Russ: Hi I’m Russ Capper and this is HXTV, the show that champions Houston’s innovators and entrepreneurs. I’m very pleased to have as my guest today Gaurav Khandelwal, Founder and CEO of ChaiOne. Gaurav welcome to the show.
Gaurav: Hey thank you so much for having me.
Russ: You bet. So you’re pretty well integrated here with us at HX; very well integrated in the Houston startup scene. ChaiOne, I know a lot about it; a very successful bootstrapped startup correct?
Gaurav: By the bootstrap, yep.
Russ: So let’s say we have somebody who hasn’t heard much about ChaiOne, give us an overview.
Gaurav: So we’ve been around almost 10 years now, this is our tenth year in business, we started in 2008. At that time when the Apple App Store had launched I had quit my job and started this company because I could kind of see where this was going. Ten years in we’re now working with about 25% of the Fortune 500 energy companies in the world. So our business is focused on the industrial field worker, the connected worker, where we are trying to make sure that they have the right set of applications to deliver the right information at the right time using consumer experiences.
So Russ when you first started using Uber or Airbnb nobody gave you training. You don’t have to open a manual to learn how to use those applications. Today in the workplace industrial field workers have those type of apps on their phone, but when they show up at work they’re dealing with very antiquated, legacy applications which gets in the way of them performing at optimal levels. This is where ChaiOne comes in.
Our team of psychology and anthropology PhDs visit, as of now we’ve logged 50,000 hours put that to nuclear power plants, refineries, warehouses, offshore rigs – to where we can say these are the issues that you’re facing in the field. We come back, we look at their stress, their frustrations. We marry that with their workflows, any kind of redundancy that we can remove, pair that with the design and engineering teams and produce these delightfully beautiful consumer applications that can be used in the enterprise.
Russ: Very interesting, and you’re talking about Industrial IOT right?
Russ: Okay, so you use this phrase connected worker, I know we want to also talk about – I want to get back to ChaiOne but before we do we’re going to also talk about The Connected Work, which is an event coming up October 30th?
Gaurav: That’s right. So the journey is I went on a trip with Mayor Turner two summers ago in Israel and we saw the innovation ecosystem in Israel and I was struck by the number of companies in Israel that were looking for clients, energy customers, yet they were based in Israel. So when I come back to Houston and we have this whole momentum that’s been building up quite beautifully with Houston Exponential, the Mayor’s Digital Council, the Sears building and I started thinking well we need to have an event that is geared toward the audience that is in this town that attracts the companies from all over the world to move to Houston.
How do we do that? So you know me as an entrepreneur and I’m the one all ready to just jump in and try something, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re hosting the first Connected Work event that’s geared toward industrial plant operators, field service companies, nuclear and refinery operators and bring them into town to show them what is possible with these sort of applications that makes their lives easier.
Russ: At the end of our discussion I understand you also have a code for viewers of HXTV that will bring them into the event for free, but we’re not going to share that until the end of the interview. All right, so let’s get back to ChaiOne. I already mentioned the fact that it was a bootstrap, you won Bootstrapper of the Year at a contest I was involved in many years ago. Do you think in retrospect you could have done faster, grown faster, if you’d taken on investment dollars?
Gaurav: The best time to raise capital is when you have some leverage. If we had raised capital very early without really understanding the market, the users, the customers, the product we would have given up way too much capital, we would have burned through it and you’ve heard all these stories about startups that go bust because they have too much money. Ten years in I would say that we are very well-positioned as a business with the kind of clientele we have and the applications we’ve built, the products we’ve built, so that if we were to go raise capital now we will have tremendous leverage and investors will be able to feel a lot more comfort with where we are today.
Russ: Okay, are you announcing that maybe that’s even under consideration?
Gaurav: Not yet but you’ll be the first to know.
Russ: Okay, fantastic, right here on HXTV. But I’ve been watching and you’ve been adding some pretty significant people to your organization just recently right?
Gaurav: Yeah so we’ve had some significant success with some products we built for a nuclear client of ours and the product is now deployed on 13 nuclear power plant sights and this started about 3 years ago so now we’re at a point where we feel like we can scale this product. So there are about 450 nuclear power plants around the world, 700 refineries around the world and thousands of chemical LNG and processing plants around the world. So this suite of connected work products are really around helping pants operate more effectively and efficiently, give the tools to plant operators as well as the field workers that do work at those plants to do work in a safe manner.
