Vikas Khandelwal and Pankaj Sethi met as classmates nearly 16 years ago at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur. As luck would have it, both ended up in Seattle, with Khandelwal joining Microsoft and Sethi working for a period at both Microsoft and Amazon.com. Over the years, the two friends have bounced around a number of ideas, mostly in the areas of e-commerce and home automation.
Now, they’ve finally settled on their idea. It’s called Boxella, a new mobile app that is trying to make it dead simple to track product manuals, warranties and receipts. It’s certainly a problem I’ve experienced, with a special drawer in our house with dozens of manuals for printers, vacuums, TVs, blenders and more. Like PaperKarma, the mobile app junk mail eliminator which we wrote about yesterday, Boxella allows users to snap a photo of a manual, and have it immediately added to their personal product dashboard.
We chatted with the founders, which are launching the app today in the Apple app store, for this installment of Startup Spotlight. Here’s more:
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Boxella helps you automatically track all your user manuals, warranties, receipts — any paperwork about the things you own — all in one place. Plus it alerts you about hard-to-track events like product recalls, warranty expirations or price drops on your recent purchases (so that you can get a refund). Our long-term vision is to make Boxella a hub for information and answers about your most valuable possessions — whether it is a question about things you own or the things you want to buy.”
Inspiration hit us when: “Recently we had the experience of becoming new parents or homeowners. With each of these events, we realized that the amount of things we now owned suddenly skyrocketed — appliances, strollers, car seats, more electronics, etc. In this stage of life when time and money was most critical for us, we found ourselves shifting through ever-growing paper piles for receipts and instruction manuals. Vikas’ wife would block out an hour each weekend just to track the new receipts and scour the net for price drops. In one instance, one of us lost about $200 when we took a Toshiba laptop to the repair shop two days after the warranty had expired — after procrastinating for over a month. Keeping track of these things wasn’t rocket science but it was boring as hell, and took a lot of time. As passionate geeks, it struck us that this was the just the perfect technology problem for us to solve.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrap so far. Both of us had savings from several years of work at Microsoft and Amazon, and are lucky to have loving wives supporting us through this. Between the two of us and our part-time developer, we had enough horsepower to develop and market-test the alpha MVP with very little investment. Now that we have pilot-tested our alpha app with real users and have a clear idea of the market we are pursuing, we are beginning to look for seed funding.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Simplicity of user experience and the large product information database we have assembled in a low-cost and scalable way. Its beautiful to see our users’ eyes light up when they see their user manuals, warranties, service phone numbers auto-magically start appearing on their product dashboard and all they did was take a picture!”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “The decision by both of us to quit our fantastic fulltime jobs to pursue this dream fulltime. We are having so much fun spending every waking hour thinking about this problem and building our company – we can’t imagine being able to do this part-time.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Targeting too much in the first release. We realized our mistake and re-focused the MVP on a set of core scenarios. As a result, we lost some time which would have helped us launch sooner.
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Jobs. Our success will be driven by user experience. The essence of our service is that we will make our users’ lives easier, give them peace of mind that somebody’s got their back on tracking these products. If the user interface is not intuitive and easy enough, then users will never get to discover the tremendous value we deliver over time.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “We launch our version one app for iPhone and iPad today. We are starting small with the modest goals of tracking the products you own. Over time, you will realize that whenever you have a question about a high-value product, there will be no better place than Boxella to look for answers.”
Rivals should fear us because: “We take no prisoners – just kidding. Fear us because our wives want to use our app and they have very exacting standards. Because we love what we are doing and are crazy enough to actually believe we will change the world. Because we have deep technical chops and experience needed to build the complex technology behind the simple user interface we present to our users.”
We are truly unique because: “We have seen several competitors do piecemeal solutions – some track your warranties, some track your receipts, some help you find manuals, some do price tracking. We feel that they all miss the mark. Consumers really don’t want to deal with these different aspects separately, they are looking for peace of mind that it is all taken care of with the least amount of work. Our solution achieves this.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Finding the right balance between tasks that our core Seattle team should handle and tasks that we could pass on to our offshore team while keeping a fast pace of development across the board.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “This probably applies more to our Seattle based folks, many of whom are toying with the idea of being a part-time entrepreneur. Doing a startup is hard, needs a lot of effort and the odds are already stacked against you. By not giving your full time effort, you will handicap your efforts severely. In our personal experience, building our own product and company has been the most rewarding experience of our lives. Even though this has consumed every waking hour – we can’t imagine doing this part time.”