Vishal Gondal is a restless soul. He exudes an unquiet perhaps expected from serial entrepreneurs who are buzzing with ideas and want things done at the speed of light. Entrepreneurship is all about “failing fast and moving on to the next thing”, he says. But failure is not what the man, who founded India’s first and largest mobile gaming company, eventually selling it to Disney for $100 million, can be charged with.
However, an hour-long conversation later, it isn’t difficult to spot Gondal’s quiet inadequacies—his inability to adapt to a “manager-run thing with no real opportunity to build anything new”, his dispirited attempts at understanding “balance sheets and future projections” that often define a company’s vision and his impatience with hierarchy and “corporate structures”. In mind, body and soul, he belongs to an entrepreneurial culture that believes in incubating as many new ideas as possible, as opposed to “analysing, justifying and making presentations on a single idea” for days together.
And thus, the 38-year-old entrepreneur, after quitting as the managing director of DisneyUTV Digital in April 2013, has started up again—15 years after setting up the successful Indiagames. GOQii (pronounced Go-Key), his new venture, is a wearable technology company that seeks to create a health care ecosystem. “We are not just a device company. We are a service on top of a wearable device, and we are motivating you to make a lifestyle change,” says Gondal, GOQii’s founder and CEO.
The GOQii ecosystem consists of a fitness band (manufactured in China), an app available on Android and Apple, a slew of health coaches, including dieticians, nutritionists, physical instructors and behavioural psychologists, available 24x7 on the cloud, and Karma Points—a virtual currency for social good—which users can donate to a noble cause listed by Oxfam, an international non-profit that has tied up with the company. That is many things rolled into one.
“Sounds crazy, no?” he asks. “That’s exactly what people told me when I started making mobile games in 1999. I’ve learnt that if they tell you your idea is stupid and is not going to work, you are on the right track. Flipkart must have been a crazy idea at one point. redBus, MakeMyTrip, Justdial… were ideas that must have been shot down by many investors. But someone took a gut call and knew that they were winners. It is only the crazy ideas that end up in great results.”
His long-time friend and venture capitalist Mahesh Murthy (whose firm Seedfund was among the first to spot online ticketing startup redBus) commends Gondal. “He has all the qualities of a successful entrepreneur—a devil-may-care attitude, the ability to do things fast, the ability to network, and the willingness to fail and learn. He’s surely one of the entrepreneurs to emulate,” says Murthy. “But with GOQii, he might be in a difficult space with a narrow demographic. Investors ideally want to back something that can become dominant. There are many good fitness devices in the market already,” he adds.
GOQii, which opened to consumers in August after three months of beta-testing, competes with the likes of Nike FuelBand, Fitbit, Jawbone, Google Fit and Samsung Gear Fit internationally. In India, there is GetActive, a Bangalore-based startup that offers a health monitoring wristband which tracks caloric burn, activity levels, and sleep patterns—pretty much the same things GOQii does, minus the health coaching. And that promises to be the differentiator.
“The power of coaching is more than the power of the device,” says Seedfund’s Murthy. “GOQii needs to move from hardware to a health coaching app that is platform-agnostic and independent. That could become an attractive investment opportunity.”
GOQii seems to be on track then. “We won’t be restricted to any band,” says Gondal. “We’ll eventually have all bands connecting with our service. We’ll have open APIs for that.”