April 24, 2021

Alumni Spotlight: Rishi Kothari

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“What BETA Camp taught me is that you can be a developer and still be an incredible entrepreneur.”

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 

At just 16 years old, Rishi has orchestrated a very impressive list of accomplishments and experiences.

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

Today, he holds the position of CTO at Otto - a pet-tagging startup with hundreds of users.

UPDATE: June, 2022 - Otto Pet raised raised a $1.6 M in funding from Lee Jacobs, Cyan Banister, and Arielle Zuckerberg at Long Journey Ventures!

Q&A with Rishi

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

A: In May of 2020, I signed as Otto's first engineer and senior software architect. I spent my summer with BETA Camp, where I co-founded the startup HerdSocial. The biggest lessons I learnt at BETA Camp were directly applied at Otto. I’ve also gotten into Ted talks; I did two with Canada's largest hackathon, Hack the North.  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 in 2022.

Q: Tell us about Otto Pet! 

A: 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. When a number or address changes, there’s little chance of tracing a lost pet. 

From that came the concept of Otto (formerly called Pet Code): a smarter dynamic of dog tagging. 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.

We now store all the information a pet owner needs. Reminders, health notifications, vaccinations... we even partnered with vets in San Francisco! Our tag allows you to better manage your pets life. 

Q: How do BETA Camp lessons apply to Otto? 

A: When I joined Otto 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. The first thing we did was establish a rigorous product vision and project management schedule. 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 city hubs. BETA Camp and Otto taught me that iteration is key to startups. As a founder, you must always meet your user’s wants. As CTO I establish pipelines to connect our product development with our project vision. This was the most valuable lesson BETA Camp taught me.

Q: How has your perspective on entrepreneurship changed? 

A: Programming has been a big part of my life, but never entrepreneurship. I identified as a developer that really loved to build and nothing more. What BETA Camp taught me is that you can be a developer and still be an incredible entrepreneur. Building things that people want is the true connection between all founders. BETA Camp shifted my vision away from stereotypes. I was a developer and all I needed was the tools 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.

It was only when I started doing things outside of my comfort zone (like applying for fellowships) that my skillset really expanded. Try not to let the social structure around you limit your abilities.

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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