It takes time to build something successful!

Since SaaSx second edition, I have never missed a single edition of SaaSx. The 5th edition – SaaSx was recently held on the 7th of July, and the learnings and experiences were much different from the previous three that I had attended.

One primary topic this year was bootstrapping, and none other than Sridhar Vembu, the CEO and Founder of Zoho, was presenting. The session was extremely relevant and impactful, more so for us because we too are a bootstrapped organisation. Every two months of our 4.5 year-long bootstrapped journey, we have questioned ourselves on whether we have even got it right! If we should go ahead and raise funds. Sridhar’s session genuinely helped us know and understand our answers.

However, as I delved deeper, I realised that the bigger picture that Sridhar was making us aware of was the entrepreneurial journey of self-discovery. His session was an earnest attempt to promote deep thinking and self-reflection amongst all of us. He questioned basic assumptions and systematically dismantled the traditional notions around entrepreneurship. Using Zoho as an example, he showed how thinking from first principles helped them become successful as a global SaaS leader.


What is it that drives an entrepreneur? Is it the pursuit of materialistic goals or the passion to achieve a bigger purpose? The first step is to have this clarity in mind, as this can be critical in defining the direction your business would take. Through these questions, Sridhar showed that business decisions are not just driven by external factors but by internal as well.

For example, why should you chase high growth numbers? As per him, the first step to bootstrapping is survival. The top 5 goals for any startup should be Survive, Survive, Survive, Survive, Survive. Survival is enough. Keep your costs low and make sure all your bills are paid on time.  Cut your burn rate to the lowest. Zoho created 3 lines of business. The current SaaS software is their 3rd. They created these lines during their journey of survival and making ends meet.


Why go after a hot segment (with immense competition) instead of a niche one?  If it’s hot, avoid it i.e. if a market segment is hot or expected to be hot, it will be heavily funded. It will most likely be difficult to compete as a bootstrapped organisation and is henceforth avoidable. Zoho released Zoho docs in 2007, but soon as he realized that Google and Microsoft had entered the space, he reoriented the vision of Zoho to stay focused on business productivity applications. Zoho docs continues to add value to Zoho One, but the prime focus is on Applications from HR, Finance, Support, Sales & Marketing and Project Management.  Bootstrapping works best if you find a niche, but not so small that it hardly exists. You will hardly have cut throat competition in the niche market and will be able to compete even without heavy funding.

Most SaaS companies raise funds for customer acquisition. Even as a bootstrapped company customer acquisition is important. As you don’t have the money, you will need to optimise your marketing spend. Try and find a cheaper channel first and use these as your primary channel of acquisition. Once you have revenue from the these channels, you can start investing in the more expensive one. By this time you will also have data on your life time value and will be able to take better decisions.

Similarly, why base yourself out of a tier 1 city instead of tier 2 cities (with talent abound)? You don’t need to be in a Bangalore, Pune, or a Mumbai to build a successful product. According to Sridhar, if he wanted to start again, he would go to a smaller city like Raipur. Being in an expensive location will ends up burning your ‘meager monies’ faster. This doesn’t mean that being in the top IT cities of India is bad for your business, but if your team is located in one of the smaller cities, do not worry. You can still make it your competitive advantage.

Self-discipline is of utmost importance for a bootstrapped company. In fact, to bootstrap successfully, you need to ensure self-discipline in spends, team management, customer follow-ups, etc. While bootstrapping can demand frugality and self-discipline, the supply of money from your VC has the potential to destroy the most staunchly disciplined entrepreneurs as well. Watch out!

And last but not the least – It takes time to build something successful. It took Zoho 20 years to make it look like an overnight success.

This blog is authored by Ankit Dudhwewala, Founder – CallHippo, AppItSimple Infotek, Software Suggest. Thanks to Anukriti Chaudhari and Ritika Singh from iSPIRT to craft the article.

The Second 20 Confirmed Batch at #SaaSx5

2 days to go for #SaaSx5 and we are reaching our limits for this year. I had missed a few folks in the first batch of 50 announced, so including them along with  the next 20+ (in no particular order).

  1. 99Tests
  2. Appmaker
  3. Auzmor
  4. Botminds Inc
  5. CallHippo
  6. CIAR Software Solutions
  7. Cogknit Semantics
  8. CustomerSuccessBox
  9. Deck app technologies
  10. GreytHR
  11. Happay
  12. HotelLogix
  13. Indusface
  14. inFeedo
  15. Infurnia
  16. LogiNext
  17. Makesto
  18. Mindship.io
  19. Pepipost
  20. PregBuddy
  21. Recruiterbox
  22. ReferralYogi
  23. Swym

There will be one last list sent out tomorrow of confirmed participants. Really excited about the sessions which are shaping up at #SaaSx5

The First 50 Confirmed Companies at #SaaSx5

We are almost there. Only 3 days for #SaaSx5.

For people who are have attended earlier SaaSx I don’t need to tell this, but for all those who are attending the event for the first time – SaaSx is an informal event for knowledge sharing by SaaSprenuers for SaaSprenuers. This is why we have it on the beach for the last 3 years. 🙂

If you don’t know what this is about, SaaSx5, iSPIRT Foundation flagship event for software entrepreneurs of India, is being held in Chennai on 7, July 2018 (Saturday). SaaSx has been instrumental in shaping Global Software from India in the last 3 years. This year the theme is to help SaaS entrepreneurs setup for growth over the next 1-2 years.

So the first 50 confirmed list #SaaSx5 companies is here. It has been a slog for us going through all the applications we received, especially the initial drive to set extremely fair criteria and process. Listening to feedback from earlier SaaSx this year we decided to allow Founder and +1 (from their leadership team). Having a tag team we believe is extremely helpful to the founders in learning, assimilating and taking it back to their teams. This also meant that given the small limited space we had to be strict in our curation to ensure most SaaS product startups had an opportunity.

By the time this post goes live many other invites will have been sent and confirmed. We will continue to announce the companies finalized as we go along, so they can start preparing for the amazing sessions.

There are still spots, so if you have not registered or confirmed your invite (check your email), please do it quickly.

saasx5

In no particular order, here are the first 50 (based on their confirmations).

