Friday, February 27, 2009
Interview with Dipanshu Sharma, Kadonk
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
This morning's interview is with San Diego-based Kadonk (www.kadonk.com), a startup which is creating project management tools that work with Microsoft Project. We spoke with Dipanshu Sharma, Chairman of the firm, to learn more about the company and its products. Sharma is also one of the founders of V-Enable.
Thanks for sitting down with us. For our readers who aren't familiar with Kadonk, what's the story behind the site?Dipanshu Sharma: The founders of Kadonk worked at Nokia together many, many years ago--over eight years ago. We were contemplating one of the problems we had all faced, which was when we designed a project, the issue was that it usually never got done on time. Another issue, was that once the product was designed, we would take our project plan, print it out, and put it on the wall, but inevitably when we were designing a new handset or a new feature for a mobile handset, someone would get sick, new tasks were added, and all that wouldn't get added to the plan. It got to the point where you had to have a full time, dedicated manager to update things or you'd miss changes. The later in the project, the worse it got. That's the case with every other company we know of and who we have talked to. The key here is to provide visibility to everyone along the process--not just at the start, when you put it on the wall, or email the project plan to everyone. What we want to do is solve that problem, and build the first, live project and product collaboration tool. We didn't wanted to create new project management software--everyone uses Microsoft Project--but we wanted to make it more collaborative. Most companies use Microsoft Project, and although there are a bunch of other projects, Microsoft has the most market share. So, our software takes a Microsoft .mpp file, and allows a whole team to manipulate it. If you've got a team of thirty, two people are going on leave, you can just go into the project and mark that they're leaving for two days, and it automatically adjusts the tasks and dependencies across the project, giving you a more realistic view of the timing of tasks. Often times, in the world of cell phones and high tech software, you don't know the challenges throughout the process of creating a product. When you have to do something new or different, it might take longer or you might have to add tasks. We wanted to allow team members to be able to add new tasks and have it reflected across the project. So we built this product, and we believe we're the first ones to have it in the market.
Explain a bit about how you ended up focusing offering a free project viewer?
Dipanshu Sharma: What happened is we found that it was, and is, a great product, but it was not selling to our expectations. There was a disconnect between the product and the sales process. We found that software wasn't being bought by the team members and product leaders who needed it, but was being bought by CIOs in large corporations. There was a disconnect between those who were downloading and trying the software, versus those with the authority to buy the software. So, we decided we needed to do something to get to the right people who need the product. Every company that did try it or buy it gave rave reviews, and said that this was what they wanted. We surveyed those who downloaded the software, and in that survey, we found out a lot of those guys wanted to view projects, and don't want to add or change tasks. A good comparison of the software is to a PDF reader. Everyone wants to read a PDF, but few want to write or change them. There are a few companies who do that for project files, but they charge $49 a license. We decided to be disruptive, and get our name out there for our other products, so lsat year, we dummied down the software, created our LiveProject Viewer, and gave it away for free. You can just download and use it. Our downloads went from a few hundred to thousands more--more than 200,000 downloads in the first few months. The awareness of the company took off.
How big is your company, in terms of people?
Dipanshu Sharpa: My third company raised a ton of money from venture funds--$26M--and I what I didn't want to do is to raise a lot of money and have lots of people. They're essentially baggage in tough times. So, we've kept it as 3, 3 and a half people, and will not be building out huge resources behind the company. The way to success in today's marketplace comes from bootstrapping your startup, and keeping your costs to an absolute minimum, and to take the time to build out a product which is clearly differentiated in features and price while the market catches up. In December, we broke even, and we're already profitable. What that has allowed us to do, is to have flexibility to do the things we want to do. Imagine trying to raise money from angels in this environment--not that I haven't tried--but it's all my own money and my other co-founders. Angels have lost lots of net worth because of the stock market meltdown, so we've kept it small, and plan to keep it small--at most three to five people at the most by the end of the year. Our growth will come from profits, not raising money.
How has it been going from Nokia to startups, and how have you found going to startups from a corporate environment?
Dipanshu Sharma: All three of us wanted to be entrepreneurial, to have our own gig. One of the big things for us, was to see the ideas that we were giving Nokia and see if they could work. Anders and I own a multitude of patents at Nokia--I have 11 at Nokia--and we were inventing technology all the time. We wanted to create technology and inventions that could be commercialized, and where people were using it. We wanted to get something into the marketplace.
Any lessons you've learned in the process?
Dipanshu Sharma: Decision making is key. In a startup, you make decisions right away. You're not waiting for a meeting back in Finland or Denmark to tell us what may or may not be the path to take. It's good and bad. Startups have their own negatives--working 16 to 18 hours a day, your finances are affected, and you're not getting as much salary as you would in a larger company. But, I think you eventually leapfrog whatever you were doing at a large company in terms of knowledge. In a startup, you know more, you're in control, and you make better decisions in the long term.
So what's your big goal for the coming year?
Dipanshu Sharma: This year, we plan to sign up a number of resellers who will resell our product. We'll also launch another version of our viewer, and continue to grow our market and grow the company, and get to the level where we can add a few guys and improve the product even further. Given it's a recession, things have been going great. For the last few month's we've been seeing growth of 30 to 40 percent month over month.