progressively move to other teams that they work with, and so on. So that’s how I really see B2B, which is when you have an eight-hour block of somebody’s time that you’re trying to optimize. versus in B2C, where you’re now trying to take time out of the eight hours when they are neither at work nor sleeping, which means you have to take time out of everything else that they’re doing. This is a much harder problem to solve, and we wanted to solve a slightly easier problem, and that’s why B2B today makes a lot more sense for us.
Vinay Rao: Very interesting. And I really liked the bit about marketing and the reference to Mad Men because I remember reading someplace, someone once very famously said that – winners have a very sound product strategy and losers have a very sound marketing strategy! So when you referenced Mad Men, that is what came to my mind. So I think that’s an interesting segue into my next question about learnings from your product management stint. Product Managers are very well equipped to transition to start-up founding roles. Like there’s a very strong entrepreneurial spirit that is inherent in a lot of product managers, it’s hardwired into their DNA, right. And the fact of the matter is a lot of product managers also actually aspire to want to either lead a company of their own or start a company of their own. They also tend to have a very broad set of skills which naturally lends itself to entrepreneurship. So would love to understand how your product management stint at Taxi For Sure, for instance, influenced your decision to want to start up; and also the kind of founder that you’ve discovered yourself becoming. How much of that is a remnant of your product management experience?
Satej Sirur: Yeah. So at TaxiForSure, frankly, product didn’t really have a very big seat at the table. It was there and it was sort of incidental. That’s one thing we have to realize in a lot of these companies. The product is a means to an end, and the product is just a way to get through to that. It’s just a conduit to the ultimate destination; the real product is actually the food or the shopping or the exercise or whatever it is that you’re doing. Because of that, the product ends up not having a very important say in the company. So that was humbling, but at the same time, it gave me a lot more freedom to do stuff because I did not have to work with crazy targets or those kinds of things but at the same time, I could influence a lot across different teams.
Since TaxiForSure was a multi-city operation, I had set up these weekly calls with a lot of city heads, was doing almost like a listening tour. And I also used to visit some of those places and try and understand from different team members, because in a way, you could think of the internal tooling that we’re building almost like B2B. In a way, the customer support team or the operations team, the driver onboarding team, all of those are our customers. So understanding how they work, what are the problems, and simple stuff like – once, I actually drove on the road and be a driver for a day. So it was literally for an entire day, but the sort of insights I got were very crucial to the product experience that we had to implement. Simple stuff like where there is a glare and you can’t see the device very well and it gets heated. I learned that if I had to do my job well, I have to listen to a lot of different constituents. So spent a lot of time with different teams. I had to do a lot of listening. Also, because in our company, in Taxi For Sure rather, the product team was held accountable for shipping, even though it doesn’t make any sense in today’s day, that was one more thing that I had to do. With Rocketium we don’t do that, the engineering team is responsible for shipping. Their product team was responsible for identifying why didn’t so and so feature go live? And I always had to figure out okay, how do you keep the engineering team motivated, how do you hire more over there. So I pushed a lot for campus hiring and doing those hiring drives and stuff like that for the engineering team. So my engineering counterpart was very magnanimous and he was very open-minded so he didn’t see it as me stepping on his toes. But quite a few times, I got a note from other people saying, ‘what you’re doing can be considered political, like why are you stepping into somebody else’s department and those kinds of things.’
So somewhere because I had to solve a certain problem, and I had that leeway and I didn’t have like crazy targets on my head and stuff, I had to look at many different aspects. Also, HR was one of those things that I used to think is my problem because if the designer is not happy, if the designer and developer are not working well, or if the ops team and somebody else is not really talking to each other, then the product does not end up being built the right way, it does not get adopted. I had to think a lot about internal marketing. Calls used to come in from the call centre, people used to book from the App, and people used to book from the website, those were the three channels that we had. App used to be maybe 5% when it was launched. So when it’s 5%, would you give priority to App bookings or would you give priority to phone bookings, which are 95%, and obviously, it was the phone, which will be given priority.
So for me to push through the system saying why you should give the App more priority; so using data to convince people saying these people are 3x more likely to come back and do repeat booking and all of those aspects I had to cover. So just got to learn a lot about change management, working with different people and things like that, which I was able to implement in Rocketium. But the challenge that I had, which I was not really able to translate very well was sales and marketing since I was not deeply involved. And in B2B go-to-market is sometimes more important than the product itself, at least once you’ve built the product. You could have built a great product, you have no way to market it, no good way to position it to people, the product itself will not sell, at least in today’s market. So those are things that I had to learn on the job but I guess no job completely equips you to be an entrepreneur. But I guess I got 8 out of 10 things that I needed.
Vinay Rao: Very interesting. And since we’re talking about product management, I have to ask you this question – you’ve spoken emphatically about the cardinal mistake that many founders made during the very early stages, right, which is build and they will come. Do you think that paradigm is here to stay for some time? It was true in 2015, it seems to be true in 2021. And we are after all in the momentum phase of the Indian start-up ecosystem. I would love to hear your thoughts around this paradigm of build, and they will come; do you think has anything at all changed from let’s say, 2015, 2016 when you started out to 2021 today, which is a frothy fundraising environment, has anything changed at all?
Satej Sirur: Yeah, so build and they will come could work for investors, but not for real users and people who have to spend their time and money on something. And if anything, this is just going to get harder, because every market is going to get more and more sophisticated, any arbitrage that is there, whether it’s in terms of the channel or positioning or any campaign or all of that is going to be taken out to the market. Free market exists when there is no market, just the attention economy exists! That is there’s a market and people have figured out how to take arbitrage out of that, and now everybody has to compete in the same way until somebody finds a new way and then everybody’s doing that.
So earlier it was trying to create those exclusives. I’m just talking about in the B2C world, where they used to create exclusivity that they have tied up with so and so e-commerce platform and you have to come and buy it, and only some units are there or something is invite-only and those kinds of hacks. And it used to work for a while, but now nothing works, because everybody has tried it and done it to death. With users and with people who have to pay for your product the go-to-market is extremely crucial. Building a product and people trying it instantly could happen if you have great clout, you know, like with a Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Kunal Shah, that first set of stuff would happen. But after that, the product has to keep delivering value, and you have to work very, very hard to keep bringing people back.