  1. 3Five8 Technologies
  2. 930 Technologies Pvt. Ltd.
  3. AceBot
  4. ADDA
  5. Airim
  6. Almabase
  7. Appointy
  8. Artifacia
  9. Artoo
  10. Asteor Software
  11. BlogVault Inc
  12. Bonzai digital
  13. CogniSight
  14. DevSys Embedded Technologies Pvt Ltd.
  15. FactorDaily
  16. FlytBase
  17. FormGet
  18. Fourth Dimension Software Systems India Pvt Ltd.
  19. Fyle
  20. Gaglers Inc
  21. Godb Tech Private Limited
  22. inFeedo
  23. Infilect Technologies Private Limited
  24. InMobi
  25. Inscripts
  26. JKL Technologies
  27. Leadworx
  28. LiveHealth
  29. Lucep
  30. Mindship Technologies
  31. Netcore Solutions
  32. Olivo Inc
  33. Omnify Inc
  34. Playlyfe
  35. Plivo
  36. PushEngage
  37. QueryHome Media Solutions Ind Pvt Ltd.
  38. ReportGarden
  39. Rocketium
  40. ShieldSquare
  41. Siftery
  42. SlickAccount
  43. Stealth
  44. Strings.ai
  45. Syscon Solutions Pvt. Ltd.
  46. Tagalys
  47. United Translogix Pvt Ltd
  48. Vernacular.ai
  49. Waffor Retail Solutions Pvt Ltd.
  50. webMOBI

[Update: Next 20+ also announced]

All confirmed participants will receive further information in their mailboxes.

Looking forward to an amazing #SaaSx5!

Thanks to our many behind the scenes volunteers who have been tirelessly working on getting us this far and continuing on. Thanks to Chirantan & team from Software Suggest for crafting this post.

Product Roadmap considerations

Roadmap1

 

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

roadmap2

 

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

Roadmap3

 

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

Roadmap4

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

roadmap5

 

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)

roadmap6

 

 

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

roadmap7

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

roadmap8

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 !

Announcing Product Pathshala #ProdShala, 15–16th Sept, Goa

I’m sure you remember the popular song Masti Ki Pathshala from Rang De Basanti. We are planning to pull together something similar for the Product Thinker community.

Last month, in a collaborative post, we spoke about the missing Product DNA in India. We got an excellent response. Many product guys resonated with the problem and also felt that we should be doing something to solve it — the problem of building and fostering a product thinking culture in India. Since then, we have reached out to folks, collated a lot of good ideas and had many discussions. We saw a clear need for creating a platform where product thinkers can assemble. Today we are proud to announce this platform — #ProdShala.

Thanks to Tathagat Verma(TV) for coming up with the name.

What is ProdShala?

Prodshala is not your typical grandfather’s conference! We have designed it as a fast-paced action-oriented event where wounded warriors tell their story unadulterated. You will meet other tribespeople and gain valuable knowledge, acquire insights and build a network to help deliver your kickass product! Think of it as an Ivy League MBA on steroids.

Prodshala is an opportunity to bring product folks (Product Thinkers, entrepreneurs, experts) under one roof to learn from peers, make new friends and also build a vibrant community so that we can build world class products from India. Prodshala will be a 2 day unconference with few talks, (un)conference sessions, few workshops, networking games, pecha kucha and some product demos. It is designed as a single-track event with lots of time for networking and we will force you to make new friends and share your learnings 🙂

15th and 16th September in Goa

Ohh and did we mention Goa? Yes — we wanted to break the old mold of doing things in closed door, LCD projector driven conference rooms. And we wanted to do this in a zero legacy place. Not Bangalore, not Mumbai, Not Delhi or Kolkata — let’s go to Goa and unlearn in the ProdShala unconference.

Prodshala is an invite-only (un)conference with 75 product thinkers coming together.

How do you get in ?

Just apply and get short-listed. We are targeting Founders with the product mindset, Product Architects, Product Managers in growth stage companies, UX Designers, Engineering leads and folks who have a keen interest in building awesome products. If you know someone who would be interested in something like this, recommend them or get them to apply here.

Like many initiatives at iSPIRT, this one is also volunteer driven and here are the people who are making it happen so far as part of the core team. Their contribution ranges from putting the theme together to getting the website up and finalising the program.

  1. Aditi Avashti from Embibe.
  2. Anant Kochhar from Yippster
  3. Chintan Mehta from Bigbasket.
  4. Pravin Jadhav former FreeCharge.
  5. Seema Joshi from Serv’d.
  6. Tashina Singh from Yippster
  7. Tarun Babbar from SnapDeal.
  8. Tathagat Varma from Thought Leadership.
  9. Titash Neogi from Kontikilabs

We will need many more hands to put together something awesome. If you think, you would like to help us out, feel free to reach out to me at avinash(at)ispirt.in

We are all passionate about building the product thinkers community and this is just a beginning. We want you to be part of this community. If you are like us….want to have masti ki paatshaala….don’t miss this one.

Do apply before 20th August and we have a surprise for you.

Creating a company brand — outside a product brand

One of the top two responsibilities of the CEO is to ensure that there is sufficient cash in the bank at all times. That often requires raising money from investors; an unpleasant task for most people! This article discusses a mindset change that is useful for fund raising.

The company by itself is a product that is best sold gradually and continuously to the investors — both public and private.

When we buy any product — say a mobile phone — we do so either because someone told us to or because our research led us to it. Even when we research a product, our view gets influenced by what we have heard about it. In the world of consumer goods, this is the power of the Brand. Raising money also relies a great deal on how the company is “perceived.” This perception is the company’s brand. The first round of money is largely driven by this brand perception. A lot of other aspects of the company (including fund raising in subsequent rounds) are affected by brand, as we will discuss in this article.

A company has two types of brands that coexist — the brand of the company and the brand of its product(s). Frequently the company’s brand gets forgotten or confused with that of the product. Yet, the company brand is omnipresent; created by the team, vision, past success, market opportunity, etc. For e.g. Nandan Nilekani’s next startup will have an immediate brand because of the team — well before the product has even been identified. As mentioned before, the first round is primarily driven by the company brand because there is nothing else.

The importance of company brand to fund raising often diminishes with time because delivered financial and operating metrics become the criterion for evaluating the company. When customers start using its product, the company’s brand gets pushed even further back because the overwhelming brand is that of its product. However this neglect is a wasted opportunity. In most companies there is no explicit recognition of the company’s brand and it has no identified owner. Given the criticality of the company brand for raising money, it’s imperative for the CEO to build that brand. CEOs who are very skilled at raising funds realize that they need to maintain the company brand in addition to the product brand. Consider for e.g. PayTM where Vijay has successfully navigated in and out of many businesses, while keeping the company brand associated with the promise of the future. Another example of the company brand being a driver is Theranos, the Palo Alto based Health Tech Company; of course the Theranos story did not end well because their brand was not backed by execution. However just that brand alone enabled Theranos to raise a fortune.

