In general children are expected to pursue their parent’s occupation while they could have different interests. But what is written in one’s destiny will always happen, their passion and interest build their life ahead. No matter what the world says. That’s what happened with Girish Maiya, the co-founder of one of the useful app for India’s rural population and senior citizens – ‘Matr‘ launched in August 2021.
Girish comes from a small village near Udupi, Karnataka with family background of Chartered Accountants. He was also groomed to take over his father’s CA firm. Girish never had any great ambitions about getting masters degree. He had always tinkered with electronics but never really thought a lot about it. His eyes were set on completing B.Com and then CA and becoming a partner at his father’s firm.
Even though he was CA, his heart has always been to create new things. After working in MNC’s in US and coming back to India, he wanted to build something of his own. While surfing internet, he came across Open Source Hardware (OSH) and noted how easy it was to build cool tools with OSH. Initially, he came up with an idea for automating airport processes using OSH to remove bottle necks that a traveller faces. He joined an idea stage accelerator named Founder Institute (FI) to validate his idea. During the FI workshops, he realised that it was difficult to get into products for airports due to security reasons as well as he had concerns about viability of the products. He met Roshan Baliga in FI who had a similar idea in urban commuting sector and so they became a team and started SnapCommute Labs with a product named Challo.
Recently due to COVID and downturn in transport industry they had to suspend that product. During this time Girish & Roshan noticed the struggles of Indian non-english smartphone users to communicate through popular tools like WhatsApp and Facebook. They noted that Indian language typing keyboards were difficult to use due to complex combinations of characters in Indian languages. And that’s how the idea of creating a keyboard clicked in their minds where users can write in their mother tongue (Matr Bhasha) instead of typing. They developed an AI driven keyboard called Matr and initially added 11 Indian languages in it. The app is already getting good reviews on Google Play Store and many people have downloaded and installed it.
One can always find a key driving force in their life for doing something new and Girish says that his exposure to multinational product companies and experience in large consulting companies made him realise the requirement of an entrepreneur. Of course being a middle class family person, it was a huge risk and hence was an hindrance to establish a start-up. Therefore, he saved some money to run the family for some years and his wife took up employment as an engineer in Infosys and agreed to support the family, then only he got the courage to start entrepreneurship.
‘’I was also convinced that even if I fail in my endeavour, the experience I gain at the end of it would be highly valued and would really help me in getting into any start-up or to do consulting.’’ Says Girish
The company is bootstrapped (i.e. funds invested by founders only). Team tried to raise funds through their mentor but didn’t. Girish says that fundraising is a full time activity, so they wanted to concentrate on developing and marketing their products. They were the winners of Government of Karnataka Grand Challenge on reducing traffic in Bangalore which also became a good source of fund for the company. The idea of taking up technology service work also helped them to fund the working capital. For Matr, they plan to raise funds only after reaching critical mass.
The journey of entrepreneurship always comes with challenges. Challo was a platform to integrate different transportation mode in one app. So it was required to get data from State Transport Corporations which involved Government officials that proved to be quite a difficult task. To complete the task, they had to make multiple trips to Government offices and still didn’t get the required data. On the other hand Matr app was to help senior citizens and rural people, especially who have difficulties with English, and liked to communicate in their local languages through their smartphones. It came as a challenge to reach them through digital marketing and social media, and after that they were not comfortable with installing new apps. Revenue generation is also a challenge for apps in India as most of the users want everything free and do not like ads to be displayed in apps.
“If you are failing, fail fast.” Girish was aware of this saying very clearly and followed it to his advantage. He says, “If you have a product that has less chance of succeeding you better abandon it sooner before you lose a lot of money and effort on it.” Based on this teaching he had to abandon his idea of developing products for airports and it was the hardest decision, also, they had to suspend their first product for urban commuters due to Covid-19 and downturn in the transport industry.
After overcoming all the limitations, they keep the structure of their start-up quite simple as it is a small company. Roshan Baliga and Girish Maiya are the co-founders of the company and have a couple of employees on tech and testing side.
Matr is developed for Non-English speakers having smartphones, especially senior citizens and rural people. So their target audience in this community who want to write in their local language very easily on phones.
Motivation is what one needs to accomplish their goal. When we ask Girish what motivates him, his answer is strong as his decisions. He don’t like to do the same thing over a long period of time and start-up gives him scope to work on different things regularly, he says, it is challenging but it motivates him. There is not a simple formula or a shortcut to become successful entrepreneur, it all depends on the product, the team and the execution, according to the founder.
Girish is also an author, who has written books on Open Source Hardware, innovation concepts, GTFs etc. which are available on Amazon. Moreover, he is Tech Editor for Flutter articles and books at Raywenderlich.com.
Matr brings a great impact on society by helping Indians communicate better using the latest technology, while reviving the usage of Indian languages. Matr is a true enabler of Make in India and can be downloaded for free from Google Play Store.
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