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The Big Picture – In Conversation with Sreevastha Prabhakar – Founder of Servify

Servify is a fast growing SaaS company in the device lifecycle management and technology-enabled post sales service domain. Headquartered in India, with offices and customers around the world, the company primarily works with leading mobile phone brands, retailers and telcos today. Servify monetizes its technology platform through warranty and insurance offerings co-branded with their customers.

I often say that I have the best job in the world. The reason is simple – I get to interact with brilliant, aspirational entrepreneurs on a daily basis. And if I can retain a certain percentage of what I hear (I call it the “coefficient of suction/retention”), then I am smarter at the end of the day than I was at the beginning of the day…every day!

Sreevatsa Prabakar of Servify. 

In that context, one of the most driven entrepreneurs that we at Iron Pillar have had a chance to meet and back is Sreevatsa Prabakar (Sree) of Servify. 

On the back of a sizable $23M Series C raised recently, I had the chance to sit down with Sree as part of Iron Pillar’s “The Big Picture” series of conversations – to talk about his journey and secrets to his and Servify’s success. Capturing some of the nuggets from that discussion here. I hope you enjoy! 

Mohanjit: Welcome to the series, which we’re calling The Big Picture. The idea is to have very open and candid conversations with our entrepreneurs, our advisors, our mentors and it’s in that context that I wanted to spend some time with you, understanding both your journey to founding the company Servify and then really talk about what the ups and downs have been like in this year of the pandemic. 

By the way, when I describe you to my friends and colleagues and others in the VC business, I call you a “force of nature” because come what may, you push right ahead. That’s some of what I’d love to capture today in this conversation. Without further ado let me just dive right in. Tell me about the journey to founding the company. What caused you to go after Servify? 

Sree: As I actually think about this, 22 years ago, when I came to this city – Mumbai, I never thought I would be actually running a company which is now scaled so significantly. When I came to Mumbai in 1998, my first data point was actually visiting a customer in Mumbai in Dharavi, where he had a 100 square feet house. He had no place to keep his gadgets or TVs and appliances back then. When I entered and I introduced myself as somebody representing BPL, he said “I paid so much money and this TV in three days is not working so I want my money back otherwise I won’t let you go”. I requested him to give me time and give it a try. Luckily it was just a short connection and I fixed it, I could see him go literally from shouting to praising me and saying that I am a NASA engineer! 

You can imagine that’s what customer service is like. That was my data point number one. If you have to think of even today, unfortunately in many cases you have to demand the service that you rightfully deserve. That’s where the market was and that’s how my journey as a professional began. I thought this was an opportunity that we needed to solve for and a huge opportunity to really go after. That’s what we are doing as a company. That’s a bit of background from then to now. 

Mohanjit: It’s been an interesting evolution. This pandemic in 2020 has definitely created significant head winds for a lot of entrepreneurs. I know that Servify went through its set of issues and it hasn’t been just up and to the right. In the context of 2020, what sort of challenges did you face early on and how were you able to come out of that and turn that into a positive?

Sree: Sure. If you ask me, it’s been crazy for everybody. The impact was felt everywhere. But, since we are in an enterprise model business, I think it didn’t really impact us much because at the end of the day, we’re working with our partners who also lost business and want to get back. It has been the biggest learning experience for us. The way we built our business model, I call it a structural advantage and not really a competitive advantage. 

We decided to go after partnerships with OEMs and white label our offering with technology as a differentiator. When we created that digital business model, the biggest change that we saw, thanks to the pandemic of course, was the opportunity in the adversity. More than the consumers, we saw the channels adopting digital transactions, which only helped us. In fact, as you may already know, we had our best months in the last three months. Hopefully, September will be our best month again. We are almost back to pre-covid days. 

Mohanjit: Very interesting. There are a couple of things that you mentioned – one is opportunity in adversity. The other thing is, I could sense that there was this passion around your partners like the OEMs. All the momentum that you’ve generated in the last few months clearly has been rewarded by investors. You have been able to actually get traction with investors during this pandemic in terms of raising new capital. How have you been able to manage that in this remote connectivity environment where you can’t actually meet the investors? How have you been able to keep the momentum going with new investors?

Sree: I think one thing is very clear, especially coming from a not so great quarter to a very good quarter. When your business and numbers are talking, you don’t have to do anything. It automatically speaks for itself. 

One of the biggest learnings for me as a founder, as an entrepreneur, and also as a human being is – what was difficult was the language in which we were explaining our business model to the investors. They were all trying to bucket us as an e-commerce, operations, service distribution, insurance company. They were not really getting it right and it’s not their fault because there was no such business that was actually so complex. We built it so differently. We are an operationally intense business but with no assets on the ground so it’s like people are saying –you do three million transactions, but you have a five people operations team? How is that possible? So are you a software company? No, we are not a software because we own the customer experience. How does that work? That was where we struggled in explaining our business model. But, as the markets evolved, the numbers are already proving themselves. I think that’s been the reason why we have active investor interest.

It’s certainly you and Anand who actually backed us when we were beaten the worst. I think you agreed to follow us and say, you are building something large, something scalable. We know that you have had a bad quarter. That’s not going to last long. You were the first one to take that bet and I think it’s just a matter of time that others are seeing that and really saying, hey there was a pioneer who agreed. You are actually the pioneers in building our kind of business so I can’t thank you enough. This is just coming from the heart. 

Mohanjit: We appreciate that genuinely. Believe me, it’s entrepreneurs like you who make us look good. So give yourself a pat on the back for coming out of the negative quarter and creating momentum here. Thank you so much for your time Sree!

Bottom line: Sree personifies the amazing combination of humility and business execution. Often, the headlines tend not to provide context and color around the hard work, the late nights, and the difficult decisions that entrepreneurs face. Journey for Sree and Servify has not been “up and to the right” all along. There were some very difficult weeks and months, last year as well during the early phase of the pandemic. But, to his credit, Sree has not only been able to persevere through the head winds, but actually generated phenomenal momentum for the business. All along he has taken care of his employees and his partners, which is bound to pay dividends long term. Always the optimist, seeing “opportunity in adversity” and just doing the right thing, Sree has built a stellar ambassadorship for himself and Servify. We, at Iron Pillar, are humbled and delighted to be part of that journey. Upward and onward!

About Mohanjit Jolly

Mohanjit Jolly

Partner at Iron Pillar bringing to the table more than 2 decades of investing and operation experience.