Before He Sold His Startup, He Was a Complete Failure Living on 50¢ a Day

With three failed startups under his belt by the time he hit his mid-twenties, Satya Vya ended up spending the eve of his 24th birthday sleeping on a moving train with less than a dollar on him.

However, he refused to give up and recently signed the acquisition for his fourth startup with Amazon-backed home services company Housejoy for an undisclosed amount.

Vya grew up in two small towns in northern India, Ghaziabad and Bikaner, and attended the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee, one of the most respected institutions favored by the majority of India’s educated middle class, to pursue a degree in engineering.

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In 2006, while a student in the dorms, Vya started his first venture, Zabraku, with a friend. The social networking site allowed students to upload and share videos of college festivals and events on low bandwidth. However, the idea quickly folded with no revenue stream.

In another joint venture with a friend, Vya launched his second startup called Venom. The computer gaming magazine was popular among students, but the founders lacked a viable business strategy. Vya told Tech In Asia:

“We couldn’t scale it up. At that point, someone wanted to buy it out from us, but we were young and hot headed … So we refused to sell. On hindsight, not selling when we had a buyer was a lame move by us.”

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His second startup shut down and Vya was faced with the life decision of pursuing a more traditional career path using his engineering degree. He was offered a position at Schlumberger, a top oilfield service company. He recalled:

“It was one of the highest paid jobs for fresh engineering graduates then.”

Vya rejected the job offer and went on to take an internship with CommonFloor, a real estate startup that a couple other seniors from ITT Roorkee had built. After finishing the internship, Vya was ready to go to work on his new idea. Determined to succeed the third time around starting a company, Vya began putting together a low-calorie sandwich and salad delivery service called Dietz. Vya told Techinasia:

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“Again the concept was some seven years too early in India. At that point, no one was ready to invest in an engineer trying to sell sandwiches.”

Eight months later, Vya ran out of money and talks with investors fell through during the financial meltdown of the Lehman Brothers crash. Dietz shut down in 2009.

On the eve of his 24th birthday, Vya had three failed startups under his belt and little money in his pockets. He retold:

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“I was borrowing $1.50 at a time from my girlfriend and other friends. I would survive on that for two days and then borrow again. And one evening, my roommate decided he had enough and told me to move out of the house. I spent that night inside local trains, going up and down Thane to CST [train stations in Mumbai city] as I needed to spend some time while I thought about where to go.”

He went on to stay with his brother at the IIT Bombay campus for two months before applying to Schlumberger. He was offered a job a second time and was sent to work in the Middle East. For two years, Vya enjoyed a comfortable salary and a job that included traveling. However he said:

“The first 12 months with Schlumberger, I was focused on earning well. But after that the money lost its initial appeal and a lot of thoughts crept up: what am I doing? Things are changing in India, you have to get back.”

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At 28, he decided to redirect his efforts into building a company with a mission to help others. Already a fitness fanatic, Vya was helping friends lose weight and strength train, which he found to be strangely fulfilling. He explained to TechinAsia:

“I realized that my goals of making lots of money, getting a fancy car, big house, and so on were not making me happy. Once you start eliminating a lot of unnecessary wants, you start focusing on what matters most to you.”

From there came the birth of his fourth venture, a fitness startup called Orobind. Orobind connects people to personal coaches to train and guide them to achieve their health goals in the comfort of their own home. Vya founded Orobind in 2014 with another friend from IIT who lended his tech muscles to get the startup rolling by May 2014. By the end of the year, Orobind had launched publicly with increasing sales. Vya said:

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“My goal was to build something that will benefit people … For me at Orobind, it is about creating a measurable impact in people’s lives.”

With funds running low and borrowed money to pay back, Vya was under pressure to raise investment funds. After receiving 52 rejections from angel investors, Orobind raised $200,000 from Harpreet Singh Grover, entrepreneur and co-founder of CoCubes, in March of last year. With the $200,000, Vya paid all the pending salaries for two months.  

After more investors trickled, Orobind now boasts having over 1,000 customers in Bangalore with 135 active personal trainers on its platforms. The company announced their recent acquisition by Housejoy, an Amazon-backed home services company, earlier this week. Vya commented on his hard-earned success:

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“Being entrepreneurs, it is a proud moment for us that we built a tech company from scratch and took it to a level where a larger and reputed player like Housejoy could come and find value in it.”

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