List of Startup Issues resolved Stay-in-India Checklist

iSPIRT has taken up a checklist of issues to be resolved for helping Startups stop relocating themselves abroad and stay in India, popularly called as Stay-In-India Checklist. These were taken up with Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) under Ministry of Commerce, Government of India. DIPP is also the administrative department for Startup India Policy.

There are a number of issues that have been resolved, till today.

A list of eight issues that have been resolved until now that directly effects the Startups on company law or their promotion and ease of doing business are given below.

1.  IPR Registration

A scheme for promoting IPR awareness has been brought out by DIPP with an objective of promoting IP awareness, conduct workshops and training to enable an innovation-driven environment. The details of the scheme are given on DIPP site like here.

2.  Conversion process of LLP into company

Conversion of an LLP into a company was allowed with an amendment to Section 366 of the Companies Act, 2013, as notified on 1 April 2014. This has further been simplified by bringing down threshold of member from 7 members to 2 members. Please refer to the amendment in section 266 of THE COMPANIES (AMENDMENT) ACT, 2017, published on 3rd January 2018. Refer the link http://www.mca.gov.in/Ministry/pdf/CAAct2017_05012018.pdf

3.  Incorporation process to be simplified

Rule 38 of Companies (Incorporation) Rules, 2014 provides for SPICe (Simplified Proforma for Incorporating Company electronically) form for incorporating a company. This is considered to be a welcome step as this simplified procedure would save the time of incorporation of a company.

The Fourth amendment rules notified on 1st October 2016 and Fifth amendment notified on 29 Dec 2016 came in to force from 1st January 2017 provides for much simpler SPICe form, now known as E-Form SPICe (Form INC-32).

SPICe now integrates into single application  – reservation of name, allotment of Directors Identification Number (DIN). It can be filled without having DIN already, by maximum three directors.

The company is allotted Permanent Account Number (PAN) and Tax Deduction Account Number (TAN) and Certificate of Incorporation (CIN) on completion of form and processing by ROC. The PAN number is printed on CIN.

For details visit MCA FAQ at http://www.mca.gov.in/MinistryV2/spice_faqs.html

4. Provisions permitting outbound or Cross-Border

MCA has notified Section 234 of the Companies Act 2013 (2013 Act) which permits cross-border mergers with effect from 13 April 2017. MCA has also notified relating amendments to the Companies (Compromises, Arrangements and Amalgamations) Rules 2016 (Merger Rules) by inserting a new Rule 25A to be effective on and from 13 April 2017.

The provisions now permit cross-border mergers both ways.

  1. Inbound – Foreign company merging into Indian company
  2. Outbound – Indian company merge into a foreign company.

This will help the intra-group situations and also open opportunities to raise capital, diversify ownership base and achieve other strategic objectives

5.  Regulation on Insider trading on private companies

Section 195 of the Companies Act, 2013 has been omitted by way of Companies (Amendment) Act, 2017 as it was deemed that the SEBI regulations on the same are wide enough to cover such instances. Currently, there is no provision under the Companies Act, 2013 which deals with insider trading in private companies

 6. Regulations governing TDS to be rationalized

Thresholds limits for TDS deductions under various sections has been increased and also the rate of tax rationalized in some cases in the Budget 2016. We may see some more changes coming in future.

7.  Single window agency for closure of failed startups

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016, is a single legislation clubbing together the processes for resolution or liquidation of corporate persons.

Sec 12 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 provides for closure of failed startups within 180 days, which can be extended by another 90 days.

This provision removes the hindrance of long drawn procedures and timelines when it comes to the closure of such failed startups by capping the process at 180 days.

8. External commercial borrowing guidelines to be relaxed

A startup can borrow up to US$ 3 million or equivalent per financial year under ECB framework, either in Indian rupee or any convertible foreign currency or a combination of both. In case of borrowing in INR, the non-resident lender should mobilize INR through swaps/outright sale undertaken through an AD Category-I bank in India.

We have already covered this announcement in detail on our blog at http://pn.ispirt.in/external-commercial-borrowing-norms-for-startup-ecb/

iSPIRT will be further pursuing with DIPP and other Departments and Ministries of Govt. of India on the additional items in Ease of Doing Business for starts ups and furthering its agenda of Stay in India.

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.

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.

Software Exports – GST makes it difficult to do business

The GST was welcomed by all as a revolutionary measure. We had covered one earlier topic, “How GST will work for software exporters”. There have been many changes in last few weeks before GST was launched in the IGST law.

Please note that “GST law” treats Software as “Service”. Hence, there may be a mention on “Software” and “Services” in mixed manner in the write-up. This write-up is just focusing on problems and issues created for exporters by the GST process. On details of process there are many blogs on internet.

After launch of GST since 1st July 2017, we came across many questions and concerns on how GST on Exports. I have been trying to write a piece on how the process works for Software exports under GST. However, the policy and process for export of “Services” was not at all clear. I have myself struggled through,  and it has taken more than 6 weeks to understand the process, raise exports invoices and multiple documentations required.

GST has turned out to be nightmare, especially for Small and medium Software exporters and will continue to do so, unless corrective measures are taken up.

Let us look into how process required to be complied, caused problems.

Exporting Software under IGST law

IGST law on one hand treats exports as “Zero-rated” supplies and on the other hand treats exports as “inter-state” trade instead of “International trade”. These two corollaries of GST law are inherently paradoxical.

Being Zero-rated there is no tax or duty on export. However, being Inter-state trade (rather than being international trade) it requires payment of IGST under IGST law.

If one delves deep in to this application of IGST on exports, it clearly comes from concern of tax policy makers on “Goods”, moving in a container and a compliance assuring good reach port of export and gets exported finally. That this does not apply to services has not been thought over by the GST law makers. (the assumption may be services will adjust in due course of time)

Hence, as per IGST law an exporter is required to either

  1. Pay IGST 18% on Software export and get it refunded

Or Export without IGST by

  1. Filing a Bond if the exports in previous year were less than rupees one crore.
  2. Filing a LUT if the exports in previous year were more than rupees one crore.

Filing a Bond requires submitting a Bank Guarantee to GST department up to 15% of the amount of duty applicable on estimated exports value in a given (say a year). The jurisdictional office of GST has a discretion to decide bank guarantee amount anywhere from Zero to 15%.

If the office approves zero % (or nil) bank Guarantee, the department asks a set of declarations and data of past year.

Anything that is based on discretion in regulation, also brings in corruption with it. Whereas there is news from many places that jurisdictional GST office are waving bank guarantee clause for Software/IT exports. There is also news that GST department is randomly asking for bank guarantees.

Problems created by IGST law

Locking of working capital

A small software exporter or a startup not having more than 1 crore of “export turnover” in past year will have to opt for either option a) Or b) from above choices i.e. either the exporter has to pay duty and get a refund or has to sign a bond with bank guarantee.

If the bank guarantee is not waved by the jurisdictional officer, the exporter will have to keep the bank guarantee replenished continuously to support regular exports.

