The Asia InsurTech Podcast caught up with Harprem Doowa to talk about the growth of his new(ish) venture, Eazy Digital, and the importance of having a great tech partner.
We also spoke about generating profits while bootstrapping, understanding the necessity to stay relevant and making the (difficult) choice to stay the course even when other companies are making buyout offers.
We also discussed the powerful feeling of regret for NOT doing something.
Please read the best-efforts transcript below:
Harprem Doowa 0:00
Oh, okay, perfect.
Michael Waitze 0:01
Okay, let’s have some fun. Hi, this is Michael Waitze. And welcome back to the Asia InsurTech Podcast. I mean, we’re back with Prem, I feel like you’ve been on the panel part of this show, you’ve had an individual episode, you’ve been on the Asia Tech Podcast..there’s a part of me that just thinks you should just have “Prem’s Podcast” at some level.
Harprem Doowa 0:19
You mean just be a regular, right?
Michael Waitze 0:22
Well just just have your own regular show where like, just once a week, you just come and talk about stuff you’ve learned. Anyway, it’s great to have you back here. I really appreciate it. And I know you’re busy too. I always like starting off these types of episodes with what’s new. And the puns intended. I was thinking about this. Maybe you and I are the only one that get this joke.
Harprem Doowa 0:41
And maybe a few other listeners out there like, Sheiji or Frankie, but yeah,
Michael Waitze 0:46
exactly. Exactly. Anyway, so what is new and what’s going on?
Harprem Doowa 0:51
recently closed fundraising.
Michael Waitze 0:53
Yeah, I saw that. I saw that. So I really curious about how this works, right? We read a lot about it in the press, right? This company just raised this amount of money, but I don’t think anybody really understands what goes into it. And I want to back up a little bit before we get to that, if you don’t mind. Right. I want to talk about the fundraising at some point. But the other thing that’s super interesting to me is this idea of, look, this is not the first company you’ve started, right. And I went back and I looked like what’s new actually started in 2013. That’s like, 10 years ago, dude.
Harprem Doowa 1:26
12? Yeah. 2012. Yeah. 12. Yeah. Okay, so
Michael Waitze 1:28
now it’s a problem 10 years ago? Yeah. And I know, just for me like this, there was nothing that I knew 10 years ago. To me that’s like, relevant today. You know what I mean? Yeah. So it’s like, you just end up being a completely different person. But here’s the one thing that I really want to ask you. You’re working with Frank, you build this great platform, you obviously exit, you still continue on your work on it, you have this new idea? Is there a part of you that’s like, I don’t want to have any more ideas? Because the, you know what I mean? Because once you commit to starting it, it’s not just you, right? It’s like you and everybody else that believes and you know, it has to jump on as well and get going like, what is that? Like when you finally make this decision of? Yeah, I’m gonna do this again.
Harprem Doowa 2:14
First of all, do I ever have the question eight, you know, that statement about never having ideas? No, never. I love having ideas. And I know, I’ve joked about this all the time, as well, like I, I see ideas in places just, you know, just opportunities all the time that you know, you go to over, you go overseas on a trip to another country, you see some restaurant doing well, you see some business running well, there you like, would that work here? How would that work here? You know, what the will the market be like, and things like that. And that sort of curiosity, just you know, tickles entrepreneurs most of the time. I don’t know whether it’s just me or other people also have that. But that’s just something that is just very, very natural for me to do. And it’s just a part of my daily life now. So I don’t ever not want to see that aspect or be critical about you know, that’s that side of things. But also, I like that a lot with committing to an idea. That’s a whole different story, right, picking one out of the hundreds or 1000s of ideas that you have. That for me was a that was a difficult one. So I did write, I don’t know if you remember, but when I first left bolttech, I actually did try a couple of ideas out right. Initially, I went into cryptocurrency mining, right? That actually did well, that actually, you know, I sold almost a million dollars of rigs, equipment and mining equipment in about three months time. So that’s that’s a decent traction for, you know, a three month old company. Yeah, exactly. So I did try out different ideas and different things. But I realized that if I really want to scale, and not do it like an SME, and just build out what I’ve done before I needed to go back to my core strengths, and my expertise, where they were really, really respected. In mining, for example, I would have just been another one of our 1000 miners in the country. But in the insurance and insurer tech space, I am regarded as one of the people that helped push the industry forward. So leveraging what I’ve built over the past seven years is definitely one of the key decision makers for me.
