True entrepreneurship is often the road of most resistance, and the story of Ravi Vadrevu epitomizes that perfectly.
The story of this serial entrepreneur began in India, and continues today in Silicon Valley. In his relatively young career, Vadrevu has launched multiple businesses, landed seed funding and found himself on the wrong end of an internal power struggle in a company he founded.
Ravi Vadrevu's Path to Entrepreneurship
Ravi Vadrevu studied computer science at Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University in Hyderabad, India. After completing his studies, he moved to the US in 2009 to complete his Masters in Computer Science at the University of Southern California (USC) — and to pursue a career in tech.
His entrepreneurial spirit first reared its head in 2008, while still a student in Hyderabad. Trading under the name Coign Technologies, he designed, built and sold touch interface and real-time service request hospitality solutions to restaurants.
“We were early to the market in touch and we made a lot of revenue with newly released Microsoft Ribbon UI kit,” said Vadrevu.
Vadrevu joined Myspace as a product developer intern in June 2010, then moved on to the same position at LA-based Civic Resource Group after seven months at the social network site.
In August 2011, he started a three year spell at San Francisco-based BranchOut — provider of an employee recruiting app for Facebook — as a product development engineer. There, he helped design and build several consumer-facing features. He also helped build BranchOut's enterprise messaging platform Talk.co, which was later acquired by First Media Corporation.
A Re-emerging Entrepreneurial Spirit
During his time at BranchOut, Vadrevu noticed a gap in the market. He built a tool to address the gap and told the resulting story:
“I noticed a [talent] discovery problem [among larger development firms] and wanted to fix it. So, as a side project, I built a simple tool to help recent college grads apply for jobs at startups. In 2013, I used my connections at USC and launched it to computer science students there. Over launch weekend, 300 people signed up."
Vadrevu's immigration status required he maintain full-time employee status at BranchOut in order to retain his visa, so quitting to pursue his new venture wasn't an option. Vadrevu’s only alternative was to work 9 to 5 and then hustle outside of office hours — a routine that will sound familiar to many entrepreneurs.
Before long, Vadrevu’s project gained attention on the USC campus:
“Before long, an acquaintance at USC showed interest in the project. He’d helped me with strategy and wanted to join as a co-founder. Because we had a good relationship, I gave him a 40 percent stake in the company before we pushed ourselves to raise funds. By February of 2015, we’d secured a seed investment and formally named the company Meed. I was thrilled and immediately started shifting my visa so I could quit my job at BranchOut.”
But as Vadrevu jumped one hurdle, another came into view.
Hurdles and Red Flags Pre-Launch
“In the final stages of closing the round, my co-founder said he couldn’t join Meed full time for at least six months, until stock from his job at Google had vested. I saw it as a red flag, and it put me in a tricky situation: I wanted to fire him but was worried about losing the investment. Instead, I focused on building out a great team,” said Vadrevu.
With his team in place, Meed grew from 1,500 to 80,000 users in five months. But again, the tests kept coming. His co-founder staged a coup.
“Right before the release, my co-founder leveraged his shares and sided with the stakeholders to take over the company and push me out of leadership. I pleaded with him to wait until we released the new product, but it didn’t work. By the end of July, I had quit the company I started two years earlier.”
Vadrevu’s biggest regret, he admitted, was that he “ didn’t fire my co-founder before he could fire me.”
The final twist in the tale happened a month after Vadrevu’s departure, when Meed’s new CEO laid everyone off. Three months later the company shut down.
The Birth of Kriya
Following his parting of ways with Meed, Vadrevu got to work on his next venture: Kriya Inc. — an AI-driven platform aimed at helping companies hire vetted software developers, designers, data scientists and growth hackers on a freelance basis.
Today, a year after Vadrevu conceptualized Kriya, CMSWire spoke with Ravi Vadrevu to learn more about his journey, and glean any insights for the next generation of entrepreneurs.
From Enterprise Dreams to Startup Reality
CMSWire: You were part of BranchOut for three years. What made you want to revisit the entrepreneurial route, considering your comfortable position as an employee at a large company?
