Sreepriya Koppula is the founder of Turnaround Innovision, a tech startup based in Bangalore that creates product images for e-commerce portals. That pair of shoes you last bought online after looking at a 3D model from all sides to help you decide? Perhaps it was Koppula’s product, called Flipxi, that helped you do that.
After IIT Kharagpur and having worked as a software programmer for nearly a decade and building catalogue solutions for other companies, she decided to strike out on her own. She enrolled with the Startup Leadership Program and signed up for a course at Stanford Business School. In 2014, her company was selected for the Target Accelerator Program, which aims to boost “brilliant minds for the next big tech ideas”. Later that year, she applied for Women Entrepreneur Quest (WEQ), the business competition held every year at the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing, and won.
This year, she’ll be back at WEQ again, presenting at the finals of the competition on December 4. As ecosystem partners of WEQ this year, The Ladies Finger caught up with Sreepriya to ask her a few questions. Edited excerpts:
Your company creates tools to make a product easily viewable in online catalogues. How did that happen? What was it in this particular space that drew you to the idea?
When e-commerce was just coming up, what I realised was, apart from the written text, an image is what can make the [e-shopping experience] feel easier – to understand the product or to capture eyeballs. The quality of images can affect the feel, not just in e-commerce, but in any digital [portal]. So there’s a huge scope in terms of adding services [here]. If you can provide services around images and improving images – they can make a huge difference.
That’s how we started making better images for specific domains in e-commerce and online shopping. Initially, we created a 3D view of products, so it felt like you were holding them in your hand. We also have another service that captures an image of a product in a studio, and a configuration platform identifies the product and enhances the image. We also have multiple, different lines of thought on how to convert images better or how they should be placed – some of these services are also what we’re looking at building. These kinds of functions that can directly increase the sales for any kind of business are the value we can provide.
What pushed or pulled you to enter the tech space? Did you always want to work in this field?
Tech was something I was interested in right from high school. I have always liked programming and how simplified things become by using technology. I’ve always wanted to be a part of the technology revolution. I worked for a couple of startups for 8-10 years before starting on my own, and I’d seen how technology could play a role in a business.
Building the technology part is one part of it. How the solution is perceived by clients, and how to make use of it [is another]. I had a good idea about the entire product cycle and how to market products. I was looking for problems that we could solve through tech so that we always have business value.
Does your experience as a tech person conflict with your work as an entrepreneur?
The tech is so much closer to the heart [for me] – or maybe I have spent more of my career doing just pure tech. So it feels like a comfortable zone where [it’s like], “Okay, there’s a problem, there’s something which we need to build, and all I have to do is figure out the right technology for it.”
But in the current stage where I am, I think it’s important to figure out where the product is going. I don’t get so much time to go deeper into [the tech side of it] – [many] more things are at stake. But that’s the overall journey, right? Going up to the stage where you are able to see how clients are feeling, but also making sure the business goals are met? I think that’s a journey I’m on now, and that’s okay.
Two years ago in an interview, you identified the lack of platforms and opportunities for networking as some of the biggest problems for women entrepreneurs. Given that, what was it like to attend the 2014 Grace Hopper conference, surrounded by hundreds of women in the same situation?
When you start off, you try to connect with peers who are trying to do something similar, to figure out what they’re doing and to share what you’re doing. Or even for support, in terms of a community. You try to figure out what networks or platforms are available.
When I attended WEQ last year, [I saw that] there were so many women out there and so many conversations going on. The best part is, you feel like you’re not alone in this journey. You figure out that there are so many people who you can meet, contact, network and share with and from whom you can learn. So it’s a great platform to be on. People keep saying, complaining, that at most events you hardly see any women. But I think when you come to Grace Hopper, or at WEQ, you just realize that there’s no dearth of women. There are [women out there], it’s just about identifying them and connecting with them.
When you know there’s another person who is probably just like you, and has done this, [it builds] a lot of confidence: “If someone else can, why not me?” And it’s about getting that visibility. It’s not like just having a simple conference for women will really change anything, but [the Grace Hopper conference] is one big package where you can find all sorts of stories for other women looking for a connect. I think there’s a lot of hope to inspire and help women, who are looking for inspiration [wherever they can get it].
For me, it was awesome to see that there were women in key positions in some really big companies. Some of them are my mentors today. [If I hadn’t attended the conference], I don’t think I would have ever got a chance to meet with those women. But now, I use them as my sounding board whenever I feel like I can draw from experience. So it’s an awesome platform.
Have things changed for you in any other way since winning WEQ last year, in terms of your company and its trajectory?
Yes. In a very indirect way, it has made me believe that we have the right vision and we’re on the right path. When I started, I started with a smaller vision – I just [built] a product and went into the market. But we wondered what the long-term plan was, what the long-term vision was – we had a lot of questions, and being in WEQ was one of those really really proud moments for me in my life, because I realised [there were others like me]. It completely changed my perspective because it gave the confidence to go forward – it just [changes] that mindset because sometimes you just have to tell yourself that you can do it, and then you’ll start doing it. I return to that moment whenever I feel low.
One of the direct effects is definitely the cash award which we won and all the media [exposure]. It is one of the talking points I use when I’m speaking to high-profile people. It definitely helped raise our leverage in a lot of ways. At the time we won, we were actually getting back to a product development phase where we wanted to bring the next product out. Winning helped us focus on that, [and] we finally launched [the new product] a month ago.
Does the term “women in tech” ever get tiring?
If the tech field had 50 men and 50 women, people would probably say “people in tech” rather than “women in tech”. There are a lot of reasons for the ratio being small. In college there might be equal numbers, then [women] who join as freshers might [feel discouraged], and over time [the ratio] just keeps falling. It’s unbelievable, but I have experienced that. People from my college, from my IT companies, colleagues, even in my circle of friends.
There are multiple reasons. Sometimes it’s family, sometimes it’s because of children… there are a lot of common themes. I think it becomes challenging – how does someone really manage the entire pressure, or the entire workload, along with all those other things? For a woman, obviously, there are [many] more responsibilities [apart from] her job. I don’t know the solution, but I definitely would want to see [more women in tech].
There have to be more ways of supporting women during the phases of life where they would be more susceptible to dropping the ball. You definitely need support from your family. Women are smart – at the same time, I think [society] should be more adaptive and encourage more women, not just in tech but everywhere.
For you personally, what’s the best part about being in tech?
Being in the software field is really a blessing because I had my two children while working as a programmer at a startup, [but the work timings were flexible] so I could take time for myself and other things, and also make sure that work never got affected.
And being able to change things using technology is great. At the end of it, when you make your own tech product and look at it, you’re like, “Oh wow, I built something.” It’s a high.