The Company Brand is not built in a day

Company brand building happens well in advance of fund raising and ideally never stops; the intensity just varies with time and circumstances. There are many ways to build the company brand in the early years of a company’s life.

  • 1–1 engagement with investors to cultivate familiarity: set up periodic meetings with relevant investors to keep them updated, get their views, and build a relationship. These same people will talk about your company in forums and eventually people buy from people.
  • PR — press appearances are noticed by investors (and by prospective employees, and customers). Its often hard to stay in the press for the right reasons so this has to be dealt with conservatively.
  • Presence in forums — establish the position of a thought leader, be seen by peers in the correct context. These same peers will be used as references by future investors. So speak at events like the NASSCOM product forum or TIE.
  • Key influencers in many areas; they can be cultivated as references or engaged as advisors
  • Customer proxies — for e.g. head of HR of INFY if the product is to be sold to HR
  • Product experts — for e.g. an advisor from Apple for a company that banks on usability
  • Go-to-market experts — for e.g. someone from the sales team at Workday, for a SaaS company

A good company brand offers benefits that go beyond fund raising. It drives recruitment and retention (e.g. “best place to work”). It drives sales because customers often buy the company before they buy the product (e.g. the proverbial purchase from IBM). It drives policy/public acceptability (e.g. Google/Infosys wanting to be seen as doing good.)

Company brand building therefore needs to be owned explicitly — often by the CEO — and catered to as one of the critical outbound agenda items. By investing in the company brand from day one, the company’s odds of successful fund raising go up substantially.

Guest Post by Ashish Gupta, Helion Venture Capital

Capability -> Functionality -> Usability

The capability to build something – a product or a solution – is, but, just the start of things. Capability is needed to build a product but capability is not what gets your product to be loved by your (potential) customers.

One leverages capability to create a functionality (call it a feature, if you may). This functionality is created based on a broad understanding of the market needs e.g. one needs a mode of transport to go from one place to another. That is a broad market need. Based on this realisation, we set about building our solution. Depending on how one has understood the problem, the solution may result in producing a physical product like a new kind of cycle or a service, like a cab-hailing service.

This can be called creating the functionality.

But this too is not enough. With functionality, one has expressed his/her understanding of the problem and to a great extent how one’s own perception has influenced the solution. When one goes a step further to get into the specifics of particular user needs (as compared with the broad market needs that I mentioned a bit earlier), then one starts to look at the usability or, as I prefer calling it, the usefulness of the solution.

To understand the user’s needs one needs a deep understanding of human behaviour itself. More specifically, one needs to observe and understand human behaviour in specific situations. So while one can build functionality based on a market need, to build usability, one needs to really observe and understand the user.

Being a keen observer, I notice multiple things and many times I find myself wondering at the thought that went behind creating that experience. An interesting example is this wash basin that I found at a major sports store.

Numerous times I have been a witness to a mis-aligned combination of tap, tap knob, wash basin and basin outlet. I am sure you too have. This one ranked among the top. The tap was actually hidden away. Did the person who put this thing together, have the capability? Yes! Did s/he understand the general market need? Yes! Did s/he really think about the user while building this? I would say, No? Or maybe, s/he did not care enough. But I am sure you get the point of usefulness.

In our own experience for the past 2 years, we have build multiple hi-tech features, cracking complex technical problems, patting ourselves on the back for being the geniuses that we are. But we realise that this is just a demonstration of our capability and what we can build from here is mere functionality until we get into the skin of the user. Of course, when I say user, each solution could have multiple, each with his/her own whims and fancies and hopefully a few common universal traits.

At RobusTest, on a daily basis, we try to bridge the gap between functionality and usability. Reminds me of something that I learnt in school about a variable tending toa value. In our case, on the number line between functionality and usability, we are striving towards usability – which is a constant goal but never completely reached.

The same should apply to any product/service and may well, be that small tweak that may get you that product/market fit that you seek.

Guest Post contributed by Aishwarya Mishra, Robustest

Do we have the DNA to build great products in India?

For the last two decades I have followed global products and success stories, and a question constantly in front of me is why India has very few globally comparable products and even fewer category leaders?

Despite India’s vast engineering resources, budding design talent, and our hustle mentality, we have not been able to create a stream of successful global products. Our startups, even after massive rounds of funding, have been unable to scale beyond our borders and establish a global footprint. Our founders have been often accused of just copy-pasting successful ideas from the west, and we have rarely developed products that global tech giants keenly wanted to acquire!

These observations bring up the next set of questions in my mind. Do we have a fundamental problem of the absence of a solid product culture and a mindset? Has our very strength — an abundance of engineering talent — become a crippling weakness? We are great at writing code to replicate or adapt something, but are we mediocre at creatively problem-solving to develop something from scratch?

Let me try to dive deep and answer these questions through a lens of an artistpreneur and product thinker.

What is an artistpreneur? What is a product thinking mindset?

We have all experienced great products — WhatsApp, Twitter, Airbnb, to name a few — that have pushed the boundaries of design, technology, communication and social behavior, and simplified the interplay of all of these for users. People behind these products possess a rare combination of entrepreneurial and artistic thinking. We call these people ‘artistpreneurs’ (artist + entrepreneur) since they apply creative thinking to solve hard problems and in the process create value for everyone. We need precisely such people in India, who can solve problems in a way that works well in our context.

An artistpreneur understands that building great products is very difficult because it goes beyond what all one can logically conceive. It requires a critical observation of the drivers of human behavior, passion for tinkering and fixing things, and an ability to weave a story and delight users with good technology and design. Successful artistpreneurs are able to weave all of these skills to build great products. They do so by constantly nurturing and developing a mindset which allows them to think through each step of developing a product very creatively. We call this a product thinking mindset.

How can one develop a product thinking mindset?

Product thinking mindset is based on the following 5 key tenets, which anyone can master with deliberate practice:

  1. Founder gut-feel & insight into a real pain point or opportunity.
  2. Willingness to push the boundaries of existing solutions.
  3. Ability to articulate and design a viable experience.
  4. Ability to experiment with focus & speed.
  5. Staying connected to the customer.

Building a great product is often a function of founder gut-feel that gets translated into successful products. Founder gut-feel comes from a real pain point or opportunity that the founder faced or saw close at hand. Ability to critically observe how users solve or work around a pain point helps refine the gut-feel.

Once a pain point is identified, the founder quickly reviews the current market solutions, rips them apart and identifies the solution that would disrupt the current equilibrium. This is where the founder is not afraid of pushing the boundaries of existing solutions.