We are bombarded with more and more channels, more Apps, more messaging and unless a business is doing enough to keep bringing you back, somebody else could take them away, or more than anything, just apathy would set in, right? Like why should I spend time on another product when I have so many other things to do. In B2B, it’s a little easier because that’s my job and for my job, if I have to use a product, let’s say the manager has decided or this solves a certain problem, I would keep doing it. But at least in B2C I don’t think it’s building and they will come. Investors would come because they need to have a horse in some of the races. Like today I was speaking with somebody and they said that if FinTech is the theme for us, we make X number of investments every year, all of them could be in FinTech. So for them, it’s about that theme and placing a bet there. So like for us as Rocketium what the product was, was coincidental. For them, it’s almost like the horse is incidental as long as they are in this race. So with investors, it’s a different story, but with users, you can’t confirm them. Not saying you can fool the investors but with users, it’s different.
Vinay Rao: Right. You started out as a game-based platform and you wanted to make these educative and informative quizzes using simulation games, right? And sometime in 2016, you also pivoted to building a video-making tool when you saw this growing trend of online videos as a market emerge. And you realized that there was this real dearth of scalable and easy-to-use video creation platforms. I think it was also about the time that tools like pontoons came into all marketers’ radar. So this self-service tool was aimed at the B2C segment at that point in time, primarily, and it was aimed at non-designers not as much in the Canva mold but it was primarily aimed at non-designers like social media marketers or content writers. But sometime in 2018, November is when you pivoted completely to a B2B SaaS platform. And today, you’re an automation platform that enables custom workflows for businesses that have to produce these massive quanta of images and videos, at a very, very large scale, right? All the while maintaining let’s say, brand compliance. The question is, of course, how much of that original mission is still intact? The original mission being able to allow anybody to create videos, and images, and multimedia content that informs and educates? And can you walk us through what the product itself looks like, in 2021?
Satej Sirur: When we were building the game product, that was completely driven by us because it was an idea that was in our head that we wanted to manifest in software. After that, every step that we have taken has been driven by customers. Later, we have tried to fit a market story onto that. So then we say, oh, “Cisco is say 80% of the internet or Mark Zuckerberg says 100% of content on Facebook” those were narratives that will fit on top of something but the reason we did that was more customer conversations and the need coming from people that we are talking to. Admittedly, it was not a massive volume or something that was ground-breaking at that time. But I mean, really, that’s the art that you have, right, which is that you have a lot of signals coming in and which of those are relevant for you, picking that up is really that’s where the art is.
So why we got into video was we had these swipeable cards as products. Each of those cards was something that you could interact with, and could answer quizzes, play games, and those kinds of things. And then there used to be explanations. So then we put an autoplay in that and we showed it to a lot of people and everybody who saw it said that it’s very easy to create this content but I don’t want to create your proprietary format even if I can embed it on my website or any of those things or say, share it on social. What I want instead is to make these meme kinds of videos or these very simple slideshow like videos, because Facebook is doling out a lot of views for anybody who’s creating video. So it was an arbitrage at that time saying that any content that I produce, so instead of a blog post, I want to create videos or with every blog post, I want to create this for every news article, we want to create a video. We heard a lot of this. So we said, okay, let’s dump all of this game stuff, convert the output format, instead of this interactive piece into a video, which is more opaque and sort of bundled into this file. That’s how we got into the video space.
How we got into B2B was companies starting to come to us and saying, you have this Canva for video product, it’s easy to use, but we want to create 1000s of videos from the backend. So could you give us an API that we would just change individual elements, almost like doing a mail merge in an email and that’s how we got into B2B. Why we switched from the game to the video piece was because with the game, nobody understood it but with this one, at least somebody understood what we were doing. So we said, okay, somebody gives two cents about what we do so let’s get into that business.
We switched from B2C to B2B because these customers actually wanted that product, it will be core to their operations that’s how we got into it. And then from there, why are we doing this instead of an API is for a more interactive product, which is sort of like Adobe Creative Cloud, plus a Google Drive or Dropbox, plus some elements of publishing and it’s a rich analytics product. Why are we combining all of that? Again, that was driven by customers, people like Amazon, Urban Company, and more, when we spoke with them, and then co-created the product with them. They said, this is our need internally and we have a lot of very similar-looking content that we have to create but there are enough versions of that that have to be created plus, it has to be something where we do not rely on designers all the time. Plus, it has to be done very, very quickly, because our campaigns have to be iterated on very fast.
So that’s when we said we have a platform, we have the APIs, let’s build this product on top of it, let’s add this layer of collaboration, let’s add this layer of scaling and we built that out with customers. Each of these decisions has been driven by customers, and then our board and other investors were also understanding enough to accept this change, because it meant dumping. For example, that product which was 0% of our revenue when we launched it last February today, it is 70% of our revenue. And what we have seen in its growth in the last 18 months or so has validated the decision that we took at that time. But it was a fairly risky decision because we had just pivoted to B2B and moving from this API kind of provider to this more interactive product and even so, getting into the turf of somebody like an Adobe, even though there isn’t too much overlap but their software has been around for 30 plus years right, getting into that space was risky. Our board and investors were also understanding but it was driven by the conviction gained from what our customers were telling us.
Vinay Rao: So, some of India’s top unicorns use Rocketium today – like Big Basket, Meesho, Urban Company. Just so I understood this correctly, so Rocketium automates much of the creative production and distribution process, correct? From designing of the creatives to A/B testing, to customizing ads for different scenarios, different use cases and to be able to do this for a creative scale order of, let’s say, 1000s of images at any given point in time, or 1000s of videos at any given point in time. Is that an accurate description of the product experience, Satej?
Satej Sirur: Yeah, that’s right. The idea is that any of these creatives that are used in campaigns, and when I say campaign, it could be an ad that is being run, it could be when you open a lot of these e-commerce Apps that you see creatives within, you see them in push notifications and emails as well. So ad campaigns, in-App campaigns, as well as marketing automation campaigns that are, across all of them these companies are using visual content, images, as well as video. Now they have a similar look and feel because that’s their brand, it can’t look all over the place every time they create content. Now, whether it is for changing the content within it, because let’s say an offer is changing, or a new product is getting introduced or different people have different preferences, so you want to target them differently and personalize the content for all of these, what ends up happening is the base creative looks a certain way and elements within that change. So allowing the team the capability to change those elements very quickly. Or let’s say I have 100 of these creatives that have been made quickly by making a design change to it or by quickly making content changes to it, I can change hundreds of them at a time. Those are the kind of things that Adobe software was not really solving and that’s really not the purpose of their software. So not to say that that software is not good or something, that’s just not what it’s meant to do.
