(In this interview, we talk to a 21 year young entrepreneur from Hubli who is already thinking about giving back to the community from where he comes.)
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Girish and we are a team of three consisting of myself, Supriya, and Snehal. Together, we run a company called PaybackHub which gets you exclusive cashbacks on your favorite software in three simple steps. These are popular softwares you are probably already looking at buying so our cash back can reduce your cost basis by a significant amount.
In addition, we run CertHive which lets you award e-Certificates to participants in hackathons, meet ups, and coding challenges. This is in private beta.
Finally, there is Dev Cult which is a meetup for coding and technology enthusiasts in Hubli. We have organized 2-3 meet ups already.
Are these products aimed only at people in and around Hubli?
Apart from Dev Cult which obviously focuses on local technologists, the other two - CertHive and PaybackHub - are open to global users.
Dev Cult fills an important need because outside Hubli until your reach Bangalore, there is very little engagement in the IT sector. Dev Cult gives people the exposure that is more common in Bangalore. I’ve been doing coding and entrepreneurship for 3-4 years so whatever my colleagues and I have learnt, we are sharing with the software folks in and around Hubli.
What made you want to give back so soon instead of focusing on building out your own product?
When I started, I faced many problems from financial to gaining exposure. Even to buy a Raspberry Pi, I had no idea where to go. I kept looking for people to give me direction and guidance. I did a bunch of things - animation, game design, asset design - and finally started writing code. It took a lot of false turns before I found my niche.
With DevCult, I want to help people find their direction sooner. I want people to stop wasting time on figuring out anew things others have already figured out.
So how does Dev Cult help?
We connect students with incubation centers around Hubli. There is one called Sandbox Startups run by the Deshpande Foundation. They have a Makers Lab where they hand out Raspberry Pis and electronics utilities. People can use them to produce working prototypes.
Dev Cult is instrumental in making such connections.
Tell us a bit about your team and what your day looks like.
My team meets daily in a room in my house and divides up the available work across these three projects...
...How do you decide who the boss is?
So far, I have the most experience working in tech and entrepreneurship so I take the lead. Supriya and Snehal are more junior programmers. We have been working in the way for about a year. In this year, both Supriya and Snehal have picked up a lot of technical skills.
If there is something which needs core technical skills, I take over. Snehal handles almost all of the marketing.
Do you like working this way? Do you have a day job?
Actually, we are just 21, still engineering students. I discontinued (kind of) my engineering studies a couple of years ago. The other two are still finishing up their degree. We don’t have a day job as such but we are completely focused on this. Even college sometimes becomes secondary to this.
Is this common nowadays for students to focus on their own startups?
If you talk about Hubli only, it is not at all common. 95-98% of the students around us are focused on college topics much of which they will never use outside the classroom.
In Bangalore etc, its more 50-50. They study but also have their side projects and products. The kind of opportunities around us also plays a role. Hubli has mostly large IT companies and consulting companies while Bangalore, maybe Mumbai, or Silicon Valley has more support for startups.
If you could wave a wand and ask for something to make your life better, what would ask for?
I think Hubli needs a Hackerspace. There is Makerspace via Sandbox Partners but thats for products and hardware. What we need is a software focused Hackerspace. Dev Cult is a step in that direction but we need much more. Bangalore has weekly software meetups which Hubli is lacking.
Yes, Sandbox Partners conducts yearly hackathons but need a regular community of software people in Hubli.
Switching gears a little, what was the idea behind PaybackHub?
I came up with PaybackHub because as students and entrepreneurs, we are very tight on money. There is no way I can pay thousands of dollars on licenses and I figured that if I have such a problem, others probably have the same problem. I looked at many business models and decided to share any referral revenue share with customers.
How do you find products to feature on PaybackHub?
Some products have affiliate options directly. For others, it is a mix of cold emailing and outreach to onboard them onto PaybackHub.
What are your future plans?
We plan to introduce Sponsored software which are featured higher in the results page. We also plan to write detailed reviews to help drive decisions.
Sounds like PaybackHub will need a lot of marketing to drive people to the website and gain conversions. How do you plan to do that?
Thats exactly right. We started working on PaybackHub in January but launched only a few days ago (Ed. note - interviewed on May 19th, 2018). We had about 70-80 companies at launch. We write detailed synopsis and reviews of products which have 30% or higher commission rates. We reach out to individuals and online communities like Indie Hackers. We are going to post on Product Hunt soon which I am hopeful about.
Our marketing is very content heavy. We submit our content to sites like StartupTools and StartupStash. We don’t have the means to spend on advertising through tie-ups and promotions so we are avoiding that strategy for now.
How do you review sites without trying out products?
These softwares often have a trial period associated with it which we use. If not, we reach out to the developer and ask for a dev or test account.
Lets talk about CertHive. Where did that start?
It started from a personal pain. My interest in software came from hackathons but I’ve misplaced most of my certificates from these events. There is a local institution called BVB Hubli which conducts regular events. One of the event organizers who is also a friend asked me to write a script to generate certificates which they could email out to their email list.
Later another event had a similar need which gave me the idea of releasing this as a standalone platform.
CertHive compiles and issues authentic certificates on behalf of companies to event attendees. Of course, anyone can fake an e-certificate so we built some business logic and limited the number of certificates issuable by an event organizer. We ensure that these events are actually happening and only the organizer can create these certificates. If, for example, Infosys were using CertHive, they’d get their own hub which could be used to issue certificates to participants in their internal workshops, internships, or trainings.
Now, because of CertHive, anyone can show a certificate during interviews and the interviewer can come back to CertHive to verify that the certificate is authentic.
What startups and thought leaders do you admire?
I’m very appreciative of NomadList - not just the idea but their marketing strategy was very inserting to me. Basecamp and Baremetrics are other names which I follow. Hasura is an Indian BaaS - backend as a service running on Kubernetes - from Chennai which I admire. They release new features regularly and I’ve been getting my hands dirty with their product.