Michael Waitze 4:09
So you said something really, really important to me. It’s like I wanted to lean on my core strengths. I know because I’m 20 years older than you that like it. We all have core weaknesses as well. Yeah, and I feel like my core weaknesses just like keep cropping up. Do you know what I mean? Like, I can’t get rid of them. No matter how hard I tried. Do you feel like as you’re building this one out, too, you’re like, I can’t believe I did that thing again. Are you like past that? Do you know what I mean? No,
Harprem Doowa 4:34
never past that. But now I just make sure that the people on board don’t have those same weaknesses that I do. So they balanced me out. Right? Like, like you’re building you know, you’re building an army, right? If your army is weak on one side, you just gotta make sure that you hire people who can help strengthen that part. Yeah. So like, I’ll give you a very good example right for me. I’m a product guy. I am a you know, I can talk to customers I can sell products, I can design them, I can think conceptually what they should do, what they shouldn’t do, how they’re going to look like how they’re going to feel how they’re going to work with the customer is going to do with it. But I can’t build those products. Yeah, I’m not a developer, I can’t code. So that’s my, for me, that’s one of my biggest things. And I’m a tech startup guy with a tech startup background like, without the technology background, let’s put it that way. I understand how it all works. I understand how it all connects, what needs to be done, and if somebody’s bullshitting me enough, but like to actually build an uncoated, I can’t so for me, one of my missions of the past couple of months was to find a strong tech partner to be able to help me do this properly. And luckily for me, I was able to get someone on board and you know him very well as well. Michael. Tell me, yeah, keep the suspense going. Okay. So you know, going back to the worst new joke as well. So John and his team are it joining me to help build up
Michael Waitze 5:53
that I had a feeling you’re gonna see, as soon as you said, you know, my knew was going to be John. At some point, I have to get John on the show. And I’ll tell you why. Everybody knows Paul, Paul’s a public facing person. Paul’s pretty good at getting out there. And like, you know, getting the vision out there and talking about stuff like that. Tom, if you’re talking about Tom is he does sales like that’s his whole job is to go out and talk to people. I remember when I met John, I didn’t know anything about these guys at all right? And I remember thinking, like, trying to have a discussion with him about my Mac and technology and stuff like that. And he just kept looking at me, like, Dude, I built like the first business out here that did 3 billion impressions a month, like, I don’t think I need your advice. The dude is just so smart. Right? I don’t know. And so good at what he does once I started having conversations, and I was like, blown away. So good for you. That’s awesome. And to be fair, the track record for that team of building great technology is superduper. Good.
Harprem Doowa 6:51
Yep. That’s it. So it really making sure that I had my weaknesses covered, because one of my key things, so if that, that definitely happened, tick the box there. Yeah,
Michael Waitze 7:01
one less thing to worry about for sure. And the other thing, I want to get back to the capital raise now to because I’m sure there are a bunch of really interesting stories here. But this is a really unique experience. And I don’t think going through it the third time, the fourth time, makes it that much easier, per se. But again, isn’t it the same thing where you sit down and you’re like, Okay, now that I’ve decided I’m committed to building this company all in, and then I want us to be a company that can scale, not just an SME, right, because you built the rig company and not that can scale to a certain point. And there’s nothing wrong with having an SME, yeah, plenty of us have lived off of this for years. But if you want to scale, it’s like a different animal. And again, you have to get back into this idea of, okay, now I have to sell this idea, not just to my team and the people that are going to work with me and some clients. But now I have to sell to people that are going to actually invest in this business, that’s also a decision to make, can you walk me through just that idea of, yeah, I’m gonna go out and raise capital again.
Harprem Doowa 7:56
Um, so there were two ways that I could have done this, the first way would just right, the way I’ve been running it since May last year, which is, be profitable, find revenues from whatever sources I could get my hands on. So we were doing a lot of consulting gigs on digital transformation for insurance companies, that was actually very profitable for us, because it relied on my skill set, and my co founder skill set, and the money was great, right? These guys are paying us like, you know, $10,000 a month, each, to get us to get our advice on what to build and what to do. For me, that was the smart way of going about it, because it gave me my it put my foot into the doors of insurance companies that I knew were going to be my clients eventually. And not only that, it put me in a position that I was almost dictating to them what they should be building, and what they should be going towards. So I leveraged those side of you know, that side of the business to actually go out and say, you know, what, actually, we are building this product. And we can actually use, you guys can actually use this product of ours. So that’s the way I went about it. And the reason they did that was purely because of cash flow.
Michael Waitze 8:56
Yeah, you get like useful feedback from these guys and gals, where they say like that product is a great idea. But actually, for us to use it, it has to look more like this. Because, again, every insurance company, particularly the smaller they are, it’s going to be wildly different, I think, from the next one. And all over them. We’re gonna need like little tweaks and nuances that are different. How do you handle that?
