Turning An Idea Into A Reality – EagleOwl

We
announced the beta version in August’17, took it to the market with bare
minimal features to get user feedback. At that stage, you are usually
unsure what the reaction would be, your mind goes through thoughts you
wouldn’t ideally want it to and you are excited to even get a demo. We
were fortunate to get more than expected demos and leads in August and
September. The feedback was positive and they appreciated our in-depth
focus on back office operations of the restaurant.

So March 10th it was. We officially launched EagleOwl
in our office, with our first set of users as the Chief guests. Our
intent was not to show off, but to share our happiness with friends,
family, colleagues and clients who have been a part of this intense
journey. It was a very joyous occasion for our team, a red-lettered day
and what better can you hope for than your happy users inaugurating the
product launch with ‘Annamalai super scene’ music playing in the
background, as the chick found its way to the world, breaking the shell.

Beginning of the learning:

A
famous chain in Bangalore with multiple brands and outlets was our
first pilot, we spent a month with them — in their kitchens, office and
prepared weekly reports. Arun (my colleague) spent a lot of time at
their office, it helped him better his understanding of the problem,
gained valuable user feedback, prioritise feature development. They were
very happy but when it came to closing the deal, they mentioned that
without POS it is going to be difficult to switch. We exposed API’s to
consume sales data, but their POS vendor didn’t co-operate. We were
singularly focused on backend operations where we believed we could
differentiate. It is near impossible to enter or compete with just a POS
offering in this market, there are thousands of them. I remember those
days and nights filled with optimism and dreams that we were close to
closing our first sale. But lack of closure hurt me big, there is this
inexplicably intense feeling of pain and disappointment. It seemed like
we had it and we hadn’t. Apart from me being crestfallen, you are more
worried about your team. I spend a lot of time with Arun and Nitin
Sachdev on a daily basis — discussing EagleOwl. Though they didn’t say
anything, you can feel it.

Looking back, we were able to quickly iterate and prioritise our feature development during this exercise. Rejection teaches you things that acceptance doesn’t.

Became a dad again:

SSB
group signed us up in October for the pilot. Arun, Nitin and I visited
Vaniyambadi, stayed for 2 days and helped their team onboard. They would
call us if they encountered any difficulty and a quick team viewer
would suffice. During this phase, they continuously passed on feedback
that was very critical for us. We encountered some use-cases we hadn’t
thought of (you’ve got to admit) and started building them. Not even in
my wildest of dreams did I think that EagleOwl will be used in a place
called Vaniyambadi, this is a small town in Vellore district, Tamil
Nadu. For a product such as this, you are inclined to look at metros and
tier 2 cities at best. Metha Reddy is a self made person and someone
who learned business all by himself, as a partner he takes care of
operations of multiple outlets juggling between Vaniyambadi and Vellore.
When I met him first and asked what their veg meals costed — he reeled
out numbers and measurements so fast I couldn’t pause to think. Such was
his mathematical acumen, I understood he couldn’t have learned that in
any school.

After
a month of pilot, they became our customer in November. That was the
big moment, November 25th, 4:10 PM. Arun and I went to their house in
Bangalore to collect the first cheque from their CEO, for whom I have
deepest respect. We thanked him, took his blessings and left. We walked
back slowly and silently, moments such as these make you communicate in
silence. I dropped him back at office, asked him to share the joy with
all others and went to meet my friend Murali for the evening.
Undeniably, the day I became a father 9 years ago was my happiest moment
but I didn’t cry then, in fact I felt my role on earth was accomplished
and was relieved. But on this day, tears welled up and happiness filled
me up. This is a surreal feeling, one that other entrepreneurs will
relate to. We have a very special relationship with SSB group that can’t
be expressed in words.

Effect of belief:

Nothing
is ever accomplished alone, you need to have a great team, a bunch of
guys with indomitable spirit and unshakeable belief in what you’ve been
selling to them. Because till something is attained, hardly anyone
believes you, not because they don’t want to, that’s the nature of most
new businesses with unverifiable hypotheses. That’s where a special
person deserves a special mention — Arun Prakash. He was our second
employee, joined us in July, 2016. I don’t think he aced the interview
but we liked him, he just didn’t give up. It turns out that he’s one of
the best performing guys around and definitely most dependable. Am just
happy we made the right decision to have him with us. A lot of credit
goes to him for where we are today. Nitin Sachdev is another smart guy
with us, he is one who likes engineering and business equally. He’s
spent his entire time with us on EagleOwl. I take him to all restaurants
I visit, else he refuses to code. This helps us, we now have engineers
who understand what they do and more importantly why. Most client issues
are directly handled by them. And they are now confident of doing
sales.

