My day at Chaaipani was kind of slow. I was really looking for something that can get my productivity going and a chat with Zal is what all the hopes lie on. He is precise about the time. The call begins right when I expected it to and we start chatting. So here is a story of a Person of Indian Origin who made a life choice on a drunk call and never looked back.
Zal is in Singapore as I write this and is doing everything that he can to make a his company Lucep the next big thing in B2B sales.
“Lucep is all about accelerating the sales relationship building process in a B2B environment. Our clients can place us on their website to gather the inquiries that they get and we redirect these inquiries to their sales executives all at once. The person who grabs the notifications first, gets the details of the client”
There is a hint of gamification in the process of grabbing a sales lead through Lucep which tells us a lot about the idea behind making the product. It isn’t a CRM, neither is it a product that you use for a one time sales call. It’s one that helps you build a relationship with customers, because relationships in B2B sales and services often last much longer than other consumer products. Since its launch in January this year, they have gathered over 200 clients which is remarkable for a product that Zal still considers to be a relatively raw stage in terms of what they have planned for the years to come.
But the journey wasn’t so smooth uptil now. Zal tells me how he was born in Manila, Philippines and then hoped several cities including Singapore, London (Canada), moved to Europe and then finally to India, only to move back to Singapore to work after Lucep’s market development there.
“Do you think that helps? The multi-city exposure”
I ask only to realise that there was no way the answer could’ve been a no. Rhetorical questions are my speciality (and a weakness) but I have seen that they often help me explore sides of people that are otherwise invisible.
“Kaiesh is our CEO”, he tells me, elaborating about the team that they work with.
“He handles the tech end of the product and I look after the business end”
This might seem counter-intuitive to some since most companies hire CEOs based on their marketing abilities. And when I ask him this, he candidly replies,
“See that’s what sets this team apart. We don’t carry our personal prejudices or preconceptions when we sit down on a table to make a decision. I know Kaiesh since we were 10 and the bond that we share is beyond that of colleagues in an organisation. We mutually felt that it was right for him to be the CEO right now and hence he is”
This also tells me how a product centric attitude is embedded in Lucep’s DNA. Most companies worry too much about getting to the right customers and along the way, completely ignore the fact that at the end of the day, the only thing that gets customers, is a great product. Business is a trade of value, the more valuable your offering, the more prosperous you’ll grow.
People often ask Shruti, the founder of Chaaipani, what her content strategy is. In a media crowded social space, it’s never easy to get the kind of support you have given us and the answer is always the same.
“The only content strategy we ever had, was to make good content. Give people something that they adore instead of something that we can make money out of. We have always focused in trying super hard at creating great stories. Our absolute success or failure at doing that remains subject to the context you ask that question in, but overall it has always been rewarding. And the only reason it was so, was because people love originality more than they love anything else”
Zal’s story ricochets from walls of validation to echo this one thought. If you have something great to give, you’ll always find the right buyers.
Getting back to our conversation. Throughout the interview, Zal mentions Kaiesh several times, directly and indirectly in some way or the other. It was like having both of them in one room with one doing all the talking. It was a Penn and Teller show for me all over again with the same level of excitement. I say Penn and Teller because the kind of grip over concept that Zal possesses is remarkable. He knows what he wants, he know what he is gunning for and more importantly, the world has moulded him to understand exactly what he does NOT want.
Talking to him can be intimidating if you aren’t used to a lot of information all at once, so I ask him to help me out a bit with the chronology.
“It all started one evening when I was out with some friends, drinking, and Kaiesh called. He told me that he wanted to start off and that he wanted me to move to Bangalore and join him. He gave me 1 hour to respond. I made the call an hour later, and here I am”, he replies, chuckling softly into the phone.
This is the time I wish I could’ve seen the expressions on his face but since I couldn’t I just asked, “So a drunk phone call changed your life?”. I guess he said yes, the voice broke a bit, I assume he did, at least for the sake of that click bait you tapped on.
They handled several enterprise clients when they started off a tech company to make calling queue management softwares but in the process they realised it’s unseen potential for SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises).
“That is when the idea was born and we took it up right away. But then we were turned down by 3 major investors” Zal continues as he elaborates about some of the lows they faced,
“Those were some tough times, but I guess everyone has them. We felt that if these guys won’t fund us, no one would, which kinda made us lose confidence in what we were up to.”
“It took us a while before we bounced back and decided to do it anyways. Jump cut to a couple of years later when we finally had the product ready in our hands. We realised that we were just way ahead of our time back then. It was the time when Flipkart was barely making its mark and Snapdeal was still in an embryonic stage. People were still not used to buying things online. But now they are, and even more so when they do it through an app. And I have a strong feeling that this is going to be the natural state of things for the B2B industry soon”
Meandering through his ecstatic rendition of what sales acceleration really means to them and what they are gunning for, I realise how romantic entrepreneurship really is. It does not seek for what is right or what is wrong, it does not function on the principles of form following function. There is logic, but not that of a rational man, it is the logic of a man in love. Sometimes caustic, sometimes brave, sometimes trying too hard, but always, beautiful to look at.
Another remarkable aspect of Lucep is that it is completely bootstrapped. The earlier enterprise clients that they had have licensed their earlier technology whose regular fees help keep the wheels rolling back home.
In the process of making a company really good at what it does, they sure did run into a lot of problems and Zal mentions having the right kind of people on board was one of the greatest problems.
“There are a lot of people who come on board with a great experience but they just instantaneously make the whole environment toxic. That is something we just can’t deal with. Aptitude hasn’t really been our problem, having the right kind of attitude was the major challenge that we faced. If someone is good, we both believe we need to reward them but the attitude is not right, it all goes down the drain”
I asked him what he thinks is the problem that a lot of businesses face when it comes to having good people on board, and he said,
“People often have a lot of problems admitting that they are wrong. They would rather watch the whole thing go down, than just give in to someone who has a better idea. That’s something that never happens between us because of the trust we have on each other. A trust that he will always do right by me and a responsibility that I will always do right by him”
My day at Chaaipani just got better. I wrote this down as soon as I could. One very important thing that I learnt from Zal’s story was that if you really feel you have hit it right where you should, don’t let go. There will always be people who tell you that it won’t work, or people who put you down for what you have, some times for benevolent reasons, other times for selfish ones, but if you remain true to your own goal, if you decide to stick to it, hustle when you have to, pivot if you must, your originality and your ingenuity will always be rewarded.
I hope this story helped you pour a little bit of happiness into your day. If you know some people we should cover, or you think you can help us make our stories better, make sure you leave your opinions down below in the comments. We would love to hear from you.