student bypasses the great firewall of china

How a student bypassed the Great Firewall of China

Siddharth Raja: iFreedom App

 As I sit in my Engineering college canteen, chilling with friends, a 20 something, thin, lanky guy with jeans and a t shirt walks by. Who could guess that he is a Mark Zuckerberg in disguise? The creator of the most famous proxy app with over 5 million downloads on the playstore and appstore, sponsored by Microsoft, Google and other big shots, acclaimed by Nasscom, 2nd prize winner at International Business Model Competition and many other prestigious achievements that go way beyond his years.

Oh also, did I mention that his proxy app can bypass the Great Firewall of China?(101 for dummies: Great firewall of china is the Internet censorship of Mainland China). Yeah, no big deal, just routine.

INSANEEEEEEEE! Who wouldn’t want to know what goes on inside this genius little brain?

I managed to grab hold of Siddharth for an exclusive interview in which he not only tells us about his entire rollercoaster journey but also paves a way for all those out there with a start up idea!

ME: So Siddharth, let’s start with the most clichéd question,  why and how did iFreedom happen, an app that changed your life.

SIDDHARTH: The journey of iFreedom and bypassing security begin when I came to this college. The Wi-Fi here, like in most campuses, is restricted, which means you cannot access most sites which you want to. I initially bypassed it for my own personal use. The way to do it is quite tedious for an average individual who doesn’t belong to the IT background and hence came the idea of creating an app for all to use.

So I created the initial prototype and launched it on free hosting servers.

The response was over whelming with 20000 downloads in just 5 days(Yes you read that right. No I did not make a mistake with the number of zeros).

M:That is  absolutely insane!!! No better encouragement than that!

S: Yes! The fact that made me really happy was that people from not just our college but all around the world were downloading it.

M:Impressive indeed! So what happened next?

S: Then came my first hurdle, due to the increase in the number users, the free hosting servers could no longer handle the traffic. I told them that I was ready to pay but they didn’t have the rights to make deals with company based outside Canada.

This was a setback but looking at the massive response I got the encouragement that okay, this app will work and I decided to make it commercial.

After 3-4 months we launched Version 2 of the app with 3 main features:

  1. Bypass network-The core value of the app
  2. Data use reduction: I had already developed a data compression algorithm and then thought to club it with i freedom to provide real time data compression. Instead of compressing data by winzip then sending it and unzipping at the receiving end, I thought what if the system does it all and does it while normally surfing the net.
  3. Cyber security: We have free Wi-Fi at a lot of places now like cafes and railway stations also now, but these are highly risky. Any novice admin expert can bypass network and see what all the users connected to that Wi-Fi are surfing. It is highly dangerous for someone using a banking application or just surfing something personal(probably why we see so many leaked photos and videos online these days). Hence, we thought of adding a security feature against such Data Theft attempts.

M: Woah! I had no idea I was at such risk! So anyway, coming back to the issue at hand, how did you overcome the servers problem?

S:We were extremely fortunate that Microsoft approached us to sponsor the servers. It was great timing as we were just running out of funds to run the company and host servers on our own.

M:As they say, luck is when hard work meets opportunity. So what came next?

S: Next came one of my biggest breakthroughs where I cracked the iOS and created a way to bypass restrictions through it too!

M:Why was this such a major breakthrough? Hadn’t you already cracked the bypass algorithm when you did it for android?

S:Oh no no! The only thing common between an Android and iOS is the task(that they want to do), the way the task is done is completely different. It was like stepping on an entirely new planet. Took me months to crack it!

M:God that sounds intense and complicated enough for me to not understand(siddharth laughs)..So anyway, hard work paid off, yes?

S: Yes, definitely! Currently we are the only app that allows an iOS to bypass restricted Wi-Fi. We have 1.7 million users only on iOS and 3.2 million more on Android, which is roughly 5 million users. We get 20000 thousand downloads daily.

The best part? We haven’t spent a single penny on marketing!

M: You make it sound so easy. Great..So what are the app’s plans in the near future?

S:Well, currently we are working on a Net profit model which is really nice. From a technical point of view, we are developing version 3.0 of the app. Also, we added a graph feature in our android version which enables the user to see the amount of data they have saved.
Speaking from the company’s future plans, top level VC’s such as Nexus and sequoia are interested in investing, so we are in conversation with them. Let’s see how it all works out.

M:Woah! Those are some big names in there, no kidding. So I heard your app also offers live streaming of matches during world cups, is that right?

