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

Getting SaaSier every year #SaaSx #Chennai

With almost 150 SaaS founders, a set of investors, and the volunteers, SaaSx was rocking content-wise from 10am to 9:30pm, with the @Zarget beachside dinner kicking it into the next gear. How do we know it was a good event? Well the NPS score of 76, with 91 responses says it all!

Probably only event that was worth being a part of in the last 1 year. Happy to volunteer next time!

The most earth shaking session every year? After all, “Chumma Adhirudhulla.” is the dialogue of his favorite actor! @mrgirish rocked the stage with his sheer authenticity, wearing his heart on his sleeve, and talking about the challenges in building a business like Freshdesk, the mistakes they made on their journey and the learnings from them. More than one founder approached me later saying, ‘If even someone like Girish makes mistakes while growing the business, then I should not fear my mistakes but grow faster by learning from them’.

Best part was how approachable, upfront, honest and open all the big guys were..

It takes a special form of courage to go (metaphorically) naked on stage in front of your peers. And get critiqued by the best in the business. And we saw that from three very special founders in the Product-Tear-Down. @WidelyHQ  @GetOmnify @99Tests, were three SaaS startups at different MRRs, at different stages of their product/market lifecycle. Read up on their experience at

These three were chosen by the panel from seven initial conversations, from a shortlist of a few dozen startups who had applied. The startups they picked were in different stages, had to be easily understood by the audience, and yet have enough lessons to learn from. The goal was to create teachable moments, and the audience loved it with many founders volunteering to get their products torn down, something we’re working to do at scale. If you’re interested follow @saasxin to get notified.

Fantastic event with priceless learnings.

The constant refrain on the SaaS side has been ‘move up market’. But what does that mean? Well if you were at SaaSx, @Sudheer_Zenoti spoke candidly about their journey from SMB->Enterprise. What’s the largest single $ value sale done on the phone from India, for an online sale product? I nearly slipped off my chair when I heard a 7 digit number. In US Dollars. Whoa! And here we are discussing whether Inside sales can work at $30,000. It must be something in the Chennai water that Arun Kumar, COO Zarget drank over his 13+ years of inside sales experience. Or was it in the product? In India, we have enough developers and product managers, to build any product we need. But as Srikrishnan Ganesan pointed out, ‘Market trumps everything’, and if you are in a bad market, or too early, or too late, then there is little you can do to win. There are many paths to $1M ARR. Some have angels that give you loans, and others take some time to light, but then take off like a rocket. If you were there till then end, Ashwin Ramesh of Synup, and Girish Redekar of RecruiterBox, shared their paths to where they are. The only truth is that there’s no one path, you’ve got to make your own!

SaaSx4 was fantastic. I started implementing few of my learning from Saturday (18th March) itself.

The morning #SaaSFaQ unconference turned out to have some great questions on product/market fit and GTM from early stage startups. Fielded by Shekhar Kirani, Avlesh Singh, Krish Subramanian, there was a great deal of interactive learning concentrated on the floor. Learning for next time, break it up into smaller sub-sections, to get even more interactive and participatory.

In Product Teardown session, it was evident that Bharat’s inputs blowed everyone away.

Do you have more than $1M ARR, facing growing pains in your org and model?? Well, in the morning, the dynamic duo – Suresh and Girish, ran a closed door session for a few founders, getting into serious topics that were only for founders’ ears. What happened inside, stayed inside.

Every SaaSx runs purely on the passionate, high-energy,  super-committed volunteers, themselves serious SaaS founders & thinkers, who create the strictly curated content that makes for a great experience. This year the volunteers were @MrGirish, @SureshSambandam,  @cbKrish, @ArvindParthiban, @Avlesh, @avinashraghava and @sKirani. We sorely missed  the ever-energetic wisecrack @vinod_cc. Like every year @_rakeshmondal did a kickass design and website, bringing SaaSx to virtual life online.


Here’s to an even better #SaaSx5 next time around!

 

Deep And Wide Product Adoption Are Key To Reducing SaaS Churn

Who am I writing for? SaaS product managers and founders.

We recently had someone move on from Wingify (the company that owns VWO and Pushcrew). After they were gone, admin was doing a review of our software expenses and found a line-item for Popcorn Metrics with no clear owner. The person who had left was the only one using it, and no one knew why, or what it was used for.

Removing Popcorn is as easy as removing a code snippet, so I reached out to them asking to cancel.

This is the problem when your product hasn’t been adopted widely or deeply. You might have sold the product in that a customer is paying for it, but you haven’t truly sold it until they’re using it extensively.

Width

By width, I mean that multiple hierarchies across departments in a company are using the product. Best examples would be:

  • communication platforms (Skype, Gmail)
  • HR & performance management software
  • document editing and management (Google Docs, Office 365)

If a product solves the basic needs of any workforce, it’s likely to be adopted widely. The more widely a product is used, the more value it’s providing and consequently, it’s difficult to remove.

Depth

By depth, I mean the level of dependence on a product. For me, defining features of deep adoption are:

  • the product supports a key process, eg. the company’s sales process runs on a CRM, performance & payroll management is done on an HR software, or technical support delivered through support software
  • the product has important data that companies don’t want to lose
  • the product enables, or connects with multiple other data silos to make 1 + 1 = 3
  • the product is mouldable to support the company’s workflow

Placing the products we use at VWO on a depth/width graph, here’s what I came up with:

Explaining the graph above:

  • Recruiterbox comes in the middle-ish because it’s mostly used by hiring managers and HR. It is used across all departments, but not across enough hierarchies. And the data it contains isn’t as valuable… mostly resumes/profiles of candidates who weren’t a fit.
  • Canva, the easy graphic design software for non-designers, which I put to show a product that has minimal width or depth. It mostly comes up when designers aren’t available. Going by Canva’s initial positioning, they might get slightly deeper adoption if they are able to tap into social media marketing teams.
  • Clearbit, connected to Salesforce and used for lead enrichment. We hardly ever login to the product, but I suspect we’ll keep using it until the contract renewal date rolls by and they raise prices. That’s when we’ll probably look to BuiltWith or something similar. I’ve included Clearbit to show a product that takes care of a small but important part of a business process, and as long as it does its job and the business process remains the same, it’ll keep being used.
  • I’ve put Namely in the middle because even though it is HR and performance management software, at Wingify we haven’t adopted it fully. I notice that everyone uses it, but only for a few days every quarter during appraisal time. It could have deeper adoption if we had big-company kinda HR processes, but since we don’t, maybe Namely is suited to big companies with more sophisticated HR policies and management?
  • Salesforce is probably the best example of a product completely owning a process, owning data, deep integrations and being used extensively by executives. I admire them for this, though I will never recommend them to anyone because of the painful experience it is dealing with the company and the product.

More thoughts

Not all products can have wide and deep adoption, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. If a product can capture even one important process for a team, the likelihood of churn reduces significantly. For example, Canva could if it targeted teams that need quick, good-looking images without relying on a graphic designer. First thing comes to my mind is social media teams in B2C businesses who are running campaigns all the time. Or take Recruiterbox from above, not widely or deeply adopted in the org but does a damn good job of streamlining the recruiting process.