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In either of the cases the IGST law locks the working Capital of the start-up or small exporter.

The GST law therefore goes against policy of Government of India to promote startups. It also is going to be regressive measure for large number of small IT companies, IT consultants and freelancers.

Discretion causes corruption on ground

Anything that is based on discretion in regulation, also brings in corruption with it. For those who want to file bond, the jurisdictional office of GST has a discretion to decide bank guarantee amount anywhere from Zero to 15%.

Whereas there is news from many places that jurisdictional GST office are waving bank guarantee clause for Software/IT exports. There is also news that GST department is randomly asking for bank guarantees.

GST department’s manual intervention in Exports

Exports before GST were never allowed to report or get clearance from Indirect tax departments. Now, GST department has become a gateway for every exporter of Goods and Services, thus extending mandate from domestic tariff area to international trade also.

What is cause of concern is this intervention of GST department is manual as against the principle of making entire GST system end-to-end digital. This give power in hands of indirect tax officers to monitor exports.

This perhaps is a fundamental error that Government of India have made, against it’s public stance on “Ease of doing business.”

This is a problem for all exporters including those with “export turnover” more than 1 crore and eligible to sign a LUT with GST.

It is more of less like traffic policing the exports on regular basis and heavily increased compliance.

GST has no focus on Software exports

The entire GST law has been written with physical Goods in mind but applied equally to both Goods and Services. Once again Government of India has made a classical mistake. It is an irony that a nation that is known to be power house of Software has not focus of tax authorities on “Software exports”.

The concept of Bank-Guarantee is detrimental to Startup eco-system and SMEs

Startups and SMEs require removal of regulatory barriers for them to grow. GST law has done just the opposite. It requires small exporters and Startups to furnish Bank Guarantees.

GST for supplying to SEZ

SEZs are deemed to be considered outside the customs territory of India. Hence, supplies to SEZ units by exporters in India i.e. DTA will be treated in same manner as exports to clients located outside the country.

Therefore, if a Startup or a Software product company is selling to an SEZ unit, the process will be same as that of exporting.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Government of India has seriously lost focus on “Ease of doing business” agenda, startup policy, SMEs and supporting self-employed professionals while framing GST/IGST laws.

It is recommended that

  1. Government of India should notify a clearly stated policy for Services and Software exports and not mix or generalize with remaining Goods exports.
  2. The GST department should have no or minimum (limited to Digital medium) only in regulating exports of Services and Software
  3. IGST duty and refund mechanism and also Bank-Guarantee or LUT should be done away for Services and Software export. A quarterly and annual reports is enough on digital platform, regulated digitally. In order to bring or include Services exporter under DGFT regulation, IEC can be made mandatory and used to regulate Services trade. IEC is same as PAN now, hence, IEC can be used by all size of exporters.

India must embrace Data Democracy

In May of 2017, the cover of the Economist proclaimed that Data is  “The world’s most valuable resource”. The proof of this proclamation can be seen by the domination of Tech Giants in virtually all major global markets. Moreover, they are quickly gaining ground & unseating incumbents in more traditional industries such as transportation, media, entertainment, advertising and payments. In the talk embedded below, I explain why this is a strategic challenge for India.

Fuelling the rapid growth of tech giants is the Data of users such as you and me. For Data controllers, Data is the ultimate truth about what your customers like, dislike, need, and pay for. With the power of AI, Data knows when, where, and how much their customers will pay, even before they do. This can be seen in all markets disrupted by Data giants, who have consistently outgrown competition and established their dominance. I present some examples in my slides embedded below.

Moreover, the virtuous cycle of data feeds itself. More Data helps create better products. Better products have more users, who in turn, create more Data. This property of Data creates winner-take-all scenarios.

Data controllers understand this new power equation, and have rushed to create platforms. Platforms accelerate the creation of new and engaging products. Other companies, even competitors, are invited to build products on the platform. Large platforms then become the fertile grounds upon which all user interactions take place, and the data of those interactions is captured by the underlying platform alone

Data is being locked into silos, so that the value extracted from the data does not have to be shared with anyone, not even with the users who helped create it. This sort of Data Domination, does not leave any oxygen for challengers to outgrow the giants. For such a powerful resource, that can change the face of $100B+ industries seemingly overnight, we seem to have very few regulations around it.

The problems around Data represent a triple-threat. We need to rethink Anti-Trust, Privacy & Data Colonization in the light of Data Domination. It is clear that the issues around data are not just a technology issue, but also a policy one.

The argument here is not protectionism, it is that under the current regulatory & market conditions, Data accumulates in the hands of a few, and hence, so does power. This holds true equally for foreign as well as domestic firms. The EU is notifying the General Data Protection Regulation, a set of data protection measures placing extensive restrictions and penalties on data controllers. Similar protection as well as anti-trust efforts are underway in US, Japan and even the UK. But these countries don’t share the same socio-economic context as India.

India also managed to jump ahead of the curve in developing digital infrastructure as public goods. We have a billion users on the JAM trinity. We have strong national-level platforms such as GSTN, BBPS and UPI. The government has also developed the India Stack, a set of Open APIs that enable paperless, presenceless and cashless transactions dramatically driving down the cost of transactions. Between Telecom-OTP, Aadhaar Authentication and UPI PIN, we have three unique methods of authentication, that can be mixed and matched to design the level of security and robustness required.

With such a strong digital spine and a growing mobile-first citizenry, India can make a significant departure and develop a unique model for data protection as well as empowerment. We need to proclaim that users have a right to access their own data and should be able to share it in a safe, consented manner with anyone they choose. This is an inversion of the usage and ownership of data.

Inverting the Data is only about giving the user freedom and choice. The freedom to share their data, and the choice of multiple providers. Data portability will empower users to choose what their data is used for. Being able to share a rich data history, increases trust in transactions. This choice of sharing is as relevant for a rural farmer as much for an urban millennial. The more reliable and accurate data you share, the better the interest rates on a loan, whether you’re buying a tractor or a sedan.

To empower users with Data, there are 3 steps India needs to undertake. First, we need to convince the government to open up big public data sets for users to consume. This includes data from national platforms such as GSTN, BBPS, etc. Second, regulators need to open up the data sets in their jurisdiction in a standard, machine-readable format. Third, we need a policy intervention to allow for the free flow of data with user consent in the private, unregulated spheres.

In today’s world, Data is power. History has shown us time and again, that we must not let power accumulate in the hands of the few. Instead we must empower all with their data. Your Data is your vote, and you should be able to choose whom you give it to. With 3 simple steps, India can lead the world in demonstrating a true Data Democracy.

A New Tryst with Destiny

On Aug 15th 1947 at the dawn of India’s political Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru delivered his “Tryst with Destiny” midnight speech. In 1991, India gained economic freedom from a clutch of socialist era shackles. In 2017, it is time for India to redeem its “pledge in full measure” towards freedom of the individual and enterprise to achieve its destiny.

