Meet the Postman Who Built a Unicorn with API

The SaaS startup on building a US-focused business

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Abhinav Asthana’s sincerity to the product remains intact even after falling in love with computers and software as a child. The San Francisco based and Bengaluru founded company would have not seen the light of the day had it not been for Asthana’s love for gaming which brought the co-founders together. When Abhinav Asthana was in grade 5 he got his first computer from his dad. As he used to play games the whole day on the computer, his dad asked him to do something productive with it. Asthana soon started programming and got deep into it realizing it’s fun and interesting. Even while in school, he started doing consulting projects and started making pocket money. Reminiscing the same Abhinav Asthana, Co-founder & CEO, Postman says, “I liked it and continued doing it in my school days. Then in college, I did a bunch of projects. I had built projects for others. I wanted to get into this whole idea of building products and that led to basically starting up as an entrepreneur.” After doing side gigs, Asthana started building his own startup.

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While studying at BITS Pilani he also interned at Yahoo. Talking about his journey before beginning Postman, Asthana shares, “It took me a while to get postman formally as a company. I was working on TeliportMe at that time and I saw that people loved the product. People were adapting to it on their own and recommending it and those were good early signals of a product fit.” For him, it was still like a passion project. Asthana agrees that he was solving a real problem. “What I didn’t want to do the second time around was make something that is not relevant,” adds Asthana. He wanted to build something that is meaningful, something which makes people more productive. Around 2014 is when Postman was formally launched.

At that time, the team was talking to users trying to figure out what’s going on. That’s when they realized that they would want to solve the API development problem. With no formal path laid out, Asthana got into the mechanics of building a company. Talking about his initial iteration, Asthana says, “A lot of founders want to raise money, do other stuff. I just wanted to build the product along with Ankit and Abhijit (the other two co-founders).” As co-founders, one needs to have a good working relationship. Asthana worked with Ankit during his internship at Yahoo, which was his only corporate stint. Abhijit was an intern at his first venture TeliportMe. According to Asthana it’s always good to face the problem together with people you share a great bond with. In the last six years, Asthana’s role has shifted to be a great generalist across every dimension of business. He says, “Abhijit, Ankit and I could swap things to do. Whether it’s coding or meeting a customer. Even some early employees are generalists. Whatever it takes to build the company as long as they are passionate about it they could learn skills. We were designing, building, talking about building stuff. All of that was happening among the three of us.” He says it made him come out of his comfort zone and grow as a person as nobody is born a CEO. Asthana grew on the CEO side, Ankit took the CTO’s role and Abhijit led the product team.

What truly made Postman click is its customer centric problem-solving ideas. While other companies prior to Postman were building products but they were close to managers or decision-makers rather than the developer community. That’s where Postman earned the brownie points with the developers. The collaboration platform for API development is currently being used by more than 12 million developers and 500,000 companies worldwide. Even after serving so many customers and the product being technical in nature Asthana still wants his ears to remain close to the customer. Asthana remembers unknown times when people would come and say this has become critical to us. Making it a developer’s product and not making it too complicated worked to their advantage even in its initial avatars. It’s a pattern they saw early on. From three people the company has now grown to more than 250 people. Remembering the initial days of the launch Asthana says, “In 2015, we were doing collaborations and new features had to be launched. People started buying it, what we cracked at that point is we started making revenue.” Typically in the business2bsuiness world, you build a product, set up a marketing team then a sales team, and take a while to realize your revenue. Remembering once such instance, Asthana shares once Abhijit was doing a demo of the payments page. “Then an actual sale got made and we realized not only does the payment page works but our product is also selling.” Initially, Asthana had had no idea about the API space. That also made him non-biased. He simply works on the philosophy of not knowing enough. And then he would talk to the best of people, read books and soak all the information around that subject. The engineer in him likes to go to the core of every problem and solving it with an entrepreneurial mindset. Asthana wants to benchmark the company against the likes of Google and Microsoft to learn continuously and shift continuously.

It all goes back to the one dream he had while in school – build a global company. As per him, the technology phase in the US was much faster. It is better to be plugged into that while building a company. Today the company has customers in 30 countries, with major markets being US, Western Europe and India. A startup that has built a solution that is global and is at par with the best of the world can see adoption across board. Even during the pandemic period, it saw usage grow. Asthana feels people are actually buying B2B saas, new ventures being created, existing businesses modernizing has all led to a very good demand for software. He feels the managerial layer in Indian companies has a lot more decision making power than the US or western counterparts.

Talking about the unicorn tag and the value add investors bring on board, Asthana says, “There are still problems to be solved. We are fortunate to raise capital that allows us to do this at a pace that we like. My most immediate value add was company design and placing executives and good management talent. When you start you don’t have access to that. Investors can add lot of value there. Every business is unique but knowing in their spectrum what they have seen or done. It helps you see around the corner a little bit. Networks are always helpful.” We agree as API has done for developers.

THREE WAYS TO CRACK THE CODE

1. START NOW - I saw a lot of entrepreneurs planning a lot, doing a lot of things. The outer world is so appealing that you can get sucked into it. When people say I will get the best talent from here or anywhere else it never works.

2. RAISE WHEN REQUIRED - Raise capital knowing that suits your need versus serving your need. We were conscious about raising capital. We didn’t raise capital when we didn’t need it. That continued in subsequent rounds. When we raised we were deliberate about it. That helps you be on a cycle that is independent of certain milestones. There are certain conceptions that if I get there we will raise this much money. Let me have this much amount of runway. All of that is good thinking but if fundraising milestones become the real milestone then companies typically don’t succeed in the long run.

3. BUILD WITH CO-FOUNDERS AND EARLY EMPLOYEES - before even you go to customer the team that you are building and their need and their wants I think comes sometime even before. Some people go into command mode that I am the founder or CEO. Postman has benefited with equal say and decision making when we were in the process of making a decision. That allows people to contribute. That allows people to be curious. They add to your company and business. But when people really forget that once I raise capital I am going to get that person then they forget the growth of the people they started with. It hurts the company in the long run. I have been fortunate that Postman has people who have been with us since day one. They are the ones carrying the company forward.

Timeline

2014: founded Postman

2015: bagged seed funding of $1 million from Nexus Venture Partners

2016: Received Series A, which totaled $7 million

2017: released its State of API Survey 

2018: announce Postman Enterprise, a new version of Postman designed for larger organizations 

2019: completed Series B financing round totaling $50 million

2020: Closed $150 Million Series C Funding at a $2 Billion Valuation entering the unicorn club

(This article was first published in the November 2020 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)