SugarBox is an Internet-enabler that makes digital access faster, cheaper and more stable for the masses. The platform enables internet access to places and people who have struggled to enjoy its services seamlessly before.The start-up has a unique solution to the long-asked question about the affordability, reliability and accessibility of the internet.
SugarBox was co-founded back in 2016 by Rohit Paranjpe and Ripunjay Bararia.
In an exclusive interaction with TechStory, the co-founders shared some interesting insights about their entrepreneurial journey.
1. What can you tell me about SugarBox? What was the idea behind it? How does it work?
From a technology standpoint, SugarBox is a Content Distribution Network (CDN). CDNs have existed for the last 25 to 30 years and in many ways, this technology is the backbone of the content and internet services available to the public today.
“It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that if CDNs did not exist, we wouldn’t be able to use services like Facebook or Netflix or most of the services that we use, at least at the scale that they operate today.”. So, CDNs essentially make the internet more scalable, faster and cheaper, from the aspect of delivering data from one place on the internet to the other.
CDNs are similar to how the physical distribution ecosystem was set-up and explaining the concept, a little further, Rohit gives us an example-
For example, today if you want to buy a Phone, you do not directly go to the phone manufacturer. You go to a retailer who will sell you the phone. And the retailer gets the phone from a city distributor, who in turn gets it from a state distributor and so on. A CDN is nothing but a digital version of the physical distribution ecosystem that we can all relate to and understand. CDNs similarly build multiple tiers of caching servers across the globe so that relevant data from Apps & Internet services can be stored closer to the user, for the user to access.
Rohit further extended his argument explaining the backend scenario of how users actually access the data available on the internet. He says, that over two-thirds of the data consumed on the internet is not delivered by the App provider at all, but is delivered via a CDN.
So, let’s say you wish to access content available on the Zee5 mobile app, your request to play a video is not being served by Zee5 servers at all, and the content will be delivered to your device via a CDN contracted by Zee5.
2. What is the USP/competitive advantage of SugarBox over other CDNs?
On asking about the Unique Selling Point of SugarBox, Rohit explains,
“The disruption that we bring to the table is that today CDN servers exist inside an Internet Data Centre and users then require an internet connection to reach these CDN servers. An internet connection, either from a telecom operator, broadband provider or even satellite connectivity provider is regulated and is licensed to companies. In addition to this, it entails substantial infrastructure investments to provide more and more bandwidth to support the ever-increasing needs of consumers. This is what makes internet connections all over the world slow (limited bandwidth), patchy (infrastructure gaps) or expensive.”
SugarBox has created the world’s first Hyperlocal CDN. The term ‘Hyperlocal’ means that in addition to installing CDN servers inside Internet Data Centres, SugarBox also installs them where consumers already exist.
“We install CDN servers inside public transport, residential complexes, hotels, mall, schools, hospitals etc. Basically, any place where consumers access internet services. As a result, data from Apps & Internet services contracted with SugarBox can now be accessed by the user over a local Wi-Fi or a local area network (LAN), which is free, super-fast and extremely reliable. As a result, SugarBox is able to provide an experience guarantee to consumers and services, along with zero data charges for consumers!”
He further explains the concept on the consumer front by using an example:
“Let’s say you are inside a train which has a SugarBox installed. Irrespective of how good or bad your internet connection might be when the train is moving, the data for any App that is contracted with SugarBox will get delivered to you from the server in the train. So, even if you have no cellular network, you will be able to stream movies, shop online, pay bills, discover new things on the internet, browse educational content and so on.”
“The same concept can be applied to a school in a remote village. The educational content available on the SugarBox can be made accessible to the whole school, even at times when the internet connection is patchy or internet is entirely down.”
“So, in simple terms, what we are doing at SugarBox is that we are making the internet more scalable by optimising the way the data is transacted on the internet and shifting more and more user consumption from licensed, limited and expensive bandwidth to unlicensed, reliable and free bandwidth.”
“Additionally, we are working with internet service providers to decluttering their networks by deploying hyperlocal CDN servers and mobile data offload. In addition to this, for ISPs and telcos, we are able to add significant value to them by enabling them to support more users on the same network, improve user experience and most importantly, improve their unit economics.”
Thus, Rohit explains how the whole concept and idea of SugarBox is making internet cheaper, faster, more reliable and making it work where it doesn’t exist or doesn’t work today. The platform also has plans to make the internet work for people who cannot afford an internet connection today.
For a general user’s understanding, SugarBox partners with internet service providers and Apps to make their data available on the company’s CDN servers. SugarBox does not replace your internet connection or the World Wide Web.
Commenting on the future prospects of the service, Rohit says that any App can be integrated with the SugarBox CDNs, except communication Apps like WhatsApp or Zoom, because all the data on these services is dynamic.
On being asked about the clarification on the decluttering of internet providers, Rohit explains an interesting viewpoint on how it can benefit the end consumer.
