Scaling Sales: A Deep Dive At SaaSx Fifth Edition

As a first time attendee of iSPIRT‘s annual SaaSx conference, I didn’t know what to expect as we drove along the western coast of India towards Mahabalipuram – the venue for SaaSx5. From all the chatter around the event on Twitter, it looked like the who’s who of SaaS leaders in India were attending. Upon arrival, I took my seat with my colleague and looked around. There were only about 100 people in the room, very different from most conferences I’d attended in the past – a lot more exclusive, and a melting pot of SaaS founders building a diverse set of products. It had all the markings of an inspiring day, and it did not disappoint.

Starting with a keynote from the estimable founder of Zoho, Sridhar Vembu, the day was packed with talks and discussions focused on growing one’s SaaS company in the current technology landscape, primarily led by founders of notable SaaS companies of the country. One such event was an unconference on “Setting up and Scaling Sales across Segments and Geographies”, led by Ashwin Ramasamy from PipeCandy.

Picture this: about 80 founders seated in a room, circled around Ashwin who was leading the conversation about setting up and scaling your sales team. Since the flat organizational hierarchy at SignEasy, and the culture of openness at the company provide me with a wonderful vantage point of all functions across our company, including sales, I was eager to listen to the different perspectives that the founders brought to the table. At the start of the discussion, Ashwin graciously asked the audience for talking points they’d like covered, and the discussion began. A plethora of topics were discussed, starting from the very definition of inside sales, leading up to when and why to deploy an inside-sales team. Hiring and putting together the right sales team, including whether it should be in-house or outsourced, was another hot topic of debate with many founders offering their own experiences and perceptions.

The conversation then steered towards outbound sales and the mechanics and economics of that, which contributed to some of the biggest takeaways for me – things that cannot be found in a book and are only learned through experience.

The success rate of outbound sales peaks at 2%, as opposed to the 40-50% success rate you come to expect with inbound sales. This was an interesting insight, as it’s easy to assume your outbound effort is underperforming when it could actually be doing quite well. Also, you should use the interest you’re receiving through the inbound channel to refine your outbound strategy – your inbound interests are a goldmine of information on the kind of industries, company sizes, and job functions your potential customers represent. At SignEasy, we are constantly honing our outbound target by capturing as much information as possible from our inbound requests.


Further, the efficacy of your outbound sales effort is a direct function of the maturity of the market you’re in – for a saturated market with tens of other competitors, outbound usually fails to make a mark because it’s difficult to grab a potential customer’s attention. This is a great rule of thumb to decide if outbound is for you, depending on the market your product serves.

Outbound sales also requires dedicated effort rather than a ‘spray and pray approach’ – a minimum 6-month commitment is crucial to the success of your outbound strategy. Founders should be deeply involved in this initial effort, sending out 500 emails a day for at least 3 months, and tweaking and iterating through them as they get to the most effective email. It’s also important to dedicate yourself to a channel when experimenting, but also experiment and exhaust numerous channels over time to zero in on the most effective ones.


The value of this discussion, and indeed the day, was best expressed by the ferocity with which my colleague and I took notes and wrote down every piece of advice that was being dropped around the room. Being product leads of the SMB business and mobile products respectively, Phalgun and I were amazed at how much we could relate to each point being discussed, having been through and living the journey first-hand ourselves at SignEasy.

SaaSx5 was nothing short of inspiring, and we emerged from it feeling uber-optimistic about SaaS in India, and what the future holds

This blog is authored by Apoorva Tyagi, Product at SignEasy

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.

SaaSy bear SaaSy bear what do you see?

Shifts for SaaS - SaaSy Bear

I see 3 shifts critical for me!

Taking a line from the popular Brown Bear children’s book, I believe that our SaaS startups have a real opportunity to leverage some leading shifts in the global SaaS evolution. While there are many areas of change – and none less worthy than the other – I am highlighting 3 shifts for SaaS (tl;dr) which our entrepreneurs can actually work with and help change their orbit:

  • Market shifts with AI/ML for SaaS to build meaningful product & business differentiation,
  • Platform Products shift to transform into a multi-product success strategy,
  • Leveraging Partnerships for strategic growth and value co-creation.

