A Look Back At How Startup India Has Eased The Journey Of Startup And Investors

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It’s been two years since the fateful 2016 budget which recognised “Startups” as a separate breed of companies unto themselves, demanding bespoke treatment from the government and authorities. The clarity brought forth helped quell the nerves of both companies and investors, who had to otherwise resort to exotic exercises, supplementary structures, and platoons of professionals to keep their entrepreneurial dreams alive.

As we all await with bated breath for the slew of reforms expected of the Finance Minister, it behoves us to see how far we’ve come and how much further we need to proceed so that a billion dreams may become a reality.

This article is the first part of a two-part series which explores how Startup India has eased the friction in the Startup ecosystem so far, from an investor’s perspective with the second part talking about the next step of reforms which would have a multiplier effect on the ecosystem.

Flywheel of Funding

More often than not, any coverage about fundraising covers the journey of startups and entrepreneurs and the travails of raising their multimillion dollar rounds. But there exists another dimension to this story, that of fund managers raising their own funds. A large section of the investor community was elated that the government recognised this oft-ignored story and created the Rs 10,000 Cr (USD 1.5 billion) Fund of Funds managed by SIDBI which invests into SEBI registered AIFs and Venture Capital Funds.

This approach seeks to galvanise an ecosystem through a flywheel effect, instead of gardening it via direct intervention. The 10,000 Cr corpus can help seed AIFs worth Rs 60,000 Cr in India, which when fully deployed, is estimated to foment 18 lakh jobs and fund thousands of Indian startups. By contributing a maximum of 20% of the corpus of a fund, many fund managers can hasten they fundraise and concentrate more on helping their portfolio companies raise, instead of competing with them.

The Fund of Funds has invested into 88 AIFs so far, thus galvanising more than 5,600 Cr (USD 873 million) worth of investments into 472 Startups.

Bringing back tax breaks, not a back-breaking Tax

The Government’s support of Indian investors found its way into the Income Tax Act, with several measures to incentivise investments into the Indian Startup ecosystem, such as:

  • Insertion of Section 54 EE, which exempts Long-Term Capital Gains up to Rs 50 lakhs provided it has been invested in the units of a SEBI registered AIF
  • Insertion of section 54GB, which exempts Long-Term Capital Gains of up to Rs 50 lakhs provided it been invested into the shares of a Startup which qualifies for section 80IAC
  • Clarifying that the conversion of debentures or preference shares to equity shares will not be considered as a transfer and thus subject to capital gains at the point of conversion (the entire Venture Capital industry is based on convertible debentures and preference shares and this move has settled long-standing disputes regarding the instruments of investments)
  • Issuing a notification that the dreaded angel tax will not apply to shares issued at a premium to domestic investors by those startups who qualify under the DIPP scheme (although the scope of this needs to be extended to rid the spectre of angel tax that haunts various investors and entrepreneurs)
  • Clarifying that the stance of the assessee in categorising the sale of listed securities held for more than 1 year as Capital Gains or Income from Business can’t be questioned by the taxman
  • Changing the definition of a capital asset to include any securities held by a Foreign Portfolio Investor, thus removing the friction arising from asset classification (a similar provision is sorely needed for domestic hedge funds and Category III AIFs)

Capital without Borders

The Startup India scheme over the past few years has rolled out the red carpet to foreign investors while rolling back the red tape. The success of this is evidenced by the percentage of funding foreign capital represents in the Indian startup ecosystem, which is 9 times higher than domestic capital investment.

Some of the initiatives include:

  • Liberalising Foreign Direct Investment into most sectors including financial services, single brand retail, pharma, media and a host of other sectors up to 100% in most areas
  • Abolishment of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board
  • Relaxation of External Commercial Borrowings (ECBs) for Startups for up to USD 3 million
  • Allowing for issue of shares for non-cash consideration to non-residents under the automatic route
  • Marshalling foreign investment into Indian entities primarily for the purpose of investing in other Indian entities has been brought under the automatic route as opposed to the previous government approval route
  • Dismantling the approval mechanism for the transfer of securities by a Foreign Venture Capital fund to an Indian resident
  • Moving most of the filings (FCGPR, FCTRS, etc) to an online window managed by the RBI (ebiz.gov.in)

Well begun is half done

The government’s efforts to improve life for Startups in investors have begun to bear fruit in tangible ways as evidenced by the reduction in the number of companies seeking to have a Delaware entity with Indian operations. The recent leapfrog in the “Ease of Business” rankings also stands testament to this.

The Government must now seek to consolidate all these gains and clarify its stance and the stance of the tax department on long pending issues which have been a bane to all startups. While we have miles to go before we sleep, we must look back and take note of what we’ve achieved before we seek to scale greater heights.

This post has been authored by Siddarth Pai of 3one4 Capital

Product Roadmap considerations

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Roadmap is a key part of a software product company, especially Enterprise Software (B2B) software. When you sell your software to a customer, it is not just on the current capabilities but lot of emphasis is made on the Roadmap. Especially with cloud based software this is becoming super important, as the innovation and capabilities come out incrementally, in frequent cycles.

In my interaction with startup founders, one of the aspect they want to manage better is Reliable Product Roadmap – to ensure they do not over or under promise.

There are two steps to Product Roadmap –

  • Creating or documenting the product roadmap
  • Communicating the product roadmap to various internal and external stakeholders

In this post, I would like to share some key areas to focus for effectively create and communicate roadmaps that may have different flavors.

Vision vs. Execution

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Logically split Roadmap into the above two areas in order to communicate to right stakeholders. One part should cover the Product vision – or even a higher vision of the product segment or umbrella. This would be the driving factor based on which the customers should perceive the product, of how problems are solved today and into the future.  As an example, Microsoft Office vision would be to improve productivity – and how they plan to leverage future technologies to improve productivity. The other part is around the Execution – more of delivery plan, more of product capabilities that are coming in, more of the details. A clear link should exists between the vision and execution – but it is important to have this as two parts.

Long term vs. Near term

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Another important distinction to cover in roadmap is what is going to be covered in the long term and what is planned in the near term (short and medium term). Depending on the product lifecycle – long term could be between 2-4 years while near term can range from 3 months to 2 years. The long term ones are still ideas that has been experimented through some proof of concepts or things that would take a longer term to realize or productize, but they are important innovations or things that are coming to get near to the vision. Near terms are the ones which are almost getting completed or is under development, with reasonable predictability of getting them out sooner.

