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A founder's journey towards meaning | TravelTriangle and Inner Fit
This episode of the Founder Thesis podcast features one of the most unique founders I have met so far!
Sanchit Garg was hired by Yahoo after he graduated from IIT Bombay. The next 2 years at Yahoo introduced him to the world of Internet products and startups, and by 2010 he was a founder himself.
What follows next sounds very filmy- with his first startup TravelTriangle, Sanchit went through all the phases of entrepreneurship- from being almost penniless to finding product-market-fit and raising the first check to become a dominant player in the space.
But almost like the monk who sold his Ferrari, Sanchit realised that he was seeking something deeper and that started his journey of building up InnerFit - a startup that helps corporate employees be effective through principles of coaching and meditation.
He talks about his rollercoaster journey of innovation and self-discovery!
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Sanchit: Hi, I'm Sanchit founder and CEO at Inner Fit, before I also founded TravelTriangle.
I think the motivation by then was, putting your name on the map. Like how do you make your mark on this place and start off with the first thing that comes to your mind. So we started experimenting with multiple things and Prabhat and Sankalp. Prabhat also joined in. So we all three were same school friend since 7th standard. They went to IT Kharagpur and Guwahati all were computer science. So three geeks in one room, in a small room at Noida in Apartment. We finally started one of our product and started getting some tractions. One of our LD friends started using it.
Akshay: Which product was this?
Sanchit: This was the holiday booking product. When we started, I had my savings from Yahoo. In one year, those savings went to zero.
Akshay: When you were building the holiday product, you had to pay for server costs and some maybe marketing costs and things like that.
Sanchit: Yeah. We also hired four people, the first few employees. So that is where the savings were going, and we all hit zero. Now imagine, you coming from a place where financial security was critical for you and everything was about money First job. And you said money sold but now bank count is zero. It took me two, three days to understand that's okay to get comfortable with it but it was very empowering to live it bank balance zero and still be okay with it.
Akshay: So this one year period in which you burnt through your savings what did you do in that one year? Just help me understand that.
Sanchit: I moved to Noida, Sankalp's house. He was kind enough to take me in. It was a small, two bedroom, three bedroom house. We made one of them in the office. One was uh two other bedrooms. And we were started to experimenting with multiple products.
Akshay: And you were you wanted to do B2C, like consumer products.
Sanchit: And this is 2010. The words like B2C, B2B marketplace were not common then. Flipkart was the only company which was like, big enough. So Marketplace became common. B2C, B2B became common in 13. And that point of time we want to solve the Marketplace. And yes it was B2C then but I remember it was a two-sided marketplace, travelers and travel agents. So we would go to travel agents in offices saying, Hey, we are from it and we are doing this, and we want you to come on our platform and service our clients.
And I remember travel agents like almost, kicking us out from the office here that we don't have time, come sometime later. It's a very formal industry where you would take appointment and exchange card and do all that. And we tech people. We take our bikes, we just go to the office and say, Hey, we are here. You want to chat? So it was also a B2B angle where we were building the other side of marketplace. The first few vendors were difficult. I remember that we also went to like at least 50 or hundred investors. There were very few investors then, and almost everyone said no to us. And that was basically, we were not able to pitch the idea in a Pan IT event, we just came across one of my senior and he asked me, okay, you're doing a startup? I said, yes. I said, I want funding. He said, what? How much you want? I said, A number. He said, okay. I said, what valuation you are giving on? He said, you decide the evaluation and he put the money in then I took that and put in 10 more people put money in. But that's how we got our first funding. So my learning was, it's a very blackwell moment. We try everything, but where it comes from is hard to tell.
Akshay: So the, when you raised this funding at that time, what was TravelTriangle like? Like what was working because you were doing multiple experiments. What, what worked finally and what scale did you reach?
Sanchit: Yeah. That, that time you were doing 20 Lakhs per month top line.
Akshay: Okay. When was this when you raised funding?
Akshay: Okay. And so your holiday experiment was successful in the first year, what else did you build?
Sanchit: It was like a Amazon, on Amazon you buy a shirt. That kind of experience to buy a holiday package purely online that did not work.
Akshay: Because everyone wants personalized planning and all of that. Like they, they want to talk to somebody and plan it out.
Sanchit: Exactly. So what worked was, know, they put up a request in a nice way, and then you connect them to three local travel agents who can service that request. So, and those three travelings would compete. You can see their ratings and you pay on the platform and new platform gives you assurance. Assurance of the service.
Akshay: So this was like a like a matchmaking platform then like, like helping match travelers with agencies. how did the payment get decided? Because this was a customized product. So what pricing to be charged would get decided after they actually spoke to an agent?
Sanchit: Yeah. It was like pure discussion between traveler and two travel and they would customize and in the end the payment would come up. So travel would put in the invoice on travel, and then the travel would pay for it.
Akshay: So, tell me how you did your the go-to market, getting demand, generating demand. How did you do that? Like that's the biggest challenge in consumer internet. Like generating demand.
Sanchit: We knew that we had to pick up a destination we picked up Kerala, so we ran ads only for Kerala travelers and we only, know, got supply of Kerala by going to and being with Travelers there. So, Go to market was very basic that, add destination by destination. First principles were right and we built on that. I remember that, when we were having, 20 Lakhs per month kind of top line I went to my Indian investors and they were like how many bookings were happening? What was the percentage commission? And I'm like, around 20, 30 books were happening every month. And he was like, show me your MIS, I said, what is MIS? He gave me an Excel sheet, month, one month, two monthly number of booking % commission. That was first way of actually recording the data of what's happening dashboard.