Some background

I joined iSPIRT with a goal to help our community build great global products. I believed (and still do) that many entrepreneurs struggle with the basics of identifying a strong value proposition and build a well thought out product. They need strong support from the community to develop a solid product mindset & culture. My intent was to activate a product thinkers community and program leveraging our lean forward playbooks model.

I had several conversations with community members & mavens on playbooks outcomes and iterating our playbook roundtables for better product thinking. I realized that driving basic product thinking principles required very frequent and deeper engagement with startups. But our playbooks approach model – working in a distributed volunteer/maven driven model – is not set up to activate such an outcome. Through our playbooks model, our mavens had helped startups assimilate best practices on topics like Desk Sales & Marketing, something that was not well understood some years back. This was not a basic topic. The power of our playbook RTs was in bringing the spotlight on gaps & challenges that were underserved but yet highly impactful.

As a product person, I played with how to position our playbooks for our entrepreneur program. I believe our playbooks have always been graduate-level programs and our entrepreneurs are students with an active interest to go deep with these playbooks, build on their basic undergraduate entrepreneurship knowledge, and reach higher levels of growth.

The product thinking and other entrepreneurial skills are still extremely relevant, and I am comforted by the fact that there are many community partners from accelerators like Upekkha to conclaves like NPC and event-workshop formats like ProductGeeks which are investing efforts to build solid product thinking & growth skills.

As the SaaS eco-system evolves, and as previous graduate topics like desk sales & marketing are better understood, we need to build new graduate-level programs which address critical & impactful market gaps but are underserved. We need to help startups with meaningful & rapid orbit shifts over the next 2-3 years.

Discovering 3 Shifts for SaaS

Having come to this understanding I began to explore where our playbooks could continue to be a vibrant graduate-level program and replicate our success from the earlier playbooks. Similar to an entrepreneur’s journey, these three shifts became transparent through the many interactions and explorations of SaaS entrepreneurs.

Market Shift with AI/ML for SaaS

There is no doubt that AI is a tectonic shift. The convergence of big data availability, maturity of algorithms, and affordable cloud AI/ML platforms, has made it easy for SaaS startups to leverage AI/ML. During a chance roundtable learning session on Julia with Dr. Viral Shah & Prof Alan Edelman, it was clear that many entrepreneurs – head down into their growth challenges – were not aware of the realities behind the AI hype. Some thought AI/ML should be explored by their tech team, others felt it required a lot of effort & resources. The real challenge, however, is to discover & develop a significantly higher order AI-enabled value to customers than was feasible 2 years ago. While AI is a technology-driven shift, the implications for finding the right product value and business model are even greater.

As I explored the AI trend I saw a pattern of “gold rush” – build a small feature with rudimentary AI, market your product as an AI product… – making early claims with small changes which do not move the needle. It became clear that a step-by-step pragmatic thinking by our SaaS startups was required to build an AI-based leapfrog value proposition. This could help bring our startups to be at “par” and potentially even leap ahead of our global brethren. Here was an opportunity to create a level playing field, to compete with global players and incumbents alike.

To validate my observations, I did quick small research on SaaS companies outside of India on their approach with AI. I found quite a few startups where AI was already being leveraged intrinsically and others who were still trying to make sense. Investments varied from blogging about the AI trend, branding one as a thought leader, to actually building and delivering a strongly differentiated product proposition. E.g.:

There are no successes, yet! Our startups like Eka, Wingify, FreshWorks, WebEngage… have all been experimenting with AI/ML, stumbling and picking themselves up to build & deliver a higher level of value. Some others are setting up an internal playground to explore & experiment. And many others are waiting on the shore unsure of how to board the AI ship.

How do we enable our companies to create new AI playgrounds to analyze, surface, validate and develop higher order customer values & efficiencies? To chart a fruitful journey with AI/ML there are many challenges that need to be solved. And doing it as a group running together has a better chance of success.

The AI+SaaS game has just begun and it is the right time for our hungry entrepreneurs to Aspire for the Gold on a reasonable level playing field.

Shift to Platform Products

As market needs change, the product needs a transform. As new target segments get added different/new product assumptions come into play. In both these scenarios existing products begin to age rapidly and it becomes important for startups to re-invent their product offerings. To deal with such changes startups must experiment and iterate with agility. They require support from a base “internal” platform to allow them to transform from a single product success strategy to scaling with multiple products strategy.