Harprem Doowa 9:16
The look and feel a part of it. Nobody really cares about right. It’s about the work. Yeah, yeah. It’s about the workflow management really, and about how the processes are now the here’s the thing about the insurance industry, right, as different as every insurance company says they are, they still all work the same, because they’re still doing the same thing. And let’s face it, like insurance insurance is a very incestuous industry where people are always hiring from the other company and hiring managers from one or the other. And so this cycle of working the same way and doing the same things, propagates itself it just keeps happening again and again. So when I’m building and lucky, I’m not just building from the understanding from one insurance company, I’m doing it from multiple insurance company and my oh experience running Frank and bolttech before, where I needed to know how it worked. And lucky for me, I’m the type of guy that goes into the details and actually digs down into the, you know, to the ground level to figure out what’s happening, what’s using this, who’s using it, why they’re not using it, how they’re using it, things like that. So leveraging and all that, to build a proper platform. That’s how eventually, that’s how we were able to do it. And that’s how we were able to get our first client. Yeah,
Michael Waitze 10:25
it’s really interesting, right? This idea, I told you, I work with a partner, Martin, and one of the first questions that Martin always asked other entrepreneurs is, why don’t you have any clients? And it sounds like a really aggressive mean question. I talked about this a lot. But what he’s really asking is, what is the process you actually have to go through to get that first client? Because I think once you figure that out, it’s a window into how to get the rest of your clients because they’re constantly giving you feedback? For you, it’s a little bit easier, because you’ve been kind of through this insurance thing before. And I’m curious for you as well, like, when you show up, are they like, we know you generally mean because you’ve already been in there selling other stuff to them.
Harprem Doowa 11:02
Yeah, that’s exactly right. They, they say that we know you or we’ve heard of you before, so my foot getting my foot in the door is a lot easier, they open it into let me to welcome me in so to speak, in the barrier of entry is already gone, whether I can pull this off or not. But even that doesn’t last forever, right? You know, you can only live off your legacy sold off like a let’s face it in the tech industry, whatever you’ve done, and if you disappear out of the limelight, and if you disappear out of you know that that field of expertise, you’re gone, you’re going to eat you’re obsolete very, very quickly somebody else is going to come. So I had to make sure during the whole past year, when I wasn’t working at bolting, I had to maintain that that vision, you know, that visual aspect that in their perception of what I can do what I can build. So back then I was writing articles on LinkedIn, I was you know, posting a lot more things around the insurance industry, sometimes controversial, sometimes not, you know, getting invited to podcasts. It’s just yourself getting invited to a speaking events. Whatever I could do to maintain that. I’m still hot, I’m not warming down. I’m not cooling down. I’m still an expert in the insurance industry. And I’m here to bring it I’m just waiting to pounce on my next big thing.
Michael Waitze 12:07
Yeah, it’s super interesting, right, this idea of how to stay relevant. Like I just I know people that are like, Yeah, I think I’m just gonna take December off. And I just think, I don’t know, here’s the thing. And this is a true story. Very early on in my career, I sat next to John Mack in the boardroom at Morgan Stanley, because he invited our team to just have breakfast with him, because the manager that we had was actually very close to him, I sat next to John, you know, back then I’m like 21, or 22 years old. And going back and getting an MBA at some fancy school was definitely possible for somebody that went to work at Morgan Stanley. And I remember turning to him and going, Should I go get my MBA. And he said to him, he said to me, I didn’t, and look where I am, he said, and the moment you leave, somebody comes in to replace you. And that guy or that gal is just going to be there and it’s going to be more relevant to you. You’re like getting off this fast moving train. And staying relevant is more important than like getting an MBA and I just thought, Okay, I’m never going back and doing it. But it’s the same thing you’re saying, right? Like writing all these articles and stuff like that just keeps you in the flow? No.
Harprem Doowa 13:16
Yeah, and when you’re writing it, you’re also you’re researching, you’re keeping up to date, like, a lot of the times when you’re not working in that industry anymore, you lose touch, right? You don’t read the articles about it anymore. You don’t subscribe to the, you know, the news, the what’s coming up with all the things drop away, numbers start getting dropped behind, you start forgetting and you’re not seeing where people are doing. It’s if it really does staying relevant. It’s not easy. So it’s a drop in his own, I realized how much of that I was actually doing when I was actually running a company as well, like just reading articles, meeting people in the industry, keeping up to date about what’s going on, so that I wasn’t just relevant within my company, but relevant to the people outside as well. So I realized that’s what I was doing for the past couple of months before getting the funding before starting the company was doing that being relevant without running a company.
Michael Waitze 14:02
Yeah, I mean, I realized this really early on when I moved to Thailand at the end of 2011. You know, people asked me like, where do you still work? I was like, Well, I worked at Goldman Sachs. And they were like, yeah, when was that? And I was like a few years ago, and then it just didn’t matter anymore. Like I don’t even put in my headline on my LinkedIn thing x this or X that I know some people do. I just don’t think it’s relevant. It’s like, what are you doing now? Why are you relevant to me now? And how can you stay relevant? In a way it’s scary for me? I mean, I don’t say it out loud a lot. But it’s a weird feeling. Anyway, walk me through this process of like, once you decide, okay, we have clients, we’ve reached a certain amount of traction, we’ve bootstrapped which is again, scary in and of itself, right? Because even though you do have revenue, I know the feeling you’re still watching it going, like should I invest this in that? And what’s the return gonna be? Because you know, like, you believe in this product. I’ve had the same feeling and you’re like, Okay, we’re making this revenue feels kind of steady. We’ve done this kind of stuff. Can I take like literally 3000 Or five $1,000 Out of that, and invested in this part of my team to actually accelerate that growth. And if I’m going to do that, is it now time to raise money? No.
