It was always a matter of principle, not cash: Stayzilla founder
Freed on bail, Vasupal said the crux of the searing dispute with advertisement agency Jigsaw Solutions was suspension of trust and an outbreak of hostilities, rather than the financial inability of his startup to clear dues.
Freed on bail, Vasupal said the crux of the searing dispute with advertisement agency Jigsaw Solutions was suspension of trust and an outbreak of hostilities, rather than the financial inability of his startup to clear dues. In an exclusive interview with ET, after his release from jail, the entrepreneur told Bharani Vaitheeswaran, "Cash has never been a constraint. It was a matter of principle." Edited Excerpts...
Economic Times (ET): Did StayZilla and Jigsaw explore all options to settle the invoice dispute amicably?
Yogendra Vasupal (YV): Yes. The norm in outdoor advertising is that pictures of hoardings on the start date and end date of say, a campaign, with some accompanying proof are taken. The accompanying proof is usually a newspaper, to provide evidence of the date when the picture was taken. This is not fool-proof and companies like us take extra steps to validate the pictures. We had found clear evidence of forgery in many of the pictures sent. I trusted Aditya Aditya CS of Jigsaw) to do the right thing. We gave him ample opportunities to do the right thing.Even now nothing is lost for us. We will win this in court.
ET: Was there a contract between StayZilla and Jigsaw that defined services and what needed to be done if services rendered were seen to be deficient?
YV: There are two ways we work with various agencies: long-term and order-to-order basis. Some agencies work only long-term and it is they who enforce contracts on their client. Long-term contracts can also have exclusivity for both sides and other such clauses. On an order-to-order basis we request something staple and pay up when there is a clear proof of execution.A contract is required if we were doing something out of the ordinary. We have given print orders to reputed news media without any contract.
Secondly, Jigsaw was an intermediary who did not raise invoices with us for outdoor, print, radio. The invoices came from experienced media agencies who would then pass on a commission to Jigsaw. Even in the Dec 2015 campaign this was the process. Or so we thought until we started receiving the invoice directly from Jigsaw. This was not kosher and needed to be probed further.
ET: StayZilla in its online posts has written about intimidation. Why did you not lodge a police complaint ?
YV: The threats started in December. Initially, there was a difference of opinion between me and Sachit Singhi (cofounder, Stayzilla). While Singhi favoured a complaint, which even our advocates stood by, I decided to let things cool down. I was thinking that he (Aditya) would calm down and wanted to wait for some more time. Unfortunately, by the time we had enough of it, we realised it was difficult to lodge a complaint.
ET: What are your plans to reboot?
YV: I was picked up from the road. I had a flight booked to Delhi the next day with a lot of meetings set up with various OTAs with whom I had already discussed the possibility of becoming a business-to-business partner. The plan was to formalise these discussions and shift to a B2B model in 3-4 weeks. Instead, you all know where I was on March 15th. For the next two weeks, I will be tied up completely with Singhi's anticipatory bail and assisting the investigation. After that, I am looking to restart conversations.
ET: What role did investors play?
YV: Matrix Partners received a lot of undeserved flak for taking down Stayzilla's name from their website. Stayzilla is moving away from a marketplace model and is looking to have a clean start. They are right in doing so, as it is not the thesis with which they invested initially. I mean, I would do it if I were in their shoes! Despite that, they were there for me and my family. This is the kind of support that an entrepreneur requires in India, on ground and in trenches.
ET: Is there scope for mediation?
YV:Not even the slightest. Civil (civil case) can have a trillion shades of grey. Criminal is black and white either we did the crime or we didn't. I am out to prove we did not do any of those things that we are accused of. Settling or accepting mediation now will only be giving into extortion while also giving legitimacy to the dirt cast upon our names.