This “internal” base platform – an infrastructure & layout of technology components to interconnect data & horizontal functional layers – would help to build & support multiple business specific problem-solution products (vertical logics). The products created on such a platform provide both independent as well as a combined value proposition for the customers.

Many startups (Zendesk, Freshdesk, Eka, WebEngage…) have undertaken the painful approach of factoring an internal platform to transform their strategy & opportunity. Zoho has been constantly reinventing itself and launching new products on a common platform, some of which are upending incumbent rivals in a very short period of time. WebEngage transformed itself from a “tool” into an open platform product.

“As the dependency on our software grew, customers needed more flexibility to be able to use their data to solve a wide range of business problems…significant difference in the way we build products now. We have unlocked a lot of value by converting ourselves into an open platform and enabling customer data to flow seamlessly across many products.” – Avlesh Singh, WebEngage

The effort to build an internal platform appropriately architected to support growing business needs (many yet unknown) is non-trivial and requires a platform thinking mindset for increased business development. It must be architected to allow rapid co-creation of new & unique product values in collaboration with external or market platforms. This can help the startup be a formidable player in the growing “platform economy”.

Leveraging Potential Strategic Partnerships

A strategic partner offers 2 benefits for startups. First is the obvious ability to supercharge the startup’s GTM strategy with effective distribution & scale. How does one make a strategic partnership? Pitching to a strategic partner is very different from pitching to a customer or investor. PSPs look for something that is working and where they can insert themselves and make the unit economics even better. 

“I thought I knew my pitch and had the details at my fingertips. But then I started getting really valuable, thought-out feedback…I had to focus on pitching to partners, not customers.” – Pallav Nadhani, FusionCharts

The second leverage with a partner is the ability to innovate in the overlap of the partner’s products & offerings and the startup’s product values. A good partner is always looking for startups which can co-create a unique value proposition and impact an extremely large customer base.

“…we still have only three four percent market share when it comes to customers. So if we have to participate we have to recognize that we are not gonna be able to do it alone we’re going to have to have a strategy to reach out to the entire marketplace and have a proposition for the entire marketplace…you need to (do it) through partnerships.” – Shikha Sharma, MD Axis Bank

Both these partnership intents if nurtured well can bring deep meaningful relationship which can further transcend scale into a more permanent model (investment, M&A…).

Working with the 3 Shifts of SaaS

While each shift is independent in its own importance, they are also inter-related. E.g. an internal platform can allow a startup to co-create with a partner more effectively. Partners are always interested in differentiated leading-edge values such as what is possible with leveraging AI/ML. Magic is created when a startup leverages an internal platform, to co-create a strong AI-enabled value, in the overlap & gap with potential strategic partners.

And that’s what I see

I see a vibrant eco-system of SaaS startups in India working on creating leading global products. Vibrancy built on top of the basic product thinking skills and catapulted into a new orbit by navigating the 3 shifts.

“Reading market shifts isn’t easy. Neither is making mindset shifts. Startups are made or unmade on their bets on market/mindset shifts. Like stock market bubbles, shifts are fully clear only in hindsight. At iSPIRT, we are working to help entrepreneurs navigate the many overlapping yet critical shifts.” – Sharad Sharma, iSPIRT

Through our roundtables, we have selected six startups as the first running group cohort for our AI/ML for SaaS playbooks (Acebot, Artoo, FusionCharts, InstaSafe, LegalDesk & SignEasy).

If you are hungry and ready to explore these uncharted shifts, we are bringing these new playbooks tracks for you.

Please let us know your interest by filling out this form.

Also, if you are interested in volunteering for our playbook tracks, we can really use your support! There is a lot to be done to structure and build the playbook tracks and the upcoming SaaSx5 for these shifts for SaaS. Please use the same form to indicate your support.

Ending this note with a sense of beginning, I believe that our startups have a real opportunity to lead instead of fast-follow, create originals instead of clones. They need help to do this as a running group instead of a solo contestant. It is with this mission – bring our startups at par on the global arena – that I am excited to support the ProductNation.

