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Building a company that outlives the founders

Oct 05 2015 : The Times of India (Chennai)
THE S-FILES - Building a company that outlives the founders
With More Non-English Users Getting On The Internet, Firm Seeks To Leverage $20 Billion Language Products Market
With a struggling startup and a passion for t e ch n o l o g y, Ravi Saraogi and Umesh Sachdev met Prof Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT-Madras.He ripped apart their ideas at first. Impressed by the duo's spirit, he offered to mentor them in RTBI (rural tech nology business incubator) within IIT.

With a vision to build a product in mobile telecom with a rural focus, they visited several dis tricts in Tamil Nadu, including Dharmapuri and Mayiladuthurai to start a pilot project. Of all the issues they came across, it was low literacy and usage of varied dialects that stood out. “This became our problem statement,“ said Sachdev . “We decided to use voice as a channel to bridge the digital divide.“

Determined to overcome the vernacular barrier and build a scalable model, the duo spent a year to build a prototype and within a month, obtained seed funding of $100,000.

With technology in their DNA and a zeal for entrepreneurship, Saraogi and Sachdev decided to focus on B2B and build products to address specific problems, including ambient noise, dialect variation with robust technology backing their solutions.

Backed with three rounds of funding and five offices across the globe, today Uniphore has created a niche for itself in speech technology .The second round of funding in early 2014 was a defining moment, which brought structural changes and strategic thinking to the business. With three products on speech analytics, virtual speech assistance and voice biometrics, Uniphore's solutions cut across education barriers, provides emotion detection, predictive analysis and big data analytics.

Prof Jhunjhunwala, who played a pivotal role in the ideation of Uniphore has much about to say about the duo.

“Umesh and Ravi have the ability to continuously learn and evolve. Dedication and strong will to succeed have always been their strong points. But ability to learn from setbacks and a 'never give up' attitude have taken them far,“ he said.

IDG Ventures, one of Uniphore's early investors, are very excited about the technologies developed at Uniphore. Ranjith Menon, executive director at IDG Ventures said, “Speech is a tough problem to solve. The clarity with which the team has approached the problem and their ability to attract talented people is what got us excited.“ “Globally, the language technology market is about $20billion. The next set of people companies reach out to will not be English speaking but those who transact in regional languages and we are happy to partner with Uniphore in their pursuit of global ambitions,“ added Menon.

Today , their biggest challenge is talent. “Our make or break is people,“ said Sachdev He believes there is a limited top-tier talent pool.

Ask about the future for Uniphore and he says, “We aim to a build a company that outlives us.“ After a pause, Sachdev adds, “Hopefully 50 years later, a journalist will interview the next CEO of Uniphore on how it has survived and stayed relevant.“

(This series captures the start-up ecosystem in the state)


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