Sapience Analytics is driving over INR 10 million in annual value per 100 employees

CEO and Co-Founder, Sapience Analytics, Shirish Deodhar, is pleased with the market response to their first software product, Sapience, and says their objective is to become the default standard for Automated Enterprise Effort Visibility and Gain

Sapience Analytics was set up in 2008, as a software products company. It was formed by four serial entrepreneurs, who had come to realize that the future of Indian IT belonged to product ventures and that software services was a commodity business. The team faced the compelling need of stepping into the market of software products. The core product in this case is an award-winning, patent-pending, Sapience, an employee productivity analytics solution that claims to deliver over 20 per cent increase in work output from your existing team. In an interview with ProductNation, Shirish Deodhar talks about the Sapience product journey, its unrivalled position in the market and the company’s future plans.

Why and how did you start Sapience? Why this area of work efficiency?
Sapience Analytics has been co-founded by four serial entrepreneurs. By 2008, we had spent 25 years in outsourced product development, including successful exits of previously founded companies. After mentoring a few product companies, one of us, Swati Deodhar, decided to build a solution to address the challenge of measuring and improving productivity.

In mid-2009, we had a prototype with an integrated dashboard displaying software engineering metrics aggregated and analyzed from different tools. This had to do with visibility into the underlying effort of employees and teams as they went about their assigned work.

Absence of work visibility makes it difficult to increase work output, and affects productivity. Contemporary practices of 24×7 work using laptops, flexible office hours, work-from-home (WFH) policies, globally distributed teams, and outsourcing intensify the problem of measurement. Many companies even stop these progressive HR practices in order to improve productivity, just like the recent controversial ban on WFH at Yahoo. We saw an opportunity to benefit the business through greater productivity while encouraging employee friendly policies. The solution also helps employees work smart and improve their work-life balance.

What are your product’s key differentiators?
Sapience helps deliver over 20 percent increase in work output from the existing team without requiring any change in process or additional management overhead. Sapience achieves this through Automated Work Visibility. This is a game-changer for any business, driving over INR 10 million in annual value per 100 employees.

Sapience captures employee work patterns in a highly automated manner with virtually no manual intervention. Agents installed on the individual machines collect user data, and forward it to the central server. Each user gets an individual dashboard, while long term analysis / reporting at business level are available to managers on the central server. Sapience integrates with the customer’s ERP and other systems to enable effort analytics and capacity optimization across all aspects of the business. Customers can opt for Sapience hosted cloud server (SaaS) or an on-premise server.

Besides the revenue/profit gain for the business, here are a few benefits for various stakeholders:

  • For employees – they can ensure better focus on key activities
  • Managers – they can guide their teams to work smarter
  • Senior management get the ‘macro view’ – pointing out which teams are under-utilized

 

What was the funding strategy to create this product? Time and effort taken to develop it
Once the product concept was validated with some initial installations, we received US $350,000 from the Indian Angel Network in May 2010. Then in November 2011, we received around US $1 million funding from Seed Enterprises.

Who are your competitors? What is the biggest challenge Sapience has faced so far? How did you address that challenge?
Sapience remains the only product available globally that delivers enterprise class automated time/effort analytics. At first glance, some prospects confuse Sapience with employee monitoring tools that have been around for a long time. User time is classified into productive and non-productive work, and aggregated for a pool of employees on weekly and monthly basis.

One of our challenges is to highlight that Sapience does not change corporate culture, but adapts to it. We are addressing this with focused messaging, listening to employee and management feedback from our installations, and building the required capabilities.

What’s been your success mantra in expanding to emerging markets / its reach?
We have been fortunate to have India as a large potential market for Sapience, since it keeps the cost of sales and support low. The product timing has also been good, since productivity at work is becoming a key concern at IT Services companies and for subsidiaries of global MNCs. Since the economic downturn in 2008, revenue growth has declined and billing rates have remained flat or even dropped. Costs have continued to escalate, and profit at IT companies is now taxed.

We were warned that India is considered a very challenging market in which to sell enterprise products, especially for a start-up, and even more so for a ‘Made in India’ product. We encountered the classic innovation curve when selling the products. While everyone liked Sapience, most managers were reluctant to change the status quo in their companies. However, a few bold and innovative leaders recognized the value and signed up as our initial customers. In late 2010, the first release was picked up by companies such as IdeaS (a SAS subsidiary), Excelize, and EnVenture. These were all 75 to 150 user license deals. The next step was to persuade larger 2,500+ employee companies. In mid-2011, senior management at Zensar and KPIT gave Sapience its initial break into the medium sized segment. By early 2012, we got a breakthrough at Tech Mahindra, a leading IT company.

What have been your BIG lessons – personal, professional and otherwise? What lessons would you like to share with someone who is struggling or planning to get into product development?
I wrote a book called ‘From Entrepeneurs to Leaders – Building Billion Dollar Product Companies from India’ that was published by McGraw-Hill in 2010. But the BIG lesson is a very fundamental advice from an ancient Indian text (the Bhagvad Gita): ‘Do your work well for its own sake, without aiming for rewards.’

What inspired you to be an entrepreneur? What lessons would you like to share with someone who is struggling or planning to get into product development?
I did my B-Tech (EE) in 1980, from IIT Bombay. Following a Master’s in the USA, I worked at Burroughs Corporation in Southern California for several years. Got a US patent for the work that I did in my first year of work. I became an entrepreneur by accident when I met someone from the US, who wanted to outsource work to India, and helped co-found my first company, Frontier Software, in 1989. Frontier was a pioneer in outsourced product development, and with product offshoring to India being uncommon then, it took us 10 years to scale to 150 employees. One of our first customers, VERITAS Software (now Symantec Corp.) acquired Frontier in 1999. By 2003, we had scaled VERITAS India to over 600 employees in 16 product teams, and over 30 percent patents filed (though the India operation was 22 percent of worldwide engineering).

In late 2003, I and two others came together at In-Reality Software and grew it rapidly, before another successful exit to Symphony Services Inc. We scaled the Symphony Pune business to US $25 million and 700+ employees by 2007.

After mentoring a few product start-ups between 2007 and 2009, we decided to try and build a successful product company from India. We are now focused exclusively on Sapience Analytics.

