Founders Circuit
Collection of inspiring entrepreneur stories, startups and struggle

"Technology when applied to the education sector can do wonders"- Zishaan Hayath, Co-Founder - Toppr.com

Toppr, a Mumbai based online exam preparation platform backed by SAIF Partners and Helion Ventures, was founded by Zishaan Hayath and Hemanth Goteti. Prior to starting up with Toppr, Zishaan Hayath co-founded Chaupaati Bazaar, a phone commerce marketplace in 2008. In 2010, Chaupaati Bazaar was acquired by India's largest retailer - the Future Group. Zishaan graduated from IIT Bombay in the year 2005.

In an exclusive interview with CrazyEngineers, Zishaan talks about Toppr, his previous venture Chaupaati Bazaar and his life as an employee at Opera Solutions and Powai Lake Ventures. Zishaan also discusses the key to being a successful startup, shares the mistakes he committed and lessons he learnt in his entrepreneurial journey. Read on!                                      zishaanhayath-toppr-crazyengineers1.jpg

CE: Hi Zishaan. Could you tell our readers more about Toppr?

Zishaan: 
Toppr.com is an online platform for entrance exam preparation. Students preparing for IIT JEE and Pre-Medical can enroll in our 1 year or 2 year programs and use the platform for practice and taking unlimited tests. Toppr.com is built by a team of IIT engineers. The question bank has close to 100K questions. It offers an adaptive learning platform so that students can create their own unique path of learning. Instant reports, comparison with peers, All India Test Series are all parts of the platform.

We started Toppr.com because we believe technology when applied to the education sector can do wonders.

CE: Prior to Toppr, you co-founded a phone commerce marketplace called Chaupaati. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?

Zishaan: 
Prior to Toppr, I was part of digital commerce venture called Chaupaati. Customers could call us on phone and order, and we would service their order just an e-commerce marketplace would. Chaupaati was acquired by Future Group in 2010 and merged with their digital arm Futurebazaar.com to strengthen the group's digital offering.

CE: You have worked as an Associate Consultant with Opera Solutions for a long time before starting your entrepreneurial journey. How did you shift from a 9-5 to running your own successful business?

Zishaan: 
Opera Solutions was a great experience, though it was never 9-5 ?. With Opera, I traveled a lot and worked in 3 different continents. I was able to see several different businesses closely and it gave me good insight into what works (or in some cases, does not work) for large companies. Also, Opera's team back then had around 200 people but from very diverse backgrounds. We had representation from as many as 30 countries in the team. It was a lot of fun working with Opera. But I wanted to move back to India and build something that involved tech. It wasn't easy but it was the right thing to do.

CE: Could you tell us more about Powai Lake Ventures?

Zishaan: 
Powai Lake Ventures is a small angel group that invests in the first round of early stage startups. PLV came about when I started to invest small amounts in companies started by my IIT Bombay juniors. More friends joined in and it became an angel group. We make investments in the range of 50L to 2Cr. We back smart founders who want to build something massive in a large market. So far this group has made 9 investments. We try and make the investment decision quickly (no presentations, spreadsheets or business plans) and keep the terms very founder friendly.                                zishaanhayath-toppr-crazyengineers.jpg

CE: What do you think is the key to being a successful startup? What lessons did you learn from your mistakes that you would you like to share?
Zishaan: 

I would say a mix of these - good team, high quality work, persistence, right time right place, and customer focus. A couple of mistakes I can think of have been - not keeping it simple, not focussing enough. Staying focussed on a narrow problem and offering an excellent simple solutions usually helps you win.

CE: If you could go back and do it all over again, from the time you first began planning for your company, what would you do differently the second time around, and why?

Zishaan: 
Take money when available ?

CE: Tell us about a time when you had to slog your way through a ton of work. How did you get through it? What will be your advice to budding engineers who are scared of long working hours?

Zishaan: 
My first job was at ITC and I used to work 14 hours + 2 hour of commute. At Opera Solutions, I have worked 16 hour days but then I have also had 8 hour days. So it was a mix bag. At Chaupaati.com and Toppr.com, I put in 10-12 hours a day.

If you love your work, hours don't make a difference. So the trick is to find something you love. Then you do it without thinking about the hours.

CE: Was it difficult for you to put together the resources needed to start a new company? How did you manage the finances and other resources in the initial years?

Zishaan: 
A couple of my IIT Bombay seniors backed me with funds when starting up Toppr.com, so that made it easy. We used the money carefully and worked out of my apartment for the first 15 months.

CE: Thank you for your time. Any message for our readers?

Zishaan: 

Find what you love. And do it well.

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