The Second 20 Confirmed Batch at #SaaSx5

2 days to go for #SaaSx5 and we are reaching our limits for this year. I had missed a few folks in the first batch of 50 announced, so including them along with  the next 20+ (in no particular order).

  1. 99Tests
  2. Appmaker
  3. Auzmor
  4. Botminds Inc
  5. CallHippo
  6. CIAR Software Solutions
  7. Cogknit Semantics
  8. CustomerSuccessBox
  9. Deck app technologies
  10. GreytHR
  11. Happay
  12. HotelLogix
  13. Indusface
  14. inFeedo
  15. Infurnia
  16. LogiNext
  17. Makesto
  18. Mindship.io
  19. Pepipost
  20. PregBuddy
  21. Recruiterbox
  22. ReferralYogi
  23. Swym

There will be one last list sent out tomorrow of confirmed participants. Really excited about the sessions which are shaping up at #SaaSx5

SaaSy bear SaaSy bear what do you see?

Shifts for SaaS - SaaSy Bear

I see 3 shifts critical for me!

Taking a line from the popular Brown Bear children’s book, I believe that our SaaS startups have a real opportunity to leverage some leading shifts in the global SaaS evolution. While there are many areas of change – and none less worthy than the other – I am highlighting 3 shifts for SaaS (tl;dr) which our entrepreneurs can actually work with and help change their orbit:

  • Market shifts with AI/ML for SaaS to build meaningful product & business differentiation,
  • Platform Products shift to transform into a multi-product success strategy,
  • Leveraging Partnerships for strategic growth and value co-creation.

Some background

I joined iSPIRT with a goal to help our community build great global products. I believed (and still do) that many entrepreneurs struggle with the basics of identifying a strong value proposition and build a well thought out product. They need strong support from the community to develop a solid product mindset & culture. My intent was to activate a product thinkers community and program leveraging our lean forward playbooks model.

I had several conversations with community members & mavens on playbooks outcomes and iterating our playbook roundtables for better product thinking. I realized that driving basic product thinking principles required very frequent and deeper engagement with startups. But our playbooks approach model – working in a distributed volunteer/maven driven model – is not set up to activate such an outcome. Through our playbooks model, our mavens had helped startups assimilate best practices on topics like Desk Sales & Marketing, something that was not well understood some years back. This was not a basic topic. The power of our playbook RTs was in bringing the spotlight on gaps & challenges that were underserved but yet highly impactful.

As a product person, I played with how to position our playbooks for our entrepreneur program. I believe our playbooks have always been graduate-level programs and our entrepreneurs are students with an active interest to go deep with these playbooks, build on their basic undergraduate entrepreneurship knowledge, and reach higher levels of growth.

The product thinking and other entrepreneurial skills are still extremely relevant, and I am comforted by the fact that there are many community partners from accelerators like Upekkha to conclaves like NPC and event-workshop formats like ProductGeeks which are investing efforts to build solid product thinking & growth skills.

As the SaaS eco-system evolves, and as previous graduate topics like desk sales & marketing are better understood, we need to build new graduate-level programs which address critical & impactful market gaps but are underserved. We need to help startups with meaningful & rapid orbit shifts over the next 2-3 years.

Discovering 3 Shifts for SaaS

Having come to this understanding I began to explore where our playbooks could continue to be a vibrant graduate-level program and replicate our success from the earlier playbooks. Similar to an entrepreneur’s journey, these three shifts became transparent through the many interactions and explorations of SaaS entrepreneurs.

Market Shift with AI/ML for SaaS

There is no doubt that AI is a tectonic shift. The convergence of big data availability, maturity of algorithms, and affordable cloud AI/ML platforms, has made it easy for SaaS startups to leverage AI/ML. During a chance roundtable learning session on Julia with Dr. Viral Shah & Prof Alan Edelman, it was clear that many entrepreneurs – head down into their growth challenges – were not aware of the realities behind the AI hype. Some thought AI/ML should be explored by their tech team, others felt it required a lot of effort & resources. The real challenge, however, is to discover & develop a significantly higher order AI-enabled value to customers than was feasible 2 years ago. While AI is a technology-driven shift, the implications for finding the right product value and business model are even greater.

As I explored the AI trend I saw a pattern of “gold rush” – build a small feature with rudimentary AI, market your product as an AI product… – making early claims with small changes which do not move the needle. It became clear that a step-by-step pragmatic thinking by our SaaS startups was required to build an AI-based leapfrog value proposition. This could help bring our startups to be at “par” and potentially even leap ahead of our global brethren. Here was an opportunity to create a level playing field, to compete with global players and incumbents alike.

To validate my observations, I did quick small research on SaaS companies outside of India on their approach with AI. I found quite a few startups where AI was already being leveraged intrinsically and others who were still trying to make sense. Investments varied from blogging about the AI trend, branding one as a thought leader, to actually building and delivering a strongly differentiated product proposition. E.g.:

There are no successes, yet! Our startups like Eka, Wingify, FreshWorks, WebEngage… have all been experimenting with AI/ML, stumbling and picking themselves up to build & deliver a higher level of value. Some others are setting up an internal playground to explore & experiment. And many others are waiting on the shore unsure of how to board the AI ship.

How do we enable our companies to create new AI playgrounds to analyze, surface, validate and develop higher order customer values & efficiencies? To chart a fruitful journey with AI/ML there are many challenges that need to be solved. And doing it as a group running together has a better chance of success.

The AI+SaaS game has just begun and it is the right time for our hungry entrepreneurs to Aspire for the Gold on a reasonable level playing field.

Shift to Platform Products

As market needs change, the product needs a transform. As new target segments get added different/new product assumptions come into play. In both these scenarios existing products begin to age rapidly and it becomes important for startups to re-invent their product offerings. To deal with such changes startups must experiment and iterate with agility. They require support from a base “internal” platform to allow them to transform from a single product success strategy to scaling with multiple products strategy.

This “internal” base platform – an infrastructure & layout of technology components to interconnect data & horizontal functional layers – would help to build & support multiple business specific problem-solution products (vertical logics). The products created on such a platform provide both independent as well as a combined value proposition for the customers.

Many startups (Zendesk, Freshdesk, Eka, WebEngage…) have undertaken the painful approach of factoring an internal platform to transform their strategy & opportunity. Zoho has been constantly reinventing itself and launching new products on a common platform, some of which are upending incumbent rivals in a very short period of time. WebEngage transformed itself from a “tool” into an open platform product.

“As the dependency on our software grew, customers needed more flexibility to be able to use their data to solve a wide range of business problems…significant difference in the way we build products now. We have unlocked a lot of value by converting ourselves into an open platform and enabling customer data to flow seamlessly across many products.” – Avlesh Singh, WebEngage

The effort to build an internal platform appropriately architected to support growing business needs (many yet unknown) is non-trivial and requires a platform thinking mindset for increased business development. It must be architected to allow rapid co-creation of new & unique product values in collaboration with external or market platforms. This can help the startup be a formidable player in the growing “platform economy”.

Leveraging Potential Strategic Partnerships

A strategic partner offers 2 benefits for startups. First is the obvious ability to supercharge the startup’s GTM strategy with effective distribution & scale. How does one make a strategic partnership? Pitching to a strategic partner is very different from pitching to a customer or investor. PSPs look for something that is working and where they can insert themselves and make the unit economics even better. 

“I thought I knew my pitch and had the details at my fingertips. But then I started getting really valuable, thought-out feedback…I had to focus on pitching to partners, not customers.” – Pallav Nadhani, FusionCharts

The second leverage with a partner is the ability to innovate in the overlap of the partner’s products & offerings and the startup’s product values. A good partner is always looking for startups which can co-create a unique value proposition and impact an extremely large customer base.

“…we still have only three four percent market share when it comes to customers. So if we have to participate we have to recognize that we are not gonna be able to do it alone we’re going to have to have a strategy to reach out to the entire marketplace and have a proposition for the entire marketplace…you need to (do it) through partnerships.” – Shikha Sharma, MD Axis Bank

Both these partnership intents if nurtured well can bring deep meaningful relationship which can further transcend scale into a more permanent model (investment, M&A…).

Working with the 3 Shifts of SaaS

While each shift is independent in its own importance, they are also inter-related. E.g. an internal platform can allow a startup to co-create with a partner more effectively. Partners are always interested in differentiated leading-edge values such as what is possible with leveraging AI/ML. Magic is created when a startup leverages an internal platform, to co-create a strong AI-enabled value, in the overlap & gap with potential strategic partners.

And that’s what I see

I see a vibrant eco-system of SaaS startups in India working on creating leading global products. Vibrancy built on top of the basic product thinking skills and catapulted into a new orbit by navigating the 3 shifts.

“Reading market shifts isn’t easy. Neither is making mindset shifts. Startups are made or unmade on their bets on market/mindset shifts. Like stock market bubbles, shifts are fully clear only in hindsight. At iSPIRT, we are working to help entrepreneurs navigate the many overlapping yet critical shifts.” – Sharad Sharma, iSPIRT

Through our roundtables, we have selected six startups as the first running group cohort for our AI/ML for SaaS playbooks (Acebot, Artoo, FusionCharts, InstaSafe, LegalDesk & SignEasy).

If you are hungry and ready to explore these uncharted shifts, we are bringing these new playbooks tracks for you.

Please let us know your interest by filling out this form.

Also, if you are interested in volunteering for our playbook tracks, we can really use your support! There is a lot to be done to structure and build the playbook tracks and the upcoming SaaSx5 for these shifts for SaaS. Please use the same form to indicate your support.

Ending this note with a sense of beginning, I believe that our startups have a real opportunity to lead instead of fast-follow, create originals instead of clones. They need help to do this as a running group instead of a solo contestant. It is with this mission – bring our startups at par on the global arena – that I am excited to support the ProductNation.

I would like to acknowledge critical insights from Avlesh Singh (WebEngage), Manav Garg (Eka), Shekhar Kirani (Accel Partners), Sharad Sharma (iSPIRT). Also am thankful for the support from our mavens, volunteers & founders who helped with my research, set up the roundtables, and draft my perspective with active conversations on this topic: Ankit Singh (Wibmo/MyPoolin), Anukriti Chaudhari (iSPIRT), Arvi Krishnaswamy (GetCloudCherry), Ganesh Suryanarayanan (Tata GTIO), Deepa Bachu (Pensaar), Deepak Vincchi (JuliaComputing), Karthik KS (iSPIRT), Manish Singhal (Pi Ventures), Nishith Rastogi (Locus.sh), Pallav Nadhani (FusionCharts), Praveen Hari (iSPIRT), Rakesh Mondal (RakeshMondal.in), Ravindra Krishnappa (Acebot.ai), Sandeep Todi (Remitr), Shrikanth Jangannathan (PipeCandy), Sunil Rao (Lightspeed), Tathagat Varma (ChinaSoft), Titash Neogi (Seivelogic), and many other volunteers & founders.

All images are credited to Rakesh Mondal 

India SaaS Survey 2017 – Results

Welcome to the Third edition of the India SaaS Survey by DCS Advisory, India’s largest software investment banking advisory practice, in partnership with iSPIRT Foundation.

What is the survey about?

The survey aims to anonymously benchmark Indian SaaS companies to better understand the unique challenges they face and the unique advantages they leverage, creating a single reference point updated annually.

What’s New?

In-line with our goal of constantly improving the quality of our survey we have added two new sections this year, one covering Inside Sales and the other looking at Product Market Fit. Our interactions with SaaS founders and various other stakeholders in the ecosystem clearly identified these topics as the most valuable for the founders of our young ecosystem. We have also added new analyses to previous sections which we hope will further enrich the survey.

Decoding the Results

This year, we have received responses from 59 respondents with an aggregate ARR of ~$175Mn, including some of the most prominent SaaS companies operating in India. We sincerely thank all participants for their time and effort in completing this survey and look forward to ever-increasing participation every edition going forward.

Some key takeaways from the survey are:

  1. Our typical (median) respondent this year is at $0.75M in ARR, likely to be Bangalore or Chennai headquartered (58%) and was founded in 2014 or later
  2. Whereas last year we noted a ‘paucity of machine focused SaaS’, this year infrastructure SaaS made it into the top 3 amongst horizontal focus areas (and took in >50% of horizontal funding)
  3. Overall our respondents grew faster than last year and continue to be bullish on the future, looking towards North America for growth
  4. Inside sales is now the most popular sales channel in our ecosystem but, based on our data, does not yet conclusively outperform the more established FoS channel. In the years to come, particularly for startups selling overseas, we expect this to change
  5. ~50% of our respondents that focus on Inside sales boast a conversion rate of 10-25%. We look forward to tracking this metric in future editions of this survey
  6. 92% of our respondents believe they have achieved product market fit, further indicating that it takes a period of 12-24 months with about 3 product releases to get there (see commentary below).
  7. Across the board our respondents typically earn gross margins in the range of 60-70%, with R&D being the largest expense post gross margins
  8. Our typical respondent reported ~10% annual churn (which may be under reported). We believe the customer lifetime is likely somewhere in between at 5-6 years
  9. Over a third of our sample has never raised external capital. Those that have, have raised $1-5Mn (median) at 7.5-10.0x of ARR (median).

Commentary on PMF

Additional correlations which cannot be derived conclusively from the collected data but I still believe to be relevant so highlighting here as a commentary:

  • Quicker product-market fit seems like a major factor in reaching >$1M ARR .
  • Startups who reached product-market fit in <1 year are more likely to hit > $1M ARR in < 2 years.
  • Approximately 50% of startups who took longer to reach PMF have not yet reached $1M ARR.
  • While Sales & Marketing was clearly listed as the top challenge on the journey to $1M, PMF was more of a challenge for startups who took longer to reach market-fit.

As before, we remain committed to refreshing the survey results on an annual basis. As the India SaaS ecosystem continues to grow, we fully expect to increase overall survey participation, as well as the insights and bench marking data provided. You can also read the results of the previous 2016 SaaS survey and the 2015 Survey results.

Note: Feature image original source – Nick Youngson

Are you ready to Jump with AI/ML? [Updated Session Dates]

[Update 6-Apr] New April Session Dates – Symposium RT is being scheduled on Saturdays for Bangalore & Chennai (21st & 28th April). 

Playbooks for Electrifying SaaS and more.

This is what we call the fourth industrial revolution…And companies are really transforming and bringing all these new technologies to connect with their customers in new ways.
Dreamforce 2017 Keynotes, Marc Benioff.

There is no doubt that Artificial Intelligence (AI), is one of the recent “tectonic” market shifts, creating a change in landscape, market, and opportunity. AI and  Machine Learning (ML), now in its eternal spring, has a deep impact on SaaS evolution. While the incumbent companies like Salesforce, Zendesk, Workday, have all invested heavily in AI, also global challengers across many verticals from Sales, BPM, CRM… to Security are focused on building higher order efficiencies and automation through AI/ML.

Over the last few years, our Indian SaaS entrepreneurs trumped the global SaaS growth by leveraging mobile first as there was no baggage of desktop, reduced sales & onboarding cost by perfecting the art of Inside Sales & Inbound Marketing, and efficient after sales support & service by leveraging remote success representatives. Our SaaS Mavens helped disseminate these leverages by sharing the best practices & modeling internal flywheels & experimentations. Many SaaS entrepreneurs successfully assimilated and got a significant boost in their growth journey. These levers are now basic table stakes for most SaaS startups.

AI has no breakthrough success stories, but it is helping create a level playing field – especially for our Indian entrepreneurs – to compete with global players and incumbents alikeStartups willing to make the jump, adapt AI into their products & business models to create meaningful differentiation, will experience a strong wind in their sails to leapfrog over the players who don’t.

Our entrepreneurs have a rare opportunity to be early adopters & global trailblazers. 

To take advantage of this our entrepreneurs ask very valid questions.

Q. Why & How should we entrepreneurs navigate this AI market shift? 
Q. How should we, given that we are untrained in AI, grapple with the 360° impact of AI on product, business, and technology?
Q. What AI leverage can we develop without requiring expensive investments for constrained resources? 

How do we enable our companies to create new AI playgrounds to analyze, surface, validate and develop higher order customer values & efficiencies?

AI Playbooks

Since adapting to the AI “tectonic” shift requires a new paradigm of thinking, we have launched a multi-step playbooks track focused on Playing with AI/ML for Indian entrepreneurs. In line with iSPIRT’s mission, our playbooks purpose is to help market players navigate market shifts. The goal is to bring the practitioner knowledge from AI Mavens AI-first entrepreneurs who are further ahead in their AI journey – to the AI-hungry startups and help them perfect the model of working with AI, get traction towards a meaningful AI-enhanced value, and become trailblazers for the community. If you are an AI-hungry startup who has either taken the plunge with AI/ML but early in your journey, or are actively looking to leverage AI/ML for your current products, then following the stepped approach below may help:

Step 1 – Attend an AI/ML Symposium RT – Getting prepared with Why AI and How AI. In our first kickoff session on 10-Mar, we had great discussions on AI data maturity, what can drive your AI approach, and more with our AI Mavens and ten startups (read more).

Step 2 – A cohort of startups from step 1 will be taken through multiple AI/ML Playbook RT for How AI – deep dives on topics to help with structuring an internal AI playground, competency with data product management, product positioning & branding, business model shifts, and more.
These playbook RTs will help the startups carve out a lean playground for rapid experimentation and analysis, with a 3-4 person team of a data PM, & engineers. The team, actively lead by the founder, runs regular sprints (business/product/engineering sprints) of experimentation and validation, and have review touchpoints at intervals with AI-Mavens and the cohort as a running group.
There is also an optional Tech Training Lab to build internal ML competency with a multi-day workshop with Julia experts.

Four startups have been initially selected for the cohort for the step 2 AI playbook RTs (Acebot, FusionCharts, InstaSafe & LegalDesk).

SaaSx5 – June 2018

We are working to set up the 5th version of our marquee SaaSx to engage with the larger SaaS startup community. We will definitely focus on the impact of AI/ML on SaaS and have workshops based on our momentum of the playbooks track on various topics above. Date & details to be announced shortly.

The AI+SaaS game has just begun and it is the right time for our hungry entrepreneurs to Aspire for the Gold, on a reasonable level playing field.

Click to Nominate or Register a startup for the AI/ML Playbooks Track.

Dates & Venue

AI/ML Symposium RT #1 – 10th Mar (Sat) 2p – 5p Done (read more)
AI/ML Symposium RT #2 – 21st Apr (Sat) 11a – 2p @ Bangalore TBD
AI/ML Symposium RT #3– 28th Apr (Sat) 10a – 1p @ Chennai TBD

May the force be with you!

* All iSPIRT playbooks are pro-bono, closed room, founder-level, invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend all sessions completely, to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

Featured image modified from source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jedimentat/7557276684

Playing with the new Electricity – AI/ML Playbook Sessions [March Update]

[Update 29-Mar] New April Session Dates – Symposium RT is being scheduled for Bangalore & Chennai (21st & 28th April). 

“Tectonic” market shifts happen every few years creating a change in landscape, market and opportunity. The most recent “tectonic” shift is the emergence of the Artificial Intelligence era. In just the same way electrification in the early 1900s transformed major industries globally, AI, Machine Learning & Deep Learning are poised to transform a multitude of industries, services & products.

It took 100 years from the discovery of electrical generator to electrification of industries. AI is doing this in a span of 70 years (from the time of the Turing Test).

AI/ML has gone through many winters and is now in its eternal spring. It portents a new framework for startups to navigate and evolve from an internet era startup into an AI era startup.


Every new era shift begins with a lot of smoke and hype before it is well understood. iSPIRT ProductNation & Julia are launching a set of AI/ML playbook roundtable & workshop sessions to dispel the hype around AI, and help bring a pragmatic mindset & process change necessary for product startups to leverage AI/ML. We believe AI is not just a technology shift. It is a combination of product, business, and technology shift. Adapting to it requires a new paradigm of thinking to build a viable value strategy. This needs to be done mindfully and in context of the value you offer to the customer, do not rush in with the AI hype.

These multi-step playbooks are for all categories of startups regardless whether they are AI-First or SaaS, and MarTech, FinTech, HealthTech or any other <Domain>Tech category, startups who are looking to deliver a higher order value to their customers by leveraging and applying AI models with their data.

Since AI/ML is still in its early years there aren’t any proven success playbooks. Hence these deep sessions will bring together AI experts, AI Mavens (entrepreneurs who are more ahead in their AI journey), iSPIRT Mavens, and selected startups, to discuss & share their insights, challenges & learnings on the mindset shifts outlined above and best practices adopted. The 2-step playbook roundtable sessions focused on founders (+1 typically CXO) and a hands-on lab workshop are a sequence of:

    • AI/ML Symposium RT (step 1) – An invite-only 3 hour mini-symposium playbook with AI/ML experts, first mover AI leaders & Mavens from our startup community and 10-15 invited startups, focusing on Why AI/ML? What was the higher order value being created? How to identify the opportunities to leverage AI? What do you need to get started with AI (if not already running)? Data needs for AI/ML investments… The shared awareness created in this session, combined with the commitment by startups to articulate their AI/ML opportunity, and detail their approach will lead to the next AI/ML roundtable.
    • AI/ML Playbook RT (step 2) – Startups at similar AI readiness from the Symposium will be invited for a 5-hour deep-dive roundtable discussion on the AI/ML challenges in the context of the startup domain, effectively going through their AI/ML readiness & approach (a review & teardown). Topics would emerge from the Symposium RT and could cover data collection & modeling strategy, AI transformation algorithms, Business model innovation, Success metrics… This session is restricted to 5-6 startups (having similar AI needs) per roundtable and an AI Maven to facilitate the topics & discussion. Possible outcomes for each startup would be to develop an action plan/checklist for next few months of execution. Additionally, startups can identify a tiger tech team to go to the AI/ML Training Lab to get traction for their checklist…
    • AI/ML Training Lab with Julia Sandbox (optional) – A 3+ day workshop intended for the 3-4 person tiger tech teams (CTO, Engg, Data guy, PM…) from each startup. The workshop will help focus on building competency, getting traction & executing implementations related to the checklist developed at the roundtable.

For the first set of these playbooks, we are inviting nominations/applications for startup founders (+CXOs) who are either directly focusing on AI-based opportunity or have started integrating AI/ML as a core strategy for their product growth/success. Please provide your nomination for startups you believe should be part of the first series of the AI/ML playbooks. If you are a startup and interested to be part of this please register below. On final approval, an invite confirmation will be sent via email.

Please submit your nominations here. A registration link will be sent to your nominee.

Dates & Venue for the first of the series:

AI/ML Symposium RT #1 – 10th Mar (Sat) 2p – 5p Done
AI/ML Symposium RT #2 – 21st Apr (Sat) 11a – 2p @ Bangalore TBD
AI/ML Symposium RT #328th Apr (Sat) 10a – 1p @ Chennai TBD
AI/ML Playbook RTApr-TBD (Sat) 11a – 5pm @ Bangalore TBD
AI/ML Training Lab w/ JuliaApr-TBD @ TBD (Bangalore)

While the sessions are in Chennai/Bangalore, we believe this topic is of emergent interest to startups across the country and would invite all to register.

AI Mavens

Ashwin Ramasamy – PipeCandy
Manish Singhal – pi Ventures
Nishith Rastogi – Locus.sh
Shrikanth Jagannathan – PipeCandy

Cost

All iSPIRT roundtables are pro-bono (read below for how that works)

This series of playbooks is being setup by active support from our Mavens & Volunteers – Ankit Singh, Deepak Vinchhi, Karthik KS, Praveen Hari, Ravindra Krishnappa, Sandeep Todi.

P.S. Some great material for pre-reading

I strongly recommend all to go through many of these.

* All iSPIRT playbooks are pro-bono, closed room, founder-level, invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend all sessions completely and to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

* The Julia team is on a social mission to train a large number of people in India to develop grassroot skills and competency with AI & ML.

+Feature image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/gleonhard/34046647175/

Hungry like a Dog, Running like a Cat

Have you seen the recent movie Queen of Katwe? In one of the scenes, when the talented chess prodigy Phiona (a child from the slums) is afraid to play in her first tournament against rich kids from other schools, the coach Robert tells his students a fable.

There was a dog who sees a cat and he thinks would make a very tasty lunch. The dog goes after the cat, chasing it all over the place, but the cat gets away. Why? “I was running for my lunch” the dog says, “but he was running for his life.”

