Meet Manoj Ramnani, founder and CEO of DC startup, Dub Labs. Dub Labs created a free app called CircleBack that completes and updates contact information using its patent-pending Shared IQTM technology. CircleBack is available online and on all major smartphones. Recently, Dub Labs released CircleBack Premium, a low-cost subscription service that provides small businesses powerful demographic data to help them qualify leads and know their customers better.
In an interview with WashingtonExec, Ramnani discussed Shared IQTM technology, the challenges to founding a start up and how to use innovative approaches to attract and retain the best staff.
WashingtonExec: Tell us how your company started.
Manoj Ramnani: I was running a government services firm in the mid 2000s and I kept losing track of all the contacts that I collected at meetings, conferences, and networking events. One night, on a red-eye home from the west coast, I stared at my stack of business cards and thought, “there’s got to be a better way.” My mind was racing with ideas and I scribbled them all down on a napkin which is now framed and hanging in my office.
When I got off the flight in the morning, I put together a skunkworks team and built a prototype for the concept of exchanging contact information using smartphones. By spring of 2008, I showed the concept to one of my old colleagues, Stephen Sklarew. Within a few months, he quit his job and we officially started the company.
WashingtonExec: How did you fund the company?
Manoj Ramnani: It was a bit of a roller coaster at the beginning. In fact, the day Stephen quit his job, I had a verbal commitment from a local angel investor that fell apart that night over an expensive dinner — I could tell you a whole story about that night itself!
For the first few months, I used my savings to fund the development. Then, over the course of the next year, I raised funding by pitching to a lot of local angel investors. This was at the height of the recession, so it was amazing we found any funding at all.
By the end of 2010, we found a local VC firm, Syncon Ventures, that put in a million dollars and we were off to the races.
WashingtonExec: How has your product changed over the years?
Manoj Ramnani: We’ve gone through several revs since 2008 and learned a lot. We worked hard on the original concept in 2008 and 2009 — making it easy to exchange contact info using smartphones. This was at the height of the mobile app revolution with platforms constantly changing so it was quite a challenge.
By mid 2010, we realized that it was very difficult to get everyone to download our app to exchange info and our user base wasn’t growing as fast as we had hoped. So, we combined the exchange concept with a personal, unified address book and saw massive growth in the number of contacts stored in our system.
By mid 2011, we continued to look for ways to scale our user base and fulfill our mission of helping everyone get more value out of their contacts. This is when we invented Shared IQTM, our patent-pending technology for auto-populating contacts and keeping them fresh. We soft launched Shared IQTM late last year and are just starting to ramp up the marketing.
WashingtonExec: What was the hardest decision you had to make at Dub Labs?
Manoj Ramnani: Everyday I make decisions and the team does, too. While I can’t recount one that sticks out as the hardest, I can say that the hardest ones are those where there isn’t a clear answer.
When you’re running a start-up, you’re resource- and time-limited. You don’t have all the right people and research available to inform all your decision-making nor can you sit on decisions and analyze them for too long. So, I do the best I can by talking to people in the company, our advisers, and experts in my network before I make big decisions, but I don’t wait too long.
WashingtonExec: The DC market is hot for technology professionals. How did you grow your team?
Manoj Ramnani: It took a lot of work. Luckily, Stephen and I started with great networks since we grew up in the area as developers ourselves. When we started the company, we immediately tapped our networks and found a few of our core team members that are still with us today.
The hardest part of recruiting in this area is that so many technologists are making great salaries working 9 – 5. However, many of them are not challenged on the job and are itching to get into something exciting during the workday. So, we had to get creative.
We focus on finding people that really have the “the itch” and offer packages that they couldn’t get at traditional companies. We offer much more flexible office hours so they don’t have to commute during rush hour, cutting-edge work in the mobile / web services space, equity so they can participate in the upside, and a flat organization where they can innovate, make decisions and move fast. Most team members have big company experience and we all relish the mindset of “the fewer meetings, the better”. In fact, the whole product team and I sit in the same open lab so we can talk when needed and avoid formal meetings.
We continue to grow and are looking to fill senior and entry level positions on our product development team and senior leadership in sales and marketing.
WashingtonExec: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs in the DC-metro area just getting off the ground?
Manoj Ramnani: Don’t ever give up. Being in a start-up is not the easy path; it’s full of challenges every day. Those that survive have great teams like ours and are relentless in their pursuit of achievement — they enjoy every minute of it. If you’re solely in it for the money, your team, your investors and your users won’t believe in you. So, do it because you believe in it and love it.