Harprem Doowa 15:10
Yeah, no, that’s is a good way to put it. Yeah, you your your mentality about the money becomes a lot more, you become a lot more frugal, let’s just put it that way, right? Yes, yes, the money is coming in. But it’s not coming in large, you know, a bucket loads, right, it’s coming, you know, $30,000 at a time, $40,000 at a time. And while it’s there, it’s a good buffer, and you got to pay yourself as well, you got to take care of your family, your kids, you know, there’s only so many savings you can dig into. So for me, there was that aspect of it as well, like, you know, I started doing things like it the other way around, I for the investment part of it like to actually build a product, the first version of the platform of it, I actually didn’t have to fund that myself, what I actually ended up doing was actually getting the customers to fund it for me by charging them. And that’s probably the best thing that I ever did the best decision that I ever made. Look, as much as you know, I’m building a SaaS platform, essentially a platform that I can charge on a subscription basis to help insurance companies scale and digitize their agency, their customer referral and engagement program, things like that. Now, having said that, as a set platform, doesn’t mean I can’t charge customization, implementation and training fees and things like that. And that actually really, really helps save the company, because that gave me upfront large sums of money, money that I could then take and hire developers and hire people to start building is the first thing if you did, if you really want to know, the whole process was telling, I built the prototype. And the prototype was not a coded prototype, it was a figma prototype, that was working figma prototype that had all the UI UX exactly where it needed to be, you click on every button to show exactly what they have to do. I paid a UI UX guy to do that about, you know, eight to $10,000. And that was out of my own pocket. But once I had that, I had a selling tool. Because now when I went into an office, or meeting with an insurance company, I didn’t just sell them on PowerPoint presentation and say, Would you like to see the prototype, and then they would go see the prototype, click play. And we started running through all the features and stuff like that, they took that prototype and went to Fiverr. And I created a product video that I put on my website that was like a cool, upfront upbeat video that showed the platform could do it, it looked like the platform was ready. And then once the customers came on board, they’re like, Yeah, we don’t mind using this, how much are you going to charge it be like, you know, give me $40,000 upfront for customization maintain is a sort of customization development training. And we’ll take care of all these for you. And then we will customize it for you making it seem like we already had it built, and we would customize it for them and white label it for them. And then after we’ve done launching it, we would take the SAS fee. And they’d be like, yeah, sure, that’s okay, that’s actually very cheap, because these guys are so used to paying, you know, $2 million $3 million for customization and implementation of platforms like Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, core systems, like a bow, you know, etc.
Michael Waitze 17:51
And if you can get your customers to fund it, it’s more than just the money though, it’s the insight that they give you when you’re building to write, I love this idea of building this working Figmas shell, because this is your idea. This is your manifestation of your idea and you walk into Okay, now we’ll customize the view, all that customization information is priceless. No, it’s priceless.
Harprem Doowa 18:13
It’s a double edged sword, sometimes it goes so far down the rabbit hole that it doesn’t become your own platform anymore, and becomes a customized platform for that company. And that’s a very fine line that you have to train, you have to make sure you bounce those features and those requests coming from one company with another company to see whether they would like to use it or not. So we actually have a table that we use where like, Okay, do questions for this company from this company, or anyone else requesting these features? Because if they are requesting those features, it goes into the product pipeline and becomes part of the core platform. If not, then we have to actually decide do we want to do it? Do we not want to do it? So sometimes we actually use our power of persuasion and actually tell the insurance company? Why do you actually need that you don’t actually need that anymore? What do you actually need is this, that’s actually going to solve the same problem. And this we already have. So what you’ve asked for on that maybe we dropped that like that, definitely we go about it,
Michael Waitze 19:03
that I don’t even know what the term for this is the right. But it’s like the more customers you talk to the more data you can generate on what people actually need. And you’re right, you don’t want to do hyper customization, because then you’re just like building 17,000 different products for 17,000 different customers, it doesn’t work and it doesn’t scale. But you can actually go back to them and say, particularly if you’ve build trust with them, even if you don’t say it explicitly, look, we’ve we’ve spoken to 25 other people, and they’re all removing this from their workflow, because they found that it’s more efficient to do it this way. And that in and of itself is convincing, right? Because that’s what they’re paying you for as well. your expertise and your experience elsewhere. Right. In other words, if I always park in the same parking spot, but I find out that like there’s a tunnel that goes underground that I can park over here and I never have to go out in the rain to get to the mall. I’m doing that if you tell me right because that’s what I’m paying you for kind of thing. No.
Harprem Doowa 19:54
Yeah, no, that’s exactly right. And that’s what we’ve been doing and that’s been working really well for us so far.