Akshay: So, this 20 Lakhs, you're saying that was like a GMV out of which you would get That's right. Maybe single digit percentage or more than like, what was the commission range? Yeah,
Sanchit: 10%, 5%.
Akshay: Got it. Okay. So, how much did you raise in the angel round?
Sanchit: 60 to 70 Lakhs.
Akshay: Not bad for that time period. It's a pretty good sum of money. So, then what, like once you raised that around 12, 13 period after that, like how did that change your trajectory? How did you learn how to build a internet business?
Sanchit: Yeah, the funny thing was, every day in a bank account the transition for, I bought 25 rupees prepaid of mobile sim balance. Some 200 rupees petrol. And suddenly there a transition of 10 Lakhs in the bank account. The SMS was like funny to see 5 rupees 50 rupees. And then, so that was the first time when I realized that okay, we have money. That was the first feeling, we could make the mark and the big PR done by times of India, that three founders 20 Lakhs per month in seven months, nobody understood GMV and commission.
Akshay: Tell me a bit on also the things you did to make it grown. Like what were some of those tactics strategies to make it grow.
Sanchit: The tactics was basically create a playbook for each destination. Like in Kerala, how do you get the first few travelers? How do you get the supply, how do you measure the critical mass going? How do you set up a team inside TravelTriangle to facilitate the both? And once our destination is done, it has grown to a critical size. How do you build, best hotels, best cars in the system? And once we have done that, keep on adding more destinations, so we are going deeper in destinations and then adding more destinations with the playbook we were. Also hiring the right team members.
Akshay: Amazing. How did you know that hiring is important to get right? That you shouldn't screw it up.
Sanchit: The way I feel it is that, we were keep on doing things, but we didn't know of these terms and mantra. I'm building my second company now and I feel there's so many frameworks. Everybody say that if you don't do this right, your company will fail. First hire first investor, first client first product first, this and that. Back then, nobody would say these things and the company still work fine. My point is we did fundamentally like things without knowing about any frameworks, and we were fine.
Akshay: So between the three of you, co-founders what were you looking after?
Sanchit: I think all three of us were coming from computer science background, so none of us knew anything else but coding. But we we kept on changing our heads. So Sankalp moved very quickly out of coding. He became the CEO guy, the business guy, the strategy guy fundraising guy. I spent some time in technology, then moved to operations where I scaled the operations team realized and when I moved to operations, Prabhat took care of the entire technology. So once I went to operations, I realized now operation is good, stable. We have 500 people. Team we have the right leaders from who can build it further. But our product function is left behind. when I took a product I understood how bigger function how critical function that is the nuances of it. And we worked very hard for two years to make it right every year about hiring the right team, putting the right sprint processes, putting the right road mapping exercises the right synergies between business and product and tech. Each and every, they were like this view, used to call it they silver bullet to make product, but it's a problem of thousand getting it right.
Akshay: Tell me that product journey, like how did you Improve TravelTriangle, the product, like what did you identify as the way to tackle it and what made you feel that the product is not good enough initially?
Sanchit: See, initially when we made it was a technology. It was a code put on the website, something code runs, you can do a transition, the traveler. Then I moved to business with that technology. We just pumped in on the number of users we have and we scaled. But then I realized that, product has to make the customer's life easy. How can we plan a very beautiful trip for himself? You have to understand the customer each and every pin point his mindset. Disconnect yourself with what you have as a solution in his life relate to it, breath it. He's busy. Also, the day he has no time to plan and yet he has to plan because, his husband or wife also wants to go. It's a big investment for them. They won't go to the place ever again in 10 years. And that's the pressure, and they know nothing about it, and they're talking to these travels, so you understand what you're operating in. You're essentially selling trust and not holiday packages. You're essentially selling those memories. So how do you create those beautiful memories? Now, thinking product from that angle is a very different technology, and you need a founder to be in the product function to think that and actually execute it. If a founder is not a product guy, none of the founder, the product guy, the product team will fail.
Akshay: Okay. That's an interesting insight that you're selling trust and not a package. so, was your product building led by data, was it led by intuition or like a mix of the tool or.
Sanchit: I think mix of two. We had like a lot of terms here. We said we want to be data informed, not data-driven.
Akshay: Okay. And why is that? Give me an example of why being data-driven could be wrong.
Sanchit: So a lot of times for example, who do you want to sell holidays to? Only the luxury travelers or middle class travelers, because their needs are different. Data can tell lot of things that this is, has money, this has buying power. This is a narrow funnel. This is a broad funnel, and that's all data, but that's data inform. If you make a decision purely on this basis that's a data driven thing. But if you take information and you apply what you really aspire to be what is it that you're solving? Are you solving a niche, luxury product? Are you solving a mass scale product? Which you want to take globally and all? Those are the aspirations of yours that have to come in. And those patients are the, sort of central thing which you carry for you also for 5 years, 10 years. That makes Amazon and Alibaba different. Amazon is more customer, Alibaba is more merchant. So they're still doing the same technology more or less.
Akshay: Got it. Okay. So, coming back to the journey when staff partners invested in you, how much did they invest and what, how big were you then at that stage? I think 2014 they invested.
Sanchit: Yes, that's right. They invested 2 million, and we were around 10, 12, maybe 15 people team then.