Products tend to have higher a lifetime if they have some of the following properties:

  • Are the “source of truth” in an org for important process/data
  • Are in the core departments of finance, HR, sales, manufacturing/production/product and R&D
  • Are used by practitioners and executives for different purposes
  • Some or all parts of a team’s KPIs are reported by the product
  • Are heavily used by senior management
  • They are close to the value provided & realized by a company, like product, R&D or revenue/profits

Salespeople are trained to hack the selling process by reaching the highest decision maker as soon as possible. No doubt this still works, but in a world where hierarchies are flattening, practitioners who’re going to be actually using the product are becoming important factors in the buying process. Making a quick sale without adequate follow-up support from customer success managers leaves you at a risk of being upended after the contract period.

The Customer Success function can have a massive impact on increasing lifetime value if they understand that their goal in the first few months is to increase width and depth of adoption of the product, and they’re incentivized towards those goals.

Based off my Canva point, I realize that when you’re creating a product, it’s important to think of the process and data that you’re going to own, and for the teams + hierarchies that you’re going to own them. And this needs product + human effort.

I’m surprised why products don’t integrate more deeply with email. There’s this entire hullabaloo about AI and chatbots right now (early 2017). I’d instead focus energies on much a deeper sync with Gmail and Outlook. After all, that’s where the majority of decision makers spend their time.

Guest Post by Siddharth Deswal, Lead Marketing at VWO. This post originally appeared on http://deswal.org/saas/to-reduce-churn-your-saas-needs-to-be-adopted-widely-and-deeply/

A personal introduction to #SaaSx4, and why I believe Chennai is the place to be right now for SaaS startups

I have worked with iSPIRT for many years now and one of my key lessons has been around the dynamics behind community and ecosystem building. I have learnt that just having a plethora of startups in one geographical location doesn’t make that place the natural epicenter or capital. There is something more to it, an X factor that goes beyond mere arithmetic.

This X factor is something that I think Chennai has.

There is no doubt in my mind that Chennai is the capital of SaaS startups in India today.

Firstly, the numbers themselves are mighty impressive. Just between Zoho and Freshdesk, two of India’s bellwether SaaS companies, there is around $400m in revenue, about a $100+ million in funding and around 4000+ SaaSemployees.

But what is more significant is that around tentpole companies such as these, a massive ecosystem for many other SaaS companies has been created in Chennai. And this is going from strength to strength as we speak.

To explain why I am personally excited about Chennai and its focused and committed founders who are building companies in this same mould, let me go down memory lane a bit. If the story seems a bit rambling, please indulge me as it is a personal story that is close to my heart.

When Chennai was Madras

My early memories of Madras are when I was probably seven years old and my uncle was posted at the Tambaram Air Force station. When we travelled from Delhi to Bangalore by train, the GT Express would halt in Madras for 5 hours as the engine would get changed. Our uncle would pick us up and we would go to one of the beaches. It was also probably one of my early experiences by the sea. I also got to spend holidays a couple of times in the quiet and green Air Force Base in Tambaram.

Image Courtesy — FriendsofChennai

I got placed by NIIT as a GNIIT in a Madras-based software company called RiteChoice technologies (Yes, I was a GNIITian!). They had built the back office software for the National Stock Exchange and I joined as a Support Executive to help them with the sales/support/installation of the software in the Delhi region. We got intensive training about the stock market and how the software functions at the company headquarters. It was great fun those days as you worked for 6 days and the 7th day would be an off site with colleagues who had come from different cities. In those days, North Indian food was hardly available in Chennai and it was tough to have idli/dosas for almost two months (no offence to all my South Indian friends!). The software segment was just picking up at that time and there were very few IT companies.

Ritechoice was a product company at a time when we really did not know the demarcation between a service and a product organisation, and their other software was called Suxus. I remember interacting with the founding team; they were full of passion and keen on building more products.

The Ramco mafia

I moved on from Ritechoice after six months as we were not able to sell/support the software in Delhi. There were lot of changes being done at NSE and in hindsight, I now understand that we were not able to find the product market fit. I continued with my journey of working with Internet startups with DSF Internet & Trisoft Systems, until NASSCOM happened in 2002. I was again able to interact with a lot of software companies.

In the early days whenever we used to talk about products, the company which drew all the limelight was Ramco. It was probably one of the fastest growing companies then, selling ERP software and making a big impact in the user community. It was fighting SAP in those days. I remember that there were around 60 ERP companies at one point of time. Other notable companies in Chennai at that time were Polaris Software(now acquired by Virtusa) and MyAdrenalin. Apart from these companies, there were a few IIT-Madras incubated startups like as well.

And there was another small company called AdventNet, which had just started making some noise.

The Role of Proto.in

I was introduced to the Twitter/blog world by Kiruba Shankar & Vijay Anand. I remember following them and getting to learn about social media through some of the sessions at NASSCOM. In the early days of the startup ecosystem, very little action used to happen in Chennai, but Proto made a big dent by getting all startups under one umbrella. For me attending Proto gave me exposure to the startup community. I got to see Ashish Gupta surrounded by many people and later on got to know that he was one of the founders of Junglee. The event was at IIT-Madras and it was hard to get into any of the halls. They were just full. The man behind the show was Vijay Anand. There were others, of course, nothing in our ecosystem is a one man show, but Vijay did a magical job of getting it all started.

I remember how Shalin Jain proudly demoed DoAttend which got built because of Proto. Wikis were used quite extensively first in Chennai for Proto: I’m yet to see another event, even in these event-rich times, which uses Wikis extensively.

Some of the companies that showcased at Proto 1

Some of the well known companies like Myntra, iXigo, Drishti (Now Ameyo), ValueFirst, iCreate (Now Fintellix), Novatium, etc launched their products at Proto 1. Do take a look at Proto 2 as well. Thanks to Amit Ranjanwho continued to upload all these decks and also write about them at WebYantra. If Proto was alive today, it would have probably been the biggest enabler of the startup ecosystem in our country. Pity that it isn’t, but we need to remember that the movement actually started in Chennai.

Me at NASSCOM, and how the Emerge community took off

Some of the initial people who really made the EMERGE community happen were people like Suresh Sambandam of Orangescape (now KissFlow), Late Mr. Raja from Coromondel Infotech, Lakshman Pillai of LPCube, and George Vettah of Kallos. These were also product companies and played an important role in building the community. I continue to stay in touch with Suresh and leverage him as much as I can in building the ecosystem.

Apart from Delhi, it was the EMERGE conclave in Chennai that was a roaring success. So many people took ownership of the event. It was almost completely driven by people in Chennai and we successfully were able to build a community for product companies.

For the first time, Sridhar Vembu of ZOHO spoke at a NASSCOM conference. It was at the EMERGE that ZOHO won an Innovation Award for the work that they were doing to hire freshers and train them. They continue to do so and it’s also very impressive to see the ecosystem that ZOHO has built in Chennai. The ZOHO mafia (Girish/Freshdesk, Arvind/Zarget, Sridhar/Credibase, Krish/ChargeBee) has created many founders (around 42, says Quora). The other Vembu brothers are also still going strong. Clearly ZOHO has played an important role in creating a culture in Chennai.