Time on Work matters not Time in Office
Sapience automatically determines on-PC and away-from-PC time, and differentiates between actual work and personal time.Your 9-6 pm staff (typically women) may be more efficient than those staying late

The 9-6 pm employees are most efficient at work – since they contribute high work hours in proportion to time in office. They often tend to be women employees who have commitments at home.

Programmers don’t spend even 50% of their work day in programming!
It is about whether you are focused on activities that matter and which result in most work being done, rather than less important but seemingly urgent tasks.

Sapience is discovering that a large amount of employee time is being spent on emails.
This is often a case of poor email habits: opening each email as it arrives, copying too many people, etc. Similarly managers spend a lot of time on planned and informal meetings. The two most important training programs required in companies are on email discipline and how to conduct meetings.

What are your future plans –in terms of this (work efficiency) product / and any other?
We have a multi-dimensional ‘expanding web’ growth strategy that covers product functionality, platforms, enterprise scale, and geography. The goal is to become the default standard for Automated Enterprise Effort Visibility and Gain.

For example, in the current year, we will cover all platforms including Linux, iOS, smartphones, calendaring tools and third-party presence servers. We have just released mSapience beta for Android smartphones, which help you track time spent on phone calls, travel and meetings away from office. You can distinguish between business and personal work.

What has it taken so long for Indian software market to focus on software product development?  What changes have you see in people’s perception toward domestic software products?
India has dominated in the IT Services space for the past twenty years, which has benefited the country and generated self-confidence and reputation for India on the global stage.  However, IT Services growth has slowed, and profitability is down. Cloud technologies and widespread adoption of mobiles and increasingly smartphones has caused a technology disruption that new companies can exploit. Indian market for IT products is reasonably large and growing. Moreover, the presence of MNC subsidiaries and large number of experienced software professionals returning back to India means that the right kind of product talent is available. Finally, some degree of angel and VC funding is now possible in this product ecosystem.

Q&A with ERP Ecommerce Company, InSync Solutions

InSync Solutions Ltd. provides ecommerce solutions for online retail businesses. Many software services companies in India are evolving to products companies. Atul Gupta, founder and managing director of InSync Solutions Ltd., describes how InSync made this transition. 

SandHill.com: When did you launch InSync as a services company, and what led to the switch to a products focus? 

Atul Gupta: We launched in October 2005 in Kolkata, India. At the time it was the only prudent career choice for me, as I was unwilling to work as an employee.

InSync was made to be a service company targeting small and midsize businesses (SMBs). But after four years we realized we couldn’t build a sustainable business with services. There were too many challenges. So we changed direction in the winter of 2009, switching our focus to products and incorporating the learnings we had gained up to that point.

SandHill.com: Did you also encounter unanticipated challenges when you started out as a product company? 

Atul Gupta: Once we changed gears and became a product company things started to fall in place. The challenges we have encountered since then are not related to building great products and delivering them to customers; our challenges since then are related to non-core activities of running the company. 

SandHill.com: What steps have you taken to overcome the challenges of an entrepreneur dealing with running a company? 

Atul Gupta: Having a strong management team / leadership team is very important, and it is equally important that they bring in unique skills on to the table. 

SandHill.com: Please describe your products and their differentiation in the market. 

Atul Gupta: Our Flagship Product is SBOeConnect, which integrates SAP Business One ERP and Magento eCommerce. SBOeConnect has gained good traction in the market so far. We have acquired the business of more than 100 Magento merchants globally with 95 percent customer retention, which means the customers benefit from our product.

SBOeConnect is the number-one choice for an ecommerce platform among SAP Business One users. Our market focus is on SAP Business One ERP users in the retail industry.

As to differentiation, no other ecommerce solutions have the capability of back-office ERP, and none of the ERP systems so far have been able to come up with a compelling ecommerce solution.

Businesses need to use multiple systems to be functional. We help businesses keep their investments in multiple systems intact and yet be efficient by integrating these systems.

Read the complete interview at Sandhill.com

Q&A with Seclore CEO on Information Rights Management Software

Often, enterprise goals of security and collaboration are mutually exclusive. Seclore, with customers in Asia, Europe and North America, resolves that dilemma. Seclore’s CEO, Vishal Gupta, discusses Information Rights Management trends as well as development of the company’s IRM product. This article is brought to SandHill readers in partnership with ProductNation.

SandHill.com: Please describe your company’s software product and your market.

Vishal Gupta: Seclore is an information security software product company. Our core technology enables information to be “remote controlled.” So you can send me a document, image or email and then, after 10 days, if the relationship changes, you can press a button on your computer and the information will effectively vanish from my computer! Sounds Mission Impossible? It is definitely doable.

During the 10 days you also can control whether I can edit, print, forward or copy-paste from the document, image or email. You can also monitor who is doing what (tried to print the document) with the information, when (on Sunday morning) and from where (from his home computer).

The mission of the company is to help enterprises achieve the mutually conflicting goals of security and collaboration together. We currently have customers in the financial services, engineering services, manufacturing and defense sectors across three continents.

SandHill.com: How does your product differ from other security products?

Vishal Gupta: Seclore’s technology is different because it allows information usage to be controlled without the prerequisite of everyone installing a local agent. It is the most integration-friendly Information Rights Management (IRM) system in the world. Any person or system within the enterprise that is creating documents or emails can use Seclore’s technology for securing the information.

SandHill.com: How did your company originate?

Vishal Gupta: Seclore came out of the IIT Bombay incubator. The company was initially a campus project, which became a company. The company was launched with the specific mandate of providing a secure outsourcing solution to enterprises looking to outsource business processes. Over a period of time we realized that what we had created as a solution to a specific problem was in fact applicable in a much wider context.

The formal operations of the company were started in June 2006. The name Seclore comes from “Sec” (for “secure”) and “Lore” (for “knowledge,” as in folklore). So Seclore stands for Secure Knowledge.

