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Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, 4Ps B&M Chief Consulting Editor's Desk
Rajita Chaudhuri
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Deepak Ravindran, Founder, Lookup, and serial entrepreneur, has roped in the likes of Biz Stone (Co-founder, Twitter) as investors; in conversation with 4Ps B&M

How many startups have you nurtured? How did the idea of Lookup come up?

I have nurtured three start-ups till date.

(1)  Innoz (2007- 2013): The world’s largest offline search engine on SMS.

(2)  Quest (2014, Bay Area): A location based query platform

(3)  Lookup (2015-present): An app that allows consumers to chat directly with local businesses

Taking my first steps in the town of Thrissur in Kerala, I grew up where everything one needed was bought from small local shops, be it groceries, electronics, medicine, or clothes.

Most of the retail outlets are very small, and one may not have the thing one wants. This is a problem not just in small towns, but even a tech-savvy city like Bangalore. Though people may have gotten used to shopping in malls or ecommerce sites, they still run to the local drugstore for stomach flu pills or the BP medication that they run out of. I did some research on how people talk to local businesses, and found that there was no central and easy to use service that solved this problem. Most of the people were still using the traditional way of calling stores. So I thought of a solution – what if a message sent before you set out for a shop told you if the pharmacy has that pill in stock or not? Or what if you can take a picture of the doctor’s prescription with your phone and send it to a nearby shop? And communicate with them without sharing any confidential data like your phone number? That’s how I came up with the main idea of Lookup.

The idea for Lookup struck me like a light bulb when I was visiting my hometown in Kerala. I saw my mom chatting with her grocer over WhatsApp and placing an order. That was truly an eye-opener for me since I discovered people were using chat for an all-new purpose. With WhatsApp, I noticed that once people saved each other’s contact numbers, they could view the other’s frequently changing display pictures and statuses. This came with some privacy issues. I created Lookup to address those issues, ensuring consumers do not have to worry about their privacy being invaded when chatting with storekeepers they have never met before.

Is chat based commerce going to be the future of e-commerce?

Yes. Chat is eating the world. According to Chris Messina, inventor of Hashtag, 2016 will be the year of conversational commerce. Everyday people are discovering that the chat platform is not just a medium through which they can interact with people but also a platform for accomplishing various day-to-day tasks. Chat is becoming the main medium through which people are getting things done. Every new app that is being launched comes with a learning curve. This is where chat apps have an edge over other apps since they surpass this barrier owing to their simple singular user interface. And that’s why, it is the second largest medium of communication in the world.

The thought of connecting producers to consumers through chat was very appealing for they could solve the ever-existing problems of miscommunication, time lag and several other redundancies. I strongly believe that the chat platform is the way forward to answer people’s queries, albeit with a personal touch. The chat platform is creating a big revolution in the global retail market and it is evident that the chat interface is becoming an integral part of this modern conversing society.

Your new initiative Lookup has successfully managed to close funding from the likes of Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter), Narayana Murthy (Catamaran Ventures) Vinod Khosla (Khosla Impact Fund) and Oliver Samwer (Global Founders Capital). What is the most important thing a founder needs to keep in mind while approaching a VC?

Great investors back founders who have a great vision. They not only provide monetary support, but also take time in mentoring and turning ideas into reality. It is all about execution in the end and not just a great idea. Also, most of the investments happen with strong introductions. One has to constantly build their reputation and network to create an imprint on the minds of the investors.

What according to you is the key thing that investors are looking for in a startup and its founder?

Great vision, brilliant product and excellent team.

You dropped out of college in India to pursue your dreams, but it was your stint at MIT in the US that helped you catch the attention of Biz Stone. Tell us more about your initial years and the most important lessons.

Some years ago – never mind how long precisely... nothing particular interested me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.” This (modified) opening quote from Melville’s Moby Dick perfectly captured my state of mind when I ventured out as an entrepreneur to avoid the job-seeking rat race but pursue something new. I’ve always wanted to become an entrepreneur.

I was born and raised in a small town called Thrissur in Kerala. I had been fascinated by electronics from a young age but it was not until I turned 12 that I saw a computer in a science exhibition! To be able to afford one at the time was close to impossible. My father proposed a challenge – if I scored over 80% in my forthcoming exams, he would buy me one. Academia was not one of my strong suits, but this was an exciting dare and I managed to score a distinction. My fascination with computers and internet began on the Pentium III home computer and 56 kbps modem with internet access. I started creating websites for local stores, and was hungry to learn and create. That was my driving spirit. The internet opened my mind to a whole new world and I was instantly hooked. I have always enjoyed wide-open pursuits where I can create without any constraints. As a 16 year old boy in high school, I sourced and sold tech magazines and CDs to fund my pocket money, while other kids were busy saving Super Mario’s girlfriend!

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