Rigid vs Flexible

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We live in ever changing world, where priorities keep changing. It is important to balance the roadmap priorities between being too rigid or too flexible. The roadmap often changes due to customer needs not being met, competitive action driving some changes, internal priorities and investments, lack of market for certain investment. On the other hand, if you keep the roadmap too dynamic and flexible, you will lose focus and probably trust from your stakeholders. It is very important to keep the roadmap and investments spread between certain areas where you can be a bit rigid, whereas keeping some open-ended areas for ability to change the plans. For this reason, it is critical to keep the future roadmap not covered in any legal or contractual commitments.

Incremental vs Disruptive

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Roadmap should consist of both incremental features as well as disruptive ones. Often we get into this innovators dilemma wherein the focus is on many minor incremental features that improves the product, satisfies the customer needs, solves the problem in a better way, bring better usability – so on and so forth. But in regular intervals – atleast once a year – its important to think about the next wave, the next big thing and start working in parallel to solve some new business problems, that could eventually eliminate a problem totally. Read my post on “what product are you making – pain killer, vitamin or vaccine” – once in a way you should experiment something disruptive, create and prove , and show what’s coming. Whatsapp is an amazing example of such a disruptive technology – in the past we have seen things like Google, ipad etc which are disruptive. Many smaller, less popular products have also been disruptive. In your roadmap, while it would be hard to communicate the disruptive ideas when they are in Labs, depending on its maturity, its best to prove some of the lab ideas with few handful of customers and validate them with real life use cases and scenarios. For such create /prove situations, a more restricted roadmap with NDAs are discussed with select customers. So use your roadmap to think and cover both incremental and disruptive solutions to problems.

Objectives (the what) vs Activities (the How)

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Product Roadmap is not a Project Plan. Many a times we come across some of the roadmap that looks like a project plan, listing out different activities and milestones. Instead of being a list of activities with milestones, roadmap should lay out the objectives of the product – the vision, the capabilities and the tentative timelines those are going to be made available. This is important because the activities may vary based on the approach taken to a solution but the objectives of the product may still be same.

Solution bound vs Time bound

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Another question that keeps coming back is whether a roadmap is solution bound or time bound. Roadmap is always time bound, as the user of the roadmap is looking to or planning based on the roadmap. The time need not be exactly accurate, but it needs to be indicative with an acceptable minor deviation. Usually indicating a period of short term, medium term and long term with a usual timeline fixed for each of them would be a good way to represent the roadmap. This helps customers plan better.

External vs Internal

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Finally, while Roadmaps are drafted based on common vision and solution, Roadmaps have to be slightly different for external and internal stakeholders – especially with respect to the level of details presented, the timelines and the goals. For customers, Roadmap should address solution to the problem, with rough estimate of the time and the benefits that will bring by adopting them. For other external stakeholders such as investors or partners, it may go further into details of the market potential, and the ROI of investing in a certain set of roadmap items for the business. And for internal stakeholders it could go into more details on the strategy, more specific timelines, risks, competitive reasoning and few other internal only information may be laid out.  Communicating the roadmap to different stakeholders is one of the key. Roadmaps should be clearly planned at an appropriate level of details with each of the stakeholders.

Product Roadmaps are living document and most important one for any product company. Lot of engaged time should be dedicated on documenting and communicating the roadmap.

Wishing you all Happy New Year 2018 !

Leveraging GST data for Flow based Lending

Access to formal credit continues to be one of the largest challenges faced by MSMEs in India due to lack of verifiable data about their business.Digital payments data combined with GST data has the potential to unlock millions of SMEs & bring them into the formal system. India is going through a Cambrian explosion of data usage. It is estimated that the monthly data consumption on every smartphone in India is estimated to grow nearly five times from 3.9 GB in 2017 to 18 GB by 2023 as per a report by Swedish telecom gear maker Ericsson.

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Picture Source: Digital Desh

As businesses and their processes get digitized, it provides us a unique opportunity to re-imagine credit products for MSMEs like never before.

In order to move from traditional Asset-based lending to Data based lending it is important to make the following design considerations:

  • Underwriting based on Data – Assess creditworthiness in real time based on the consented data provided by the user
  • Low-Value – Bringing down the cost of processing a loan using digital platforms like eKYC, eSign & UPI enables one to process sachet sized loans
  • Smaller Tenures – Offer small tenures to reduce risk and thereby build better credit history of a customer
  • Customised Loan Offers – In the old world, loan products were designed to be one size fits all; With data & better underwriting, create a “loan offer on the fly” for a borrower based on his need

Getting started with GST Data Based Lending – Basics

  • Over 8M+ businesses in India will file GST returns
  • Every invoice in the GSTN system is verified by the counterparty
  • GST returns are digitally signed and this data can be accessed through consent of a small business

To access this data, you need the understand the three types of GST APIs:

  • Authentication – Allows a taxpayer to login into his GST account from any application
  • Returns – Allows a taxpayer to file his returns from any application
  • Ledger – Allows a taxpayer to view & share his tax data with any application

You can access the GSTN Sandbox & APIs here: bit.ly/GSTAPIs

If you want more insights, do join the GSTN Discussion Forum here: bit.ly/GSTgroup

The GSTN Tech Ecosystem

Goods and Service Tax Network is a section 8 company set up to provide common and shared IT infrastructure and services to the Central and State Governments, Tax Payers and other stakeholders for the implementation of the Goods & Services Tax (GST).

In this context, it is important to understand the below two roles of GSTN:

  1. Direct portal for taxpayers – https://services.gst.gov.in/services/login
  2. Expose APIs thru GSPs (GST Suvidha Provider) – http://www.gstn.org/gsp-list/

GST Introduction (1)

GST Suvidha Provider (GSP) – Companies which provide GST API Gateway as a service to application service providers; They are appointed by the GSTN and list of the GSPs can be accessed here:http://www.gstn.org/gsp-list/

ASPs – Companies which provide the user interface for business to file or fetch their returns from the GSTN

Naturally, ASPs are a great fit as distribution partners for lending as they own and control the end user experience of small businesses. Some of the examples are:

Accounting Software Providers

    • They help small business manage their accounting, inventory & even payroll;
    • They have rich data sets about the small business including their GST returns Eg: Tally (Desktop), Zoho/Cleartax/Profitbooks (Cloud-based)

Tax Filing Software Providers

    • These companies help business who use excel/manual billing/custom software to prepare their GST return & file it every month;
    • One of the key stakeholders here is the accountant who essentially is the business advisor for an SMB and tapping into them as an influencer channel is a great opportunity Eg: Cleartax, SahiGST etc.

