FusionCharts: The Story of an Accidental Entrepreneur
In this month’s Bootstrapped Heroes Stories, we discuss the remarkable journey of FusionCharts, a data visualization SaaS company, and its Founder, Pallav Nadhani. From being a source of pocket money to having 85% of the Fortune 500 businesses as clients and making millions, FusionCharts and Pallav have come a long way. In fact, after 18 successful years of global domination, FusionCharts was acquired by Idera Inc., a B2B software company, in 2020.
How did this happen? Read along to find out.
The Starting Point
The year was 2000. Pallav Nadhani’s family had just shifted to Kolkata, where his father started a web designing agency. A 14-year-old Pallav was tasked with designing webpages after his school hours. 2 years later, the young boy had picked up programming and would easily build programs on his own. It was around this time that Pallav realized they were using awful Excel charts for some of the applications. That is when the seed of FusionCharts was sown.
The Turning Point
Pallav took it upon himself to code a program that would make the charts visually appealing and easy to understand— and he succeeded. In an interview, he explains that he had discovered Flash and wanted to see how that could help in the process.
But how did that translate into a Million dollar business?
Well, Pallav would write articles for an online journal that paid him enough money that he used as pocket money. It was in this journal that Pallav wrote about his latest program code. It led to tons of feedback and inquiries from developers abroad. And also $1500, which went on to become the seed capital for the bootstrapped empire. That is when Pallav realized the power of programming and the demand for data visualization.
Fun Fact: Pallav used to spend his school nights reading books about computers and programming.
Pallav, at first, started making charts for free. However, he quickly realized how time-consuming it was. He then productized the idea and started charging his clients, who would happily pay for the interactive charts Pallav created. One thing led to another, and Pallav, with the help of his father, launched FusionCharts, making him an ‘accidental entrepreneur’ as he calls himself.
By 2006, FusionCharts had earned almost $1 million and had a staff of 10 people. Since then, FusionCharts has grown by leaps and bounds and caters to over 28000+ customers worldwide. This list includes the likes of Google, Oracle, IBM, Apple, etc.
This is partly due to the marketing efforts done by the business to ensure brand visibility. Pallav would write about the product on technical sites and developer forums. He also indulged in guest blogging on other websites, where he would draw comparisons between traditional (aka boring) charts and his new-age interactive charts. The team also invested in featured listings on directories as that was a place their target audience usually looked for services.
If you’ve participated in a LinkedIn poll, checked the weather on weather.com, or used the interactive charts on Google Docs, you’re a user of FusionCharts.
The Tipping Point
While it might look like it was all rainbows and butterflies, the business did face turbulence at certain points in its journey. Let’s dig deeper into three such instances.
In 2007, an Eastern European company copied FusionChart’s source code (which was commercially open), and released a modified, cheaper version of the product. We must note that the European Regulations back then were not airtight. Loosely translated, that meant any legal action taken against them would be a waste of time and resources.
While this would have easily made businesses hit the brakes, Pallav had other plans. Pallav and his team released a newer version of the product and made the current version completely open and free. This meant a staggering increase in the number of users for the platform’s free version, who would, later on, purchase the commercial version of FusionCharts. Genius!
2014-2015 was a time when startups and technology-driven companies started mushrooming across the country. In an interview, Pallav talks about how the entire engineering team at FusionCharts was wiped out as other companies were willing to pay 3X the salary due to talent shortage. Being a bootstrapped startup, it wasn’t something that he could afford. But that didn’t stop him. Pallav decided to focus on campus hiring, hired the best talent fresh out of college, and invested in training them. The rest, as we know, is history.
Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Pallav Nadhani
Pallav Nadhani and FusionCharts have forever changed the world of data visualization. What are some of the key lessons businesses can learn from Pallav’s journey? Here’s what we think.
1. Focus on solving real problems:
Too often, we see budding entrepreneurs jumping on the bandwagon of ‘startups’ without a clear understanding of the problem they want to solve. Pallav started FusionCharts to address a problem he had: He hated Excel charts. What is a problem you face that you wish someone could solve?
2. Build something you are passionate about
Identifying a problem is not enough. It is very important to ensure that you are passionate about what you are seeking to build. At an event, Pallav said, “If you are not passionate about the idea, you will get bored, and that would be the end.”
3. Be open to customer feedback, but have your own filters
The customers want what they want. Often, businesses make the mistake of listening to every request a customer makes. As a business owner, you must have the capability to filter through all the requests. Pallav suggests having three parameters: Value, Usability, and Feasibility. Act on feedback if the feature demonstrates immense value, can be used by a large number of people, and can be built by your team easily.
4. Double down on what works, and pull the plug on what doesn’t
Let’s face it: this is easier said than done. While businesses often invest more in the products that get them the maximum revenue, they are hesitant to unplug the products that don’t work. This could be in the hopes that the market sentiments would change. However, if you are a bootstrapped startup, don’t be afraid to pull the plug. In fact, FusionCharts has had some unsuccessful products that Pallav discontinued to ensure maximum efficiency.
Learning from the stories of entrepreneurs who have put a stamp on the world for themselves is truly inspiring. We had a great time writing this article, and hope you did too. What other bootstrapped brand would you like to learn more about? Let us know in the comments below.
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Want to read more such inspirational stories? Here are a few more we have written:
- The Secret Sauce to Wayfair’s Success
- 5 Lessons Aspiring Startup Founders Can Learn From Wingify
- Tuft & Needle: Bootstrapped From Zero To A Million Dollar Brand
- Nykaa: How India’s First Woman-led Unicorn Transformed The Beauty Industry
- The Dollar Shave Club: An Extraordinary Story of An Ordinary Product Brand