This is my interview with Pallav Nadhani, the founder of FusionCharts, a company that provides graphs and charts for over 18,000 customers and 375,000 developers across 110 countries including a majority of the Fortune 500 companies, including Google, Weather.com, Facebook, and NASA. He started the company when he was 17 without any outside investment.
In this interview, he talks about his background and how he started the company. He also talks about some of the advantages/disadvantages to/not start a business at an early age.
His entrepreneurial journey has been covered by various magazines like Forbes, Entrepreneur, Business Today, Economic Times and numerous blogs & websites.
Pallav is also an active angel investor in India.
Hi Pallav, thanks for taking the time to do this interview with me, how are you doing today?
Very well, thank you.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I am a techie who now dons the hat of a CEO and an angel investor. I was born in Bhagalpur, a small town in India and then shifted to Kolkata (a metro city) when I was almost 15. My father was running a web design business in Kolkata. I worked with him for few quarters and picked up valuable lessons in client interaction, web designing and tools of the trade. Later, I did my Masters in Computer Science from University of Edinburgh. We just opened another office in Bangalore, and now I’m based out of here.
So what role do you currently have in the company?
Currently, I don multiple hats – part of a product manager, part of a marketer, part of a sales person and part of a recruiter. My job is to get the best people who I know on board and direct them on product and strategy, and let them drive it.
Tell us about a bit about FusionCharts and how did the idea came about?
When I was working for my father’s web design company, I came across this site ASPToday.com that used to pay a good amount of money to authors for writing innovative articles. That sparked in me the idea to write an article for them. During those days, I had to prepare charts in Microsoft Excel for my school work - and after doing web design, I found these charts very boring and dull. And since I had been working with Macromedia Flash (Adobe Flash now), I started exploring how to marry that to business data and to create better charts for web.
After a few weeks of coding, I made an animated and interactive charting system, which was very crude. But, in all naivety, I wrote an article on that and it got published. I got $1,500 from that (and another article that I subsequently wrote for ASPToday.com itself). That was my seed capital for the business, and also the start of the entrepreneurial journey. Developers who read that article liked it and kept on asking for modifications and enhancements and this is when I realized that a product could be created out of it.
What were you doing before you started FusionCharts?
I was in high school.
What would you say has been your most memorable experience so far on your entrepreneurial journey?
Seeing a picture of President Barack Obama on a US government website, looking at our product as part of that website.
Starting up the company, what would you say was your most difficult process and how did you overcome it?
Coming from technology background, dealing with people was the most difficult part. I had no hiring experience or expertise in HR policies. Plus, my expectations from employees were always over the board, as I expected them to work like me. Learning how to delegate important things also took me time. Gradually, I realized my follies and started working on it – and am still working.
Tell me about your experience in the University, did you think it helped prepare you for the real world or should i say corporate world? How would you describe your experience?
It was something that I wanted to do for a long time – more of a personal dream. I learned more about life in general than academics. For the first time, I was living all by myself – doing everything that is required. Living in India, you get used to a comfortable life with maids, helpers, chauffeurs and office boys. That period made me realize the importance of time management. Plus, the cultural experience was invaluable.
You're also an angel investor, when did you start investing?
Almost a year back. While we started with the idea of covering the void in East India, we now invest pan-India.
What do you look for in companies you want to invest? what industries are you investing in at the moment?
Good & balanced team having belief in their own idea (though not married to it, in case they need to pivot). Also, an arena where we could add value personally, more than just the money. We invest in software and Internet companies only.
What do you do for fun?
Traveling, poker and a lot of reading.
Let's go back a bit to when you were 17 starting a business, what would you say were the advantages and disadvantages of starting a business at such an early age?
Nothing to lose. If you start early and fail, you came out a much wiser person.
Others easily forgive mistakes that you make early.
Since you have never worked, you have no idea of baselines (or benchmarks). As such, you bring a fresh
perspective and always try and improvise it (because you always feel that what you’re doing is not up to the mark).
Early pocket money, that gives you freedom to do what you want.
Good PR story J
Potential employees and customers might not take you very seriously. You’ve to be really good to prove otherwise to them.
Lack of people skills. Not having enough knowledge on how corporations work, people behave, policies & frameworks operate.
What are some of your favourite web based tools at the moment?
Google Apps, Wrike
Name some of the Indian start-ups you admire at the moment?
Zomato, DimDim, VisualWebsiteOptimizer, RedBus, JustDial
What are some of the advantages of having your base in India?
I would say it would not have mattered if we had our base in India or US, since we sell online & globally.
What future developments can customers be expecting from FusionCharts?
In terms of expansion, we recently opened another office in Bangalore to be able to attract senior talent. We’re expanding our sales & marketing efforts.