Vatsal Singhal: Founder-ing, V2.0
This week, we caught up with Vatsal Singhal, Co-Founder & CTO of Ultrahuman, a company that builds wearables for health and fitness tracking. The company aims to build the future of metabolic health by leveraging preventive healthcare technology and bringing together a community that learns and unlearns together. A staunch advocate for fitness as a transformative force, Vatsal, along with his co-founder Mohit, has been at the forefront of introducing athlete-grade personalised healthcare monitoring systems to India. Our discussion with Vatsal focused on his experiences as a second-time entrepreneur, the emotions and complexities involved in executing a merger, his second innings as a co-founder with a college friend, and his vision for what can be accomplished via a community like Offline. Vatsal previously co-founded Runnr, a B2B food delivery start-up, backed by Nexus Venture Partners, Blume Ventures, and Peak XV (formerly Sequoia Capital), which was acquired by Zomato in 2017, when the company was handling ~300,000 monthly orders.
December 21, 2023
We’ve been following Ultrahuman launches in Dubai, the UK and other countries – which of these was your favourite, and why?
“For us, the launch in the Czech Republic was extremely exciting. Initially, like many others, we focused more on larger markets such as the US. However, we discovered that smaller, untapped markets offer substantial internet penetration leading to significant consumer awareness and demand for premium fitness products.
This is also true for countries like Thailand, that's one of many regions we're eager to enter. These nations not only have a strong sports culture but also experience significant sports tourism, making them ideal for our expansion.
Our experiments in these markets, with limited stock and effort, yielded excellent ROI. This validated our strategy of focusing on less conventional markets before venturing into larger ones like the US. Operating in these markets also allows efficient management from India, thanks to minimal time zone differences. This aspect is crucial for maintaining operational feasibility and profitability without the need to set up in-country teams.”
Ultrahuman is your second inning as a founder, what are three learnings you are employing from your experience of founding and scaling Runnr?
“If you ask me, the top one has been our shift to a 'revenue-first' mentality, prioritizing profit and ensuring financial stability. This approach moves away from chasing vanity metrics like transaction numbers to focus on tangible revenue. Especially in uncertain times, like the possibility of another pandemic, it's vital to have cash in the bank.
At Ultrahuman, we've embraced a lean team structure, a departure from Runnr's larger workforce which had 1500 employees at its peak. For example, for the longest time, a single person managed our retail business, which constituted 40% of our revenue. This goes against traditional norms of building extensive teams before expanding business channels.
In contrast to Runnr, Ultrahuman is even more aggressive in iterating at a rapid pace. In a market where ideas are quickly replicated, staying ahead means accelerating our pace of innovation. We aim for sustained, compounding business growth, adapting rapidly to maintain our market lead."
Runnr started up in 2015 and was acquired by Zomato in 2017. Tell us about your experience of going through an acquisition.
“Acquisitions are very hard if you ask me honestly. It took us over a year and a half to complete the transaction and truly get merged into Zomato. A key challenge lies in merging different company cultures and teams, a critical aspect that often determines the success of an acquisition. Often, just integrating the technology is difficult, people leave their jobs in the process, and sometimes even the parent company loses interest in the acquisition.
Reflecting on Runnr's merger, we recognize that we could have continued independently as a B2B logistics firm. However, joining Zomato offered a unique opportunity to delve into the consumer-driven side of the business. This shift to a consumer-centric model was not just about operational changes; it was about engaging directly with users and feeling the immediate impact of our services.
The excitement and feedback from the consumer market were more fulfilling than the B2B space. Our decision to merge was motivated by the desire to be part of a deeply integrated consumer platform, with us playing a significant role in expanding their delivery services.”
Mohit and you have been co-founders together twice: Runnr and Ultrahuman. What makes your partnership work so well?
“I have known Mohit for 15 years now; we were also college hostel-mates. I believe a deep understanding is crucial for balancing our roles as friends and colleagues. At work, we talk candidly as colleagues, yet outside of work, we maintain our friendship and hang out like college buddies.
I feel that many startups fail because founders struggle to harmonise. Mohit and I, however, have mastered understanding each other's viewpoints, particularly in critical situations. Our partnership centres around a shared focus on the company's welfare, and decisions, even amidst disagreements, are made considering the organisation's best interests. Whether it involves hiring or other strategic decisions, we prioritise the organisation's benefit always.
What also makes it work is that we have structured ourselves in a manner where Mohit (as Co-Founder & CEO) still holds (hypothetically) a veto. Even if I strongly disagree with a direction, we proceed with it, committing to the decision collectively as a team, even if that potentially means going south. This strategy has proven effective, as it fosters unity and allows for decisive action, crucial in the fast-paced startup environment.”
Finally, what are you most excited about with Offline?
“I was so excited to sign up for this – honestly, to me, it was a no-brainer.”
I foresee several benefits as a member…this might be fundraising support, user acquisition, and valuable feedback, facilitated by some of the most influential individuals. There’s a unique advantage to being part of a growing, powerful network, where members' achievements, like company IPOs, enhance collective strength and resources.
Such communities have a compounding effect: as the network expands, its influence and capabilities grow exponentially. This keeps making the community stronger, especially as members unlock new achievements and have more to share and teach one another.”
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