When the idea or a solution concept first gets conceived in a founder’s mind, depending upon the resources & skills available, he/she articulates and design a “Minimum Viable Product / Prototype (MVP)”. Typically, this is a very fast short cycle, which happens over a few weeks to a month to get something out there.

This is not a stage where founders let their creativity be hampered by business models and the “how will you make money out of this” kind of questions. If Jack Dorsey or Jan Kuoum would have tried to solve this question at MVP stage, the world wouldn’t have likely seen Twitter or WhatsApp the way it exists”

There are many factors crucial to making a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) successful, such as timing, environment, ability to reach out to early adopters, etc. Even if all of these are taken care of, but the founders aren’t willing to experiment with speed and focus, then the MVP may not graduate beyond this stage. During MVP stage, founders relentlessly monitor the proposed solutions and experiments, observe the usage, record the hits & the misses, recognize more latent pain points & opportunities, and go back to rapid iterations. Founders know that identifying the right pain-point and market generally takes many iterations and benefit from their passion for tinkering.

Only a handful of those founders, who graduate from MVP stage and launch useful products, go on to become great founders, the ones we all want to emulate. They do so by not only embracing the above-mentioned four behaviours but also by developing an acute customer-centric focus. These founders learn to put customers at the forefront of everything they do, every single day. When they repeat the entire process over and over and apply design thinking on the top of that, they facilitate the birth and growth of great products.

Why is a DNA of product thinking so important?

While we can argue that product thinking mindset improves the odds of succeeding for founders at launching great products, they also depend on access to a mature support environment. Armed with a product thinking mindset the artistpreneur founders have to work, grind and leverage their support environment and ecosystem to bring to life their visions of change. Thus the birth and growth of these products of change are also nurtured by a good product thinking environment.

This DNA combination of product thinking mindset + a product thinking environment paves the way for a whole ecosystem to thrive on innovation and mutual, complementary successes. Pinterest brought card design into the popular imagination, Twitter brought hashtags into the mainstream, Gmail got AJAX into the limelight — the list is long and it is predominantly a list of products driving technology, design and process innovations, upon which other great products were built.

We have seen good product thinking and success from Indian companies like Zoho, BrowserStack, Freshdesk, VWO, Kayako, FusionCharts, Postman, Appointy, InMobi, HelpShift, Indix, Rategain, Zenoti, WebEngage, SimpliLearn and SignEasy, among some others. These are products which have been successful in establishing a global market footprint. We also have examples like Myntra, Bookmyshow, Paytm, Cleartrip, Zomato, UrbanLadder, Swiggy, etc which clearly articulated their product value with an appropriate user experience that was globally comparable while focusing on the local market. We can perhaps think of a few more such successes. However, such successes are mostly isolated and have not yet given way to a sustainable product thinking ecosystem since the critical learning and complementary successes from the struggle and rise of the few are yet to trickle down to all the participants of the ecosystem, whether small or big!

We need our product environment to grow more mature. We need to nurture and support founders, allowing them to solve hard problems like their successful predecessors, and help create a critical mass for building a vibrant and evolving product ecosystem.

What is holding us from developing a strong product thinking ecosystem?

We all know for a fact that a vibrant and mature ecosystem — like Silicon Valley — generally offers an inherent competitive advantage to all its participants for their very participation. There are many important factors that help an ecosystem flourish and evolve to such a stage; some of these factors are the regulatory framework, government support, availability of talent & financial resources, norms & culture, a presence of many successful participants, etc. While we cannot always or directly control these factors, we can certainly control how we think and behave. We have identified the following idiosyncrasies and biases that potentially prevent us (India) from building a very strong product thinking ecosystem. The list is not exhaustive and we try to cover each of these ideas in brief:

1.

Jugaad mentality: Jugaad refers to any smart improvisation, typically developed with a lack of sufficient resources. While it sounds extremely smart, which in many cases it is, it has generally come to manifest itself as a philosophy of solutions that are quick fixes and only get one as far. The long-term disadvantage of blindly following this philosophy is that we as founders or customers are always seeking to solve just our current pain point. Therefore, we end up building solutions rather than products that require one to address fundamental issues. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that our lack of patience to understand real problems and obsession with short-term wins only add to Jugaad mentality eventually reducing our odds of long-term success as a product nation.

2.

Code first, solve later: Einstein once said “If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution. And, like I hinted in the first section of this article, we fear that our abundance of engineering talent is perhaps resulting into our obsession with coding, way before we have fully comprehended the nature of the problem we are attempting to solve. This often results in us developing a solution for a problem that didn’t really exist or existed for a very few people or us having a misplaced belief that more features mean better odds of success! Eventually, we end up developing products that generally lack product-market fit and then witnessing extremely slow growth or painful death of products that once appeared promising.

3.

Mistaking funding for success: This is one of the classic myths! Many of us like to believe that a start-up getting funded is the only hallmark of success. Such is the importance we place in getting funded that many founders start companies solely with the intent of raising funds or getting sold (and thus thinking they will make quick fortunes)! Since raising funds is a very consuming process, it has a serious consequence of founders not devoting enough time to their start-ups to validate or solve the real problem, which is often hard, or founders having a very short term vision since they are looking for a quick exit. Unfortunately, for many who do get funded, the feeling of having arrived results in losing focus from the real problem for which they got funded and them becoming complacent and wasteful with the abundance of cash. The reality is that getting funded only improves the odds of success and doesn’t guarantee anything. And a founder, who is on a mission to make it great, knows that funding only means another (important) validation that comes with an intense pressure to solve the real problem sooner than he or she thought!

4.

Built for scale -vs- hiring for scale: Great products generally solve problems with algorithms of scale and efficiency, which result in noticeable economic gains from growth. Products not built for scale do just the opposite; they become difficult to run and manage, and more expensive as a result of growth. Some founders solve for such problems during the growth stage by simply employing manpower into the problem solution to compensate for building a coherent product solution. While this approach to augmenting the product with human intelligence may be ok in the initial stages of validation, there is a natural tendency in the rapid growth stages to continue to add more people with every phase of growth. This strategy soon becomes unmanageable or extremely expensive, and the same, fundamental problems still persist, which could have been better solved by applying technology or automation. This strategy also restricts growth in global markets where such human intelligence is not available or expensive. Great founders must know when to build for scale -vs- hire for scale!

How can you help in building a Product Nation?

We have just begun to think about the fundamental problems that are afflicting our country from becoming a vibrant, successful product nation. To take this thinking to execution, we are contemplating various ideas such as product hackathons, interactive in-depth sessions on specific topics, and developing a (mentor) network of founders & product-leaders. However, we know that our ideas alone may not be sufficient to promote product thinking and build a vibrant product ecosystem since these problems are hard as well as huge.

We are sure that you — as readers or participants of the ecosystem — would also have many interesting ideas. We urge you share those ideas and also suggest some interventions that you would like us to pursue. And, if you feel passionate about doing something about this, we should talk.

Stay tuned as we continue to dive deeper on this and establish a program model to develop more product thinkers.

I would like to acknowledge Chintan Mehta, Tarun Babbar & Titash Neogi who have helped me in putting this piece together and have contributed immensely in shaping my thoughts. Also a big shout-out to Aditi Dilip, for all the design and art help.

I would also like to acknowledge various people with whom I have had a conversation around this topic — Pallav Nadhani(FusionCharts), Girish Mathrubootham(Freshdesk), Suresh Sambandam(KiSSFlow), Paras Chopra(Wingify), Ritesh Arora(BrowserStack), Shashank ND(Practo), Sridhar Ranganathan(Credibase), Varun Shoor(Kayako), Amit Somani(Prime Venture Partners), Ram Narayanan(ex-eBay), Sunil Patro(SignEasy), Amit Ranjan(Ex-Slideshare), Praveen Jadhav(Servify), Nischal Shetty(CrowdFire), Tathagat Varma, Mrityunjay Kumar(Zenoti), Rushabh Mehta(ERPNext), Seema Joshi(Serv’d), BG(HelpShift), Vishwesh(Microsoft), Anand Jain(CleverTap), Rushabh Mehta(ERPnext), Niraj Ranjan Rout(Hiver), Krish Subramanian(Chargebee), Avlesh Singh(WebEngage), Sudheer Koneru(Zenoti), Amarpreet Kalkat(Frrole), Sharad Sharma(iSPIRT), Thiyagarajan M(iSPIRT), Nikhil Kulkarni(Flipkart), Indus Khaitan(Sirion Labs), Sampad Swain(Instamojo), Shekhar Kirani(Accel), Sharique Hasan(Stanford), Ashish Gupta(HelionVC), Nagesh Srinivasan(Cleartrip), Ahimanikya Satapathy(DocEngage), Ankit Oberoi(AdPushup), etc There are many more I might have missed here….these are just few names that i could pull together.

This piece has taken me over 4 weeks and probably one of the pieces for which I got lot of inputs. If you would like to read the draft with detailed comments, do let me know 🙂

Special thanks to BG from HelpShift who triggered this thought for me and for Seema Joshi from Serv’d who helped me put my initial thoughts together.

Customer – to listen or not to listen

 

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses

There is a pretty high chance you have heard the quote and an equally good probability that you yourself have used it to support or demolish an argument on “customer knows best”. It is quite interesting to note how quotes by well known people become the base to support an argument without any need to understand the true import of what has been said.

While we do not know if Henry Ford really said those lines, there is ample evidence that he thought along those lines. To the extent that his company suffered. Steve Jobs also showed similar inclinations (in terms of the customer not always knowing what s/he wants) when he said

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them

Now, there are brilliant companies that have been built on innovation and creativity that is attributed to the capacity to think independent of public opinion/noise. On the other hand, frameworks like the Lean Startup recommend listening to your customers at regular intervals to get feedback on your product. In fact, Eric Ries even recommends

Frequency is more important than talking to the “right” customers, especially early on.

 

So, as a startup, how do you build your product – basing it on your experience & intuition or by constantly going back to your (potential) customers regularly for feedback?

For us, at RobusTest, the answer is not a choice between the former or latter. It is a combination of both approaches. Having an insight into what the customer wants can be a matter of creative thinking that comes about without the need to talk to any customer. It can also come about from a deep understanding of customer’s problems. Of course, the latter is not as sexy.

We, the founders and our early employees have worked extensively in the app testing and test tooling space. We relied on this experience to arrive at the feature set of the early version of RobusTest. As we met more customers to pitch our product, we realized that customers are not looking for a product, they are looking for solutions to business problems. And these problems are unique to each customer. We, therefore, focus a lot on listening to the customer. When we say, “listening to the customer”, it is not the mere act of hearing what the customer says. It includes observing the customer’s business and business practices. Asking questions without having the answer already set. My earlier post on product design touched upon this aspect of discovering the usefulness of your offering.

How did you go about creating your product? Was it gut feel to start with and then market research? What do you think about talking/listening to the customer to create your product?

Product Led Growth

The software product industry is swiftly graduating from desktop to cloud based applications. Interestingly, there is also a hand-in-hand shift in the associated sales and marketing strategy around these products. Till some time back, a typical B2B sales cycle was heavily dependent on building relationships, and hand-holding the prospects through the product implementation. In this new age however, the products are driving the sales and marketing by themselves.

Let’s define “Product Led Growth”. For this, let me ask you a question: What is common across all of the below products?

Product led growth

The answer: all of them are in the MULTI-million dollar club! All of them have demonstrated an exponential growth in business, and all of them are being used by millions of customers around the globe. And then, what else?

Well, its simple: all of them have minimal setup and minimal implementation time. Any person can simply go to the website of these products, and get him/herself started; all within a few minutes. All of these products offer a free trial and/or a freemium version: and it is exceptionally simple for anyone to start using these products. And this is exactly the definition of “Product Led Growth”.

“Implementing the product is faster than selling”

Jeff Lawson from Twilio (@ SaaStr ‘ 2017)

“Product Led Growth” is a concept where the product sells itself. Quick on-boarding of customers, and simplicity of the product become the reason for their exponential growth. There is no hand-holding of customers, and there is no requirement of any explicit sales effort.

It is important to get the customers to identify the ‘value’ of the product in the shortest amount of time. The product must show-case its most important feature (I like to call it the ‘aha’ moment of the product) in the least number of clicks and the least amount of time. Free Sign-Ups and Freemium packages are a very useful ways to achieve this goal. The ABSOLUTE best way to show a customer that the product solves his problem is by having the product to solve his problem. If the product is able to demonstrate ‘value’, then it’s easy to convert the customer into paid accounts.

“Self service is the core to our DNA; and the reason for our growth”

Mikkel Svane from ZenDesk (@ SaaStr ‘ 2017)

Let’s pick on the example of Slack:

(1) Free Sign-Up: Any person and/or organization can simply jump onto the Slack website, and get started. Getting Started does not involve any physical sales intervention and/or any payment formalities.

(2) Implementation Time: It takes less than 2 minutes to get yourself started! Slack provides an extremely simple, step-by-step process flow to receive the required information.

(3) Tutorial: What’s more, once you get into the product, you are welcomed by a SlackBot, and a series of screen overlays that tell you everything that you need to know to start using the product.

(4) Retention and Conversion: This is the best part – till 10,000 messages, Slack is Free. And by the time you exhaust your limit, you get so hooked-up to the product, that you feel good about paying for it!

More often that not, I come across a lot of startups in India, that struggle to hire expensive sales teams, even to reach out to retail customers. Right here, is a solution: there is much a lot to learn from the success stories from around the globe and identify the reasons for their success and growth. In essence, a product that is easy to use and simple to on-board can and will sell itself. With an initial kick and strong push from marketing, your products can quickly become their own self-sustaining entities. And once you have a self-sustaining entity, you can use the money that you’ve made to hire your sales teams, and focus on selling to enterprises.

Guest Post by Pranab Agarwal, Product Head @ RateGain & Co-Founder, ZipBoard.

Indian E-commerce: Moving on from GMV

It has been a nervous month for the professionals working for internet and e-commerce companies in India. Shutdowns and layoffs have been the flavour of the month, and business models have come under scrutiny. The effects of recent events at Stayzilla and Snapdeal have not been limited to job losses only. Weighed down by these developments in the sector, Rakuten, the Japanese e-tailer, has puts its India plans on the back-burner.

Stayzilla, an alternate and homestay aggregator, has shut operations. Investors including Nexus Venture Partners and Matrix Partners have invested USD 33 million across multiple rounds in the company. The founders have promised to bounce back ‘with a different business model’.

Snapdeal, announced that it will lay-off about 600 employees from the company including from its Vulcan (logistics) and Freecharge (payments) business divisions. The company has so far raised USD 1.75 billion from investors which include global heavyweights such as Softbank, Kalaari Capital, Temasek, Alibaba Group and eBay. However, Snapdeal reportedly is left with less than enough cash to survive the next 12 months. The merger talks with Paytm, facilitated by the common investor Alibaba, are not murmurs anymore and seem to be the logical next step in many ways. A very honest and important insight on the business model emerged from this episode, in which the founders admitted to ‘doing too many things’ and ‘diversifying and starting new projects while we still hadn’t perfected the first or made it profitable’.

The above incidents highlight the fact that Indian e-commerce in 2016 has been significantly different from its ‘glory days’ in 2015. GMV growth in 2016 was flat, even though long term prospects remain intact for now. The year-end sales were also impacted due to the demonetisation exercise carried out by the government. The cash on delivery (CoD) transactions, which account for approximately 50% of total GMV, were severely impacted due to the lack of availability of the new currency notes.

Figure 1: India e-tailing GMV (USD mn)

Source: Company data, IAMAI, Euromonitor, Credit Suisse

AHHHGMV, as the supreme emperor of metrics, has lost its sheen and the challengers which have come to the fore include revenue per customer (function of number of orders per year, value per order and commission), net promoter score (a measure of customer satisfaction) and overall user monetisation (including alternative sources such as advertising as well as new service offerings such as hyperlocal services).

The sustainability of business model is back in focus as a tool to evaluate potential winners and losers. Throwing money at the customers as discounts has not worked out very well for a lot of players. There has been a definite move towards trying to find other means of retaining customers. Going forward, winners are most likely to be companies that provide a differentiated customer experience. An obvious example is Amazon Prime which now brings more personalized experience to the company’s customers. Flipkart (Flipkart Assured) and Snapdeal (Snapdeal Gold) have similar offerings to enhance the stickiness of their customers. While ‘Flipkart Assured’ has seen limited success so far, Amazon Prime, launched at a very attractive price point of INR 499 per year, seems to be more suited for success going forward. Amazon has also clubbed its Netflix challenge – Prime Video offering with Amazon Prime subscription. With these offerings, the companies are trying to take focus away from discounts and towards customisation, quick delivery, consistency and reliability of shopping experience.

The control over supply side is a key element of constructing an enhanced and consistent experience for customers. Logistics is one of most prominent cost items for ecommerce firms, and depending on the category and value of the goods being delivered, could be 10% to 20% of GMV.

In India, the number of Amazon fulfilment centres has grown to 27 by the end of 2016. Shipping from stores is less efficient than from dedicated fulfilment centres. Amazon is looking to replicate their success in North America where they have invested billions in network of fulfilment centres. It has more than 75 such centres in North America, covering 25 US states. This gives Amazon an easy two-day reach over the entire US. Snapdeal has opened 6 logistics hub during 2016, with an estimated investment of USD 300 million. Paytm, flush with a USD 200 million funding from Alibaba, is reportedly firming up plans for a significant strategic investment in a logistics firm to improve its deliveries process.

The key growth drivers for e-commerce in India remain in place. There is a large aspirational population, faster and wider internet access, a never before push on digital payments and an opportunity to further penetrate the offline organised retail market. Nevertheless, the year 2016 has been a reality check. The Indian players have had to review their business models and take some tough calls to focus on sustainability. While the market may continue to be volatile in the short term, with more potential shutdowns and/or consolidation in the offing, we can now be more confident that the firms that do survive will turn profitable soon.

arvind-yadav

This is a guest post by Arvind Yadav,

Principal at Aurum Equity Partners LLP.

 

You may have a viable product but do you have a viable business?

(Also posted on LinkedIn here).

I’m a big fan of the “Lean startup” movement. Steve Blank, Ash Maurya and others have done amazing work around innovative, startup companies. Two of my most recommended books in this area are The 4 Steps to Epiphany and Running Lean. I strongly recommend every founder read these. Shockingly, most haven’t!

I’ve come across a new breed of founders who are well versed in the lean startup methodology. They understand the importance of customer discovery, a minimum viable product and the power of testing. These are all necessary to build new products.

I submit that they are not sufficient to create a company.

Here’s why.

A feature isn’t a product; a product isn’t a business; a business isn’t a company; a company isn’t an organisation.

Sanjay Anandaram.

Here are four additional questions you need to look into before you startup.

1) Are you talking to the right, representative prospects to validate your idea?

I’m a big believer of getting out in the field and talking to customers. Dozens even 100’s of them. It is an order of magnitude better than sitting in your office and pontificating. However, talking to 200 people does not make your idea into a viable business opportunity.

Are these 200 people truly representative of the prospective customer pool ?

Or, is there a selection bias? Perhaps, these are only tech-savvy customers in urban areas or the upwardly mobile. You need to estimate how big is that addressable market over the couple of years.

Secondly, how critical of a pain point is it for these users?

Is it an ongoing pain or a one an infrequent, perhaps even a one time, problem ? In general technology has made people be more open to saying “yes” more often to new ideas. This is the classic Aspirin vs. Multi-Vitamin question that VCs often talk about. While new ideas area interesting, it often takes years to change customer behaviour unless it a dire problem for a large number of prospective customers.

