Teewe Co-Founder Wants To Build A Hardware Company That India Is Proud Of

By - CrazyEngineers • 8 years ago • 40.4k views

One of the India's fastest growing startups, Mango Man Consumer Electronics Pvt. Ltd. made its first product a HDMI streaming stick called 'Teewe' mega-popular in just over an year. They are now back with the second iteration of the device called the Teewe 2. The founder-duo behind the company, Sai Srinivas Kiran G (the CEO) and Shubham Malhotra (the CTO) started out in 2013 and have built the startup from ground-up to an exciting level in a very short time.

We got Teewe's Co-Founder Mr. Sai Srinivas Kiran G to to feature in an exclusive interview with CrazyEngineers to share his journey as an entrepreneur while running his startup.

Sai graduated from IIT Kanpur in 2010 with a degree in Aerospace and Aeronautical engineering . During his college days he ran a startup called 'Base9' that helped in conducting live events and develop online web modules for those events. Later he went on to work with U2opia Mobile, Zynga and Bharti Softbank for a couple of years before starting his own venture that created Teewe.


                           Sai Srinivas Kiran G, Co-Founder - Teewe 

We were curious about Sai's family background. On asking, he candidly shared, "I am from a very normal middle class family. My mom did her MA in Hindi literature and my dad had just done his undergraduate. He spent most of his time between Delhi and Hyderabad. My parents settled down in Hyderabad after marriage and I was born and raised there. My parents, though very religious, have been very liberal towards their kids. So when my brother wanted to go in to the army, they didn’t even blink an eye, and are probably more proud of him than of me I’m guessing, and rightfully so I think. What he is doing is fantastic and so very important."

And like most kids I too wanted to become a pilot, but then towards the later part of my life I became more fascinated with planes and things like that, hence I decided to study aerospace engineering.

"It’s a coincidence that my rank and JE were satisfactory enough for me to get aerospace but I actually wanted to go outside India to do engineering. But then I realized that we have some great engineering colleges here as well and eventually went to IIT Kanpur. But within the first year itself I realized that I wasn’t really interested in that field and it wasn’t what I had expected it to be."

During this time, Sai met Rachit (Rastogi), who is currently the Chief Product Officer at Teewe, Vismay (Chintan) who leads engineering at Teewe and Pranay (Agrawal) who is the head of the operations at Mango Man. Sai shares the different things they did together.

"Right from college, Rachit and I worked together on building our own company, called ‘Base 9’, which was essentially an event management company. We started with that and did a lot of different things like organizing a bunch of college festivals, including those of other colleges because people felt we are good at it. But then we figured that there was no money in it and even though it’s probably a very fun thing to do, at the end of the day you can only stretch yourself so much as a college kid. We realized that there were other things we could do like building products."

One of the first products we built was a kind of festival automation system for the talent that would be performing at a festival. Hopeful bands would upload their tracks and the college janta would vote on the track, and select the lineup of the festival.

"It worked out to be a huge success and the company we had collaborated with, happened to be Ibibo. They were very happy as well and that’s how I got my first job and didn’t have to go through campus placements. They hired me as the product manager at Ibibo."

Post that Sai worked with IMM for 6 months and then he joined a startup company called Utopia mobile. He was there for another 6 months. A friend of his from Ibibo, Nishtha Pangle, (She now works at Teewe as a designer), who was working with Zynga at the time referred Sai at Zynga. That's how he got the job.

CE: What do you remember the most about your time at Zynga?

I applied to Zynga as a product manager but they somehow felt that I would be better at game designing, as most games basically have a lot of math happening in the background. So I set out designing game systems for them and after 3 months they promoted me to product manager. So for the next 3 months I worked on some really some cool games there and got a chance to work with and learn from some of the best minds in the business, which is what made the time at Zynga so memorable.

CE: How did Mango Man happen? What was the motivation behind building Teewe?

Post Zynga, I met Teewe’s co-founder, Shubham (Malhotra) and he was actually one of the first employees at Capillary Technologies. Dhiresh (Nagwani) who is also a close friend, began work with me and Shubh on starting a game studio back in December 2012. However, funding at that time was not free flowing for gaming as such, so we were debating on our next step when we were introduced to Kavin (Mittal) of BSB. Kavin was on the lookout for a bunch of people to set up a games studio for BSB Bangalore and we told him we could get that done for him. So then Rachit, Ashwini, and a few others also joined us to set up the studio. We launched a game that got about a million downloads, though I left when it was just 300K downloads. It was Gulsher (Singh), the product manager then, who got the million downloads. Gulsher too works with us now as VP Product.

