March 12 turned out to be one of the most memorable days in my professional career. It was the day we received the biggest award so far as a company—“The Economic Times Startup Awards 2021—Bootstrap Champ 2021”. It is considered one of the most prestigious awards in the technology startup ecosystem in India, and coincidentally the ceremony took place on my birthday making it super special.
Just to understand the scale of the award, which I received from the Hon’ble Minister of State for Skill Development, Information Technology and Entrepreneurship, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the same award was won by Zerodha in 2016 and today they are a unicorn company with over $2 billion in valuation. It was also won by big names like Gametion and Fit and Glow healthcare.
Being a national award, competing against 1,000s of startups which are coming out of India, going through multiple levels of selections and short listing by industry veterans as jury members and finally winning the award in front of some of the country’s finest entrepreneurs and political leaders felt like sports person winning his/her first national championship.
It was in August that Economic Times informed us that we were nominated for the Bootstrap Champ of the year award. We then went through two rounds of selections which involved submitting our entire history and growth journey and later declaring our financials. In September, ET announced that we were selected for the prestigious award among a final short list of five other start-ups.
The award ceremony was scheduled to take place on January 12, however the covid third wave managed to play spoil sport leading to the event being cancelled exactly two days earlier. The organisers finally scheduled the event on March 12.
I am also overjoyed to say that this is the first time that a Coimbatore-based company has managed to clinch an award at the seven-year-old award ceremony introduced by financial media giant the Economic Times. While this gives me immense pride, it gives me even more joy to say that it was our core values and principles that were endorsed by the jury.
The jury, which comprised of who’s who including Nandan Nilekani , Co-founder of Infosys, Deepinder Goyal, Zomato’s founder and CEO, Gokul Rajaram, DoorDash’s business and product leader and Nithin Kamath, founder and CEO of Zerodha among others, said what impressed them the most was that we had decided to set up our base in a tier II city like Coimbatore, the fact that we managed to scale up to this extent despite being bootstrapped and our extremely strong revenues.
It was also an amazing moment when Piyush Goyal, hon’ble minister of commerce, industry and consumer affairs, in his speech mentioned that he would like to see unicorns from smaller towns like Rameshwaram or Kanyakumari. He added that he intends to raise domestic capital of $15-$16 billion to invest in start-ups in tier 2,3 and 4 cities and towns. When I later walked up to him and introduced myself, he was extremely excited to know of our company, scale, and our base in Coimbatore.
His statement reinforces our aspiration to make Coimbatore the next-big SaaS hub in the country. And to continue working on a lot of community engagements and industry academia programs to motivate fresh talent to opt for and remain in Tier 2 cities.
The evening was followed by an exclusive dinner for the winners was almost a surreal experience for me, while also making me realize the scale and momentum of the event. It was a dinner where around 20 start-up founders got to have an informal meet with Minister Goyal. I just began talking to the person on to my left, who introduced himself as Nithin Kamath, the founder of Zerodha, and on to my right, another gentle man introduced himself as Prashanth Prakash, cofounder of Accel India. Next to Prashanth was a gentle man, who said he often visits Coimbatore since he was from Kerala. A couple of minutes later, he said he was Hariharan Menon founder of Big Basket.
For a person like me who always grabs the opportunity to chat with start-up and SaaS founders for the learning, I almost had to pinch myself to believe that I got to be seated and dining among the elite of the elite of India’s start-up and entrepreneurship eco-system.
During all my interactions people genuinely appreciated us and seemed extremely impressed with our business model of having our office in UK but 95% of our base in Coimbatore. They were curious and surprised that such a model could even work, leave alone it being successful.
This is not one of those overnight fairy tale success stories. In this award, there are 10 years of hard work, creating, sustaining, and scaling the company. I would like to thank every employee, customers, and partner of Kovai.co, both past and present, for believing in us and sticking with us through this journey and not least, my friends and family who supported us throughout.
While it may seem we have arrived, I would say this award is just a reminder for us to continue keeping our heads down, focussing on our customers and staying on track to become a SaaS unicorn by 2030. And once we manage to do so, I believe the fact that we are from a tier II city will end up bringing us a lot of welcome attention and support.
Kovai.co team at award ceremony
Kovai.co team at the ET startup awards 2021. (L-R) Kunal J Valecha, Manager – Brand Marketing, Saravana Kumar, founder & CEO, Indhirani Rangasamy, Manager-finance & Operations and Rugma Menon, Manager-People & Culture Saravana with Piyush Goyal, Hon’ble Minister of Commerce and Industry, Govt of India
Saravana with Prashanth Prakash, Partner at Accel India
Saravana with Hari Menon, CEO of Big Basket
Saravana with Nithin Kamanth, CEO and Founder of Zerodha
Saravana with Krishnakumar Natarajan, Co-Founder, MindTree Ltd
Award winners with Piyush Goyal
(L-R) CEO, Saravana Kumar, Kartik Hajela & Akshay Singhal, Founders of Log 9 materials, Aloke Bajpai, Co-founder & Group CEO, Ixigo, Piyush Goyal, Honorable Minister of Commerce & Industry, Govt of India, Lizzie Chapman, Co-founder & CEO, Zest Money, Abhiraj Singh Bhal, Co-founder & CEO, Urban Company, Arun George, Co-founder, Genrobotic Innovations and Sambhav Jain, Co-founder, Fampe