Continued from ‘Just do it’.
By the end of July 2007, the idea had grown on me and I started putting together a quick outline of all the things I needed to do. I was working almost 60 hours every week at my job and doing this as a side project was infeasible. My wife, Shubha and I discussed this, and by September, I had quit my job and was working full time on United Prosperity. Within two weeks, Michael Laycock and Suriya Prabha joined the brainstorming and over the next two months we started putting together flow-charts and interface specifications of the system.
Around the same time, I met Ashok Parameswaran at Silicon Valley Microfinance Network. He was very keen on ‘doing something for India’ and soon got involved with United Prosperity. We started putting together the business plan and finding law firms to help us with the incorporation.
Many of the business and operating philosophies started emerging during this phase. To name a few:
– United Prosperity will be open, transparent and will collaborate with any organization engaged in eradicating poverty.
– We will keep our operating costs low so that the poor can afford our product. We would do that by:
o Using a scalable, clean and simple ‘cookie cutter’ business model.
o Automating transactions to a high degree, to reduce operating costs and minimize errors.
o Focusing on individual contribution and collaboration with very minimal management roles.
– We will work with only those partners who charge reasonable interest rates to their borrowers and treat their borrowers fairly and ethically.
As I started designing the system, I soon realized the complexities and decided to simplify features to keep the size of the initial release manageable. I had initially hoped that we might be able to build the system in an ‘open source’ development model with volunteer developers. But after some time I realized that it may not be possible. I started contacting several large software services companies to see if they might be willing to support United Prosperity as a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility initiative. I was able to reach fairly senior people within these organizations but made little progress for various reasons.
A friend of mine, Salil Punalekar emailed me one day. We did our MBA together and he was now working with Cognizant in Europe. He said that he had heard that I was doing something interesting and he wanted to help. I told him that we are looking for help with the software development and wondered if Cognizant would be willing to help. Salil forwarded my email to the Cognizant President’s office. A senior level team from Cognizant evaluated our business plan and proposal, and within a few weeks we had a team ready to start building the system.
This was our first break-through. It was February 2008 now and the next few months we would be busy building the system. More tomorrow and thanks for stopping by.