Around the same time, Shubh and I both wanted to work on a product for television and we both toyed with the idea of a set-top box. We felt that there had been no change in the television viewing experience in the last 10-15 years and we felt we could do something to change that. But then again it would come down to a remote, and more wires, more hassles for the end user, not to mention the high making and buying costs. We needed a simpler, more economical device. We wanted to make a device that connected all content and was a one-stop-shop solution for all your content. That’s how we came up with Teewe. By September of the same year we had finalized our first product, and luckily Kavin was the first person who agreed to invest in it. Kavin, along with three others invested in our company and that’s how we got our initial funding of 1.5 cr.

The motivation behind the entire thing was very simple. People should be able to watch whatever they want on television. If they have this screen in their house, they should be able to shift content across their platforms seamlessly.

CE: Teewe has been compared to Google Chromecast several times. What are your thoughts on that? Whom do you consider as your biggest competitors?

Fortunately or unfortunately, the Chromecast launch happened around the same time. And of course lots of people accused us of following them. I don’t blame them for saying that but I guess only time will tell who copied whom. I think the comparison helps both devices build awareness of this category in India, who is still nascent within this category. Our main competition is against Smart TVs as people spend lots of money buying Smart TVs that will be obsolete in a matter of months of their launch. Without timely upgrades, “smart” technology doesn’t stay smart.

CE: What were the initial challenges of building a product from ground up in India?

People in India feel that we can’t make products and that’s just not true. This mentality is driven by both consumers and investors and even the entrepreneurial community itself.

As far as manufacturing is concerned, we would have loved to be able to do that here in India and we tried to as well, but things didn’t work out. Though we are brilliant at designing hardware, we are still some time away from manufacturing it here, at least in our experience. I would suggest that you do your prototyping here. I don’t mean to discourage it but be 200% sure before manufacturing here.

CE: How has the response for Teewe so far been? How do you go about reaching out to your target audience?

The response has been very overwhelming. From being told that we couldn’t make a product to selling out within the first round, that speaks for itself. I think we owe it to the Indian consumers for trusting the product and its make and also being so open to experimentation. We actually struggled to keep up with the demand as we had limited capital until Sequoia stepped in and gave us our second round of funding.

One of things we did to reach out to our audience was a Thunderclap campaign that basically amplified the word about Teewe by rallying people together. At the same time, around 5000 people posted about Teewe on Facebook and Twitter which created the necessary awareness.

We've read about Teewe receiving seed funding from Sequoia Capital and India Quotient Fund. What are the plans for Mango Man in the next couple of years?

The plan is simple, really - become a hardware company that India is proud of.

We really think some of the hardware companies making phones and other electronics, are not really innovating but just rebranding older versions. We want to make products that not only have world class hardware and software, but also don’t cost consumers an arm and a leg. We also want to be at the forefront of any category we venture into, and hopefully you’ll see that happening soon.

CE: Why should we be excited about Teewe 2?

Teewe 2 on the face of it is as perfect a rendition of the original Teewe as one could get. It’s sleeker, smarter, and it’s got great content. I think that’s the key with Teewe 2. We have already struck a great deal with Eros Now for its content and we can promise you that in the coming months, you will see more such partners on board. We’ve also got a bunch of other stuff cooking in our labs but you’ll have to wait to know more about that.

CE: The statement 'There are very few gadgets coming out of India' has been repeated by critics way too many times. How do you see that changing in times to come?

To this I’d ask - What are the critics doing to change this? Like I said before, there is an inherent skepticism towards building hardware in India and hence a fear of investing in it. But in the same breath, one of the biggest companies in the world is a hardware company and no one can deny that hardware improves lives. I think these critics should actively seek out the smaller projects coming out of India, as these innovations need the visibility and necessary funding.

All said and done, critics, consumers, and investors need to be open to encouraging hardware products coming out of India.

As far as the changing times are concerned, a while ago there was only one e-commerce site in India- E-Bay - and I don’t need to list the million other players that have also come out of India since. In time, we will see more hardware companies from India and hopefully they will get the credit and visibility they deserve.

CE: What has been your happiest moment while running this startup?

Happiest moment of course has to be the first launch of Teewe, though Teewe 2 was great as well. We achieved that against all odds and were able to put a product out there from scratch and eventually sold out in the first and second round. We were in a very tight spot at the time and managed to wiggle out of there very successfully. Looking back at those times does make me happy, though at the time I was probably not sure Teewe would see this day.

CE: Any message for engineers and aspiring entrepreneurs?

I am not at a stage where I can advise anyone nor will I be anytime soon, but yes, I can share one insight.

For anyone aspiring to be an entrepreneur, pick the hardest problem to solve because if you pick an easy problem, there will be others who will follow.

Whereas if you pick something difficult, you can be at the forefront of your category and end up competing with fewer players. I think that’s why apart from Google and Apple, no one has really cracked the media streaming category, and that’s what gives us so much validation to keep at what we’re doing. 


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