Don’t try to “invent” demand. Find basic human needs and solve them better, cheaper and faster.

Evan Williams, Co-founder of Twitter.

Market creation is hard for a variety of reasons; one of the primary reasons is that the cost of distribution is continually getting more expensive.

Lastly, would customers pay — ideally with money or at least with their time(e.g. Snapchat, Instagram, Google)?

2) Can you get effective distribution of your product or service ?

Human beings and businesses alike are being bombarded with a breathtaking innovations at a rapid pace. However, the amount of time, energy and money they have is limited.

How will you reach a large number of customers whether they be consumers or businesses? Are there existing channels that you can tap into ? Would they be cost effective?

Every innovator believes that their product will have strong word of mouth, virality and/or some kind of network effects? Well, most don’t. For most ideas, esp. in B2C, I would be very dubious if you don’t have strong, organic user acquisition channels to grow.

3) Are the unit economics viable?

So you have a problem worth solving, a solution that’s differentiated and a shot at distribution. Now comes the question about “Unit economics”. The simplest place to start is with your gross and net margin. How much money would you make per transaction (or unit of engagement)? This is not GMV or Transaction Value but the money that your business makes.

The first step for this is to calculate your Contribution Margin, or the money you make per transaction less your variable costs. For most businesses, variable costs are marketing, payment gateway charges, delivery/logistics charges, etc. This does not account for fixed charges for your employees, server costs, etc.

Is your margin or take rate (%) enough to cover your variable costs per unit?

If you are relying on scale to get your contribution margin positive, you are barking up the wrong tree! You may never get there.

4) Is there a large enough profit pool to tap into?

If you’ve gotten this far, you clearly have a problem, distribution channel and business that’s worthwhile.

Is there a large enough market size and profit pool in the area that you are in?

I don’t know about these new valuation metrics, but remember that the only way to value a business that will always be true is: present value of discounted future cash flows

Prof. Bill Sahlman, HBS, Circa 1999

If you don’t have a large enough profit pool, you may build a company with great unit economics on a large enough market but have little discounted future cash flow (e.g. IRCTC — Indian Railways). See Rajan Anandan’s prescient comments on the Indian B2C e-commerce marketplaces.

Now comes the source of capital to build your business. If you are aiming for something big and ready to scale fast, then I would recommend using venture capital (if you can affirmatively answer all 4 of these questions, give us a shout at Prime Venture Partners). However, VC money may not be appropriate or relevant for your business or your approach. Here’s one representative list of questions to ask yourself before raising VC money.

All of this won’t be empirically figured out on Day 0 of a startup. Of course, you will learn along the journey. However, you won’t be able to change the contours of the market or the availability of profit pools once you are 6–12 months into your startup.

It behooves you to spend a few weeks or even months to think through these questions before you commit yourself to a new company!

Guest Post by Amit Somani. He is a Managing Partner at Prime Venture Partners, an early stage VC firm based out of Bangalore, India. Prime invests in category creating, early stage companies founded by rock star teams. Prior, Amit has held leadership positions at Makemytrip, Google and IBM. He is also deeply engaged with the early stage startup ecosystem in India and actively volunteers with iSpirt, TiE and NASSCOM. He tweets occassionally @amitsomani and is trying to become an active, late blooming blogger.

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.

 

I am the Product Manager

Of the various hats I have worn all these years – Founder, Sales guy, Deployment Specialist, Level 1 and Level 2 Support, DevOps, Coder, Cheque depositor – I have come to realize I was a Product Manager all along – right from the get go.

Putting a label on what you do is extremely important. It helps you define the job you do, appreciate it, read more on it and helps you improve on that particular skill.

If you are the guy/girl in charge of making the Product among the Founding Team – you are the Product Manager. Say it out aloud – “I am the Product Manager”. The fate of your entire Startup lies in your decisions.

All other designations – CEO, CTO, Director, Co-Founder all are important – for the outside world and your team-mates – but nothing is as critical as the “Product Manager” hat you are wearing now.

Strap the Product Manager Hat tight.

When I gave Sales demo – I was not trying to get a Cheque out of the customer. I was listening to their pain points, and my mind was frantically scanning to see how my Startup could alleviate those paint points. I was trying to find patterns among Customers – so my solution can solve them all. I was trying to see how much value we can give them, and price our product as a fraction of the value ( and not just features ).

When I was paying the monthly bill for AWS account – and saw it was increasing gradually, asked myself – Are such resource hogging servers really necessary – and promptly turned them off – and found better cost effective alternatives. Also when I plan a feature, I keep the cost in mind – I am not going to get sold on the hype of a technology.

When I got a customer to go live – I realised how a few small features created some of the biggest headaches and heartburns. Promptly booted them off or tweaked them.

When I had to do Marketing – do SEO, or write content for Brochrures, or create Competitor analysis – I had to analyse inwardly as well as the competition and could identify the areas we were strong and weak. I knew what areas we could pull ahead of the competition – become more stronger, and what areas we had to improve – so we cannot be beaten down with.

If you are the Product Manager of a Startup – and working 9 to 5, doing a few customer interviews, talking to the CEO/CTO/Founder, browsing competitors website/Apps, STOP – you have to do more. [ ps : Startup founders, if you have hired Product Managers – here is what they have to start doing ]

1. Accompany the Sales guys in a few demos. In fact you should constantly do this – product keeps changing, market keeps changing, competiton keeps changing.

2. Get your hands dirty and deploy a few accounts – from start to finish.

3. Write the next set of marketing material, do the next Competitor Analysis document yourself – instead of just giving inputs.

4. Do SEO, plan the adwords campaign yourself.

5. Be the DevOps and/or pay the AWS bill from your pocket and get it reimbursed – and see for yourself that one cool feature which hardly anyone uses is costing a bomb.

And for Founders of Product Startups – Say it aloud. Print and Stick this in big fonts right in front of you.

“I am the Product Manager”

Guest Post by Venkat Kandaswamy, CoFounder, ApartmentAdda

The Product Manager’s RuleBook

The Product Manager’s RuleBook

This post is not about “tools” which will make you (integral)dx more productive. This post is about telling you rules of the Jungle called Product Management.

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So you are the Product Manager, Right ?

You just graduated out of B-School (or even worse completed your bachelors degree) and you have been given the product manager tag in the company you decided to work in. Welcome to the Jungle. Unless you have a really f**ed up CEO or a clueless CTO, you are in for a hell of a ride. There are a dozen of definitions of a Product Manager but, here is the one that sticks –

You are the mini ‘CEO’

Welcome to the Jungle. People don’t follow rules here. Especially when it comes to product. Here are 49 rules that I have curated, over the course of 7 years, across Product, Operations and Sales.