He says that if a SugarBox CDN is installed in your house building, about 30%-40% of the internet server’s traffic at scale would be diverted via CDN server, decluttering the ISP. So, even if you get the cheapest router, you will enjoy the benefit of high internet speeds of 50-60 Mbps, depending on the area in which building is located. Thus, the end-user experience of the internet, even for a 2Mbps or 5Mbps connection becomes far better than what you would experience with a 100Mpbs connection.
3. How has technology enabled you to scale up your venture?
Mr Ripunjay Bararia being the CTO of the company shared his insights on the technology front of SugarBox.
“SugarBox is a technology company and everything that we do revolves around it. It is a very core part of the operations that we are working on and because of our unique Hyperlocal infrastructure, we have to enable technology to work in a very different way than usual. We have tried to harness every single type of technology so that we get empowered and are able to disrupt something as fundamental as how the internet functions”
In addition to this, Rohit shared his thoughts on the matter saying, “Technology always helps and enables us to do more and at the end of the day, any CDN is built on hardware and as the hardware keeps getting better, what we, at SugarBox are able to do with that hardware also allows us to do far more.”
“Another aspect to this is the network technology that is progressing with 5G, satellite-based communication and Wi-Fi 6. These technologies are enhancing the capacity of the networks and because of such improvements, the end-user experience keeps enhancing. It depends on the technology that we as a company are able to harness and optimise to make that experience even better.”
Further in the discussion, Mr Ripunjay explains how people in the village or otherwise remote areas are not getting internet services. He explains that running an ISP business in a village as compared to a Tier-1 city like Mumbai is far less profitable and must times even unsustainable. As a result, ISPs have much higher impetus in improving their network coverage and capacity in high ARPU geographies – it just makes better business sense!
“ SugarBox has been able to leverage technology to optimize data consumption from licensed internet onto unlicensed local bandwidth, disrupting the economics of how data is delivered and monetised. And doing that, we are able to solve real-life challenges like seamless internet access for the masses, in a sustainable and an economically viable manner.”
Thus, the problem that every BigTech company globally is chasing – which is affordably, reliably and sustainably connecting everyone worldwide –SugarBox has built a unique solution to solve, with technology at its core.
4. Would like to throw some light on the challenges in the startup ecosystem of the country?
“We wouldn’t really look at it as challenges”, commented both the co-founders in unison.
Mr Ripunjay says, “I think in India, we aren’t really as geared up to have an accessible and cohesive start-up ecosystem as compared to other countries. Be it the first Seed finance or interim finance; Venture Capitalists or HNIs or people who are willing to take disruptive bets. If you aren’t able to reach such a set of people, you basically fall back on your own internal wisdom and financing sources. Banking institutions or government resources are not really geared up for this when compared to some other countries.”
“So that becomes a very big problem because when you have a great idea and you aren’t able to go out and reach this set of people to go get your Seed financing done, you really aren’t able to grow beyond a certain point. If an entrepreneur is able to get this thing sorted out, then I think, we are the Silicon Valley of the world.”
Mr Rohit says, “I look at every challenge as an opportunity and as an entrepreneur, there is not much knowledge available or a widened-up ecosystem. The first challenge in all ventures is whom do we go to for the right advice at the right time or at an even basic level, the culture of mentors that you can talk to when in a tough spot.”
In India, there has always been a risk-reward equation that involves a lot of bias.
“What I mean by bias is when you step out to get some capital or you want to get funded quick, you either need to have inherent access, so you know somebody who is a successful start-up founder or you are a successful start-up founder yourself or you have strong academic creds.”
Besides this, Rohit mentions another very important point that backs his argument, a point where the industry needs to evolve is “Not a lot of people in India are willing to invest in path-breaking technologies.”
“Let’s say if founders like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Paige were starting their entrepreneurial journey in India, going to set of investors, telling them that they will change the world, but it needs someone to invest in this idea; I don’t think we would have had many people in India to fund such ideas, as crazy as they might be. But every pathbreaking idea fundamentally needs to be crazy!”
“The reason why we have a certain set of start-ups in India is that we have that exact same set of investors in India.”
5. What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? Why should the younger generation aspire to be in this role?
“The inspiration for me was literally the kinds of work happening all over the place and seeing the need for me getting to go out and help people, be able to understand the integration of so many different things together and the only place that I always felt restricted was if, I were ever in a job where I get to do one thing only. This is why I could not stay at a job for more than a couple of months. So that is how I came into being an entrepreneur.”, said Ripunjay on being asked about his inspiration to become an entrepreneur.
Rohit says that he is an accidental entrepreneur. “I don’t think I ever thought through this, post engineering, I couldn’t find any job that I was passionate about, which is why I was forced to look at starting something on my own and stumbling on to this entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
“It has always been about finding a problem that appeals to you and then having the will to change it and change the world, solve that problem.”
6. Tell us more about your journey so far.
“Every venture in itself has its ups and downs and people mostly look at it as binary, if you are able to raise money, that’s a win and it is not really the case,” says Rohit.
He further mentions that it is not always about the external ups and downs, internal ups and downs also matter significantly. As far as SugarBox is concerned, the venture took three years to launch because when you are building technology that no one has built before.