Supply Chain Automation Companies:

    • Today many FMCGs and Large manufacturing companies are using software to track their sales/inventory in their supply chain; For e.g: Asian Paints, Tata Steel, ITC etc.
    • As these companies enable a large of wholesalers, retailers to use their software problem, there is a great opportunity to extend credit to their entire ecosystem
    • Eg: Moglix, Channel Konnekt, Bizom etc.

Example of a Lender – ASP Partnership

  • Consider a services-based company which provides advertising services to multiple companies
  • Let’s assume they use an accounting software like for example Cleartax or Zoho
  • In the software, the SMB sees a one-click credit button (This is enabled through an integration with the ASP & lender)
  • In a few clicks, the SMB is able to share multiple types of data like – GST, Payroll, Balance Sheet, Bank Statement etc. with the lender
  • With consent, the lender uses this data for underwriting, build a credit score and makes a credit offer to the SMB
  • The SMB provides his bank account details for real-time loan disbursement and based on the type of the business you can complete KYC
  • Take mandate either digitally or physically based on the customer for repayments

There are various other data sources one could use to improve the underwriting like – Smartphone, Payments Data from the Bank, Bill Payments, Electronic Toll Collection & various others. Algorithms can use these data sources along with other other public data sets like – Seasonal demand for a product, Import/Export, GDP, Consumption Patterns to do contextual lending.

We recommend you go through the presentation above to understand these basics & do watch the pre-recorded webinar session below on How to Leverage GST data for Flow-based lending for more details.

At iSPIRT, we are working with multiple stakeholders to create a winning implementation of Flow-Based Lending. Do watch out for future announcements from us for entrepreneurs working in this space or write to us c[email protected] to know more.

About the Author

Nikhil Kumar is a full-time fellow with iSPIRT Foundation, a non for profit think-thank and has been focussed on building the developer ecosystem for the India Stack.

Twitter: @nikhilkumarks

Build On IndiaStack – Venture Pitch Competition

Announcing ‘Venture Pitch Competition: #BuildOnIndiaStack’

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

Who are we looking for?

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

 

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

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

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

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

Through this event you have an opportunity to receive:

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

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

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

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

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

Innofest to Innonation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prajakt Raut

Founder –  Applyifi

 

 

Time to decode the ‘Social’ in ‘Social Commerce’

“If I had to guess, Social Commerce is the next area to really blow up” – Mark Zuckerberg

‘Social Commerce’ or more simply ‘Social Payments’ has been a relatively new concept to come up in the last few years. And in most cases, it remained like the early days of big data – easier to toss around but not presenting a clear picture. I believe the vagueness gets accentuated by the fact of the word ‘Social’ being a part of it. This is what leads a whole set of audience out there, to think that just latching on to or simply appending a ‘pay’ option inside a social network makes up for the concept. Nothing could be further from the truth. The true meaning of the word ‘Social’ in ‘Social Commerce’ is actually the full context of your real life use cases where any social activity is involved. For example – a dinner with your friends, an act of planning and sharing cost for a gift, so on & so forth.

don't keep calmIn fact, if you actually ponder, you would perceive that the real driver of this phenomenon has been something else entirely. It is the proliferation of ‘shared economy’ lifestyle that makes these social use cases so prominent and common for us.  Also your payment instances and touch points intersect across the whole matrix of these use cases. Traditionally, the process has been pretty fragmented with the social & fun experience never coming across in those payments you made with your friends. Until now!

And the reasons are plentiful. Let’s start from why social commerce has not worked with the incumbents (your digital wallets) –

  • The pain of uploading money first from your bank account (because come on, you don’t keep large amounts of money in your mobile wallet)
  • The limits of sending money to another wallet (You can’t send more than Rs. 10k at one time as a normal user!)
  • The charges and time delays on withdrawing my wallet balance into my bank account (They are charging you for transferring your money back to yourself!)

And I am sure you must have realized that the arrival of our own stack – UPI is the one of the key turn arounds (the ‘Paypal moment’) for Indian ecosystem, especially in terms of enabling ‘Social Payments’ as a category to exist independently in a big manner. UPI has brought about 10X the simplicity and 10X the speed which is a core pre-requisite for situations where you need to share money with your friends without any awkwardness. Now imagine adding all your social use cases on top of this beautiful and secure base of UPI. As you may have realized by now, that not only does it create a completely new paradigm but also increases the value by an order of magnitude (because of the network effects). 

Once the wheels of motion start on any evolutionary path, it becomes almost impossible to stop them. The natural extension is that this category is bound to grow in India as well both in numbers and value (give the fact that it has already reached to 10s of billions of dollars in the west (US) with Venmo and the east (China) with WePay). The key thing to remember here is that in any new economy, it requires a fresh approach and outlook since the positioning is different from traditional P2P players and hence the product delivery and experience also needs to be different for the user. There have been numerous examples around the world with large social networks trying to add a basic P2P payments functionality and hoping it to take off in a big way. But it has not worked that well numerous examples like Snapcash (P2P payments via Snapchat in US).

sharing moneyThis brings us full circle to the two golden philosophies that have stood the test of time again and again –

  1. The products that work on the premise of ‘this thing/activity can be done here too’ never make the cut. For example – ‘You can send money on Paypal too!’ is NOT what a Venmo user is thinking.
  2. Once a consumer associates a product with a certain repeat and high frequency use case, it becomes nearly impossible to change his habit and perception for that product. For example – Messenger has traditionally been a place for sending messages and that is what a user thinks of when he recalls that app (and not for sending money).

This is where the formidable advantage of having a clean slate comes in –

  • Tailoring the product design around your real world habits when it comes to splitting, collecting, managing and tracking all your payments with your close contacts
  • Ensuring that the experience is insanely fun so that it takes away all the awkwardness that traditionally accompanies any monetary transaction with your friends
  • Ensuring that the product caters to all your use cases to such a minute detail that even you get surprised when it comes to the features!

Needless to say that I am more than excited about how the Indian market is evolving in the fin-tech domain (especially with the Indian government supporting it at an awesome level). Look forward to continued awesomeness and magic along the way.

Cheers, Rohit Taneja, Mypoolin

From Bootstrapped to Angeled : Is it your idea or product ?

You’ve shaped up your business idea to flag off. You have a pool of talent believing in that idea and lined up with working prototype with feedback. Now, it’s time for funding to take your idea to concept to design to product to a successful business.