Today, as India completes its 70th year, we need to, as is customary, take stock. India is a $2.2trillion consumption-led economy today, growing at about 6.5 percent, with a 250m in the middle-class out of 1.3billion, and at an average of 29years old, the youngest population in the world among major economies. Life expectancy is at about 68 years while literacy is at 79%.  About 31% of India resides in urban areas. India’s forex reserves were at $386billion in June 2017 up from $5.83billion (~3.5months of imports) in 1991. We now have about 799 Universities and 50,994 colleges with about 34million students in higher education.

While very impressive strides have been made in many areas, it is important that we keep in mind the fact that 15% of the world lives in India and over 68%  ie about 700million of our people live on less than US$2 a day. Over 17 million people are born (equivalent to the population of The Netherlands), an estimated 40million are unemployed, 47million youth drop out of school by 10th standard, healthcare related expenses push over 60million people into poverty each year,  500,000 students graduate each year from various colleges and over 12 million join the workforce each year. The investment required to educate, feed, train, and employ these large numbers into gainful jobs is in the lakhs of crores. Where will this money come from if not from economic activity and from creation of millions of jobs?  Where will the water and sanitation, education, travel, housing, electricity, entertainment, banking and financial services that need to be provided to these huge numbers come from?

For far too long, we have been plagued by poverty – of ideas, of ideology and of course economically. Misplaced socialistic policies in the early years of India ensured that poverty was distributed while cronyism ensured that a few made unconscionable amounts of money and enjoyed the trappings of power.

Jobs and solutions are created by entrepreneurs and those who are entrepreneurial in their thinking. Governments are facilitators and regulators to make sure that everyone’s playing fairly and by the rules. Wealth is then created by entrepreneurial actions. Only when wealth is created, can there be investments in creating the support infrastructure and services necessary for India to seriously consider redeeming its pledge in its tryst with destiny.  And a crucial pre-requisite for this is the need for an entrepreneurial mindset among different stakeholders. A mindset that challenges status-quo, propels growth, engenders innovative problem solving, embraces ideas, technology and models, and delivers benefits to people.

Fortunately, India has no shortage of entrepreneurs, of all kinds! There are born entrepreneurs, some become entrepreneurs and others have entrepreneurial thinking thrust on them thanks to circumstances! In 2017, as the landmark $2.5b Softbank-Flipkart deal shows, Indian entrepreneurs have come of age.  The Indian startup entrepreneur is educated, aware, unafraid, confident, assertive and, are unabashedly Indian.  Today, the Indian startup ecosystem is the 3rd largest in the world with over 26,000 startups and with over $90billion in value being created. 

This century will be driven by knowledge based capital with software as engine. India is recognised, regarded and respected for its software prowess built on the success of Indian IT services which deliver over $170billion in revenue and employ over 4million people today. Indian talent runs software giants like Google and Microsoft and powers thousands around the world from Silicon Valley to Singapore, Boston to Bangalore. India’s ability to leverage this talent, create and deploy knowledge based capital will be key.  New technologies, models,  affordability, policies are all helping India rapidly emerge as a key player in the 21st century knowledge economy.

Regulators and governments are waking up to the transformative power of innovation via startups. Policies are being re-worked, technology platforms are being deployed and programmes being launched to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.  Digital India, Startup India, India Stack and other programmes are being co-opted to drive financial inclusion, education, healthcare, and governance.  Startup hubs, incubators and accelerators, entrepreneurship groups, are sprouting across cities and towns in India. Costs of doing business, ease of doing business have to come down dramatically and there’re initiatives underway to make those happen.

In 1929 in Lahore, a call for “Purna Swaraj” a declaration of India’s Independence was given and Gandhiji hoisted the Indian flag.  No one knew how or when this would happen but it was an audacious goal, a call to action that drove the people to achieve their goal in 18 years.  Is it possible, similarly, for us today to set a goal that will galvanise us to action to achieve what seems audacious? Is it possible for startups to enable India to leapfrog and transform itself? Could we have a 10year goal calling for 100,000 startups, benefitting 10million people, impacting 40million people, uplifting 30million MSMEs, creating $500billion in value? Is it possible for us to imagine that each of us, in our lifetimes, creates – either directly or indirectly – a 100 jobs? Can these 100,000 startups – with educated, experienced, entrepreneurial and energetic founders– each  take up this challenge? Ten million jobs can be created by this group, indirectly benefiting 40 million?

If it is possible, it is do-able!

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishada has this to say:

“You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.”

Do we desire this strongly enough?

Build On IndiaStack – Venture Pitch Competition

Announcing ‘Venture Pitch Competition: #BuildOnIndiaStack’

Dalberg and iSPIRT invite applications from early-stage ventures that are tech-
based solutions leveraging the India Stack platform at the core of their business
model to bring financial or transactional services to the underserved in India.
Pitch to some of the leading investors and thinkers in the Indian start-up ecosystem,
including the Bharat Innovations Fund, Omidyar Network and Unitus Seed Fund.
Winners will spend an hour of 'Think Time' – a mentorship session with
technology evangelist Nandan Nilekani.

Who are we looking for?

We are open to all innovations that use the India Stack to unlock new business
models or reach previously underserved new customer segments across sectors
such as financial services, education, healthcare and others. Some core focus areas
for the competition may include digital lending and supporting activities, such as
alternative credit scoring; sector specific affordable digital finance services such as
health insurance or education loans; sector specific digital services such as skilling
and certification, property registration agreements, patient-centric healthcare
management; and SaaS platforms “as a service” that support the development of
other India Stack based innovations such as Digi-locker or e-sign providers.

 

Who is eligible?
All applicants should:
1. Meet the 3-point criteria: tech enabled, leveraging India Stack Platform and
serving the underservedBe

2. Be a part of two (minimum) to four (maximum) members team including the
founder of the companyBe early stage start-ups that have received only seed (or limited angel)

3. Be early stage start-ups that have received only seed (or limited angel)
funding, if at all

 
What is in it for you?
The investor group, comprising of Bharat Innovations Fund, Omidyar Network and
Unitus Seed Fund, is a network of investors and operators, entrepreneurs and
technologists, designers and engineers, academicians and policy makers, with the
singular mission to solve some of India’s toughest problems.

Through this event you have an opportunity to receive:

-Exclusive focus on tech innovations that leverage the India Stack platform
and have the potential to address the underservedFlexible

-Flexible, insight driven, funding of up to Rs. 8 lakhs for early stage, innovative
modelsStrategic

-Strategic business support, through their specialists to support investees in
their strategy and growthA chance to be a part of the India Stack ecosystem through partnerships,

-A chance to be a part of the India Stack ecosystem through partnerships,
pilots, workshops, conferences and network building exercises

Visit www.buildonindiastack.in and send your pitch now.

Innofest to Innonation

Evolving from a festival of innovation to a platform helping innovators to succeed…

Over the past 3 years, while volunteering for Innofest – the platform for hardware entrepreneurs – I realized two things:

  • Doing a hardware product in India is much tougher ….
  • … but there are several resources available across the country that can make it easier for hardware companies to succeed

What was needed is a way to connect those who need the assistance and advice to those who can help and are willing to help.