The unfolding story

In the early days of iSPIRT, I did get to do some playbook roundtables at the Orangescape office. I remember Ashwin Ramaswamy of PipeCandy(in those days it was called ContractIQ) volunteered for most of the playbook roundtables. I remember I got introduced to Girish Mathrubootham by Sairam Krishnan for the first time in their small office….met them in the boardroom and i remember one of the members was working in the boardroom as they were falling short of space 🙂

First Playbook by Shankar Maruwada in Chennai

I did get to do some playbook roundtables in the early days of iSPIRT, basically i would use Chennai to validate some of the playbook roundtables. Most of the playbooks were done at Orangescape and more recently Aditya Sanghi(Hotelogix) got some 6–7 founders from Bangalore to learn SaaS scaling from Freshdesk. I remember, it was one of the insightful playbooks and I got to meet Sanjay Parthasarthy from Indix for the first time at their office and also did a tour of the ZOHO campus which was quite far from the city.

In 2014, I was in Chennai for some meetings. It was around the time of SaaStr and it was then that it struck me that two large SaaS companies are already based out of Chennai, that and many others like KiSSFlow, UnMetric, Indix, Chargebee, Pipecandy and Zarget were all SaaS companies. It became clear to me that this city had a strong DNA of building SaaS/B2B products.

I and called up Shekhar Kirani from Accel (I consider him to be the Force behind the SaaS ecosystem in India). I bounced this idea off of him, asking for support for something around SaaS in Chennai. I got a green signal after which I reached out to Suresh and Girish. I got full support from them and in less than 20 days, we pulled together SaaSx Chennai.

Full credit to Suresh Samabandam for coining SaaSx. By the way, EMERGEOUT was also his coinage. The energy at SaaSx is always very high and we did the first three editions every six months. The beauty of SaaSx is that it is by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs and some real sharing is been done by people like Girish, Suresh, Avlesh, Paras, Krish, etc..

Playbook Led by Avlesh(WebEngage) & Suresh(KissFlow) at SaaSx

As iSPIRT, we are blessed to have strong support from such people who believe in paying it forward and are happy that we have been able to create a robust & safe place for SaaS founders. We will continue to stay focussed, curate the audience, and ensure that the platform becomes a meaningful one for SaaS founders in India.

Audience from the first SaaSx

We are all excited about the fourth edition of SaaSx in Chennai on 17th March, and I’m proud to continue to bat for the city (like Krish Srikkanth) and make an impact in the SaaS ecosystem.

Edited by Sairam Krishnan & reviewed by Sumanth Raghavendra

SaaS: Where are you in this 2×2?

Some SaaS ventures lead to category leadership while some lead to imaginary frozen quadrants. Here’s a little 2X2 to assess where you are in your journey to SaaS nirvana. When amazing products are sold in amazing ways, it produces the almost mystical flywheel effect.

Let’s dissect this.

Red: Weak Product and a Weak/Average Sales Team

This is a highly incremental quadrant where a single provider may be serving the exact needs of a handful of customers. It’s an equilibrium that doesn’t last too long. I’ll leave this quadrant at that.

This is a highly incremental quadrant where a single provider may be serving the exact needs of a handful of customers. It’s an equilibrium that doesn’t last too long. I’ll leave this quadrant at that.

Blue: Weak Product and a Strong Sales Team

When people say “that company is sales driven” this is what they are referring to. Founders of companies in this quadrant have a knack of story-telling and projecting a product market fit before a product is actually ready. What happens next is catastrophic. Sales drives the company’s culture, narrative and product building. Both product and engineering go into a wild-balancing act of fixing the problems while trying to add features in a near random fashion.

It is unsustainable. It bloats customer service and support and pre-sales. Lack of a strong product causes politicking and confusion and populism in every department, which leads to relationship-driven rather than value-proposition driven outcomes. Unless a startup iterates on product rapidly or brings in a disciplined and creative leader, there’s a significant risk of revenues plateauing at $5m-$10m mark.

So why is it blue? Because it is fairly cushioned for a while though sales > everything is bad karma.

Yellow: Strong Product and a Weak/Average Sales Team

This quadrant probably causes hackers amongst us the most heartburn. A lot of strong products start with nobody focused on sales. They continue to write amazing code, design amazing screens, and setup amazing data pipelines, but they just don’t know how to position, craft a story people remember, distinguish themselves from 99 other guys who may have had the same idea. Many product founders suck at sales and often hires the first person who blinks.

Even for successful startups, this can be a transient stage, but successful founders realize their mistakes and then quickly hire a sales leader and move to the next quadrant. The good news if you’re yellow is that just like in real life, you can cross the traffic light before too much damage happens.

Green: Strong Product and Strong Sales Team

This is jazz improvisation zone. You can have a strong product and sales culture. It all starts with respect for both and it certainly involves finding the right talent that can craft what really works uniquely for you.

That’s why very few founders get there. A scalable sales model is crucial. A product alone can take you so far. For every Dheeraj Pandey ringing the IPO bell, there’s a Sudheesh Nair driving the quota home. For every Jyoti Bansal getting acquired at $3.7bn, there’s a Dali Rajic digging into sales capacity, and for every Jason Lemkin, there’s a Brendon Cassidy. When phenomenal founders and product builders pair up with their sales counterparts, that accomplish that sight to behold – a startup on a flywheel across the sky.

In each of these cases, the sales counterparts were able to hit their targets, because of a product which was able to either create demand or was superior to incumbents. If there was a product market fit, based on the narrative, the product scaled to bring in a perpetual stream of renewals and sources of new revenue.

Hopping in the 2×2

I hope you’ve found your color by this point. So how do we transition from a shitty part of the quadrant to an awesome one?

If you are Blue or Yellow, scale to Green quick. Here are some things that increase your chances in a hop

  • Listen to early feedback from customers and employees and suppliers. Setup key feedback loops
  • Iterate the product every week, every day, every hour. Continuous Beta. A living element.
  • Once you cross $10 million, press the gas pedal. Go. Go. Go.

Good luck and let me know if you think of additional colors.

Thanks to Leena for flywheeling this post! Reproduced from Indus Khaitan’s blog

A Framework For Building SaaS Products That Don’t Churn

When you say “reduce SaaS churn”, most people will immediately imagine tactics like drip email campaigns, great onboarding, customer marketing, gamification and automated alerts when users show signs of leaving. But this post is not about tactics. This post recognizes that users are smarter than any of the cute tricks we can come up with, and it attempts to get to the core of why there are some products that business users keep paying for, and others they discard.

A Framework For Building SaaS Products That Don’t Churn

If you’re a founder or product manager, I’ll encourage you to think deeply about this stuff, versus thinking about your next “growth hack”.