Read the complete interview at Sandhill.com

Conversation with Software Vendor Stelae Technologies

Software vendor Stelae Technologies provides a content extraction and automated conversion solution for multiple categories of content. Its product Khemeia™ is a cloud-based technology that combines multiple analytic methodologies into one product. In this interview, CEO and founder Aruna Schwarz discusses the unique nature of the company’s product and shares product development advice for first-time entrepreneurs and startup CEOs. This article is brought to SandHill readers in partnership with ProductNation. 

SandHill.com: When and where was your company launched?

Aruna Schwarz: Stelae Technologies was launched in 2002 in Paris and was flipped to an Indian company in October 2012. It’s based in Chennai.

SandHill.com: How did your company originate — what inspired you to launch the company and what was the original vision/hope?

Aruna Schwarz: Stelae Technologies was born out of my experience as marketing director of a content management solutions vendor, where one of the service lines was manual and semi-automated processing of magazine and newspaper print content to create Web publishing outputs.

Khemeia originated out of the idea to create an automated conversion solution for multiple categories of content. My original vision to create a product company in the content analytics and conversion space has been rigorously maintained throughout and 80 percent of our revenues are from product sales (license and maintenance revenues).

SandHill.com: Please describe your company’s products.

Aruna Schwarz: Khemeia enables automated analysis, metadata extraction and structuring of unstructured content from multiple formats (e.g., PDF, Word, ASCII, HTML) and creation of multiple outputs (e.g., XML, XBRL, S1000D, Epub). It enables customers to produce structured, indexed, searchable and pertinent information quicker, better and cheaper.

The product has been developed from scratch and contains over 90 content analysis algorithms. The content categories we focus on are financial accounts, technical documentation, legal content (cases, judgments, legislation, statutes and regulatory information) and publishing (newspapers, magazines and books). We have processed over 10 million pages in multiple categories, formats and languages.

The other product in our portfolio is pdf2xbrl ™, an XBRL taxonomy editor with multiple accounting taxonomies (UK GAAP, Indian GAAP, etc.) integrated.

SandHill.com: Who are the funding sources behind your company?

Aruna Schwarz: My first investor, Barrington Davies (former MD of BT France, former MD of Business Units of Cable & Wireless), was my former boss at Cable & Wireless UK. Over breakfast in a café in Paris we discussed my business idea and he was excited enough to invest and also be the chairman of Stelae Technologies France. He continues to be an investor in the Indian company.

R&D, product development and customer acquisition has been funded with innovation grants from the French government, customer revenues and investment from angel investors in France, UK, the United States, Israel and the Indian Angel Network.

SandHill.com: Please describe how your product provides business value for your customers.

Aruna Schwarz: Khemeia enables up to 70 percent cost savings for end users and BPOs and faster turnaround times (two weeks compared to eight weeks). For the BPOs that currently use manual and semi-automated processing and separate work flows for each content category, Khemeia significantly reduces set-up times and costs.

Read the complete article at Sandhill.com

Q&A with Cloud-Based Application Penetration Testing Company iViZ Security

iViZ Security “takes ethical hacking to the cloud,” says Bikash Barai, its co-founder, CEO and director. Currently iViZ focuses on cloud-based penetration testing services for Web applications. He shares insights for other entrepreneurs about lessons learned in finding a market and growing a startup. This article is brought to SandHill readers in partnership with ProductNation. 

SandHill.com:  Please describe your product and your market. 

Bikash Barai: We provide application security testing in the cloud. The idea is to hack yourself before others do. We figure out the flaws and also provide the recommendation to fix them. We conduct tests so that you can protect your website from hacking attacks like cross-site scripting, XSS, business logic flaws and many others.

Our solution is beneficial not just from the perspective of security/business continuity but also for compliance with PCI, SOX, HIPAA, etc. Today for any company doing serious business, it is mandatory to conduct such tests.

We primarily focus on verticals like banking/insurance, online/ecommerce and manufacturing. Basically anybody who has an online application that is critical for running their business finds us useful. 

SandHill.comPlease describe your product’s differentiation and how it provides business value for your customers. 

Bikash Barai: Let me first talk about the customer problem before I get into the differentiation. If you have to conduct a penetration testing/security testing, there are a couple of conventional options. One is that you buy tools and the other to hire consultants. The tools throw a lot of false positives (vulnerabilities that are not true) and also cannot detect advanced business logic vulnerabilities. So you need to hire an expert who will have to augment these gaps manually. But the biggest problem is to hire enough good guys and retain them. On the other hand consultants are costly, non-scalable, time-consuming and also not flexible to work during non-business hours.

Our differentiation is that, unlike any other competing products, we provide advanced business logic testing by leveraging our patent-pending “hybrid approach” that integrates automation with manual testing by security experts. So you need not buy tools or hire people/consultants. Unlike consultants, you can test anytime, anywhere. For organizations that make frequent changes in their applications, we provide unlimited testing at a flat fee.

SandHill.com: How did your company originate — what inspired you to launch the company and what was the original vision/hope? 

Bikash Barai: While studying at IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), I approached Nilanjan De (the current CTO of iViZ) for collaborating on a possible venture on ethical hacking. We made the decision in our hostel room. And that’s how the company was born.

While conducting a conventional penetration testing exercise, it dawned on us that even as security experts we could not comprehensively detect all multi-stage attack-path possibilities. Especially, once a network is successfully broken into, people tend to become complacent and the incentive to find all ways to penetrate diminishes.

To overcome this barrier related to basic human instinct, we began in 2005 exploring the use of artificial intelligence to simulate all multi-stage attack possibilities. We built a prototype and refined it over nine months and then stabilized it after testing it in several environments. Thus, the automated penetration testing product was born. This technology is currently under “patent pending” with the US Patents & Trademark Office. We formally launched our company in 2007 in Kolkata, India.

Read the complete story at Sandhill.com

How a much needed niche banking product was born – The iCreate story.

ProductNation caught up with iCreate Software co-founder Naren Santhanam, on what went in to the making of a successful product.

It was circa 2006 when Naren met Anup while they were consultants on the Banking vertical at a technology MNC. They knew from experience that banks had a challenge in accessing information across different systems and there was potential in pioneering something exciting. Over a series of extensive debates they decided on developing a decision enablement product exclusively for the banking sector b leveraging the best of Business Intelligence and Data Integration technologies. 

