As an organizer, it’s amazing to see how transformative Startup Weekend can be for individuals and how the opportunities blossom over time. I’ve been watching Balki Kodarapu of returnGuru, the winning team from October 2011, and have seen steady, measured progress in his team and product. returnGuru’s going places- just this week, returnGuru was named a semifinalist at Angel Oregon 2012.
I had a chance to catch up with Balki and hear about how things are going for returnGuru. Below is the unedited transcript of our conversation:
Shashi: Tell us about your Startup Weekend company. What is the name and what does it do?
Balki: My wife buys a bunch of stuff every single week. With two young, growing boys and my wife’s changing tastes, we rarely get the sizes or colors right with the products we buy. Magically however, I end up managing the returns in the household! I am a very organized person but still can’t keep up with the various stores’ return policies and the corresponding receipts.
We started returnGuru in order to alleviate this pain with the return process. Our users have to simply take a picture of their receipt (or email forward an e-receipt) to email@example.com and returnGuru will take care of the rest! returnGuru will remind at the right time, before the return date expires (based on that particular retailer’s return policy) and include a copy of the receipt in the email for convenience.
returnGuru is also working on a premium feature where we track and alert on lower prices for high-ticket items (think electronics) you already bought or items you buy regularly.
SKJ: How has your company/product changed since Startup Weekend?
BK: Surprisingly, the product vision hasn’t changed a whole lot since the Startup Weekend. Fortunately, we got solid feedback and support from our awesome PDXSW mentors, Nitin Rai, Ravi Sinha and Ranjit Pandit. We envisioned the product based on their feedback and multiple market research studies that indicated strong interest in return and price alerts.
That said, we continue to tweak our business model so as to balance faster adoption and an optimal path to profitability.
SKJ: What milestones or successes have you had since the weekend?
BK: We launched our MVP (beta) six weeks after the win at Startup Weekend and signed up several dozen users within the last few weeks. We also won the best presentation award at the TiE PitchFest in mid-December and reached the semi-finals at Angel Oregon 2012. We recruited two fantastic engineers and one advisor.
SKJ: What has been the biggest challenge since Startup Weekend?
BK: Balancing relationship building and product development. Our core team is very technology-oriented, but we definitely understand the need to network with future partners and investors. Trying to balance both is an art form in itself. So far, we have been able to keep the product momentum going while maintaining a pulse in the Portland entrepreneurial community.
SKJ: What does the future have in store for you and your company?
BK: We have big plans for the next few months. We will be launching the returnGuru smartphone Apps for all major mobile platforms in the next few weeks and will continue to increase our user base organically.
SKJ: If you could rewind and do Startup Weekend over again, is there anything you would do differently?
BK: Startup Weekend was literally a life-changing experience for us. There were several companies that just came Friday night with a vague idea they dreamt up in their showers and are now on their way to disrupting entire industries!
Personally, I would have loved to enjoy the company of other entrepreneurs a little more. We were so intently focused on “winning” the competition that we missed the spirit of networking somewhat. I will definitely makeup for that by participating in many more Startup Weekends to come in the future!
SKJ: What was the best part about Startup Weekend for you and your company?
BK: The incredible support from mentors, judges and fellow entrepreneurs right from the get-go. And of course, the biggest kudos go to our team that sacrificed their entire weekend and helped us build a solid baseline for returnGuru within 54 hours.
SKJ: How can the Startup Weekend community support you going forward?
BK: By continuing to spread the word about returnguru.com, and even more importantly give feedback. I highly respect the diverse talent that was at the Startup Weekend and greatly appreciate their honest feedback.