Indian Startups 2.0: Voiro

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What are the most interesting tech jobs out there?

The question that led us to start Geektrust for developers who want to get out of the same old jobs and do something challenging. Just about the time the Indian startup industry was getting to a point of maturity – stronger products, diverse and niche domains, deeper tech.

Over 4+ years, we met over 300 companies to bring them on the Geektrust platform. “How interesting is the work? Would we work there ourselves?” These are the two main questions we asked ourselves to filter down to the 150+ companies we have today. Along the way, we saw that the companies doing the best work, have been operating in stealth mode. We didn’t know half of them half as well as we should like, and we knew less than half of them half as well as they deserve.

Meeting the companies and applying our filters was a good start. Over time, we got to regularly interact with the companies we brought on to the platform and have come to know and respect some of them better. In the Startups 2.0 series, we’ll talk about companies that are mature, focused and ready to take on the world, so that you can know about them too.

Voiro is one such company.

Have you heard of Voiro?

Our bet is you haven’t. Wait till you read all about this 20-people company, founded in 2014, and is already the gold standard adtech product in South East Asia.

When you hear ad tech, it’s quite boring. Even a bit unsavoury because ads. On the internet. In the middle of your browsing. Or watching your favourite sport. Take a bunch of ads, schedule them and they get displayed, client gets billed. Probably not the most interesting domain at first glance.

Not for Kavita and Anand who found it a problem well worth solving. Kavita had worked at Youtube for 6 years and saw that people who are creating content are struggling to understand the data. Companies were unable to get the data they were generating, work in their favour. She was determined to change this. Together with her friend Anand, who related with the problems in ad tech, and was already in a startup frame of mind, founded Voiro.

They say when you follow your passion, things tend to work out well. Voiro got hired by Star ahead of the launch of Hotstar.

Through much of their 5 years, they’ve been bootstrapped. Earlier this year, they raised capital to take the company they’ve built to the bigger global arena.

Why did Voiro choose the bootstrapped route?

“Deliberately. We consider the quality of engineering we do and the solutions we build most important. A great product idea in a dynamic industry needs ingenuity and long term vision in the engineering division. So we expanded our team very carefully and slowly, and we wanted the freedom to do that”, says Anand.

How did this work out for Voiro?

Anand: “Expanding our team at the pace at which we were growing was tough. We had taken a decision right at the start that if we are a product-first company, we will not outsource any of our engineering. We had to find the balance between the pace of development that will help us maintain our edge in the market, without compromising on who we hired. Pretty hard, but we stuck to our decision. Today, we own every inch of our code. That’s critical in this dynamically evolving space.”

The earliest version of Voiro was built by Anand on Excel. It worked okay, but it soon got out of hand and he called his friend Anil for some tech advice. Anil, who had already quit Yahoo! to do something on this own, found the challenge rather interesting and jumped right in. The 4th person on the early team, Jithin, left Oracle and came on board because he loved this trio – the kind of people he would love to build a company with. 3 quarters and 2 more team members later, they released a product that could handle the market dynamism and realities.

After that, they found each and every person who would build Voiro to what it is today, one by one.

This doesn’t seem to have impeded their journey in any significant way. Some of their clients are Hotstar, Viacom18, BookMyShow, Zee and OLX. Making money through ads is not easy for even the biggest media companies since the lion’s share of ad spends go to the internet giants who have state-of-the-art tools to rake in the ad budgets and show results for it.

Voiro believes that media companies should have access to the same powerful technology as Google and Facebook, to be as or more effective. What they have achieved so far proves that ‘slow, steady and whole-hearted’ is a winning approach to building great tech. 40% of India’s Digital OTT players run with Voiro today. (OTT stands for ‘Over the top’ media service, i.e. streaming media services offered directly to viewers over the Internet bypassing cable, broadcast and satellite TV.)

Anand: “Finding good engineers who have an interest in the kind of work we do has been a challenge. We invest a considerable amount of time and effort in finding people. But out of 50 or 70 candidates shortlisted from job sites, we’ve struggled to find even 1. One reason is that their grasp and interest in engineering are too low.”

Geektrust has been of some help here. Out of their tech team of 10 people, 3 joined via Geektrust.

Voiro has seen the difference with a code-first approach to hiring. The Head of Technology, Anil says, “The challenges test logic and fundamentals. It’s not a simple test. The fact that people are willing to solve it and put their code up front, speaks volumes about them.” And at Voiro’s end, when they see the right people, they move fast, which tells us they are serious about hiring.

“We have seen that working with people who are excited to be here and can relate to the product pays off.”

What’s interesting about the work at Voiro

Consider Hotstar on the day of an IPL match. We’re talking terrabytes of data in seconds, which, if not analysed and ads delivered like clockwork, leads to huge opportunity and revenue loss for media companies. In live sports, this is amplified because it’s highly unpredictable. The live online broadcast of every single IPL since 2014, has been run and analysed through the Voiro platform.

Similarly, Voiro started working with most of their clients from Day 1. In ad tech, Voiro was early to the game. They scaled along with the market. Their customers enjoy the fact that they’ve ridden the wave of OTT since the advent of OTT in India. 

Kavita: “Essentially, we helped companies track innovative methods of monetization. By working closely with the industry, we quickly learnt what to expect and how to be prepared. We kept track of every single revenue decision and converted it into intelligence, which has helped us build a product that has value.”

Their growing client roster, global expansion and recent infusion of capital indicate big things to come from them. Voiro will pass a major milestone this year when they showcase a product at IBC 2019 in Amsterdam. “It’s been our dream ever since we started and it took us 5 years to actually get there.”