Recently I happened to be part of a couple of invite-only iSPIRT sessions for the Financial Inclusion Challengers Circle (FICC). The FICC sessions are targeted at the FinTech/Banking corporates in India to raise awareness of and navigate the emerging digital revolution for financial products in India. There were 2 levels of sessions, the first was a kickoff for companies that were interested to know more about the market shift, and the second was for companies that were already part of the program and were presenting their approach. Both the sessions were attended by the CEOs & MDs of the payments and banking corporates in India. One of the CEOs said

“ Despite no background in banking, you are speaking about the imminent shift in the bankers language we understand!

The rabid hunger displayed by the CEOs was astonishing. These executives were not only actively listening to the digital transformations happening in India, they absorbed the market shifts (and some also validated them) and the potential impact on their industry. At the end of the first session, these leaders left with a conviction to return with a clear thought process on how they planned to navigate the market shifts and where they needed help.

The second session was even more interesting because these were the MDs who had formed a conviction from an earlier session and had returned a few of weeks later with an extremely articulate approach. The approach was very well structured, backed by good data insights, had a sharp focus on creating a winning product for a well defined narrow yet large size market. I can say that the hunger, the conviction and the metaphor running for life seemed evident as the CEO (and their team) were well prepared and vulnerably open for help.

In both these sessions, I glimpsed the hunger of the dog as well as some of the urgency of the cat with these leaders. Yet I do question whether these companies will be able to bring the urgency as well as the agility of the cat in their established organization and whether they will be able to shed their heavy & arcane investments (tech, model & mindset). It will surely be an extremely uphill battle for them to navigate the gradual and sudden1 onslaught from the natively digital global invaders entering this market.

However, I believe that successful startups embody both, the rabid hunger of the dog and the agile urgency of the cat. This attitude which easily permeates down into their lean organization provides them an inherent advantage that neither the big Indian companies nor the global digital invaders have. I strongly urge our ProductNation startups, insurgents, to imbibe & manifest this hunger, agility & urgency, to leapfrog over both the incumbents and the invaders, and to be aware and adapt to gradual & sudden market shits, be it FinTech, SaaS or any other category.

While Rashmi Bansal encourages entrepreneurs to Stay Hungry Stay Foolish, I would additionally like to encourage our product startup founders to be Hungry like the Dog and Run like the Cat.

P.S.

1 A great read on Gradual & Sudden shifts. Do also go through the keynote presentation for the same.

Deep Learning Session with Julia Computing

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An evening with Julia

iSPIRT, in association with Julia Computing, is proud to announce an open-session with Prof. Alan Edelman and Dr. Viral Shah, co-creators of Julia, an open source programming language, and co-founders of Julia Computing Inc.

The event will be hosted in Koramangala, Bangalore, on the 22nd of January 2018, from 5 – 7pm. Register now for an invite to the session or to join the live cast (venue details will be shared along with the invite).

What is Julia?

Julia is a modern, high-level, high-performance programming language for numerical computing, data science and AI. With syntax that is familiar to users of other technical computing environments, Julia solves the eternal two language problem, by providing productivity similar to Matlab or R, and performance similar to C for writing mathematical and statistical software. Julia is open source, its research is anchored at MIT since 2009 and is growing very rapidly in its adoption across industries, from Finance to Life Sciences.

Julia … can even be used by those who aren’t programmers by training

Why Should You Care?

Julia’s deep mathematical roots and comprehensive customizability make it very friendly to work with for data scientists, who are generally limited with popular Machine Learning approaches due to their issues with customizability and efficiency.

This 90 minute session will cover a quick introduction to Julia, showcase a few challenging and compute-intensive case studies that Julia has helped solve across domains, and demonstrate how Julia as a framework is used to enable nextgen AI & ML modeling & computing with the AI tools of your choice, including popular libraries like Mocha, MXNet and TensorFlow. This will be a great opportunity to interact with Prof Alan and Dr. Viral on best ways to approach an AI/ML strategy.

About the Speakers:

Prof. Alan Edelman is a Professor of Applied Mathematics, Computer Science and AI at MIT. He is a co-creator of Julia language, and a Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Julia Computing, Inc.

Dr. Viral Shah is a co-creator of Julia language, and a Co-founder and CEO of of Julia Computing, Inc. He has been an important part of Aadhaar team from 2009 to 2014, and has co-authored a book called Rebooting India with Nandan Nilekani.

Julia Computing was founded in 2015 by the creators of the open source Julia language to develop products and provide support for businesses and researchers who use Julia.

Register now for an invite to the session or join the live cast.

Also, Workshop will be streamed on Youtube live for those who can join us virtually. The Invite will be shared on 21st Jan 2018 with the registered participants.

Launching the SaaS Survey 2017 – by SignalHill and iSPIRT

The third edition of the popular India SaaS survey is here.

As always there are 2 parts, Form A, a 100% anonymous survey, and Form B, a distinct & separate form capturing company details for us to share the final report. Please note that forms A & B are kept distinct to protect your privacy. Both together take about 10 minutes to complete. Scroll down to read more about the survey.

India SaaS survey

image credit – Nick Youngson

What is the survey about?

Every burgeoning ecosystem requires a robust set of benchmarks to compare itself against and reach better levels of performance. Signal Hill and iSPIRT Foundation have been at the forefront of addressing this need for the Indian SaaS ecosystem. The survey aims to anonymously benchmark Indian SaaS companies to better understand the unique challenges they face and the unique advantages they leverage, creating a single reference point updated annually.

If you found the results of the 2016 SaaS survey valuable, please help us make the third version of this survey the most meaningful and relevant. It is a marker of the maturity of our Indian SaaS ecosystem.

What’s New?

What sets this survey apart from the previous two editions is the addition of two new sections to better understand, (a) how SaaS product companies achieve Product-Market Fit and (b) the effective metrics behind successful Inside Sales engines. With the addition of these 2 sections, the survey is poised to provide a complete analysis of the India SaaS advantage covering the product, market, sales & customer support.

Here are the takeaways from the 2015 & 2016 India SaaS Surveys:

2015: Horizontal applications dominated vertical specific ones
2016: Vertical focussed SaaS players occupy majority share of the scaled and funded respondent pie.

2015: 84% of respondents reported looking overseas for growth, ranking North America as their #1 target geography
2016: Unchanged, the US is the most favoured destination for Indian SaaS startups. With that said, whilst companies are building for global markets, the first market for companies to get traction in is typically India.

2015 & 2016: The median CAC payback period (for >$1Mn ARR) is 6-12 months. 