Rocketium is scale-first. Whether it is the different sizes in which you have to make every one of these creatives or the different content versions that you have to create, that is what Rocketium is built for. What marketers want is more targeting and personalization, they want more size variations, because they have to be on different platforms, they want to A/B test a lot, whether it’s a look and feel of something or the content, or the price or any of those, they also want to keep refreshing the creative, because every three to seven days, people stop responding to the same ad creative or the same in-App content. So having the capability to switch that out is something that’s very important for them. So today, we focus primarily on making that creative and then collaborating over it. There is some capability we have in pushing these creatives to marketing automation and advertising platforms but that’s not our current focus. The deploying and publishing of it, we do less of, but those are also some capabilities. Our primary focus is on making those creatives which otherwise they just would not have been able to do, which means marketing campaigns for these companies would have been compromised for the longest time because of the manual bottleneck that was previously there. Now that those bottlenecks are removed, they can just run more experiments and try more things.
Vinay Rao: And the platform itself is currently invite-only, correct? Like, is there a self-service component to it? And is that part of the product roadmap?
Satej Sirur: See eventually, yes, we do want to open it up because right now we are in heavy product development mode and we are just 18 months into this journey. So we want to work with the best teams and solve their problems and incrementally, add more capabilities to the product so that the n plus one customer who comes does not find that many capabilities are missing. Our first few customers were very understanding and forgiving but our n + the first customer might not be. The product is evolving along with them and the capabilities I talked about such as analytics and almost this grammarly-like design telling you the mistakes that you could avoid before you make them, those kinds of capabilities can only be built by working closely with some people. The goal is to be more product-led, to have more self-service adoption, and to make it more universally accessible but every company has problems of this scale. So even if you open it up to everybody, not everybody would have a need for something like this. But at the same time, there would be enough companies who would have a need so when pricing, we’ll have to make it a little more affordable for more people and have a free version for companies who want to use it at a certain scale. That’s something we want to do.
Also, today, there are some elements of the setup that you have to do because you are a brand and you want things to look a certain way. There is that bit of 30, 60 or 90 minutes of setup that you have to do, how do we productize that? Those are not problems we are thinking about right now, instead we’re trying to solve problems for companies who are at a massive scale but eventually we will solve those problems as well, we will productize a lot of this setup and use as well. So today, I would say it is invite-only in that sense, which is that if there are companies, which do not have a certain level of scale, who do not have a certain level of budget, we just tell them, okay, just use it for free and don’t worry about it but this might not add as much value to you as it does for some other customers. So eventually it will be self-service.
Vinay Rao: And what is the biggest limitation with an Adobe Creative Cloud that Rocketium solves for? Just trying to get a sense of how Rocketium can be stacked against Adobe, because Adobe is your biggest competitor in the truest sense, right. I’m just trying to understand what’s the biggest pain point that Rocketium solves for. It is ‘scale’ primarily correct? And correct me if I’m wrong, Satej, it is scale?
Satej Sirur: Yeah, scale is definitely one of those. The way I would think about it is in terms of Airtable and Excel. So somebody wanting to replace Excel might not really go for Airtable because it doesn’t have complete parity in terms of features because it’s not meant to be an Excel replacement. It’s supposed to be almost like a mini database, almost like an access that Microsoft used to have. Have structured data, relate different basis to each other and then do interesting things with it, have those individual units be dynamic, being able to pull content from different places, being able to push it to different places, being collaborative so that multiple people are using it. So almost exact parallels exist between the relationship between Excel and Airtable and between Adobe Creative Cloud and Rocketium, which is that Adobe Creative Cloud has its place for people who want to make certain types of creatives, and even today, we never replace Adobe in any customer. It’s just the repetitive activity that I would have to do like in an Excel I would have to have 15 different Excel sheets and manually combine all of those in a sheet because one Excel cannot talk to another Excel, right? Even in a Google Sheet today, you can’t have one Google spreadsheet talk to another spreadsheet. That’s really a fundamental flaw, you could say, or just that’s how it is designed.
So the same way with Adobe Creative Cloud when some of this software were built, in 1987 with Illustrator or 1990 for Photoshop, it was built for a time when there wasn’t any digital, there wasn’t any need to make content at any sort of meaningful scale, it would be one billboard, one print ad, one TV commercial so you did not have to make versions of something, you did not have to adapt the same thing in multiple sizes beyond a certain scale, you did not have to run as many campaigns, you did not have to personalize. So a lot of the things that today digital has brought the need for with scale did not exist back then. But it had to be pixel-perfect. It had to be everything that a very, very accomplished creative person would deal with. That is what the Adobe Creative Cloud gives versus what the Rocketium experience is which is taking a creative like that, and then scaling it out on different dimensions, and then collaborating, then pushing it to different places, with that content being dynamic. If something updates somewhere when your creative is updating, if your creative is updating then content somewhere in your App or ad platform is getting updated and getting those analytics for you. So just that sort of thing that in today’s world for today’s marketing campaigns, if you had to build design software, it would be Rocketium. For 1987, 1990, or even today for some of those kinds of needs the Creative Cloud is a perfect software.
Vinay Rao: Interesting that you drew this analogy with Excel because I heard somebody described Rocketium used to Photoshop, what Tableau or any business intelligence tool is to excel.
Satej Sirur: Very similar. Yeah.
Vinay Rao: And would love to understand how you vetted the idea right before the B2B pivot, right? Like, what was the idea to the MVP journey like? Who was the target customer base that you spoke to? Would like to understand that evolutionary path that Rocketium tread.
