(November 16, 2023) In January 2022, Goldcast, a Bay Area B2B events platform received $28 million in funding. It was a critical moment for co-founders Kishore Kothandaraman, Aashish Srinivas and Palash Soni, after four years of building the company in a country where they had each arrived as students. Now, the company hopes to hit the $100 million mark in the next four years.
Victory was hard-won for Kishore Kothandaraman, the small-town boy from Neyveli, an industrial town in Tamil Nadu’s Cuddalore district. When he made it to Harvard Business School, he thought he could finally tell his parents that they no longer needed to worry about him. One year later, however, he quit his Ivy League Education, along with his classmate Palash Soni, to found his own company instead, rising above the pressure from a society that continues to value education above all else.
“I grew up in Neyveli, dad is a civil engineer and mum is a teacher,” the Global Indian said in an interview. “Everything was provided to me but nothing in abundance. What I wanted, I had to earn. That’s the first thing my parents taught me. And the other – what you earn, you give back to society in a meaningful way.” He grew up in a middle-class household learning the value of money while not really wanting for anything.
Growing up with challenges
Kishore’s life changed when he was 13 years old, and his father was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. “It was not clear if he would make it through or not,” Kishore recalls. His father went on to have a series of health concerns after that, including a heart attack a couple of years after his diagnosis. “I was a teen, getting through school and it was hard to see him go through it. But it taught me that if he could overcome such immense struggles in life, I can definitely figure out the smaller obstacles that came my way.” Determined to make something of himself, to make them proud and to ensure that they were taken care of, Kishore set his sights on a good school, and a good university. He graduated as an engineer and worked with Blackbuck, a trucking logistics unicorn in India. “I got to see how a small group of ambitious misfits can build something from scratch and win against incumbents.” And that, Kishore states, is exactly what he’s hoping to do with B2B events.
The Ivy League journey
In engineering college, he noticed that his seniors were applying for MBAs at brand name business schools and going on to do very well for themselves. Kishore decided to do the same and entered the big league when he was accepted at Harvard Business School. However, Kishore was already dreaming of running a big company of his own and entered Harvard hoping it would put him on the path to his dreams. “When I came to Harvard Business School I was constantly looking for ideas and potential business partners,” Kishore said. It’s not an approach that Indians in Ivy League schools usually have – risking it all to start a company. Luckily for him, he found not just ideas at Harvard but his future business partner, Palash Soni.
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One year in, Kishore and Palash both dropped out of school. They founded Goldcast in 2020, just before Covid hit the world. They decided on a SaaS company, a digital events platform for B2B marketers to host events with prospective customers, from webinars to larger user conferences and hybrid events. “The objective is twofold,” Kishore explains. “Marketers want a great experience and second, since you’re hosting an event, can you collect data on that platform for sales and marketing teams to use post the event.”
They knew very little about starting or running a business at the time. What’s more, they were both in the US on student visas and couldn’t work in that. It was one of the many challenges they faced, as strangers in a foreign ecosystem that seemed to have no place for them. They had savings but those were in Indian rupees and didn’t translate to much. What’s more, the pandemic brought the world into lockdown and messed up the playing field for immigrant founders like Kishore and Soni. But they knew immediately that the pandemic held a big opportunity. This was their chance to become frontrunners in the digital and hybrid event space. “We were excited because we didn’t know what we were getting into,” Kishore smiles.
Even the first step was fraught with challenges – funding. “It was a big deal and very tough. We didn’t know how to raise funds,” Kishore admits. Palash, meanwhile, had a wife and a baby to support and the immigration landscape wasn’t looking favourable. Kishore wanted to ensure his parents had everything they needed. Both the young entrepreneurs refused to give up, however. They also didn’t know whom to ask for funding. “Investors like to get calls from people they know, or whom they are introduced to personally,” Kishore says.
Fighting for a dream
There was only one thing to do – stick with it. The co-founders were frustrated when their efforts didn’t lead anywhere but “we believe in the idea so much that we finally managed to get a couple of million in the early funding round.” The hardest part, they say, was roping in the first 10-15 customers. Finally, they received $2 million in early funding. “We had some competitors, though and by the time we raised $2 million they had raised $500 million,” Kishore says. “How can you compete with that? Putting your heart and soul into it and convincing people to try the product out becomes crucial.”
One of their first paying customers was Harvard University itself. The university encouraged entrepreneurship among its students and alumni and paid them $20,000 to host an event for the freshmen. Thirty minutes in and the platform crashed. “It was terrible PR for us,” Kishore recalls. “That’s how we were being remembered. Goldcast? Aren’t they the company that organised that event? Yeah, that’s the same one.”
The road less taken
Trial and error was the only way to learn, though. “It’s a very lonely journey. Only a few people can understand what that really means. Only founders know. It’s very hard to express that to your family, to your peers or your employees. I remember reading once, most businesses fail because founders get tired.” It is a tiring process, Kishore soon learned, when most people say no to you. As a founder he had to put pressure on his employees too. “You have to put up a good fight because it’s a war. You and your co-founders have to be very prepared for it.”
They had to push themselves and the product in the market, to get in people’s faces and share their story and message. “People are biased towards those they are comfortable with, and being a non-native speaker in a foreign country makes it even more challenging.” Watching his competitors receive hundreds of millions in funding, and learning to live with the decision to quit an Ivy League school and a very coveted degree for a startup – Goldcast’s founders had many ‘why bother’ moments.
They persisted, though and they’re glad they did. “Now, people are realising that this is someone we want to partner with.” Goldcast has a solid team of people all working to build the company, and make sure that it becomes a single platform that marketers can use for all events. “Reaching $100 million in revenue is a big milestone for SaaS companies and we want to achieve it in four years,” Kishore says, adding, “I want to go to NASDAQ and ring that bell.