Products on which company processes are based

There are products on which organizational functions are dependent and processes are built. These are usually CRMs, Marketing Automation, HR software and Support software. The defining features are

  • they’re used by decision makers for reporting purposes and are often used to track teams’ KPIs and goals
  • they’re used to run day-to-day functions of the team and organization, for example, the process of applying for and approving employee leaves, or changing the stage of a sales opportunity
  • some people are logged in to the system during their entire working day
  • others log in once in a while to complete certain tasks
  • the system collects and retains valuable data that companies are not comfortable losing

Some observations about these products are

  • the sales cycles are usually longer than a month
  • customers will rarely buy these products without first being sure of the processes that are dependent on them
  • they need extensive API support and data integrations, because the data they collect becomes more valuable once combined with other data
  • heavy cross-functional training is required after the sale, and the product takes the blame if a customer org. doesn’t adopt and use it to the best of its capability
  • you need a lot of quality documentation so that you’re not overburdened with support tickets

An important note about products used by decision makers

When I started out at VWO a few years ago, the most important metrics were “free-trial signups” and “paid customers” (about 95% were self-service monthly subscriptions). Back then, Google Analytics (GA) was our most important source of data. We recorded free-trial signups, upgrades to a paid subscription and revenue in GA so it was what we looked at everyday.

In the past couple of years, we’ve started serving more mid-market and enterprise customers. Because of this, a few things have changed:

  • The average deal size has increased from $x00 to $x0000
  • The quality of free-trial signups matters as much as the quantity
  • A large amount of revenue comes from payments made through bank-transfers and other offline methods
  • “New MRR” is now more important than “new customers”

Because of all these changes, Google Analytics isn’t important anymore. Instead, the big decision are made after looking at reports in the CRM and our database, where all lead/deal/customer/revenue data sits. Through this shift I observed how when businesses evolve, the metrics that matter to them change, and this has a domino effect on the SaaS products that fall in and out of favor.

Now here’s another interesting anecdote: VWO has a large number of ecommerce customers. For the majority of these businesses, Google Analytics is the “source of truth”, so we simply had to build an integration with GA. In fact, we once lost a big customer because their VWO test reports didn’t agree with their GA data (completely possible and for good reasons, read this to understand why). The internal VWO champion tried to fight it out and explain the difference to management, but we lost the customer after some time.

So my point is this… it is well worth your while to build capabilities that will be used to make the important decisions, and if that’s not possible, then align your product with the primary reporting tool used by your target market.

Products that give results with minimal effort after initial setup

Some of these are:

  • Lead generation pop-ups, sidebars
  • Landing page software (specially when tied to on-going PPC campaigns or SEO keywords)
  • Retargeting software, like Perfect Audience and AdRoll
  • Exit intent pop-ups, almost always tied to lead generation
  • Personalization and behavioral targeting
  • Email automation like Vero and Intercom

While you’re building a product that keeps producing results with minimal interference, give a thought to how you can add public branding for that little bit of ‘virality’.

It’s also important to note that products tied to performance will quickly be removed when that performance isn’t enough. In this case, the product itself may be great, but it is dependent on something else working. For example, landing page software gets abandoned when the Adwords campaigns it was used for aren’t working out.

Products that monitor and provide reports and alerts on a recurring basis without needing additional effort

Few that come to mind are

  • Mention (social mention tracking, we’ve had it on for at least a couple years… rarely log in but open almost every daily email report)
  • Server Density (server monitoring)
  • SEOKeywordRanking (SEO keyword rank tracking; old school interface and not updated in a long time, but am sure its creator Will Reinhardt doesn’t need to work anymore)

While building your product, talk to users about the data they find most useful and want to look at everyday, or see what parts of your reports are accessed most often, then send that data out as daily/weekly emails. It becomes a part of users’ morning routine to check the emails and note/discuss/alert if something’s going right or wrong.

Products that enable data flow between different systems

Think Zapier, PipeMonk, Jitterbit and Informatica. Admittedly, data integration is more of an enterprise problem, but the good thing is that once put in, they’re very difficult to remove. That’s because they’re usually implemented after someone high enough has identified the need to have all the various data silos talking to each other, and that robust decisions can’t be made without a complete picture of the issue at hand.

Case study: Hubspot
  • Processes are based around the product? Yes, for marketing and sales
  • There’s someone almost always logged in? Yes, marketing
  • Managers use the product to report on performance? Yes, primarily marketing qualified leads, then customers and revenue
  • Product collects and retains valuable data that customers are not comfortable losing? Yes
  • Has components that produce results without needing on-going effort? Yes, lead-gen landing pages, website personalization, automated rule-based emails
  • Components that monitor and alert automatically? Yes, primarily alerts to sales owners about lead activity, and other alerts around social media, monthly/quarterly goals, etc.
  • Components that enable data flow between different systems? A well maintained and documented Salesforce connector, otherwise they have a platform for developers

As you can see, Hubspot is doing pretty well in minimizing churn. It seems to me that would be the case with most large, successful SaaS products. In fact, understanding the reasons why organizations keep paying for products is why large successful software are large and successful, as compared to just large.

I hope you’re able to use this post as a framework to think about what makes products stick, and apply those principles to the products you’re managing or building. Also, do you have anything else I can add to this? For some reason it seems to me the list is incomplete.

Guest Post by Siddharth Deswal, Lead Marketing at VWO.

3 Key Factors to Increase Revenue for Your SaaS Product

3-key-factors-to-increase-revenue-for-your-saas-product

There are two types of SaaS products.

  1. New innovative product
  2. The commodity products (which is a copy of an innovative product)

The innovative products get sign ups and are able to scale because they have built a very useful and handy USP. They get word of mouth from early users which are enough for them to grow to a considerable size.

However, most SaaS products today fall into the commodity category with no innovative features. For such products, three factors are really important to grow.

saas-product

Pricing

One you have marketed your product well, and have people landing on your website, the first important thing is to get them to Sign up. Here the most important criteria is Pricing. As you are a commodity product, the price point, lower than the market leader will help in getting paying customers. Such a pricing strategy helps you get the price conscious customers to sign up. Remember, pricing is a factor of features. Pricing would be irrelevant without features, and your software needs to provide the features that your competitor is giving at a lower price.

Let’s take the example of Freshdesk. When Freshdesk launched, pricing was their major differentiator from their competitor Zendesk.

Usability, UI, UX

Pricing can get you signups. However, your users need to start using your software to give you their credit card ultimately. If you are not a market leader and want even to become the second best, you will have to focus on the design and usability of the product.

Often the first mover tends to avoid design, as they are competing on their innovative feature and design is where the late movers can compete on. Easy to use design coupled with self-onboarding features will help in getting the customer engaged.

The trials most SaaS products have is for 15/30 days. It is practically impossible to implement the product in the complete organisation in 15 days’ time and try all features of the product. Hence, the usability & design of the product is the most important deciding factor.

As you already have ensured a convincing pricing, there is a very high probability that the user will convert to a paying customer.