Akshay: Wow. That must have been like a life changing amount of money then. Amazing. Okay. And so those funds you used to scale up operations, because this was an ops heavy business because for every location you would need to onboard travel agents, so you would need some feet on street who will go meet travel agents who will explain, who will pitch the, the process, help them understand how the commission works. And then you would also need a central call center team because you would be calling the inquiries also to make sure that the bucket is not leaky. And you would be calling travel agents also to make sure service because you are responsible for quality of overall experience.
Sanchit: You're right. So we were having around 500 people in operations and sales and around 200 people in the technology product design.
Akshay: This was on the back of that 2 million fundraise. You hit this kind of headcount?
Sanchit: The 2 million came in we became known in the travel ecosystem. These numbers of 900 employees were in 2017 18 when I left. But journey from staff to 2014 to 2018 is every year we kept on raising money. So after staff the next year came Decimers.
Akshay: That was, I think, $10 million Decimers.
Sanchit: Yes. Then we raised from Singapore, with RB investors. Then fundamental came in 2016 or 17? So, and every year I would see our office growing up to a much bigger size our team growing up. And we kept on executing. So 2014, I would say 2010 to 14 was a journey of scrap. Learning the basics, fundamental fundamentals, and the journey from 2014 to 2017 18 was pure fast growth scaling up, seeing many competitors, trying to copiers learning how to root them out one by one. And we were very brutal with our computers, with all the respect to them.
Akshay: Tell me those war stories. I'd love to hear some of those.
Sanchit: So it was a difficult business to build to tame services of travel agents at scale. And allowing travel agents to good travel agents to deliver great experience to travelers is a very subjective commodity. A car will go wrong, it'll break downin the trip and the flights will lose the flights there. That's a reality of the world. So how do you team when you create a NPS of 52 from Travelers that is what we basically, we tracked but the first computer came in, they started putting leaves on our system, as a traveler. And started getting out the travel drains names from our system and then pay heavy discounts to them. They also got the investors who we said no to. So they had the money from the investors who we refused. So now they have money and they have travel agents and they were paying heavy money to these travel agents. It's like Ola and Uber fight to service on their systems. And I remember, in our board meeting we were showing that loo, we are here, but the computer started late but going much faster. And I remember that board meeting where our investors called it out, are you playing a laboratory here? We logic that look, we'll do this and this is the plan and this is that. He said, you, it feels that you are making a science laboratory here and that is setting up for failure. You need to go out and crash them now. And we're sitting in the boardroom, we're not leaving the boardroom and don't order lunch for us. We're just sitting here. Go and kill it now. The first time I became like, more competition aware I came outta boardroom, booked my cab, got my two team members, went to the biggest agent who they were poaching. He was some remote place. Got to this office there and there. Gave him all the layes of bigger discounts, bigger this, bigger that and showed that the next day he's only working on us and not on them. And from there the journey started off, making sure that our product is so sticky. And it was not that we're making product more sticky it was that we are using a product to pull the travel drain completely into the system. How do you incentivize travel drain who are, again, short on time to get very easy leads from TravelTriangles very easily. They can see everything all their funnels, let them manage them. But it was not about giving them a tool, but it was saving their time and making it so easy for them that they won't step outside with everywhere outside the high friction.
And then on the top of that, gave discounts ensure that when they poach our team members, none of them talked to them. And our team was fundamentally loyal. Cause they were in a nice home and we did the reverse side in a very, in, in interesting ways. So in two months from that board meeting the competitor shut down.
Akshay: Wow. And you went global also in that period?
Sanchit: No, we are focused on India, Indian travelers going to India or outside.
Akshay: Okay. So how did you build say Mauritius or like you sent someone there or this was all happening through phone calls and online?
Sanchit: We started with phone. We started with phone. Then I went to a lot of these places, met travel agents had a good dining experience with them, built relationships 700 travel. I would know and they would know me when I was running operations. Yeah, a lot of travel have their Facebook, so and that's a funny story. In 2012 I went travel office. And in 2017 there were many travelers have them and me on their Facebook profile and LinkedIn profile. So for me, it was very humbling. But also like motivating and I took pride that we created jobs for business for local vendors across the globe. A way to, get the travelers and get the business, put bread and butter in Mauritius, Kerala Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam. That was something which was the biggest win for us in everything. There were two wins. One travel agents in these local places having, relying on TravelTriangle. And second, our travelers reporting in NPS of 52, which was, and for my competitors was minus 10.
Akshay: Amazing. Okay, so, NPS of 52, what does this mean? How do you calculate NPS score?
Sanchit: After every trip we would ask travelers, would you recommend TravelTriangle to your friends, the standard way of seeing how good was there? And then 52, mathematics. But I'm doing a very gross approximation. 52% would say, I would definitely recommend, and the rest would say, maybe we may not be.
Akshay: Okay. I'm guessing you would've also done a lot of like on the product side, it looks like there are two things which you would've done differently or better than others. One is you build products for the travel agent so that they could manage the workflow of preparing an itinerary. You probably had some product to help them make that quickly and easily share that and really manage all the leads to see like which lead, like their workflow of managing leads, like their workflows you would've put into the product so that it's easy for them to work with you.
Sanchit: So, that's right. And again, the advantage for us was in 12 year of coders we could write, I remember writing the entire travel dashboard, entire workflow in a week. And we went to travel, we went to investors and we showed them the business, the numbers, the product on traveler side, this and that. You know, Why they invested in us, because they saw the travel in that. And I was like, this is not even a selling for us. Like it's a small dashboard. Why will you us? But I realized that, way investors see very different, they were right. That will be our, and that's why that became our competition came up.
