Getting to Know Hiver: An Interview with Founder Niraj Ranjan RoutOctober 22, 2020
In Damson Cloud’s interview series, Fintan Murphy sits down with the founder and CEO of Hiver, Niraj Ranjan Rout. Having studied electrical engineering, Niraj Ranjan is an engineer and developer who began his career working in the VLSI industry and eventually created a product for G Suite known as Hiver. Hiver is a Gmail and Google Workspace (formerly known as G Suite) based customer service product. Designed with customer service as its focus, it is a replacement for a typical ‘help desk’ and functions straight out of Gmail. Using shared inboxes, email delegation, and email tags, it allows everyone on your team to organise and streamline their customer communications.
Getting to Know Hiver
A few questions can really help you get to know someone and Fintan Murphy opens discussion with a personal question posed from his son for Niraj: if you could have one superpower, what would it be? Niraj, understandably, acknowledges the complexity of this question recognising that even the most benevolent of superpowers can be accompanied by danger. Niraj’s choice of superpower would be to avoid immigration when travelling through airports in all the countries that he visits. Niraj’s idea would be to step through a window and be in the country of his choosing after flying.
On being asked what advice Niraj would give himself ten years ago, Niraj thinks he would tell himself to spend more time talking to customers. As you start to scale your business, usually the place that suffers from lack of attention is talking with your customers, which is a crucial part of understanding how people respond to your product. Niraj reminisces if he had the opportunity to speak to himself, this is where he would advise himself to devote his time to.
Fintan and Niraj both agree that when building a business, talking with customers is one of the great joys and something they invested time in. Though, they reflect it is easy to become occupied with other aspects of scaling their companies due to the many facets of business management. It is important to come back to hear what customers are saying and to fulfil their wants and needs.
Niraj shares aspects of his childhood. Having been interested in maths and the sciences, he was also passionate about art. Growing up in a small town in India, due to his skill in mathematics, he was directed towards engineering. After studying in university, Niraj began his career in a very different environment to cloud software. He worked for a company called Mentor Graphics where he built tools for computer aided design of silicon chips
Design and manufacture of computer chips is a complex, multi-step process, involving very specialized tools at each step. Niraj worked on building emulation hardware and software that translates chip designs into programs that can be run and verified for correct behaviour. He witnessed first hand how cumbersome collaboration on email was, and the first version of Hiver was built to address those problems.
Hiver was built from day 1 to run on Google and G Suite, as it was the only cloud email solution available at that time. Hiver continues to be focused on Google, as the ecosystem has a great mix of developer friendly policies and APIs, and forward looking customers who are always trying to find different methods to collaborate and work better.
How Hiver Began
Having worked in a team that was spread across three continents, Niraj’s team relied heavily on email as a tool for internal communication. Attempting to onboard new staff and finding the correct information was cumbersome and frustrating and, despite email being relied on for collaboration, it is simply not built for these uses. Hiver was designed to make email better for collaboration and information sharing. After trialling multiple ideas, everything filtered and condensed to building a knowledge management product on top of an email system. From there, they were able to present a product that helped people solve their day-to-day issues with customer service.
Launching in 2011, they brought a product together that would function favourably on the G-Suite marketplace from 2012. They launched early and sold the product, but have continued to iterate the service for its customers, and have seen vast improvements since its original launch.
What Challenges Did Hiver Have Starting?
One serious problem that Hiver has recently overcome is the sense that email is going to die. With multiple articles coming from varying publications discussing the ‘death of the email’, it was something that would cause the business concern, naturally, as it is integrated into email systems. There was some thought that chat applications or product based applications would dominate the market and make emails obsolete, but email is still considered a very important part of business management.
Applications like Slack are fantastic for free-flowing communication, but email provides more structured correspondence. These options display the different types of communication that are reflected in humans: synchronous and asynchronous. Having time delay for collaboration can be incredibly important for larger companies who are perhaps working in different time zones or have flexible timings for work, so using asynchronous communication like email forms a massive part of their comms strategy.
What Advice Would You Give To Startups?
Setting up a business is an incredibly daunting task, particularly if it’s in a field that is considered a risky investment. Niraj recommends being forthcoming with the issues and explaining solutions to investors, as well as giving examples of other companies that are similar to your company in terms of service that you provide. This can help investors see what you’re offering. If dealing with investors, frame the problem and cite examples of other companies. Finally, ‘stick to your guns’. Believe in what you are selling and that passion will come through.
Even now, Hiver is adapting to challenges that are thrown at them. Operating on different platforms, one must be prepared to deal with the challenges and idiosyncrasies of this platform. Getting familiar with the unknown with these platforms is something that can make all businesses stronger - established and startups.
With a follow up interview to come, find out more about Niraj Ranjan Rout and his incredible company Hiver.
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