The goal of this group of 10-12 individuals who selflessly give their time in organising various initiatives and events under the Innofest umbrella is to make it easier for first-time entrepreneurs and to assist them in their journey. We deliberately chose to focus on startups and individuals who were using hardware and technology to solve meaningful problems. Because that is the most underserved section of the entrepreneurial eco-system.

The initial 2 years were invested in reaching out to hardware entrepreneurs and enablers who can assist them – maker spaces, companies, mentors, investors, etc., and bringing them together to interact with each other. As with many other sectors, in hardware led innovation too, resources were concentrated in 3-4 cities, while innovators were spread across the country. These innovators usually worked on their own, often spending time and energy and money on aspects that had already been solved by someone else. Getting together problem solvers and innovation enablers was a critical first step. And the community responded enthusiastically. Over 1800 innovators turned up at the inaugural in Bangalore. Since then we have taken the initiative to Hyderabad, Jaipur, Nagpur and other cities. In fact, Prathibha Sastry, the key volunteer driving Innofest took two ‘yatras’ – once driving from Bangalore to Delhi and once Bangalore to Assam – to find innovators in small towns and tier 2 cities across India.

What she unearthed was awe-inspiring – folks who were solving local problems with their frugal innovations. However, many of these enterprising folks did not consider themselves as entrepreneurs. For them, they were just using their ingenuity and creativity in addressing a problem that they or someone in their family or community faced. They were solving for Bharat. And that we feel is the real opportunity. To encourage these inspired, enterprising and creative problem solvers to get their innovations to solve problems at a much larger scale than they have currently envisaged. To help spread their innovations to places that can benefit from these innovations. I.e. find innovators and help them in their entrepreneurial journey.

To do that, it was important that we shift gears. And at Innofest, we have.

We now have extended the goals to not just curate and connect innovators and enablers, but to also undertake programs and initiatives that will increase the chances of success of these innovations. These include providing better access to resources like maker spaces, working with large corporates in helping drive their innovation programs, creating better access to capital and markets, creating a pool of mentors, etc.

Indeed, from being a festival or celebration of innovation, Innofest is now a platform for innovators to succeed in solving problems and making our country a better place. And hence, we have also taken the bold step to change our name from Innofest to Innonation, which means using innovation to improve the nation.

Whether you are an innovator, or want to volunteer, or a company that wants to support innovation or a co-working space or maker space, do connect with us at Innonation. We need a lot more people in making this volunteer-driven platform successful.

To get a ringside view of the innovation happening across India, join us at the flagship event in Bangalore on 26th August. If you are into solving a problem for Bharat, check the agenda to see what workshops and events are most relevant for you.

See you at Innonation. The country needs you to be there.

Prajakt Raut

Founder –  Applyifi

 

 

What I learnt from organising 100 #PlaybookRT. #iSPIRT

When I was a kid, the only goal that I had in my mind was to become a cricketer and play for India. But never did I get an opportunity to play beyond the gully cricket and few matches as part of the school cricket team and my cricket was just restrained to the park level.

My dreams of scoring a century have now finally been full-filled. Playbook RT, something that started in the early days of iSPIRT, turns 100. This is my first century, the gully cricket ones not withstanding.

Our elevator pitch — took us 15 sessions to get to this.

As crisp as that sounds, it took us around 15 Round Tables to distill this elevator pitch, and truly understand our own product-market fit.

This is the story of how it all began, and of the amazing journey, the lessons, the people who made it all possible. For those of you who love visuals more or are pressed for time, there is a photo-story at the end of this post — please feel free to scroll to the end of this post for that.

Inthe early days of iSPIRT, Sharad(iSPIRT) initiated the process of the mentoring program with Ashish Gupta(HelionVC), Aneesh Reddy(Capillary), Vivek Subramaniam(iCreate/Fintellix) in order to put together a mentorship program for product companies. We iterated over 10–12 calls about the format, audience, focus and how things will be run. Once everything was nailed down, Ashish took the lead of curating the first playbook and the facilitator was Shankar Maruwada(EkStep).

You can see the level of planning which went behind the scenes of the first playbook.

Planning for the First Playbook led by Shankar Maruwada(EkStep)

Pallav Nadhani(FusionCharts) & Ambarish Gupta(Knowlarity) were part of the first playbook and added lot of valuable insights and others benefitted from this learnings.

Ashish was a splendid host for the first playbook. I still remember the yummy samosas and kachoris that we got during the break and I still remember Ashish helping his office boy in serving tea to all the participants. I was blown away by the simplicity and the humbleness of Ashish. Thanks to Nikhil Kulkarni(Flipkart) for capturing all learnings in a subtle way.

The next goal was to conduct Playbooks around Product Management & Sales in different cities. I remember Amit Ranjan(then Slideshare) & Amit Somani(then MakeMyTrip) helping us with the Product Management Roundtable in Delhi and Aneesh Reddy(Capillary) helped in curating the Playbook. Ankur Singla(then Akoksha) then did a wonderful piece on Notes on Product Management — insights from Slideshare / MMT / ex-Google PM.

Amit Somani(then at MakeMytrip) & Amit Ranjan(then at Slideshare) led the playbook

Ashish Gupta also helped in connecting with Samir Palnitkar(ShopSocially)who kicked off the PlaybookRT in Pune. Sandeep Todi(then Emportant)helped with the blog on Challenges in Building a Global Product Software company from India. It was a little challenge initially to get the right audience, but we just got few good people like Mohit Garg(MindTickle) help in inviting few founders for this playbook.

I got to read a wonderful blog post by Sridhar Ranganathan on Products and I did reach out to him to see if he could help us with the Playbooks. He liked the idea and Aneesh did the selling to him. Sridhar travelled to different cities and did the first playbook for us in Chennai & Hyderabad.

The attendance for the Hyderabad playbook was thin, but the session was very interactive and the 7–8 folks who attended, had a lot to take away from the discussion. Here is what was captured by one of the attendees Don’t try to solve every customer problem by a line of code.

I learnt a lot from Sridhar’s playbook on product management. Vijay Sharma(then Exotel) captured the learnings of the playbook here Product RoundTable Bangalore @ Vizury Office

Sridhar Ranganathan(Credibase) leading the Product Management Roundtable at Orangescape

We did a late beginning for Mumbai and thanks to Avlesh(WebEngage) for helping us in starting the movement with Sandeep’s support. Avlesh disappeared in the middle of the playbook and he had lots of documents to sign as it was a saturday… But I remember Sandeep holding the fort till Avlesh came back and shared his learnings of building WebEngage.

