Each week, Female CoFounder features a female founder in the community. Follow along each week and learn from different founders and their journeys.
FcF: Tell us about yourself?
Kausambi: Hi, I’m a serial product builder and founder of Mason. I was born in a small town of northeast India, grew up across the country, followed by working in San Francisco, Toronto and India. For the first part of my career, I worked in tech MNCs like IBM & NCR Corporation across US, Dubai, and India building supply-chain products, led the Commerce Content Charter at Walmart-subsidiary Myntra.com and also worked with Alibaba backed Paytm on building their early growth products.
My love for stories, media, product & community manifested as Storeo.io - the first of its kind Community-Led Podcasting Platform for South Asia back in 2017- for which I was selected to be at YCombinator Startup School. By now, I had developed a deep connection with the retail sector and wanted to realize my dream of making no-code technology equally accessible for all to succeed in the online world. That’s when I started working on Mason- a lego-kit for online retail storefronts that helps them to deliver delightful shopping experiences without the hassle of learning how to code.
Fun fact: I used to run my own food blog and even got featured in Food Gawker! Food photography and recipe testing is still close to my heart :)
FcF: What is Mason?
Kausambi: Mason is a no-code SaaS toolkit that enables automated store merchandising, so that any online-retailer can deliver a delightful shopping experience to their customers at all times.
To help understand how Mason works, let's consider an online store owner. She can connect her store to Mason's design and publishing tools and Mason will help her dynamically create instant product highlights, offers callouts, product feature cards, etc. These shoppable experiences can then be shared across shopping feeds - for instance, Google shop, Instagram, Facebook DPA, or your store feed.
One of Asia's fastest-growing unicorns in the hyperlocal on-demand logistics space is Swiggy. Swiggy wanted to transform it’s customer experience through personalized restaurant offers at scale. They faced several challenges to achieve this, for instance, Swiggy was live in 1500+ cities, multiple teams needed to come together any minute of the day, digital assets were scattered in different folders and hard to locate, etc.
Mason connected the dots for Swiggy with a multi-user workspace for centralised collaboration, automatic content creation, automated quality control for creative guidelines, business validation rules, and API integrations led to great results for Swiggy - a 70% reduction in production costs and a 80% faster time to market.
FcF: How did you come up with Mason?
Kausambi: With the onset of the pandemic, as more and more stores started shifting online to sell their products and the consumers started getting bombarded with new products every other day, the personal touch of sellers got lost somewhere. Every new seller with an online store on platforms like Shopify or Wix or WooCommerce became nothing more than just another store on the platform of endless stores. On the other hand, businesses which raised crores of rupees in funding could afford to use technology & design services that help them create a unique brand story and seamless online experiences.
This is where my cofounder Barada Sahu and I realised that access to technology should be made more equal for the retail sector to succeed in the online world.
This especially became evident during Covid in 2020, when millions of merchants had to suddenly shift their business model and not just sell, but run successful stores, online.
FcF: Mentioned in this article, you also cofounded, launched, and was already successful in pre-seed/seed with Kubric prior to launching and pivoting to Mason last year. Kubric was largely aimed for large enterprises to help designers create and automate things like videos, gifs, and banners. You and your team saw the impact that the pandemic had for SMBs and Entrepreneurs. Can you tell us more about the challenges you had to face and overcome when deciding to pivot to launch and grow Mason instead of continuing with Kubric?
Kausambi: The decision to pivot from Kubric to Mason came with a few hard choices- for instance, we had raised pre-seed/ seed for Kubric and the platform was already generating revenue from its key clients like Myntra, Swiggy, et al. And the pivot meant migrating our clients from the existing platform to a new one. And moreover, the entire team was just starting out 100 percent remote for the very first time.
But all thanks to the support of our dedicated and dynamic team, the trust of our existing investors and advisors, and the championing of a few early customers who were very excited by the impact this change in direction could have on the world, this hard decision to pivot got a bit easier to take.
FcF: What were the first 3 steps you took after you knew you wanted to pursue building Mason?
Kausambi: We started out with the standard process to pursue our idea-
1. Tested our hypothesis: Spoke to 2000+ ecommerce merchants to understand their challenges of managing an online store. Also, we referred to research reports as part of our secondary analysis and found that most stores spent 30% of their operating costs on marketing their stores.
2. Scanned for competitors: We found that most tech solutions that helped retailers and DTC brands were more tailored to enterprises that required hands-on coding or design knowledge. We decided to make Mason a self-service platform with no code automation that differentiated us from the industry and helped us target SMBs.
3. Prototype testing: This was our first assessment of the tool’s functional performance where we reached out to customers for their feedback.
FcF: How were you able to validate your idea to ensure it was something people wanted?
Kausambi: We started with the first early version of Mason- that was a very light MVP (minimal valuable version) which we thought people would love.