Depending on the idea, startup projects can be particularly expensive and often incur new, unforeseen costs. That is particularly true of technological ideas, which are currently in vogue but require exploratory costs (to pay experts to determine if the idea is feasible) and initial product development costs. Even if a team proves the idea is feasible, they often need to build a working model or prototype to prove that to investors, which can sometimes add thousands of dollars to startup expenses.

Bootstrapped to Angeled_To_Raise_Seed_Capital 1

The vital idea behind bootstrapping in commercial means is to borrow as minimal finance as possible. In two words, you only rely on either on your own budget and savings, on some crowdfunded amount or simply on loans from friends and family. This scenario urges you to borrow insignificant amounts of money and thus keep interest costs minimal. But as the market dynamics populates further, the wider entrepreneurial community starts delivering differing views.

Guy Kawasaki has proclaimed that “you should always be a boot-strapper… too much money is worse than too little” but goes onto to suggest “if you do get offered venture capital, take it, but don’t spend it”.

Most people focus all their time and attention on building their idea, and forget that even the coolest product or service is worthless if people don’t use it. Creating a successful product or service requires two things:

  • A solid implementation of the idea.
  • People that use it.

For the best chance of success, you need to identify the smallest core of your idea that has value to your potential users, build only that, and release it.  This “minimum viable product” or MVP serves as the ultimate idea testing ground.  It lets you build a relatively inexpensive version of your idea, test it with real users, and measure adoption.

Investors see a lot of ideas, which is why they won’t sign an NDA (your idea is not original, no matter what you think). But if you have a team that has delivered products in the past, worked through adversity, and has a failure or two to learn from, then the investor can see a group of people who will protect his investment, and has demonstrated the skills to do so.

So No. An idea will not get you funded.

To be investible, a start-up needs to have a good product-market fit and the potential to scale up quickly to a large market. It needs to be defensible with intellectual property or some other competitive advantage. And it needs to have a credible team in place, people who investors will believe can execute. And there needs to be some kind of proof, also called validation, also called traction.

Building an early prototype also helps you attract tech talent, because it gives people something to look at and play with, and it communicates your idea in a more “tangible” form. Then you can shop it around to potential technical co-founders to get them excited about your vision. If you have the means to actually build a working prototype, so much the better!

Most Angel Investors (and VCs) won’t pay much attention these days without some other sign of traction, especially because the financial and technical barriers to entry are getting lower and lower. Bootstrapped to Angeled_To_Raise_Seed_Capital 2

Additionally, the current market size doesn’t matter. The market size in 10 years is what really matters. You want to be in a small but rapidly growing market. You can change everything in your start-up except the market. So spend a lot of time up front to make sure you’ve thought through your market. “Having value” and “being fundable” are two completely different things.

Two of the most valuable things that the investor community seems to have been seeing from close quarters are: customer feedback and data from pilot research, which can enable them ask questions that lead to product breakthroughs. Angel Investors would need to know how your idea has improved to a bit more than a fledged product wireframe, so that their willingness to invest into those ideas via money, and social reach can increase to ensure that the success of your product is further defines by cutting-edge product development process.

Following guidance is thus seems to have gained ground and immovable traction for all the aspiring entrepreneurs who are progressing from a Bootstrapping channels to Angeled funding:

  • Be value-driven rather than fund-driven
  • Be independent of technologies that make you lose control over your idea
  • Make the customer a base for your product than profit
  • Base your ideas on supply and demand and not on the money it can attract

Once again, this isn’t a strict definition, but the seed round is normally used to fund the initial stage of your company where you’re finding product/market fit, and the following rounds are meant to help with scaling. That said, the road from concept to readiness (aka product MVP) is long and winding. Entrepreneurs’ single greatest challenge in this sphere of activity is balancing bursting creativity with structured, method-driven decision making.

 

Implications of GST Bill on Startups

The much-hyped Goods and Services Tax (GST), after years of stagnation and lack of political consensus, was finally passed in the upper house of the Parliament, the Rajya Sabha, on 4th August this year, almost a decade after it was first introduced in the Lok Sabha in the year 2006-07. It is the biggest indirect tax reform post economic liberalization of 1991.

implications-of-gst-bill-on-startups

The economists say, a double-digit growth in GDP, which seemed too surreal, will now be a reality. This law aims to give a boost to the new age start-ups and make India a conducive place to conduct business. Currently, India is home to around 4,200 startups growing at an exponential rate of 40% yearly. It is predicted that, with further relaxation of rules, India will be home to around 11,000 startups by 2020. This can be corroborated by the fact that India was ranked poorly at 142nd in the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ survey conducted by the World Bank in 2015. With relaxation in the rules and regulations of setting up a business and lucrative schemes like ‘Start-up India, Stand up India’, India went twelve places up and ranked at 130 in 2016.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of how beneficial will the new law be for startups, it is important that the basics of this law are first looked into. GST, as mentioned above, is an indirect tax reform also known by the moniker – ‘One India, One Tax’. Different states have different tax structures which make the taxation structure very cumbersome and complex. This is a major reason why many start-ups are hesitant to expand their businesses to different states leaving the state concerned with little industrialization and low creation of jobs. GST aims to bridge the gap by integrating all taxes, making only one tax to be paid by everyone. As a result, the tax calculations will be simpler, saving time and energy for entrepreneurs and start-ups to focus on their respective businesses instead of investing time and energy on compliance and paperwork. However, just passing the bill is not the end of the story – there are rules to be framed, tax rates to be fixed, the central and state governments must reach a consensus, and proper infrastructure needs to be put in place. Hence, the implementation of GST still has a long way to go and is likely to happen in mid-2017.
Implications Of GST Bill On Startups

How Does the GST Help?

The Act is deemed to benefit all types of businesses but start-ups and SMEs are to benefit the most. It has been structured in a way keeping in mind the concerns of the small businesses. This is elaborately explained in points mentioned below –

Simple Taxation – Instead of adhering to different tax regulations in different states, GST simplifies the process by making it simpler and clear by integrating all taxes into one so that not only money on taxes are saved but time on compliances are saved too.

Ease of Conducting Business – Registration of VAT from the sales tax department of the state concerned is an imperative to start a new business. A business intending to establish in different states has to apply for VAT registration separately. Not only this, the VAT fees in different states is not uniform, making this one among the many other issues regarding the problems faced by startups and existing businesses in India. To fix this anomaly, the GST Act has provisions which will make VAT registration centralized, uniform and simple for companies. The concerned company/business would just need to get a single license valid pan India and pay taxes regularly. This will further help startups to establish, expand their business hassle-free.

