Why services firms struggle to build products

I’ve seen this play out so many times over the last few years.

A business leader at a services firm will sit down and talk about how they’re working on a product. S/he will quote the usual mix of arguments – services as a business is struggling; Indian firms have challenges making products but they think they can do it this time; automation/products are key to their future – and finally end by being confident about the potential.


A few months down the line, the business leader will lament about how the ‘team’ doesn’t get it, and how tough it is for services firms to think ‘product’. Management will consider hiving the product team off into a separate location, or even moving the product business out as a separate firm.

In most cases, the end is predictable. The services firm realizes that the product business is radically different from what they’re used to. The product experiment they started off with didn’t play out the way they anticipated. They usually shelve the product arm, or make the arm build products only for internal consumption, while their business continues to be services or managed services build on top of the product.

Why do things go wrong?

Most business leaders will reflect that their teams didn’t have the product ‘mindset’, but in reality, there are a combination of factors that affect this.

I’ve listed them in three buckets

  • Product management & skills
  • Sales/marketing
  • Business strategy

Product management skills

Inability to understand market needs

Most services firms are used to a pattern of bidding for RFPs, winning the deal, and then assigning a bunch of business analysts (BAs) to handle requirement gathering.

When they start experimenting with products, they graduate some of the BAs to become product managers. After all, they know client needs, right?


In practice, a lot of BAs struggle as product managers. The challenge is not with their skill or ability, but in their organizational roles thus far.

Most business analysts are used to starting on a specific client engagement, working with IT/business leaders and listing specifications for their teams. Their role involvesefficient translation of existing requirements.

However, for good products, there is no ‘client’ to give requirements. The challenge for product managers is to unearth requirements based on knowing market needs and customers so well that they can design a product without getting a business requirement document.

This is not about not asking customers for what they want (people often state the oft repeated lie of Apple not doing consumer research when this comes up), it’s about understanding the customer requirements better than they can, and coming up with a product design that would suit their needs.

This is one of the toughest steps in the journey, and one that most firms get wrong.

The inference seems simple, but I find that services firms need a lot of coaching on the process to even start thinking along these lines.

The myth of ‘productizing’ services

This is closely linked to the previous point.

Many services firms start thinking of products after they receive requirements for something new from one client (eg: data analytics). They believe they can easily productize requirements to come up with something they can sell to other clients.

This rarely works.

Building for one client often means that your product is so specific to their needs that you will have to make significant changes when you take it to others.

This means making modifications to existing design, that services firms usually agree to thinking they’re doing products. Very quickly, they realize that they’re back in services mode.

What is required is to build something that the clients feel they could adapt to instead of the other way round. That comes only when you can bring in market knowledge into the product instead of just client knowledge.

Lack of product marketing skills

Building a product business is a lot more than just building a product.

In practice, the product marketing team has to spend time positioning the product right, building the right communication stories and getting customers to feel the product is right for them.

This takes a totally different skill set than sitting with the client and getting him/her to sign off on a service delivered. It involves a lot of business storytelling, segmentation, messaging and more.

Most services firms do not have experience with these skills, as their marketing teams have largely been involved in corporate marketing, branding and events.


Incentives and organizational enablers

When services firms look at building products, they often ignore the rest of the go-to-market cycle.

For instance, a couple of services firms I know built specific sales teams for products. However, they drew the team members from existing services and presented product selling as a fresh opportunity.

The sales team quickly realized that product selling & business models are very different. Where they could ratchet up millions in sales revenues from a single client (and accordingly, earn their incentives), they now had to spend a lot of time with multiple clients to convince them about licensing deals and the like. This was a lot of additional effort that saw the sales team quickly lose enthusiasm.

In another firm, the product team tried piggybacking on existing sales representatives or account managers. However, they realized that the sales team would often offer the product for free as a sweetener to clients to win deals. After all, their primary aim was to close deals, not sell products.

Existing brand perception

“But we thought you were into <services>. Why are you doing products?”

Products from services firms live in the shadow of the larger brand, and often this gets in the way of customers treating them seriously.

Clients often do not believe that the firm will ‘stick it out’ in the product game, as they are known for services. Hence, they are often reluctant to place bets on products from services firms, even if they have an existing relationship.

The existing brand perception often interferes with the product positioning as well. Rather than flowing as a natural extension of the brand, the product positioning has to dodge references to existing business that may confuse the market.

Business strategy 

Legacy relationships & contractual agreements

Most services firms have signed contracts with clients that clearly state all ownership of data/IP lies with the client.

When they begin thinking of building products, they usually find that even good ideas need amendments to contractual agreements to let them use data. Client account managers are hesitant to get into the discussion, and clients too look at such requests with some reluctance – after all, the benefits for clients is rarely commensurate with the risk.

Risk of new disrupting the old

Many services firms announce their foray into products and platforms with flourish. While this brings their product business into focus, it also serves to threaten existing business lines.

These shifts are rarely easy, and there are often a set of well-entrenched players within the system who are skeptical, scared or both about the new developments. Inability of leadership to place the product offering within the larger organizational context often leads to existing verticals undermining the new efforts, and sometimes, even cheering failures.

Lack of strategic importance in firm’s business

Product businesses need time. Services businesses are about immediate revenue flows.

Services firms often lack patience to wait for the product businesses to steady themselves and contribute to the firm’s bottom line. After the initial buzz, many services firms lose focus on the product business (or treat it more like a marketing/PR exercise) as it doesn’t contribute in significant ways to the company’s bottom line.

In case the senior leadership/CEO has committed revenue numbers to the board/shareholders, there is added pressure to quickly show revenues. This often leads to shadow revenues (accounting for revenues for product usage within firms own services – often leading to double accounting) or drifting to managed services on top of product lines to build revenues.

In both these cases, the focus quickly shifts away from giving the product business its space.

These are factors I’ve observed, and I’m happy to hear thoughts/arguments about the topic. Please leave your comments below.

Market Maps – Thinking market instead of an idea 


Starting point of a startup is an idea and it goes through a journey of product releases and pivots to reach its product market fit and further scale. Source of this idea is a brainstorming session or hot flavor of the season (foodTech, fintech etc) or even comes from past work experience of the founder, in rare some cases it is rooted in an unsolved customer pain point.

For Indian software product startups regardless of the origin of the idea when looked at through the lens of market segments a pattern seems to emerge that is too hard to ignore.

Market Map

A 2 X 3 matrix

Market Map

Parsing the market  map

  1. Before 2009  India consumer  was not a major open digital market. There were few online ticketing sites, many attempts in the e-commerce space that  did not fan out big,  telecom VAS a closed market which also existed only because of regulation gap around strong consumer privacy laws .  However in 2009 something happened along with the birth of Flipkart where consumers changed behavior, i.e started believing that they could trust making transactions online and swiped their cards. It would be hard to attribute a causal reason of whether it was ‘Cash on Delivery’, critical mass of people on internet or myriad of other reasons. It is suffice to say that market behavior changed since then. Today there are countless new ideas being tried out because this market has opened up.
  2. India SMB market on the other hand is yet to witness its Flipkart moment.  I have been a close observer on two industry (read multiple organizations collaborating efforts) attempts to wrench open this and closely involved in my last role in leading multiple experiment in creating this market. While I am very bullish about this market but the fact of the matter is that this market is yet to open up. Just like how consumers shifted mindset about transacting online, small business need to change their buying ‘tailored shirt’ mindset to buying ‘branded shirt’ mindset for this market to explode.  Open API based GST system in India may cause to be a major reason of change here.
  3. If India consumer has already exploded and India SMB is around the corner, it would not be completely wrong to say that India Enterprise is yet to germinate. There are handful few startups that have been able to sell to Indian CIO however those are exceptions than the rule.
  4. In the global consumer market there is hardly any precedence of a startup from India building a global force i.e. equivalent to a Facebook or Snapchat. Not that this may not happen, it is just that it is not happened so far because it is very hard to understand global culture nuance when based in India alone and when there are gaps in the kind of risk capital that is available to try out radical business models. There are handful instances where this is being attempted such as Zomato, Hike but the jury is still out.
  5. Indian startups are rocking the global SMB market, strategic inflection point that has made this possible is small business are searching for solution to their problems online. When solution is possible to be delivered online through Saas, the purchase consideration is based on the experience of solution (try and buy) and not based on the trusting the salesman who delivers the CD.  Given this dynamic it does not matter if the solution was built in Alabama or Alwarpet in Chennai. Comparative cost advantage of doing desk based selling from India makes it possible for price points unimaginable in other parts of the world and which in turn opens many low end markets that have been earlier priced out.  Companies that are trend setter here are Zoho, Freshdesk, Wingify, KissFlow, Kayako, ChargeBee, Hotelogix and many others.
  6. There is also good precedence of traction for the global Enterprise with more than handful examples. The pattern here has been to prove product with pilot customers in India and scale it faster with global markets. This involves migration of feet on street sales team globally, iflex has been the Zoho equivalent grand daddy to set the precedence here but recent examples are Druva, Eka and newer folks like Innovaccer, Unbxd are following suit.