Michael Waitze 20:00
So talk to me about the capital raise. Now you go out, you get some clients, you get a bunch of clients, right? You obviously have the prototype, but then you start customizing the prototype for people. How long from when you say we want to go out and stop bootstrapping this thing to when you finally raise money? And are there any interesting things that happened in the interim as well, where just like, you know, your shoes fell off in the middle of a meeting, or all this other kind of funny stuff that could potentially
Harprem Doowa 20:24
No, you know, I think one of the biggest mistakes that he made was talking to investors too early. So you know, back in April, May, I started putting I put on LinkedIn that I was working on, I go show, you know, stealth mode startup that I wasn’t sharing, and that piqued a lot of people’s curiosity. So they started messaging me a lot of large group investors, knowing what I’ve done before started messaging me asking me what I’m doing. And I, I made the mistake of taking those meetings, I should have held off and just said, You know what, we’re not ready at the moment yet. But as soon as we are, I’ll let you know. And we’ll start arranging meetings. And that was my biggest mistake. Because I feel like I, you know, I wasted a lot of time, number one, number two, I, I sort of burned those hot leads that were interested in what I was doing with ideas that were still not fully polished yet. So again, like, you know, we keep iterating on what we’re learning and what we’re building on over it that’s that every company should keep doing that. But when the idea is at its infancy at the raw stages, it’s still as infancy now. But you know, back in May, when we just set up the company, we just started ideation and started building the figma, prototyping and things like that. That’s a really, that is infancy. So we were changing things all the time. And each pitch with the investor would be a little bit different. And yeah, you know, I learned from it so you learn from all your mistakes. What I learned was, what interests what interested investors, what didn’t interest investors, what they will push back against what they would, you know, doubt an idea and what they were really like about the idea. So I guess it was a learning as well there, but I just wish I didn’t have to burn through all those. All those leads. So let’s say like in total, since fundraising, I spoke to about 35. Investors. Okay. So from 35 investors, I managed to close like around five investors, six investors actually total, not bad at all, like the hit rate is actually pretty decent. But the first 25 were a mix because of the how early it was. And then I started realizing that’s literally from, you know, June, July, August, September, I barely spoke to anyone, I was just doing the you want to look, let’s build this for Let’s get this one client on. Because before that was all the promise of getting a client the promise of potentially closing a partnership. By July, by September, October, we already got the first client on board, they already started paying us. And then we started polishing up the idea or more as dentists started going to investors. So by that time, I’d have to speak around, you know, 1012 investors and manage costs for them.
Michael Waitze 22:47
Do you get to choose who your investors are now? Do you know what I mean? Because at some level, you have a track record, you build some stuff, you’ve exited some stuff. And it’s not just, you know, we talked about this, too. It’s not like the stuff you built, was acquired and shut down. The thing you built right, Frank was actually built, integrated into and became an integral part of the business that bought it. They didn’t just go like, yeah, we bought the tech team, but the product is terrible. They were like, We need all of this.
Harprem Doowa 23:18
No, that’s right. The product, the product that I built that Frank now it’s being used in about 20 different countries all over Europe. Right.
Michael Waitze 23:24
So that’s the point. It wasn’t like, you know what I mean, it was like they bought it for some of it. It was like, We need this thing. Yeah. So yeah. So you’ve done all that. But now that you’ve built that reputation, is it easy or to go out? And then talk to investors? And say, like, yeah, we’ve kind of done this before, you have to maintain a little bit of humility, right? Because who knows, Lightning doesn’t always try twice. But you’ve built up this record was easier this time than it was the last time or no,
Harprem Doowa 23:51
it was easier this time. There is a funding winter going on right now. So there was a little bit of a, you know, a push and pull between the valuation and how much we could actually raise. And again, you know, a lot of people actually got like, straight up comments from investors earlier on this, like, we know you we know how polished you are, and how well you can do this. But why you really this idea, like this idea that seemed very strong to us. And for me, it was just like, you know, I believe in the idea. I think what you’re seeing right now is that it’s not strong right now. It’s not polished yet. So, you know, give me some time to polish it. And maybe I’ll get back to you later on. So I think that’s eventually what I had to start doing a lot more.