Nitin, Jose and Arun — the blue birds.

Windmills Craftworks:

We
got introduced to Ajay, CEO of Windmills on August 18th 2017, my
partner’s friend and Ajay were buddies. We met a week later for demo.
When I followed up, he said he was engaging with the leader in the
segment (Indian) and that he’s going to be busy for next few months with
setup and transition. That message literally crushed my heart, but for
every follow up email I sent, he duly responded. So my follow ups
continued to continue. I again reached out on Nov 16th asking if
transition was complete and he said “No, come over”. That’s when our
engagement started. He told me, “Vinodh, do whatever you want, but get
it done”.

I
juggled between office during first half of the day and second half at
Windmills in December’17. It was a complex problem to solve considering
his 3 outlets were of different types, their operations were unique, the
sheer amount of data that needed cleanup and the number of people I
needed to work with. Apart from food, we also had to handle liquor and
craft beer costing. On top of this, we had only built a system for
independent outlets, not for chains. So, I literally spent the next 3
months at their office (and continue to, though at a lesser frequency of
3/4 days a week) and visited my office once a week. The good thing was
that they followed all the right processes using excel sheets and
combination of software. It occurred to us that our product was well
suited to them with a bit of tailoring and the amount of learning we
will get from being there wouldn’t just be possible if we chose to limit
ourselves to our office and code.

As Steve Blank says, “Get out of the building”. And if someone is thinking “How will you scale?”, I found the answer here, happened to come across that wonderful essay recently and felt much better.

Anshuman Saagar is all ears to Ajay Nagarajan

Ajay
is very meticulous, demanding, process oriented and loves perfection.
To make it worse for his vendors, he loves to see everything beautiful.
Naturally we were under more pressure to deliver to his expectations.
I’ve by now spent so much time with him and his staff that the answer to
why they are so good is not a surprise. They are consistently rated
very highly in Bangalore and India as one of the best in business. As of
this writing, we have managed to setup 2 out of his 3 outlets. The
third one is a buffet and requires more thinking and tinkering.

Windmills
is very special, they made me feel am part of them. There was never a
moment I felt like a vendor, a salesman. I have made numerous friends
there — Chef Mandaar, Chef Suresh, Chef Manjit, Sudheendra, Srinath,
Ramesh, Ajith, Ganesh, sous-chefs, guys at the bar, cashiers, Shaan and
then Neil, who taught me the EagleOwl pose (below). Everyone there calls
me Eagle that some don’t know my real name. It is such a fun place to
be in and we have promised Ajay and Metha Reddy that we will deliver the
best experience along with the best product.

Rigor:

While
all of this was happening, Sijeesh provided us with new designs, a
wonderful logo and we also had to redo some of our core components to
meet the customer requirements. And when core changes, everything else
does. It was a rigorous 2 month period where we ran two different
versions of the software for our clients, with different features. We
were back on track after Binu and team merged them to the same platform.
Thanking our customers isn’t justice, in fact we are indebted to them
for being very patient with us. We were very honest on where we were and
they were willing to wait a while, if we could deliver what they
needed. During this period, I was literally pushing my team to the
limits, was one of the most stressful time ever. But at the end of the
day, when you hear a few happy words from users, all the stress vanishes
in thin air and sanity returns.

Way forward:

No
matter how hard, giving up is not an option and this is a tough
business, as most are. There are many out there to write you off, I’ve
heard many by now, the worst that can happen is you writing yourself
off. We have made a modest and steady start, but more importantly a
happy one. But we have a long way to go. Our goal is to build the best
restaurant inventory management system and I strongly believe we are
well ahead of our competitors, just that not many know us. Our
confidence comes from the fact two more restaurateurs have decided to
switch to us this month, they are presently using a competing product.
When you see couple of happy customers, it gives you that joy and
confidence that’s indescribable, that keeps you going.

We
are presently working with a bakery chain, an upscale restaurant, a
brew pub in Bangalore. And all of them were connections of Chef Manjit
and Ajay Nagarajan. We also have another exciting announcement (POS)
coming soon, with a new offering which is in pilot.

As
Usain Bolt said “There are better starters, but am a strong finisher”. I
hope we finish well, because hope is such a good thing !

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *