Print Edition - 2019-05-06 | escalate
Keeping time the Nepali way
- Hamro Patro started out as a Nepali calendar app in 2010, but nine years and over 5 million downloads later, its founder has turned Hamro Patro into a digital conglomerate
May 6, 2019-
In 2008, when Shankar Uprety left for the US to pursue a Master’s in computer engineering, he carried with him a Nepali bhittey patro, a Nepali calendar. During his first year in the US, Uprety would rely on the calendar to stay informed of the dates of different festivals his family would be celebrating back in Nepal.“This allowed me to call them on important festivals and gave me an opportunity to celebrate these festivals vicariously,” says Uprety.
But a year after his arrival in the US, the Nepali calendar, like all calenders, became outdated.
“Back then, social media wasn’t as widely used, and without a physical calendar it wasn’t very easy knowing which festival fell when,” says Uprety. “I thought how convenient it would be to have a Nepali calendar app on my phone. That was when the idea of creating a Nepali calendar app struck me. I knew that such an app would be of great use to thousands of Nepalis living abroad.”
In 2010, Uprety launched the first version of Hamro Patro, a Nepali calendar app, on Apple’s iOS platform.
“In those days, it wasn’t common for apps to send notifications to their users, but we made a conscious decision to send them to our users. A few days before any festival, our users would get notifications reminding them of what was coming up,” says Uprety. “For example, a few days before Janai Purnima, a festival during which people eat kwati, a soup made with nine different beans, we sent a notification that read-- ‘kwati bhijauna birsinu ta bhayena?’ People really appreciated these little things, and very quickly, our app got a lot of positive feedback and word-of-mouth publicity.”
In the following two years, Uprety added two more features to the app: forex and a Nepali to English date converter.
“The features were all added keeping in mind what Nepalis living abroad would find useful,” says Uprety. “This included a forex to keep track of exchange rates so that they could get the best rates while sending money home.”
In 2012, Uprety launched Hamro Patro on Android’s Play Store. Android devices were getting increasingly popular the world over and, in Nepal, smartphone penetration was surging, with many operating on the Android platform. Soon after launching the app on the Play Store, Hamro Patro racked up more than 100,000 downloads, a huge figure at that time, but a trivial amount compared to the number of downloads that the app would go on to see in the future. Today, Hamro Patro has more than 5 million downloads on Play Store, one of the most downloaded Nepali apps.
“While Hamro Patro might have been built specifically to cater Nepalis living abroad, the app now has a huge user base in Nepal as well,” says Uprety.
Today, app users can not only check and convert dates and forex, they can also listen to dozens of national and local radio stations from all over Nepal, read and watch news from Nepal, watch Nepali videos, read horoscopes, generate kundalis (more than five million kundalis have been generated), and check vegetable prices--all without leaving the app.
Uprety has also launched a string of other apps. Hamro Nepali Keyboard has been downloaded more than five million times on Play Store, while Nepali Dictionary: Learn English has been downloaded more than a million times on Play Store. Three of his other apps--Hamro Cards, Hamro News and Magazines, Ludo Pro-Hamro Games--have more than 100,000 downloads each on Play Store.
“When I first launched the app as a student in Boston, I had never imagined it would reach where it is today,” says Uprety.
While Hamro Patro might have been conceived in the US, its founder/CEO’s love for computers began in the town of Birgunj, in 1996.
“I was in the seventh grade when my school bought two computers for students to use. It was the first time I had ever seen a computer. I was fascinated with the device. I would skip lunch so that I could use the computer uninterrupted,” says Uprety. “I would draw the layout of the keyboard on paper and practice typing on it.”
By the time Uprety reached eighth grade, he was already learning programming, and had made up his mind to pursue computer engineering.
In 2004, Uprety graduated from the Institute of Engineering at Pulchowk Campus with a degree in computer engineering. That same year, he joined D2Hawkeye, an IT company based in Kathmandu, as a software engineer. The same company sent him to the US to pursue a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering at Boston University, Massachusetts.
Until 2015, Hamro Patro’s team included Uprety and one app developer based in Nepal.
“I had joined a company called Symantec Corp, a California-based company, in 2012. I would get so busy with my work during the week, and the only time I could manage to give for Hamro Patro was during the weekends,” says Uprety. “Even though I was only able to give very little of my time to Hamro Patro, it managed to go quite far. In 2015, I thought to myself, what if I quit my job and worked full time for Hamro Patro. Where could I take it?”
That year, Uprety quit his job at Symantec Corp and decided to work full time for Hamro Patro.
“When you have a small team with limited resources, you have no choice but to optimise the resources you have to get maximum results and at the same time the focus was on keeping operating costs as low as possible,” says Uprety. “This is reason we have been able to break even right from the first years of launching.”
Hamro Patro now has an office in Kathmandu and a team of 24 people. “We still follow the same principal of optimising and keeping operational costs low. We still do not have huge cash reserves to spend on infrastructure,” says Uprety.
The majority of Hamro Patro’s revenue comes from Facebook and Google advertisements. “We are exploring other avenues from which we can generate revenue,” says Uprety. “Of course, I make far less money than I made while working for Symantec Corp, but I have no regrets whatsoever. I am proud of how far Hamro Patro has come and the impact we have been able to make in the country’s startup ecosystem.”
The local startup ecosystem, Uprety believes, is heading in the right direction. “We have ride sharing and food delivery startups that are doing exceedingly well,” says Uprety. “Lack of e-commerce acceptance has impeded the growth of startups, but the tide is slowly turning, and the success of e-commerce wallets is testament to that.”
Even though Uprety lives in Silicon Valley in the US, he travels to Nepal three times a year and spends three weeks here on each trip.
“The decision to live in Silicon Valley is a strategic one. By living in the Valley, I get to stay abreast of all the latest developments in technology and upcoming trends in the IT sector. I also get to meet and interact with leading developers and get firsthand knowledge of all that’s happening. This allows me to add and make changes to our existing products and work on new projects keeping in tune with latest developments,” says Uprety. “This is a very competitive sector, and you always have to stay updated. If you bask in the glory of what you have managed to achieve and stay complacent, you will become outdated and replaced.”
Published: 06-05-2019 08:25