2012 ARK Challenge winner MineWhat seeks to raise $1 million

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 202 views 

The road between startup and success is long and tiring, but for entrepreneurial team Ram Ganesan and Pavan Kumar the prospects of raising a cool million dollars to further their venture has them going strong. It’s been three years since this tandem was one of three winners in the inaugural ARK Challenge 2012 held in Northwest Arkansas.

The ARK Challenge program, made possible from $2.15 million in federal funds, allowed 15 startups from the globe access to mentoring and seed money to try and launch their business ventures following a three-month bootcamp experience. ARK Challenge was a partnership between Winrock International, the University of Arkansas and NorthWest Arkansas Community College. 

Ganesan and Kumar traveled to Fayetteville from India to take part in the competition in 2012. As one of the winners they were awarded $150,000 to help further their efforts. Ganesan said to date MineWhat has raised $330,000 and is cash flow positive with revenue growing nearly 30% month-over-month so far this year.

MineWhat is a service platform that has evolved from providing analytical services to e-commerce businesses to now using automation software to help businesses grow their profit margins. Ganesan said the pivot was necessary for cash flow reasons as more business need help increasing their own profitability through higher margins.

Ganesan said he spends about half of his time in Bangalore, India, where MineWhat employs a small team of four tech developers. He and Kumar have set up shop in San Francisco as one of the participants in the prestigious Alchemist Accelerator. 

Ganesan said in the past couple years he and Kumar have learned much about the e-commerce world. For instance, he said up to 50% of products fail to perform, while just 20% perform at optimum levels which he said is a big opportunity for MineWhat who can help e-tailers with pricing strategies and ongoing analysis instead of post-mortem updates.

The MineWhat tandem seeks to raise $1 million in capital when they present their business venture at the Alchemist Accelerator Demo Day in September. Ganesan said the expertise they have been able to leverage with an office in San Francisco is invaluable. 

He said the plans are to expand the company’s U.S. presence and add more technology and sales jobs if the funding round comes through. In the meantime Ganesan said he will spend the next two months in India reinforcing the team on the ground there.

Ganesan said he’s grateful for the time he spent in Fayetteville and the opportunity the ARK Challenge presented at the time. But future jobs will likely be added in India or San Francisco at one of MineWhat’s two home bases.

He said the biggest challenge MineWhat faced following the ARK Challenge win was the contacts they needed to market their product and, of course, more capital to keep it afloat until cash flow began to pick up.

“We have been able to sustain MineWhat and make changes and applications based on feedback the market has provided. It’s important to be nimble and test your product broadly,” Ganesan said.

He admits the last three years have been hard, time consuming and tougher than he first thought, but given that MineWhat is still up and running gives him a sense of satisfaction when so many of his original cohorts have folded. He said the earlier a startup can work with actual customers the better because it saves a lot of time down the road, if certain aspects of the product have to tweaked.

“The more customers a startup can work with the more valuable the feedback is going to be. Paying customers give the best feedback, so much more so than those piloting a product or service,” Ganesan added.

Clint Lazenby, a mentor with the ARK Challenge, worked closely with MineWhat during their 3-month stay in Fayetteville. He said it’s rewarding to see two of the three winning teams in the first ARK Challenge still growing their companies because few things are harder than building a company from scratch.

“The ARK challenge has played a very positive role in Northwest Arkansas. It has created an opportunity for entrepreneurs, business people and service providers to discover each other and create the beginning of a formal ecosystem. This has increased both the capacity and sophistication of this ecosystem over the course of time,” Lazenby said.

He said successes and failures have been great learning opportunities and produced new ways the area can develop.

“For those of us who want to see the I-49 corridor flourish long into the future we collectively need to continue to learn and implement strategies/polices to create depth and density to the startup ecosystem. While I would not endorse the philosophy of build it and they will come, I would say if it isn't built there is no chance they will come,” Lazenby said.