At that point in time Banks which wanted to have BI & analytics had to develop a customized solution over the available tools, employing the services of an SI. The banks functional team would provide the business requirements. This resulted in substantial lead times apart from higher costs; even then, id guarantee the desired results. 

The big idea

The iCreate idea was based on the founders’ expertise with the functional nature of systems that banks used and other transactional systems. They conceptualized a product that could connect with the bank’s ecosystem quickly. 

This ensured the product could be up and running powering the bank’s decision needs in a fifth of the time conventional approaches take. Also, ideated were new versions/modules of the product that could be rolled out quickly, making the product scalable and customizable to a bank’s requirements.

Both Naren and Anup were confident that banks in emerging markets would see most value in their product as they were still in early phase of technology adoption and competition was low.

Between then and 2009 they invested substantial efforts in understanding the intricacies and pain-points faced by the banks in emerging economies before deciding to focus efforts on them. 

Naren does a quick flashback, “It was an early stage in my career and life, when I had an abundance of energy and not too many strings attached, which made it easier for me. We were clear on the direction, given our past lives in the banking technology space. The big idea was to create a banking-specific decision enablement product”. Since it was a capital intensive proposition, they agreed to embark on the consulting route and then deploy the insights in shaping the product. Naren continues “Yes, there were several challenges of staying afloat and not losing focus on the long-term goal of creating a product company. The last 7 years have been the most fulfilling and exciting ones- something I wouldn’t have ever experienced in corporate life”.

On high octane

They began providing high-end banking technology consulting to select banks in Africa. In 2009 they approached the prestigious National Bank of Kuwait (NBK); while the product was still in its infancy. It was their domain knowledge and technology expertise that won them the account. NBK signed up iCreate to play a pivotal role in their ambitious enterprise transformation initiative, which is lauded as a first-of-its kind for a start-up. By late 2009 iCreate was well entrenched in the banking decision support space. This was around the time they received their first round of VC funding from IDG Ventures India.

By then the product had started taking shape and was christened ‘Biz$core’ – a unique name that encapsulated BI, Core of Banking Systems, Score for Scorecards, Biz for Business and the $ sign signifying money.

iCreate began quickly onboarding the best tech brains to work on the product. They also put together a global GTM team with a ‘whatever-it-takes’ DNA to take Biz$core’s unique value proposition to banks worldwide. By then Vivek Subramanyam was onboard as CEO to pilot iCreate’s growth and revenue strategy. 

Proof of the pudding 

With the change in strategy, the journey started getting more exciting and iCreate found itself in an accelerated growth mode. iCreate’s banking customer count today stands at an impressive 22, of which 16 were added in the last year and a half alone. From a revenue stream comprising 25% product sales and 75% consulting services in early 2010, the split reversed to 70% product sales and 30% from consulting services towards close of FY 2013. 

iCreate’s early stage  banking customers from across diverse geographies, played an active role in in defining their products into a well-rounded ones. Naren explains “Leaders like HDFC Bank and IndusInd Bank with complex business processes, trade finance specialists like Ghana International Bank, Metro Bank – UK, progressive banks like East West Bank, Philippines helped us tremendously with their insights as we were developing our product.” 

Mission to achieve the vision 

iCreate today boasts of five banking-specific products that span critical areas like decision enablement, risk, compliance, regulatory reporting and Basel; and has plans to launch five more during the next year. The recent series-B funding from Sequoia Capital and IDG is expected to help them further expand their product portfolio and foray into newer geographies including North America. 

“Our focus on emerging markets like Asia, Africa and West Asia continue, and we have already established our presence in markets such as Egypt and the Philippines. There are two promising deals in the offing from the UK as well. Most importantly, there is that sense of pride of having created a product that completely changes the way banks look at information management”, remarks Naren. 

iCreate’s road map definitely looks interesting and seems to be aligning well with their vision statement what they call the ‘Vision 5:50:250’, i.e., to be among the top 5 in BI for banking space, win 50 strategic banking clients world-wide and touch Rs. 250 crore in revenues by FY 2015.

Great Mentoring Session for Product startups with Piyush Singh & Greg Toebbe

Both, Piyush Singh(Sr. VP & CIO) & Greg Toebbe(Sr. VP) at Great American Insurance, are active participants in the Indian software ecosystem and are acknowledged speakers in the NASSCOM Product Conclave. This time they selected 4 companies to have one-on-one sessions with them on February 27, 2013 after reviewing several companies that had applied for this mentoring session.

Objective of these one-on-one meetings was mentoring/guidance on product strategy, Go-To-Market (GTM), scaling and sales among other things. The number of companies selected was consciously kept less so that each startup gets quality time of one hour with Piyush and Greg.  The time was split as follows: 15-20 minutes of introduction and product presentation followed by a few minutes of the product demonstration. More than half of the allotted time was suggested to be used for seeking advice and feedback. These sessions were voluntarily given by Piyush as part of helping the Indian Software Product ecosystem. Participants were at liberty to seek out the mentors for any advisory role or future involvement. I am sure that every company walked away feeling satisfied and renewed energy to pursue their dreams after these meetings. The companies selected were:

Here are some of the snippets of advice given to the companies (in random order):

  • Presentations should immediately connect with the audience. Great way to do this is to start with user stories/perspectives so that people immediately see the product’s value rather explaining the technology involved or the general problem that the product is solving. He also mentioned that CxOs like numbers. Numbers hit them more than anything else. One of the startups declared that their product reduces the testing effort, increases productivity and saves license costs too. They were advised to take a specific case study and put the actual savings in numbers. These would then make people see the value instantaneously.
  • One company had built a great enterprise technology platform over the last couple of years. However, it had difficulty in selling it to the big guys. Piyush advised them to build vertical-based solutions on their platform and target one or more marquee customers in that segment. He said they could keep the core common and build vertical-focused modules. This would help them differentiate from their competitors as well as have potential customers see the value immediately.
  • While everyone is clamoring for moving their applications into the cloud, he said cloud is not meant for everyone and everything. Companies should not make superficial efforts to move their product into the cloud if it doesn’t make sense to their customers. Alternatively, if they could offer the hybrid model (cloud and on-premise) then customers are free to choose what they want. Ultimately the development should be driven more your customer needs rather than general technology trends around you.
  • For selling in the US, he said there is no alternative to burning shoe leather. Companies will have to meet the leads face-to-face and sell. Specific targeted Tradeshows as well as exposure in right magazines are another avenue to generate good leads. He also advised the startups to tie up with bigger player in their domains and use their sales muscle, if it works out symbiotically for both parties.

