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Chris Cardell

Interview with Shalin Jain (HappyFox)

HappyFox is customer support and ticket management software.

I interviewed Shalin Jain, HappyFox founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and nineteenth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Shalin!

Describe HappyFox in under 50 words.

HappyFox is a cloud-based help desk ticketing system, with a built-in knowledge base, support centre and community forum. Coupled with a beautiful interface, HappyFox’s features offer businesses the easiest way to provide great customer support.

Describe yourself in one sentence.

A creative introvert entrepreneur who loves building highly usable products.

What made you decide to start working on HappyFox?

We were shopping for a good help desk application in 2005, but in vain. Getting into building a customer service & help desk product came out of our own internal needs.

How did you come up with the name?

The goal of every company is to keep their customers Happy. Custom Support traditionally is seen as a cost-center and as a stressful job. But when equipped with the right tool, it is fun, improves customer retention and above all makes everyone happier. Our name is inspired by the role our product plays. HappyFox carries that thought to every customer. Customers love the name and are relieved that it’s not another something+desk.

Where are you based?

I am based in Irvine, Southern California.

You decided you wanted to own your own business at the age of 18. How did you make your dream come true? How did it all begin?

Writing music, learning to code and designing interfaces was all I focused on during high school. I had two jobs before starting on my own. The latter one was in a 100 member technology company. I was influenced to bring my focus back to my academics and grades, so that I could make it to the Ivy League schools. So, I quit. But within 3 days of moving away from work, I felt incomplete. So, I thought starting on my own would give me the perfect balance that I wanted.

I started building advertising banners for a company, for free – I wrote the storyboard, designed and animated it. I had 200 customers in 6 months. From then I started charging customers but very soon I realized that my interest did not lie in services. I was passionate about building products. Turning ideas into usable, useful products was what I wanted to do. My experience in composing music probably groomed me so. I hired my neighbour and gave him everything that I had earned so far to build a product. In a couple of months I made back all the money and the growth I saw was insane. It was a dream come true. I was chasing a passion and making money off it at the same time.

What appealed most about being your own boss?

Being your own boss is a lot of hard work but comes with a perk which can otherwise be hard to find: great co-workers. I love the fact that I can actually choose the people I want to work with. I love working with people that have multiple passions. We have singers, marathon champions, play writers, electronic DIY lovers and boxers. These are people who have lived with different passions at every level of their life. It has a huge influence on the culture of our company and has personally helped me grow manifold. It inspires me, motivates me and lets me have fun everyday. The mere choice of being able to hand pick each one of these people and have them come together is such an experience; Like building your own league dream team.

What technologies have you used to build HappyFox?

We primarily use Python, Postgres for Database and Amazon Web Services for our infrastructure.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing HappyFox?

Live Reporting. We store millions of emails, web requests and updates. The volume of data is overwhelming. We still believe in live reporting and having no restriction on reporting intervals or number of reports.

How long did it take to put together HappyFox?

HappyFox gets its roots from our successful on-premise help desk. Originally when we started building the product, we had our first version out in 2 months. Not knowing what the competition is and what they do, an MVP like that was made possible. It did very little and we were even embarrassed to release it initially. We thought this would not sell, but we were proved wrong.

How have you marketed HappyFox? Which tools and techniques have been most successful?

Our marketing team is very lean. All of our leads are inbound. People mainly find us through search, our reviews or customer references. Our biggest marketing investment has been on our customer success.

How did you decide on the pricing plan?

We started with bundled pricing. Fixed the price for a range of help desk staff members. It had its challenges and we were quick to switch to a per-agent price.

We have also carefully segmented our price plans to appeal to very small businesses and provide true value for money for our larger customers.

What do you wish you’d have known ten years ago that you know now?

Managing multiple products is like managing multiple businesses at once. It is much easier to do this later than earlier.

Where do you see HappyFox in ten years time?