Satej Sirur: We were doing the B2C video product in September or October of 2018. Over that period, I don’t know what changed but suddenly 30, 40 different product companies in different segments had started reaching out and asking if we have an API. So we didn’t have a landing page for it. It was nothing. But for some reason, a lot of people started coming to us and asking for this API. And then we validated how much would they pay for it and things like that. And then we anyway had an API. Behind every user interface that anybody has, behind the scenes is an API. We always had an API, we just had to write documentation and open that out. So in fact, in one of our hackathons, we built this documentation and this landing pages’ interactive sandbox for the API, and we opened it out to the people who had reached out. And when they started paying us 150 dollars a month, we were like, wow, that’s a lot of money. And then people start paying 500, 1,000 and so we realized that there was enough value in this product that people would pay for it and that’s when we realized we want to go into that direction.
The next version, which is a product that we sell today, which is called Campaign for that product, the fact that an Amazon literally came to our doorstep and said we wanted to solve this problem was massive validation. And then we went and did this sort of listening tour, when we spoke with a lot of companies understood how their campaigns run and validated if a product like this would be a solution. Urban Company was also facing some trouble with the software that they were using. So they also had shared this pain point with us so we felt that there was some common problem that we were solving and that’s really how we got into this.
Vinay Rao: And since we’re talking about the very early phase of your B2B journey, who were some of the earliest employees at your company and how did you hire them. And hiring is such a hot-button issue in today’s context, especially hiring engineering talent. And you’ve also spoken in some of your past interviews about your zeal for perfection, and you’ve always wanted A-players on your team. Not that other people don’t, but just the fact that just this obsessive zeal to want to build this really world-class product to have like the best A-players on your team. So philosophically, how much of that has influenced how you built on itself at Rocketium and would love to hear your thoughts around some of these different facets of building, especially predicated on the human component.
Satej Sirur: Right. So in our early days, the hiring that we’d done was all over the place because I just moved from the US and the entire network I had were all in the US. And when I came back here, I’d worked in TaxiForSure; and many of them chose to stay back at Ola. So I did not really carry over that network. So I had to start everything from scratch. So it was AngelList, it was LinkedIn, it was agencies, those kinds of things. So zero referrals, none of those network benefits. So for me, I think the most important thing was culture fit. And I would love to tell you that A-player was our goal, and we could pay top dollar and get the best people in the industry, Netflix style, but that was not the reality, we did not have money for the first two years. I paid it out of my own savings, whatever they were. So really didn’t have the option to hire somebody who was paid top of the market. So we had to make do with what we could pay but within that get the very best that we could get.
So at least my own experience as an engineer, that was one thing that connected with a lot of people, which was that I’m not just some techie who’s being hired to build the product, they understood what the product was doing. And of course, big apologies to all of them for working on totally random products until very recently. But the good thing is that almost the entire team has stuck around even to this day. So the first four, five or six employees who were part of our team all of those team members are still with us today. We have had some churn but we’ve seen about 5% of annual turnover in the team voluntary. Of course, we ourselves have parted ways with people, not Netflix style keeper test and those kinds of things but over the years, we’ve become more and more cognizant of the fact that people want to work with good people and it’s not fair for somebody to work with somebody who does not have the right attitude, because almost in no case have we parted ways with somebody because they do not have the right aptitude as that would have been weeded out during the interview process. But attitude is something that we have really looked out for and having people who have that right attitude, right attitude also does not mean agreeing with what we say or being exactly like how we are none of those things. We want that diversity; diversity comes in various flavors. So that is something that we are very keen about. But it was just wanting to build a world-class product, wanting to do things the right way, having ambition, being collaborative, and a lot of those things we have codified. So if you see culture.rocketium.com that is one of the things that we send to all of the candidates before we start the interview process. It’s not about a flashy video or any of those things right but this is really how we work. This is how we interview. These are the processes that we have internally. So we have tried to codify and share as much of that as possible publicly. Instead of an internal wiki many of our processes and how we work is getting codified on culture.rocketium.com. That’s something we sent to candidates before we started the entire process.
So I would say today, the way we look for people is not so much for perfection, or are they A players, but the bar is high and at least now lucky that we can pay salaries, as well as the market salaries that people would expect. But it’s more about culture fit, it’s more about people who want to build a world-class product for a global market. Those are the sorts of things that we look for. We have found that that has been a good predictor of success for us.
Vinay Rao: Very interesting. Moving from one function, which is HR to another function, marketing, and also your core target audience are marketers, right? Marketing today is so much more complex than ever before and marketing custodians and heads of marketing are facing this rapidly changing digital landscape day in day out. I was also reading somewhere that some marketers have started advocating the Cohn Marie approach, which was made famous by Marie Kondo to declutter their marketing strategy and not just their proverbial wardrobes. What has your experience been interacting with marketing custodians through the course of the entire journey of Rocketium, how have their problem statements changed from let’s say, three to four years back to the present day, or has anything changed at all? We’d love to understand that.
Satej Sirur: Yeah, I think it is certainly changed a lot because the funny thing is, a lot of the customers that we are getting today, we had already tried to pitch them when we were doing something different back then. And at that time, they did not need scale, a lot of them were growing organically because the market was booming so much, there was a land grab going on. A lot of products and services that were coming out were unique and there was nobody really to compare it with, people were adopting, and there was a lot of growth that was organically happening.
Now those same companies are facing much more competition, not just from people within their category, but across categories. Customers have become much more sophisticated, their bar for design has gone up. Today, you just walk in the aisle of a supermarket and look at salt if you want and you would see beautifully packaged salt. The same salt that you would have bought maybe 10 years ago, you would not even go for that package because you would pay a little bit more for something that looks premium, right? Himalayan pink salt or whatever else. And consumers today are looking for better packaging, better design, better messaging, more relevance, those kinds of things. They have realized that whatever low-hanging fruit was there, whatever arbitrage was there, it is now gone and companies have to find that next delta of improvement. They’ve realized that, and marketing was always about that, right? It was not about hacking, or any of those, it was always about finding that delta, continuously improving what you’re doing, measuring, and all of that. The world moved from more branding towards performance, and performance is a key aspect of any ad dollars that you’re spending and any marketing campaign that you’re doing.
So marketers have also become more sophisticated. And our challenge in selling to marketers has not really been about whether this is adding one more clutter to your stack, primarily because this is a 90-degree sort of conversation, because creative is something that was never sold to them. Creative was not something that anybody had addressed as being a problem, even though they faced it day in day out. Now that we kind of address the elephant in their room saying that you want to run all of these campaigns but this is your bottleneck or this is what your competitors are doing, this is where you’re losing out. That’s when they really open up because partly they would be using the software, partly designers would be using our software. So they don’t really have this problem of cluttering their tech stack with one more software primarily because creative was not something that they had really tried to optimize before.