Pipedrive is one company which entered the CRM space rather late and still could make it big. This is because Pipedrive focused on the usability of the product. They have taken care of very small things — every time my team cancels a meeting or an appointment, Pipedrive gives an automated pop up which will ask for the next appointment. It reduces the chances of losing a lead in the pile because of not setting up the next activity. I run SoftwareSuggest, and have many friends who run CRM software companies. All of these CRMs are free for us to use, but we still prefer to pay Pipedrive because of its usability.

Customer Service

Converting a user to paid customer is not enough in SaaS. You will need to maximize the lifetime value (LTV) of the customer so that you start making profits. Once the user has converted to a customer, you need to start focusing on ensuring impeccable service quality. Organisations generally don’t prefer to move from one SaaS product to another. It’s a pain. Once they have signed up for a product, they like to stick with it. However, not focusing on customer experience once they have made the first payment will lead to churn. They might even leave before you have recovered your cost of customer acquisition. Hence, you will need to constantly monitor their usage of the product and ensure that the time on the app is increasing. Setting up a customer success team can be a good method. Good service will help in increasing the lifetime value of the customer.

Originally published on LateralPost

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Announcing The 2016 India SaaS Survey – A Joint initiative by Signal Hill & iSPIRT

According to a recent report by Google and Accel Partners the SaaS market in India is expected to cross over $50Bn by 2025, driven largely by demand from Western markets, in particular from US-based SMBs. Indian firms are noted as uniquely qualified to serve this opportunity given the available talent, mobile-first mindsets and language skills that enable cost-effective inside sales.

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In realizing this opportunity, however, there remain a number of hurdles to be cleared. To understand these challenges, and gain insight into the SaaS landscape in India, Signal Hill, a reputed independent advisory boutique and the iSPIRT Foundation conduct the annual India SaaS Survey which is open to all SaaS businesses in India.

We are happy to announce the second edition (2016) of this survey. Like last year, the survey aims to create a single reference point for all players in the SaaS ecosystem to understand:

  • Company & product profiles
  • Delivery mechanisms
  • Sales methods & channels
  • Scale & traction
  • Customers & key markets
  • SaaS metrics

From last year’s survey, some key takeaways included:

  • Indian SaaS players are predominantly young companies striving to exceed US$1m in ARR
  • Horizontal applications dominated vertical specific ones
  • Most companies surveyed offered multiple products; in contrast, Indian SaaS leaders recommended a narrower, more focused approach
  • 84% of respondents reported looking overseas for growth, ranking North America as their #1 target geography

To view the full report, click here.

To participate in the 2016 survey, respondents will need to fill in two simple forms Form A, a 100% anonymous survey and Form B, which records company details for us to share the final report. Note that A & B are kept distinct to protect your privacy. Overall, the surveys are 100% multiple choice and will take ~10 minutes to complete, providing the ecosystem with invaluable data & insights.

Apart from the core analysis of the industry and its challenges, participating companies will have their company logo featured in the report and they will also receive a surprise gift from the organizers as a token of appreciation for their support, time and valuable inputs.

It goes without saying that relevant solutions are found only when problems have been clearly identified and understood. Your 10 minute contribution to this effort will be hugely useful in helping the Indian SaaS ecosystem to get there.

We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Every Product Needs A Good Teardown

(originally posted here)

Last Saturday in Chennai at the SaaSx3 I had the privilege of participating in my first “Product Teardown”

A Product Teardown, “or simply teardown, is the act of disassembling a product, such as a television set, to identify its component parts, chip & system functionality” – Wiki

In the context of the teardown of my company, Hummingbill, a Software as a Service (SaaS), it involved a deep dive into the company’s Idea, Discovery Process, Landing Page, Sign Up, and its “Wow” experience.

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(image courtesy of Suresh Sambandam of Kissflow)

But before getting into the details of the teardown I want to make mention of the audience in front of whom I presented, and the panelists who judged me. This teardown event was among several sessions during this year’s SaaSx – a conference cum meet up of India’s best-in-class SaaS founders, among whom in the audience were Girish Mathrubootham, founder of FreshDesk, Avlesh Singh, founder of WebEngage, and Pallav Nadhani, founder of FusionCharts. And as impressive as the audience was, so too were the group of panelists critiquing my company. They were, Shekhar Kirani, partner at Accel Partners India, Suresh Sambandam, founder of Kissflow, and Bharat Balasubramanian, director of Design at Freshdesk. The entire experience was an honor, to say the least.

So! how did it all go down?

The panelists had me up on stage with a projector showing our website, and we started with Shekhar and Suresh who was requested a description of the Idea of Hummingbill, which included a snapshot of the problem, solution, and our characteristic customer and user.

Our Idea:

(bear with my plug!) Hummingbill is a Gmail plugin that automates accounts receivable management for organizations that track hundreds of unpaid invoices from hundreds of customers. Our characteristic clients are SaaS and advertising companies. Currently, these companies use QuickBooks Online, Tally and Zoho to manage their invoices, but the problem is that these softwares make invoices inaccessible to those who need them most – sales reps and account managers who are among many things also responsible for payment collection. Today, the only window accounts and sales staff have into Accounts Receivable is a manually generated, manually distributed weekly aging report sent from the finance team.

Second, we discussed the Discovery process of Hummingbill:

or how businesses find us on the web. Because Hummingbill is more of a direct sales organization at-the-moment, we were let off-the-hook on this one, but for any disciplined SaaS company, they must be extremely conscientious of the “keywords” they use on their website to make their website more likely to be found by their target customer on Google. This is called Search Engine Optimization. By identifying those keywords – e.g. “Invoice Management” and “Accounts Receivable” – and carefully placing those keywords into their website, businesses can improve their performance ranking on Google which allows them to be more easily found by their target customers.For an example of a highly search-engine-optimized website, have a look at HiverThey are one of my favorite examples of a company that carefully updates its website over and over again to improve its performance for specific keywords within its category.

Then, after discussing discovery, Bharat critiqued us on the Design of our website

A lot of learning happened here. Some of the key takeaways were:

  1. If you have big customers like we do, put them up at the top of your webpage. This helps build trust in your product.
  2. Use the most accurate language possible on your landing page for your target users. Don’t be generic. During the event, the title on our landing page was “Get Paid Faster” – Suresh pointed out that this title  would be an empty statement for our target users, CFOs and Heads of Finance. Instead we should use more accurate language like “Reduce Days Sales Outstanding”.
  3. Add a second Sign-up button at the bottom of your landing page. This makes it easier for people to sign-up for your product .. .which is just good for everyone.

After the Design step, Bharat walked us through the Sign-Up process

or onboarding experience of Hummingbill. This step is where new users enter in their contact information and preferences, and then are guided through the software product.  If you’re not familiar with SaaS, then you should know that this step is the first impression customers have of your product, so it can “make or break” a business. It’s the reason why, for example I didn’t use Ola cabs, a very popular taxi service in India, for a whole year – I found their sign-up process clunky and time consuming, so I immediately switched to their competitor taxi service. And similarly to how I fell-off of Ola, SaaS founders need to be conscientious of their target customers’ patience, less they lose them at the first step to using their product. Building a fluid and intuitive sign-up process takes significant discipline to decide which information to collect from users now vs. later, and which features of the product to show now vs. later.  For inspiration on great onboarding experience, check out UserOnboard.com to see examples of how some of the best tech companies in the world  sign-up their users.