Integration of Multiple Taxes – In addition to the VAT and service tax, there are other tax regulations that must be complied by the businesses like Central Sales Tax, Luxury Tax, Purchase Tax, Additional Customs Duty etc. Upon the implementation of the GST, all such taxes will be combined into one.

Lower Tax Rates for Small Businesses – At present, VAT is applied to businesses having an annual turnover of INR 5 lacs and above. GST aims to cap this limit to INR 10 lacs only and businesses with turnover between INR 10-50 lacs will be taxed at low rates. This move will not only bring respite to the start-ups but also help them invest the money saved on taxes back in their business.

Improvement in Logistics efficiency – Seamless movement of goods is currently a problem with border taxes and checks at state borders which delay the movement of goods which, in turn, results in delayed deliveries and enhances the product cost. GST aims to eliminate such inefficiencies making the inter-state trade less time consuming. With an uninterrupted movement of goods across the border, the costs associated with maintaining the goods will significantly reduce. According to a CRISIL analysis, the logistics cost of non-bulk goods can go down by as much as 20% once GST is implemented.

Other Side of GST: The Cons

While there are other advantages for the start-ups as well other than the ones mentioned above, the new Act also comes with implications, not necessarily for the start-ups. Start-ups in the manufacturing sector with lesser turnovers might have to bear the brunt of paying duty. As per the existing excise laws, any manufacturing business with an annual turnover of less than INR 1.5 crores is exempted from paying duties. But when the GST comes into force, the chances are, this limit could be reduced by six times to INR 25 lacs. This can have a detrimental effect on the growth of start-ups.

There are high chances that the inflation might rise after GST implementation. Also, whether ‘mandi tax’ would be included or not in the GST is ambiguous. Such causes can adversely affect the food startups.

Critics also say, the implementation of GST would also affect the real estate business and add up to 8% of the cost in new homes and as a ramification thereof, reduce the demand by 12%.

Despite its implications, GST is the most important and business friendly tax reform in India which will lead to a double-digit growth. It seeks to unify, integrate different tax structures so that there will be transparency and efficiency in the way businesses operate and the government levies taxes. This won’t just reduce the cost of the products but also create employment opportunities as more startups rise and India becomes the startup capital of the world!

Guest post by LegalDesk.com, a Do-It-Yourself legal platform for making legal documents online. LegalDesk helps startups with incorporation and legal documentation services. It also provides Aadhaar-based eSign service to businesses.

Customer Purchase Insights for Hotel Management Software

SoftwareSuggest is an online platform exclusively dedicated towards Business Software Discovery and Recommendation. We analyze every aspect of the software trends for the customers so that they can purchase the best software from hundreds of such products thronging the market. Since we value the satisfaction of our customers highly, we analyze their requirements with extensive research, and ultimately compile our observations and conclusions in the form of a report.

Here is an exhaustive Research Report on the “Customer Purchase Insights For Hotel Management Software”. The following are the conclusive findings of our Research Report.

Key Findings

– Most hotel management software buyers were from Maharashtra, followed by Delhi and Karnataka. With 8.5 percent, 7.5 percent and 7.3 percent software buyers respectively, these states tower over other states..

– Requirement for Installation-based software was more than Web-based software; the former crossing the mark with a whopping 64 percent.

– The Budget preferred by a majority of customers was in the range of INR 0-50,000, with around 65 percent of them belonging to the ‘First time User’ group.

– Around 40 percent of the customers prefer 3 demos before taking the purchase decision.

Let us have a detailed look at the figures as per our research results.

Geographic Spread Of Hotel Management Software Buyers

We found that 8.5 percent of hotel management software buyers were from Maharashtra, followed up by 7.5 percent in Delhi and 7.3 percent by Karnataka. Rest of the sections in the Graph is shared by other States.

Prefered Deployment Type: Installation-based Vs. Web-based Software

More Software buyers preferred installation-based software to web-based software. The former attributed to 64 percent of the total software buyers.

The Estimated Budget Preference (in INR) Of The Customers

Around 49 percent of customers preferred to buy their required software in the Budget range of INR 0-50,000. This is followed by 28 percent of customers, who preferred the the Budget range of INR 50,001- 1,00,000. The percentage of customers decreases gradually as the Budget range increases and this is clearly demonstrated in the Graph.

First time Software Buyers Against Existing Users Looking To Upgrade

It was observed that 65 percent of the users were first time software buyers and and 35% were looking to upgrade their existing software. For such buyers, the existing hotel management software was not quite up to the mark, and they wanted to try another software, with more functionalities and better quality standards.

Time Consumed By Customers Before Making A Purchase Decision

40% of customers usually take 2-3 months before finalizing which Hotel Management Software they want to purchase. Around 15% of the software buyers take the purchase decision in less than 1 month’s time. These are usually first time buyers with a new property.

Number Of Demos Taken by Customers Before Purchasing the Software

Around 40 percent of customers took 3 demos before opting to buy the paid version of Hotel Management Software. While 20 percent of users were satisfied with just 2 demos, around 30 percent used 4 demo sessions, before they were actually convinced to purchase this software.

Features Customers Look For In Hotel Management Software

features of hotel management software

As per our research, customers look for the below-mentioned features when it comes to buying a Hotel Management Software. Among these, Channel Management, Front Desk and Book Engine are the ‘must-have’ features in a Hotel Management Software.

All the above-mentioned facts and statistics have been generated from the data collected by SoftwareSuggest team.

We welcome your valuable thoughts or suggestions in the comment section below. You can find a list of Hotel Management Software here.

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3 Levels of Product Training for growth

prodtraining2

 

You have crossed the initial milestone of proving your product has seen some initial success, covered the MVP and now its time for growth…what is one key ingredient for growth ?

You are the rockstar founder or product manager…you have the urge to be omnipresent in every customer discussion or support call…you do a good job on this…but it’s a major deterrent for growth as you become the bottleneck…

The best solution for this problem is to put together a strategy for your product training.  Based on interaction with a startup growth entrepreneur’s request I had put few things, and sharing that in this post.

I plan to cover 3 levels of product training that I have personally learnt or done over the years to make products scale and be successful, the examples are more relevant to B2B but some of this can be used for B2C as well….

