This Solo Founder Turned An Internal GRC Tool Into A $300K/Year Business

Harshvardhan Kariwala
Founder, VComply
$25K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
40
Employees
VComply
from Palo Alto, CA, USA
started
$25,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
40
Employees
742K
alexa rank
69
followers
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I’m Harshvardhan Kariwala, CEO and Founder of VComply. We help businesses be compliant, mitigate risk, and adopt a culture of transparency. We do that through our governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) product which allows our customers to track, manage, and report on their entire GRC workflows.

One thing that’s unique to VComply is that we aren’t even supposed to be a business today. This product wasn’t ever meant to be used by anybody other than us at my previous startup which was a technology services firm.

A quick fast forward to today, VComply has seen some great traction since our seed round of $2.5M in 2019. At $300K in ARR, we raised $6M in Series A funding in early 2021 and are planning to rapidly grow in 2022.

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

VComply as an external product was kind of an accident. VComply is actually my third startup. At my previous company, I had become hyper-focused on building the business, and I eventually lost sight of compliance. Operational functions fell through the cracks, and I ended up outsourcing our compliance programs to this corporate firm in Singapore.

Fast forward a bit, they ended up forgetting to do a required compliance filing, and we ended up responsible for paying the non-compliance fines associated with that.

One reporting misstep and we were fined. That's what got me worried. We got lucky that was all that happened.

Focus on getting the product right. Spend time talking with potential customers and understanding the problems in the space.

It only took one time to inspire action. We then built an internal tool where the entire idea was around creating a culture of reporting excellence and internal accountability.

What makes us successful today is that the idea of VComply was built and validated from a real need. We were fixing challenges that we were facing and it turns out that it wasn’t just our business that had trouble with compliance.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Since we were building this tool internally at the time, the MVP was fairly straightforward. I collaborated with my internal teams to understand what their processes were and how they were working.

I knew we needed a platform that allowed us to automate the manual tasks, that offered one source of truth, and that ensured internal stakeholders were accountable for their tasks and work responsibilities.

From there, we boiled the problem down to what, who, and when.

  • Who needs to do the task?
  • What needs to be done?
  • What is the frequency?

We prioritized the product and shipped it in 2-3 weeks. We showed the team to the team (the actual users of the product), got their feedback, and kept iterating until we had a working model.

this-solo-founder-turned-an-internal-grc-tool-into-a-300k-year-business

this-solo-founder-turned-an-internal-grc-tool-into-a-300k-year-business

Describe the process of launching the business.

This is kind of a funny story. Landing our first customer was also a complete accident. I think the tl;dr version is that if something feels right and there’s an opportunity...do it!

I wanted our teams to easily be able to access this compliance management tool we created for ourselves. So we bought a domain, set up a basic website, and I wrote a few sections about what the product does and how to use it. (Again, this was only meant for internal stakeholders)

Somehow, someone from the City of Boston landed on our landing page and wanted to see the tool. At this point, I wondered why anyone would want to see this internal tool we created for ourselves.

After extensive research on the GRC space, it was incredibly complex and involved very difficult processes to onboard onto any product at that time.

We took the call with the City of Boston, explained and demoed the tool, then ran a pilot. They loved it and wanted to purchase it.

We were not set up to sell the tool as a business. So when the order came in, I still remember staying up all night creating a new business.

Now we had a vetted tool that solved real challenges and with one customer, I decided that it was something worth pursuing. I started to socialize the idea with investors in Palo Alto, they really liked the product, and we raised our seed round of $2.5M in June 2019.

The three things I would recommend for any founder who is looking to raise a seed round are:

  1. Focus on getting the product right. Spend time talking with potential customers and understanding the problems in the space.

  2. Be very clear when you present how you solve those problems to potential investors. Practice your pitches.

  3. Don’t get discouraged if you’re repeatedly told no. It’s not personal. Learn from the No’s and iterate on your pitch and story until you find what works for you.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I am a product guy at heart. I know this advice isn’t very specific but really focus on the people you are solving problems for. Understand their pains, and fix their pains in a way that will be meaningful to them.

Since our first customer, we became very hyper-focused with building a product that was easy to use for anyone. We dove deep for about 12 months to really make the product right. Over time we started to socialize with potential customers to gather their feedback.

That said, when we go to show the product, the customers can see the value immediately. It’s simple to use, solves their challenges, and doesn’t try to be something it’s not.

Having a co-founder or the right founding team would have made it much easier when needing to make the really tough choices every founder will have to make.

Much of our business so far has been organic from a few places.

  • Referral and word of mouth is our biggest driver. We’ve now invested in marketing to help drive some of these initiatives.
  • SEO has been a great factor. We had an agency create blogs for us around compliance challenges and the traffic generated has helped.
  • Partnerships have been successful as well. We partner with compliance organizations and run events, email swaps, specific discounts, and more.

We’re scaling our marketing function currently to include paid advertising, newsletter, social, and SEO.

SEO Data from SEM RUSH

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Recently Created Newsletter to drive traffic and distribute content

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PR and LinkBuilding with Partners

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Email Swaps and Industry Partnerships

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How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

In general, I am very excited about the GRC space. I think there is immense potential, and we have only hit the surface.

Most of our customer base is in North America and we are looking to expand in Australia and New Zealand. We’re projecting to add Europe by Q4 of 2022.

We’ve just invested in marketing support and are hiring for our first dedicated sales hire. I am sure we’ll have better statistics to share later, but as of now, we’re steadily gathering website visitors, product demos, and new customers through SEO, word of mouth, and having a solid product.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I am a solo founder which has been very difficult. If I could go back, I would have worked alongside someone to build this business. Having a co-founder or the right founding team would have made it much easier when needing to make the really tough choices every founder will have to make.

I’d also said I could have done better building the right team. Hiring the right people and clearly defining responsibilities could have made things much easier.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I would recommend The Great CEO Within: The Tactical Guide to Company Building by Matt Mochary. That's definitely a great read.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

For the first few months, focus on getting the product right. Spend time talking with potential customers and understanding the problems in the space.

Then use your product to solve those problems. Be sure to have a constant feedback loop with the users of your product as well. After all, everything you build is for them.

Another piece of advice is to formulate your processes. I get that it takes time, but it’s incredibly important. Everyone went through so much with Covid and realized that it may have been better if processes were documented. You never know what can happen, so when you document processes and have your information visible you can run the business better.

crucial. Surround yourself with smart people, people who are smarter than you. It helps. I am a solo founder, and it is really challenging and exhaustive to be a solo founder juggling different functions and managing the business. I really miss having a co-founder to share my responsibilities with. It would have been easier to scale up.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Yes! We’re looking for two roles specifically;

  • Chief of Staff
  • Software Sales Executive

These are going to be very important roles that will help shape the company, so please apply via our LinkedIn jobs page or you can reach me at [email protected]

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Harshvardhan Kariwala, Founder of VComply
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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