We want to stand out as a company that knows and has everything your business would need to have a support platform and still keep it fun and different. We want to be an Apple in the world of Microsoft and IBMs.

Has HappyFox got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

Absolutely. We have grown exceptionally well. Our product is loved, is dependable and has roped in all the good feedback from our customers promptly.

Who would you say is HappyFox’s biggest competitor?

Our biggest competitors are Zendesk and, owned by Salesforce.

What advantage does HappyFox have over its competitors?

HappyFox is simpler, more flexible and has the most unique interface in the industry. We also are high on emotion – happiness.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

My biggest hurdle was not delegating or hiring soon enough. That sure slowed us down at times.

Who helped you get to where you are today?

I have drawn a lot of inspiration from other entrepreneurs. Gautam of Conceptworld, Sreeram of Claylabs and Viresh Bhatia, ex-CEO Installshield.

Which entrepreneurs do you most admire?

I admire Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. I think I can relate to them more because both of them have an eye for creating the best.

What one piece of advice would you give to other young startup founders?

Make everyone in your startup participate in customer support.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We have seen our biggest quarter-wise growth. We are doing things differently as a bootstrapped company and growing as fast as a funded one.

What’s next?

We are launching two new exciting products built around HappyFox in the next two quarters. One for mobile app developers and other is for large consumer enterprises.

Can you convince the reader to start using HappyFox in under 50 words?

Got customers? Get HappyFox. HappyFox is a simple and complete help desk software for your business. It is unbelievably affordable and backed by fantastic support.

Finished reading? Check out HappyFox!

Interview with Nick Telson and Andrew Webster (DesignMyNight)

DesignMyNight is a planning and deals service for nights-out across the UK.

I interviewed Nick Telson and Andrew Webster, DesignMyNight founders to find out more. This is the two hundred and eighteenth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Nick and Andrew!

How would you describe DesignMyNight in under 50 words?

DesignMyNight is a nightlife discovery website that constructs nights out based on where the user wants to go, what sort of night they want and how much they are willing to spend. We also sell tickets through our own ticketing platform to cool events and have a free party planning service.

How did you meet?

We (myself and Andrew) met at our first week in University. We immediately had a connection in that we both wanted to one day own our own business and have been friends ever since, eventually progressing that friendship into a business partnership.

What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch DesignMyNight in 2011?

It was a holiday that myself (Nick) and Andrew were on in New York that really got the idea started. We were staying in a great hotel and were asking our concierge where we should go out and instead of us quizzing him on where to go, he was quizzing us; What area? How much do you want to spend? What type of place do you fancy? What type of night do you want? And so the questions went on…and that night we both had that cliché light bulb moment…Why not build a site for nightlife that essentially acts like a concierge designing your perfect night out. There was no other site out there like it that could tailor your exact needs and bring back perfect choices so we worked night and day trying to get the idea off the ground, eventually launching in 2011.

You have recently received £500,000 in Angel funding. How difficult was this to secure, and what are you looking to improve with the funding?

We received our first round of funding of £250k in 2012 and the day we got that telephone call securing the investment is one that we will never forget. We were down to our last bit of savings and spent a lot of our time seeking out potential investors so really it was make or break for us back then. It was tough to secure as we had to pitch to each individual angel investor (6 of them) but we believed in the business and apparently so they did they…although they gave nothing away in the meetings!

Our most recent investment of £250k came in September 2013 and this is being used for employee growth and a new B2B product called Collins. Collins is a new revolutionary bar specific booking and management system, which after only 3 months into its launch has been picked up by over 60 bars in London.

Who do you see as your target audience? How are you reaching them?

Our target audience is far-reaching as we aim to be very inclusive. Whatever type of night you are looking for we aim to be able to help, therefore our customers range from students to tourists, young professionals to corporates and to those still not too old to party! We reach our current and prospective users through a variety of means; social media plays a big part as it gets any message you are trying to share out there very quickly to a huge audience. We also try smaller offline campaigns to get people talking, for example our “Healthy Breakfast, Naughty Night Campaign” in which we had teams standing outside major offices across London handing out bananas and apples to employees with a cocktail voucher in a nearby bar. This got great social pickup!