Vinay Rao: And while we are on the topic of marketers and Rocketium looks like it is primarily meant for marketing and sales custodians it is not entirely true right, who’s your typical customer for Rocketium? Is it the marketer herself? Or is it also product manager for instance? Or is it somebody working in the HR team, somebody working in the customer’s support team? So I would love to understand how you’ve drawn out these different customer personas.
Satej Sirur: Yep. So when we started this product, we were so excited by all of the use cases that were coming up. Somebody in sales is using Rocketium and some agency’s using it. While different functions use the software, we realized that what connects us with the n + first customer is what the other n customers have done. Because today we are down to a level of granularity where if you say that you are in Edtech, I will tell you four other Edtech companies who have solved very similar problems, and if they say, oh yeah but I am not instructor-led and I have so and so other problem, okay, then look at this other company, this is how they have done it before. Because this is really about evangelizing a certain mindset since creative was always a bottleneck and they never were able to think about certain kinds of campaigns.
So now you can show them these examples, and then they get what is really possible with Rocketium. That’s why it’s important for us to focus on one of the personas and go deep so we can solve their problem before moving on to other personas. So getting into sales, or any of these other personas is interesting and customer support could possibly make something of this. But really, we are able to scale the business because a very similar sort of use case is being repeated over and over. And over time as we’ve grown, it’s funny that the number of people that we go after has reduced. When we were a much, much smaller business, we thought, oh, wow, this is so great. Let’s go after all kinds of companies and this is how large the market is. Now we are of the belief that even if in a multiplication of the number of companies in the market x ticket size x something else, it comes to a whopping 100 or 200 million, that’s okay. Let’s first get to 10 million, let’s get to 50 million, and then let’s think about the total addressable market. So today, we only sell to marketers, we do sell sometimes to designers, but our users also end up being primarily designers and secondarily, they end up being marketers.
So the primary buyer is the marketer and then the designer, but the user is flipped. But both are important stakeholders for us and that is really where we focus. We could go to product managers and many other people. There are interesting ideas over there, especially as we talk about pushing those creatives to Apps and stuff like that, but that is a piece that we are building. Their product managers will be important, but it will still be a marketing need primarily because they are the ones creating those campaigns, they are the ones who have to push it to the App, and they are the ones who are facing the problem with the current tools.
Vinay Rao: And I have a follow-up question to that. It’s very easy to assume that every marketing custodian is a customer, regardless of industry, regardless of sector, regardless of the size of business because it is creation and distribution of images and videos, which is stable stakes for any marketing communication effort. So I just wanted to understand who and what is the niche that you’re going after? Is it SMEs? Is it enterprise? Is it a growth-stage start-up? I would love to hear your thoughts on that.
Satej Sirur: At the risk of sounding very patronizing, we are going for people who have a certain mindset. And the name Rocketium is also about having that rocket-like element inside your organization. So people who have that growth mindset, people who are looking for any way to optimize how they work, who are looking for ways to experiment more and keep doing different things so that they get the best outcomes. Those are the kind of companies where Rocketium is the right fit. There is no formula for us to really figure out if this person has a growth mindset, and this person does not, but those are things we figure out during the sales process. But typically, the companies where we have the best engagements are venture-backed companies, people who have crossed a certain scale, who have achieved product-market fit and are now scaling, but they need help in scaling. Every company needs help in scaling, but some companies are in that rarefied atmosphere where no matter what they do, 1000s of people are flocking to this product. You could think of Zerodha for example, they don’t need Rocketium. We could try to sell them how much ever we want, but they have literally spent 10,000 rupees on advertising ever, so there is no way we can sell to them. But they have a growth mindset. They just don’t use this sort of content to drive that growth. But there are people who are saying, ‘Okay, my App is such important real estate, how can I drive consumer behavior a certain way using my App real estate, how can I optimize my push notification?’ So those are the people who are looking for how they can improve the way they work, how to communicate better with users, and how to deliver more growth. So that sort of company is usually the best sort of company to work with us.
Vinay Rao: I know we recently had this detailed discussion on how you approach content marketing at Rocketium. So would love to understand how you look at messaging and content in the context of how you want it to help you achieve your goals. And I also have to say this Rocketium is featured prominently on this stripe website. And I’m a big fan of Stripe’s messaging strategy, have been for the longest time. Stripe interestingly beta tests its marketing because they consider marketing as an extension of their product, which is a fantastic way to look at marketing and content marketing specifically, right and just like beta testing your products Stripe also wants to ensure that the marketing is meeting its end objectives. So we’d love to understand your thoughts around using content to drive goals.
Satej Sirur: So today, I would say, a big organizational goal is to evangelize the space itself. This growth mindset that I talked about requires unblocking yourself from thinking about creative as a bottleneck. See, creative is just a means to an end. Ultimately, it’s about how a business communicates with the customer. So we want to tell them that this is what your customers are expecting, this is what users who choose to be with you are expecting. And companies know all this, it’s just that today it’s not easy to execute on some of those due to some operational challenges, due to mindsets, etc.
So our number one challenge today is to evangelize the space itself and then secondly, to evangelize us within that. And then the third one is to create that pull from the market to say that, yes, this is an aspirational product and this is something that makes me look cool, I want to try it, and so on. So the third one is not something we’re starting off with. The first one is something we’re starting off with. We’re looking at this, broadly under brand awareness. It’s kind of an umbrella but thought leadership, community building, those are all aspects that come under it. So the lens with which we’re looking at it is the lifecycle of a campaign. So we are asking ourselves what goes into a campaign, because from 1960 when they were doing campaigns for television and outdoor, to today when you have 15, 20, 30 different channels, the lifecycle of the campaign is the same. You plan, you create, you publish, and then you analyze.