And last but not least, the product teardown ended with the functional Wow of Hummingbill. The functional Wow is simply the moment when users experience the 1 or 2 features of your product that fulfill the value they were seeking and found on your website. This is where products can close the deal and why it’s important for companies to get to that functional Wow delivered as quickly as possible. For example, if a company has a CRM product, then the functional Wow would be something like guiding the new user to creating a “prospect” customer in their sales pipeline, enter in the prospect’s details, and then move the prospect to becoming a “lead” in the CRM. For Hummingbill, we like to Wow users during onboarding by getting them to: 

1. Generate an Invoice 

2. Track the invoice in Accounts Receivable

3. Receive an email aging report

This functional Wow helps confirm to the users why they signed-up for your product. Seeing is believing, so the best practice here is to show your users the functional Wow ASAP

All-in-all the Product Teardown was an excellent learning experience for my team and I

As a public forum, it forced me to look more carefully at Hummingbill through the eyes of my target customer. Because SaaS is very much a numbers game – about driving as much traffic to your website, then trying to convert as many visitors to becoming users of your product, then trying to convert those free users to becoming paid users – SaaS is all about constantly iterating your website and customer onboarding experience to improve those conversions. Do teardown your product yourself. Though it’s an exhausting process, do it with a potential-user who can be honest with you and give their feedback in real time as they visit your website, sign up, and try your product for the first time. Best of luck in this process and keep doing it because it’s the only way for early stage companies, apart from marketing, to ensure they will have a constant growth of new users.

– Adam

BPO Talent To Be Groomed For Inside Sales In SaaS India

With ongoing expeditious advancements in communication, social media, cloud, mobility and related technologies – sales is on a continuous path for digital transformation. This is going to place inside sales teams at a strategic position in sales and marketing process, in terms of significance. A shift is being observed from field sales model to inside sales model which is attracting field sales guys towards inside sales jobs. Therefore, the Inside Sales industry is moving towards a revolution worldwide.

Inside Sales Teams to Play a Greater Role in Sales

Inside sales is quite strategic to India’s GDP growth. Indian BPO industry alone contributes 1% of India’s GDP where professionals are majorly involved in B2C processes including inside sales. IT/ITES and software companies have been early adopters of Inside Sales process for B2B leads generation. With digital sales transformation happening for the digitally dependent buyers, the inside sales teams are going to play a greater role in sales process, as more tasks of the marketing and field sales teams have come under the scope of Inside Sales teams.

SaaS India – Early Adopters of Inside Sales Technology

SaaS, Technology and Professional Services companies in the western world are the first ones to acknowledge a digitally connected buyer by adopting Inside Sales Technology. The traditional businesses like manufacturing companies in US are exploring how Inside Sales tech may add value to their sales process.

However, in the Indian market, mainly SaaS industry is at the forefront on trying their hands on advanced Inside Sales Technology for accelerated sales. The others in the technology industry are going to follow this trend in near future in India. Traditional industries are going to take some time to change their sales processes as their buyers are slowly becoming internet savvy for business purchases.

Inside Sales to Play Significant Role in SaaS India

As per Google Accel SaaS Report 2016 – SaaS India is expected to grow to $50 billion in next 10 years while Indian SMB SaaS is expected to rise from current $600 million to $10 billion in the said period.

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Source: Google Accel Report – SaaS India, Global SMB Market, $50B in 2025

SaaS industry has a strong need for inside sales professionals. As per the report, strong workforce in the BPO sector gives access to talent pool of around 6,20,000 Inside Sales professionals, out of which 1,20,000 are inside sales ready and 5,00,000 are skill ready.

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Source: Google Accel Report – SaaS India, Global SMB Market, $50B in 2025

I personally believe that 6,20,000 from the BPO sector, who are assessed as ready for SaaS as per report, need to be groomed for making them sales skill ready as only telecalling skills don’t make a professional acceptable for Sales Development Rep’s role in SaaS Sales.

Inside Sales Talent – A Key Challenge for SaaS India  

SDRs are expected to understand the Sales Processes. They should have the knack of using Inside Sales Tools like Social Media, Email, Phone, CRM and other smart selling tools. The working environment of B2B Inside Sales teams is significantly different from BPO scenario, where the reps are much more controlled, the jobs are temporary, the performance metrics are more around calls numbers and talk time, the customer engagements are very short lived, and end consumers are served with products & services.

This vast difference would require a complete psychological shift in the skills of a BPO professional who aspires to work in the SaaS sales space. They would need to be trained on Inside Sales function from scratch to be helpful, empathetic, B2B marketing and sales process oriented, B2B product/services domain expert, and digital sales intensive to successfully become an SDR. SDR will progress to become an account executive with quota around end closures and finally managing SDRs.

Aspirants looking to fill Inside Sales Talent Gap

There is a need to align the professionals by training for B2B Inside Sales function to serve the evolving SaaS industry in India.

I am associated with AA-ISP, American Association of Inside Sales Professionals as the President for India Chapter. The mission of AA-ISP is to advance the profession of Inside Sales. AA-ISP Gurgaon and Noida Chapter is supported by Inside Sales Box to create an ecosystem for Inside Sales professionals for businesses.

If you are a BPO/ Inside Sales/ Marketing and Sales professional or a Technology Entrepreneur, who is aspiring to stay abreast with best IS practices, discover digital sales tools & technologies, and explore jobs and business opportunities locally and globally – I welcome you to be a part of AA-ISP India.

SaaSx3 2016: Sun. Water. Sands and Conversations!

You work hard all year long to ensure your businesses become successful or stay successful, but everyone needs a break to relax and reflect. Don’t feel guilty about heading to the beach this summer. It’s that time of the year when the league of the eXtraordinary SaaS hackers meet. Yes, you read it right! SaaSx3 is here in Chennai once again.

SaaSx has been making waves every year and this time, it’s by the bay, on the 2nd april 2016 at Ideal Beach Resort, Chennai. Who says you can’t have focussed discussions in a session that takes place under the open sky? There is something ethereal about the waves of the sea. I believe, that there’s no other perfect environment for learning, deep contemplation and a chilled-out time with the leading thinkers of the Indian startup ecosystem.

 

In its 3rd year, SaaSx3 is a lively mix of startup founders and  entrepreneurs from all over India coming together to celebrate entrepreneurship. This brainchild of iSPIRT is a steadily growing movement, that aims to facilitate a community for Indian entrepreneurs to nurture great relationships.

This year, SaaSx3 assembly is impressive. With a tightly curated guest-list, it’s one great opportunity to:

Be mentored by proven leaders from the startup ecosystem
Discuss and share  what’s hot in SaaS market
Exchange ideas with peers
And of course! networking too!  I can’t wait to experience the unconference vibe –just a perfect way to loosen up relax and learn.