Akshay: Fascinating. And the other thing which you would've done well is destination pages. Like probably you would've a page on Mauritius, which would have a lot of content a lot of like, Mauritius for honeymoon, Mauritius for hiking Mauritius for college outing, whatever. Like different ways of exploring Mauritius for different audiences. And like a mix of content and package options that people can their journey of finding something in Mauritius is easy.
Sanchit: That's right. and that was the next phase. This is our SEO phase where we made all of these pages and we had an amazing guy again a computer science from IIT who built the marketing for us. We realized everything is like, software eating the world was very true for us. Whether it's a business guy or a tech guy or product guy or marketing tech guy, everyone was computerized. So, our pages for marketing, like you said, right, for each destination was all automated on day one. And then as we would see traffic coming on a page, we understand what kind of thing they're looking for. We kept on adding things manual. You were there, but at one step you could create all automated pages, change them based on what keyword they're searching on Google and they're coming on. They did to marketing.
Akshay: So each person landing on the Mauritius page would see something different based on what data you've collected about him, like based on what keyword he used..
Sanchit: Some, so if you're clicking, let's say on holiday honeymoon package for Mauritius, and they'll, and you land on that page, the page will show honeymoon picture in a big thing and honeymoon for Mauritius. And if you click family trip to Mauritius, same page will open, but a new image would come. And these are small things that, create the marketing because you have one second, two second kind of a time to attract the travelers.
Akshay: Okay. So, 2018 is when you left or when did you leave?
Sanchit: I left in 2018. Yes.
Akshay: What was the scale by then? What kind of GMV were you doing?
Sanchit: And we were doing around $45 million gross revenue and 900 team members around 1200 travel agents, roughly.
Akshay: Why did you need to raise so much money? What you needed money for Customer acquisition or what was the reason like.
Sanchit: I think in a company I see, I've seen three phases in TravelTriangle. The first phase is pre PMf. You say, Hey this is my product, and everybody says this is shit. The customers, the investors, the first few employees, vendors, everybody kicks you out from their office there. The second phase, you have a pmf. You have some good logos, some good names. People see, okay, there's some value when you scale and they put money. This is a place where you are raising money, you are scaling, you are like on a very good high. You have already built a thick skin from the previous time of, because you have crossed PMF, you have crossed it with great and multiple injections. Pre PMF is like a founder boost, basically a rejection handling machine.
Akshay: I like that rejection handling machine.
Sanchit: That's what you do every day. You get rejected. Post PMF you are the guy who is being, whose PI is covering. Suddenly you know your friend you have a team which look up to you. You have your peers who look up to you. Now you are in the media, so your parents know it, and suddenly for them you are like, okay, he's not a bad apple. He's doing something. and then the third phase comes. When you at some place, it's like too much for you to handle in the sense things will go up and down. Markets will go up and down. You'll have multiple investors on board with different exit dates, with different liquidation, you'll have so many things that are no more like, a straight path. It's not a company where there's one interest, one mission, and you are all going for it. That's the place where you start becoming insecure. Hey, you know what, if this goes wrong, whatever I did for these many years will go to zero. And that's where you start saying to team, Hey, do this. Well, I want it tomorrow. Get it done. Kill this and kill that. You, all of that is coming from a lot of anxiety, insecurity, stress, pressure on founders. So that's the third phase.
Akshay: The stakes are a lot higher. Like in the early stages, the stakes are not so high here now the stakes are very high. So it puts more stress.
Sanchit: And the stakes are high and you vision for yourself that I am the one. Cause now you're handling machine. Now you are a praise handling machine. And way you handle by saying, I the one. And a lot of funders goof up here. Cause this is exactly opposite right from what previous thing was. So, in this phase there are a lot of mistakes that everybody does. Our mistakes was we went on treadmill of raising money and hence keeping steep target for us for the next one year. And hence focusing on scaling very hard. And hence, limiting our R&D development, aspirational products. And that's what my learning was, that the treadmills were building up for us with only one motor scale up and. We are raising every year on year. It started from a place of scaling fast.
Akshay: Okay. You had to like scale at any cost, no matter how much that cost you. Like, you had to burn money to meet those targets.
Sanchit: And that's a time when you face also like, only other competition was there. But it's a new challenge for you. You can you solve it with first principles, but now you start seeing different challenges that what if money does not come in six months?
And you have a team of thousand people. Imagine, and every company goes through these when you have limited money in the bank and you have a thousand people team on payroll and you know how give them salary in the next month is a much more scarier moment than 2012 when you had a zero bank, but nobody was dependent on you.
Akshay: Yeah. And nobody would hear about it. Now if something goes wrong, it'll be all over the news. And I mean it , it's like a high profile failure as opposed to when you fail when you're small.
Sanchit: Yeah. And it's not just your failure right now you have thousand people and their families and their bread and butter and their EMIs and their house, and on you. That's a lot of pressure. And you're dependent because of negative burn. You're dependent on investor money. Of course you can fire Right. Layoffs on. We were not shy of layoffs, but the problem was not layoff. The problem was getting on treadmill because once you get there, it's a downhill slope. And of course you come outta them. And there was a moment when the bank balance was low, we had to realign the 700 people team. It took us two and two days to understand that, we had the situation, we went numb for two days.
