Cube26 CEO on the Opportunities and Challenges of Running a Startup in India

Saurav Kumar is the CEO of Cube26, an India based technology startup building smart services and products. Last week we sat down with the entrepreneur who came to speak at the Wharton Tech Conference about the challenges of running startup in emerging markets and the startup boom in India.


What is cube26 all about?

Cube26, at its heart, is about making the device experience more enriching for users through smarter intuitive software. One of our core beliefs is that discovering services shouldn’t be a separate task for the user, it should come intuitively with the core software.

So if I schedule an appointment on my calendar, booking a cab for the same shouldn’t be a separate process I need to do later.


Where and when did you start the company?

We started back in 2012 in Santa Clara, California. Back then, we went by the name of Predict Gaze because our initial product involved tracking a user’s eye gaze and using it to enable multiple user interactions like pausing a video or scrolling web pages.

We later pivoted to complete customization of mobile software—primarily Android—and rebranded to Cube26.


Why did you move from the Valley to India?

Around the time we were gaining traction here in the US, back home in India there was an unparalleled boom in smartphone adoption. This was primarily fueled by the rise of ecommerce and affordable Android smartphones. All of the tech that we had developed here in the Valley could very fluidly be applied to all those smartphones, about 100 million at that time. It was a huge market opportunity waiting to be tapped into.


What’s different about running a startup in India vs. the US?

I think starting up a company in India has a very unique set of challenges. About the time we started, we were accustomed to how startups run and are supported in the Valley, and although we’ve retained a lot of those core principles, we’ve adapted on quite a few fronts. 

On the product side, you really need to make sure the thing you ship is as versatile and adaptable as the vast population of the country.


What are some of the challenges you faced?

One of the prime challenges we faced was finding something that could scale very fluidly. We didn’t want to make just a great product, we wanted to make a great company. We didn’t raise any funds for the first couple of years of operation because the product model we had was self sustaining. Only when we were confident of our model and decided to scale did we decide raise venture funding. 

Another particular but educating challenge we had was cracking the ecosystem over in China. How the ODM/OEM service market works—that has been of huge importance to our model here.


Where is the Indian market headed?

I think we’ll see remarkable growth in the Indian market in the next 2-3 years. We’re poised to be the second biggest smartphone market by 2018 at 650 million.  Internet adoption, with the advent of a couple of very big players in the LTE segment, is soaring. Factors like these will give rise to close to billion connected smartphone users sometime in the next 5 years, which is a market opportunity no company regardless of the segment can afford to ignore. 

We’re also projecting the kind of initial growth seen in the smartphone market to expand to the bigger IoT segment. And when Internet adoption improves, more and more devices around us will be connected and provide the users a connected devices experience never seen before, while at the same time giving companies access valuable data and insight into their target consumers.


Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs in India?

I think something entrepreneurs back home need to do is innovate and take risks. There has been a sprout of startups in particular segments like ecommerce, but the same hasn’t happened in the core product segment.

Another very important habit entrepreneurs should have is to make data backed decisions. Everyone has their gut to guide them, but coupling that feeling with data insights is the surely the right way to go.

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