What now? 

In the international market, they are now in MEA and S. Africa. Kavita believes Voiro can be among the top 3 in the world. “We have a long way to go to get to our vision both on the product and the business sides, and that’s the challenge we’re tackling now.”

Perhaps they got an unfair advantage, as India is the best market they could have started off in, as Kavita says.

“Starting in India was excellent. The market was emerging.  Everyone was exploring to find the next billion customers. Jio broke the barriers of data consumption. It’s the most happening market with huge supply and huge demand explosion. The kind of innovation and madness that happens here is different from, even unfathomable for, the rest of the world. The scale that India has seen, these markets will never see.”

Move over, Silicon Valley.

Working with clients. Evolving with the industry. How does this happen at Voiro?

Engineers at Voiro go to client offices, see their operations, see the product live at work, experience problems real-time, have interesting conversations with the client and come back with a deeper understanding.

Anil: “We keep our ears very tuned to what our users are saying and feeling too. We make sure we listen to everything before we make assumptions or jump into solutions.”

Kavita: “Having a client like Hotstar gave us a look 5 years into the future, right at the start. This was a huge advantage.” And Voiro took the excellent partnership opportunities they got to build a world-class product.

The art of listening: the USP of Voiro?

Everyone we’ve met and talked to at Voiro had something to say about “listening”. Nobody actually said it’s “one of our core values” or anything. This company listens with fervour. They listen to each other. They listen to clients. They listen to the market.

It also translates into what freedoms and powers people have. Anil says, “We have a very free and agile engineering policy. No restrictions and people are not bound to work on just one aspect of the product all the time.”

An example of this would be?

Jithin: “When we started, big data was nowhere in the picture. Quite soon, the amount of data was growing. We needed to figure out how to leverage this best. Last year, two of our software engineers Dhruv and Anamika said they want to build the solution. They took the initiative, went to AWS office, met them, did more research on their own and built a system to manage the data better for the future.”

Dhruv talks more about this in his Dev Story.

Ankit, Sr. Software Engineer and the first person to join the Voiro team talks more about this. When he met the leadership team, he hadn’t heard of Voiro but what convinced him to join was the people. From a team of 5 to 20, he has been here throughout.

“I can talk to anyone and be heard without a doubt. I get that pride of ownership when I spot a product improvement, suggest it and make it happen. Every single person has contributed significantly and the fact that we are heard makes us responsible owners of the product we are building together.”

Ravi, who wanted to shift to product management from his engineering and business analysis career, joined Voiro as a consultant. After spending time understanding the domain, he came up with his own feature. “Voiro liked my work and I’m now working as the product manager here. I feel like my entire career I have been grooming for this role. This kind of exposure is very difficult to get in ITES.”

It’s not free air time. I get the freedom to research and present perspectives, we get the liberty to make suggestions. And we can be sure it’ll be considered”, says Abhishek, the newest joinee in the tech team,

It’s difficult for companies to allow newbies to view all parts of the code base. Voiro has a huge code base, but Abhishek has already touched all parts of it.

The culture of mentoring and learning is integrated into Voiro in different ways.

Dhruv: “I found out that I need to let new people learn by assigning tasks to them rather than doing everything myself. I might think, hey I can do it in 2 hours while this person is going to take 2 days. The temptation to do it myself will always be there but that way neither others nor I will learn or grow.”

It is not very far-sighted to hire just for what someone brings to the table today. Potential is a big factor. Most people need just a little bit of help to reach where they can go.

What attracted Abhishek to Voiro was the mentoring-like experience he got during the job interview!

“I met Ankit and Anil for my interview. I got a problem to solve. What impressed me was that the way we discussed the problem during the interview, Anil led me to the solution.”

He got a glimpse of the kind of company Voiro is, in the interview. He saw that though he may not know the solution today, he will get the right guidance along the path. 

How does the startup experience help people who work there?

People look to work at startups for the exposure, the impact of work and the exciting challenges on offer. The work and culture at Voiro achieve a lot of this in the natural course of things. 

Ankit: “I wanted to work at a startup so I moved to Bangalore to get a world-class exposure. I didn’t want to be a mute spectator in the company and product I was working on. I wanted to get the kind of work where my opinion is important.”

“Voiro groomed me as an Engineer and showed me more than engineering. I got each and every kind of exposure here. Even how to start a company and how to lead it to success – I learnt a lot by being a part of it here. I saw the complications of running a business (which I previously thought was pretty easy).”

Anamika, one of the developers who joined Voiro even before she graduated college, says in her Dev Story interview:

“At a startup you see what’s happening around you and you are all working towards the same goal. Right now I am doing something where I am shaping the product. That’s a big role and I am a part of the big picture.”

In Voiro’s experience, the people who joined them came in, and got surprised at the magnitude of what they are building.

Kavita: “The impact we can create in our business or career is proportionate to our appetite for risk. When we started Voiro, we had the opportunity to invest in our culture. Having come from companies like Yahoo! and Google, we knew how important it is. The kind of ownership we see and happiness we see is the result of us trying to build not a company, but a happy place to do amazing things together.”

The result of this is the ownership and belonging people feel at Voiro.

As Ravi puts it:

“We are driving ourselves. Nobody is driving us”.

Imagine that. A happy place where people enjoy working towards a vision, made possible by the simple act of listening.

To know more about Voiro or apply for jobs, visit the Voiro page on Geektrust.

Related/useful links:
Know Your Market Worth
Find Your Startup
One code to rule them all




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