Akshay: Why did you get into that situation? The, you were not getting term sheets or what happened?
Sanchit: No, I think, the money that was promised did not come that sort of disappeared, the lot of confidentiality somewhere. So I can't go into more details. But the outcome was that we were sitting, the situation was we were sitting in a place where we And which year is this? 2017? Yeah. 17 or 16 somewhere there. And then, we are a team of 500 to 700 team members and we didn't know what to do then because raising more money will take us six months and we don't have money for that. That's where we realized the power of zero. So we realized the situation we were in. We went into a two days we can't do anything. Kind of like you have flight response or a freeze response. There was no fight, no flight. Flight was not an option. Fight we couldn't do. We just froze for two days. Then we came back, we changed the entire strategy. Then there we use zero base accounting approach.
Akshay: What is that?
Sanchit: 20% marketing, which was the least ROI stop that. It'll bring your traffic down by some percentage it's less than 2%. It's less than 2% cause that's the lowest 20%. So most expensive marketing goes away. You increase your commission by 20%. Again, toward 2% of travels would leave. But that's ok. Cause the net outcome of 20% is higher. You reduce 20% salary of all the leadership teams. You remove all the 20% low performers you remove, you do all of the 80 20, put one goal, every steep goal, and get seven 80 members to only work for that goal for two, three months. We could see that in a tight ship we could further increase revenue by 3x at a 50% reduced. So that's the concept of non-linearity, which was which we applied a few times to get out those situations. But now these situations are coming up. And they were man, they were like, founder of my situation or like whatever. But everything comes to founder bouquets come to founders. Big come to founders. so we were in these situations where the treadmills became much faster and there's a lot of pressure. How would you innovate in the situation? You can't the team that you go with RT team, for example. so yeah, I mean, that, that again, I antidote anecdote where, where we saw hard things.
Akshay: Okay. So is this what like made you feel that you were like did, did you get burnt out or like what happened?
Sanchit: No, I didn't. I was loving it. So imagine yourself and, was, I felt so empowered when, in 2012, when I was my bank, when I learned to live on my bank balance, I felt so empowered after this situation that, okay we can do this also. This was a new learning for us. That was not the reason at all. I was very much, I was living that journey. However, I, the reason is I got introduced to executive coaching and meditation. Long story, I learned that growth has to be inside, not outside.
Akshay: Okay. How did you get introduced to coaching and meditation?
Sanchit: Both happened on same time, but from different things. Coaching was easy. My investors from fundamental who came recently, they told me that you should talk to a coach, all of the founders who talked to a coach. And I was like, why? And my coach tried her best to tell me I don't get what you're saying, but let's try it out. And then I learned it. Basically learning about your unknown unknowns. If you have to go from here to become a jack mouse in who are your role model is, don't wait for next 30 years to get there. Learn your unknown unknowns now and start working on them with the coach. because it's an known unknown, you're not actively looking for it. If it's known, unknown, you look for it. But I was realizing that everything is a shelf life. I was seeing Yahoo going down. Every company Nokia came, and Amazon has recently said Amazon is going to die. We are just working on daily that day. And I like every, if everything is a shelf fly, what am I doing here? It was more of a quarter life crisis. And I basically said I would explore all the ways of finding answers to this, what the purpose, what's the meaning. And that's when I started exploring all the, meditation areas. So I applied in all the meditation formats. I also. Started reading through Quantum physics astrophysics, the scientific realm of the smallest thing, the biggest thing, Quantum physics. Talk about the smallest thing. astrophysics talks about the biggest thing to understand what we know about the limits of reality. I also started reading about in the, it was more of a intellectual curiosity. More or less everything was pointed to the same thing that we don't know.
Akshay: You were in a journey to discover reality. Let me put it that way. Like, because Quantum physics is another way of looking at reality. Astrophysics is another way of looking at reality. Meditation also helps you alter your perception of reality.
Sanchit: Yeah, I was saying the current thing is not what. What is permanent or whatever we are making, it's a shelf life company. Shelf life came and went away. The cultures have shelf lives dinosaur and came and went away. The whole and the species have a shelf life. Earth has a shelf for 13.5 billion years. So if everything has a shelf fly, then this is not what it's, there's something else there has to be. And that's when I was exploring these things in content. I learned about about the double state experiment where observations changes the way atom reacts to the waiver particle. And I was like, okay, human observations changes the way, the reality of a atom. How do you explain that? So basically there was something that, there's a deeper part of human consciousness, which we do, which I did not know. And if I, if you read all the Quran or Bible doesn't matter, but they all have the same implication in the end of centering of be an observer, be a witness.
And that's the most productive way to be in this world. Where you're not tied to your stress and light conditionings and every moment you want on trying to do things, and meditation actually helps you experience all of this without having to bother the intellectual part. So, and I think at some place I felt very satisfied with my answers. So my intellectual curiosity sort of came to an end, and that was a very satisfying moment for me. So that got me to leave TravelTriangle and I moved to Bay because this is where I would see Headspace come as a soft companies, soft products as a GTM. And that's my second journey.
Akshay: Okay. Fascinating. So, you had two tracks. One was the executive coaching you did and second was the transformation you experienced through meditation. What was it that you wanted to build a business around? These are like separate things.
Sanchit: So the top quick hanging, lowest hanging food come with coaching very easily. The deeper work is much better and faster than with meditation.
Akshay: So what did you want to build? What was your product idea when you came to the US? Like how did you plan to marry these two and build a product outta it?