The analogy i have used here is of movies

Level 1 : Trailer – Targeted to people that engage with the Decision Makers who buy the product

Level 2 : Movie – Targeted to people that interact with users of the product

Level 3 : Making of Movie – Targeted to people that interact with administrators or consultants that configure, implement or support the product

Lets look at each of them in detail

Level 1 : Trailer training

This training is usually provided to Sales & Marketing teams who have the responsibility to engage and influence the decision makers, to buy the product. Certainly while the content stays high level , I have come across 3 questions to be covered in this training, that will help Sales to effectively position the product and get the interests

The three questions

Why buy ?  – This question establishes what is the real need for the product. What is the real problem that the product solves and why is it important for the customer

Why me ? – Having established the need to buy, the next question that needs to be answered is why me, why your product vs. other choices available in the market, what are differentiators, how is your product better in solving the problems and other objection handling

Why now ? – Assuming the need is established, and the fact that your product is the best fit, the next convincing part is the timing of the buy. The “why now” training should facilitate content that will help the trainee to engage with establishing the urgency, to get the decision to be made in a realistic time.

Coverage of the content

The content should cover the following to help with the above three questions

  • Benefits – the benefits of using the product , to improve the process, derive top line or bottom line savings or any others
  • Customer case studies – this is an amazing content to help sell. How are other customers using the product, their experiences, quotes, videos and other documents
  • Competitors – its important to know your competitors and how your product differentiates from them, this is an important area of coverage in your training
  • Unique differentiators – the product may have 100s of features, but there maybe certain ones which are the outliers or differentiators, there should be specific focus to highlight these in the training
  • Pricing and ROI – how is your product pricing done, what are the flexible options, what is the discounting policy, how do you combine products , how do you optimize revenue opportunity are some of the things that should be covered. Creating presentations and videos to explain the pricing with examples would be an important tool. In addition you also should have ROI templates that can help sales to justify the ROI for the customer, using relevant metrics that is aligned to the product’s benefits
  • Short demos – 2 to 3 minutes – This is the eye catcher demo (The Trailers), as its typically done to the decision makers, the demo should highlight the most important capability and it should also try to cover the overall value proposition of the solution. Remember this is the main tool that can help sales to create the initial interest or close the opportunity for approval.
  • Role plays – This is another extremely successful way to train people – the role play enacts how a customer facing person engages with the customer, bringing in relevant questions and dictate the engagement style to bring out answering the 3 questions
  • FAQs – you know answers to several questions, but its important that this knowledge gets out. A Frequently Asked Questions document or video should be a must have.

 

Level 2 : The movie training

This is to do with the actual product in more detail on how the users would use them. So this is essentially a training that is usually provided to Sales Consultants , Partners and Others who are likely interacting and engaging with the customer users – both during pre-sales as well as post sales.

Coverage of this training

  • Product feature functionality – going into details of the features and functionality of the product, focused towards customer users
  • Use cases – talk about different use cases that the product solves, every product may solve 100s of use cases, so its important to highlight different usage scenarios
  • Benefits in detail – while you cover the benefits already in level 1, this could further explain the details with more deep dives and examples
  • Product differentiators vs competition – detailed product differentiators, on various facets of the product and how this can help especially to cover the functional scenarios
  • Detailed demos (like the actual movie) – 30 minutes to 2 hours focusing on end user functionality
  • Role plays to explain usage of the product – detailed role play videos or depiction of how customers will use the product or how you can convince the users, for them to become influencers

 

Level 3 : The making of the movie training 

The third level of the training is for the people that engage administrators, implementer, partners and consultants. This covers variety of areas and really detailed and deep dive into the “how to aspects”. This is usually done to consultants , support staff and Business/IT administrators. This training is for mostly people who engage post sales, but essentially they should also have good understanding of the level 2 training, before getting here.

 

Coverage of content

  • How to configure the application, security, data, master data etc
  • How to trouble shoot
  • Detailed functional and technical architecture
  • How to demos or videos – detailed 2 hours to a day or even multiple days
  • Technical FAQs

 

So as you can see, if you can create the above training content and start training, it will certainly help you in your growth endeavors.

Offcourse you will also have to keep updating these content as you enhance your product.

Product Training , these days can be delivered in different formats – in person, webcast or through videos. But its essential for you to understand the importance of this and make it as a priority if your goal is growth

 ProdTraining1

Payment Bank + Technology = Faster Profitability

Something very exciting is happening in India.Several Payment Banks are about to launch their operations with a dream to provide banking & transaction services esp. to millions of rural and semi urban un-banked & under-banked households. This is expected to greatly boost domestic remittances, rural savings & reduce dependency on cash.

One of the most important questions these banks is how to achieve profitability faster & sustain it while maintaining a low cost structure & capturing volumes.

Using modern digital technology is the answer.

There are 5 ways technology can help a payment bank not just to be operationally efficient but also establish a competitive edge:

Mobility: Total number of mobile phone connections in India crossed 1 billion (1003.49 million) mark in Oct 2015. Out of this, 902,26 million connection were active. 42.39% are rural subscribers & 57.61% are urban.About 1 in 5 uses a smartphone (220 million) and rest use feature phones.This strengthens a key assumption that each & every prospective customer has a mobile phone & he/she will consume most of the banking services on mobile. So, the offering has to be mobile:

  • USSD based for feature phones & app based for smartphones
  • Easy to use & secure
  • In local language
  • Integrated with the ecosystem of Bank Mitra (banking correspondents), Aadhaar enabled payments (AEP), Aadhaar enabled KYC, digital wallets, real time payments (IMPS).

The recent introduction of Unified Payments Interface (UPI) is a very welcome step by NPCI (National Payments Corporation of India).

Analytics: Customers’ data is a gold mine. Their transaction behaviour (deposits, withdrawals, subsidy receipts, categorised expenditures) makes a case for offerings that are truly “personalized”. For example, if a customer has incurred expenses in a hospital, they can automatically be offered a health or a life insurance product. The schemes launched by PM Modi cost Rs 12 (for health) & Rs 330 (for life). If a customer regularly receive say subsidy payments, they can be offered a long term savings product e.g. Atal Pension Yojana. The amount can be directly debited and is totally paperless for customer.

Analytics tools (SAS, R etc) combined with “small data” harnessing abilities will make it possible.

In UK, the banking regulator is encouraging Open APIs which in simpler words means encouraging bank to open up data vaults to fintechs and others who can offer useful products to the customers. BBVA Bank (US & Spain) has made customer data available through APIs. (Note: I assume customer has consented for data sharing).

Cloud Computing: Cloud solutions offer unparalleled scalability, flexible pricing models (you grow – we grow) & tight security. If data privacy concerns can be handled, there is a strong case for using cloud when compared to investing in a private data centre.