They say, each wave is different, and so is every entrepreneur’s experience. To become a great surfer, one does not have to wait to ride the perfect wave. Don’t keep yourselves at bay,  save the dates . Meet you at SaaSx3 to  listen to those adventurous tales of incredible startups!

 

Open Source and SAAS

While open source software is a fairly well understood in concept, I am always surprised how little it is understood in practice. At a round table of young product companies last month, there were a lot of raised eyebrows and questions when I explained our open source way of working.

Jordan Hubbard, co-creator of FreeBSD and open source veteran, spoke on this topic at this year’s ERPNext Conference, and he basically said this, open source business is all about people. Since the product is free, you sell services around the product, which is your people. This is mostly true for the very large majority of businesses that have mushroomed around open source projects, providing installation, hosting, customization, maintenance and other services around the product.

But there is now a new variable in the equation, SAAS (or Software-as-a-Service). It has been already accepted that SAAS is the way software is sold today. Listed companies like SalesForce, Xero, Zendesk, Workday, NetSuite, Hubspot, Shopify are testimony to the success of SAAS products and the billions of dollars that get spent on SAAS products each year. What does the future hold?

As on-premise is slowly moving into SAAS, I believe that SAAS itself will move into open source. Since the unevenly spread future is already here, there are companies already successfully doing open source + SAAS like WordPress, Ghost CMS, Magento, ERPNext (disclaimer: that’s us).

Open source + SAAS makes a great combination.

Benefits to the user:

  1. Open source products allow virtually unlimited possibilities to deeply integrate the product.
  2. There is a lot more risk in a closed platform, like price increase and slow pace of development.
  3. There is no vendor lock-in
  4. Free!

Benefits to the publisher:

  1. Not everyone wants to host their own infrastructure, this opens up opportunity to build a SAAS platform
  2. Provides word-of-mouth marketing
  3. Vibrant community attracts more users
  4. Community contributes by providing feedback, support, features, fixes, integration, testing, documentation
  5. A lot more incentive to write good code and documentation
  6. Much easier to find and on-board new developers to your team

Going open source is not easy. Business are built on the premise of transactions, and in open source, you have to be very open to giving and communicating without expecting immediate results. But once you cross a certain threshold, community participation can be extremely rewarding.

I am not advocating you open source your product today, but as Wikipedia has shown us, its only a matter of time before someone builds a mature open source product that might replace you.

Then there is no going back.

So how do you measure the health of your business?

Business model & “LTV” – Life time value

  • Develop the business model that is “realistic” by clearly defining revenue sources, keeping the interest of customers and shareholders
  • Match pricing consistent with revenue streams/goals
  • Define what kind of promotions/discounts are needed and for how long
  • Consider how this leads into recurring revenue streams (for SaaS businesses) or repeat/new orders for traditional businesses
  • Develop a  “model” for customer LTV that is comprehensive (includes cumulative profits and not just simple revenues)
  • Show how LTV will evolve both short and long term

LTV defined – what is the “Value” of an acquired customer?

  • In early stages probably first year Profit could be computed as expected revenues minus expenses (to develop the business)
  • The second and third year it needs to be more realistic with real revenues plugged into the numerator
  • The CC (Cost of Capital) is an estimate of what it costs venture firms to invest in a business. The rate ranges from 35 to 75 based on the risk profile of the entrepreneur(s).
  • The “t” is the denominator indicates # of years as in year 1, 2,3 etc.

GTM (Go-to-market) & CoCA defined

  •  Develop a CoCA or some call it CAC (Cost of customer acquisition) model for your product/service. Its different than LTV.
  • The GTM should include model of lead generation and closing sales (choice of models like direct, indirect, use of outsourcers, online etc.)
  • Map the sales process (sales funnel) to the different people/parties involved from lead generation to closing to collection of money. This might vastly vary based on the type of business you develop.
  • State clearly assumptions you make as the leads move through the “sales funnel”. Its important to get “hunters” involved in the early stage of the business
  •  For the CoCA calculations use – marketing and sales costs, make reasonable assumptions of life of customer, retention rates, and closure rates. Exclude COGS and other fixed costs
  • Map how GTM will evolve over time – short, medium and long term
  • Explore and define where the use of word of mouth (WOM) falls (if any) in the overall GTM. Very important.

CoCA Calculations:

How do you figure if the business is “viable” via CoCA/LTV?


Courtesy: HubSpot

  • SaaS businesses LTV:CoCA ratio needs to be atleast 3:1 and time to CoCA recovery less than 12 months for it to be a viable business.
  • For SaaS businesses the CoCA needs to be anywhere between $1 – $3 per customer
  • As regards unit economics – customer churn should be between 3.5% to 1.5%

What do you track particularly for SaaS businesses?

  • For SaaS businesses – track LTV, CAC, LTV:CAC ratio, CAC recovery etc.
  • The are many more parameters to track. More later…..
  • Importantly track revenue churn vs. customer churn. Why are they different?

Imagine customers paying per month $10 for “basic” services and $100 for “bundled” services (upsell) & you had 5 of each in the early stages. If you lost 2 customers after couple of months, the customer churn would be 2. Imagine losing both customers in the basic category, then your churn is only $20. But if both are from the bundled category, your churn is $200. Big difference.

How to Incorporate in the USA: US Inc. as a Subsidiary – v2.0

Setting up your headquarters in the US and a subsidiary in India is a tested model. Here’s a blog post by Girish Mathrubootham – founder of Freshdesk, very clearly articulating the process.

Well then, what’s this all about?

The setup we follow at Kissflow is the model in reverse.

Kissflow is headquartered in India, with a subsidiary in the US.

I couldn’t find much information on this model, and thought this might be something worth considering as an option for lots of startups that operate from India. This is not a post on the pros and cons of setting up your headquarters in the USA. That is a complex question and calls for another blog by itself.

This model gives you the option to retain the Intellectual Property (IP) outside of USA and still take advantage of the flexibility that comes with having a US Delaware C-Corp entity.

Also, you will be paying income taxes in line with income in both the countries. In the other model where the HQ is in the US and the subsidiary in India, you may set up the subsidiary as a service company with a transfer pricing model that requires you to have a profit margin of 12% to 15% in line with the services industry. And you will be paying 30% taxes, in the case of India, on that “perceived profit”.

So, here is an alternate model for your consideration that is compliant with the laws of the land in both the countries of operation.

The basics of setting up a company in the US remain the same:

1. Incorporating in USA as a Delaware, C-Corp.

You don’t have to be present in the USA for the incorporation. Instead, you can use one of the many service providers.

Here are a few recommended ones:

The cost for this would be approximately $1000, but you can pick and choose packages depending on the services you would require. I would highly recommend that you complete the entire documentation at a stretch including the formation documents, share allocation, etc.

Leaving out some of these may seem cheaper initially but might hurt you in the long run. So complete the entire procedure as part of the incorporation package to get the basic setup done right. You know what they say about being penny wise and …

2. Getting an EIN

This is similar to the Social Security Number. Each business has a unique tax ID number called Employer Identification Number that you will have to register for.