Sanchit: For me, all of them are married, Quantum physics, Astrophysics, Ayurvedic information, meditation and coaching. They're all solving the subconscious tech in some way, telling that there's more beyond the internet. My mission was to take emotional fitness to millions of people, same subconscious stack. But for that to happen, I had to learn psychology coaching, the academic science, so I don't be as anywhere. So I spent three years learning psychology. Executive coaching got my license. I worked with Dr. Terry Sohu, professor at USF to learn the science. I coached multiple founders in bay, learned the science for three years the hard way. So now I don't be then I started with Inner Fit as a product because, coaching is available, but I paid 25,000 rupees per hour. In US with a good coach, you pay $1000 per hour, of course, and you need like multiple sessions, so it's not that easy. But all the leadership in Facebook, Google Network, Netflix, have a coach for them. Now how do you break this privilege for them? That was my motivation. For that I had to understand the science and I started building interface where. I tested eight products, started with meditation, psychology, Grammarly for emotional intelligence. No, nothing worked.
Akshay: What do you mean nothing worked? What is the indication that it didn't work? Take me through that journey now. What was product one and what did you realize?
Sanchit: I wish I could do a screen share, but anyway the first part was meditation. I realized people don't stick to it after 30 days. They're fundamentally busy. Meditation is a solution which they see as a stress reliever, not as a emotional fitness. The need for emotion intelligence is for very few people who are on the top of mass. They'll find their answers anywhere, but for the rest, they're busy with their due to life.
Akshay: So this, you're saying first vertical was like a headspace, calm kind of a, okay.
Sanchit: I would call it better headspace and every funder does, but didn't work. And the second part was psychology. So I, I studied CBD, SCT brief therapy.
Akshay: So CBD is Cognitive Behavioral Dissonance. Right. So that is about changing negative behavior and negative emotions. Okay. And what is ACT?
Sanchit: Acceptance and commitment therapy.
Akshay: And what does that do like in a nutshell?
Sanchit: It's in a nutshell, it tells that, if there's something bad going on, yes. And if you see your anxiety, it'll make you anxiety, anxious about your anxiety. So don't react. Don't react. Accept your anxiety, accept it's part of you, watch it, enjoy it and commit to what you can do in this moment.
Akshay: Okay. Yeah. It stops that feedback loop basically of anxiety current.
Sanchit: And then brief therapy is, again, different. It's like a 180, kinda a therapy later. But the point is I build the product. It worked great for people who are under the red line,
Akshay: Product in what way? Like you could check in and it would ask you, what's your emotional state and give you some tips or something like what?
Sanchit: It was a three, which will ask you questions and suggest you interventions to do.
Akshay: Okay. Like it say, breath and count 10, for example, could be one of the interventions.
Sanchit: And more sophisticated ones like in acceptance commitment therapy it would go through how a coach would talk to you in a RY format. And I ran Facebook ads to get users, targeted users on the platform to test out these things. And I would measure how long this stay within. And I would see that after 10 days, nobody use it. I mean, less than 1% would use it.
Akshay: So in this second product of psychology, why did it not like why was their drop off after 10 days?
Sanchit: Because people are looking for promotions and more immediate outcomes in their life. Unless they're another headline where they're incapisitate because of the mental health. And I don't understand those users. I did not want to touch there because that's.
Akshay: That's a medical case then.
Sanchit: Yeah. So I don't want to go there at all. I'm not in the right place to relate that segment.
Akshay: You don't wanna do medical interventions basically. Correct.
Sanchit: Correct. So that failed. Then I made a Grammarly for emotional intelligence. So you're typing an email, Hey, but can I just request you and it'll pop up. Be more assertive. Don't use these assertive words.
Akshay: That sounds really fascinating.
Sanchit: Were like it was like too much for them. And I had multiple things. I had to solve the user, I had to solve the investors, and I had to also solve the coaching world so that the my, whatever I have learned remains true. So one of these things will not fit in. And, and I had to monetize it. So whoever is paying has to be also in the line. So there were multiple stakeholders in this. So that was her product. Then I launched two minute videos every day. Didn't work.
Akshay: You were doing the videos, like you were personally recording.
Sanchit: I was recording, I was using YouTube libraries to get started first, because there's a lot of content. The problem is not that there's no content, there's so much content. The problem is how do you take learning to Knowledge exists, learner exists, but the bridge is broken. So I'm solving the problem of taking learning to learners.
Akshay: You were curating it for your audience, basically, and also deciding the journey, like which video first, which second, and so on. Yeah.
Sanchit: It failed. It failed Bad way again, after 10 days, people don't come. And now I'm in I seven fail like these after one, after another, one after another. Someone could have done faster, but I did my best for three, four years. This is a time when I learned there's so many frameworks. Everything, the framework, everything is like, if you don't do it right, you'll fail. And I was like, there are too many frameworks in the world. People have a lot of to give, but framework. But no. Like they're helpful in their own ways. But the moment you depend on frameworks everybody just fitting in a framework. VC fit a framework, everybody fits in a framework.
Akshay: Frameworks only work on LinkedIn. They help you get more views on LinkedIn. That's it.
Sanchit: Yeah, exactly. So this is going on. And on the personal side, suddenly I've come from a place of 700 people in my team talking to me saying good morning, good evening, whatever, to a place where I'm just here with my two suitcase and my wife and kid and not even talking to anybody.