Ravi Vadrevu: I am not backed by an entrepreneurial family, but despite that, my decision to become an entrepreneur wasn’t sudden. I believe it’s more personality and mindset that pushes an entrepreneur forward.
I moved to the US from India in 2009 with $800 in my pocket and a heavy loan — all for the sake of pursuing my Masters in computer science at USC. I had to hustle a lot at school for monthly expenses and tuition fees. After getting a late internship at Myspace in 2010, I got into the social networking space and quickly learned just how passionate I was about the internet itself.
However, my end goal was to work at a company like Microsoft as a software engineer to repay my education loan. I was also a Microsoft fanboy, having met ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in India during the Windows 7 launch.
A few weeks after USC commencement in 2011 ... I was offered a job at BranchOut, my first ever startup interview. It was different — that’s for sure — but I instantly fell in love with the vibe. I felt like I belonged there even though I was very adamant about ending up at a big company since startups are "risky."
I got comfortable at BranchOut and was working passionately on the social products I grew to love. I was part of a team that was helping the product attract millions of users. It was a great learning experience at different levels. As I went, I worked on side projects of my own — particularly to fix the struggles involved in finding a job after college. That’s how Meed came about in 2014, before we secured funding a year later.
CMSWire: What was the main benefit you took from your experience at Meed?
Vadrevu: Meed was definitely a big learning point for me. I am really thankful that it happened, because without Meed, I would still be as naive as I was back then.
It reminds me of my favorite quote, "If you are not ashamed at your naivety six months ago, you are not moving fast enough."
CMSWire: Did your experience with Meed dishearten you? How did you feel between calling it quits there and launching Kriya AI?
Vadrevu: It was not at all disheartening. I moved on swiftly, as I was always on a quest to find what's next in the space of recruitment. Like I said before, despite not having any entrepreneurs in the family, something about it attracted me.
During my time at Meed, it became quite clear there's a lot of room for innovation in the recruitment industry. With Meed, we used Slack very extensively. As an early stage startup, we've used plenty of hard to use freelancing sites that were time consuming, as there's no strict recruiting process for hiring online contractors.
It occurred to me that, while Slack was doing a great job of pushing team communication, why couldn’t we leverage AI to foster something just as powerful for the hiring space? That's how I formed and partnered with my current co-founder, Greg [Wisenberg], who was also my first hire at Meed.
We strongly believe the workplace will soon be totally remote, and that the current outsourcing process is not going to cut it. That's when we started testing the use case within Slack and we started making money. From there, we started building our own platform.
More people started using our service and Adam Draper from BoostVC liked us and offered to be part of its Tribe9 accelerator program. We received housing, some funding and office space. Greg and I started working together harder than ever and have come a long way.
So far, we have made $71,000 in gross revenue with 40 customers (including some big enterprises). We are fundraising now. We’re primarily raising funds to spend on marketing and a CTO (finally!).
Plus, we are launching a new subscription model along with a fully command-featured Slack bot that will complete the Kriya experience from within Slack. We’re doing this all without hiring a single technical person for full-time — thanks to Kriya itself.
CMSWire: What obstacles have you encountered with Kriya so far? Are there any patterns to entrepreneurship that you're seeing?
Vadrevu: There is no such thing as an obstacle when you are passionate about finding the right path for the problem your company set out to solve. So I wouldn't say I face obstacles — but sometimes ideas don't come fully formed.
I don't believe there are any patterns. Part of the company's success depends on mindsets of the people who are running it. There can be many solutions to a problem but the right ingredients at least at the beginning of a project — you simply have to be stubborn on the mission and try to be flexible with the details.
I consider a company as a science laboratory: with the capital you have, you need to perform multiple experiments to get the data and do analysis in order to carry out the best actions. Those are the processes that separate a company from its competition.
CMSWire: What's the best piece of advice you can give to a young entrepreneur in 2017 and beyond?
Vadrevu: That they are the most advantaged generation of all the time when it comes to entrepreneurship, and that they should start hustling during college.
In today’s fertile market, the biggest risk is not taking a risk.
Editor's Note: This is the first in an ongoing series highlighting entrepreneurship. Have an interesting story to share? Contact us.