Once again, ProductNation and the participating companies would like to thank Piyush and Greg for their valuable time and advise. And last but not the least, we would like to thank Pramati Techologies (Syed Khadar) for hosting these meetings and helping us with the arrangements at a very short notice.

Few testimonials from the companies:

Thank you very much ProductNation for the opportunity to Mr. Piyush Singh and Mr. Greg Toebbe.  The feedback and suggestions shared by them was quite valuable, especially good to know the buyers perspective, which will be helpful in presenting a business case to the prospects.  Once again thank you ProductNation for all support extended to start ups – Sudhir Patil, Qualitia Software

It was a great experience meeting Piyush & Greg, very high return on my time spent (RoT).  The quality & amount of, to the point, practical and meaningful advice I got in one hour of our interaction was invaluable and is impossible to get by even attending a dozen startup events.  Very productive, very helpful, expecting more of such interactions with people who know and understand the needs of your target customer segments besides knowing technology! – Sumeet Anand, Kreeo Software

Our main intention was to validate some of the assumptions we have made for building the Enterprise Software. Piyush, being the CIO of a huge enterprise, provided that validation as well as helped us prioritize a few things. His offer for using out free Lite version (when it is available) was also deeply appreciated. Overall, we felt it was time well spent. – Chandra, i7 Networks

The interaction provided some valuable feedback for our company growth and scale. Even though the session time was limited, ROI was there ! Today we need to interact with wide/diverse network of people due to the product DNA nature in the business model and the pace at which this model is growing as compared to the old mentoring model and nature of the companies/business model.
Also he was good enough to keep the interaction beyond the session as well ! I would like to quote Jim Rohn in this context – “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Lot to learn from their expertise and hopefully the session provided the platform for the same/to get started with. Thanks to ProductNation for organising such a session and expect to do more sessions. Abdulla Hisham, Fordadian Technologies

Q&A with MAIA Intelligence, India’s Largest Business Intelligence Software Company

MAIA Intelligence, launched in 2006, was the first business intelligence software product company in India. Its product, 1KEY Agile BI Suite, is designed with the vision of serving the analytics and reporting needs of an entire organization from the operational end users to the top executives. In this interview, CEO and founder Sanjay Mehta discusses the product benefits and the importance of customer feedback in developing a market-leading product. This article is brought to SandHill readers in partnership with ProductNation.   

SandHill.com: What is your company’s mission and what was your original vision? 

Sanjay Mehta: MAIA Intelligence is a young and innovative company committed to developing powerful BI reporting and analysis products. MAIA’s mission is to democratize BI and take it from a few expert users to the operational managers, and from frontline executives to the back-office team.

While at my former company (Udyog), we realized that for ERP software there are too many challenges in creating reports as and when required. The Udyog customers wanted a reporting tool to the business software as a plug-in. These customers then started asking for enhanced reporting capabilities and features in other business applications such as CRM, HR Management, etc.

Business intelligence is a domain which traditionally is aimed for the top decision maker. But what we have observed is that with adequate information at hand, operational-level decision making also improves drastically — improving productivity, increasing revenue and market share. We now have more than 45,000 users across India and are the largest BI software product company in India. 

SandHill.com: Is there a story behind your company name? 

Sanjay Mehta: MAIA is a female given name of Greek origin. MAIA also means the eldest of the Pleiades in Greek mythology, also identified with an Ancient Italic goddess of spring and the most beautiful. Similar to Laxmiji, goddess of prosperity. 

SandHill.com: Please describe your product suite and your market. 

Sanjay Mehta: Our flagship product is 1KEY Agile BI Suite, which is a comprehensive business intelligence software application catering to strategic, tactical and operational data analysis and reporting needs of multiple vertical industries. An integrated offering with a choice to pick and choose modules (business user interfaces), it enables organizations to deploy the BI framework with minimal investments and have a secure, enterprise-wide, dynamic reporting platform in six weeks, irrespective of existing applications.

We also have other products such as 1KEY Touch (an advanced interactive dashboard and reporting software), 1KEY FCM (a financial consolidation management solution) and postXBRL software (an XBRL reporting tool). Our upcoming product is 1KEY HPC (high-performance computing analytics software).

Our 1KEY BI application is suitable for small businesses as well as enterprises. We have been making good inroads in almost all the industry verticals, especially BFSI, Manufacturing, Pharmaceuticals, FMCG, Consumer Durables & Retail. As of now we have customers largely in India and the Middle East, but we are looking to expand soon in the other global markets through strategic alliances.

Read the complete story at Sandhill.com

In discussion with the Founders of Qualitia

Today there are proven automation tools in the market from  HP, IBM as well as open source tools like Selenium, Webdriver but the success does not lies in just investing in to tools but putting right strategies, best practices in place.

Qualitia is a one of its kind platform which intern leverages these tools as an execution engine while enabling users to adopt RIGHT strategies, best practices, where in now test automation designing, test automation development and even detailed reporting happens in Qualitia. We interviewed Rahul Chaudhari(MD & CEO) & Sudhir Patil(Founder Director) about the company’s product development journey & their advice for startups.

Q)    What was the Vision with which you launched the company ?
Vision is to empower the manual test engineers to contribute to test automation worldwide. Which has been a job of the technology resources till today, but we see a larger opportunity to empower the 90-92% of the QA community who come from the domain background or functional knowledge background and empowering them to drive test automation way faster then any traditional way of automation. Test automation challenges are primarily attracting resources who were good in development technologies and then making them work into testing. Bridging the gap between domain and technology expertise to dramatically reduce the turnover time in test automation. This will empower the SME’s manual test engineers that are the existing strength of every company to drive automation themselves. Also to reduce the maintenance effort and cost  of enterprises to help them to invest into test automation.

