What does the winner of the MIT $100K business plan competition do with the winnings and plan? Launch Filepicker.io of course! Anand Dass, Filepicker.io’s cofounder has created a startup that connects any web or mobile application to the cloud while achieving four times faster uploads. Imagine building an application, like an online image editor, and wanting it to connect to the cloud. Well, if you use Filepicker.io as the connection to the cloud for your users through the app you’ve built, then you’ll get 4X faster file uploads and 10X increase in user engagement.
Sounds pretty damn awesome.
Anand is serious about what it takes to build a startup and if you’ve any questions about that process, I suggest taking a look at what he has to say about his experiences, his approach, and his attitude when it comes to following an idea and launching a dream.
We had a chance to speak to cofounder Anand Dass about travelling in Argentina, being a part of Y Combinator, and what it really takes to make a successful startup. There are true nuggets of advice, knowledge, and insight in this one folks. Take a few and give our interview with Anand a read:
What’s your company about?
Filepicker.io’s API provides a simple and intuitive way for web and mobile applications to integrate content from Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, Skydrive, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Picasa and 15 other platforms. Website and application developers can integrate Filepicker.io’s consumer-cloud gateway and Filesystem-as-a-Service in less than 30 minutes to achieve 4X faster file uploads and 10X increase in user engagement.
Filepicker.io’s APIs also saves the developer time from having to write custom server-side code for file management functionality such as conversion, crop, read, write, synchronize, notify etc. Over 9000 developers such as Scribd, SurveyMonkey, Livefyre, Haikudeck, Plangrid, Jotform, use Filepicker.io to build user content rich applications quickly as user’s files, photos, and video move to the cloud.
What’s the greatest thing about your company/website?
Users are increasingly storing more of their data online. Facebook has become my defacto online photo hard drive, while friends with DSLRs use Picasa or Flickr for this purpose. I’ve passively collected a lot of family photos and work PDFs in Gmail. Evernote stores my memories. Google Docs, Box, Alfresco and Office Live have my documents. Even YouTube or Vimeo keeps a cache of my favorite videos. Users don’t realize it fully yet but the content they care about lives online now. In a world where all this data is stored online in a fragmented manner, we want to make it easy for users to work with that data.
We are fanatical about building a world where users can live and work entirely online without worrying about where their data is stored or what devices they are on. This means your personal data is available to you wherever you go.
Nobody has tried to do this before. There are a number of products from the web 1.0 era that do uploads but none of them connect to the user’s cloud content and also none of them have file management capabilities to provide post processing functionality such as image conversions. Currently, we don’t have any direct competitors.
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
Our customers are web and mobile app developers. We wanted to select a name that clearly conveyed what we did. What better way to convey to customers that we enable users to pick their files from anywhere? Thus Filepicker. We debated between a .com and a .io domain but went with .io since our target customers (developers) are familiar with the .io domain. It also represents data input- output which is our core competence.
What was your first computer? How old were you when you first got on the world wide web?
You may call me a late bloomer in this regard. I come from a small town where computers didn’t arrive till 1996-97. I didn’t touch my first computer or get on the internet till then. But once I did, it was like going to a magic show for the first time as a kid. Like this portal into another world altogether. I remember going to an internet cafe and using the shared computer to get into AOL and Yahoo chat rooms. Regular trips to the internet cafes to “check mail” were just an excuse to surf the web.
What time do you usually start work each day? How many hours a day do you usually work?
Early start to the day and late nights are typical in startups. It is like going into battle; you have to be switched on all the time! So most days I am at my desk at 8 AM and wrap up work around midnight with a couple of hours break in between for a workout.
When’s the last time you went on vacation and where did you go?
Ten months ago, before I started Filepicker.io. I went to Argentina, Peru and Brazil with friends. Traveling to some of the world’s most pristine environments was awesome. If you get a chance, you should hike the glacier in Perito Moreno in Argentina, climb Machu Pichu in Peru and swim amongst the Amazonian fishes in Rio da Prata river in Brazil.
What’s the very first thing you do at work every day?
Check our metrics dashboard to get a sense of the key business indicators. Starting my day by looking at the metrics creates clarity, focus and a sense of purpose. Next up, I clear emails before I start working on the plan for the day. We have a 10 AM standup and so I take a few minutes before that to prep for the standup.
When do your best ideas come to you?