One of the early playbooks on positioning that Shankar Maruwada(EkStep) did at Freshdesk just to get Girish hooked on to the format 🙂

Organizing and hosting a playbook is no small feat. It has taken us a lot of time to put together the following checklist. Feel free to use it if you would like to put together something similar for your community. We have built new initiatives like Cohorts, etc using the same principles.

iSPIRT was misspelt most of the times in the early days 🙂

Curator Checklist

  • There cannot be more than 12–14 participants. The sweet spot is 10–12 participants. Minimum number is 5.
  • We must select participants with similar levels of maturity in the context of the topic. (Over time we should develop a predicted coherence score and see if that prediction is valid based on post-RT data collection.)
  • Adequate discussion should take place with the Facilitator on the topic. It should be sufficiently narrow. It should not be about batting as a whole but about how to play leg-spinners. There would be a Plan B by the Facilitator if the topic ends up being too narrow. It is wiser to err on the side of being too narrow, rather than being too broad.
  • It is mandatory to for a first-time Facilitator to attend a PlaybookRT for at least one hour.
  • Curator should discuss Facilitator checklist. This discussion should happen before selection of the topic.
  • Four weeks advance notice should be given for PlaybookRT if it is not tapping into a pre-curated participant list (e.g. BEX or InTech50). This is to ensure cross-city participation.
  • Postmortem call (30 mins) is mandatory. Participant feedback and other learning should be discussed in this call. At the end of the call Curator should assign an overall rating (on a scale of 5) to the PlaybookRT.
  • Participant feedback for NPS Score must be collected.

Facilitator Checklist

  • You must select a topic that you are comfortable with. You must have expert practitioner knowledge about this topic.
  • You should reach out to startups to scope out the specific topic areas you’ll cover.
  • You should be part of the curation (i.e. shortlisting) of the participants… you must try and get participants at the same level.
  • You must do the homework on the final participants. You must learn about the startups by visiting their website. You must also understand the challenges faced and expectations from the PlaybookRT (this information is in the form filled by the participant).
  • Identify 2–3 participants that could be anchor attendees — folks who will trigger conversations and also add value to the conversations.
  • Engage the participants for the first 30–45 mins to break the ice. You should go beyond introductions — Something on the lines of: We are struggling to do xyz. The goal is to create an atmosphere of trust so that they spell out more details.
  • Participants are continuously requested to chime in with their views. You should also make sure that everyone speaks in the room. For instance, Shankar Maruwada asks very specific questions to participants along the way. He is able to do this because he has done homework on each participant beforehand.
  • Seating should be such that people can see each other.
  • Make sure that the focus area of the RoundTable is 6–8 points. It is difficult for participants to retain more than.
  • Encourage the usage of whiteboard with participants. This allows people to change position and brings energy in the room. Peer learning is vitally important. Don’t be a sage on stage.
  • Share list of books/videos/tools that participants should use after the RT.
  • Ensure there is a break taken after 150 minutes.
  • At the end, summarise key learnings by each participant. Everyone speaks for at least 2–3 mins.

My job has been very simple, just keep hunting for the Curators & Facilitators and allow them to make the magic happen 🙂

Access the complete list of PlaybookRoundtables here. Some learnings from the Playbook Roundtables have been captured here by my friend Rajan(then Intuit). 90% of the Playbooks did get a NPS Score of 80+. Special thanks to Rajan who kept pushing for this 🙂

The Design Thinking playbook in Delhi by Deepa Bachu

From the 50th PlaybookRT

Shankar helped in putting together the 50th Playbook and it was good to get some folks who had attended the first playbook joining this one.

Product positioning is all about connecting emotionally to your prospective customers — Insights from the Positioning and Messaging PlaybookRT

Playbook at Kayako which was led by Paras Chopra, Pallav Nadhani & Varun Shoor

Mavens are trusted experts who pass knowledge to other founders in a pay-forward model in small intimate learning sessions.

Some of our Mavens are

Aneesh Reddy, Pallav Nadhani, Amit Somani, Amit Ranjan, Avlesh Singh, Deepa Bachu, Deepak Prakash, Girish Mathrubootham, Niraj Ranjan, Jay Pullur, Paras Chopra, Pravin Jadhav, Rushabh Mehta, Samir Palnitkar, Sanjay Shah, Shankar Maruwada, Suresh Sambandam.

Some of them who are not mavens but have helped us with few roundtables are:
Vivek Subramanyam, Sudheer Koneru, Ambarish Gupta, Phanindra Sama, Abhishek Sinha, Ashwin Ramesh, Shashank ND, Shivakumar Ganesan(Shivku), Krish Subramaniam, Ankit Oberoi, Arpit Rai, Varun Shoor, Dhruv Shenoy, Manav Garg, Naveen Gupta, Rajiv Srivatsa, Sampad Swain, Kailash Katkar.

A big shout-out to Suresh Sambandam for doing the maximum number of playbooks 🙂

Image Design by Rakesh Mondal

Special thanks to Niraj Ranjan Rout(Hiver) & Rushabh Mehta(ERPnext) for introducing the new format i.e the Tear Down sessions and helping early stage(pre-product market fit) companies on helping them find their product market fit.

All the Maven’s have signed the below code of ethics:

Our team of Dedicated & Committed Volunteers who made this happen in each city

Thanks to you who make time in your incredibly busy lives to make these sessions happen.

Companies who hosted the Playbook Roundtables and also hosted some awesome snacks/lunch/dinner 🙂

Many volunteers who have helped in writing blogs for and about the sessions and also help in editing some of my blogs… especially Sairam Krishnan & Kingston David.

I am terribly sorry if I have missed out someone here! I know you will be modest but please do let me know so that I can add your name here. In highlighting your efforts, we motivate others in our quest to make India, a ProductNation…

ProductNation Founders Tribe

There are around 1000+ Founders who have leveraged the playbooks and the list can be accessed here.

Founders right after the Playbook that Paras had hosted at his office 🙂
A recent playbook that we did at WebEngage…you can see the Happy Faces…that is the metric that i measure the playbooks : )

Iam really glad that I will participating at the 100th Playbook Roundtable in Chennai on “Inbound Marketing — Workshop for DIY Global SaaS Startups”. This would be led by Krish of ChargeBee & Suresh of KiSSFlow.

This marks an incredible milestone since our journey began in 2013, and demonstrates the increasing demand for our playbooks every year.

Circling back to my cricket story at the start of this write-up, we all start with an outrageous dream. It is definitely good to dream big but when there is a bigger calling, we should yield to it!

I am so very proud that we’ve reached this milestone. Thank you for your support, and I look forward to celebrating more milestones together in the future.

Thanks to Kingston David for editing this & Titash Neogi for making this look good 🙂

All these guys are waiting for the Next Set of Playbook/SaaS roundtables 🙂 If you carefully see in the big screen…the Big A of the SaaS industry is also asking the same question…Kab hain Next Playbook 🙂

There are hundreds of big and small moments that have made up this journey so far — it is impossible to capture them all here, but I am sharing some of these moments via this photo story — I hope to give you a flavour of the energy and spirit of what made us reach 100!

