Alumni Spotlight: Rishi Kothari

“What BETA Camp taught me is that you can be as nerdy as possible and still be an incredible entrepreneur. Building things that people want is the true connection between all founders”

BETA Camp Alumnus Rishi Kothari goes into how BETA Camp helped him navigate the startup world as a high school developer and entrepreneur!

About Rishi 

In summer 2020, BETA Camp alumnus Rishi Kothari co-founded HerdSocial during BETA Camp, a design sprint-based community startup aimed at productivity recuperation at the height of COVID-19. 

At just 15 years old, Rishi has orchestrated a very impressive list of accomplishments and experiences. He holds the position of CTO at PetCode - a pet-tagging startup with over 300 users. As CTO, Rishi helped raise $13k pre-launch and $1k within their first five days!  In 2022, Rishi's startup raised 125k+ from On Deck's ODX Accelerator!

He has spoken at Hack the North, won the Founders Institute Award for the project Legist, and will be representing them at this year’s pinnacle conference! Rishi is an open source developer who has built out programming languages, compiler, backends, GraphQL proxies, and much more! 

In his free time, he enjoys watching Formula One races (go McLauren!), listening to deadmau5 and Daft Punk, and baking whenever he can! 

Q&A with Rishi

Q: What have you been up to since your summer with BETA Camp? 

A: A lot of high achieving individuals have taken advantage of the global pandemic. Morbid as it may sound, I’m one of them. In May of 2020, I signed as PetCode’s first engineer and senior software architect. I spent my summer with BETACamp, where I co-founded the startup HerdSocial. I involved myself in a bunch of tech pursuits later that year. The biggest lessons I learnt at BETA Camp were directly applied at PetCode. I’ve also gotten into Ted talks; I did two with Canada's largest hackathon, Hack the North. I also won their Founders Institute Award and will be representing them at this year’s Pinnacle Conference. I’m running my own series with the University of Waterloo’s computer science faculty and I’ll be representing them at this year’s Pinnacle Conference and will be speaking at HackMIT this year. 

Q: Tell us about PetCode! 

A: Only half of PetCode’s team actually identifies as a pet owner, and I’m not one of them, making this a little weird to talk about. When one of our co-founders lost their pet, they realized every pet has a collar, tag, maybe even a microchip, but that these aren't dynamic.  Metal dog tags only hold specific information, likely a phone number with a name. Soon as a number or address changes, there’s little chance of tracing a lost pet. 

From that came the concept of Pet Code; a smarter dynamic of dog tagging. Our tagline; “The smart pet tag for smarter pet care”. In essence, everything links up to one smart QR tag. If your pet gets lost, all you do is hit one button. When a stranger scans a pet’s QR code, the owner is instantly notified. In the future, we plan to notify every shelter within a 50 mile radius your pet is missing. Our entire thesis is that centralizing pet care can build a social hierarchy around pet safety, and we’re making this a reality. 

Our entire team was great at web, so we began with one big web portal. After BETA Camp we went through a merger affair, eventually rejecting the offer. A different company with around 60 000 customers also offered partnership. These experiences gave us the idea of a new holistic pet management system. PetCode became more than finding your lost dog. We now store all the information a pet owner needs. Reminders, health notifications, vaccinations... we’re even partnered with vet’s in SanFrancisco! Our tag allows you to better manage your pets life. 

As of where we are as a startup, we are a nine-person all high school team, I hold the position of Chief Technology Officer. We have three C-level employees; CEO, COO, and myself, CTO. We recently raised over $13,000 dollars from Kickstarter. There are hundreds of people on our mailing list and lined up for beta testing. We’re starting rollouts to our first 250 beta users, making us around $1000 dollars in weekly sales. 

The product is completely finished. I like to think the technical stuff is pretty impressive, that’s where most of my knowledge has come into play. Our mobile app is written in Flutter, backend is written in Typescript and GraphQL. You can search up PetCode on the app store right now! 

Q: How do BETA Camp lessons apply to PetCode? 

A: In September 2020, we found ourselves in a weird period, we didn’t know where we were going. We had a solid product, but no research or target market. When I joined PetCode as CTO, the  immediate problem I found was we were operating purely on assumptions. There was no research supporting our hypotheses. Beta camp teaches to never assume what your users want. As founders, you tend to have a bias towards your product's efficacy. Really, you never know how the real world will react. The first thing we did was establish a rigorous product vision and project management schedule.  We mapped out December, January, and February, dedicating those three months to user interviews, niching, and product vision. BETA Camp capitalizes on understanding how to iterate on your product, how to niche down, how to figure out what your users actually want. 

Turns out, the idea of an ultimate pet-managing system was a home run. We interviewed about 100 people from San Francisco and Toronto, leading us to target middle aged people living in hubbed cities. After niching using the lessons learned at BETA Camp and establishing rigorous schedules, we started beta testing. Beta Camp and PetCode taught me that  iteration is key to startups. As a founder, you must always meet your user’s wants. We try to make as little decisions about the app as possible. As CTO I establish pipelines to connect our product development with our project vision. Again, the key idea is iteration. This was the most valuable lesson Beta Camp taught me. I used to think a startup meant coding something cool, really it's figuring out what your users want. 

Q: How has your perspective on entrepreneurship changed? 

A: I never really envisioned myself in the position I’m in now. Programming has been a big part of my life, but never entrepreneurship. I identified as a developer that really loved to build, nothing more. I felt that entrepreneurship was exclusively for the tech bro’s. The dude obsessed with money. Someone into crypto, Tesla, all that jazz. What BETA Camp taught me is that you can be as nerdy as possible and still be an incredible entrepreneur. Building things that people want is the true connection between all founders. As a developer, I happen to do that in my daily life already.  BETA Camp shifted my vision away from stereotypes. I was a developer, all I needed was knowledge on how to build a startup and team. It was a big validation for me. 

Q: What advice would you give to a freshman interested in business/tech?

A: Don't be afraid to fail. When you’re a freshman, the social hierarchy of high school is building up around you. Taking risks is frowned upon. As you navigate high school, and life as a whole, you are solidifying the person you want to be. It’s easy to get caught up in what's popular. You’re pressured into clubs like HOSA, DECA, and FBLA purely because everyone else is doing them. As a freshman I let myself get caught up in the hyped-up clubs even though I had no idea what I was doing. I was afraid to take risks, get out there, to do things on my own. Looking back, I feel I lost out on time. 

Grade nine was a hiatus from programming, I was scared high school would be one big stressful moment, side projects seemed like a waste of time. Once I started taking risks, my skills went further than I could have ever imagined. The first risk I took was applying for the MLH fellowship, and I got rejected. But this rejection gave me motivation to pursue things like BETA Camp! The social structure around you should never mean limiting your abilities. Being interested in Tech and business doesn't mean getting caught up in the hype around it. 

Stay tuned to hear more about Rishi’s advice on how networking can lift your startup off the ground and what it’s like breaking into business as a high school student! In the meantime, check out our other blogs!

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