Interview with Amar Parkash, Co-Founder at CustTap

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One thing that can’t be denied is that the most differentiating factor why the online stores today are outperforming the offline stores is the way they utilize technology and data. With so much of data around in this tech enabled world it only makes sense to leverage the two to build a strong customer base. But given the costs involved and the expertise required most store owners just don’t take that way and miss out on a big opportunity to understand their customers and target them appropriately for increasing footfall, sales and thus efficiency. What comes to the rescue for these offline store owners is a company called CustTap.

CustTap is a startup offering data analytics and marketing services to the offline stores, and helping them use technology and data in the way it should be. The company was founded by Amar Parkash who is a IIIT Delhi alumnus and have worked with companies like PayPal and Goibibo in the past. The company which started from Bangalore but shifted their base to Gurgaon offers DIY (Do-It-Yourself) platform that doesn’t require much technical know-how and even a non-technical user can use it pretty easily to connect with the targeted customers. Apart from Data Analytics, the other services that are being offered by the company include E-mail and SMS marketing, Customer Segmentation, SEO and Social Media Analytics, etc.

We caught up with Amar Parkash recently, the founder of CustTap, and this is how the conversation went.

Give us a snapshot of your professional journey till now.

I have around 4 years of experience and throughout these 4 years, I have been involved in building data centric products. I joined Payments team at PayPal in 2012 right out of college. I kind of got bored at Paypal after working there for a year and then decided to join Goibibo. I joined as a 2nd member in the data platform and did a lot of exciting stuff in the 2 and a half years I spent there. And since the last 6 months I’ve been working full time on CustTap.

When & how did the entrepreneurial bug bite you?

I think, this all started somewhere in 5th semester (2010) in college. One of our professors received some grant from Google and he gave us 4 Motorola Droid phones to experiment with. We started with building a simple Hello World application on Android (2.1 those days) and ended up building a decentralised chat and file sharing application in coming 3 months. We got great reviews for this app and a lot of people even suggested to build a company out of this. A couple of angel investors also agreed to back us at that time. While we were evaluating all the possibilities, WhatsApp started gaining popularity and we 3rd year undergrads didn’t have enough courage  to drop out and start a company. Now when I look back at it, I think it was a right decision at that time since we were technically not prepared to take on the challenges involved in building a company. However, during the college days one thing became very clear in my mind that someday I have to start a company. 

What were the early days at CustTap like?

Initially I was working out of my house for the first 1-2 weeks and it was really tough in terms of getting used to staying at home and working. Things started getting better after that. I had an MVP ready when I jumped full time into the startup. First 2-3 months I was basically on the road talking to our potential customers and taking their feedback (sometimes brutal negative feedback). Sometimes it was frustrating, sometimes it was satisfying but overall we just kept on slogging, taking inputs and improving our product. 

Can you please describe what a typical day at office is like?

I normally reach office around 10 in the morning. First 2-3 hours are generally very productive for me so I try to code as much as possible in that duration. Then after lunch,  I spend some time reading a few articles on what’s happening in the space we are operating. I try to spend 50% of my time on the product and rest of the time in other activities like hiring, discussions, writing blogs, meeting people, marketing etc. I go back home around  8 pm and start working again around  10 pm. I spend around 2-3 hours working in the night before going to bed.

Can you tell us about the technology stack used at CustTap?

I generally believe in using ‘the right tool for the right thing’ kind of approach. Primarily we are using Django as our web framework. Most of our backend is written is Python and some scripts are written in shell.  We use R for some of the machine learning algorithms.

In terms of database, we are currently using MySql for everything. It fits our use case quite well at this stage so we try to keep it simple. 12-18 months down the line, we will be migrating some of the heavy tasks to hadoop and hive. We also leverage Amazon Web Services effectively and are currently using SES, SNS and SQS. Again, we try to fit the best technology available to our use case.  For Frontend, we are using Javascript, Bootstrap, HTML and CSS. 

Is there any technology that you’re personally betting on to help you scale up?

I think it would be a wrong thing to bet on a specific technology to scale up since technology changes pretty fast these days. More than the technology, we are focusing on leveraging the value of data and providing data driven solutions to our customers. 

How are you using Business Intelligence and analytics at your company?

At this stage, it would be too early to apply a lot of business intelligence and analytics. That being said, we try to capture everything we do inside the company and relate everything to defined measurable metrics. We have some admin dashboards so that everyone is on the same page w.r.t the core metrics for the company.

How else does technology help your company stand apart from its rivals?

One thing where we put a lot of effort and energy is in making sure that the overall user experience on the platform is seamless. Right from every single button click to the page load time, we have built it like a DIY (do it yourself) platform where everything is simple and easy to understand. 

Second thing, though not related to technology, where we put a lot of emphasis is on Customer Support. I know every single company claims that but nothing really works until you post a tweet or a facebook status. Right from day one, we are particular about customer service and would continue to do this as we scale.

What has been the biggest technical challenge you’ve faced while running CustTap?

We are primarily a platform for non tech users so the biggest technical challenge we face while building any feature is to make it super simple for a non tech user. We iterate and iterate and try to get thebest  possible thing out and in some cases we even have to compromise with a few features in order to keep everything simple.

What are some of the attributes you look out for in prospective technology employees?

The first thing I look for is the passion for solving the problem. Working in startups, specially bootstrapped ones, is painful and you can give your 100% only if you are passionate about solving the problem. Then we put a lot of emphasis on common sense and IQ. We have a standard set of questions (not like the ones on GeekforGeeks) where we test on the basis of programming and problem solving skills.

How do you keep up to date with the latest happenings in the technology world?

I spend a lot of time reading articles on Techcrunch, Linkedin Pulse, Yourstory and other technology blogs. I also read (and write) a lot on Quora, Stack Overflow and general technology blogs. 

What gets you excited about coming to work every day?

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” This is something which has really happened with me in last 6 months. It doesn’t really feel like work anymore and I am enjoying every single bit of it, be it writing code, or talking to people or writing a blog post.

What sets CustTap engineering culture apart?

From the engineering point of view, we as a team trust and respect each other for the skill sets we have. A lot of times I have asked my interns to write a critical piece of code. Before writing a single line of code, we brainstorm on the architecture and the scale and only go ahead with writing if everyone is convinced. In that aspect, we have great mentors in Ravi Madhira and Neeraj Koul who have been guiding us since our inception in terms of technology and the architecture.

Which CustTap value resonates best with you?

I would say Simplicity. I am a very simple and practical person in life and we take extreme pride in the fact that our product is simple and easy to use for our end customers.

Any piece of advice for the techies out there?

Two things basically –

First is that whenever you are building (or thinking of) a startup you have to be extremely patient and dedicate good amount of time to it. There might have been few exceptions but things don’t change overnight and you have to spend good enough time before you start seeing some results. 

Second thing  I would advice to the techies is to think from a customer’s point of view. We as techies always end up building products for the techies rather than the end customer. So before building, spend a good amount of time in talking to your potential customers and understanding their pain points. 

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