Rules

As a Product Manager, you will be exposed to attention, and a lot of it. Mostly unwanted and discomforting. Don’t be surprised if your peers are jealous of your role. You will get pulled into every meeting. You will looked upto/at for every release. For every feature. For almost every client meeting/call. But that is least of your worries. Unless you have been a PM before, your biggest challenge would be not having a benchmark. You have no way to draw the line. Follow these rules and you will stumble less- I am personally still trying to master the art.

  1. Get sold to the product. Believe in the product yourself. If you don’t, try again. If you still can’t make your self believe it, drop it and find something else.
  2. You will get sucked up in your work schedule. Be ready for it.
  3. Don’t get sucked up every time. At times, drop the bomb on Sales and Marketing. Reality check can never hurt
  4. Learn the art of saying no. At least in your head. Practice it over a period of time with/on your CEO, CTO, Sales and Marketing (in that order)
  5. Develop a healthy relationship with your developers, QA and designers.
  6. Avoid making value judgements. What are value judgements ? The statement that you say aloud in your head without ANY authority or reliable data to back it. You always know when you are speaking from the gut. (You know who else spoke from the gut ? George W Bush)
  7. Trust your developers. Back them up. Stand for them. Pat their back and give them credit.
  8. Bet on your Sales and Marketing. Support them. Be their favourite cheer leader. Always
  9. Keep some buffer from Day 0 itself on your delivery schedule. You are surrounded by uncertainties. Every client wanted “it” yesterday and no dev will have it ready by tomorrow.
  10. Split roles between you and your CTO. Decide, who will plan and who will drive the execution. Don’t fuck this one up. Don’t take planning, because you most likely don’t understand your dev’s code.
  11. Between your CEO, CMO and you, figure out who will OBSESS about “organic growth” (SEO). You don’t have bandwidth, don’t ever opt-in for this one.
  12. Coin and propagate your own product terminology/nomenclature, before sales “oversimplifies” it or dev “rocket-sciences” it. This is a critical to build and manage perception.
  13. Write emails with keywords that you can search. Chat with keywords that you can recall and search again. You will spend significant time in forwarding old emails to dev, sales, marketing, CEO. Skip the CTO. Your CTO barely opens your email.
  14. Park your personal choices of colors, fonts and design at home. Product is being built for customer’s delight, not yours (or your investors)
  15. Like a rhetoric, keep telling point #14 to your CEO.
  16. Get a Tee that says “Good is not fast and fast is not cheap.” Boring, cliche but still right.
  17. Pulling an all nighter for product release is cool and fun, but not if you are releasing thrice a week.
  18. Remember that you don’t understand quality assurance or testing. Like everything else, QA is a skill. Unless you have learnt it, avoid claiming it.
  19. If you are building a B2B product, you definitely need a QA. If you are building a B2C product, hell as sure you need more than 1 QA.
  20. Be friends with QA and Designer. Make them feel special. You won’t exist without them.
  21. Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups. Under communication is an assumption. Hence, under communication is a fuck up. Over communicate and play safe.
  22. Build your own narrative as an objective and data driven person. Understand and question the objective before jumping into anything (including that market research slide for the investor deck)
  23. Document everything that is made and not made. At least try.
  24. Begin you conversations with developers and designers with context. They will feel involved, aware and productive. Context helps. Always.
  25. In the same breathe, demand context from Sales, Marketing and CEO. You will be able to address their requirement faster.
  26. You will always be able to sell better than your entire sales team combined. But again, don’t do it.
  27. Keep your Company Logo Product Logo, favicon, Product Description (1 liner, 5 lines and 1 pager) always ready. Anyone can ask for this. Anytime.
  28. Plan ahead for a week. Do so on a Saturday/Friday Evening. Do it on a Sunday night if you have to but NEVER on a Monday morning.
  29. CEO’s often talk sense. Listen to them.
  30. Not everything that your CEO said was actionable. Don’t act on everything that your CEO says. They most likely didn’t expect action themselves.
  31. Build your own opinion about the industry, domain, and the product. Attend conferences/events focused on your industry.
  32. CTO’s can/will have walls. Be inquisitive ( read pushy)
  33. You need to be aligned with your CEO, Sales, Marketing and CTO. Don’t forget your actual job (Mini CEO/Get-Shit-Done)
  34. There is nothing better than pen paper when it comes to maintaining lists. There is nothing better than pen paper when it comes to wire-framing.
  35. Don’t boil the ocean with every release planning. Every dog has his(/her) day. You will have yours on the day of bug bashing.
  36. Avoid falling sick. Exercise daily. Meditate daily. And buy a Macbook air
  37. Nothing will go wrong if you are late by two minutes late in sending that presentation/ releasing your product update. Be right and late rather than being sorry and on time. If your Sales team can’t hold for a client for 2 mins, imagine..Again, plan better next time and avoid being sorry.
  38. Next time, a Sales guy says that “it was you and your product” that costed him/her a sale. Gulp down your ego. Hear them out. They are ranting. The next day, give it back to them. Patiently.
  39. Your role needs you to seek feedback. Proactively. Ideally once a month, from all your peers. Similarly, your feedback for your peers is critical.
  40. Sales folks are hired for selling. They most likely, can’t make presentations. Live with this fact. Make a template for them. Engage your sales team by changing the template’s colours every 10th week.
  41. There is never a bad time for having chai/coffee. Though Obama doesn’t drink coffee. But again, you are not Obama.
  42. Content writing is NOT your forte. Nevertheless, write the copy for your website or someone else will write something that you never made/promised/planned. Rant about it, if you ever hire a content writer
  43. Create your own reports, dashboards and product performance benchmarks. Do this before the developers starts developing.
  44. Start your day with numbers of the previous day.
  45. Learn to let go, of things you like. Your favourite features, CEO’s favorite feature, colors, fonts, processes and evening dates.
  46. In hindsight, you will always be right. Move on.
  47. You job needs you to be a swinging pendulum. Hah. Self-Pity mode is awesome. But, don’t let it stretch for more than few hours
  48. Last but not the least, remember to laugh about that how, once upon a time, everyone including your head of sales, marketing lead, CEO, CTO and dev ops were clueless about the house of cards that “you” got “built”
  49. In the end, make your own list. And pass it on.

Author – Vivek Khandelwal

Founder of Datability Solutions, a technology startup building iZooto, a web push notification platform for user engagement and retention.