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Lokvani Talks To Sudha Jamthe

Ranjani Saigal

Sudha Jamthe , the former CEO of Coola Inc, started her career at ICL, Pune, in the software exports division, after receiving a BE degree in Computer Sciences from the University of Madras. Her projects soon took her to the UK, and on to the US, where she joined Fidelity Investments in 1994. Jamthe launched the first Web server at Fidelity. After Fidelity and a stint at the BGS systems, Jamthe joined Harcourt Online as the Director of Internet Solutions while completing her MBA from Boston University, and soon developed the company Web site to a business intra-network that spanned across all 21 divisions at Harcourt.

A true turning point in Jamthe's life, as far as the entrepreneurial side of it is concerned, was her involvement in the Boston Computer Society. She was instrumental in establishing the Web interest group at BCS.  Later along with her husband she founded Coola, Inc.  Founded at the height of the internet boom and wireless technology, Coola's idea was to let you grab information from the Web and easily transfer it to your PDA. Coola showed great potential and was hailed as a successful startup when the bursting of the Internet bubble forced Coola to close down. An excellent speaker she has been the featured speaker  at several entrepreneurial forums.

Jamthe has now shifted her focus to social entrepreneurship.  Using her entrepreneurial skills, Jamthe has started a new venture called Moomli unique fundraising idea for Indian charities.

She talked to Lokvani about lessons learnt from the Coola experience and the new venture Moomli.

Coola was hailed as the perfect startup. What helped its initial success?

At the height of the internet boom and wireless technology, Coola's idea to let you grab information from the Web and easily transfer it to your PDA was spotted as a rational business. It was a novel offering, that would work convincingly and it did during the time. Our technology was excellent. We had excellent advisors including Piyush Patel, Ashish Gupta and others.  We raised a million dollars.  We had a viable business plan, great technology and paying customers. It had all the markings of success and that brought a lot of attention to us.  Palm users were our customer base and at that time it was a huge base.

So what went wrong? Why did it not succeed?

Unfortunately like many other startups we were victims of the Internet crash. Our product had a close relationship with Palm. The internet crash hit Palm and that had an impact on Coola. We were aware of the impending crash of the internet and had begun to reinvent ourselves. We were successful in finding alternate markets for our technology. The medical industry found our Coola server technology very useful for billing and accounting. We had signed contracts GE medical, NIH and Albany medical.

The big mistake I made was to start my second round of fundraising very late. I was able to raise a million dollars in forty days in my first round. I miscalculated the time delay caused by the internet bust. That second round fundraising process took much longer than expected and I ran out of cash. I did try very hard to hold on to Coola.  . I was quite stubborn and did not give up until I absolutely had no other way out. When we ran out of cash we had no choice.

I have to say that even though Coola was not lucky to make it big, the lessons in entrepreneurship that I learnt will stand in me in good stead for a long time to come.

What were some of the Entrepreneurial lessons you learnt?

The first lesson I learnt was that people who have become successful are always willing to help. You can learn a lot from senior entrepreneurs. All we need to do is ask. Piyush Patel offered great advice that really helped Coola a lot.  I also learnt a lot about spending money wisely, which is very critical for startups. There is so much you can get for free and I tapped into all those resources.

I learn that “Ignorance is bliss” is a good motto for first time entrepreneurs. If I had known all the challenges before hand, I may have not dared to taken on this adventure.  The most important thing I learnt was that second round fundraising must be done early, while you still have plenty of cash.

So what is life like after Coola?

After Coola I decided take some time off work. For many years my career had taken over my life and left me very little time to concentrate on family.  When we decided to shut Coola, I decided that the time was right to shift focus. So we decided to have a child.  I have been a mom for over two years now and I have enjoyed every moment of it.

Do you use you entrepreneurial skills now?

I think you never stop using entrepreneurial skills.  I have used my skills to build a network for parents and I find that very useful.

I have learnt the value of mentoring from my Coola advisors. As a way to give back, I serve as advisor  to startups, helping them translate an idea to a business, focusing on business operations. I maintain an online blog sharing my startup experience at http://coolastory.blogspot.com

I was in India during the Tsunami and I was very impressed with the work of NGOs. I decided that I wanted to do something to help and hence I started a social entrepreneurial venture called Moomli which is live at http://www.moomli.com

Moomli is an unusual name. Could you describe the venture?

Moomli stands for “My Only One Moment to Liberate India”. Moomli is a radically new approach for Indians to connect with their roots in India and liberate a child or women. Now live for beta testing at http://www.moomli.com, the Moomli service allows you to send a Moomli card, a card made by a orphan or destitute in India to your loved ones in India and thereby liberate the card maker by giving them food, education, security and above all the faith that the world is a bigger place full of people who care for them.

How is this venture different from other fundraising efforts along similar lines?

A Moomli card is a greeting card made by a young orphan or destitute woman in India. By buying a set of Moomli cards for us to post to the user’s family and friends in India the user pays for a portion of that child’s education or food.

Moomli is the only service that allows Indians abroad to send real charity-made cards to your family in India in Indian languages, and for special festivals and family moments. Moomli puts the user in control.  Moomli offers a set of cards from several India charity organizations. The user can select a cause that they believe in and buy a set of cards made by an orphan or destitute from that charity and make a difference in their lives.

Can people who do not have relatives in India use the Moomli service?

Moomli allows anyone, even if you do not have relatives in India to send a Moomli card to an orphan child in India for his or her birthday or for a festival like Diwali. Your action is a message about humanity that there is a positive world out there for the child to grow with hope. We will additionally contribute a portion of the proceeds to charity.

So how does it work?

Signup for a free Moomli account on moomli.com and select a charity or Indian language card pack of your choice and buy an annual subscription of 5 Moomli cards. Then schedule who gets each card and sit back and watch your family in India get beautiful birthday, Diwali, anniversary cards designed by an Indian charity, handwritten with your message, on time for their special moment. Moomli will donate a portion of your purchase to the charity. So you just don’t send a card, you send smiles on well deserved faces.

Is the shift from technology to social entrepreneurship a big shift for you?

The venture needs a lot of technology backend. We need to have scheduling systems in place.The site is essentially an e-commerce site and we need to have all those systems in place as well. So it is a familiar territory. The difference is that here I feel I am doing something to help those in need.

I hope Moomli can help Indian kids abroad understand the value of charity, which I believe is part of Indian Culture, we just don’t stop to think about it.

We know about the support structure for Indian kids who want to excel in Math, Science and Spelling Bee. I am sure there are Indian kids who are artists out there. I would like to help them by offering the Moomli ecommerce platform to sell their paintings or CDs locally to raise money for charities.  This will help give exposure to the budding artists and also help them learn the value of charity, which is my goal basically.

Can people get involved in this effort?

Yes. Buy the cards and you are doing a good deed. We are full of energy and open for all ways we can work with a local charity organization or Indian organization looking to partner with us. We would love to hear from Indian parent abroad, who would like to use Moomli‘s ecommerce infrastructure to sell their artists kids works for a good cause.

Do you think Moomli will succeed?

Only market and time will tell. We have experienced people on the team. We have the passion and the energy. So we hope we will succeed.  Since it involves a good cause and so many people, I think this time, the message is in the journey itself.

Thank you

Thank you


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