Staying Focused And Achieving The Product-Market Fit Are Key To Managing CAC.

It takes 10 minutes to fill the Survey

To participate in the 2017 survey, respondents will need to fill in two simple forms:

  • Form A, a 100% anonymous survey, 100% multiple choice, and
  • Form B, a distinct & separate form capturing company details for us to share the final report.

Please note that forms A & B are kept distinct to protect your privacy. Your 10-minute contribution to this effort will be hugely useful in helping the Indian SaaS ecosystem benchmark itself.

Some highlights from the web

ET Tech, 2018 is poised to be the year of Indian SaaS explosion

An anticipated increase in global spending on information technology over the course of this year will be a big driver for SaaS companies, even after factoring in changes in political climate such as Brexit and churns in global markets.

Tracxn Report for India SaaS (2017) 

The growth in SMEs and their increased cloud adoption and government initiatives such as Digital India are also expected to drive the SaaS market. Increasingly mobile workforces are also pushing the adoption of SaaS with startups and companies providing mobile-first applications.

 

Is your SaaS product ready for GDPR?

What is GDPR you ask? and Why should you care?

Some of you may know about the upcoming rollout in EU of the General Data Protection Regulation. GDPR is a regulation that requires businesses to protect the personal data and privacy of EU citizens for transactions that occur within EU member states. GDPR implementation date is 25 May 2018, but do not get complacent by the date, it requires reasonable effort and time for companies to become ready & compliant. And there are significant penalties for not being compliant.

If you are operating in the EU or if any of your customers are operating in the EU, GDPR applies to you.

Who?

  • Customers in EU – YES
  • Employees in EU – YES
  • Vendors or partners in EU – YES

GDPR Workshop / Webinar

iSPIRT and Microsoft are conducting a GDPR workshop for founders to demystify the GDPR and help understand the steps required towards compliance. This will be a mix of in-person and webinar session (choose when you register).

The session will cover among many topics, clarity on the impact of GDPR, application to organizations in India, additional responsibility about controls, notifications and data governance for managing and tracking personal data, and how organizations need to start thinking about GDPR compliance. There will be presentations by both Legal teams from Microsoft India and the CTO of Microsoft Accelerator.

Apply here using the Registration Form

Date & time: 16-Nov, 3-5pm

In-person Venue: Microsoft Accelerator – JNR City Centre, IBIS Hotel Annexe ,Raja Ram Mohan Roy Road, Bangalore.

Webinar: Link will be sent to those who choose to attend the webinar.

Session Scope:

  • GDPR & Data Privacy, and its growing importance
  • A Risk assessment Checklist – Go to https://www.gdprbenchmark.com/ to access a quick, online self-evaluation tool available at no cost to help your organization review its overall level of readiness to comply with the GDPR
  • Data Privacy Business Scenarios – Technical Demos

Registration

If you are keen to attend the workshop please apply using the Registration Form. Since seats are limited for both in-person and webinar, please register ahead of time. We will confirm with an invite subject to availability. There is no cost to attend. We start sharp at 3 pm.

Strongly recommend going through the Risk Assessment Benchmark Evaluation.

The checklist will help you prep for the workshop and get the most out of it.

Some sources for pre-reading:

What is the GDPR, its requirements and deadlines? – CSO Online

GDPR in the age of SaaS: One SaaS vendor’s journey to compliance …

If You Use SaaS Products, You Need To Prepare For GDPR. Here’s How

Are you ready for the GDPR? A quick, no-cost, readiness self-evaluation tool.

The Global Impact of GDPR on SaaS Providers – Spanning Backup

Home Page of EU GDPR

Coming soon – 2017 SaaS Survey

BTW did you know the new SaaS survey is coming? We are excited to announce that we would be launching the third edition (2017) of the India SaaS Survey in a week from now. This survey is an annual exercise conducted jointly by SignalHill and iSPIRT to gather valuable data for drawing insights which help various stakeholders in the ecosystem understand this space better.

Please click on the following link to access last year’s survey results

Please stay tuned to this space. We will be providing a link to this year’s survey very soon in an upcoming blog post.

Product Teardown Roundtables are coming to your city.

Read more details on the teardown sessions, and preview the teardown format. If interested please apply here (Limited Seats).

Product Teardown explained in 10 minutes (well almost!)

Last Saturday we had an awesome teardown roundtable in Chennai moderated by Suresh (KiSSFLOW) and Bharath (FreshDesk) 🙇🏻.. This was my first direct experience with the teardown. Six companies participated (PickYourTrail, FoodEngine, SysCloud, CustomerLabs, Tagalys, and ManageArtworks). While the entire session of 4+ hours was extremely intense, I want to quickly share with you in 10 minutes (almost) of what happens in a Product Teardown.

Teardowns are coming to your city. Please apply here (Limited Seats).

Product Teardown Framework

The iSPIRT product teardown (esp. for SaaS websites) is primarily structured around 5 key principles outlined below.

Idea 💡

What is the problem you are trying to solve? Who is your target user? It is critical to have a clear picture of your target user persona, their problem and how your solution solves their pain point. Essentially establish your problem-solution fit and articulate it for the customer journey from Discovery → Conversion.

Discovery 🔍

How do customers find your product? Is it through google search? Is there a channel they frequent? Have you identified your TAM (total addressable market), SAM (serviceable addressable market) and SOM (serviceable obtainable market)? Use this model to help identify strategies to have your SOM discover your product.

Website 🕸

Your website is the first & most important way to establish trust & relationship with your customer. This is true even if you don’t use inside sales. What is your first message or hook for your target user persona? Are they able to connect your product with their problem and the path through which they discovered your product? Are they able to understand how your product solves their problem, and why they should use it? Once they identify with your message and establish trust & credibility the rest becomes easier.

Sign up 💰

If the customer has understood your solution and found it fit for their needs, the last purchase decision is the cost. As Suresh said

If the cost connects, signup happens!.

WoW! reaction 🌅

Post signup, is there a WoW first experience? Whether it is a try & buy experience or a first purchase onboarding, it is important for customers to experience some instant gratification for the grueling journey they just went through. Believe me, making a purchase decision can be taxing. If you can make this journey pleasant and the final destination fantastic, you have a winning product 🏆.

Do go through the video above and hear Suresh’s simple explanation. And if you like what you hear remember you can apply here for a teardown in your city.

