Swapnil Vats is a ‘09 Batch graduate in Mechanical Engineering from the Hyderabad Campus. Co-founder of Valonia and currently leading SocialBoat, Swapnil can be seen as an epitome of what it means to learn from trying situations, using them as stepping stones to success. Below are excerpts from our conversation with him as we explore his inspirations and the milestones in his journey.
I launched my first startup back in college, which MakeMyTrip later acqui-hired, where I was tasked with helping build a new business line—the ‘Airbnb of India’—not the typical job for an Indian engineering graduate. We built the biggest collection of alternate accommodations in India, and along with it, I developed a strong love for data and the insights it can provide. Having led the pricing and revenue charter post the merger of MMT with Goibibo, I realised I had gained enough corporate exposure to understand and acknowledge my mistakes with my first venture. Keeping this in mind, I started Holidaying, but what started as a travel company had a significant turnaround due to the pandemic. That is when the idea of SocialBoat was born, which I feel is my top milestone until now. It is based on the idea of a real-life game of fitness by leveraging technology, social motivations and an incentive structure.
The company started with my friends and me placing a bet and challenging each other to take the most number of steps each day. As humans, living in a world of very low attention spans-crave, we love being gratified instantly, and the same is reflected on app users. The user reviews have been very positive; people are often excited to maintain their streak. Our users have burnt 25M Calories collectively in the last few months. The pandemic helped people gain awareness about fitness, which played out to our benefit.
I will say it has been a learning experience overall. While BITS helped me realise I love building and experimenting, the journey taught me that solving a core problem is critical to building something new. You need to have diverse experiences if you want to develop something successfully.
Honestly, my original motivation with Valonia, a gamified guide for placements, was to make extra pocket money. I noticed that some students at our college had good understanding and skills in specific fields. So, we started going to colleges around our campus and offered to teach them the same abilities. It didn’t happen overnight. Often, many schools and colleges wouldn’t even allow us to reveal what we were going to teach, but that did not stop us as we believed we were imparting knowledge to others. We even got mentorship from some alumni. We would host hackathons and challenges and maintain leaderboards because we felt this preparation mode was more motivating for students than the original method.
I sponsored Pearl while we were students itself by taking help from SU to promote our workshops on other campuses and offering half our earnings from the same. For me, however, the biggest kick, over sponsoring the fest, was being in the organising bodies of the fests and clubs. BITS, in particular, does an outstanding job of not separating academics and co-curriculars; the no attendance and ‘making your own timetable’ policies have helped merge the two concepts well. The way I saw it, the 0% attendance policy left me only two options: do nothing productive in my free time, or try to figure out where my passion lay. I’m happy to say I chose the latter. Further, the best part of a good college is the peer group around us. You feel motivated to do better when you have intelligent people around you. Additionally, their allowing students to organise fests taught me first-hand what it was like leading a team, giving us suitable management lessons.
Overall, I think there are three key elements to success in the startup world. Firstly, accept that you need to learn. Learn from your user and pre-existing data. It syncs with the quote, “Think fast, fail fast, adapt fast.” Secondly, have a lot of resilience. Passing through good times can be easy, but what you do during bad times defines you. Thirdly, always remember, one can not succeed if one does not enjoy their work. Enjoy these years of life and have loads of fun. That said, don’t forget to pursue a passion. When we come to any college, we do not really know what we want to become, but BITS provides an environment that evolves and helps us build on our likings. Capitalise on that! ing a failure.
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