Russ: Now this is a pretty significant shift because historically you’ve really been a services company right? Now you’re going to become a services and product company?
Gaurav: Exactly right. We started thinking about 4 years ago we were collecting this incredible amount of information being in the field with our PhDs, how do we leverage this better? And we starts seeing the same kind of problems come up over and over again. So then we started building this platform out a few years ago and we said okay now that we have solved this problems, this is not a startup with my idea that I think could change the world, these are problems that we’ve already been solving for these companies – and some of the world’s largest companies. So we said why don’t we start with that? First have a solution market fit, now that we have that let’s bring in a high-powered person to lead this product business.
Russ: Okay so you started the company right here in Houston, Texas, it’s grown right here in Houston doing business all over the world now, but what did being in Houston mean to you and your success in your business and your life?
Gaurav: I think that you could be in Silicon Valley, you could be in Austin, you could be in New York and I’ve been in some of these places but what it came down to for me was quality of life and family, affordable living, talent availability. Believe it or not Houston has the world’s largest concentration of engineers, it just so happens that they work at the big oil and gas firms and other firms, but they are here and they are available for us to bring on to our teams. I met my wife here and her whole family is here. The weather is amazing 9 months out of the year, there’s no reason – there’s no downside to Houston so we love being here.
Russ: So being the Founder of a successful technology company right here in Houston sort of put you in the driver’s seat as this whole movement of Houston Exponential came together, you’re on the board of directors right now – you’re actually one of my bosses – and you seem to be playing kind of a creative role throughout the city. Share your perspective on that coming together and your role.
Gaurav: I’ll share the perspective from the standpoint of what I see with my customers and our clients, some of which are the world’s largest construction, oil and gas and power companies. And generally what I’ve seen from them is this idea that it’s not going to happen here or Houston is not the place for it or we’re already doing it but we’re doing it within our walls and recently what I’ve been seeing is a little bit of a shift. And the shift is hey, stuff is happening in this town and things are moving forward and this desire to expose senior leadership, the C suite, to stuff in our own backyard as opposed to going to Palo Alto or places like that.
So I think the message that I have for the corporates in this town is they need to wake up and look around. They don’t need to look at West or East coast or internationally. There’s a lot of change happening in this town and if they don’t get on this bandwagon now they’ll look back 5 years later and say oh man we missed out. There was a pivotal moment in 2018/2019 that we should have gotten on the bandwagon. So that’s my call to the big firms in this town is this is the time to get on the Houston innovation bandwagon.
Russ: You’re sort of the king of pivots. If I recall correctly when you started the company in the beginning it was actually going to be a tea company like Starbucks is to coffee and people noticed you did such good websites they suggested getting into that business. So a regular entrepreneurial pivot from tea retail to website development. Do I have that right?
Gaurav: Well I would position it more of an additional line of business. I would say that the business is growing since the service business is not going away. That business always us to have tremendous access in solving user problems. This is an additional line of business that we’re starting that is already enjoying some success and this event is going to highlight those problems that these companies face and how our clients are solving it for them.
Russ: So let’s talk about that event again. It’s October 30th, it’s called Connected Work; how do they find out more information?
Gaurav: They can go to ChaiOne.com and right there on the home page there’s a big banner that says the details for the event. It’s going to be hosted at the Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University. It’s a brand new art gallery with a TED Talk style auditorium; beautiful facility. We’re going to have the event start off in the afternoon, go on for about 4 hours and then we’re going to have our ChaiOne 10 year celebration party.
Russ: Oh wow.
Gaurav: So we’re going to have Scotch and wine tasting at the event so you have to some.
Russ: Okay, well I plan to be there. Now it costs to be there but you have a special for HXTV viewers right?
Gaurav: We would love to have the event be completely free but of course we as a bootstrapped company have to cover some of our costs. So the typical cost for a ticket is $300, but for Houston Exponential, the board that I am intimately a part of and one of my favorite people, and so for the audience we would love to do it absolutely free with the code Exponential.
Russ: Okay, the code is just the word Exponential.
Gaurav: That’s it.
Russ: That’s incredible, it’s very generous. Just hearing the story about your company kind of motivates me. That’s a great story and great progress. I’m going to be there on October 30th and thanks once again for sharing your story with us Gaurav.
Gaurav: Thank you so much for the opportunity.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Gaurav Khandelwal, Founder and CEO of ChaiOne and this is HXTV.
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