Editor’s Note: Serial entrepreneur Murthy Chintalapati left Silicon Valley, returned to Bangalore and launched Ozonetel in 2007 with a cloud telephony platform for voice apps development. As founder and CEO, he shares insights on growing a company and presents advice for entrepreneurs.
SandHill.com: What inspired you create Ozonetel?
Murthy Chintalapati: Being a serial entrepreneur, I always look for opportunities to build ventures rather than work for a paycheck. My first venture, Intoto, was built in Silicon Valley and later was acquired by Freescale Semiconductor.
When I moved back to Bangalore in 2005, I started assembling a core team with strong telecom and web technologies backgrounds. We had experience in implementing and deploying solutions around Avaya. We looked at the market opportunity of addressing 50 million small and midsized businesses (SMBs/SMEs) and 800 million mobile/landline voice users and connecting them over a platform.
Looking at India’s SME market, we realized they couldn’t afford the branded solutions, and they couldn’t own a team internally to maintain and manage the solutions. SMEs needed someone to host and manage various enterprise-class voice services. We created our own hardware and the telecom stack to host the service, and launched Ozonetel, a cloud telephony services provider. Fortunately we were able to self-fund the venture, so there was no need to convince an investor.
SandHill.com: What drove you to develop a cloud solution in 2007?
Murthy Chintalapati: VoIP is not legal in India, so we decided to build a PSTN cloud by hosting our platform in various cities. Having created this Voice Cloud, we said why not open up the platform for others, whether entrepreneurs or businesses to develop voice applications in familiar Web technologies and without having to understand the telecom complexities. So we launched KooKoo.in, which is a set of simple APIs for others to create voice apps in PHP/Java/.Net.
Now we have 1,500 registered developers on the platform and 100+ active apps. The kind of apps that are being created on our platform vary from recharging pre-paid cards to giving medicine reminders for HIV patients over voice channels in regional languages to connecting farmers and markets to the deal of the day over the telephone in local languages.
SandHill.com: So you target solutions primarily for SMBs?
Murthy Chintalapati: We target businesses with a mobile workforce or distributed offices, especially where management has a need to monitor sales and service calls in real time and wants to receive alerts if their staff does not answer the customer calls.
We’ve developed a few apps such as CloudPBX, CloudAgent (call center in the cloud), and CloudPay (payment over IVR) for SMB/SMEs. These cloud services eliminate the need to install any hardware at the customer premises.
SandHill.com: How did you convince your first customer about your product differentiation? What clinched the deal for you?
Murthy Chintalapati: We roped in the first few customers even before the platform was mature. We captured their pain points and delivered the solution against that. Our first customers were auto dealers with multiple offices and a mobile workforce. Their pain points were sales teams missing business calls landing at various branches and no monitoring mechanism in place to track inbound/outbound calls across branches for management. There was no solution in the market that could be put together cost-effectively. The auto dealers were looking to get their pain point solved without incurring huge capital expenditures. Since we are solving the pain points in the cloud, an op-ex model, it clinched the deals.
SandHill.com: How did you hire your first employees?
Murthy Chintalapati: Well, the core team was formed through personal connections. We hired sales team from outside.
SandHill.com: Please describe one of your company’s lessons learned and where it occurred in the time line of your product development.
Murthy Chintalapati: We sold PRI/E1 cards that we built, as we saw that as an opportunity. But the effort needed to support OEMs was high; hence, we dropped selling that.
SandHill.com: If you could go back and live another business day over again (good or bad), when would it be? What happened that day?
Murthy Chintalapati: In my earlier venture at Intoto, one of the marquee customers made a decision to fly down on a Saturday with his attorney, turned into a corporate investor and closed the entire agreement in a single day for a multimillion-dollar deal. Usually you don’t see people working on the weekends in the United States. But the business compulsions made Saturday a working day for the customer – at least for the corporate team. All that happened when we were struggling to cut the next payroll!
SandHill.com: Who do you admire the most in the business world?
Murthy Chintalapati: In general, I admire all entrepreneurs who have sweated it out to build successful enterprises. If I have to choose one, it is Steve Jobs for his talent, creativity and passion for rolling out such amazing products in spite of facing various difficulties.
SandHill.com: While growing up, what was an early clue that you had an entrepreneurial (or leader) personality?
Murthy Chintalapati: My first job was in the public sector where things happened too slowly for my liking. This prompted me to look out to do things on my own, and my friends used to rally around to participate in those ideas. Eventually we tried a few of those ideas, one of them around C-DOT switches during those times.
SandHill.com: What is the best advice you received earlier in your life that you have found helpful in pursuing your entrepreneurial vision for your company?
Murthy Chintalapati: I received advice very early in my first job from a professor from a management school, who happened to be my friend’s father. He advised me to leverage the specialization I did in my Masters and “keep my eyes and ears open for opportunities” within the organization I was working for. My orientation changed from that day, to look at every activity I did within the organization from a business opportunity perspective. Eventually it turned me into an entrepreneur, as I wanted to try out my ideas at my own risk.
SandHill.com: What is your advice for entrepreneurs thinking of starting their first company?
Murthy Chintalapati: The moment you feel like starting to do something on your own, quit the job and just do it full time. Part-time efforts will not take you anywhere. Moreover, the comfort level of getting a paycheck will not allow you to take off.
The first year will be a difficult one. But hang on. Get a co-founder to complement your skills. Make sure he/she has the same passion to build a startup as there will be more downs than ups in the journey. Try to meet as many potential customers as possible and understand their pain point before you create a product/service. Don’t go by the hype and get carried away.
Murthy Chintalapati, founder and CEO of Ozonetel, is a serial technology entrepreneur who is recognized by many Silicon Valley technopreneurs as someone who identifies industry pain points and builds successful business ventures that address market needs. Murthy started his first venture, Intoto, in 1997 at San Jose, California. Intoto developed security technologies licensed to OEMs like Nortel, Motorola, Redback and others. He also set up Rocsys, an offshore development center addressing Intoto’s engineering needs. He pioneered a training center at Rocsys in 1998 to impart rare skills in embedded systems, real-time OS, networking and security technologies. Intoto was acquired by Freescale Semiconductor in 2008 and Murthy established Ozonetel as a subsidiary of Rocsys. Murthy had successful stints with ECIL Hyderabad, AT& T (US), and NEC, before venturing to become an entrepreneur.
Kathleen Goolsby is managing editor at SandHill.com.