There are startup ideas that are tech components and may sell into a value chain into one of these market and not directly, for example a developer toolchain. The effect of traction in the market has same implication for them.

The above map is not going to be static map and is bound to change. Certainly past is not an indicator of future however history of technology has taught that path dependency plays a huge role in shaping of markets. Thus realization of this map has allowed few startups have change their gear in reaching product – market fit or scale.  Also this map helps understand that playbook for winning a market is a different than a playbook for creating a market.

To quote Marc Andreessen

When a great team meets a lousy market, market wins.
When a lousy team meets a great market, market wins.
When a great team meets a great market, something special happens.

What are the market maps that you are seeing ?

Founders: you are not doing it right

I see a lot of founders requesting 15min time from me for quick advice. They are clear that it is not a funding pitch, but, more to get my opinion on some of their questions – is this a right market, whether idea has legs, customer size, product feedback, etc. Based on who is requesting, I tend to allocate time for few and discuss, which usually goes for 30min+. I know that 30min is not sufficient to give deep/quality actionable items, other than some calculated guesses based on what I would have heard. My worry with such meetings is that I am guessing and my comments may not be based on a lot of input data/context and may not be right for the startup. So, I usually put caveat to founders to validate and test before taking my ideas as it is. I also know that most of the founders ignore all the comments that were contracting to their current thoughts and move on to the next mentor.

I say the whole mentoring, where, mentors are spending less than few hours with founders is completely bogus. I am being on the board of many young startups, it takes lots of meetings to understand the contours of the idea, market, team, capability, and strategy. At most one can help is bit tactical, but, doesn’t change the outcome for the startup. If it is the case what should founders do?

Founders have two important things to do before they get into startup-mode: a) Deep understanding and building their point of view of the startup-model and b) Executing the startup with their understanding of the model.

I see that most of the founders don’t do (a) at all. They want to take as many shortcuts as possible by talking to other friends, founders, and not spend time required to dig deep and build their opinion and model of “what it takes to build a world-class startup/company”.

Knowing what I know, I would ignore every mentor, event, startup pitch session, hackathons. Instead, I will get an internet connection, a decent laptop, personal notebook and sit at a quiet coffee shop. Start researching on web on all the topics that matter. I would first figure out the most insightful writers of the topics that one has to research and read. The goal is to build a Point of View about your product/market/idea/hiring/pitching/scaling etc. that you are an expert and you are better than any average mentor.

Once the rules of the game/knowledge is gained, you would have built a framework of thinking about your startup. Then, get into execution mode. During this phase, you try to interact with mentors, pitch sessions, hackathons, and investors so that these interactions are meaningful and actionable.

Freedom from fragmentation! Welcome to the ecosystem

The emotions of independence and freedom are flowing around in our hearts; hence it is befitting to discuss the same in a domain where most people haven’t pictured these yet. Let us talk about the product that is eating the whole world – yes, we are talking about the world of ‘Software’ after all. Even the people who are new to this part will notice the sheer amount of change that has come around in the world economy, labour markets, currency valuations and more, solely by the influence and discretion of software prowess. However, what becomes hard to notice for many people is that there is a silent revolution underway in this whole domain. What we are talking about is the shift from a fragmented approach to an integrated one.

Before you start thinking about the questions (like what is the need? Why is a change required?), let us consider a very simple real life example. Take the following phrases and see what comes to mind while thinking about them – ‘Discover what is happening around me’, ‘Chat with my group of friends’, ‘Discuss and plan for a group activity’ & ‘Split and share money with a friend’. If you look closely, these 4 action aspects pretty much sum up your daily social lifestyle, especially considering the complicated lives that we lead nowadays.


However, interestingly the legacy platforms and systems that are prevalent have been mostly confined to 1 vertical in each of these cases. For example, you have ~2 apps in your phone for checking out the movies and events running in town, then there would be ~3 different apps for checking the best restaurants to go to and the deals to avail, and furthermore, a plethora of apps to chat with your group of friends. Now, each of these apps perform specific functions suited to their use case, however, in a dynamic and real time social scenario, you will find yourself juggling between multiple apps / web pages, taking screenshots / copying text and then performing the desired intended series of actions. Isn’t it?

Now, think is this really a smart way to go about it? Do we REALLY need so many apps? Keeping the subjective part aside, let us take a look at some hard numbers. Consider this fantastic report compiled by TheNextWeb on the fragmented Android market or this detailed analysis by ContractIQ on the vendors and variety of software suites out there. Well, things get clear, don’t they?


Welcome the ecosystem approach

In light of the above, ask yourself, why should we remain limited to the old approach and use up more time in juggling between different apps and systems? Why not go for a more advanced ecosystem style approach (something like what Facebook messenger is bringing around now in terms of allowing you to book an Uber and more directly from the chat window). This is the approach that precisely a lot of new age products advocate (including ours) in terms of the complete flow. Not only does this approach help you save time (that we all value so highly) but also maintain just one point of contact in terms of the interacting system (Comp. Science geeks and service guys will understand the enormous value of this).

SweetspotGetting back to the phrases we discussed earlier, let us combine the vertical sections of the app market into 1 and perceive the awesomeness that we get –

  • Discovery of events, activities, restaurants, deals and more
    • Exploring the best movies, events, deals, restaurants and outings around you
    • Also checking out the details required under one neat and seamless flow without jumping between multiple apps
  • Discussing, planning and chatting
    • Choosing whatever activity you want to go for, after checking what’s trending, what is recommended, what do your friends like & much more, all at one place
    • Inviting your group of friends to add them to the group to discuss and plan together. Chatting together to see who is in and who is out
  • Splitting and sharing money from any account
    • Splitting the costs for your activities (whether before or after) and everyone can put in their own share directly using any means linked to their bank account.
    • Avoiding the hassles of making excel sheets / notes and even setting reminders. Letting the single solution handle everything is the ultimate nirvana mode.
    • Not only that, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the app didn’t even require you to share any account details (like account number, IFSC code etc.) with anyone!

I am sure you will find that the old fragmented apps scenario pales in comparison to this integrated solution when it comes to seamlessly navigating your social lifestyle. For those who have not explored yet, come and check out the magic that happens when all these touchpoints come in one trajectory under one roof at Mypoolin – https://mypoolin.com/mobile-app.php

Time to say ‘ahoy’ to freedom and welcome this silent revolution towards an integrated future!

Guest Post by Rohit Taneja, Co-Founder at MyPoolin

Uber – Didi Deal – an analysis

On August 1st Uber agreed to hand over its Chinese operations to Didi, in return for a 17.7% stake in the combined company’s equity and $1 billion Didi investment in Uber. Uber, though, will get only 5.9% of the voting rights in the new entity. Investors in Uber China, including Baidu, a big Chinese Internet firm, will get a 2.3% stake. Uber CEO Kalanick will serve on Didi’s board, and Wei, Didi’s boss, will join Uber’s board.