Michael Waitze 24:29
But this is one of the hardest things, right? It’s that you have this idea. And it’s never fixed, right? Like you have this big vision. And I always used to say there was this guy who sat with me on the trading desk at Deutsche Bank at one point, and I remember we had like a limited amount of time to build these sort of customized spreadsheets into the clothes. It’s hard to explain, but you probably understand this because you know, there’s a closing mechanism for every stock market. And there was this one day where we had this really complex trade on and he was building this spreadsheet and I said to him, Dude, can you see the end like human Once you’re actually building, it’s like, I have no idea. Like, you may as well just stop. Because you’re never going to be ready in time the market closed in seven minutes. Like if they give up, I mean, not really. But for you, it’s different. You have this like long term vision, but in the interim, you can’t build it in one fell swoop. So as you’re building, you’ve got to be able to explain that vision to people that are potentially going to invest it because they’re like, Well, you’re not making money doing this right now. And you’re like, Yeah, I know that. But it’s gonna be this thing. And until it gets to there, they have to conceptualize it the same way you do. And that’s hard. No,
Harprem Doowa 25:34
no, that’s hard for them to conceptualize. They have to put a lot of faith right. And it isn’t really founders. But at this early stage, for sure, yeah. I would like to see myself as a safer bet than most founders knowing I know what it is, I know how to build, you know, the right product to is, I know how to scale a company three, I know how to attract the right talent, I think that’s actually really understanding a lot of people don’t realize, yeah, you know, talent work for good founders, they don’t just work for good companies pay can be getting anywhere. In fact, if you’re working for me, I’m not paying you what you’re normally getting anywhere else, I’m paying you lesser. So you better really believe in the idea to come work for me, right. So it is definitely a founders bed earlier in this stage. It’s it was it was, it was an interesting process. But I think what really tipped it over the top was proving that, like, even at this early stage, I built a very raw version of the platform used, like I got together from my co founder, and my co founders entire essentially, it was like a family operation, to be very honest, like her brother, or her sister in law were like building the platform. But that’s because they have tech backgrounds. They build a developer, they work on Fiverr on outsource programs, I said, You know what, I’ll hire you, I’ll hire you part time all the time. Like every spare time you have you work for me, you build from eBay, you extra money and stuff. And we built it like almost a family operation. But we got the first version out. And we sold that first version to the insurance company. And they’re now paying us a monthly fee to use that platform, and they want to enhance it, and they want to keep rolling with it. And that, for me was the biggest proof. Because if I could do that, with bootstrapping, being profitable, with a really basic version of the platform that solved an actual problem for the insurance company. Imagine what I could do with your money taking and building the full scale of the platform the way I see it, right. And I went as far as like showing them sales conversations that I had with other clients. Like I have WhatsApp chats and line chats with potential customers were I reached out to them cold or like from an introduction from a friend. And literally, the demand for the product was seen in the first 3040 seconds of the conversation, right? They would be asking, like, Oh, we’re looking to build this at the moment, or is there something that you can help us with? And I’ll be like, Yeah, of course, I can help you with that. And that’s the kind of screenshot that I would share it to the investor as well, look, the demand is there, I can build it, I just need the money to build a proper team to get there. If you believe in it, you can do it. If you don’t, then I’ll just keep bootstrapping, in this way, be profitable. And I’ll slowly get the money from the clients, and I’ll still build it anyways. And then you’re gonna have to pay a higher valuation later on for it.
Michael Waitze 27:57
But it’s weird, right? Here’s the other thing, too, is that, as an experienced founder, it’s not just the reputation that you’ve built, it’s the internal confidence you have to where you do know this, you’re like, it is hard. Now, I’m going up this slope. It’s a slog. But I have a client who’s buying it, I’ve got another one who’s just about to sign up for it. We’re doing some customization work for them. We’re gathering all this data, we know it works. And we can see the epiphany in the client sighs I’ll be able to raise money, like, I’ll be able to figure this out. And you’re right. My team believes in Me too. So we’re not going to give up and it’s a great response to like potential investors have. It’s okay, if you’re not in now, because you’ll be in later. And it’ll just be more expensive for you. Your choice kind of thing, though. Yeah, pretty much. What’s the benefit for you? And I’m using you as a proxy right, as a metaphor for all founders, right? Because I don’t understand the stealth thing. I talk about it a lot. And I really wanted to ask you about it. Like, why announce you’re building something and stealth? Why not? Just Do you know what I mean?
Harprem Doowa 29:01
I think it goes back to what I was saying earlier, which is to stay relevant. I need some hype around me and around what I was doing so that I would just disappear into oblivion. If I stay quiet on LinkedIn, or white on social media, whatever I was doing for the past seven months before launching something, investors would sort of be like, where did you go where to disappear to? You know, are you still relevant anymore? That question would come up. If I started doing it from the beginning that question about whether I was still relevant. wouldn’t have been a question at all. By the way, when I put that stealth mode thing, I didn’t even have the idea down yet. Didn’t have the company name down yet. That’s literally why I put stealth mode. So it was almost like yeah, it was part like stealth mode and part like, I don’t know what I’m building but I’m building something.