Automate Business Processes: More and more back office processes need to automated reducing dependency on human resources. The digital offerings have to be such that they are fully integrated with bank’s core processes and leverage the modern work flow solutions.

Referral Engines: Though the payment banks can’t lend, it doesn’t mean their customers do not need credit. These banks can refer the customer to other ‘full service banks’/NBFCs and earn commissions. Value added data like banks opinion about the customer, risk profile, transaction patterns, income potential can fetch additional revenue for the payment bank. Smart referral engines can be deployed that share info, calculate and track commissions.

India needs these payment banks to succeed & sustain in order to achieve a true Financial Inclusion and bring the Bharat under a financial umbrella.

India’s IT sector’s tech prowess and their ability to innovate/execute is what the country needs the most.

Jai Hind.

Guest Post by 

Customer Purchasing Insights For eCommerce Software

SoftwareSuggest is an online software discovery & recommendation platform. We provide free consultation on software and help SMEs select the right software for their organization. As a part of our business, we collect customer requirements, which when analysed can serve the industry with deep insights. Our learning for the eCommerce industry are presented in this report.

Below mentioned are the major takeaways:

  • There has been a hike in the number of organisations opting for online eCommerce solutions for their business. According to our findings a whopping 80% of the total are first time users.
  • A good number of e-commerce software buyers are located in Delhi, Maharashtra and Karnataka region.
  • We discovered that organizations prefer buying SaaS based over installation based software. The data suggest 69% prefer SaaS based.
  • The spread and depth of functionalities of software is the most prominent factor influencing the purchase decision of the software buyers.

Let us have a look at the fascinating figures that we discovered.

1.Industries turning up to use eCommerce software

industries using ecommerce software

We found that 35% of the software requirement was from apparel industry and next position is occupied by food and grocery item business (i.e. 20%). Rest is shared by miscellaneous industry like electronics, footwear, etc.

2. From which state maximum requirement was generated?

According to our observation, maximum eCommerce software buyers are from Northern region with Delhi (16%) being the kingpin in the list. Next place is shared by Maharashtra (12%) and Karnataka (13%). It can be a good decision for eCommerce companies to invest their resources in these region.
state wise lead distribution

3. What do the users prefer- SaaS based vs Installation based?

There has been a drastic shift in the number of users who prefer using SaaS based software when compared to server based software. It has been found from our data that 70% users prefer SaaS based or online software over the server based software.

User preference- SaaS based v/s Server based

4. What all features a buyer looks for in eCommerce software?

Nowadays, software buyers look for the product which can help them facilitate their customers in smarter way. With the advancement in technology, they look for sundry features which are stated as follows:4

5. What is the preferred budget in which buyers purchase the software?

For SaaS based, it has been found that on an average 50% of software buyers look for an ecommerce software between ₹1000 to ₹3000 per month. Around 18% buyers are willing to spend ₹3000 to ₹7000 per month. Only 7% can spend above ₹10000.

budget criteria for SaaS based sofwtare

For server or installation based, it has been discovered that 80% of software buyers prefer buying in the budget range of ₹50,000 – ₹1,00,000. Around 10% prefer buying in ₹100000- ₹150000. Remaining can afford up to ₹150000 and above.

budget criteria for server based software

6. New users v/s Existing users

new user v/s existing users

Around 20% of the software buyers are the existing users who reach us due to following reasons:

  • They are not satisfied with the services provided by their software providers
  • Their software does not have the latest features and they want to upgrade their software

In regards with the changing market conditions, there has been a hike in the number of retailers opting for online stores for their business. We discovered that around 80% of the software buyers bought software for the first time.

7. What is an average number of products showcased by merchants using eCommerce software?

average number of products showcased by ecommerce merchants

The data which has been collected by our team revealed that 17% of merchants prefer showcasing around 100-200 products on their website. And 21% of merchants prefer showcasing between 200-1000 products. Only 8% showcase above 1500 products which is quite less.

8. Time taken to decide on ecommerce solution

Our findings suggest that for a large percentage of software buyers, it takes around 3 to 5 weeks to decide on a solution.

time to find ecommerce solution

9. Number of demos before buying a software

We found that maximum software buyers usually take around 3-4 demos to decide on a solution.

no. of demos before buying

10. Factors influencing purchase decision

A software buyer looks for multiple features before purchasing any software.The depth and spread of functionality of the software is one of major factors. Have a glimpse at the other factors.

factors influencing purchase decision

The report has been generated from the data being collected by SoftwareSuggest team.

You can give your valuable thoughts about the report in the comment section below.

Also, find the list of eCommerce software solution with software demo, comparison chart, and many other values to help yourself select the right software.

Becoming Cash Flow Positive In SaaS Business & Growing Revenue By 3 Times In 3 Months: The ShieldSquare Story

In Q1 2016, we saw our hard work payoff. We achieved some notable milestones. We became cash flow positive and our annual revenue rate (ARR) grew by 3 times in 3 months. We expanded our customer base to 68 countries (with over 90% of the revenues from outside our home base), and doubled our team to 50. Our Average Revenue per account (ARPA per year) has doubled to $10,000. Above all, we pushed ourselves to become one of the top 2 bot prevention vendors across the globe!

This is quite an achievement, and I’d want to share some of my learnings on what worked, and how we got there.

Who Are We?

We are ShieldSquare – a startup based out of Bangalore that has come up with a world-class solution to fight bad bots that scrape content, spam forms and engage in various forms of site abuse. We started off in late 2013 with a founding team of five incubated at Microsoft Ventures Accelerator, Bangalore. We worked hard on building the product and refining it by working with early customers till the first half of 2015. We launched ShieldSquare for the global market in mid 2015 and started getting good traction. We decided to shift gears and accelerate the business growth for the year 2016 and this is how we went about doing the same.

Expanding To Outbound Lead Generation Channels

We initially focused on a low-touch approach in getting leads via inbound channels. With the right keywords, and after a lot of optimisation, we became the No.1 in search ads. We started getting a good number of leads, and this also helped us secure a top global financial portal as our customer.

However, as the average deal sizes through the inbound approach were small, we kickstarted our outbound marketing campaigns with aggressive sales targets. We launched personalised email marketing across different verticals, analysed the technologies our prospective customers were using and focused on them. This helped us reach out to the Europe and US markets, and win marquee customers – still keeping it a low-touch approach.