So why did Uber blink, particularly in a market that Kalanick hailed its biggest market globally just a year ago. It was arranging 1 million + rides per day in China, larger than the rest of the world excluding US. Within nine months after launching in Chengdu, Uber had 479 times the trips it had in New York after the same amount of time. Indeed the Uber’s three most popular cities – Guangzhou, Hangzhou, and Chengdu – were all in China.

Is the deal in the right direction? How does the deal impact private car services in other parts of the world? Comments and answers to questions are welcome.

A disclaimer: the data on private companies is difficult to come by. The data used in this post has been triangulated from different credible sources and in some place an intelligent guess based on the writer’s experiences.

Uber in China

Uber entered China in Feb 2014, with a soft launch in Shanghai and two other cities under the name Youbu – meaning “excellent step forward” in Chinese. A formal launch happened in Beijing in July 2014. Then, there were roughly 1.05 million taxis in China growing 2.5% per annum. But demand outstripped supply by a big factor. By varying accounts Uber had gained between 10% and 35% market share in private car services by July 2016, burning over $2 billion in the process.

Didi Kuaidi

Didi and Kuaidi were two taxi-hailing app companies promoted in 2012. They were backed two Chinese Internet titans, namely Alibaba and Tencent respectively. At time of Uber entry, they respectively owned 55% and 45% of smart-phone based taxi hailing market. All through to 2014, these two acquired smaller apps and engaged in promotion wars that cost collectively over $1bn.

Their investors decided to merge the two services in February 2015 to conserve cash and take on an aggressive Uber. All through 2015, Didi Kuaidi market share in private car services remained steady at around 80%. Their share in taxi hailing was 99%.


Uber started small with offering UberBlack (high price private-car services) in Shanghai (the highest GDP city in China). By Oct 2014, it introduced People’s Uber a non-profit service where customer only paid minimal amount towards gas and tolls. This was a good way to get more Chinese consumers on the Uber app, in the hope that they will eventually start using its paid options. Over time they added rest of the products – UberX, UberXL and UberExec. They also added three special products – Tesla, Green Uber and Xiaoyou (two seater electronic car). Uber focused only on cities with population of 2 million or more. There were 250 such cities in China of which Uber reached 55 in July 2016.

Didi and Kuaidi started with taxi-hailing service in 2012. Unlike Uber’s matchmaking, their app asked users to enter pick-up and destination location and time. The request reached all drivers logged in and they fought for the order. The quickest response secured the order. The users could enter a tip during peak times to encourage drivers to take the order. In July 2014, Kuaidi launched Chauffer One to target online chauffer market. Didi integrated their app with WeChat payment in Jan 2014 helping it gain popularity among WeChat users (the most used mobile chat app in China). After the Feb 2015 merger, the combined Didi offered host of services beyond taxi hailing. These included – private car service, car-pooling, shuttle van and bus-hailing services. Its other product innovations included – matchmaking of drivers and passengers based on shared interests (fruitful journeys), deal with LinkedIn to let people join up their accounts on the two networks, tie up with several car companies including Mercedes and Audi to let passengers book test drives (Over 5 million customers have since taken test drives) and a special service for passengers with disabilities. Didi also started helping the high performing drivers get loans to buy new cars with its tie up with China Merchants Bank (CMB). These drivers otherwise had no credit history to approach a bank.

In short, Didi has been miles ahead of Uber on product innovation

Didi-Kuaidi started with taxi hailing, not chauffeur-driven / private car service, which helped it win over grumpy taxi drivers and local politicians. Uber faced taxi-drivers protest in several cities and twice their offices were raided by police in this connection. Significantly, anti-private car services protests were seen as anti-Uber while such services were also being offered by Didi-Kuaidi!

Didi gained extra points by being the first to integrate with WeChat Payment, an offering from its main backer and investor – Tencent. Uber followed suit but their WeChat link was often broken for no obvious reason.

Didi started investing in and building technology alliances with Uber enemies in other geographies to better fight Uber. Didi investments included – Ola cabs in India ($30mn – guestimate), Lyft Inc., in US ($100mn) and Grab Taxi in South East Asia ($350mn).

At the time of this writing, according to Bloomberg, Didi and SoftBank have almost clinched a deal to pour a further US$600 million into Singapore-headquartered Grab. Both companies are existing investors in Grab, as well as Indian counterpart Ola.

Growth and ambition

In July 2016, Didi offered taxi-rides in 400 cities and private car services like Ubers’ in 200 cities. Its taxi hailing service was arranging more than 4 million trips a day through its pool of 1.35 million drivers. Its private car service was doing over 1.5 million trips a day. In 2015, Didi arranged a total of 1.4 billion rides in China, more than Uber has done worldwide in its history. At the same time, Uber offered private car services in 55 cities planning to reach 120 cities by September 2016. A leaked Uber memo in the summer of 2015 revealed Uber arranging 1 million rides a day.

By multiple accounts, Uber probably had between 10% – 35% share of private car services business. Didi had 65% – 80% market share in this segment plus 99% share in taxi and bus hailing services.

This race was clearly marked with the scale of ambition and the speed of execution. Consider this for example – In December 2015, Uber was present in 21 cities planning to reach 120 cities (population over 2mn) in Sep 2016. At the same time Didi was present in 259 cities and was planning to reach 400 cities by February 2016 alone! Indeed at the time of merger, Didi was active in 400 cities while Uber was only in 55 cities. Didi had expanded at a furious pace and that meant stupendous flawless execution. And this execution was backed by a grand vision – “penetrate into all regions of China targeting 30 million trips daily over 10 million cars registered on its platform.


Both Uber and Didi were flush with funds to fight to win in this market. Didi had raised a total of $9.82bn from investors like Tencent, Alibaba, China’s sovereign wealth fund, CIC and notably $1bn from Apple. Uber had globally raised $11.46bn but its China operation that was a separate entity, had locally raised only about $3bn from Baidu and others.

As part of the deal, Didi is also investing $1 billion in Uber. Now Uber also has investment in these three taxi-hailing companies by virtue of its 17.7% stake in Didi. What does it mean for the taxi-hailing business in US, India and South East Asia?

Both the companies had burnt cash to attract more drivers and riders on their platform. So far Uber had matched Didi in the spend. But Didi had an advantage in the long run – it’s opponent had to balance its funds across several countries where it was fighting for share. It was perhaps unwise on Uber’s part to ignore their other territories in favour of China alone. Also, Uber was eyeing an IPO at this time and needed to clean their balance sheet.


  1. Has Uber made the right decision by selling off its China ops? It still has a 17.7% share in Didi! Why?
  2. Is private car services / taxi hailing a winner-takes-all business?
  3. With the cross holdings between Didi & Uber, Didi and Ola, Lyft & Grab what is the likely steady state scenario? What is the future of Ola, Lyft and Grab Taxi? Do you think in the end only Uber and Didi will remain through out the world?
  4. How does it augur for India e-commerce titans fight? Does Uber-Didi merger strategy will playout here too in form of a deal between Flipkart & Snapdeal or Amazon and either of the two Indian e-commerce brands? Isn’t that beneficial for investors instead of endlessly draining out cash?
  5. What are your lessons from this story?

How we incorporated Deducely, Inc in the USA using Stripe Atlas

In our first blogpost, I’d like to talk about how we incorporated in US from outside the USA.

This is a version 3.0 post that is inspired from V 1.0 by my former boss Girish Mathrubootham and V 2.0 by Suresh Sambandam, CEO of KiSSFLOW.

This article can not be considered Legal advise, please consult a lawyer and/or accountant before incorporating.

US Incorporation 101

The US has one of the most mature banking and financial systems in the world. Owing to this many internet businesses prefer to incorporate in the US. In India the reserve bank of India does not allow businesses to automatically charge user’s credit/debit card’s; explicit user consent is expected via a second factor authentication like an OTP or a password. This hampers the smooth functioning of subscription businesses that charge users every month.

However A US based company can store its user’s credit cards and charge them automatically in a recurring fashion seamlessly. For the convenience of auto-charging credit cards many ‘Subscription As A Service’ (SaaS) companies based out of India have their headquartered in the US.

Deducely being a SaaS product, we wanted the ability to charge our user’s cards every month automatically without asking them to input their card number every month. Since we operate from India our options were very limited

We had 3 options in hand, but we had apprehensions too:

  1. Incorporate in a foreign country – Too costly, close to $2000
  2. Use 2Checkout or FastSpring – About 10% to be paid as commissions
  3. Use Paypal subscriptions – Developer un-friendly, average customer support

Enter The Atlas Program Stripe Atlas

Stripe atlas is a bento box for businesses to get up and running. Stripe Atlas grants the following for a flat fee of $500:

  1. US company registration (A Delaware C corp).
  2. Registering with the IRS for taxation purposes.
  3. A Zero balance US bank account in Silicon valley bank.
  4. Access to Legal and Tax consultation from PwC, Orrick and UpCounsel.
  5. $15,000 in Amazon Web Services Credits.
  6. A Stripe account ready to accept payments.

We were skeptical about this program, We even felt it was too good to be true but when we approached Avinash Raghava of iSPIRT and Suresh Sambandam of KiSSFLOW for expert opinion, we were advised to go ahead and incorporate via Stripe Atlas. It was totally worthwhile.

How to incorporate a Delaware C Corp in the USA through the Stripe Atlas program?

Step 1: Get an invite to the Atlas program

This is the most difficult part, as of now the stripe atlas program is invite only, you could try requesting an invite on the website or via their twitter account. Once you are successfully invited you’d get an email with a link that can be used to register an account at Stripe Atlas. Now You’d be required to create a new Stripe account.

Step 2: Enter detailed information about your business

Once you have signed up for the Stripe account you would be presented with the following overview screen :

stripe starting page

When we click on get started we are presented with a screen that asks a few details about the product and the business:

business details page

Step 3: Enter how you’d like to structure your company

There are two ways to structure your company when your business is not physically present in the US. This is a very crucial decision and should be taken after thorough deliberation.

  1. Setting up a US headquartered company with an Indian (or other non US country) subsidiary:Freshdesk’s model
  2. Setting up a US subsidiary for a non US parent company: KiSSFLOW’s model

Company incorporation screen

We had not incorporated anywhere yet and we went ahead with Freshdesk’s model , so we were asked to enter our company’s desired name, while entering the desired name please ensure that the name is not registered by any other entity, a simple google search could help you out.

Although we could have entered our local non US address, we went ahead and purchased a physical address in the US through virtual post mail for $10/month; virtualpostmail.com scan the physical mail that we get and email it to us. We received our ETPS(Electronic tax payment system) credentials through our physical address. Though the US address wouldn’t be of any other use in the immediate future, we wanted Deducely to be global and hence we invested in a US physical address.

We got a US phone number for free through Google Voice and entered that as our phone number, to get a Google voice number you need to know someone with a US phone number from a major carrier like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile or Sprint. Once the google voice setup is done you will be able to make and receive calls from your US google voice number through the Hangouts dialer app . You could enter your local number here as well.

If you choose to set up a US subsidiary with a Non US company as the parent you would be asked to present the Non US company’s tax ID and registration certificate. Please consult your local lawyer and accountant for any regulatory compliances that need to be met.

Step 4: Enter the details about the people in the company

In this page you’d be prompted to enter the personal details of all the people who would have more than 25% stakes in the company. Please have a scanned copy of your passport or any other government issued IDs.

Personal details about the founders

Now, in the same page, you will also be asked to select the company’s president, secretary, incorporator and directors.

Board of directors

Step 5: Enter the bank account administrator details and pay:

Getting a US bank account is the most difficult part for any non US entrepreneur , You either have to be physically present in the US or know someone in the US who could introduce you to the bank. These banks tend to have high maintenance fees and high minimum balances associated with them. However stripe atlas has partnered with Silicon Valley Bank(SVB). SVB provides a zero balance account with no maintenance fee for 2 years. In the following screen you will get an option to select the administrator for the SVB account

SVB administrator

Step 6: Enter your credit/debit card details:

You will be presented with a stripe checkout popup where you can enter your card details. You will we charged $500 USD only after the successful incorporation of your company. After the payment you’d get a prompt saying that your incorporation would be complete in one week.

Since Deducely was one of the initial pilot companies to be incorporated via the Stripe Atlas program we did not have to spend a dime to get up and running with a US company and bank account! Thanks a tonne Patrick, we owe you one!

Step 7: The application review process:

I am not sure if this is step would be applicable for everyone. A couple of days after we had submitted our application we received an email from stripe requesting us to furnish details like our estimated timeline, screenshots, Terms of service etc… and we showed them our screenshots and git account; after a few anxious days our application was accepted. I feel this is necessary steps to prevent abuse of this program.

Step 9: Digitally sign the incorporation documents:

After the review process is done and dusted, all the associated people in step 4 would receive an email with a link to a Docusign document. You can read the documents and sign. We would be able to proceed to the next step only when all the associated people have completed signing the documents.

Step 10: The AWS activate account:

After signing all the documents you’d get an email with a link to activate your AWS goodies. You’d get:

  • $15,00 in AWS credits valid for 2 years.
  • Access to AWS web based training (worth $600).
  • Access to AWS business support (worth $5000).
  • Access to AWS solution architects.

Step 11: Receive your incorporation documents:

After you digitally sign all the incorporation documents , wait for around 5-7 days to get your Delaware C corp incorporation certificate and your Tax ID(Employer Identification Number) from the IRS.

Step 12: Opening the SVB account:

Since we had given a PO box address in the US we were asked to give the physical address where our business is present. We emailed this to SVB and after 1 week we were granted access to SVB online banking.

This is the end of the incorporation procedure, here a few things to be done next

Next Steps:

1) Signing the stock plans: Stripe would email you a draft of a Stock agreements, get it signed by your board of directors. Stripe would also schedule a free 30 minute call with upcounsel – a law firm for clarifying any queries.

2) Sending funds to the SVB account: Ideally you can wire funds into your SVB account, but this is a tedious process involving a lot of waiting. We found square cash to be a convenient way to send cash into our SVB account. It takes 2 working days for the cash to show up in your bank account.

3) Getting a credit / debit card : You have funds in your SVB account and you want to pay for your hosting and other subscriptions, there are two options that I am aware of, the first method would be to apply get a business credit/debit card from SVB and get it delivered to your address. The second method is signing up at privacy.com. Privacy.com is a new age fin tech company that links with your bank account, through this service you can generate virtual VISA cards with fixed spending limits and close them whenever you want. We use privacy.com to generate virtual credit cards and track our spending. This service is free!

4) The Unofficial Stripe entrepreneurs Facebook group: If you are not based in the US and have a US based company , we have created an unofficial stripe atlas entrepreneurs group in Facebook . You are not alone here, if you run into any issues or need help you can ask other fellow atlas entrepreneurs for help.

Overall our experience with Stripe atlas was exemplary. Their support team always had our back; I’d like to give a huge shoutout to Anita from the Stripe atlas team, she was not only very knowledgeable but also very patient in replying to the barrage of queries that we raised every day! Ideally a service like this would cost you at least 800$ without the bank account and $15,000 in AWS credits. Stripe Atlas = A happy meal for company incorporation!

If you need any help or have any queries related to this post please reach out to me at aswin <at> deducely <dot> com

Guest Post by Aswin Vayiravan, Deducely

India can’t afford the comforts technology provides. Here’s why

There’s a belief globally that we have a burgeoning middle class in India — and we’re following in the footsteps of China’s massive change from immense poverty to a stable middle class.

But that’s really not the case. There was a very interesting article onScrollsome time back explaining this.

According to the article, “China…saw its middle-income proportion go up from 3% in 2001 to 18% in 2011.” This growth in disposable income, coupled with technology, fueled growth in consumption, most probably with some visibility of profitability for businesses in the country.

In India this hasn’t happened.

“All those stories about India’s burgeoning middle-class have little to do with reality: India is, as it has always been, woefully poor.”

Instead, it seems that the major shift that’s happened is the really really poor are now just poor. And no where close to being determined middle class by any definition. The article does a good job of showing how middle class globally is defined.