On most days it’s when I go run by the bay in San Francisco. When I push my self on the run, the mental fog and exhaustion seem to lift and I am able to problem solve better. Creative ideas, however, come at the most odd times: in the shower and often between the 3-4 beer right after the silliness kicks in!
How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?
Three people. Brett, Liyan and I are co founders. We have grown to a team of six now.
A lot of people have big ideas. What gave you the confidence to actually go after yours?
First off I am a strong believer that we have a very small window of opportunity in life where we can truly make an impact and change the world. So I have a higher sense of urgency on going after ideas. I had worked on three ideas before this and they hadn’t taken off for various reasons. So while I was sure that I wanted to push forth on an idea and turn it into a business, I got the confidence to do it after I met my co-founders. The team is vitally critical. You cannot execute on a good idea without a good team.
Remember the early days of starting up? Describe the struggles you went through.
When we started the company we were clear that we wanted to build something that people would want. After winning the MIT $100K business plan competition we received $100K in non-dilutive funding which helped us get the company of the ground. We then got into the Y Combinator summer 2012 batch.
YC was hard. Paul Graham and the other partners push you to prove that your ideas had legs. They measure you on your weekly growth and so every week we hustled hard to make sure that more customers were adopting the product. It is like a sprint and sprinting for three months flat is exhausting and stressful.
Personally, living and working together with my co-founders was an interesting experience. My wife is in Boston and so doing a long distance marriage for the last 6 months has been incredibly hard. But you got to do what you got to do!
How do you handle frustration? What has been your biggest professional frustration?
Actually our company policy is that frustration is good but depression is not! It’s OK to be frustrated about the state of affairs since it propels you to take action to improve the situation. This resilience and bias for action is critical if you want to change the world.
When I get frustrated, I first try to articulate and list out the frustration. Then on one of my runs I start thinking about what I could do to make the frustration go away. Vocalizing it helps get it out of the system as well.
So we have regular feedback sessions where we talk to each other about what’s working and what is not. Feedback is critical to personal growth and receiving suggestions and ideas from your colleagues is helpful in dealing with the frustrations. Biggest professional frustration is that things take time and as a startup you want everything to happen yesterday. The natural pace of things is frustrating. It would be awesome to bend reality and accelerate things!
What’s your office environment like? Do you listen to music? Watch movies? Play video games?
As a young startup, our office culture and environment is in its formative stage. Every new person who joins the team shapes the culture and the workspace. So if you are considering working for a startup, hit us up! You can shape the culture and office environment. But if I have to think of one word that defines us, it’s probably “Flexibility.”
As far as physical space, there is a lot of flexibility in how we use our office space. Some of us have standing desks while others chill out on a bean bag. I think culturally we are a high intensity team. We pick the projects we want to work on and will feel proud about. We set our own schedules and get shit done! We have a very low tolerance for drama and politics and are incredibly frank with each other.
We are invested in each other’s personal and professional growth and thus the feedback session are an important tool. Some of us play board games like chess. So our lounge has a chess board. You wont see some of the more common artifacts like nerf guns etc. but the one thing we do is that most days we cook dinner together and eat as a team. For some reason it has become this team bonding experience where most nights we sit around the dinner table, talk about your day, drink beer and eat food with music playing in the background. Oh, and did I mention that our office is right opposite the AT&T ballpark in SOMA in San Francisco? The night view of the bay makes dinner setting even more awesome!
How do you picture your company in 5 years?
Not entirely sure. We know we will be successful and growing. We are growing over 10% week to week and at this rate we should be a sizeable internet infrastructure company in five years. I think we will still continue to be hands-on and heads down executing on our plans. We want to change the way people live and work online and as the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Who or what inspires you?
Other entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley inspire us a lot. The interesting thing about Silicon Valley is that everyone who has become a somebody here used to be a nobody when they arrived. This is city of dreams where entrepreneurs arrive with hopes of changing the world. Meeting them and hearing their stories instills humility and recharges you to go out and fight harder for your own startup.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
Fail fast. Don’t build stuff unless you know someone out there wants it. Test your hypothesis rapidly and put together a world-class team. If you don’t have a good team, you can’t execute.
What would you do if you had a year off and $500,000 to spend (on something other than work)?
Travel! So many places to go and so many new things to see.
Number 1 country you’ve always wanted to visit but haven’t yet? (And why that country?)
Italy. Wanted to go there with my wife. Coz it’s supposed to be romantic!
How can our readers get in touch with you?