Log Into The Life Of CultureAlley’s Pranshu Patni, This World Tech Day
- IWB Post
- January 11, 2017
On World Technology Day, IWB decided to explore the world of Pink City’s tech junkies at CultureAlley.
Okay, so I have to admit that I was going to their office with some preconceived notions, and I was surprised.
Whitewashed walls that would have been gone pale and small cubicles occupied by people who have their eyes fixed on their computers.
A big glass-room with soothing green fluorescent walls (matching green bean bags and yellow high stools at the reception area) and a terrace full of plants, facing the Birla Mandir Temple. And, Oh! The Culture Alley Signage.
Cool, isn’t it?
After we had taken in the feel of the place, we sat down to chat with Pranshu Patni, the co-founder of CultureAlley.
Know how the idea of CultureAlley came into being?
“While we were dating, Nishant, my husband, and the other founder had to go to China. Not knowing Mandarin, and being a vegetarian, made it very difficult for him to explain to the locals that what food he wanted and what he didn’t. That’s where the idea was born. So, in 2012, we started with an app for Foreign languages like Mandarin, Spanish, etc. The whole idea was to engage the adult learner as it’s not possible for adults to take up lessons and classes. We wanted to provide them something on the go. Having a teacher and getting lessons for a language may be effective but it isn’t scalable. And, we tapped on to this opportunity where people could learn and have access to different languages on their mobiles.”
It’s well-known that CultureAlley’s product ‘Hello English’ is the No. 1 English learning and speaking app on the India Google Play store in the educational category.
“When we got into the business, we came across a very harsh reality. Millions and billions of people in countries like India, China, Bangladesh, Latin America, etc. feel disadvantaged due to not understanding or knowing English. English is the one language that, people think, impacts their livelihood. This was our next step. We conceptualized ‘Hello English’ and initially conducted a test run on 1500 students. We researched our markets well, and only after getting cent percent sure, we launched ‘Hello English’ as an Android App in October 2014. Launching it as an Android app was driven by the fact that, nowadays, everyone carries a smartphone. After 20 days of launch, it became the No 1. App on Google Play Store and has been topping the charts since then, in the educational category.”
As a couple, Pranshu and Nishant’s success story is the result of their focus and conviction to take up real life problems of the people so they could offer the best solutions.
“We were both tech-enthusiasts and had jobs. After working in Sun Microsystems, I worked at Pitney Bowes for three years, before quitting the job, and planning for CultureAlley. Even when he was pursuing his studies in U.S., we used to say to each other, ‘Kuch toh accha karna hai.’ We both had that entrepreneurial itch to make a mark by taking up real problems and coming up with optimum solutions. We wanted to do something meaningful and scalable.”
In 2015, CultureAlley raised a whooping 6.5 million from Tiger Global Management. Their investor list also includes Sasha Mirchandani of Kae Capital, Rajan Anandan, and other venture capitalists.
Me: Do you think it’s difficult to find investors for the women startups?
Pranshu: I don’t think any mature investor would overlook the startup only because it’s a woman. We also used to pitch to the investors, together. Not once in my life, did I encounter any sort of sexism. Of course, they’ll grill you to ensure that you are hundred percent into the business, but that is regardless of the gender. Having confidence in self and a strong business plan is the key.
However, if any woman feels that an investor doubts the startup idea just because of the reason that it’s a female, then I would say she should not raise funds from that investor, in the first place. I would advise her to wait and look for other investors.
Me: Have you ever faced any gender-bias in the industry?
Pranshu: The one and the only time I was questioned for being a woman was, unfortunately, by a woman. She said, “Just because you are Nishant’s wife, don’t even think you’ll be considered a co-founder of CultureAlley.” We both were shocked. I believe the least we, the women can do, is to support other women.
Pranshu: Now, you’ll see more and more women in the IT field. So, the perception and mindset are are changing. I have been raised in a very forward-looking environment in Udaipur. My mother is a homemaker, but, she never restricted me to any one field. She always pushed me to take part in extra-curricular activities and enrolled me in all possible hobby classes, so I could explore my interest and choose what I wanted to do.
So, I believe, that the conditioning has to start at the very small age where girls should be told and encouraged to take up any profession or any career of their choice. The parents should not label it as it’s a man’s profession. Women can be and do whatever they want to.
Pranshu: No, we always hire as per their skill-set and caliber. I don’t believe in gender discrimination against or for women. Of course, I proudly say that two of my sharpest engineers are females.
Me: What is your vision for next 5 to 10 years?
Pranshu: We just want to evolve continuously and add meaningful features to make the app more user-friendly and interactive. We carefully study and measure our data so we can come up with additional features. With 1.4 crore learners currently, I feel we have just touched the tip of the iceberg. There are over a billion people to reach to, and that’s our vision – to make ‘Hello English’ a household name.
Pranshu: Firstly, they should try to solve a real problem and not just something that’s in “trend.” She should analyze if their product or service is worth their customer’s time. They should take into the prospect whether it will create a void in their customer’s life if they stop delivering their product or service?
Secondly, market research and communication with the consumers is a must. One should create a simple package that is easy to use. The design should be attractive, but one should focus initially on the basic package, and test run to know its viability and acceptability.
Thirdly, measure your data and then decide if you need expansion.
And, hiring a skill and culturally fit team is crucial for success.
Later, I also conducted a fun rapid fire round.
Me: Five Apps you have on your phone?
Pranshu: Whatsapp, Makemytrip, Grofers, Uber and a lot of reading apps.
Me: Reading, ha? What kind of books do you read?
Pranshu: My friends had named me tech stalker because I just love reading tech books. Apart from that, I read all sorts of books.
Me: Favorite book?
Pranshu: Kite Runner
Pranshu: *laughs* Morning Alarm and Desk Organiser.
Me: One thing Nishant and you don’t agree on?
Pranshu: The only thing we disagree on is the need to keep things organized. He feels I suffer from OCD, which is not true. I just feel it’s better if everything is properly arranged and in place.
Pranshu: Marketing and promoting are important. However, I don’t think one should spend millions on marketing. Initially, keep your head low. Focus on your product, and building a loyal customer base.
As we wrapped up our interview and bid our goodbyes, I thought,
“One doesn’t need to be in the Silicon Valley or Bangalore to make a difference. If you have the skills, vision, and passion, you can win the world from anywhere.”
This aritcle was published on May 11, 2016.