Here are a couple of charts showing this move.

We don’t know how fast this low income bracket will start moving into middle income, but my guess is quite slowly. There is a lack of education, lack of opportunities, and lack of incentive for anyone in a position of power to do anything drastic about it. And even if we were motivated, these things take much more time in multi-party democracies like India vs countries like China.

If this is the reality, it’s going to be tougher and tougher for transactional business dealing with consumers (like ecommerce) that make money on delivery/logistics to grow in spite of this long term. Here’s why.

Today, the average take rate (the percentage of each transaction companies make to run their businesses) isn’t sufficient to cover costs related to the transaction. Yet, the take rate as a percentage of the cost of any one item is so high that it’s difficult to imagine most companies being able to increase it. On average companies charge a 10/15% take rate. How realistic is it that any consumer will be willing to pay 25/30/40% extra on top of the cost of an item? Probably not that realistic.

More woes

Photo credit: Lord Enfield

It gets worse. Logistics costs are going up. Believe it or not, ecommerce players have been lucky with overall delivery costs so far. They have spent on everything except their front line. And that’s showing. We’ve seen the repercussions of this at Flipkart already, and things are going to change really fast — starting with delivery staff salaries. So, even increasing take rates (as unrealistic as that sounds) will only help maintain present losses.

Seems like an impossible problem to crack, right? Well, it gets worse because scale doesn’t solve the problem. All these businesses need a substantial offline operational capability. As a result, they get little benefit from growing because they keep needing to add people, delivery centers and other logistics related costs.

And now, to top it off, they’ve been marketing to a middle class that is significantly smaller than was originally imagined. Most people can’t afford as much as online companies need them to — meaning the size of every transaction is only going to get smaller. And since take rates mostly work as a percentage, they’re going to reduce. In fact, it’s very possible that the take rate percentage itself will be under pressure to reduce. And all the while, customer expectations on quality service and delivery will remain the same.

So how do you make up the income? Ad revenue? How realistic is that ad spend in the country will go up any more than marginally anytime soon? How realistic is it that any ancillary revenue streams will make up enough of the short fall? Seems far fetched to me.

It’s actually really unfortunate. There are so many businesses that we truly need in India, but the majority of us can’t afford for them to be as efficient as they are today. How long will this gap in affordability and convenience be funded by private equity? My guess is — not long enough. (But as a consumers, I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.)

From what I can tell, as bad as the margins are for these businesses, this is the best they will ever be. And that’s scary.

Guest Post by Sid Talwar, Partner at LightBox Ventures

5 Signs you need a SaaS based Cloud Payroll Software for your Startup

Startups are natural transgressors, but payroll and HR is one area where a startup simply cannot afford to break rules. Entrepreneurs of startups may have to come up with disruptive ideas if they want their enterprises to be listed in Fortune 1000, but there is one particular area, where entrepreneurs of startups certainly would not want to break the rules: HR and payroll.

5-Signs-you-need-a-SaaS-based-Cloud-Payroll-Software-for-your-StartupStartups that fail to comply or neglect HR and payroll laws are often slapped with stringent financial and legal consequences. In fact, some penalties are so stringent that they can throw the entire business off track. With that being said, here are five common yet biggest HR and payroll mistakes that startups commit and why it’s time to embrace a mobile payroll app or cloud-SaaS based payroll software.

Mixing Business and Personal Finances

During the initial days, a business banking account may seem pointless for a startup. This is because a startup in its initial days hardly makes any money and for most of the entrepreneurs of newly launched startups, it is pointless to pretend that they are paying their employees with the company and not from their personal pockets.

Such a thinking in particular can have grave consequences in the long run. Eventually, a startup would need to separate all the expenses and repay taxes.

In case the startup is audited or sued, the blurry discrepancy of business and personal finances can render the entrepreneur’s personal assets vulnerable to seizure by the court. To make it worse, the startup might even lose its corporate status. Unfortunately, most of the startup founders are of the notion that this won’t happen to them, but it does and quite often.

Thus, to keep away from legal hassles during such untoward incidents, payroll software for startups is your best bet.

Relegating Employees as Independent Workers

Treating or misclassifying your employees as independent contractors or workers when in fact they ought to be legally regarded as employees is one of the gravest mistakes that startups commit these days. The major reason of doing this is that they don’t have to pay insurance, overtime or taxes for independent contractors. Also, they don’t have to bear other contractor benefits.

Misclassifying is quite common among startups, where several entrepreneurs practice the “try before buy” recruitment technique. It is one of the biggest human resource management mistakes that owners of many startups commit resulting in increased employee turnover rates.

Nevertheless, if you are still relegating employees as independent workers, then it’s advisable to have an automated SaaS based mobile payroll app or cloud based payroll software for startups that can sort out or distinguish payroll and all other independent contractor benefits from what is offered to employees in your company.

Attempting to Manage Compliance and Payroll through Spreadsheets

Payroll undoubtedly is a complex and tricky process, most of the businesses especially startups screw at it often only to be penalized for compliance violations by using spreadsheets. This is the reason many businesses resort to employing some or the other kind of payroll service.

However, startups require compliance such as compensation, healthcare, employment insurance, etc. These are mandatory in almost every state. Compliance overheads even in a freshly launched startup can escalate quite fast.

Thus, many tech-savvy startups make use of cloud based HRMS and payroll software for startups instead of spreadsheets to manage their payroll and compliance. A mobile payroll app helps to manage payroll for a startup including a range of taxes whilst ensuring compliance with all the necessary insurance and other stuffs as well as reporting.

Over/Under Paying Employee Benefits

With the startup competition getting fierce with each passing day, recruiting and retaining best talents has turned a lot more difficult and challenging. Thus, you must offer amazing employee benefits to retain the best talent pool that can drive your startup.

A cloud payroll software for startups can be of great help here, because a mobile payroll app with its excellent automation functionalities computes accurate figures to be administered as benefits thus, ruling out odds of human errors paving way for redundant and error-free benefits payouts.

Being SaaS based makes it scalable thus, startups don’t have to spend a fortune making it budget-friendly. It eliminates the cumbersome paperwork that goes into filings and benefits administration for your HR and payroll department saving them time and efforts.

Frustrating their Employees with Endless Paperwork

No one likes paperwork and startups are no exception. Yet, a number of businesses are still stuck in ice-age, as they use outdated HR practices or legacy software.

As we are living in the 21st century, gone are the days of asking your employees to filling out forms and email or fax them to the respective departments. Several businesses are making use of payroll software for startups to automate this entire process making it easy for both HRs as well as employees. A mobile payroll app helps a startup to go paperless when it comes to carrying out payroll and other key HR processes.

So these are five signs a startup needs to shun those legacy HR/payroll software or practices and embrace a cloud and SaaS based payroll software now.

Guest post by Anwar Shaikh writes about HRMS solutions and Payroll Software. A self-made, reared-up writer, Anwar is a wannabe Cloud evangelist and has a great penchant for cloud SaaS and automation technologies, SMAC, CRM, ERP and human resources. 

When to open the purse for that Blockchain-y project of yours?

Blockchain, Blockchain ! The buzz continues to spread from coffee machines to boardrooms. Everyone I speak to nowadays is eager to know how to leverage Blockchain tech and what’s in it for them.

A key question in front of us as solution providers is when to choose Blockchain (and when to stick to relational databases) and more importantly which use case to fund/invest.