The first PlayBook Roundtable
A PlayBook RoundTable without Post-its is unthinkable!
In the early days, iSPIRT was often misspelled. 🙂
Typical hustle during a networking break at PlayBook RoundTables 🙂

See more photographs on the FlickR album and few photos here

Understanding Your Customers And Building For Them – #99PlaybookRT

Building great products requires us to understand customer needs and its nuances, are more often than not, counter-intuitive to our assumptions. The Design Thinking Roundtable session by Deepa Bachu helped us identify methods to bridge this gap between building great products and understanding customer need. I was lucky enough to be part of the small group of product managers, designers, and fellow entrepreneurs to have an engaging discussion onimportance of design as an innovation strategy. How well do you know your customer?

How well do you know your customer?

Deepa’s opening question “Do you know your customer?” probably got all of us thinking on do we really know our customer. Personally, I somewhat know my customer. Just for that veryreason I am sitting at my client’s front office to fulfill the basic requirement: that of understanding my customer better. Working with Enterprise businesses requires us to learn and appreciate that we have 2 types of customers: 1> Management 2> the Actual End-user. We build our assumptions from our conversations with the management team who are the decision makers, but it’s the end-user that matters. The end-user, who is the employee should stand to benefit equally or probably more than the management, for our product to succeed. Every designaspect, needs to be geared to make the daily user happy. Understand your customers

Understand your customers

After knowing who your customer is, the ascent for a better product begins with sitting down with the end user in an amicable environment to learn about their challenges and their day to day experience. Deepa pointed out the importance of empathy, active listening and observation to help capture the end-user’s experience. Her role play exercise with one of the participants around the difference in the approach on asking open-ended questions while actively listening and observing delivered a completely different set of answers, in comparison to when as an interviewer she was asking closed ended questions and was not actively listening. In short, let your customer speak & take notes!!

Participants in the middle of the interview role play exercise 

WhatsApp Image 2017-06-08 at 9.46.47 PM

Developing Insights

Remember that the customer is only explaining their challenges or sharing their activities. Value addition to our product comes with inferring from these observations to identify insights. To find that hidden customer need, we will need to introduce adequate structure to the information collected from the customer / end-user. Some of the tools for us to use are:

  1. Empathy Maps to record our observations, which helps us split the talk and action of the end user that we can use to interpret the observations
  2. Ecosystem Maps help us understand the customer’s environment and his / her ecosystem. A map to tell us the sequence of events that are leading upto our solution or after the solution.
  3. Problem Statement helps us see the customer’sview point and their emotionalconnect to the problem. From a product point of view, we can turn a poor customer experience into customer delight by evoking the right positive emotion after using our product. Mind you, these folks are your product advocates. 

Research

Customer Benefit

The core of design principles is not nailing your UI/UX, it is matching your customer need, the problem they are facing in the environment they are using / will use our product. Only when the experience matches this customer need will we really see true customer benefit. Value addition of this benefit requires the need to collect the right metrics to understand if we genuinely made a difference instead of vanity metrics like just increased downloads / users.

By understanding our genuine impact, we can course-correct our product with continuous improvement coupled with rapid prototyping to help us slowly move towards our product goals and vision.

What’s the one thing participants will do differently after the #RoundTable?

different

Overall a great learning experience thanks to Pensaar and iSPIRT for setting up this session.

By Rohit Krishnam, Co-founder of Lima Payments.

Editor’s Note: This #RoundTable happened to the 99th one and there was a small celebration on this occasion. It’s been a great journey so far and we’d like to thank all the participants, facilitators and volunteers who made this possible. Here’s to making India a Product Nation.

WhatsApp Image 2017-06-08 at 9.46.43 PM

WhatsApp Image 2017-06-08 at 9.46.44 PM

Are you having fun in what you do? #PlaybookRT

Michael Jordan once remarked: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game’s winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that’s why I succeed.”

Ask any entrepreneur, and they will say, well, this is the story of my life. Owning a business is one of the most cognitively challenging jobs. To move from a stable job with a steady income to one where uncertainty is the flavor of the day every day takes courage, competence and confidence. Most of all, it requires an emotional tolerance strong enough to deal with the pressures of change and unpredictability, not to mention the mental fortitude to navigate through it.

As iSPIRT approaches its 100th Playbook Roundtable, Avinash conceived the idea of a completely different roundtable theme. One that focused not on strategies and tactics that a founder could apply to his product but one that focused more on the tremendous evolution that an entrepreneur goes through in his or her journey. And who better than Abhishek Sinha of Eko to facilitate such a roundtable.

The playbook was held at Eko’s office on 3rd June 2017 with a select set of entrepreneurs in the Delhi NCR region.

Taking a leaf from Jeff Bezos’s playbook, Abhishek drafted a 6 pager that covered important phases in his entrepreneurial journey, and all the participants spent the first 30 mins going through it.

In this 6 pager, Abhishek shared real life stories all through his journey of 6d and Eko. These stories touched upon how he became desperate and did more of the same. How he understood for the very first time that it is critical to think different. How he attempted at thinking big and audacious. Why being young and with it being foolish and naïve helped. Once one has started on a big goal why it is critical to developing the understanding of the landscape especially regulations. How he learned the importance of execution, scaling and making money. The mistakes he made when Sequoia and Khosla wanted to write cheques and he couldn’t close the deal.

More importantly the lows in his personal life and how he sought help to get things back on track. How he has personally exhausted all options to lose and hence winning is the only option. Today, as a battle-hardened entrepreneur, why he has the conviction of success.

These thoughts set up the tone for an interesting set of candid discussions and expressions over the next few hours. I have captured some of them below:

Enjoy your journey

Most of us started on the entrepreneurship journey with the idea to create something cool or do something fun. It was never about creating a billion dollar business.  There was a lot of pureness to this thought as we went about solving one problem at a time, and having fun. But slowly we stop enjoying ourselves. We stop thinking differently and start doing the same thing again, and again. This brings in predictability but stops us from experimenting different things.

So when you are questioning your journey and your growth (success or lack their off), just remember you are where you are supposed to be. It will work out fine, just trust in your journey. Sit back and relax and enjoy the ride. You will be surprised where it takes you.

Once you get to the top of the mountain you may come to miss the fields below. So take the climb one step at a time and enjoy the journey, entrepreneurs.

Destiny

Abhishek reflected on near-death experiences in his business and how he managed to get over it. He hasn’t been able to put my head around why a certain deal fails and why one succeeds. Ambarish from Knowlarity too chimed with a similar thought where atleast one or 5 occassions, something happened that kept him and his business going. If one simply applies theories of probability to these random events, the result becomes even more inexplicable.

This has driven Abhishek towards the realm of spirituality and over a time trust in a higher energy which has taken care of him. He has become a strong believer in destiny and a higher power, and that if we pursue our dreams the doors will open up.

At the risk of being cheeky, I couldn’t help but share this SRK dialogue.

Believing in destiny though is not about sitting back, and letting whatever is happening to happen.

Create a Cause or Purpose that People can relate to

Abhishek mentioned how he takes inspiration from religious organizations that create a cause that people can relate to, and inspires them to work towards its goals. Mark Zuckerberg in his recent commencement speech at Harvard also touched upon this, where he mentioned that when President Kennedy was visiting NASA space center, he asked a janitor what was he doing, to which he replied “I am putting a man on the moon Mr. President.”