Ask for this service to be included as part of your incorporation, or, with your legal firm’s guidance complete this step immediately. Having an EIN is essential to deal with banks and pretty much everything else in the USA.

3. Getting a US Address

To receive business documents, it is mandatory that you have a US Address.

You can use a service like virtualpostmail.com which starts at $20 each month to collect the receipt of letters via emails; they scan and upload documents for your review and also ship them to any part of the world, if required, for an additional cost.

Besides this utility, it also serves as your local billing address for your credit/debit cards, etc., which becomes essential when you start paying for services with a US bank account.

We use Regus for this service. They provide a bunch of secretarial services including physical mail scanning and emailing among others. You can choose a package that is appropriate for your business. It is very important for your finance/admin team in India to know if there are any statutory mails from the government, bank, etc. and a service like Regus helps you achieve that.

4. Getting a US Bank Account

You would require a bank that allows remote processing of account opening and operations. We use the services of Chase Bank. Silicon Valley Bank (svb.com) is also an alternative, but requires a reference and a minimum balance of 25k USD. Chase Bank doesn’t have any minimum balance requirement.

Before applying for a bank account, it’s mandatory you have an EIN.

5. Getting a Merchant Account / Payment Gateway

Apply for a Stripe or Braintree account. The fee may be on the higher side, but the increased transparency in pricing, support, and the ease of doing business with them makes up for it.

6. Acquiring a Business Credit Card

It is harder to get a regular business credit card without building a credit history. You can use the debit card for all transactions to start with, until you have enough money in bank to get a secure credit card.

A secure credit card is nothing but a credit card with a spend limit secured by the money in your bank account / deposit.

7. Getting a US Phone Number

You can get a toll free number from any of the service providers like phone.com, Google Voice, or Skype.

That was a quick checklist of things you need to get started with the US company.

Once you have your company set up in the US, here’s how the relationship between the two companies (your Indian HQ and the US subsidiary) would work:

1. Distributor License

Make your US company the exclusive worldwide master distributor of your SaaS product. Set up a distributor license agreement that assigns an exclusive license to the US company, to host and sell your products in the USA. The Indian entity now holds the entire Intellectual Property (IP), by providing a hosting and distribution license to US companies for a 20% price cut per customer. If you look at it, 20% margin is a fair market value even if you had to engage a third party for this service.  Also, the US company has to cover all its expenses related to hosting, sales & marketing, and other operations.

2. Terms of Service

The terms of service of your website and product has to be owned by the US entity, as a distributor of your software. Preferably, all the legal recourse should be made available with your US entity.

3. Earnings and transfer of money

If you are just starting up, my best wishes to you for ramping up your revenue faster. 🙂

You can retain 20% of the revenue earned by the US entity and transfer 80% of the revenue back to your parent company as license fee.

When you start making enough money, you will be liable to pay taxes on the profit made on the 20% margin after all the operational costs are subtracted. Note that you will be paying other taxes such as franchise tax, State tax, etc., which have to be paid anyway to operate a company regardless of whether or not you make profits.

That’s pretty much it.

Statutory warning: As mentioned earlier, do not consider this as legal advice. Just sharing an alternate model than following the traditional model of US HQ. You should definitely consult a lawyer and an accountant to ensure that you stay compliant with all the laws in all the countries that you operate in.

Good luck with your startup and feel free to drop a note to suresh-at-kissflow.com to say “Hello”.

This blog was first published on the ChargeBee blog.

SaaS India struggles with Inbound Lead Response

As Indian SAAS companies are aspiring to make a global footprint, the sales growth can make or break their goals. Companies who respond fastest as compared to competitors always have first mover advantage to close sales. According to the Harvard Business Review, companies that try to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving queries are nearly 7 times as likely to have meaningful conversations with key decision makers as firms that try to contact prospects even an hour later.

We surveyed 90 funded SAAS companies; the observations were quite shocking as far as their inbound lead response is concerned. Only 26% companies (24 out of 90) companies cared to respond to inbound leads. Given the kind of investment companies make in their digital marketing, money goes down the drain if the inbound leads are not tapped efficiently. Even if the leads are contacted, the time to respond makes all the difference.

Inbound Digital Marketing – A must for Generating Leads!

Organizations rely significantly on inbound digital marketing for their businesses. B2B companies invest from $25 to $500 for generating an inbound lead while B2C companies invest from $5 to $25 for the same. The money spent goes down the drain if inbound leads are not responded in an efficient way. The important questions for you to answer are – How many of your inbound leads are never contacted as they get lost during data transfer to sales team? How many inbound leads are loosely passed on to Sales reps to contact with incomplete or wrong information? How many of them are contacted when the prospect have lost interest in you or chosen a competitor?

The answers to these questions will define the ROI of your inbound marketing efforts. However, the good news is that if you are effective in inbound lead response management you are on the top of your business as chances are pegged on higher side in converting inbound sales leads rather than outbound leads for which investments are even on a much higher side.

Time is all what makes a difference!

We (Texo Team) conducted a research on funded B2B SAAS companies in India to analyse the inbound sales readiness. 90 SAAS companies were identified as funded. Web forms on the websites of the identified companies were filled and the responses were logged. We made an analysis on the data and have come out with an interesting insight on the current state of inbound sales processes in these companies or any other B2B company which may be used as a reference point for improvement through process, people and/ or technology.

We found that 8 companies choose to directly call the prospects and 4 companies choose to directly send personalized emails without sending an auto response. 4 companies sent personalized emails along with an auto response. Overall, only 26% companies (24 out of 90) responded to inbound leads out of which 67% (16) adopted calls as the mode of contact and 33% (8) used email as the mode of communication.

Only 4 out of 90 companies responded in less than 10 minutes. And only 7 companies responded in an hour. Click here to download TEXO SAAS Inbound Lead Response Report- 2015 for free and get deeper insights of the research report including the best SAAS companies in India who scored high in lead response research.

Way to Efficiently Manage your Inbound Leads

Inbound Leads are the prospects who have shown any kind of interest in your products/services by making a contact at any of the buyer stage. Marketers and sales reps have to align their engagement strategies with respect to the buyer stage. But what can they do about the 70% of the buyer’s journey that they’re missing out on? They are not able to correctly judge the prospect’s buying stage when they make a contact and hence not able to employ an effective engagement strategy.

And how can a tool like Sales Engagement Hub integrated with Marketing Automation Tools help marketers and sales reps keep pace with their buyers? The level of interest may vary depending on the buying stage the prospect is in, and hence different prospects need to be addressed differently. Factors to be considered for engaging with inbound leads are Response Time, Mode of Communication, Information to be shared, and Frequency of follow-ups and so on. A prospect in the consideration stage would prefer information about products, solutions, services, and case studies, and would need longer follow ups over email (preferably) or call. However, a prospect in the decision stage would be more interested in having information on solutions and pricing, and would need consistent follow-ups (shorter) over call (preferably) or email. Sales Engagement Hub integrated with marketing automation tools help the sales reps and marketers in effectively engaging with prospects.