So then asking that in each of those, what really makes for that delta that I’m talking about, what really makes for a high-performance campaign? And how do you really re-engineer your efforts to get to that? How do you really experiment? What does data look like for you before you decide how to experiment? how do you measure it? We want to educate people about all of this. And one way to educate is to share what we have done with our customers. One way is to say, ‘I don’t know, why don’t you tell me.’ This includes inviting knowledgeable people in the space to come and talk about it, interviewing them, putting this out there, and really paying it forward to the community. Including doing stuff like analyzing Apps and talking across an industry, across a geography about how different Apps are really structured, what are the choices that they make, what leads to high growth, etc. And that’s the way in which we are looking at content. So instead of stuffing keywords, or any of those things, we are asking ourselves how we can really add value to marketers and designers, how we can make ourselves completely synonymous with growth and experimentation and things like that. That’s really how we’re looking at content, thought leadership, community brand awareness, and all of it as a joint effort.
Vinay Rao: Fantastic. And what is the customer acquisition funnel itself look like? Or rather what’s the primary axis that your pricing is based on? Is it volume-based? Is it the number of creatives? Is there a platform fee or subscription fee or is it some combination of all of these, would love to understand that.
Satej Sirur: So ideally, it would be value-based, which measures what volume of campaigns you are running, and what outcomes you’re getting out of that and tying us in some way to that outcome. Because one of our customers is a very large e-commerce company that told us that 30% of their revenue last month came from the banners that were made with Rocketium. Now, that’s a very big outcome, and if only we could get a percentage of the 30% that we created for them, right. But really, we can’t lay claim to that, because a lot more goes into the decisions that you’re making, and the collaboration and the creators. So we can’t really get a cut out of that but at least to some degree, we want to make it value-based. So the number of users in your company who are using it, the number of creatives that they’re making out of it, and to some degree, the storage that you’re using, all of those we could factor in but we leave that out of it. Instead, we just weigh it against the number of users and the volume that they are using. Because like I mentioned, it’s sort of an invite-only platform or we work with certain kinds of companies so we use pricing as a filter, so that only the serious companies who are very keen to grow their company at a certain clip are the ones who use it. We could give this for free, right, but when you’re not paying for software, you don’t have that extra urge to use it in the best way possible so pricing becomes a filter for the kind of companies you want to work with. So, there is a platform fee, there is a per-user fee, and there is usage-based pricing as well.
Vinay Rao: So my next question is more from an anthropological lens. What visual communication trends do you foresee in the next, let’s say, three to five years, and what does the post-pandemic world of multimedia look like? We’d love to hear your thoughts on that.
Satej Sirur: So one is at a very broad level, some of the fundamentals are not going to change, people are going to expect rich content. So people are not going to expect plain-looking content, people are going to expect increasingly rich content and their bar for design has gone up. So I can’t say glass morphism or skeuomorphism, or that weirdly shaped cartoons are going to be the trend because these things are cyclical. Once you see something new, you might like it and might not like it once enough people do it, that becomes a trend. Like you’ve seen isometric designs in landing pages and stuff but isometric is almost completely gone now and we have these cartoonish things emerging everywhere.
So those trends are going to come and go but people are going to expect thoughtful communication at every point, people will expect much and their bar for design has gone up tremendously. Why do you think everything like including stationery shops have beautifully designed products, because whether people like it or not, they love beauty. And they automatically gravitate towards something beautiful because that engenders more trust, that tells you somebody smart and somebody thoughtful, and somebody who wanted to solve a problem for you is who is working on that. So that’s not going to change.
The formats might change with giants like Apple working on a glass, Facebook working on a glass, this and that, but it will still be visual. Audio is going to play an important role, video is definitely going to expand more but visual communication will always have those aspects, there will be imagery, there will be text, and then there’ll be audio. And each of these has to improve on its own. So messaging has to be crisper, it has to talk in your language, talk in your words, it has to be smart because people expect all of that, and people expect something to build more trust. And just having those flashy badges saying free, free, free, those are not things that will work five years from now.
Just today, somebody shared on our communication channel about the first banner ad, which was this gaudy-looking thing saying ‘hey, you’re going to click here, because this is so new and cool, and click the monkey and stuff like that.’ Those kinds of things worked earlier because people didn’t know better, now people do. So if you use any tricks, people are not going to click on it. So trust is going to be very important. So people have to talk in a more human language, they have to talk in something that you relate to, and that is the textual aspect of it. Imagery will get more and more relatable, people are not going to expect gorgeous models all the time and perfectly chiselled bodies, they will want to see more real stuff, they will want to see more of the product and more of the benefits that they get out of it. So authenticity is what people are looking for. I mean, people with chiselled bodies are going to expect more of the same. But since 99.9% of the world is not like that, they will want to see something that looks like them.
Vinay Rao: Very interesting. And because you spoke about being human in all aspects of visual communication my follow-up question to you is what is the scope of AI in the visual communication processes? For example, AI, or GPT3, or whatever can help create a storyboard for a video on a few outlines given by a user in today’s context, right? It could be a product listing, it could be an article, it could be any story input. And the captions themselves can be made so much better, so much more relevant for the use case, ads can be made more snappy, more snackable, more informational, more entertaining even. So yes, I just wanted to understand what’s the scope of AI in visual communication processes?
Satej Sirur: So again, I’ll go back to the constituent elements of the creative, each of those pieces can be individually enhanced with software. And that’s the power of software. The power of it keeps compounding and AI is specially built for something like that, right, the more data you have, the more you’re able to train it. So for example, on our platform, if hundreds of thousands of creatives are being made every month, all of that could potentially feed these kinds of things, although today we don’t have these systems yet. But these help people make better decisions within their brand or in getting insights from the entire platform of users.
So that’s definitely going to happen across. Even in the industrial age, we have seen there are things that people should not be doing that machines end up doing, whether it is repetitive tasks, like fixing a nut, and a bolt and those kinds of things to now something like this. Obviously, people will say that so and so thing can never be automated and that so and so thing is extremely creative, but once you break down a lot of these tasks, if it can be broken into some sort of a workflow or some sort of an algorithm. There could even be a procedural way to do it. If there is enough data, and if there is a way to train something, even something that cannot be broken down into an algorithm can be automated through machine learning.