“There have been so many times when Ripunjay and I have sat completely disheartened and we’re saying that our dream is about to end. We are trying to solve a problem and we believe we are in a place where the problem can’t be solved and then the win is when you actually find a solution to that problem. So, we celebrate that day. And then we start all over again the next day and it keeps going on, even now.”- Rohit commenting on his journey so far.
He further concludes his statement by saying that it is never a linear journey, there are always ups and downs, but with time, the magnitude of those extremes keep flattening.
Ripunjay says, “All the experience- good, bad and ugly, all the experiences that you keep getting yourself into and collecting all of those learnings as you grow, the lessons keep on increasing.”
“The first time you fail, you feel like it’s the end of the world, now when you fail, you’re more like it’s the end of the world for 15 minutes and then you’ll survive like you did in the last fall,” added Rohit to what Ripunjay mentioned.
7. What are some of the challenges that you face on a daily basis? Would you like to share your thoughts on work-life balance for entrepreneurs in general?
To answer this question, Rohit says, “I think for Ripunjay and I, what we do is an integral part of our life.”
The co-founders mentioned that it took them three years to even take a Sunday off, they used to work seven days a week. “It never felt like a hassle, we just worked seven days a week because we had enough work that couldn’t be finished in five days.”
“In order to avoid burnout, there came a time when both of us made it a point to at least take a Sunday off, and that gradually progressed to working half days on Saturdays as well,” says Rohit.
He further mentions that what he tells his employees is very different because if they don’t look at their work as an integral part of their life, they have to see it in a very different way, otherwise they would burnout faster.
“Burning out in essence is where you start questioning why you do what you do and that is something that is not healthy.”
In addition to this, Rohit says that work-life balance for entrepreneurs consists of how much of what you do is your life because if it is, then it’s just a blend.
“There is no real work-life differentiation to have a balance.”
“As an entrepreneur, give this flexibility or freedom to other people for whom this might not be their life, to treat it as just a job. Don’t evaluate or judge people on this basis, it is not about one being better than the other at all and a lot of people do perceive it that way.”
8. What are some of your key priorities for your people?
“We evaluate for cultural nuances over and above, just skill,” says Rohit commenting on the question.
He further states that while hiring, there are actually written cultural nuances that employers seek while hiring new recruits. They claim to have over five clear factors of cultural nuances on the basis of which they judge people before hiring them.
Besides this, Rohit also mentions his second methodology while hiring new recruits which he recommends to every employer who is hiring.
“Whatever role you are hiring for, whatever position, over and above an interview or just verbal interviews, do some sort of assignment, practical test or case study. For positions where we are not able to concoct assignment, we hold a panel discussion. I think what that does is, you really understand the person’s ability to think on their feet, you understand the ability of a person to think laterally, think beyond just what the area of expertise is and I believe, in a start-up, all of these things are very critical and this method has really worked well for us in the past year.”
9. What would you do if you hired a person, extremely skilled in his job, but negatively impacting those around him?
This question, according to Rohit had a two-fold answer.
- “It depends on how senior this person is and how critical a role this person is going to play in the company. If he is in your top ten list or in a leadership role and influences a bunch of other employees, culture plays first, everything else comes second because the amount of impact that he will create is not isolated to just one or two people, it will spread to twenty-thirty people around him.”
- “If the person is junior, then the question really comes down to, is he getting a skillset that just does not exist with anybody else in the company, if yes, you may probably overlook it. But, according to me, culture plays a far more important role in a company, especially a start-up.”
Holding on the thread, Ripunjay commented on the topic saying, “Such a person literally becomes a bad apple and it becomes extremely difficult because other people start picking up those habits and so having a cultural background in a start-up really helps.”
10. Your last piece of advice for a young individual aspiring to become an entrepreneur in the present day and age and for the future to come.
First advice by Rohit for someone who wants to become an entrepreneur today is,
“Don’t become an entrepreneur because it is considered cool, don’t become an entrepreneur because it would give you the freedom to be your own boss, don’t become an entrepreneur because a lot of people are becoming one today. What a lot of people don’t understand is the difference between being self-employed and being an entrepreneur.”
“Become an entrepreneur when you find a problem and you’re really passionate about solving that problem. If this does not exist, that entrepreneurial journey is going to be short-lived.
A bit of advice for tomorrow would be “You will fail but if you really believe in the core value set and believe in the fundamental value that is being added, stick at it, be at it, you will get through it, you will find answers. It takes time, you will have to sustain a lot of hardship but have the will. Set your limits and if you are unable to do it within those limits, then get out. It is always important to not be discouraged by failures but when push comes to shove, accept those failures.”
Ripunjay added to the conversation by saying,
“If you are willing to become an entrepreneur, you need to understand that you will fail at some point or the other. Failing should be a part and parcel of the journey, learning from those failures is the most important part and the second part of the equation is actually going out and doing it.”
“Here are a lot of people who think, thinking about becoming an entrepreneur or even investing money into a product but you never launch it, is the stupidest thing that one can do. So, if you think that your product is great, launch it. Iterate it to make it better instead of mourning over the fact that that it is not perfect.”
“If nobody sees your product, you are not really an entrepreneur.”