Based on my experience of Blockchain technology, if your use case meets all the conditions below, using a Blockchain makes business sense:

  1. A Shared Database: A Blockchain is a distributed ledger. The data contained in a Blockchain is replicated across all nodes within the network and is therefore shared. First step would be to determine if there is a genuine need for data sharing across the entire network.
  2. Multiple Writers: In a Blockchain, the database is written by multiple writers simultaneously. These writers could be a bank’s customers initiating payments, traders trading in a exchange, ATM/POS transactions, multiple companies updating their records in a government portal etc.
  3. Lack of Trust: Does your use case involves multiple users that trust each other? Let me ask it differently. Is one user willing to let other users modify the database entries it owns and is he/she blindly trusts the ‘read-only’ information provided by other users? If your answer is a clear NO, then Blockchain can be the answer. But everyone trusts a Blockchain as transactions are confirmed by ‘autonomous’ nodes (that do not trust each other) and considered immutable.
  4. No need for a central intermediary: If all we needed was a solution that let’s multiple non trusting writers update a shared database, then having a central intermediary that is trusted by all writers could have solved the problem. Everyday we interact with such central intermediaries e.g. Uber, commuter train companies, our banks, government etc. Govt issues us identity documents that are acceptable to all, a bank’s confirmation on a successful transaction is treated as a gospel of truth. Blockchain removes the need of having a central intermediary by its inherent design of immutability, block confirmations, distributed consensus. The transactions performed on a blockchain can thus be trusted by multiple writers who do not trust each other but trust a Blockchain. Do you really need disintermediation and does not having one makes it cheaper , faster , more efficient for your customers.
  5. Transactions Linkage: It means that transactions created by different writers often depend on one other. For example, A sends some money to B who in turn sends it to C. So, C’s balance is dependant on A. Because of this dependency, the transactions naturally belong together in a single shared database. Taking this further, one nice feature of blockchains is that transactions can be created collaboratively by multiple writers, without either party exposing themselves to risk.
  6. Authoritative Final Transaction Log: All nodes agree to the contents of this log. For a new node, downloading the entire previous blockchain is a starting point. If a node is down for some time, it can download the incremental blockchain to know the latest contents of Blockchain. In a peer-to-peer database with no central authority, nodes might have different opinions regarding which transaction to accept, because there is no objective right answer. By requiring transactions to be “confirmed” in a blockchain, we ensure that all nodes converge on the same decision.
  7. Guaranteeing the represented assets: Who stands behind the assets represented on the blockchain? If the database says that I own 10 units of something, who will allow me to claim those 10 units in the real world? Who do I sue if I can’t convert what’s written in the blockchain into traditional physical assets? Is it going to be a bank, a stock exchange, a mineral company? It all depends on the type of asset that is recorded on the Blockchain.

Conclusion: If your use case fulfils the all of the above criteria, using a Blockchain makes sense. Go ahead and invest in it, Blockchain is worth it.

(Disclaimer: Inputs from Gideon. Views expressed are personal and may not necessarily reflect views of my employer.)

Guest Post by Gaurav Singhai, Sopra-Steria

India’s reverse Brexit: Passing the GST Bill will create millions of formal sector jobs

Imagine a warehouse of more than one crore square feet in Central India – around five times the size of the largest football stadium in the world. It would have an eight lane highway that is connected to all four corners of the country on one side. It would have one of India’s largest railway container terminals for handling enormous goods trains on another side. It would have an all-cargo airport terminal operated by a partner on another side. And on the fourth side would be a cluster of manufacturers supplying the warehouse in real time based on big data analytics of national demand and inventory for their products.

This warehouse is not even on the radar today but can become a reality with the GST Bill. Passing the GST Bill – India’s reverse Brexit moment that will end state-by-state rules and create a national market for goods to be supplied from anywhere to anywhere – will create millions of formal jobs.

Currently, supply chains for e-commerce companies are not optimised but distorted by regulatory cholesterol that prevents us from offering customers the lowest cost or fastest delivery. We are unable to supply goods worth more than Rs 5,000 to UP because our customers have to go to a tax office and complete paperwork. We are unable to keep goods from our 90,000 suppliers in our warehouses across Karnataka due to double taxation. We often face confiscation of goods and cash in Kerala because of their approach to tax domicile, which conflicts with supplying states.

With GST, all of this will be history.

A seamless national supply chain that is agnostic to supply or demand destination is urgent, important and overdue for three reasons. First, it is India’s development trajectory to reduce poverty. Second, it will improve enterprise productivity. Finally, it is about empowering consumers and producers.

Let’s look at each of them in more detail.

We need to evolve very differently from China as we do not have the same global manufacturing and trade opportunity China had in 1978. Plus, democracy imposed some very desirable but real fixed costs on infrastructure building and growth. Harvard professor Ricardo Hausmann suggests that the best predictor of sustained prosperity is “economic complexity” and India’s economically complex economy is a great opening balance for building on domestic consumption growth to reduce poverty. Essentially, instead of the traditional formula of large manufacturing, exports and large enterprises, i think India’s destiny lies in services, domestic consumption and small and medium enterprises.

The second point of enterprise productivity is important because poverty can be eliminated by improving productivity. We are thinking hard about individual productivity like skills and education, but we must recognise that India’s problem is not jobs but wages. Our official unemployment rate of 4.2% is not fudged. Everybody who wants a job has one, just not at the wages they want. India’s enterprise stack is largely informal, unproductive and built on self-exploitation. Of our 63 million enterprises 12 million don’t have an office, 12 million work from home, only 8.5 million pay taxes, only 1.5 million pay social security, and most tragically, only 18,000 have a paid-up capital of more than Rs 10 crore.

Drying this swamp is key. The US economy is nine times our size but only has 22 million enterprises. Ninety per cent of India works informally (this is the same number as 1991 and means that 100% of net jobs in the last 20 years have been created in informal enterprises). Many factors go into enterprise productivity but the main one is market access: connecting with buyers.

The final point is about consumer and producer empowerment. The majority of India’s 600-million-strong transacting consumers do not have access to quality products at affordable rates. Similarly, lakhs of producers are denied market access. Because of geographical constraints and artificial restrictions placed by the current tax regime, quality products are expensive and affordable products suffer from poor quality.

Here technology can come to the rescue post-GST. The ‘India stack’ framework for transactions (paperless, presenceless and cashless) is being first applied magnificently to finance but has huge implications for production and consumption once GST is passed. An unintended consequence of implementing the India stack across supply chains will be big data analytics for government that will not only improve compliance but greatly expand formal economic activity and create a virtuous cycle for credit, employment and wage rises.

One of the most remarkable books about India is The Integration of Indian States by V P Menon. It describes wonderfully how the 562 maharajas that administered more than 40% of India’s land and 25% of our population in 1947 were brought into the Indian state by 1951 in a project led by Sardar Patel, which secured the political unity of India. Passing GST will have similar impact on our economic unity. It will be a gift to first-generation entrepreneurs who don’t have connections or money but just the courage of their hearts, the sweat of their brow and the strength of their back.

Coming soon after Brexit – the UK’s economically baffling decision to leave the European Union – passing GST would also signal to the world that India’s economic ambitions have new rocket fuel. India’s regulatory cholesterol has been hostile to small entrepreneurs. GST rights that wrong and makes a new appointment with India’s missed tryst with destiny. This is one that she must keep.

Guest Post by Sachin Bansal, Co-founder & Executive Chairman of Flipkart

7 SEO Trends Entrepreneur Should Pay Attention To

Anyone who has been in the business of SEO for long is well aware that this is one of the fastest moving industries in the world. You have to be able to pay attention to the latest SEO trends if you’re going to stay ahead of the competition and preserve your ranking.

This guide is going to introduce you to the seven primary SEO trends you have to pay attention to this year. And if you follow these trends you will be well on your way in being a better marketer who understands not only SEO, but how to effectively grow your business.

  • Higher Google Ranking Doesn’t Correlate to Organic Clicks
    Just because you have a number one ranking website doesn’t mean that you become king of the Internet. The number one spot still has to compete with visual ads and paid search results. It’s still a worthy goal to aim for, but it’s definitely not something that you should become obsessed with.
    There are other ways to promote your brand.
  • Rich Answers are on the Rise
    Rich answers are those webpages that provide a huge amount of information on a specific topic; usually general ones. Unfortunately, publicly available resources tend to form the bulk of rich answers, making it difficult for you to compete.

However, focusing on getting your site featured as part of a rich answer can be hugely beneficial. 2016 is the year to change direction on rich answers.

  • Page Speed is Becoming More Crucial
    With the rise of video content, a lot of site owners are investing in it. The problem is that they are slowing websites down. You need to remain aware of page load times because if they’re slow you’re going to start losing customers. And Google will penalize your website anyway.