Q)    How will the product help startups to scale up?
In terms of startups where the focus is primarily development and they realize the importance of test automation, some barriers exist primarily:

  • The competencies required to drive test automation.
  • The Cost of commercial licenses. 

We therefore provide the solutions through Qualitia where startups can get the licenses on subscription model at around 23% of cost of their QA resource with 200% increase in the productivity leading to huge savings for a Startup from day one. 

Q)    Which are the important markets which you are looking at?
India contributes the maximum of users, where as US contributes 60% to the buying space worldwide. Therefore a balance needs to be created between them therefore both are important markets for us. 

Q) What is the next 1 year roadmap for the company?
We would look to drive success stories in the markets/segments identified and anchor  customers in these markets. Since US is a mature market where we have been present for the last 2 years we would like to build on the success realised
 by customers there.  The target is to grow the revenues in double digits. 

Q)    What advice would you give to new startups?
For any product – The idea and its research is important keeping in mind ability to take the product to the market. Time is of the essence. Therefore it is very important to ensure that the fructification of the product on real time is very important. 

Q)    What has been your go to market strategy?
Identifying the focus clearly, and slowly expanding the market.

Guest post by Nakul SaxenaNITEE


EmployWise: Improving the ROI in employee lifecycle management

Effective employee lifecycle management is acquiring importance from a talent acquisition and retention perspective; from an employee satisfaction angle; as well as from a compliance and regulatory viewpoint. Many organizations, especially SMEs, are discovering to their dismay that the pile of unstructured employee data they have accumulated is a ticking time bomb. They suspect they are paying a price for poor record maintenance and employee management, but are not sure of the exact cost, or its implications.

The impact of poor employee lifecycle management could vary, but often includes an inability to quickly sift through granular employee records and performance metrics with any degree of confidence. This leaves organizations open to violation of immigration norms, wrongful termination charges, industry and local jurisdiction compliance penalties, productivity loss, fraud through inaccurate claims, growing recruitment costs, loss of assets and brand reputation through poor separation processes, etc. The problems become complex when the business grows from single proprietor to multi-unit operators across geographies.

But what’s an SME to do? Human resource management takes years to be codified. Processes around HR management (compensation and benefits, leave, attendance, travel, expenses, reimbursement, performance, hiring, learning and development, separation) and workflow can have gaps and leakages for years without being noticed. Replicating them across units with any degree of accuracy and consistency is a frustratingly uphill mission.

The problem is so large that it has drawn a number of entrepreneurs to try and solve it using technology and automation. With newer business models such as SaaS, pay-as-you-go technologies like cloud and anywhere-anytime access over mobile channels, the solutions are not only looking good, but are increasingly becoming affordable.

Which presents the single biggest problem to entrepreneurs trying to solve the problem: what’s the differentiator? Why should an organization opt for Solution A over Solution B, C, D….Z?

Sumeet Kapur, CEO of EmployWise an employee lifecycle management solution, took the long route to the answer. “Human relationships are very different from handling materials,” says Kapur, “People have names, not product codes. Human beings have memories and you have to treat each one as a segment of one.” EmployWise took this core philosophy and engineered it into their product. An early version of the product was launched in 2004 as Kapur and his team realized that India was turning into a service economy and employee lifecycle management would gain increasing attention. By 2008 EmployWise was officially launched. Today, the 9 modules of the product appear easy to use, can be integrated with existing HR management technologies (SAP, PeopleSoft etc) and giving instant access to best practices in a hosted pay-per-use-per-employee-per-module SaaS model.

At the moment EmployWise uses SMS to stay mobile, making it unnecessary to deploy fancy smart phone apps. In an Indian context, especially in relation to SMEs, this may appear to be a wise strategy – but one that is unlikely to remain a strength for long. Smart phone costs are coming down and SMEs have very compelling reasons to opt for mobile technologies. Mobile banking, communication, inventory management, sales tools, even mobile credit card payments etc are becoming affordable for SMEs over smart phones. Why would they want to remain with clunky SMS for HR? EmployWise must address this quickly if they are to remain relevant in a scenario where smart phones are already dominating.

The advantages of software products such as EmployWise extend to the ability to have one source of truth, they obviate the need for secondary data entry for analysis, empower employees through a self-service model, reduce the HR : employee ration to as much as 1 : 400 and allow companies to benchmark practices with those of their peer group. The last really depends on the density of customers EmployWise has within any given industry. At the moment, the company has 75+ customers – many from technology — and handles 32,000 employee records. The number is adequate to provide reasonable insights, especially in the technology sector where 40 to 60 per cent of the investment is in people – and where managing them well can produce quick ROI.

Q&A with Communication Platform Waybeo Technology’s CEO

Waybeo Technology Solutions was launched in December 2009 and was selected by Nasscom as one of the top 15 emerging, innovative companies in India in 2012. Its product, BounzD, is a global inbound communication platform enabling instant voice assistance to customers using a variety of mobile devices. In this interview, CEO Bushair AP discusses aspects of staying focused in the journey of product development. This article is brought to SandHill readers in partnership with ProductNation  

SandHill.com: What was the vision you originally had for your company? 

Bushair AP: We are a young team who is a part of a movement to change how the world communicates in the new age. Our team was formed out of our never-ending passion for creativity and social contribution. We all were fascinated by the revolutions in the communication sector. Our first attempt was a global group-messaging platform, which we developed for our early European customers. This was much before we formally launched Waybeo as a company. This opportunity opened up our vision to create products that we believe will attract millions in the future.

BounzD is a stepping-stone to achieve our vision of a well-connected world without any barriers like cost and geography. Once integrated with an enterprise’s online channels, end customers would be able to connect businesses with just an Internet connection without being charged across the world.

We work with large-scale and midsize enterprises in India and abroad that have online channels as a major way of customer acquisition. We handle their voice communications with potential customers and provide business insights and analytics. Our global plan is in beta stage and releasing this month. Waybeo is based in Trivandrum with offices in Mumbai, Delhi and California.

SandHill.com: Is there a story behind your company name? 

Bushair AP: The name Waybeo was derived out of our ambition of going way beyond by exploring an inspiring way of entrepreneurship.