Nobody can tell you there are these five steps to come up with a great copy. But you can point out what are examples of great copy and which ones are not. Or you just throw stuff at the wall and see what works. If I had a million dollars of budget, I set 100,000 for different kinds of experiments, something works in that, then I could explore and exploit that piece. So I think that’s the power of software, to run these kinds of experiments. We’ll see different aspects of this, whether the imagery is being generated by AI, or whether the text is being generated is by generative AI, whether one is using machine learning models to say what is working or not working, and then adapting that, not generically but for a brand, all of those things will happen. And that’s the scary but mostly amazing world that marketers are going to live in, whether they are editors, rather than people who are just sort of churning stuff out on a treadmill.
Vinay Rao: Very interesting. Particularly like the bit about how there will be more editors, and I have always believed that the future of the creative economy is curation. Curators will trump creators at some point in time. I think it was Sidu Ponnappa, who said something very poignant about how people will always value something that is created by a human and that will always have a market.
Satej Sirur: Sure but in the shirts that you buy and the trousers that you wear, you’re not really looking for that right. So I know some people will have this very romantic notion of humans and putting humans on this pedestal saying anything created by humans, but just look at everything that you’re consuming, everything that you’re interacting with, the road that you drive on was not made by humans, the car that you drive was not made by humans. So yes, humans creating is great but really there is nothing divine about humans creating something and no compulsion that it has to be the very best or the pinnacle of creation, right? Humans are not born to do anything, humans are just meant to enjoy, have a good time, be happy and that’s the purpose of life. And we shouldn’t equate ourselves to the work that we do. If there’s a social media post that I’m not able to do and AI is doing it, there’s no need to feel that one’s identity is in crisis. We were not built to do that and we’ll find something else more interesting to do.
Vinay Rao: Fascinating. So now I’m going to switch gears. So we’ve spoken extensively about Rocketium the product, so let’s now pick your brains on the learnings, especially on the entrepreneurial side of things. The challenges that you’ve faced as an entrepreneur over the last five years. I know it’s a very broad spectrum question but you could probably look at it as a three axis problem. Maybe business challenges axis, product and then function-specific challenges, or any other way that you would like to segment this. But would want to learn what have been some of the most pressing problems and challenges that you faced as an entrepreneur.
Satej Sirur: In Rocketium all of our prime directives, or as we like to call them our cultural principles, are set as in these concentric circles of self. Which is first of all, principles related to that, then as a team, and then community. So I would also like to think of it like that, that the primary challenge was me personally, just me, being the kind of person. That I have certain strengths, but my weaknesses really held me back. So I’m not somebody who very readily asks for help. There is that feeling that ‘I don’t want to trouble other people or maybe I should figure this out on my own or that this is my problem, not somebody else’s problem’. Even when I asked for help, I was not the sort who could make things happen just because I’ve asked for help right? Asked once, asked twice, and then if it does not happen, I let it go.
So if I’d asked for help with the right people, and at the right time, there could have been many things that I could have figured out on my own. Maybe working more with other founders, people who have done this sort of thing before, getting others excited about what we do so that they care about that same problem, and then work with me to solve some of those. I think that was a big miss on my end, which also manifested in another way, which was about how ambitious and how growth-oriented we could have been if I had somebody else to talk to, somebody else to tell me what is possible. So I use this mental framework where I talk about this time traveller. Which is that talking to another founder who has done the sort of things that I’ve done and is now talking to me about it is like talking to a time traveller because they’ve seen all of the journeys, they can just tell me, month by month, what are the mistakes that I am going to make, what are the successes I’m going to have.
So this is such a great superpower we have of time travel in human society and we do not tap into that. People do not come to you and say that all of these things are going to happen, just watch out for it, and just don’t do these things, do this other thing. One, not enough people ask, two, not enough people share. And three, which is the most insidious, once you hear something like that, you think it’s going to be different for me, let me do things my own way. So I think that was the other thing was not being ambitious enough, whether it was hiring certain kinds of people or charting a certain direction for the go-to-market and those kinds of things. Just having that sort of outside counsel and reaching out and talking to more people, I think that would be definitely one of those things.
Other things are just more micro things that we keep introspecting and we keep trying to improve on internally. For example, how much tolerance you have for somebody who’s not the right culture fit, and who’s not really contributing to your journey, those are things that I was not very open about when it came to taking some of those decisions but have now gotten much better with that. Also, this thing about focus, when I used to hear that from people, I used to always dismiss it, but now I do not, I understand the power of focus. So when I hear from people that yeah, you could be doing five more things. To that I say, ‘great, but we’ve thought about this five years ago, and I’d rather do this one thing, and do it really well, and go deep in that and deliver success’. So focus was one more thing that I was not very good at, because of which I personally like doing a lot of things but that ends with me doing things all over the place. So yeah, I think those were really the things that I found personally, as challenges. Everything else was just finer details, which sometimes you cannot control. Your product could be there, all the messaging could be there but the timing just might not be right. Those things we just could not control.
Vinay Rao: And my next question is around work culture. It is very fashionable to talk about work culture today. But I know for a fact that Rocketium is one of the very few start-ups that has always over indexed on building the right kind of work culture, and that you’ve always been contentious about it. So what kind of work culture are you driven to build? I know, there’s an articulated culture doc that you have on your website. Would love to have you shine some light on that.
Satej Sirur: So we have this philosophy that you want to build the company that you want to work for. And that is something that we are trying to drive. We are always trying to tell our team that if you’re noticing a problem, you’re noticing an area of improvement, let’s work on that, let’s raise it, talk to the right team members to do it. Also, I’m trying to decentralize as much as possible, because otherwise, I am taking a lot of these decisions, right. So that is something I feel very guilty about today, which is just sort of disenfranchising a lot of my team members by taking decisions on their behalf. A lot of these things I do, it is easy, it is fun and it sort of gives you that feeling of velocity and very quickly, you’re taking decisions, but it takes away the power from the team. So just having those conversations with the team saying that this is your product, this is your business, and you are building this. So don’t let anybody else make those decisions for you. And pushing that sort of mindset.
