It was February 2010. 32-year-old Lalit Bhise was devastated. The mobile technology startup he and four of his friends co-founded in early 2007 was dead. Mobisy was dead. Not to suggest that the idea didn’t have legs. It did. A mobile platform that allowed others to create apps that ran on top of phone browsers, it was the precursor to modern “web apps”. It didn’t go far.
Java and Symbian-based phones, not iOS or Android smartphones, ruled the market. Mobisy’s platform enabled websites to run like native apps on these phones, with access to phone-only features like call records, GPS and phone book, among others, all while running within a browser.
But Bhise and his self-professed geek co-founders couldn’t figure out a way to earn enough through the platform. With hardly any money left to pay salaries, Bhise came clean with his employees. “We have less than two months of salaries left in the bank. If we are to survive, we cannot pay you for the next six months,” he told them. His four co-founders left and found new jobs. All but two of his employees left as well. Everything he had built over the last three years was gone.
“But I’m not done yet,” Bhise told his wife. They had been married eight years, with two kids, aged seven and five. Worse, Shree Kulkarni, his wife, had quit her job with IBM years ago. He half-expected her to tell him to take up a job. Instead, Kulkarni surprised him. “You may be good at technology, but you have no idea how to do business. I’ve been looking through your accounts. I’ll let you continue with your startup only on one condition—I will join you to take care of it,” she said.
It was more instruction than offer, Bhise realised. He agreed.
And just like that, the mild-mannered software engineer and young father went from excruciating guilt and stress at the failure of his first startup, to doubling down on it with his wife in tow. This would be the first of many contrarian decisions Bhise and Mobisy would make. Or be forced to make.
On 21 May, Mobisy, a twice-reborn avatar of the company that Bhise was shutting down in 2010, announced that it had raised $3.5 million in its Series A funding. The investment was led by SIDBI Venture Capital, a wholly owned subsidiary of SIDBI, a government-owned bank chartered with lending to small businesses.
Mobisy’s current avatar makes Bizom, a SaaS (software as a service) offering aimed at industries that distribute and sell consumer products via the millions of mom-and-pop kirana stores across India. Industries such as consumer packaged goods (CPG), auto parts, electronics or fashion. Bhise claims Bizom is used by over 120,000 end-users across 300 customer brands like iD Fresh, Parle Agro, Jyoti Labs and Hershey’s.