Obviously as a website we rely heavily on search engines as well as retargeting our current user base to get them to engage more; using personalised, hand-picked venues in newsletters, offers and exclusive/cool suggestions. Our aim is to be that great best friend that always seems to know what’s going on in a city. We are also about to launch our reward scheme that will allow users to accumulate points by booking, buying tickets and leaving reviews then redeem these points for money off tickets or great nightlife experiences for them and their friends.

Has DesignMyNight got the feedback and growth you expected since launching 2011?

I’m not sure what we expected when we first launched DesignMyNight, we obviously wanted it to be a success and the feedback we have received so far has been overwhelming. Receiving half a million pound investment was great feedback for us in terms of reassuring us that our idea was a great one and something to continue to work on and grow. We’ve had a few hairy moments along the way but have always come back fighting with some business pivots and fresh ideas to keep the engine on full rev. The DesignMyNight team has grown from 2 to 22 employees in 3 years and we now cover 5 cities in the UK. The site gets over 1.5 million hits monthly and our booking and ticket sales grow at a huge percentage month on month. Now, because we can see what we have done within 3 years, the sky’s the limit really.

How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?

DesignMyNight is first and foremost a Discovery website where you can search through 1000s of venues and 1000s of events and then filter based on what the user wants, rather than other apps or websites that curate 10 events that THEY think you’ll like. We are all different and like different things surely? DesignMyNight was also the first nightlife site to allow the user to book directly into London bars, pubs and clubs. It was always there for the restaurants but never the drinks side of the industry. We also have a free concierge and party planning service for our users. Recent research into our own site’s statistics showed that the average person books 30 days in advance of their preferred date instead of leaving it to the last minute.

DesignMyNight has a big B2B focus recently launching the first ever bar specific booking and enquiry management system called Collins. Collins is already in over 60 bars within the first 3 months of its launch. We also have our own ticket software that venues can use to sell tickets through and get promo for their events.

We try to be the ultimate B2B partner and definitive one-stop-shop for customers whether they want to book bars, a table in a club, a private room or buy tickets for events.

What is your primary focus in terms of new developments at the moment?

The next 12 months are the most crucial for the business. We have spent the previous 12 months building, in-house, our Collins software. We aim to bring the bar/club industry up to the levels of the restaurant industry and have built a software dedicated to their needs (very different needs than restaurants). Having launched in December 2013, Collins is already in over 60 bars, including some of the world’s top bars such as Callooh Callay and Purl. Our mobile App and mobile site will also be a primary focus in the final 2 quarters, looking to emulate the great web experience in people’s pockets. We are also constantly looking to improve the customer journey on the site. How can a user come to DesignMyNight and find a perfect bar or event to suit what they are looking for; book into it or buy a ticket; then have a fantastic night. This is our obsession…

Where are you expanding to next?

This year we have already expanded into Brighton, joining our other cities, London, Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham. We have some ideas and plans in the pipeline for another city (and who knows…countries) so you’ll just have to watch this space…!

Where do you see DesignMyNight in 5 years time?

We have a vision for where we want to take the company. While we are always working towards that ultimate goal we are very focused on the next 6 months first and making sure we are providing the best possible resource for our customers and B2B partners. In 5 years…hopefully I won’t be too old to be CEO of a nightlife website!

Which site or app do you check first when you wake up?

Citymapper to check how the underground is running and Trello to see how my sales guys got on the previous day!

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

If you believe in something, start small, start simple and just get the idea live without pouring everything into it and then see what happens from there. If you don’t try, you’ll never know! What’s the worst that could happen?

Can you convince the reader to start using DesignMyNight in under 50 words?

Never want to be disappointed by a night out again? Try and download the free App for help on the go. Let us be your new best friend!

Finished reading? Check out DesignMyNight!

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