A SEO optimized website must have the fastest load times possible.

  • Analytics is Getting Harder
    Dark traffic comes from a range of sources, such as from a non-secure site to a secure site, image searches, and the rampant use of VPNs. This traffic isn’t able to be tracked and Analytics reports are becoming less accurate than ever before. This is making it harder to make decisions.
    You can get around this slightly by creating direct traffic reports within Analytics so you can at least filter out the dark traffic.
  • Keywords are Alive and Well 

Despite what some people think, keywords are not dead. They remain alive and well, but what people have to be aware of is that Google is looking at them differently.

The post-Hummingbird world is one where Google can recognize meanings behind words. Your goal is not to focus on individually themed keywords but on the thematic groups behind them. Your keyword lists will be more varied than ever.

  • This Year You Will Be Removing Link Penalties
    Google penalties have always existed, but they have become more regular in the last few years. They have a zero tolerance policy on low-quality sites or sites that are attempting to game the system. You may have been hit with a penalty before, but it’s not the end of the world.
    Get in touch with Google and ask them about a penalty on your website. Make positive changes and tell them about it. Google has been known to remove penalties. No site is ever completely lost.
  • User Behavior is Becoming a Factor

Google deny that user behavior matters. The independent experiments say otherwise. Social signals are a ranking factor, and they are based on user behavior. It only makes sense that user behavior will become a ranking factor. What they do and how long they do it for will matter.

So what should you do?

Concentrate on enhancing engagement levels. It’s the only way to get ahead of the game before it becomes a factor.

With all this in mind, how are you going to change the direction of your SEO campaign?

Guest Post by Charlie Robinson, a marketer and interim VP of Marketing of multiple tech companies. He is currently heading marketing at Adling a digital agency in Cupertino.

Crafting experiences, which are awesome. by design #DTSummitBLR

These are exciting days for us at Pensaar. The Summit, which we have planning for a while is right around the corner.

Here’s what you can expect from our Summit workshop (Phase1 on 15, 16 and 17 July hosted at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore). The co-creation session is carefully designed to be a completely immersive and experiential 3 days. You’ll learn how to understand customers, articulate insights that will inspire innovation, ideate till you get disruptive ideas that you rapidly test with customers. The entire conference is focused on learning by doing. And, what’s more you will learn design thinking with a group of 50 people across startups, large companies and academia. We are envisioning creating change makers. You will walk away – empowered and inspired.

We are thrilled to be partnering with Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIM, Bangalore) to bring the Design Thinking Summit. We are humbled by the tremendous response that’s already poured in.


Our mission is to raise the levels of awareness for Design Thinking in India and elsewhere. Particularly in India, where we think we’ve had a strong legacy of an engineering led culture. Sadly though that legacy is a big factor in India being perceived as an outsourced development center. The opportunity though, as we see in every challenge, is to bring about the perfect marriage of engineering & product development with a design thinking mindset – a mindset posited on a user first, design led solutioning

In our experience, many teams and organisations are deploying a tactical workaround – that of hiring designers. Merely hiring designers isn’t enough, its critical for leadership teams to harness the power of design thinking to create experiences for customers, which are awesome.by design

But I get ahead of myself here. Let me back up here a bit.

What comes to mind when you think of Innovation? Ever so often, it means it’s a flashback to one of three ways we experience the pursuit of innovation across organizations:

  1. The Eureka moment
  2. Start thinking out of the box
  3. BOHICA: Bend Over Here It Comes Again

DT2Not surprising that companies (of every shape, size and origin) are struggling with innovation. Good work is happening, the right interventions are being made but these interventions are happening in silos. One is left with the feeling that “some secret sauce is missing”. Is there a secret sauce? And is it missing?

Design thinking is the answer. It’s missing for sure. But it isn’t missing as an ingredient – it’s missing as a mindset within teams and across organizations.

So, what is Design Thinking (DT)? Design thinking or Human Centered Design is a process for solving problems. It’s a perfect blend of divergent and convergent thinking allowing for a wide exploration of possibilities vs. being fixated on a single solution (a uni-dimensional solution)

We approach DT as a “disciplined pursuit of disruption”. Let me explain the 3 key words there:

  1. Disciplined: It’s disciplined, because innovation isn’t about happy accidents and good fortune (serendipitous innovation). We believe in “engineering serendipity” to get to the future we want to create (note: we don’t say get future ready, which is an ever-shifting frame of reference)
  2. Pursuit: it’s a relentless pursuit with rigour. To fully harness the potential of DT, you have to anchor it within the DNA of the team / organisation. For organizations to realize the full potential of their innovation capabilities, they need to look at it holistically, from up skilling talent, empowering them with the right processes, values and decision making, allowing them to push the boundaries of what’s possible
  3. Disruption: This is an oft quoted (largely misquoted) and we make an effort to make that distinction. Disruption is doing new things that makes old / existing things obsolete. Innovation on the other hand is just doing new things.

We are super excited at how uniquely positioned we are. And the DT Summit is our chance to share this unique perspective with the broader audience. We love diversity and we embrace it wholeheartedly.

We fight educated incapacity, because we bring to bear the power of design thinking, which is domain agnostic in its approach and application.

So, what is that Pensaar way of Design Thinking? Our process: Discovery —> Insight —> Dream —> Disrupt is designed around some core principles:

  1. Co-creation: We love co-creating with our client partners (and in turn, encourage our clients to co-create with their users / customers). We love to share the ownership of problems (product or business or social) and solutions we co-create.
  2. Designing for Human behaviour: We love technologies (emerging and disruptive) but only as the means to the end. We believe humans are the best technology and our emphasis has always been on designing solutions for behaviour change – human-to-human interface. (No we don’t think apps are a business model)
  3. Problems & Goals focused: We are obsessed and fall in love with problems. Our approach has been carefully designed to avoid the path of least resistance. To be honest, it does make a lot of our partners edgy, because we spend a disproportionate amount of effort in building customer empathy, generating insights and carefully crafting that problem statement.
  4. Addressing a genuine human need: Most product / business failures come from lack of customers and NOT products. That’s really from NOT understanding customer’s evolving needs and yet trying to design a fancy product. Unless you’ve understood the customers real pain points and his/her hierarchy of problems, any product, no matter how good it looks on paper – its bound to fall short of its potential
  5. Assumptions test: It’s simple really. Any idea or thought you have, is a hypothesis, which needs to be tested. Without, rapid experimentation to test for assumptions and hypothesis you aren’t managing the risks in favour of success.

We can’t wait to meet you and co-create with you at the workshop. We hope to see you, both at the workshop (15 – 17 July) and at the Unconference on 12 Aug.

Please do share this event #DTSummitBLR http://designthinkingsummit.com and help us spread the word on the summit. 

Guest Post by Venkat Kotamaraju – Growth & Strategy Leader, Pensaar





The power of a question

A few days ago, while I was discussing a rather critical business solution with one of my colleagues, I noticed that there was a strange circularity to our conversation. I kept trying to convince him of the importance of deploying such a solution,but I seemed to fail at eliciting a sense of urgency or enthusiasm from him, even though he did not disagree with me.

It might have been slight vexation on my part when I decided to break the impasse with the question, “So, what’s stopping us from doing this?”

It was then that I discovered that he had concerns about how to go about the task while I was focusing the conversation on why the job mattered.

The communication fog was lifted. We had identified the roadblock.

We often assume that the best way to communicate anything — an idea, a challenge, a solution — is to perfect the art of explaining it to the listener to provide clarity.

However, we tend to overlook the possibility that the questions we are trying to answer are sometimes not the ones that exist in the others’ minds. This could render our efforts at providing clarity, completely irrelevant.

What might be another effective way to communicate, then?

Perhaps, asking questions?

Knowing the answers will help you in school. Knowing how to question will get you through lifeJournalist and speaker Warren Berger — ‘A more beautiful Question.’

It turns out that I am not alone in my quest for questions.