Michael Waitze 29:45
But that’s fair, right? I think at some level, that’s fair. It’s like, I want to stay relevant. I don’t know what it is that I’m going to build yet. But I’m going to build something. Okay, I’m just going out like this because in a way that’s not even really stealth, right? I get it. I completely get it. Can I ask you this to? What did you learn about ownership and ownership structure from your previous incarnations? And did it change the way you raised money? And you gave out equity in this in this race? Oh, for sure. Only,
Harprem Doowa 30:12
I’m gonna make sure I own a majority of the company, at least in the early stages right now to drive the direction in the right way. But what if I at least own majority of the voting rights, right? I mean, I lost control of my previous companies very, very quickly. The first one was extremely quickly because I didn’t have any experience at all when I was running pet lofts. So, you know, I pretty much took the offer, or whatever it was handed to me, because this face as well, right, I built it over three days in a PowerPoint presentation, that’s all I had. So that ownership went away very quickly, the second one, I raised a lot of funding. And because I raised a lot of funding to grow that company, that ownership away went very quickly away. Breakeven point for the company was also very far out. So there’s a lot more burn. Now, it’s a little bit different a building in a way where the burn is not very high. Secondly, I’m able to run off the cash flows of the company, you know, potentially become the operating profit operating profitable earlier on. So essentially retaining more equity or at least selling the equity at a REIT valuation where it benefits me more than anything else. Yeah, you know, I don’t want to be in that position, again, where you have to raise money, because you need the money thing, probably one of the best advice somebody gave me was raise money when you don’t need money. Yeah, because that’s when you’re going to get the best bang for your buck.
Michael Waitze 31:21
Well, but also, when you can walk away from it. I mean, it’s just, if you don’t need the money, it’s the best time to raise because you can just say no to people, right. And this gets back to this idea of if the second time or third time you’re raising capital for different companies, you should have some amount of leverage to decide who your investors are. Because you really want to be able to work with people that support you, as opposed to people that are just trying to make money. It’s subtly different. I mean, at the end of the day, really, really different experience. Yeah, yeah, for sure. But one of the things you said before we started recording was somebody actually tried to acquire, like, what is that? Like? Before you’re like, even fully built out? And what’s the experience like for the founder, as well? Do you know what I mean?
Harprem Doowa 32:03
How do I but there’s, we, we’ve started the company, we started the ideation, we started going fundraising, you know, early on, this is like, May, June, July, August, all we can, maybe October, November, we got our first client, before the fundraising was confirmed for many of our investors, we started getting, you know, acquisition offers from the large companies who had raised a lot of funding before what they like, and it was almost like an acquire, they’re like, look, we want to hire you, the first company offered me you know, about 600 to $800,000, and saying, Look, we want to hire you. So we’re willing to buy your company and your team, so that we can get you to work for us for the next three, four years. This is what we’re willing to pay for your company, we’ll give that an equity, we’ll give you a very nice healthy salary of like, you know, 20 to $50,000, a year in Thailand. And then on top of that, you become our CEO at the country level and build up the company. And we’ll keep budget yada, yada. So mil from a risk averse perspective. And don’t forget, and by that time, I’m personally pretty broke, because some of my money into the company, and then on top of that haven’t taken a proper salary and like months and paying for my entire family, and making sure their standard of living doesn’t drop either. So I was I would say it was very tempting. It was very, very tempting. But then, you know, spoken my co founder, you know, really discussing with my dad as well with my wife, and like, you’re just talking about it, we’re like, obviously, my wife’s a little bit more risk averse. She’s like, take it just go into, you know, go go enjoy, you’ve done enough work for the past, you know, almost a year, like 910 months, is good pay for 910 months enjoy it. And I’m like, Yeah, but like if I can do this, and like, this period of time, and somebody’s offering me this, sure there’s something better coming along. And there was something better coming along. Like literally I said, when I said no to that offer, I’m like, You know what, I’m just going to keep building for it. You know, I’m going to keep going at I think there’s some steam in this the engine that I’m building. Two months later, another company approached me and this time, this was after we got a couple of term sheets already signed. And that was a little different story. So they’re like, Okay, now we’re offering you a couple of million dollar rally vision and we want to buy you out, your investors will have equity in our company at equal share the you know, equal valuation, you would get the equity in our company equal valuation. So we’ve honored that couple of million dollar valuation that you’ve got, and then on top of that, we would give you, you and your co founder, you know, a very healthy salary package, you know, confirmed, you know, over a contract for three years, and things like that. And, you know, that was very tempting again. So, eventually, you know, this time because, again, the money was a lot more, right. It’s, it’s a couple of million dollars is no longer, you know, a couple of $100,000 couple of million dollars life changing money, like you can actually really, really do a lot of things with that. And we know, again, that thing about like, you know, the first question was like, okay, when we do this, if we do this, what’s going to happen to our platform that we’re building the idea, are you just going to stock it and keep it away? Or are you just doing this to acquire us as individuals, or you know, they actually want the idea as well. They’re like, No, we don’t mind integrate the idea, but you know, it probably gonna have the back shelf for the other priority and that from you, like, you know, I spoke to my co founder like, do we want to do that? Do we want to, like, dump this idea away completely and drop it like, are we gonna regret it? Five years down the line? 10 years down the line. And we all looked at each other be like, yeah, the money they’re offering us is great. It’s, it’s life changing. I’ve never seen that with money, my bank account for a long time.
Michael Waitze 35:27
But isn’t this the Evan Spiegel problem? Right? When he was building Snapchat, this is a long time ago. I think it was Microsoft or somebody or Google. I can’t remember who was offered him like, I think it was a billion dollars. Which is a lot of money.
