Meet one of Dutch Startup Association’s most recent members, Pili.nl! Co-founder and chief product, Romit Gangolli (second guy on the left in the picture), talks about his journey of developing two-sided platform Pili.nl (which will be launching soon), how the COVID-19 has worked in both ways for their company, innovation and more.
What inspired you to name your business ‘Pili.nl’?
I cannot tell you exactly how we came to the name, but what I can say is this: as we wanted to create a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs, we were thinking about what we were exactly building. What is the core essence of our business? And it basically came down to ‘okay, we’re basically building connectivity, or networking between different parties’. So, we figured then that we should name our business something along the lines of connecting different kinds of people. We were looking for some names, and specifically something short, brandable and which could also be used as a verb. Because, in the future, when people would use our platform, they could refer to it like ‘oh, I can just pili it.’ And then later, we found out that in Hawaii, there is this concept where different tribes meet together for particular exchanges of their practices, because each tribe is special in their own way. One tribe may be known for hunting, the other may excel at gathering fruits and so on. This entire process is called ‘pili’. And though we are not doing exactly the same, the core essence is the same. That is how we decided on our company name, ‘Pili.nl’.
Pili.nl has not launched yet. How is the process currently going?
My co-founder and I graduated in February and then in March, the pandemic hit the country. At that time, Pili.nl was just an MVP, a test product: it was basically a white label platform provider. We launched it in Leiden and we contacted like 200 people, of which we had 20 sign-ups in the end. That meant that the adoption rate was quite high, even without any marketing, which was quite impressive. That led to us actually building our own platform. In that process, we hired a few people from India and we started developing in the end of May and beginning of June. However, we did not launch it back then, because our research constituted that there was no need for such a platform around that time. We then had to pivot our strategy instantly: we contacted some companies, asked around. But none of them wanted to integrate our platform, so then we decided to develop our own. And now, we are developing more software tools for our system. That is why we have not launched yet. We are also attending some incubators, which helps us develop our idea. As the first impression counts a lot, we decided that we would rather launch when it is all properly finished, because you only get one chance to launch.
What were the influences of COVID-19 on your business processes?
If the corona crisis did not happen, then we would not have founded the company. Crises like this happen every few decades, and that is exactly where the transitions within society start. The one sector we are targeting, which is the service industry, most of these guys are still very traditional in their operations. For example, they do their accounting work manually in Word documents still and use antiquated accounting software. Additionally, their business works through word of mouth and rarely has any Internet presence whatsoever. Thus, we thought: ‘hey, this an opportunity where we can smoothen their transition from traditional to modern.’ Everything is changing,which sometimes means you have to start all over again. Secondly, we noticed that in the home maintenance industry, for example, that there is so much business right now. Which is probably due to the fact that everyone is staying at home. So, they are doing a lot more projects for homes, as people are probably finding nooks and crooks in their wall or maybe even considering repainting their walls. And so many upcoming projects is great, but for those maintenance workers, this also means that they might not have enough time for administrative matters. Knowing this, we knew what kind of service we wanted to deliver. I want to make it clear that Pili.nl does not serve as a matchmaker, as no one really needs those right now. We do more than that: we offer a platform where they can make use of a suite of tools. These tools include proposals, invoices, project management, website management, calendar booking and more. We even give them free business cards which links to their profiles and customers can make bookings directly through that. We all arrange these types of issues for a small fee. Having said that, you could say that COVID-19 helped us in a positive way, but obviously due to the situation of social distancing, we cannot actively perform our customer research, as we cannot meet up and have talks in-person. And it is tough to perform this type of research online: not everyone is willing to do online interviews and just receiving feedback through Google Forms is not enough. Also, our target audience, which are, like I said, not very digitally acquainted. That is also why it is difficult to do our research online, aside from the fact that no one in our team speaks Dutch. We actually had physical meetings planned out, but the day before our first meetings, the corona measures were tightened. And then we were back to square in terms of doing our customer research. It is what it is. It’s like a challenge. And every challenge that you overcome, you just move forward. And that’s what we try to do. However, I believe that in the long-run, the COVID situation is definitely in our favour.
In terms of innovation, how do you envision Pili.nl to continuously innovate? And how does this align with your future plans?
Essentially, Pili.nl is a startup company, right? As we all know that the COVID-19 situation is so unpredictable, we see that indeed as an opportunity to innovate. Unpredictability resets the whole playground, you go back to square one and that is when you start innovating. Which is essentially part of being a startup. Our ambition is to basically become the one-stop shop for entrepreneurs, where they can start managing their business completely online. And in our vision, this needs to be hassle free, without any restrictions, without any hidden fees, or costs, or whatever, you know. As an entrepreneur, you should be able to do your business without any worry, and want to facilitate that through mobile devices, instead of traditional services like an accountant, tax advisor et cetera. We provide a lot of tools which can make your business operations a lot more easier. And hopefully, because we’re giving this to them, we hope that they stay on our platform to perform their business. Our end goal is to become this two-sided marketplace and we hope to come to the customer side of this by the summer of next year. In that period, the demand decreases by a little, thus, we want to enable customers contacting professionals through our platform. In the end, we will have created an ecosystem of entrepreneurs, where they can manage their business and for customers where they can find and book services.
Is there anything you would like to share with Dutch Startup Association and our readers?
I am not a seasoned entrepreneur, so I cannot give actual advice. However, what I can share is our current struggles, so to speak. Maybe it is due to the corona crisis or whatever, but it is very difficult to talk to people. there are always ups and downs, especially when you are just starting up a company. and these ups and downs are at the extreme ends of the spectrum, and you are going to feel that every week. But we just gotta keep pushing. And for anyone else out there who’s just starting a company, you know, don’t give up yet. Just you know, go and fail, rather than give it up. And that’s our goal, that’s what we’re planning. And hopefully, that’s how it should be.
Originally from India, Romit Gangolli moved to the Netherlands 10 years ago where he completed a bachelor in aeronautical engineering. After having worked as an aerospace project leader, he decided to study management where he met his other co-founder, Lucas Buchmüller. As Gangolli’s mom was searching for a painter and had difficulties finding one, he decided to create a platform, which became Pili.nl. Pili.nl aims at connecting customers with service providers easily and efficiently.