A few months ago, the practice of brainstorming gained a fraught reputation, when technology pioneer and author of the book, “How To Fly A Horse”, Kevin Ashton kicked up a storm with his blog post provocatively titled “Why You Shouldn’t Bother Having Brainstorming Meetings”.

Brainstorming, of course, is a highly popular practice; as he noted, it’s the “go-to approach” for all types of organizations. A typical brainstorming session gathers groups of people to focus on collecting original, creative ideas on a set topic. But this apparently benign approach, Ashton goes on to argue, actually gives rise to ideas that are anything but original. That’s because the focus is on churning out answers.

But what if brainstorms were designed to generate questions, not just ideas for answers? It’s an approach that’s garnering support among many advocates around the world.

The latest champion of this approach is Matthew E. May, author of the book, “Winning the Brain Game”. His book describes a question-generation process called “frame-storming,” which uses questions to help in framing the challenge at hand. Several people have found it to be more efficient than traditional brainstorming in sparking fresh thinking in some situations.

What if we use questions as a method to drive home the thought behind an idea, to help the listener generate answers, instead of to generate questions?

Guiding people into answers through relevant questions surrounding a topic may seem counter-intuitive. It is more natural to try and get people to see the answers when we have them worked out. However, this question-based approach can lead to greater clarity than the usual method of having them ask questions for improved clarity.

It also helps to remember that a question triggers our brains to start serving up answers, almost on autopilot. The answers almost always reinforce the assumptions behind the questions.

Naturally, at this point how the question is formulated assumes paramount significance. A question could spark random divergence from the actual problem by introducing more assumptions, or could become a harbinger for radical solutions or ideas by shattering existing assumptions. Either way, the design of a question definitely begs a lot of attention.

For ages, questions have been at the heart of innovations in science, philosophy, medicine — why not extend the power of the question as a tool for sharpening and deepening communication?

About the Author

Shivku is usually found cracking PJs in the office and disrupting people from doing their job. A self-proclaimed foodie, he is the best person to get the local food scene advice from, irrespective of where you aretravelling to. This blog originally appeared on Medium.

The SaaS Juggernaut: Advantage India

An Indian software company serving majorly clients in the US or Europe is not an unusual thing anymore. However, if anybody were to guess the location of the India office, a company that counts amongst its clients about 100,000 small businesses globally, they would most probably chose Bangalore or Hyderabad. However, Appointy, which is an advanced web-based scheduling software tool and has around 90,000 salons, spas, and dance and yoga classes as its clients in 100 countries does it out of Bhopal. Similarly Kayako, which sells support software to over 30,000 clients including NASA, Peugeot, Sega found its roots in Jalandhar, which as per their own website is “one of the least likely places to establish a technology start-up”.

The emergence of these companies from relatively smaller towns, highlight India’s comparative advantage in terms of ability to build high quality companies in the domain of Software as a Service (SaaS). The inherent model of the SaaS business does not require proximity to the end user. In the simplest terms, it is a software that can be accessed through a web browser, by paying a subscription, either on a monthly or yearly basis. The software is hosted exclusively by the provider, as opposed to being downloaded upon purchase and subsequently hosted by the client. The customer gains by spending less upfront, not having to maintain hardware and not worrying about upgrades & data security. Driven by such factors, the SaaS model is growing exponentially and the global market for 2015 stood at USD 31 billion (NASSCOM). The growth is expected to continue at CAGR of 18% to reach a market size of USD 72 billion by 2020. Another study by Google and Accel Partners estimates the 2020 market to be USD 132 billion.

The Indian SaaS landscape is expected to evolve even faster. The FY16 market is estimated to be USD 407 million, a 34% growth over FY15. This figure is expected to triple by 2020 growing at a CAGR of 27%, 1.5 times the global growth rate. It is easy to see why India is going to be a hotbed of activity for SaaS companies. The cost of product developers is one of the biggest items in a SaaS company’s P&L Statement. A software developer in India costs 25% of what a similarly skilled one based in the US would cost. India has an estimated 36,000 product managers, 25,000 SaaS engineers and 100,000 other engineers with the skills for building a SaaS product. Another critical factor is the adoption of mobiles as the primary device for accessing data. India being a mobile-first nation is well placed to ride this shift as its young companies are more flexible and can focus on mobile platforms.

Buoyed by these advantages, companies have been sprouting in every segment of the sector. NASSCOM estimates that there are around 150 Indian companies offering SaaS solutions. 40% of these companies have been incorporated after 2010. Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Content Collaboration and Communication (CCC) and Enterprise Resource Planning are the hottest segments accounting for more than half the market in FY16.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 8.54.06 am


Growth in the domestic market is also expected to be a major boost factor for the Indian companies. A deeper dive into the key underlying sectors which are adopting SaaS brings even more attractive prospects to the fore. Healthcare, E-commerce, BFSI and education sectors have been the most targeted segments by emerging SaaS companies. Each of these sectors is expected to expand at a healthy pace in the near future riding on the overall economy’s consumption led growth. At 7.6%, India’s GDP growth rate for FY16 has been the highest in the last 5 years. Small and Medium sized businesses emerging in these sectors would be much more nimble and receptive of SaaS solutions to avoid upfront large capex on technology.

The investor community, financial and strategic, has also embraced the SaaS opportunity with both hands. A total of USD 650 million was invested in SaaS companies in India till 2014. The funding in 2014 is estimated to be between USD 170 million to USD 200 million. However, the funding skyrocketed in 2015 with USD 450 million in the first half of the year itself. Some of the most active investors who are backing SaaS companies India are as below.

  • Accel Partners (Freshdesk, Hotelogix, Mobstac, Mindtickle, Chargebee, Zettata,)
  • Blume Ventures (Zipdial, Hotelogix, Mettl, FrameBench, WebEngage, Mobstac)
  • Nexus Venture Partners (Druva, Indix, Unmetric, TargetingMantra, Genwi, Helpshift)
  • Norwest Venture Partners (BlueJeans, CRMnext, Act-On, Capillary Technolgies, Attune)
  • Sequoia Capital (Druva, Capillary Technologies, Knowlarity, Practo)

The investors will have their hands full the short to medium term as most of the companies move traverse from Series A to B to C and so on. With companies maturing and cash balances building up, the sector is also expected start throwing up M&A opportunities much faster than any other sector.

The SaaS story hasn’t quite meant curtains for the traditional software licensing business model yet. Currently, SaaS commands only about 9% of the over Indian software market which is estimated to be USD 3.1 billion. However, Indian SaaS companies have already been able to create a market perception of building great products at lower cost. Currently, a large number of Indian SaaS companies would lie in the revenue range of USD 1 to 2 million. However, there are enough cases of rapid scaling up companies (such as Freshdesk, Capillary Technologies and CRMNext) to help us believe that we will soon see companies with multiple billion dollars in revenue emerging from India.


Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 8.57.35 amThis is a guest post by Arvind Yadav, Executive Team Member at Aurum Equity Partners LLP.


1 Critical Analytics Mistake

Why some well funded/big companies miss business targets?

Companies tend to focus 80% of their analytics effort on analysing “Historic Indicators” versus identifying “Leading Indicators” to grow business.

This is biggest mistake I see wrt how some companies leverage Analytics.

3 Examples of how Analytics Numbers should be used:

  1. Spot Contrarian Points: Usually, consumer businesses experience low sales in January after Christmas in December. But I experienced a scenario where January revenue was more than that in December. February sales were even better than January. This defied all historic trends. Analytics diligence gave us some surprising leading indicators that helped grow business.
  2. Customer Buying Trend: To help increase sales, instead of focusing on just why last quarter revenue growth is below expectations, identify leading trends on what customers are likely to buy and how industry cyclicals may impact buying behaviour in future quarters.
  3. Product Innovation: Extrapolate and derive key leading indicators that dictate how your product or service should evolve for sustenance and growth. Kodak missed the digital indicator, Blackberry misread smartphone/Android leading signs and Google missed the Social indicator.

Bottomline: 80% focus on leading analytical indicators and 20% on historic ones… instead of the other way round will substantially increase your chances of meeting business targets.

Guest blog post by Palash Jain, Investor at inFeedo,