SandHill.com: What differentiation and business value does BounzD provide to your customers? 

Bushair AP: We connect business and potential customers across the world within seconds. Besides being cost free, we have made it easier to connect with a business located in any part of the world. Our product has helped our customers improve their customer acquisition, sales cycle and cost of sale.

We have helped various companies in industries such as hospitality and realty to reduce abandoned calls by 30 percent and achieve an increase in online visibility. Many of the large enterprises in India have told us that they “felt” their Web presence after taking our services. In the hospitality sector, we have reduced contact center cost-to-sales ratio in a drastic way. And the business insights we provide though our analytics has helped various realty segments to plan contact sector operations and customer support services.

SandHill.com: How did you determine the right pricing for your product? 

Bushair AP: We reached out to a limited number of customers with a cost-plus-margin model. From limited early innovators, we moved to value-based pricing, which had improved profitability. The business dynamics of our customer segment had to be learned during this engagement with early innovators to have a better pricing. The key realization of how much value we create for our customers had to be quantified during this period. Value-based pricing involves understanding of business dynamics of a customer’s model, customer revenue generation checkpoints and behavior of end customers.

Read the complete article at Sandhill.com

Now Get Your Daily News through Contify

Contify is India’s leading business news, content and information provider with interests in managing databases; publishing news stories; and syndicating content from reputed publishers to global databases. We recently caught up with Contify’s CEO Mohit Bhakuni to understand more about the product and his journey so far. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

How did it all start?

Founded in April 2009 by two Indian Institute of Technology alumni in a small basement-turned-office and 1 lakh INR, Contify has grown into an 85-people strong multi-city operation in a short span of three years.

What is Contify’s proposition?

Contify positions itself as the easiest source to receive industry specific news underpinned by sound concept based search. It licenses content from publishers and uses advanced technologies to provide functionalities like faceted search and filtering to provide relevant content to the readers.

How are you funded?

Contify’s parent company is Athena Information Solutions Pvt Ltd.  Athena is the largest licensed content syndication company in India. In addition, Athena generates revenues from services business by providing content related services to few international clients. Contify product development is funded by the profits generated from Athena’s business operations.

What is the vision for you company?

To become one of the most respected products for industry information in India.

What are your key offerings?

Contify is a comprehensive news and information database aggregated from over 100 publications, which gives users access to insightful business content with its smart ‘filter-based’ search platform. Contify also has a strong in-house editorial team, which covers information and reports news on a range of industry verticals including banking, finance, energy, retail, automobiles and pharmaceutical, as well as key government policies related to India’s business environment.

How is Contify different from exiting platforms?

According to Mohit, Contify provides a unique value proposition to its clients who are looking for industry news in a cost effective way. It also focuses on small to medium sized businesses that have limited bandwidth or financial resources to source such aggregated industry information.

What is your biggest challenge?

The team is consistently working on coming up with ways to enhance user experience. One such example includes de-duplicating of stories across publications to provide only unique articles that are relevant to the users.

What does the future hold?

Mohit suggested that Contify is also building customised features for its clients to enhance their experience. For instance, it recently introduced widgets directly on the website to allow users to receive customised news.

Our view is that with intense competition in the news aggregator space Contify is likely to face stiff challenges from the incumbents and in order to build a sustainable advantage it will have to continuously innovate through additional product features such as analytics that can demonstrate value for money to the clients. 

Post Contributed by Abhimanyu Godara

 

Bizosys Technologies’ Tools for Simplifying Software Development

Bizosys Technologies, launched in January 2009 in Bangalore, India, is an award winning, India-based software engineering company that has developed several tools that are available free to use online or as open-source software with downloadable source code. One of the most significant tools is HSearch, a real-time Big Data search engine for Hadoop. In this interview, Sridhar Dhulipala, co-founder and director – solutions, discusses his company’s tools and also shares lessons learned in the software development journey. This article is brought to SandHill readers in partnership with ProductNation.  

SandHill.com: What was your vision; what inspired you to launch Bizosys? 

Sridhar Dhulipala: Bizosys was born out of a question and not out of a smart business plan. The question we had was: how can one simplify software development? This translated into an engineering quest where Bizosys founders were consumed in research for the first two years, entirely self-funded, thanks to the low capex model afforded by cloud infrastructure.

The three co-founders at Bizosys met during their careers at Infosys in Bangalore and decided to start Bizosys. Bizosys is self-funded and has had no sustained mentor in a formal sense — but a mentor would surely have helped from a go-to-market perspective.

We now provide IT services for enterprise and SMBs, mostly around Big Data, search and analytics, IT performance engineering, new application development targeting existing on-premises deployments or cloud architecture, addressing existing application technology stacks or emerging NoSQL technologies such as Hadoop.

Our tools are now accessed by users from over 100 countries globally. In the longer run, evangelizing our products and having vibrant user communities is a desirable goal.

SandHill.com: Is there a story behind your company name? 

Sridhar Dhulipala: The idea behind Bizosys is “business operating system.” As our quest was about simplifying software development, the application of this was to develop a business operating system that is easy to build, robust, scalable and especially intended for frequently changing, rapid deploy, long tail of applications. 

SandHill.com: Please describe the tools your company has developed. 

Sridhar Dhulipala: Bizosys has developed several tools that are available free to use online or as open-source software with downloadable source code. 10Screens is an online high-fidelity prototyping and requirements collaboration tool for remote teams. It’s free and has close to 4,000 registered users spanning more than 120 countries. HSearch is our open-source Big Data search engine with real-time capabilities on Hadoop and it has had over 2,200 downloads by users in more than 80 countries. It includes a kids-safe search engine for YouTube videos. 1line is a server-side backend.

They are ready to install and use as shrink-wrapped, off-the-shelf software. They are also available as frameworks that are compiled with custom applications. As a third option, we offer our products and frameworks as a service via robust APIs. Our tools are backed by email support today.

Read the complete interview at Sandhill.com

iCalibrator – Bridging the Knowledge Gap

The product – iCalib aims to automate the process of practical learning during the training programmes. Trainees are given exercises to practice the skills they are expected to learn. In a typical classroom model, the trainer is not able to evaluate all trainees individually (sometimes the trainers are not capable of it also). The system would provide individual feedback, and also enable the trainees to re-attempt the exercises till they are able to achieve the desired objectives.