Incentivising Customers To Opt For Longer Duration Plans

We wanted to have a win-win situation for our customers (lower total cost of ownership) and us (cash flow and predictable business growth). We removed monthly subscriptions, and started providing significant discounts to customers that opt for annual subscriptions. Why? Because we believe that the the cash paid today is many more times valuable than the same amount paid after a year. If the valuation of the company increases by 5 times over 12 months, the cash being realised now is 5 times more valuable than the same amount realised after 12 months. We now plan to expand this strategy to incentivise customers that go for 3-year subscriptions.

Then Came The Growth Hacks!

Our regular efforts resulted in regular leads, but we wanted higher conversions with minimal touch.  We  launched a few growth hacks that are first in this industry, to increase our conversions. Our free-forever diagnosis plan helped our prospects try, and experience our product with no upfront commitments. Our free tools  ScrapeScanner and BadBot Analyser  provided reports that enabled our prospective customers understand the need for ShieldSquare and prioritise it internally.

scrapescanner free tool

Wise Investments To Achieve Growth

One way for businesses to reach positive cash flow is to get the team to work 2 times harder, cut costs, and the like. But our team was already working 2 times harder and our costs were tightly managed.   Another way—the more sustainable way—to reach positive cash flow is to grow revenues! We chose this path for becoming cash-flow positive!

  • Growing revenues require building solid sales, marketing and product teams, and we invested on growing our teams across functions and bringing in passionate talents to drive these teams.
  • There are certain things that might seem unimportant, but rather carry great value. Our employees at Bangalore enjoy free breakfast, lunch and snacks, while the same will be implemented soon for our folks in the Chennai, who are already beating the heat with the free tender coconuts we offer twice a day.

It’s Ok To Say “NO”

In business, priority is everything. 20% of the activities we do contribute to 80% of the results. Here’s how we prioritised things to be more productive:

  • We steered our focus away from activities that are of less or no value to our business, like attending feel-good/networking events. Rather, we reached out to our advisors and mentors whenever we needed guidance and advice.
  • We have restricted ourselves from meeting prospects until we qualify them. But we keep engaging with various players to get better educated about the market, trends and customer requirements.
  • As we were focusing on building the business and not raising funds, we have politely refused the calls and meetings from VCs who wanted to know about the business. Yet, if any of them insist on learning more about the exciting things happening at ShieldSquare, we invite them to our office to meet the team. This really works as only those who are serious will come to our office to have a conversation, while the others drop out.

Strong Foundation

We have promised ourselves that we would never compromise on the core values that took ShieldSquare to the global audience. It would have been impossible for us to be in the global top 2 position in our space, if not for the following:

  • A world-class SaaS internet security product that caters to  the problems of customers
  • Self-serve platform that requires minimal effort to integrate
  • Strong 24×7 support processes to help our customers
  • A great onboarding experience for customers using diverse tools

The aforementioned are the key learnings from our own trial and error experiments as well as interactions with our awesome customers and advisors. The key takeaway from these learnings would be to believe in our own instincts instead of reinventing the wheel.

The overall experience of developing a stellar security SaaS product for the world was amazing! As it turns out, the feedback we get from our customers are equally overwhelming, and yet it reminds us of the fact that the journey has just begun, and we still have a long way to go.

Guest Post by Pavan Thatha, Co-Founder & CEO of ShieldSquare, one of the fastest growing Saas Security company globally.

 

Cracking a niche B2B market without funding: Valuefy’s Story

Valuefy was started in 2010 to empower fund houses to make informed decisions better and faster. Vivek Singal, a B.Tech from IIT Bombay and Sharad Singh, an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad worked together at Fractal Analytics, an analytics firm, before starting Valuefy.

On choosing to build a product like this, Vivek shares, “When we chose our niche, which was a B2B product for such a specific market, at the time when eCommerce was growing, it took a lot of faith. It was a slow journey, but definitely a profitable journey. Our clients have been very sticky and we are collectively helping manage over 100 billion dollars worth of funds at this point.“

Cracking B2B market without funding: Valuefy

Here are some excerpts from a conversation with Vivek:

Where did the story of Valuefy start?

VS: “Whole science around the portfolio management is a very niche play. Valuefy has been serving Indian players so far. To give you an idea, we are servicing 2 of the top 3 fund houses of the country. We have cemented our place in an Indian market.

We picked up analytics as a domain since number crunching was our forte, coming from our experience with Fractal Analytics. We were intrigued to find the frameworks and algorithms that helped the fund houses make decisions. We wanted to understand if there was any tool that they were using to decompose their performance, analyse returns, and understand what are the drivers.

There are some large global organizations that were working in this area, but they didn’t seem to respond to the change in technology to create more sophisticated agile tools. So they were placed as a middle office tool, but not a decision-making tool.“

What were your major road blocks in your journey, and how did you overcome them?

VS: “First off, it is very difficult to do a product strategy in this kind of a market. Our clients are very comfortable with excel as a tool where they can manage their reports on an ad-hoc basis, even though it can only give 10% of the information. Our study says that 60% of a fund manager’s time goes in understanding and processing the data which leaves them with very little time to analyse the performance and the portfolio. The problem is that they are so used to it, that it is very difficult to break this pattern and bring the adoption of technology amongst the fund managers.

Second, when we started, the markets were not favouring our product. We realized that the bigger clients were more open to it. Also, we think the international customers would have been more open to the product but the markets were slow.”

What goes into marketing such a niche product?

VS: “

  1. We have created a global advisory board. It includes people who have experience in the domain, people from our competition, also, people from the academia who are helping us with it.
  2. We have formed some key partnerships with global conglomerates. It helps as a marketing platform as well as a distribution channel.
  3. We started as a hosted product, but we have grown it into a SaaS based model, which has made it simple for us to integrate with the global companies and this will help sustain our global expansion.”

What is your advice to people who want to startup? 

VS:”

  1. Identify the market correctly. We served the Indian market for a very long time. While our market was global, we spent a lot of time on Indian markets first. So you will need to take the decision and define your market.
  2. Get the connect to the market. While you may be good at creating something, but a venture needs both a good product and good marketing and sales. So plan accordingly.
  3. Keep faith in your journey until you decide that you have given a fair chance to it.

People become a pendulum between deciding whether revenue generation is more important or increasing the valuation is more important. While valuations are sexier, I think if you want a sustainable growth and a strong business model, revenue generation helps create that solid foundation.”

Valuefy has definitely established that B2B businesses focussing on revenue generation and profitability can create a sustain an enviable growth. We wish Vivek and his team all the luck in their journey.