S:It is correct. Since the past 2 years we have been teaming up with Sky Sports and offer a live streaming of cricket matches even from restricted Wi-Fi’s. So a student sitting in college can easily watch a match live. During the world cup, we have 12-15 lakh users online. That is a big success for us.

M: Mindboggling numbers! I think everyone would be very interested in knowing your background  which led you to become the technological demigod that you are today.

S:Okay, so a bit about my background then. I was introduced to the IT world in the 7th standard and have been coding since then. I started free lancing after a few years and by the time I was in the 12th standard I had a company of my own. It was named Oraculous Services and I started with 3 employees under me. iFreedom was more of a home project.

M: So this clearly wasn’t an overnight success. Years of dedication in this field. So what are your plans for expanding the business?

S: iFreedom recently developed and launched network security and user specific access model for corporate companies.
So basically companies like Infosys, Oracle etc have separate offshore servers which means that just anyone cannot log into them. People working from home will have a separate user id and password. All available  solutions are extremely expensive so small sized companies might not be able to afford them even though it is absolutely necessary. That is where we step in.
3 U.S. companies have already bought the software and are using it on a monthly subscription basis.

M:Nice! What about the other part you mentioned? Like a security bypassing app offering security solutions?

S:(Laughs) Don’t be so surprised, the world is made up of ironies. We at iFreedom know exactly how unprotected a system is since we are the ones to devise a way to by pass them. So we are working on a software which provides 99.9% security from bypass apps such as iFreedom and other proxy sites. The best part about it will be that you do not need any hardware enhancements. It is just like an additional layer over the pre-existing software that you might have. We will be approaching various colleges and institutions once it is ready.

M: Wow, that sounds fantastic to be honest. iFreedom has a really bright future. So what advice would you like to give all the people who are looking to embark on the start up journey.

S: For people interested in start-ups, there should be a basic idea: targets a need or gap in the market, if you don’t do that, your chances of success drop significantly. For me, that need was created by a technological wonder, magic through tech that is the core thing that I am trying to commercialize. Sometimes small things can make a very significant impact. Just small details to improve the user interface or design. Might just be a few lines of code, nothing fancy, but that will get you another 1000 downloads. Functioning is important, but packaging is equally important.

Another important point is market strategy and product entry. Let me give you an example, along with Whatsapp, there were many other similar apps which had started back then such as telegram, team chat etc which provided similar features and services. The reason why we see Whatsapp all over is because they had a much better market strategy than the rest, the way they brought their product up in the market. I tell the companies who purchase my products that if you are paying me 12 lakh rupees for my tech, then be ready to pay 24 lakh for marketing so that the tech is worth it and people actually use it. There is just so much competition in the market.  10 free applications fighting it out to do the same.

You don’t have to be best, you have to be different.

For that, it is very important that the founder should be closely connected to the marketing process. Marketing team will have a stereotypical approach to the problem. You as a founder know what’s unique about your product and can market it the best.

M: Right, That’s golden advice right there! So anything special you learnt over the years and would like to share?

S: Yes, another important factor that you as a CEO of a company have to consider is the legal aspect. I have a team of 3 lawyers, 2 national lawyers and 1 for international claims. End users license agreement was something I got early on, so that iFreedom cannot be held accountable for any illegal activities a user might commit while on the app. There were many other national and international IT laws that constantly kept coming up so I decided it was better to invest in legal consultants. It is very important for any start-up to not get caught up in legal mumbo jumbo.

M: If you had to sum up a start up in one or two words, what would it be?

S: Resource Management.

The challenge is to make a commercially viable product from the resources you have. Don’t directly go for a big solution, start small, making the best of your available resources and specialize in a particular area. Whenever you go to a VC, they’ll ask you if have a working product/idea and sponsor you only if the answer is yes. Getting the kick start is very important. Once you generate traction and get enough downloads, then people will believe in your idea too and will readily fund you. On the flip side though, if you make an unrealistic project to begin with then it will all bomb at once.

M: Indeed! So with this we have come to the end of our interview, anything you’d like to say on an ending note?

S: As a start-up creator, you have to be a jack of all trades and good at all. You are the face of the company.

Honestly speaking, it’s not going to be easy. Hundreds of people will tell you that it’s not going to work and discourage you. You will have set backs. It all boils down to how you handle all of the failures and how much you believe in yourself. You need to eat, sleep and breathe the idea. Endurance and perseverance are your keys to success.

All the best!

M: Some of the most motivational and inspiring words I have heard in a while, and from the man who has lived every one of them. Our readers have got a lot to take back with them. Thank you so much for doing this Siddharth, it was truly amazing speaking to you. Team InternUp wishes you and iFreedom the best of luck!


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