The quality of our companies is a function of our remarkable founders. This profile is part of a series of Founder Stories and features Swayam Narain, CTO of Affable, a company revolutionising influencer marketing.
1) How did your upbringing influence your choice to become an entrepreneur?
I was born into a family of entrepreneurs so from a young age I was encouraged to start something of my own.
Initially though, I did not want to start my own company. I remember having a conversation with my father in which I was trying to convince him of the merits of having a stable job over starting a business. That changed when I entered the workforce and I realised that my personal growth would plateau as an employee.
However, the biggest push in this direction came to me through seeing the journey of my mother, who is one of the most ambitious people I know. For most of her life, she was a homemaker busy raising her two sons. But when we grew up, she decided to follow her passion and design clothes.
She bootstrapped that business and grew it from a small home based boutique to one of the most recognisable high end fashion brands in India in less than 5 years. My mother’s example showed what you can achieve with a combination of hard work and ambition so I decided to take the leap myself and leave my cushy consultancy gig to start a company with EF.
2) What are the 3 most memorable moments of your EF journey?
1) Kick-off weekend was definitely one of the most memorable experiences. It took place at Kranji Farm resort, in the northern part of Singapore. Never before had I been in such close quarters with so many deeply talented and ambitious people. It was clear that the calibre of the cohort members that EF put together was sky high, and I instantly knew I’d made the right decision to join.
2) The second moment that takes the cake (quite literally) happened to be on my birthday. It was a day that encapsulated the ups and downs we go through at EF perfectly. My co-founder (at that point) had brought me a cake that we cut with the entire cohort and team. That happiness was short-lived though as we decided to not work together only a few hours later. The initial few days of ideating are gruelling, so knowing that I had to go through it yet again was demotivating.
However, later that evening, we celebrated even harder. Half the cohort ended up at a Bollywood club where we bonded over drinks and cheesy bollywood music. Something about a shared challenge brings people together in a way that nothing else does. It made me realize that the camaraderie created between the cohort members through the program is one of the best parts of the EF experience.
3) Nothing is more memorable than the moment we received our first term sheet. Nisarg and I were ecstatic, even more than you’d expect a founder who had just received a term sheet to be. This is because our company, Affable was the last team to form and barely made it through IC (we were the last in the standings!).
Determined to prove ourselves and through our hardwork and dedication, in just a few months we went from being the last team to make through IC to being the first one to sign a termsheet and close its round.
Swayam working away with the team at Affable’s office in Singapore
3) How did you meet your co-founder on the program?
Nisarg and I were on different teams for the majority of the form period, but we had become good friends during the program — we would hang out and have lunch / dinner together with a few of the other cohort members quite often.
I thought he was a great communicator, which was something I was looking for in a co-founder so when we both became available again, I went straight to him. It worked out really well for us in the end.
4) What’s your favourite place in Singapore and why?
I’m a foodie, so the local hawker centres are definitely my favourite place in Singapore. The cheap, delicious food they serve up there is very hard to compete with.
5) What drives you and how is your business an expression of that?
I’m at my happiest when I’m working on challenging problems. Even more so when I am doing that with a group of people that are fun and friendly.
That’s actually one of the reasons we chose to name our company Affable — it’s a trait that we believe that everyone should strive for, especially in the influencer marketing industry which is based on building relationships with an audience.
We’re also dealing with some of the hardest problems in technology, like building highly distributed systems, designing cutting edge machine learning algorithms and making sense of terabytes of unstructured data.
It’s a challenging task for any company, even more so for a seed stage startup. But it also means there is a ton of interesting things to work on, and there’s never a dull day at the office!
More on the Team
CEO Nisarg Shah graduated with a silver medal for overall excellence from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). He worked with Goldman Sachs where he spearheaded software automation and big data projects. Nisarg also developed and launched a social learning platform (Graspr) and an AR visualisation platform (Visualive) before founding Affable.
CTO Swayam Narain is an award winning computer scientist who graduated top of his class at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). He was also a software engineer at Pivotal Labs where he turned client’s ideas to high quality products. He has expertise in building computer vision pipelines, social media platforms and cloud applications that scale.