We want everybody to feel like a founding team member, everybody should be taking those decisions again, going back to the prime directives for the self, they should be thinking, what am I getting out of this. In the next job to the next CEO, what am I going to say about the value that I’ve delivered to the previous company, how did I grow in that company? And also, the other thing that we are trying to drive is our first culture principle, which is about continuous learning and growth. So the persistent question in monthly discussions in the six-monthly appraisals that we do is, ‘how are you better today than you were a month ago?’. We’ve actually started graphing this for some people and we do these co-pilot sessions with people who are interested in improving in a certain area. We do these one-on-one sessions when they are comfortable, and with different people, not just with me but with many others. So one of those things we started doing is almost graphing factors like ‘how important is this?’, ‘is this less important?’, and ‘how good are you at it?’ And then putting each of those points against things that you care about, and where are you today. So really visually saying that ‘okay, today I’m in this quadrant, I need to go to this quadrant. Nobody does that today, nobody is being that methodical about what they want to get better at, and measuring how they’re putting efforts towards getting better at it. So continuously driving that every day you need to get better, your focus should not be on just tasks and activities and metrics and those kinds of things, but really at working better. So how we work is extremely important so keep bringing that up by asking yourself, how are you working? Are you clear about what you are building and why? And continuously improving that. So, those are a few things that we focus on, which are just really very fundamental. And then other things are details on top of that about transparency and frequent communication, respect, diversity, those kinds of things. But the fundamental piece is this one.
Vinay Rao: So last two questions for the day. What are your three, five, and ten-year goals for Rocketium?
Satej Sirur: So in the B2B SaaS industry, the good thing is there are playbooks for all kinds of companies, if you want to be in a top one percentile company, there are growth rates, if you’re a top 25 percentile, there are revenue numbers, and all of those are fairly clear to us in terms of where we need to be 3, 5, 10 years from now. And this is something we’ve also called out upfront, which is our goal and just in a very crass way, if I had to say what it is, it is for our company to be rich and famous. So, if the company has a lot of resources, if the company has a lot of goodwill, if the company has a strong network that they have built, then we can do a lot more good with it. Now, interestingly, another company in a similar space as us which is Canva have actually talked about something like this, and their goal is to be one of the most valuable companies in the world, and then doing the most good, which is in some ways, very similar to what we are also thinking. So they’ve actually been able to take the wealth, resources, and clout that they have, and invest in start-ups and fund nonprofits and help the community and those kinds of things. So that is really what we would like to do.
And because this is for all of the founding team members, all of them will have different passions in which they want to use that fame and fortune. So somebody might want to invest, somebody might want to help non-profits, somebody might want to start up more companies so we could incubate more ideas, there could be many other initiatives that we could run. So eventually, the idea is that this should be a place where very talented people come, and then if they move on later to some other place, that’s okay. But over time, this is a large team of people, which has delivered tremendous success, built great products, built a great, profitable and large business where customers are happy and then using that fame and fortune to move forward other initiatives that they have. So 10 years from now, we would see ourselves doing that, three and five years, it’s probably just going to be more execution on what we are currently doing. So just scaling what we’re doing, adding more geographies, adding more products, increasing revenue. So more meat and potatoes. 10 years is probably where we’ll want to do some of these vision things that we’ve had since day one.
Vinay Rao: Lovely. Love how you articulated the 10-year roadmap, Fantastic. Okay, a penultimate question. I have two questions before we wrap up, my penultimate question is more of a philosophical question. A personal question, if I can call it that. In a lot of your interviews, you’ve spoken about fear being the guiding factor in everything you do. I would like to understand the philosophical underpinnings of that. I agree with you; I agree that fear is not always a bad thing. In fact, if used as the right kind of stimuli, it can unlock a lot of hitherto unknown use. So would love to learn more about what you were alluding to.
Satej Sirur: So I had to use some way to motivate myself to do something because just by constitution, I’m very lethargic, so I would not want to do something unless I forced myself to do it and fear was a great motivator at that time. But that is one thing that has changed. So, over the last maybe three years or something to that effect, after I started Rocketium, fear is completely a non-entity in my life, I don’t do anything by fear. I am not afraid of anything, I do not use it to motivate me because now there are other reasons to do something. There is inherent good in what I’m doing and if I have to get better there is a reason for doing that. I do not have to use fear to motivate myself but if you don’t have anything you can use fear that may sound like ‘I’m going to get deported or I’m going to fail in an exam or my boss is going to fire me’ essentially whatever it is. You can use fear to motivate yourself if you had to, but I find that now the locus of control is more within me rather than outside.
Vinay Rao: Great. My last question for the day, and there are two parts to it. If you had to offer one piece of advice to somebody who’s just starting out in today’s day and age, what would that advice be? That’s the first part of the question. And the second part of the question, and I ask this of everybody, not just founders, because I love reading a lot. So what’s the one book that you would recommend that you would strongly recommend everybody reads, doesn’t have to be somebody who wants to start, it could be anybody.
Satej Sirur: Yeah, absolutely. This was something that I used to tell people when I was at business school, and I used to be the president of the student body. And a lot of people over the years used to come to me and said, I’m thinking of standing for the presidential election, what do you recommend and somewhere, I see that and starting up as a parallel. Because for a lot of people, again, I’m no judge of the right or wrong reason and there is no need to pass that judgement – any reason is fine. But with the presidential elections, also, I used to say the same thing, just examine why you are starting this, be very clear about what you are getting out of it, and there better be a good reason for doing it because you’re going to get a lot of rejection, you’re going to have a lot of failures. They’re going to question a lot of what you’re doing and unless you’re constitutionally strong and unless this reason is a strong enough motivation, you’re going to give up and it’s going to be fair to you because you’re talented, accomplished, and so forth. But it’s not going to be fair for the rest of the people you strung along in this journey. So really examine why you want to do it. If it is to look cool, if it is to get funding, or everybody else is doing it. Personally, I do not think these are good reasons.
And in terms of the book, I would say, Humankind is a book I had come across it a while ago, I’m about to finish it now. Definitely something that very strongly correlates with my personality, what I believe in. I’m an eternal optimist, though I am not a fan of humanity as a concept and putting it on a pedestal. I mean, humanity is no different from any other animal according to me, but yes, that sort of compassion and the positivity that we need to have and the teamwork that we need to demonstrate, I think that the book covers these topics really well. So Humankind by Rutger Bregman is the book.
Vinay Rao: Awesome, great Satej. It’s been a fantastic conversation. I know we budgeted for this conversation to be an hour, but I think I’ve overshot by 20 minutes and apologies for that, but we had a lovely conversation. Thank you so much for talking to Blume and have a great day.