The Saturday afternoon was well spent. Next Big What’s road show Unpluggd was in Pune. More than a regular VC–Startup networking session, Unpluggd not only brought some inspiring successful entrepreneurs but also gave me a chance to connect with some online friends whom I have never met offline. One such inspiring young man is Nischal Shetty, Founder of JustUnfollow (JU) who has built a strong team while building a global social media management product for Twitter and Instagram.
The first speaker at Pune Unplugged, Nischal had travelled from Mumbai where the company is based out currently. I have known Nischal while he was working as a developer at Burrp back in 2010 but never got a chance to meet him.
The launch followed by bad press from TC
Nischal had built the app over a weekend in Feb, 2010 since he was following way too many people on Twitter and the 140 character network had become a nightmare for him. While sharing his initial story to the audience at the Unplugged session, he also shared one of the worst and the best story that could ever happen to his new app.
“After developing my app, I had shared with Techcrunch (TC) hoping they might take a look at it. To my surprise Michael Arrington the then father of TC had tested the app and found a bug which he shared with me. I was blown by the fact that Arrington had mailed me and I did not care for the bug. The next thing I saw that TC had done a story while mentioning the bug,” shared Nischal who thinks that the bad press also helped him gain a lot of traction that never seemed to die since then.
Monetizing and leaving the job
The next phase of six months meant two things. – one working at the regular job and the second was working on the app during the late evenings or over the weekend. Nischal had a feeling that after the bad press he will have to shut down the app. To his surprise that never happened and the traffic continued to increase. So the entrepreneur in the making continued to work on the app while server costs went up, taking nearly half of his salary.
Can I monetize from the app, will people really pay so that they can unfollow people? The idea worked and US and European markets, who were the early adopters of Twitter, started paying $10 per year. By the end of 2010, Nischal was making more than his day job and that was the clear indication for him that the time has come to ditch any one of the jobs.
He ditched the job at Burrp. But there was a problem – Nischal was one-man army, though he now had convinced a friend to support him but lack of funds was still a problem to make his friend quit his job. Nischal was in no mood to run behind angel funding and I doubt if any Indian angel funder would have supported him back in 2010 when hardly people knew about Twitter in the country.
From no where the team heard about Startup Chile incubation programme which had launched then. Nischal, along with his friend applied for it, got selected and got funded with no equity being taken from Startup Chile.
Startup Chile experience and GrabInbox debacle
This was 2011 and for the next 14 months, Nischal, along with his friend stayed in Chile enjoying the entrepreneur’s life. While everything was going right, Nischal started focusing on many more things rather than just JU.
“I was amazed by the idea of building good products and then making loads of money from it. This was the time when my focus shifted from JU and GrabInbox was built. But it failed and I realized quite quickly that I will have to focus only on JU since the customers were seeing value in it, ” said Nischal while sharing how the prime focus was JU for the next 6 months after the Startup Chile experience.
Building a team and going mobile
While Nischal was focusing the entire time on JU, he also realized that the app had more than 1M users. A clear indication that it was time to invest in some more sharp minds on board. So the next phase in the startup’s life was to build a good team.
But the real spike came when the startup went mobile. According to Nischal, “If you are a startup in consumer business and content consumption is on the go then going mobile is a must in today’s time. Both from a business and developer point.”
The mobile shift happened in 2013; mobile apps were launched in most of the common operating systems. This gave a good spike to the startup and by April, 2013 the user growth had crossed 3M.
Redesign and massive media coverage
Was Nischal happy now? A good team, more users and increased revenues, but the founder was still not happy. “Nobody was writing about us and I wanted to make that happen so my next agenda was to find out what was not right in JU,” added Nischal who had found out that the startup required to focus on design and user experience.
The startup went into a complete redesign exercise from the logo to giving a fresh look around early August, 2013. The much required move once again brought the startup at the doors of TC but this time it got a thumbs up from the tech blog. While the startup got international coverage, local tech sites also covered it which included our review too.
The massive startup coverage brought some more cheer to the young startup, which announced that it had crossed 5 Million users by Sept 2013.
The road ahead and India traction
After the event, I caught up with the founder to know about his future plans. While the focus of JU is to add more social platforms, at the same time they are looking to add new platforms like the recent addition was Instagram. So going further they could add up platforms like Pinterest and some really new ones that are popular in the developed markets.
Apart from the existing features at JU, the team is working on a new feature that will pull out all the Twitter handles of the participants that are attending an event. A much required feature in today’s times when Twitter is becoming the common ground of one-to-one conversation. The team is still testing it and making the feature better while brainstorming on some more ideas.
[pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”right_pull”]JustUnfollow witnesses the second most users and customers from Saudi Arabia after US.[/pullquote]
The startup today has got an office in Mumbai and occasionally holds meetups at its den as Nischal believes in growing the startup culture in the country. In 40 months, JustUnfollow, which is now a social media management app, has made waves in the global community.
In Nischal’s words, JU has just hit the foothold.