Pramod Saini started iCalibrator after gathering valuable experience from the industry. Having done his BTech & MS from IIT Madras and spent 10 years at Wipro in Global R&D role. In 1997, he left Wipro and Co Founded Momentum Technologies, which later on got acquired by Sopra, a French group.

Problem Identification : The Ideation
Every organisation begins with an idea. An idea is basically a solution to a specific problem which the founders are trying to address. In this case, in the year 2000, what was observed was the poor quality of software professionals in employment. The number of “professionals” flooding the market but with no control on quality whatsoever. Especially on the quality of input. The Students coming out of Engineering colleges, fell short on quality. This problem was identified years back and would find resonance much later as various studies were to indicate. In other parts of the world, especially in countries like US & Canada, a fresher would be able to write good software, within 2– 3 months of their first programming job. In India, this period would stretch to almost a year, and even more at times. The problem was much deep-rooted. Poor students were a direct result of poor
teachers, who were themselves all at sea, technically.

The Delivery Mechanism:
The approach was to impart training, through mentoring. To create an environment which wouldenable students through self-learning modules based on Practical exercises and projects. Mentors from the industry would assist trainees in writing good software, something on the lines of what was prevalent in Europe – Teacher & Assistant. Progressively, it was getting difficult for organisations to make freshers project-ready. It put additional pressure on resources and even then, the outcome was not always desirable.

Mentors, of course came with a cost. The effectiveness of this model would ultimately depend on the quality of mentors, which in many ways was a costly proposition and hence a challenge on scalability. This challenge would be addressed by reducing the dependence on mentors and leveraging technology to take up the same role. In due course, the product became very good and
the effectiveness was unparalleled. There was another challenge – to position the company in tech space, rather than as a training institute. The automation of solution would help position them as enablers to e-learning companies.

Challenges in selling this product

  1. Selling a complex idea is always tough and so is the positioning. The processes were pretty complex so not so easily reproducible by rival organisations.
  2. Selling to the target market in India. Decision-making is a slow process and there is some inertia which takes ages to overcome.
  3. Indian Product mindset, in the end-consumer’s mind. If it’s Indian, it isn’t good. Very difficult to break this mindset.
  4. Companies started putting their potent recruits though these tests and the results were disastrous. Not that the tests were exceptionally difficult but the aspirants were below par : The whole problem that was being addressed.

Expectations from the eco-system.
I guess, by eco-system, you refer to the whole learning industry. I hope that the Indian Software service providers actually put in effort to increase the quality of their software personnel. The problem of low quality is very well understood, but I believe that the organisations do not put in additional effort to improve quality because: (1) A large number of jobs are actually software maintenance jobs, and organisations believe that very high quality is not required. (2) Some senior management members believe that they do not want to invest in training personnel who might leave them and change a job immediately after. However, I think that this is a short-sighted approach that is detrimental to the overall industry and the value that we bring to the end customer.

Next 12 months for iCalibrator
In the next 12 months, we expect to raise some funds, and utilise them to enhance our product as well as focus on sales/marketing activities so that we can put our message across to the potential clients. We may be required to do some pilots, where the additional funds will help. We also plan to enhance our product so that it could be easily integrated into the training processes of any eLearning provider. Therefore, we see ourselves becoming a totally technical company, providing various automated aides to enhance the effectiveness of eLearning models.

Conversation with Banking Software Solutions Provider InfrasoftTech

Editor’s note: InfrasoftTech provides core banking, microfinance and anti-money laundering software solutions for the global banking and financial services industry and focuses on enhancing banks’ reach through e-channels. Hanuman Tripathi, co-founder and group managing director, discusses the global market for his company’s products and shares information for other entrepreneurs about the risks involved in product development decisions. This article is brought to SandHill readers in partnership with ProductNation. 

SandHill.com: How did your company originate; what led you to know you had a winning vision? 

Hanuman Tripathi: The blueprint of current-day InfrasoftTech was written over a single 24-hour meeting between my co-founders and me sitting at a suburban five-star hotel in Mumbai in November, 1994. Once the writing pads were full late in the night, the final blueprint was completed on hand tissues! After months of negotiations, we finally got started in July 1995 in Mumbai, India. 

I previously worked for 20 years in the banking software and solutions space and, prior to that, about 10 years in IT and the Telecom sector. I worked with reputed business houses in senior positions before starting InfrasoftTech 17 years ago.  At the time of conceptualizing InfrasoftTech, I selected other co-founders and core team members who are qualified engineers in the space of software technology, software development, software services, all in the banking automation space.

The name InfrasoftTech was derived by merging the words infrastructure and software together. Our core banking solution caters to boutique banks or SME banks by physical size of operations, although the product or architecture does not restrict scalability. The rest of our products are used by blue chip and SME financial enterprises alike. Our software services are used by top-of-the-line financial brands in every market.

SandHill.com: You launched your company 17 years ago and now have over 200 customers worldwide in the banking and financial services industry. What was your path to globalization? 

Hanuman Tripathi: We have a strong market presence in the product space of core banking, microfinance and anti-money laundering. Our first target market was domestic banks, fulfilling their rapid automation needs. After 2000, our globalization process commenced and we added the U.K., Middle East, Africa and South East Asia to our client list. We also have a growing presence in Canada and the USA.

Globalization has been our biggest challenge to date, which is not uncommon. We needed to continuously innovate, and also acquire market leadership in several spaces. 

SandHill.com: Please describe your product. 

Hanuman Tripathi: InfrasoftTech is one of the few companies globally who have created a unified, single technology architecture that delivers a fully integrated front-end, middleware and back-end application that can automate banking and other financial services businesses. This architecture is known as the OMNIEnterprise™ suite of solutions.

The individual products are Core Banking Solution, Anti Money Laundering & Financial Crime Surveillance Solution and a Microfinance Solution. We also have a full-fledged working Islamic Finance Solution. All our products inherit fully integrated online operations automation delivered in the architecture and carry state-of-the-art business processes as required in the individual systems.

Read the complete interview at Sandhill.com