A sense of purpose truly comes from within, and you can’t find meaning with a company that doesn’t share your values. So one of the simplest ways to cultivate a meaningful workplace is to stack your team with people who share the passions of your company. When everyone is aligned as a part of a bigger movement — that’s when the true meaning behind your work (and your company) shines through.

Ambarish shared how he ensures that all candidates, interns and vendors in his company are interviewed personally by him. This does take away a sizeable amount of him time, but it helps in multiple ways:

  • It keeps his team on the check as they know all vendors and candidates have to get past Ambarish
  • In his interview, Ambarish dissuades candidates to join by spelling out all the challenges of working at Knowlarity. This ensures they don’t just actually hire but let those people who in who really want to join Knowlarity

Driving ownership in teams and individuals

Entrepreneurs are problem solvers and product people, and are able to spot patterns & problems in the current scheme of things, and the relevant solutions very easily. And we immediately get our teams to work on the solution. This is a bottom up approach. You instruct an employee to perform a task or even accomplish a goal. But in effect you still own that task or goal. You tell the employee what you want, you define success and you create metrics to measure that success. That’s accountability. The employee takes responsibility for getting done what you want.

However a top down approach requires entrepreneur to only mention the problem to the teams and outline the contours, and let them come with the solution. This requires patience, and as more often than not, the solution will be staring right at your face while team members will go though their own curve before they discover it. But once the team members do come up with the solution, there is more ownership as this is now their baby.

Ownership happens when an employee comes forward and says, “I’m going to make this happen. Here’s what I will do. Here’s what I will accomplish. And here’s how I will measure progress.”

If you only have one or two employees and you love to micromanage, you can get by with hiring people you will simply hold accountable.

But if you’re truly trying to scale your business for growth, micromanagement soon fails. There is simply no way a chief can be involved in every task, process and decision.

If you foster a culture of ownership, you don’t need to be involved in every detail. You can focus your attention elsewhere, secure in the knowledge that owners will always come to you when they have problems or need help.

Be Different and Not Just Better

It’s not about doing more or better, it’s about doing different. If you can create that which is new and different you stand a greater chance of success. You can find white spaces that you can fill in.

When you break rules, you experience something unique. Ensure you savor this uniqueness even if your ideas bomb because these unique and different efforts will create experiences that themselves are unique.

Create Crisis In Your Mind

An entrepreneur often needs to play mental games with himself or herself. These games allow you to challenge yourself and create a crisis in your mind that pushes you to think creatively and innovate. If fear of the unknown has you tied down, try this: after you find yourself posing the “what if?” question to yourself, answer it. By doing so you bring that unknown fear into reality and make it more tangible and certain. With certainty comes clarity and with clarity comes opportunity to crush all challenges.

Remove Safety Nets and Bring Focus

Having safety nets or diversions lead to entrepreneurs loosing focus.  It sometimes become imperative to remove these safety nets. When you have safety nets, you are not all in. It makes you timid to jump in with both feet. But when you remove all these safety nets, you have only one choice: take the leap.

Having your back against the wall you are forced to go all in, forced to make it work, forced to believe in yourself.

The session culminated with Abhishek sharing how he is taking inspiration from the Android model and smartphones that creates an unbundled experience for consumers. Feature phone could do (i) calling (ii) messaging (iii) entertainment / games (iv) value added services like calendar, alarm, notes etc. Though all these are fairly tightly bundled and hence customer couldn’t exercise choice – take it or leave it. Smartphone is an unbundled architecture. It offers the same four functionalities though as its architecture is completely unbundled and open – it empowers the customer to make the choice basis their transaction scenario / context and cost. A similar framework could be applied to several industries to create unique products and solutions.

As the session ended, one could sense how Abhishek had been socialised to the highs and lows of business life. The mental game of entrepreneurship often feels like Snakes and Ladders. There were days for Abhishek when he just wanted to run away, where he felt as if he was in freefall and plummeting to the ground without a parachute. But, looking back, those are the moments that defined him. He has accepted – sometimes with a lot of delay and a good fight – that he was the architect of the bad situations and he accepted full responsibility for them. That is how he bought his freedom.

It’s only by acknowledging your failures that you can build on your successes.

Guest Post by Rajat Harlalka, Volunteer for iSPIRT

0 – 100 customers! How fast can your SaaS startup accelerate?

The toughest challenge in your startup journey is getting to the milestone of first 100 customers. iSPIRT’s 97th PlayBook RoundTable, ‘Zero to One’ was held last Saturday in the hot and humid city of Chennai.

Ankit Oberoi from AdPushUp moderated the RoundTable which was attended by 13 other startup founders eager to know how to crack this. The PlayBook didn’t have formal presentations but rather involved everyone into an engaging conversation that was both informal as well as informative.

First things first, as early stage SaaS startups, “Kneel down and build your product well, when bootstrapped” was Ankit’s advice.

Identifying Target Customers

Emphasis was made on identifying your target customers to help you build the right inbound and outbound strategies. Ankit mentioned that a good way to find your target customer type is to look at your top ten customers. Few entrepreneurs looking to generate quick revenue might tend to drift towards a service model.

Arvind Parthiban, CEO of Zarget had an insight on this trend — “Going the service way will work only if one can scale up right and maintain profitability in the longer run”.


Inbound Marketing Tactics

A majority of the discussion was about inbound procedures. 3 simple things should make up your Content Marketing strategy –

  1. Identifying your target persona
  2. Creating quality content
  3. Setting up distribution channels

Just creating content will not cut it! You need to market it right to do justice to its quality.

Though it is a painfully long process, bootstrapped startups have the luxury of time and they should invest in building on content strategies around long tail keywords. Much emphasis was given as to why content should be created for personas. An example that was pointed out for this was Groove’s blog where the focus is exclusively on founders.

It is right for early-stage startups to focus on generating traffic through content but the real focus should be on giving value to the readers. Conversions can happen even later and not necessarily while reading your content. Growing a subscription list through your blog is not only a no-brainer, but a must have item in your growth stack .

Ankit stressed on how Neil Patel talks about why you need to urge your readers to subscribe right from the start. When you have a subscribers list, you can nurture them to share your content and build a bigger subscribers list which will ultimately increase your brand value and improve your customer base. Initial days of your startup journey are when you can do such things that take time to scale.

Intent Defines Inbound

Categorize your efforts based on intent when you are going all out on inbound marketing. Content writing has to be segregated widely into two types –

  1. Buyer Intent
  2. Value Intent

Buyer intent content are the ones written with the focus on ranking higher on search engines. These should have focus on keywords and the main objective of these content pieces are to sell your product.

Value intent is when you become a Thought Leader of the industry you are in. Helping your customer persona should be the name of the game when you generate such content. At times, you don’t even have to put a link back to your product when you write such content. Educative long form content with simple writing works best.

Just like content writing, content distribution too has to be categorized based on intent.

