A Chat with Niraj Ranjan Rout, Co-founder of Hiver
In the fast-paced world of business, employee productivity is essential for business growth and one of the ways to boost productivity is to give them access to right tools/software. Niraj and Nitesh brought into existence one such tool that, they claim, can help facilitate team work and greatly impact productivity.
Niraj Ranjan Rout and Nitesh Nandy are engineering graduates from the IIT Kharagpur, India, one of the renowned technological institutes in the world. The young duo founded Hiver, an email collaboration tool, in 2011. Hiver helps your team to colloborate and manage projects, customer support and sales from your email.
Here are the excerpts from my chat with Niraj – read them to know more about Hiver and the team behind it. In this chat session, Niraj talks about his entrepreneurial journey and also shares some cool tips for budding entrepreneurs. Don’t miss them!
Kavin Paulson: Hi Niraj, thank you so much for your time. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
Niraj Ranjan Rout: I am an engineer, a founder, and a very enthusiastic guitarist. Right out of engineering school, I worked for five years for the Electronic Design Automation firm Mentor Graphics for 5 years, writing compilers in C++. I then founded my first business, exited it, and started Hiver (earlier GrexIt) in 2011.
I think I am extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to start and build a technology business, which give me the opportunity to work with outstanding team-mates, and help customers all over the world run their businesses efficiently.
Kavin Paulson: Please tell us about the story behind the making of Hiver.
Niraj Ranjan Rout: My co-founder, Nitesh, and I have used email heavily at every place we’ve worked. It would have been impossible working without email, but at the same time, the problems and inefficiencies of working with email were extremely evident. One specific instance is, at my first job, we had this recurring problem of important conversations happening on email, and then being undiscoverable. That led to someone asking a question that was answered in the email thread, and that was extremely inefficient.
That led us to decide to build tools that will help teams be efficient on email. We started out in 2011, figured out our product positioning in 2012, and have been building it further and acquiring customers ever since.
KP: How does the tool work? Can you briefly explain some of the salient features?
NRR: It essentially lets you easily assign emails threads as tasks to yourself, your team-mates, and track the progress of tasks right from your inbox.
Our key features are shared Gmail labels, and shared notes for email threads. Shared Gmail labels enables sharing of gmail labels, and that lets you easily share an email thread or assign it as a task by just adding a label to it. Shared notes let you add additional information to email threads.
Our product is extremely well suited to small teams working on products, customer support and sales. We’re used daily at thousands of businesses globally, and we have some of the best known companies in the world as our customers.
KP: Tell us about your team.
NRR: We’re a small team of just 12 people. Most of it is engineering. We also have a small 2 people marketing team that works on content marketing.
Everyone in the team works hard to make sure everything that goes out the door is world class – be it our product, content/blogs or customer support emails.
Hiver’s Core Team
KP: How Hiver is different from other similar products available in the market? What’s your competitive advantage?
NRR: Our competitive advantages are our email centricity, and simplicity. We have a product that fits very naturally with your Gmail, and using it is really simple. People can learn using it in under 5 minutes.
The email centric nature of our approach is extremely lucrative for people who anyway spend a lot of time in their email inboxes. With Hiver, they don’t need to learn and adapt to a dedicated tool to do task management for their team or for customer support. Whatever they need to work is right there in their Gmail.
KP: Tell me briefly, why should one choose hiver?
NRR: You already spend a lot of time in your email – what if we could enhance it to let you do task management, customer support and sales right from your email!
We make your email better, and let you run your business right from there. We can guarantee that your team-mates would adopt Hiver quicker than they would adopt any other similar tool in the market.
KP: How has been the start-up journey? It’s been 4 years, how much has hiver achieved with regard to growth (clients, revenues, profits etc..) ?
NRR: We have thousands of companies using our product around the world. We’re profitable, and are using our revenues to grow the business further. We love the opportunity to bootstrap our business and grow it on our own terms.
KP: Who are your major clients? Can you share a couple of success stories with us?
NRR: We’re working on publishing a lot of our customer success stories. One such story is of the Virtual Assistants firm Usource. They are one of the earliest adopters of Hiver, and it has helped them heavily in running and scaling their business. You can read more about this at: http://hiverhq.com/blog/usource-hiver-case-study/
KP: What were the major challenges did you face during the early days? Can you share some tips with budding entrepreneurs on how to overcome the typical start-up challenges?
NRR: Not having enough customer inputs and building the product in a vacuum was the biggest problem we faced early on. This can be a fairly dangerous situation, and it’s possible to spend too much time building stuff no one really wants.
We solved this problem by releasing our product on app marketplaces and tuning for search traffic, which helped expose our product to early customers. We then listened to them and iterated quickly to reach a product people wanted to pay for.
I think the most important thing for start-ups is being able to iterate on their product at a good speed, and being able to get quality feedback from real world users. In my opinion, it’s not lack of money/funding that kills start-ups – what kills them is lack of speed and customer exposure.
KP: How do you promote hiver? Can you tell us about your marketing efforts?
NRR: We rely heavily on app marketplaces, search traffic, retargeting and content marketing. We have built a strong marketplace presence over the years. We have also tuned our product and site for high quality, super-relevant search traffic which lands us a lot of customers. And we’ve recently started working on our content marketing very aggressively, which has already started to show results in terms of traffic and signups.
KP: Rebranding is a risky process. Grexit is now Hiver. How tough was the rebranding process?
NRR: It’s not actually too hard. The trickiest part is making sure that Google re-indexes your new site quickly, identifies the domain move, and transfers over your backlinks, authority and search positions to the new domain. All you can do is follow the best practices, and hope things go fine. There have been no bad surprises for us till now, and we’re really happy about that.
KP: What is your vision for Hiver?
NRR: We want to simplify work for knowledge workers across verticals, industries and geographies.
People should be able to work done from a single tool/dashboard/utility. They should be able to focus on their real work, and should not have to grapple with over complicated tools with features they don’t need.
Email, in our opinion, is the only tool that can be the ‘single’ tool for the largest number of people, if enhanced in the right directions. That is what we’re doing at Hiver.
KP: What is the one piece of advice that you would like to give to budding tech entrepreneurs?
NRR:As I said, it’s important to go through the iteration cycles of building the product and exposing it to customers very fast. For founders who can build quickly, get customers to see what they have built, and are open to feedback, the sky is the limit.
KP: Where do you see yourself five yours from now?
NRR: Making work efficient and enjoyable for a million plus knowledge workers around the world.
KP: Who is your favorite entrepreneur and why?
NRR: It has to be the founders at Google, because I love Google as a company. In their products, there is a clear focus to simplify things for most people in the world. I really admire the simplicity of their products and how they work with each other, without locking people down into their own eco-system. I think it’s a great learning for founders of SAAS products because playing together with other apps and products is so important.
KP: On a lighter note, what would you do if you woke up one morning and found out that you had become Richard Branson?
NRR: I would be really sad about having slept through the process
KP: Thanks you so much Niraj. It was great talking to you and all the very best in your future endeavors.
NRR: Thanks Kavin. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
To know more about Hiver, visit http://hiverhq.com/