Akshay: Your wife was working by then you told me she was studying in the us So she got a job here.
Sanchit: She got a job in US, and she has been a patient for the house for the last few four years. And she has given me the freedom her to do what I want to do. And I'm like doing this and I'm like, suddenly it's a big change for me. It's a big change of, from this vibrant high energy thing to a very. Doing yourself. Feeling, feeling, feeling kinda a place. I remember going to play a volleyball game here, and I don't play it well. I never played it well and I was like the team and that was the first time it dawn to me that was alpha and suddenly I can also be a good dog. So that was a, that was the fourth stage for me, a rejection handling machine, praise handling machine that insecurities of two big stakes. The four stage is when you leave, when you go through all of this as a founder, you invariably get a security complex. The biggest learning for me is how do you keep your keep your calm and keep hitting on the wall? Behavior change is hard. We all know it. Emotion intelligence is hard. We all know it. Now that's the personal journey on the professional side. Finally, our eighth iteration worked. We have 80%. It's it's helping sales teams closing more deals by negotiating better with clients, more being accountable by doing better discovery with clients, by driving critical behaviors like negotiation and others. Fundamentally, it happens by learning your limiting beliefs and not negotiating because I am our lack of self-confidence, or I feel customers will go away, our fear, anxiety, and as a result, whenever the negotiation happens, I leave money on the table or I end up committing. And I can learn to do a win-win conversation, keep my voice equally. And all of these things are happening via memes. That's the today's language of communication, which is Instagram content, which is how people are engaging. So you remove, so you make your learning so fun, inspirational, and so personalized for every person that it picks up your feedback from Zoom calls. We with Zoom, we identify what all you are doing wrong in the call and change behaviors with the memes personalized for your limiting beliefs.
Personalized for your root cause is, and that product has 80% plus attention. After 12 months every month employees are reporting. I am not procrastinating anymore, I'm doing better planning, I'm negotiating better with my clients. I learned for the first time, I can discuss a friend with my manager. I'm appreciating my team better. I'm not thinking work during sleep at dinner. I'm not thinking work. And I'm talking to my wife. I'm in there for moment, or my spouse. Every month we have thousand plus stories like these companies are seeing that they're improving their performance KPIs. The mid low performers are becoming top performers in six months. Their KPI is in Salesforce going up. That's what we have built now.
Akshay: Okay. Fascinating. So it sounds like sales is just a wedge here. Like it is essentially how to be more productive at work app.
Sanchit: Correct. Now out of our users, 40% of sales. The idea is, salespeople are the primary buyers, but after some time, companies also give it to the engineering teams and other teams, and we have similar results there. So we have worked with now seven companies. Every company, they have seen improvements they've expanded from sales to the entire company. And we have closed eight companies last month in this down market, all companies in the US. so basically after, I have the product.
Akshay: Amazing. So, I wanna dig a little deeper into the product. How do you read what somebody needs? How does that data enter the system that this is what he needs? This is like that root cause analysis you'd be doing. Like, what is the intervention I want to run, or what is the message I want to give? How does that data enter that this is what is needed?
Sanchit: We are talking on Zoom. I am interrupting you after every five minutes. My transcripts know that, and that's the feedback loop for me of what I'm not doing right? I am saying burnout and I am setting up 10:00 PM meetings day on day. And many of these use cases for these use cases, we have interviewed thousand plus sales team members understood. What are their limiting beliefs, fears, anxieties in what categories, and that's what they learned with a nudges. And for each different root call, what is the right intervention that they get? How can I listen better? Not interrupting this conversation. How can I be more patient, more mindful not have a anxiety say, I have to ask. I have to talk. And again, each of these are emotional fitness. They're all changing a subconscious act.
Akshay: Okay. Fascinating. How many times you interrupted what time you're setting the meeting are relatively easier ones, but what else do you do? Like, to make someone a better negotiator, you might need to go deeper also.
Sanchit: That's a problem. Identification what I explained to you then we have as coach, our beams come. Which help you reflect every day of what are your subconscious stack problems? How do you relate to them? You become aware of this fear as anxiety. And then we have established interventions to overcome that fear. You start doing that, practicing it every day. Then once you practice it, you see a benefit. You start pinning it down. So then after it's pinned, we remind, we make it a habit for you. And then after six months, we make sure you don't relapse and you continue to build it.
Akshay: Okay. So it's essentially coaching only except it's coaching through an app that's happening here. The data input is only Zoom calls. Like in a Zoom call there would be like a third participant who would be like transcribing that zoom conversation. And I think a lot of companies anyway use like Gong and some of these products which do this. So you are taking it through an integration with a gong kind of a product.
Sanchit: Correct. We integrate with Salesforce Gong Calendar all the CRMs, all the HRMS tools.
Akshay: What do you get from HRMS?
Sanchit: Your employee PS performance reviews. What feedback your manager gave to you right now, let's say, Akshay I got a feedback that negotiate better. Akshay like, yes, it's a good feedback. I will improve it and is my next reviews then extra goes back to his work and what happens? Nothing happens. There's no support. So we take that and help you improve that and then next performance review show that you improved it and you moved up in your performance review. So we help you your next performance review in reality.
Akshay: Fascinating. Yeah. So what typically you need a good boss to do for you that the app is able to do? Like typically a good boss would like constantly tell you that, okay, yeah, last time your negotiation skills are rated low and these are things you need to start showing me that you are doing and all that. So all of this, then through the app, you are telling people this is what you need to do, and then you also need to show the app that you're doing it through. Some kind of, you need to check in and maybe input something..