  1. SEO intent — You share the article/blog with search engine ranking in mind
  2. Sharing intent — You find avenues where people are bound to share the post more
  3. Distribution intent — Sharing in one place that sets off a chain of shares

Be spot on with your content!

Creating a content calendar is a must! Knowledge sharing on this topic pointed out that the calendar should be finalized, ideally, in the first few days of the month. Decide on buyer intent topics with the help of keyword planners. Thought leader articles can be written with the help of community platforms — find answers for the most-asked questions. Quora is a gold mine to search for blog ideas.

The consensus from the more experienced entrepreneurs at the RoundTable was that content has to be tested too. The headline is the most important bit of your article/blog. Ankit spoke about how 75% of your readers don’t actually read your content but rather scan for information. He shared a personal insight on how just a headline change helped AdPushUp make an article go viral overnight! Check out this article here.

As much as headlines, the first few lines matter too! In fact, most people who share an article actually read the intro and then skim through the article. Sharing happens not because people read it fully but because they feel it is relatable to something they would read and want to express to their circles about the type of content they would read. Your formatting should be spot on to help them digest your post in just a few seconds!

Headlines need to be tested extensively. Vengat from Klenty stressed on how testing one variable at a time is imperative for success. Ankit talked about how he narrows it down from a couple dozen headlines for their blogs. A/B test between the best ones to ensure you get the best variation.

Types of articles to try…

The Zero to One #PlayBookRT stressed on a few interesting article types startups should try –

  1. Summarizing Comprehensive Blogs — Found something useful? Write a brief, original summary of the blog. This will rank organically. Ensure author credits are given.
  2. Roundups — Take a pick of useful tips, quotes, tools etc., and do a roundup. Reach out to the people/products/companies you mentioned and they will share it to their followers
  3. Skyscraper Technique — Find an awesome content and piggyback on it. Find linkable assets, make it better by adding in your thoughts or collating ideas. Reach out to the authors of the post and share it on social media.

While on the topic of Content Marketing, the topic of paid promotions came into play and it was agreed upon that paid promotion for articles should be done with the intent only to hit a critical mass. With paid promotions, readership is not improved but only the views are artificially increased. A good insight from one of the attendees was to try and push notifications about blogs through live chat platforms like Intercom.

Hiring your inbound team

There are two types of talent you need on your inbound team for achieving success in your content marketing endeavours. The hustlers & the experts. Hustlers are those who understand the market and the distribution channels while the experts should be the ones strong in content.

AIESEC is one hiring venue that you should consider for smart and affordable talent.

You need to break down your web analytics — group traffic sources and optimize for each and every source. Ankit explained how Google not only ranks posts but also pulls down posts with the help of Ryan Fishkin’s social experiment. He urged people to open a top ranked post and immediately go back to the search results page. The search engine bots picked this up and realized people no longer find the post valuable and dropped it by one position!

We live in a smart world! And to outsmart Search Engines, you need smarter content tactics.


Quick look at a few other learnings

  • Arvind and Ankit then shared their experiences with events generating brand value and how that indirectly helps your inbound conversions.
  • PR is yet another way of getting social approval. It reduces sales cycle as well as helps with search engine rankings.
  • Vengat shared his learnings from Prodpad’s gamification for trial users that kept urging for additional actions for trial extension. This would inevitably lead to more activation.
  • There was a brief session on PPC campaign optimization and how Google’s Quality Score is important

Out-take on Outbound

Ankit stressed on the fact that if a startup concentrates well on inbound tactics and is all set for the long run, outbound becomes considerably easier. Most US companies go all out on inbound tactics. Being in India, we have the luxury to work on outbound marketing at relatively cheap costs.

Tools like BuiltWith, Datanyze, SimilarWeb are in this space. The problem to be addressed would be scaling the process without expanding the existing team. As you reach out to more and more people, the data bulk can be huge to handle if you don’t automate/semi-automate the process.


An entrepreneur’s journey is one to be cherished and the initial acceleration from 0–100 customers is enjoyable though dotted with challenges. The 97th Product Nation PlayBook RoundTable turned out to be a learning experience for everyone who attended and hope this article threw light on what was discussed to those who weren’t lucky enough to be part of it.

Never miss an iSPIRT event again — stay tuned to this page for updates on upcoming Product Nation events. Guest blog post by Kingston David, Zarget

The cause of ‘SaaS’ Industry is top priority on iSPIRT’s policy radar

‘SaaS’ can drive the future of Indian IT Industry both in International trade as well as domestic front. With changing dynamics in Software sector globally, ‘SaaS’ can help India remain a Software power house. iSPIRT has been following ‘SaaS’ industry growth from this perspective. The realization that there are several policy hurdles for ‘SaaS’ industry was very early conceived at iSPIRT.

Accordingly, iSPIRT made several attempts to ease the problems of ‘SaaS’ industry. One of the belief at iSPIRT is that ‘SaaS’ is basically about ‘product’ first and then a ‘service’. With this belief iSPIRT has been continuously taking up the case of clear distinction of Software product within the larger framework of Digital economy consisting of “Digital goods” and “Digital services”.

In order to stop the exodus of Startups, which constitutes a large number of ‘SaaS’ based startups, a Stay-in-India checklist was taken up with Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP). There have been a number of items cleared by DIPP such as Angle Tax, Fair market Value, ESOPs provisions made better, Company incorporation rules simplified, Domestic venture debt made easy, Convertible notes, FVCI norms relaxed and External Commercial borrowing (ECB) eased by RBI etc. Some of these announcements under the shadow of StartupIndia policy. However, iSPIRT has been continuously pushing policy makers to relax all these norms for all start-ups. iSPIRT covered most of these announcements in PolicyHacks blogs given here.

A major problem area for ‘SaaS’ startups is also the payment gateway systems. ‘SaaS’ industry has to resort to either relocate to a foreign geography, or open a subsidiary abroad or seek expensive international payment gateway services. On domestic front the ‘SaaS’ industry suffers from recurring billing problems. Both these issues were taken up in PolicyHacks sessions given here. iSPIRT believes Indian ‘SaaS’ companies should be able to carry of out international trade of digital goods without moving out of India seamlessly and using Indian payment Gateway systems.

The belief at iSPIRT that a futuristic industrial policy at Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) is required to meet the challenge of Indian IT industry was followed up with a National Policy on Software Product (NPSP) at MeitY. Being the administrative ministry for this Industry MeitY has in past played highly catalytic role in making of IT industry that India is proud today. A similar renewed thrust is required to push the Indian Software Product Industry.

One of the main emphasis in NPSP draft being followed up at MeitY is the ‘‘SaaS’’ segment. iSPIRT team is continuously engaging with the MeitY officials to educate them and influence on the importance and the need to focus on ‘SaaS’ segment.

There is recognition in Government system for need of this strategic shift. Honourable Prime Minister’s speech at Germany (Link here see 12th Minutes segment) is the evident of this realization of need for change that can lead to companies like Google to be born out of India.

iSPIRT is striving hard in this direction to see the ‘SaaS’ as the next big leap by India.