Coming soon – 2017 SaaS Survey

While I still have your attention, we are excited to announce that we would be launching the third edition (2017) of the India SaaS Survey in a week from now. This survey is an annual exercise conducted jointly by SignalHill and iSPIRT to gather valuable data for drawing insights which help various stakeholders in the ecosystem understand this space better.

Please click on the following link to access last year’s survey results

Please stay tuned to this space. We will be providing a link to this year’s survey very soon in an upcoming blog post.

PS

The amount of time & effort Bharath & Suresh provided to review and analyze each product before the actual teardown is simply inspiring. 🙇🏻. to their commitment to the community.

Guiding the customer journey from Discovery → Signup → Onboarding for SaaS Startups

Are you ready for the product teardown roundtable in your city

As Diwali marks a Joyous celebration and heralds a Prosperous New Year for all, we kick off a series of Product Teardown Roundtables to help our SaaS startups prepare for a successful year ahead. This series of PlaybookRT will focus on Guiding the customer journey from Discovery to Signup & Onboarding.  The teardowns are being planned across our startup cities in quick succession (see tentative schedule below). We kickoff with a teardown RT in Chennai which will be facilitated by Suresh Sambandan (KiSSFLOW)Bharat Balasubramanian (FreshWorks).

Apply to get your slot here. (Limited seats).

Why are product teardowns important? For Explosive Growth!

Explosive growth is a common pain point for founders across startup stages, be it an early stage startup or a late stage startup. One key attribute to explosive growth is to make your customers market for you. Quoting from the article Six attributes of Explosive Growth Startups,

Nothing parallels word-of-mouth marketing

Why? Because the customers do this work for the startup. If this is to happen for your product it is important for your customers to have a clear-cut understanding of your product proposition, discovering it’s ROI and a WOW no-brainer experience of signing up and using it.

Our product teardown session is focused on exactly this evaluation for your product. Using our community of peers and leading practitioners, you would go through an intense journey and visualize how your potential customer discovers, understands, signs up and connects the product proposition and ROI to their needs. If you do a damn good job about this, you gain a big advantage because you don’t have to work so hard for marketing leads, getting you further on the path to explosive growth.

The teardown model

In this playbook series, we look at how to get your messaging right, and building a website and signup/on-boarding flow that converts with very little human intervention. This roundtable would begin with a deep dive into the company’s Idea, Discovery Process and navigate through the Landing Page, Sign Up, and its “Wow” experience. The format of the playbook is built around quick 10 minute demos, followed by peer-feedback moderated by SAAS founders & experts who have already built successful SAAS businesses.

Past teardowns

You can read some of the previous teardown experiences from the founders who participated.

Registration and Pricing

If you are keen to attend this RoundTable, do let us know by filling in your details here. We will confirm your seat subject to availability. All RoundTables are conducted pro-bono. The only payment you have to make is to provide your undivided attention and active involvement in the process. Playbook-RoundTables are a dialogue and there’s no monologue. None!

Teardown Roundtable Schedule (tentative)

City Date Time Register
Teardown RT in Chennai 4-Nov-2017 (Sat)  11am – 4pm Register
Teardown RT in Bangalore 11-Nov-2017 (Sat)  11am – 4pm Register
Teardown RT in Delhi 18-Nov-2017 (Sat)  TBD Register
Teardown RT in Hyderabad 25-Nov-2017 (Sat)  TBD Register
Teardown RT in Pune TBD (Dec) Register
(if interested please apply)
Teardown RT in Mumbai TBD (Dec) Register
(if interested please apply)


Notes

These are founder invite only events. Date, Time & Venue details will be sent along with the confirmation.
Since there are limited seats, we would request you to kindly apply at the earliest.

Playbook-RoundTable is one of the most sought after community events of iSPIRT. It’s a gathering of 12 like-minded product startups who are beyond the early stage. RoundTables are facilitated by an iSPIRT maven who is an accomplished practitioner of that Round-Table theme.

Thinkflow Software – Keeping up with changing markets

I recently met with Thinkflow founder Praveen Hari and heard first hand their growth story of building a platform capable of powering business applications and services on the cloud. I specifically focused on learning how they accelerated their growth and scale phase, wanting to hear a few stories that could inspire other budding ventures on this path.

Handful of stories below highlight some points as key to the growth strategy they adopted and experienced.

Threat from Big Companies

Early on they realized that several bigger companies in the value chain of BPM applications began to change the game and build a larger product offering by acquiring small product companies in the chain. They researched this trend and began to use their insights of this industry and the trends that big companies were focusing on to pivot into a PaaS company.

Price point

First, they evolved the product offering from BPM to PaaS with better price point and working with smaller vendors / partners to build solutions and package professional services in much shorter timelines than bigger companies could offer.

Customer understanding

Next, having great customer insights was key to working this model. Solving customer’s business problems were paramount. As an example they realized the importance of Single Sign-on as a value point for customers and identified a way to implement this on top of the Microsoft Azure platform, which already supported multiple authentication modes. Using existing technology and simply working the core customer pain point was valued highly and resulted in building customer loyalty.

Multi-tiered approach & Partner with experts

Additionally they realized a need to build solutions that encompassed several domains. As they did not have all the domain knowledge and the best way to address was to partner with experts who had domain knowledge and have them build solutions on top of their platform. They focused on building a platform that could serve direct customers as well as application developers and enterprise developers. One such story began with a partner who realized the power of the platform and inquired whether they could build a workflow in the GRC space (Governance, Risk & Compliance). The partner ended up using 40% of the Thinkflow system to build this application.

Partnering with core platform

Being a Microsoft Preferred Partner definitely helps in continuing to evolve the platform and systems. One day Microsoft partner contact mentioned that there was a need to have a Document Scan & Capture capability that could help several enterprises. They rapidly implemented this functionality on their existing solution. It’s a win-win situation as Microsoft partnership provides them with insight that allows Thinkflow to add capabilities into their platformised workflow and potentially draw new clients.

Follow competition and trends very closely

The triad has continually encouraged teams to explore and record competitive and industry trends. They also attend the open webinars to learn about other products and solutions to discover trend patterns.

In addition to this Thinkflow constantly promotes its solutions and workflows through regular webinars they setup and also other forums. They find great value in events like the PNCamp, CIO meets, Tech50… Their belief is that such forums will help growth and visibility for startup ventures.

