He was only 12 when Bhopal-based entrepreneur Husain Saify’s father got him a computer from a cousin who worked as a hardware engineer. Nobody in his own home could even operate a computer at the time.
But his father, a shoe-store owner, had high hopes that the computer would be a source of knowledge for the 12-year-old boy. His father was right.
Cut to 2018, at 21, Husain Saify is running an IT-service startup ‘HackerKernel’ – which crossed an annual turnover of over Rs 1 crore in just three years! It provides mobile and web application development services to over 200 companies within India and abroad in countries like the USA, Japan, and Dubai.
This is the story of how a startup that began in Husain’s tiny room and basement in Bhopal became one of the most successful startups in Madhya Pradesh.
At the age of 12, when his father first got him the computer, all he did was play games on it. But this led him to his first website development idea. How about creating a website that allowed people to download games? he thought.
But he didn’t know how to make it. Luckily, his school was running classes on how to create websites using the now-defunct MSFrontPage. Husain decided to try it out.
As he neither had an internet connection nor the software, he made trips to the local internet cafe back in the day, trying to download a pirated version. An extra charge of Rs 150 later, he convinced the man to give him the software. And that’s how he learned to make his first website.
“It was funny because I had no idea how to make it live at the time,” he says with a laugh, speaking to The Better India.
He borrowed money from his father to get a net-setter with a capacity of 500 MB. And started learning HTML, CSS, and other coding languages online through YouTube. His first real gig following that was FormatGuru.
Built using HTML, people could use it to download the latest songs and videos for free. Little did the young techie know that it could get him into legal trouble. The website had to be shut down due to copyright issues.
“It was then that I realised I did not want to do anything illegally. It had to be authentic. And so, I started reading about licensing, security and legal issues and found out that I needed to maintain privacy on the internet as well,” he says.
When he posted the project on PHP groups where tech gurus could review it, he was trolled as the ‘kid who had stumbled into programming’. They easily hacked the site, thanks to its bugs and errors.
Husain was upset, but he didn’t give up. Instead, he learned more programming – Msql, Android development etc. through YouTube and helpful teaching startups.
He soon started a blog called Hunklessons. (The name was inspired by his role model that time, Srinivas Tamada and his blog, 9lessons) For two years he uploaded projects, spoke about ‘Dos and Don’ts’ and updated the tech community about what he was learning next. He even made his own YouTube tutorials on programming. Through all this, he was able to grab the attention of readers and viewers across the globe.
The first commercial website he ever built was for a local burger joint in Bhopal. It was bestbites.com.
“The man sold amazing burgers but was hardly aware of how online delivery could help him earn revenue. When he asked if I knew anybody willing to build a website, I volunteered. I worked for one week and made a website, which he loved. He handed Rs 5,000 to me. A big amount at the time, since no commercials were ever discussed. I was really happy! When I researched, I realised such websites cost over 25k!”
Husain bought a domain, HackerKernel.com, and an internet connection at home with the money. He uploaded his previous projects, asking people to connect to him if they wanted to avail of his services as a freelance developer.
Simultaneously, Husain joined a BCA course. He was studying and earning Rs 15,000-20,000 per month at the same time, thanks to side projects.
By his second semester, he decided to drop out of the course as he couldn’t balance work and education.
“Of course, my parents wanted me to complete my graduation. But I wanted to give my 100% to my work,” he says.
The startup boom in Bhopal and Indore worked in his favour, as several of them started getting in touch with him to build websites. But as the work increased, he realised he would need a partner. And that’s how his friend, Rithik Soni, joined HackerKernel as its co-founder.
“When Rithik started, all he knew was basic HTML, but being the hard worker he is, he quickly learned all other programming languages. Today, he trains our 25-member team on most projects.”
Sitting in Hussain’s room, the two boys would handle several projects. Slowly and steadily, the team grew, and they started hiring more individuals. Until there were about five working in his room and another ten in the basement.
It wasn’t until 2017 that the third co-founder, Yash Dabi, joined the team. Though he did not know to programming when he started, Yash had always been a sharp kid. He was given a laptop under the Pradhan Mantri’s Yojana in MP for students who got above 75% in the boards. Using this, he started learning to program with Husain. Within no time, he picked it up and now trains several recruits in programming.
“Finding skilled manpower has always been a challenge. One of the major challenges of education in the IT sector is that as tech modernises every second, the school and college curriculum continues to remain archaic. So, we hire a lot of raw talent and groom them by training them in programming. We often have a number of internships for the same,” he says.
In less than three years, the trio moved out of the basement to a bigger office. The company they built today has 25 engineers who serve 200 companies, including Eduzina, Zingfy, Madcue, Fast2sms, Quants Investment Strategy and consultancy service LLP, Yantralive, Deeptalent etc.
Today, an ordinary website with e-commerce features costs anything between Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000 by size and content. Charges for UI/UX are additional.
Although the trio could have drawn salaries of Rs 40,000 a month, they decided to expand it in every way they could. They are now planning to expand the services of HackerKernel to the public sector.
“There is no substitute to hard work. I have worked for 18 to 20 hours a day to reach where I am. Put in your best efforts, and glory will follow. Take risks, but ensure they are calculated by weighing the pros and the cons,” he says, as he bids adieu.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)