Haptik: IE Graduate Launches Successful Start-Up

Emily Scott
11/18/2014

Aakrit Vaish
Aakrit Vaish
A new way to access customer support has arrived in the form of an interactive, real-time mobile app.

It’s called Haptik, and it was developed by Aakrit Vaish and Swapan Rajdev, both University of Illinois engineering alumni.

Launched in April 2014, Haptik lets users quickly chat with experts to get answers to their questions on a variety of products and services. Questions can be related to services such as banking, products related to shopping and electronics, or even flight information, to name a few of the areas.

The experts, who are specialized in information regarding over 200 companies, respond over the text chat within four to six minutes.

Haptik is available on both iOS and Android, and has been compared to the popular app WhatsApp, with Haptik having more of a focus on products and services.

Its success has been matched with the fact that it recently raised $1 million in startup funds from Kalaari Capital, a venture capital fund based in India that invests in technology companies.

Vaish, who has a B.S. in Industrial Engineering, was the director of Flurry India and the co-founder of Flat.to before co-founding Haptik with Rajdev, who has a B.S. in Computer Engineering and was previously an engineer at Radius.

The two met in their freshman dorm at Illinois and have now known each other for ten years. “We've always been best friends and it just accidentally happened that we both ended up working in the same industry after graduation,” Vaish said. “Then we started doing some basic work together and realized the equation works well. And once the idea of Haptik was born, there was no doubt this was what we wanted to go do full time together.”

Their idea behind Haptik was simple: customer support should be easy and convenient, especially in a time when text communication is so far-reaching. “We were always fascinated by the mobile messaging space, right from back in 2010 when WhatsApp and others first launched,” said Vaish. “And then one day a friend suggested the thought of users and companies being able to message each other.”

Vaish said their “Eureka moment” didn’t happen until November 2012. “We were talking to an industry veteran,” he said. “He suggested we make it a simple help app where general experts respond to queries, and that’s where we are today.” Haptik was officially founded in August 2013 and is based out of Mumbai and San Francisco.

So far, the feedback from users has been what Vaish described as “overwhelmingly positive.” With over 2,000 ratings averaging to 4.5, it is easy to see that users are fond of the idea. “People love the solution, they just want it to be able to do more,” he said, “which we will build out over time.”

Looking back, Vaish said that what he did during his time in IE at the University of Illinois translates directly to what he does now. “Industrial Engineering is about optimization, operations, and problem solving,” he said. “That is pretty much what I do on a daily basis at Haptik.”

Swapan Rajdev
Swapan Rajdev
“We have a large expert operations team, and we are constantly working on optimizing efficiency,” he further explained. “It literally is a problem from one of Dr. Xin Chen’s classes!”

Vaish also said that his experience of being the president of the Institute of Industrial Engineers during his senior year gave him the essential skills in building and leading an organization, and managing tasks and people that transcribe to his work at Haptik.

One of his favorite memories of IE was completing his senior design project. “Working on a real world problem at the client site was quite exciting back then, and helped us think what it would take to succeed in the real world,” he said.

Fast-forward to now, Vaish is the CEO of a company that recently received $1 million in startup funds. With those funds, they hope to expand Haptik further.

“Our goal in the next 12-18 months is to get Haptik out to as many users as possible across India,” he said. “This financing will help towards that— marketing, scaling operations, engineering. We intend to go to one million messages a week on the platform in the next 12 months.”

In the long term, they aim to have Haptik reflect “Google meets WhatsApp.” “We see Haptik becoming the one-stop shop when you need help for any product or service,” Vaish said. They’ll soon be adding picture messaging as one of the features of the app, and are working on providing more stability and faster response times.

Vaish and Rajdev have realized that this journey has come with its share of challenges. “Starting and running a company is the hardest job in the world,” Vaish said. The hardest part, he said, is staying motivated even when benefits are not always currently evident. “Each startup has a gestation period during which, as founders, you are not making any money—in fact you are investing more and more—and no one around you cares about what you are doing,” he said. “This can get tough, particularly if this gestation period keeps going.”

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t also come with more rewarding moments. “The most rewarding part is when a random stranger comes up to you and praises the product you have built,” Vaish said. “That makes everything worth it.”

“It’s been an amazing ride so far,” Vaish said of working with Rajdev to make Haptik what it is today. “It helps to have the blind faith in each other, particularly when the going gets tough. And more importantly, we know everything about each other on a personal front, which again makes it much easier to plan things.”

His best advice for current students who also wish to pursue entrepreneurship is to consider all areas of their idea before implementing them.

“Don’t do it because it’s ‘cool’,” he said. “The only way you will sustain is if you have an idea that you cannot stop thinking about, and can go to any lengths to make it work.”