Harprem Doowa 35:43
That’s a lot of money. That he said, No, I’m just saying, and I’m putting it, I just, I’m putting it out there. If somebody is offering me a billion dollars, I’m taking it.
Michael Waitze 35:51
Even if you see that you say that, right? But here’s the thing. He said No, he’s now worth $2.8 billion. At some point, he was probably worth way more than that. But it’s more than just the money, right? Because the key question you asked your co founder, and probably your dad and your wife as well wasn’t just what will the money do? For us? The idea was what happens to the vision of the thing we’re trying to build? Right? Because that’s the thing you focus on. Yeah, you can say like the 2 million bucks or 3 million bucks or whatever will be life changing. It will be. But being able to build out that vision, I think is a bigger life changing thing. Because once you do that, and accomplish that the money at some point becomes secondary meaningless is the wrong word, right? Because it turns from 3 million into 30. But at some level, your life doesn’t change that much with that difference in money. But being able to play out that vision and work with the team and do all those things. That’s the real fun part, I think, right? Because looking to buy a Ferrari, I really want but once you have it, you have it, it doesn’t matter. But building out that vision is the most important thing. Tell me I’m wrong?
Harprem Doowa 36:57
No. So that’s No, it’s you’re not wrong at all. That was a key if that was a key deciding factor for us that that answer that begin to shelve the product, and not build it in for us, like, you know, we don’t want to record a show. We want to build it, there’s been no, there’s a need for it in the market. And we’re willing to bet on it. And guess what, if investors willing to give us money for it, and clients willing to pay us for it, our bet is not wrong. It’s not far off, it’s likely to be the right bet. So why take cash out so early on, and take the Safer Choice when, when we have enough runway to go around for two years now we have clients who are paying us and three, we can actually build out this product. So we will never ever regret it in the future or have that thought and I I hate that feeling that feeling of like, Oh, what if we’re, and I have that feeling for a couple of things in my life, and I don’t ever want to have it again. One of them was when I was in Hawaii, I climbed up the I saw these local kids climb up the top of a waterfall and jumped down and it was high, it was like almost like 15 meters high. And I you know me and my sister climbed up all the way to the top. And when we reach the top, we were looking down, we chickened out. Once we reach the top, you know, it looks like locals are just jumping off do it again and again. But for us we looked at you’re like, Oh, that looks deadly. But till today, till today, not taking the jump, I still think about it. And I realized how powerful that feeling of regret can actually be of not doing something.
Michael Waitze 38:17
This is the metaphor that I use all the time is when I speak about it. And when I think about it, I went to Hawaii when I was 23 years old, same thing. And I was with a bunch of crazy people. And they were jumping off this cliff. And you’re right, it could have been 10 meters or 15 meters high, it felt like 100 meters high. And I remember standing there and just going I’m not jumping off this thing. I’m just not doing it. And then I’m like, You know what? I’m doing it. Because I think that that’s the same feeling that you have this gets back to the beginning of the conversation of you have this idea. At some point, you just have to go do it. Right. And that’s where the thrill in the fun is. It’s not in the payoff, like when you hit the water short, and you’re still alive. That’s great. But it’s that feeling you get when you jump, at least for me where you’re like, Okay, I did it. And I know I’m not going to die. And actually the payoff. Is that thrill for me. I don’t know what it is. Yeah.
Harprem Doowa 39:15
No, is that that, that leaves a little there’s a point of no return rate to jump right when you’re running to the edge and you know, you cannot stop anymore. After that point. You stop you just gonna kill yourself. It’s more or less correct, that last step that you just take the head, the last rock and you would last foot leaves and your other foot in the air, you’re going up a little bit before you start falling down that that leap and that that that jump. That’s the feeling of you actually driving for not the fall itself, not the hitting the water itself that that thrill that you conquered something within yourself to take that leap. And that for me was a big regret. And I know that feeling of regret. I don’t want to repeat that feeling anywhere again. So when the first offer came, they were definitely going to shelve the product they didn’t care about at all. That’s why they didn’t give us a high amount valuation but for a personal perspective, they’re willing to pay me and my co founder almost, you know, half a million dollars to $800,000 to get us to work for them. That’s still a decent payday. The second one decent valuation for the company decent valuation for the investors that actually sign on to the to us as well. But still showing the product would have made me regret it. And I Yeah, so here I am. I don’t know, you know, only Hindsight is 2020. Right? They’ll always tell me, but I know I won’t regret not taking it, I would have regretted taking it more.
Michael Waitze 40:33
So let’s end here. I want to say congratulations to you on the capital raise. And I want to of course, catch up with you again in six months, and just find out the no regret and what it led to Prem. I really appreciate you spending time doing this today. I know you’re super busy. Just want to say thanks.
Harprem Doowa 40:52
Thank you. Thank you for having me on again. It’s always a pleasure.
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