It had the basic functionalities when we first launched it in the app store in order to get a few installs, understand customer viewpoints and iterate accordingly.
In order to provide more value, we did a number of user interviews to understand how our customers were solving their problems with Mason. We then pulled their perspectives back into earliest builds at a consistent weekly cadence, taking feedback from the right store owners for each release.
FcF: We see that you’ve been able to grow your team up to 54 people over the years and you’re still expanding today! How has growing the team been like and what advice do you have for founders when looking to grow and/or scale their team?
Kausambi: First of all, always thrive to have a bottom-up culture when you are starting out. I’ve realized that this kind of a culture works best for us as everyone is more involved in the organization and so, they feel more empowered to perform exceptionally well. For a team of makers, it is utterly important to work together and stay in touch even when working remotely.
And in order to grow/ scale such a team, make sure that every person that you hire, hires someone better than themselves. It will help challenge their own perspectives, force them out of their comfort zone and lead them into a mindset of continuous learning. And that’s what we always make sure to have at Mason.
FcF:There’s been a whole movement about the future of no-code softwares and tools. It’s amazing to see Mason striving for that for SMBs and Entrepreneurs to make technology more accessible equally. What are your personal thoughts about the future of no-code softwares?
Kausambi: I believe the future of no-code is right here and right now. With the new normal forcing people out of their comfort zones and into the arena of an online business model, an equal access to technology is a dire need today more than ever! Anyone should be able to bring their ideas to life. You no longer need to learn coding or programming to build things on the internet, empowering a new wave of “maker-culture” that includes different backgrounds and perspectives. Being a part of the no-code movement is more than about building products- It should be about bringing people together in the spirit of creating common spaces where they can help each other out and exchange their brilliant ideas.
FcF: How did you meet your CoFounder? What do you look for in a CoFounder?
Kausambi: Back in 2015, I was leading one of the product management verticals at Walmart subsidiary- Myntra when I first met Barry (Barada Sahu). He had just sold his first successful startup Native5 to Myntra and joined the company to head the storefront architecture. While working with him, I realized that I found someone with whom I can have extremely honest and frank product discussions and business conversations that I needed.
We were also always excited to brainstorm on ecommerce and discuss how retail tech was coming of age for fueling the growth of online stores. The collaboration was so easy and that’s just how we found our sweet spot.
Things that now I will always look for in a co-founder-
🛠️ He/she should have a maker-first attitude because you both need to iterate over action, iteration and results over anything else everyday.
⚽ Check if you both are aligned on the same goals for your business. In the process of achieving that goal, your paths might change but the ultimate goal needs to be the same. Hard to stay on the same page when so many fires are burning - being aligned on the same end goals helps tide through difficult times, times with no conversations, times when you’re both bone tired.
🍽️ Complementary skill sets are a must if you want to pace up and build a good team.
No matter what ups and downs you face, you should know your purpose of doing this together. This will help you to carry out meaningful work.
FcF: How have relationships with other founders helped you build your business?
Kausambi: One important thing that I have learnt from my relationship with other founders is the positive effect of reciprocity - the results that generate from networks that characterize one’s community. No fluff talks, no half-hearted efforts. These relationships with new people have always helped me gain new perspectives, new experiences and positive change in my journey of building and growing Mason.
FcF: If you were to give advice to yourself as you were starting out, what would it be?
Kausambi: First of all, identify your skills to elaborate on them further. In other words, know what you are good at and at the same time, don’t lose focus on your weaknesses. It helps you stay connected with your purpose. And most importantly, make sure to always believe in yourself.
FcF: What advice do you have for other women who have a start-up idea?
1. Keep on iterating your ideas and try to be better- there’s no such thing as a perfect product. Eventually, you’ll reach a stage when you can fine-tune your long term plans on the basis of these iterations.
2. Find sponsors and mentors- build a network of people who are not directly attached to the outcome or your line of work. Reach out to them for discussions and their objective feedback on your project.
3. Have resilience- things might look bad initially or while you are in the process of managing your new venture. In such cases, do not forget to pick yourself up and show up everyday. Life is full of ups and downs anyway.
FcF: How can the Female CoFounder community help you?
Kausambi: Over the past 13 months of starting out with Mason, we’ve helped 25000+ Shopify merchants deliver on-the-clock 24/7 delightful shopping.
We have helped merchants run a successful online store without them having to learn design-tech or coding to manage their stores. The goal is to empower 100,000 more SMBs and entrepreneurs globally to successfully run their online stores in the next 3 years. And with our business growing at such a fast pace, we would like to have a woman leader who can join us to lead our team in North America and help us achieve these goals.
FcF: How can people contact you?
Kausambi: We’re currently in closed-beta stage, and super excited to share unlimited early access to Mason at https://getmason.io/ .
And yes, you can also reach out to me anytime for a conversation around product, fundraising, technology and culture on Linkedin here.
You can also DM @Kaus Manjita in our Slack channel!
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