Summary of key takeaways

  • Use data insights for staying on top of market trends. Business environments change faster than you think.
  • Partner with vendors who can provide solutions at better price points.
  • Match customer pain points with existing technologies to build lasting solutions. Customer development is critical to building world-class products.
  • Scale multiple domains with expert partners to offer a plethora of solutions. Open your platforms to other solution vendors.
  • Form preferred partnership with large base technology vendors. The partnerships can provide great insights and leads to convert.
  • Promote your technologies & solutions in open forums.  Attend other open webinars to research competition, trends and potential partnerships.

Indygo – Customer Acquisition Tips

I met Srinivas Yermal from Indygo. In the conversation he chronicled his journey as an entrepreneur in India.

Opportunity knocks from up-close

He happened to chance on an opportunity that started from his close network. His chartered accountant once asked if he could help build a practice management solution that would help maintain his growing business. Out came Papilio.

indygoBreaking the product

As the first product grew legs with many features being added per customer needs Srini realized that the product could be split up into multiple products because several clients were asking for parts of the solution. So they ended up splitting the product into 3 parts to cover task management, invoicing and compliance management.

Understand customer acquisition – referrals are golden

The professional CA community is a tough market to penetrate. Through interactions Srini found that this community in the past has been burnt through bad software solutions implemented and hence the professionals are hesitant to invest in new systems. Cold calling almost never works here. In this situation customer acquisition is more solid through a process of referrals. Most of these referrals are not direct but subtle and happen in the course of direct interaction and networking within the professionals – such as peer auditing activities that connect 2 firms provide deeper exposure to product features than a sales call would have. Srini thought of building an active referral function into the product but realized that the implicit referrals are more effective than direct referrals that provide no material incentive to existing clients.

Customer partners can expand customer demographics

Srini mentioned that through his direct clients he was introduced to another demographic of potential clients, “Clients of their Clients”. Through his direct clients he was introduced to manufacturing units that become clients. Even the professional secretarial firms that service the core CA client community of Indygo became clients. Each of these client demographics had some different core needs but Indygo is able to service these varied needs.

Partnerships

Engaging partnerships are a good way to share and expand opportunities and product offering. However a word of caution when selecting partners that are either too small or too big as the difference in size could affect the goals. A large partner may not see significant value in an integration.

Summary of key takeaways

  • Breaking up a product offering into smaller chunks could help in building up a larger manageable portfolio. It may also help in servicing different client demographics.
  • Deep insight into customer perspectives can help build products & features that solve the need and avoid feature bloat.
  • Customer referrals esp. implicit referrals that can expose product capabilities more deeply than a cold sales call would go a long way to acquisition.
  • Clients of customers can also be potential customers and enable a path to expanding the market.
  • Partnerships are best when there is common need for additional value at both ends.

PeopleWorks – Selling Thought Leadership

I recently visited the office of PeopleWorks to meet Hemant Tathod who Heads the Product Management function.

Spin-off from the parent

Hemant chronicled the initial journey of the formation of PeopleWorks. It began as a need identified by Mr Ram, President & Executive Director of Crossdomain Solutions who was looking for a solution to cater to existing policies of Crossdomain without demanding tweaks their in current HR practices. During this process he realized this solution to be a product opportunity for Small & Medium Enterprises as target segment & initiated market research to validate. The research indicated that the existing product had low growth value but it also identified an opportunity that lay beyond. As a result there was a decision to break PeopleWorks away to focus on an opportunity for delivering cloud based HR workflow. A Beta product was created and validated with a handful of existing clients. During this spin-off they managed to maintain and upgrade 50% of existing clients.

Validate the product with customers

During this phase of building the Beta product, PeopleWorks team set a plan to develop customer insights through various means. Beta product testing, Focus group discussions and also direct gap analysis using inputs gathered by the sales force. The Product Management team, who also had sales experience, knew the value of insights gathered by the sales team and various other sources merge that into the product roadmap.

Push/Pull strategy for sales

While acknowledging that the cost of acquisition is high for a push-based sales strategy, PeopleWorks management’s initial focus is on generating conversions via direct sales. They are investing in search and social optimizations for building a pull-based sales strategy. There is Sales enablement piece with Objective to groom the sales team on how to approach prospective clients to make a successful conversion and Onboard them faster.

Under promise and over deliver

PeopleWorks Product team is very clear of the product capabilities, the focus targets and to only promise what is possible. It is better to openly back out of a prospect conversation if their needs are not feasible to fulfill. With cloud based delivery model it is very easy for clients to “move out” and migrate to other competitive systems.  Acknowledging this is clearly messaging confidence in their product, interest in building trust relationship with client and a promise to be on their toes to service the customer. PeopleWorks has Implementation team to help transition of data for a new client from an archaic solution to their cloud-based system.

Sales & Consultant partnerships

Hemant mentioned that PeopleWorks engages Channel Partner’s to provide better reach and comfort to clients. Many sales companies have established channels in the market of HR systems. Additionally there are several HR consultancies that consult on best HR processes. Working with these consultancies & sales channels provides references which lead to shorter sales cycles than the direct efforts.

Selling thought leadership

One story Hemant narrates is that of Sales team attending to a lead of  conglomerate with 300,000+ employees across the globe. The PeopleWorks team shared with the said Company their gap to address their large needs considering the global set. The PeopleWorks team then engaged said company management on discussion around best practices followed by the users of PeopleWorks and how Human Capital Solution can be automated to streamline employee management processes. Few days later the large group signed up with us to implement PeopleWorks for a group company with  300 employee users in India, prior to scaling up. What’s unique here is that the Sales team chose to lose a potential sale in the interest of maintaining a reputation as a thought leader in the space. This actually ended up building confidence in the client leadership and a potential trial phase. PeopleWorks management has taken this model further and initiated sales certification and boot camp training for its sales force. Importance is given to understanding the CxO business challenges, their thought processes, language to use with them and try to anticipate their needs and match them to the product capabilities if possible.

Summary of key takeaways

Continuously validate your product and value to clients. Don’t be afraid to make strong recommendations for better growth prospects.

  • Under promise and over deliver.
  • Sell thought leadership.
  • Leverage partnerships with existing sales channels or domain consultancies.