Sanchit: Yeah. But it's like just 10 seconds per day and we become a sidekick of manager doing managers sidekick job of coaching his entire team, and that frees up manager to do more.
Akshay: Oh, wow. Okay. So the manager can like also give you data on which team member is in need of what? Okay. So the manager has their own dashboard where they can Talk about their team.
Sanchit: They can, yeah, they can talk about their team. They all, can They also get tips on what to coach their team in one, two ones based on, because if I'm if Akshay got a feedback to improve negotiation, Akshay manager doesn't know how to coach actually. So we also help them, so we become a comprehensive tool for it.
Akshay: How did you fund it? Like you told me you did thousand interviews and so obviously you wouldn't have done them personally. You must have a team with you which is working or personally. And you coded it also personally or you worked with a vendor or something?
Sanchit: The initial coding was mine, now in last two years, I built a proper team. I have an amazing team who are, who is more passionate than me to solve this problem. We have, my, my partners in crime Pooja, who is the psychologist and the coach she the product team. We have a tech team member, who was my first hire TravelTriangle. He is back here. So that's the team they I rely on.
Akshay: And you're a distributed remote team, or you're all like working out of an office?
Sanchit: They're all in India. Went from India and settled in US amazing cost efficiency. I can do all the experiments for low.
Akshay: So far it's bootstrapped. You've not raised any money.
Sanchit: It's bootstrapped I raised $700K. All the Indian, good founders have invested in the company. Many more founders are part of my capital.
Akshay: These were like your friends whom you reached out to..
Sanchit: Not friends, but second level connects they all to the problem I'm solving.
Akshay: Yeah. Because founders would understand the value of getting an executive coach to discover your unknown unknowns. Okay. so what do you price in that?
I'm just wondering in the long term, what is the play here? are you looking to build it like a multi, like a Swiss Army knife where companies can also use it for performance appraisal, for example, like instead of doing performance appraisal on a different app, this becomes the performance appraisal. This becomes the employee engagement app, so like a full stack employee engagement app, which can also do rewards and so on and so forth. Or do you wanna be focused on just coaching? Okay. Just focused on coaching.
Sanchit: We are a behavioral change company. You can identify behaviors from all the OKRs, PMS, employee engagement gong chorus of the world. We just change those behaviors.
Akshay: So, I'm just wondering that, isn't there like a risk of app fatigue? Like how many SaaS subscriptions will companies take? So say sales started with Salesforce and then you have some apps which are on top of Salesforce, say Gong and now on top of Gong you have another coaching app. And I'm just wondering is this sustainable? Or would they eventually be consolidation and say like an HR tech company acquires you and it becomes like a single solution.
Sanchit: Consolidation will happen over time. I feel all of these companies will try to go in the dash and have gone. I have the data of three years of the psychology of three years. It's hard to build. now we understand data very clearly. 78% people in India don't negotiate because they think customers are higher hierarchy like parents. 42% people in US don't negotiate because they will only want to speak to a customer when they think they're hundred percent right. And otherwise they'll not negotiate and speak. so we have this data and our got are optimized for these kind of nuances.
Akshay: And your algorithms are constantly getting better based on what you're seeing in terms of the way the behavior is changing of the users.
Sanchit: So we have three year lead time there now, of course. We'll compete and we'll see where that happens, or we get, we shake hands, but that's The later thing.
Akshay: Okay. So people self-identify also that I want coaching in this area.
Sanchit: Yeah. There a lot of assessments to self-identify. Problem identification is easy. Behavior change is hard. That's what we have solved.
Akshay: So you would be like doing daily notifications to remind people to check in and so on. Let's say what? Like a dual lingo?
Sanchit: We're dual lingo for learning emotional fitness.
Akshay: What's the plan in terms of further fundraise? Do you need to do, what kind of revenue are you currently at? Are you like breaking even right now..
Sanchit: We are $120k. We have signed up seven more companies in the last few months. So we'll rapidly move up on the revenue getting to $1 million in 12 months from now. And we have raised #700 K from very, close group founders. We'll raise our next round $2 million to $4 million round soon.
Akshay: So why do you need to raise this two to $4 million to hit $1 million.
Sanchit: To hire more tech team members to $1 million hit no matter what. I want this money to, do it in a faster way by not just doing all sales by myself, but higher sales people and also invest in product tech to build lot of integrations.
Akshay: Integrations is key here because you need to get a 360 degree view of the employee. So for that, you need multiple sources of performance indicators about that person. Got it. Okay. So, do you want to raise a lot of money for this one or do you think that based on your TravelTriangle experience, you just wanna do a little bit of race, reach a place where you are comfortably growing? Without burning too much?
Sanchit: It has to be balanced. I don't want to be on treadmill again. I want to grow fast in a healthy way by which I can create a company for a decade.
Akshay: What is your advice to other founders?
Sanchit: Advice to founders? Okay, humbly I'm not the one to give advice, but they can see what phase they're in. Are they in the rejection, handling machine phase or praise handling machine or insecurity machine or post euphoria phase if they can relate to anything from my journey, they can, see, cause they all unknown unknowns. Identify it after, a year into the phase. And the more balance you are, it'll get accentuated thousand times with your team. But start with yourself. If you want to meditate, I have an open calendar. We can set up some time. And it's a 30 minute feedback loop. It's again I do withstand, I learn from a friend.
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