- Kesava Kirupa Dinakaran was supposed to be a coconut farmer in India.
- His world opened up when he stumbled upon the Rubik’s cube and began breaking world records.
- Dinakaran began to dream big for himself and up and moved to San Francisco in 2019 with the dream of starting a company. At one point, he had only $9 in his bank account.
- He just raised $3.4 million in seed funding for his startup Digital Brain. The round was led by ex-Twitter exec Katie Jacob Stanton’s firm Moxxie Ventures.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Kesava Kirupa Dinakaran grew up on a coconut farm in rural southern India that had been in his family for generations. He was expected to marry after high school, have kids and take over the family farm.
But everything changed when he discovered the Rubik’s cube in middle school.
Solving the cube became Dinakaran’s addiction. He went from winning local competitions to becoming the team captain for India’s national team. At one competition, he solved 290 Rubiks cubes in one hour — a Guinness world record he still holds today.
His nifty hands opened doors that were unimaginable for him and his family. As he travelled across India for competitions, he met doctors, politicians, and entrepreneurs, and began to dream big. Then he got a full scholarship to the prestigious United World College for high school. At UWC, he taught himself to code when he built a drone from scratch to monitor the surrounding areas for forest fires. He made plans to study abroad for college.
In March 2019, Dinarakan was flown to New York by a charity organization for a young leaders summit. After the event, he spontaneously decided to spend five days in the Bay Area, crashing with a friend in a dorm room at Stanford.
Dinakaran described first arriving in Silicon Valley as a sort of enchantment, a place where he met founders and technologists who shared his desire to build something that would transform the world — the next Uber, Snapchat, or Facebook.
“I realized something magical could happen,” he told Business Insider.
Just one month after the summit, Dinakaran gave up his college dreams, and instead packed his bags and moved to San Francisco. He didn’t even have a startup idea.
$9 to his name
The rest of 2019 were some of the toughest months for the now 20-year-old founder. He survived off money he sporadically won from hackathons and lived in what he called a “shady, small garage” with no ventilation in San Francisco. At one point, he only had $9 in his bank account.
He met his cofounder Dmitry Dolgopolov by chance at a hackathon they both attended in May. Dolgopolov is something of a child prodigy himself, having learned to code at age 14 by recreating games sold on the App Store from scratch and publishing them on the Google Playstore.
Now, a little over a year later, they have secured a total of $3.4 million in seed funding for Digital Brain, startup that helps customer service agents get through support tickets faster. The product they built is a layer that sits on top of customer service software like Zendesk, transforming the software’s interface to help streamline tasks and automate workflows for those agents.
That funding rounding was led by Moxxie Ventures, the venture firm founded last year by ex-Twitter exec Katie Jacobs Stanton. And his other backers include big-names like Unshackled Ventures and Scribble Ventures, as well as angel investors from the founders of companies like Twitch, Mercury, Notion, and Rappi.
Dolgopolov immigrated to the US from Russia in 2016 and does most of the coding for Digital Brain while Dinakaran is the product idea man and designer.
But Dinakaran’s secret weapon is still the Rubik’s cube, which he solves in just seven seconds when meeting investors for the first time.
“Most people are quite shocked,” he said. “It’s like a fun party trick that works everywhere.”
—Katie Jacobs Stanton (@KatieS) October 7, 2020
Becoming a Silicon Valley insider
One of the hardest things Dinakaran faced as a founder was being a Silicon Valley outsider. When he arrived in San Francisco last year, he knew it would be impossible to start a successful company without first building a strong network of investors, operators, and engineers.
He was “emailing hundreds of people every day,” he said, setting up coffee chats and meetings while signing up for hackathons and seeing whether the products he and Dolgopolov built at those competitions were viable startup ideas — which included an Uber for mental health and a carbon footprint tracker.
The two of them built an initial version of Digital Brain shortly after at another hackathon they attended together and they refined the idea when they moved to a house full of startup founders in Palo Alto in November. While there, they noticed that their fellow founders were frustrated by the inefficiency of their customer support arrangements.
As they interviewed more companies, Dinakaran and Dolgopolov realized it was a problem that cropped up everywhere.
“We’ve spoken to a hundred plus support teams, all the way from your basic, small startup where the founder does support, all the way to companies like Cisco,” Dinakaran told Business Insider. “People did not enjoy their customer service set up.”
The duo’s first big breakthrough came when were accepted into Y Combinator’s summer class. Dinakaran says his experience at the prestigious startup accelerator was life-changing.
“For us, YC was the credibility stamp. We didn’t have the ex-Google, the ex-Stanford, the ex-Facebook, or whatever,” he said. It put him in touch with new investors, many from Silicon Valley’s top firms.
While fundraising can be a grueling and demoralizing process for many founders, Dinakaran wowed potential investors by focusing on his life story as much as he did on his company’s product. And of course, it didn’t hurt to show off his Rubik’s cube skills.
“At seed stage, when people are making bets, they’re betting on people,” he told Business Insider. “A lot of people believed that if they were investing in us, then we would make the most out of it and really, really work hard to get it into fruition.”
Serving as a role model for people back home
Dinakaran knows that his journey is far from over. His company has already hired two more people and already counts clients ranging from small startups to larger enterprises, although he declined to name any customers.
The ultimate goal, he says, is to become the “Superhuman for customer support agents,” a reference to the startup that helps people sort through cluttered inboxes and is used by countless founders.
But he’s also motivated by his desire to uplift his home community in India.
“The sheer fact that nothing has changed back in my hometown or with my family is a fundamental reminder every single day that I need to keep working harder,” he said.
“I know that if I continue to do that, it will change the lives of many people in my community,” he added.
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