I would like to acknowledge critical insights from Avlesh Singh (WebEngage), Manav Garg (Eka), Shekhar Kirani (Accel Partners), Sharad Sharma (iSPIRT). Also am thankful for the support from our mavens, volunteers & founders who helped with my research, set up the roundtables, and draft my perspective with active conversations on this topic: Ankit Singh (Wibmo/MyPoolin), Anukriti Chaudhari (iSPIRT), Arvi Krishnaswamy (GetCloudCherry), Ganesh Suryanarayanan (Tata GTIO), Deepa Bachu (Pensaar), Deepak Vincchi (JuliaComputing), Karthik KS (iSPIRT), Manish Singhal (Pi Ventures), Nishith Rastogi (Locus.sh), Pallav Nadhani (FusionCharts), Praveen Hari (iSPIRT), Rakesh Mondal (RakeshMondal.in), Ravindra Krishnappa (Acebot.ai), Sandeep Todi (Remitr), Shrikanth Jangannathan (PipeCandy), Sunil Rao (Lightspeed), Tathagat Varma (ChinaSoft), Titash Neogi (Seivelogic), and many other volunteers & founders.

All images are credited to Rakesh Mondal 

Are you ready to Jump with AI/ML? [Updated Session Dates]

[Update 6-Apr] New April Session Dates – Symposium RT is being scheduled on Saturdays for Bangalore & Chennai (21st & 28th April). 

Playbooks for Electrifying SaaS and more.

This is what we call the fourth industrial revolution…And companies are really transforming and bringing all these new technologies to connect with their customers in new ways.
Dreamforce 2017 Keynotes, Marc Benioff.

There is no doubt that Artificial Intelligence (AI), is one of the recent “tectonic” market shifts, creating a change in landscape, market, and opportunity. AI and  Machine Learning (ML), now in its eternal spring, has a deep impact on SaaS evolution. While the incumbent companies like Salesforce, Zendesk, Workday, have all invested heavily in AI, also global challengers across many verticals from Sales, BPM, CRM… to Security are focused on building higher order efficiencies and automation through AI/ML.

Over the last few years, our Indian SaaS entrepreneurs trumped the global SaaS growth by leveraging mobile first as there was no baggage of desktop, reduced sales & onboarding cost by perfecting the art of Inside Sales & Inbound Marketing, and efficient after sales support & service by leveraging remote success representatives. Our SaaS Mavens helped disseminate these leverages by sharing the best practices & modeling internal flywheels & experimentations. Many SaaS entrepreneurs successfully assimilated and got a significant boost in their growth journey. These levers are now basic table stakes for most SaaS startups.

AI has no breakthrough success stories, but it is helping create a level playing field – especially for our Indian entrepreneurs – to compete with global players and incumbents alikeStartups willing to make the jump, adapt AI into their products & business models to create meaningful differentiation, will experience a strong wind in their sails to leapfrog over the players who don’t.

Our entrepreneurs have a rare opportunity to be early adopters & global trailblazers. 

To take advantage of this our entrepreneurs ask very valid questions.

Q. Why & How should we entrepreneurs navigate this AI market shift? 
Q. How should we, given that we are untrained in AI, grapple with the 360° impact of AI on product, business, and technology?
Q. What AI leverage can we develop without requiring expensive investments for constrained resources? 

How do we enable our companies to create new AI playgrounds to analyze, surface, validate and develop higher order customer values & efficiencies?

AI Playbooks

Since adapting to the AI “tectonic” shift requires a new paradigm of thinking, we have launched a multi-step playbooks track focused on Playing with AI/ML for Indian entrepreneurs. In line with iSPIRT’s mission, our playbooks purpose is to help market players navigate market shifts. The goal is to bring the practitioner knowledge from AI Mavens AI-first entrepreneurs who are further ahead in their AI journey – to the AI-hungry startups and help them perfect the model of working with AI, get traction towards a meaningful AI-enhanced value, and become trailblazers for the community. If you are an AI-hungry startup who has either taken the plunge with AI/ML but early in your journey, or are actively looking to leverage AI/ML for your current products, then following the stepped approach below may help:

Step 1 – Attend an AI/ML Symposium RT – Getting prepared with Why AI and How AI. In our first kickoff session on 10-Mar, we had great discussions on AI data maturity, what can drive your AI approach, and more with our AI Mavens and ten startups (read more).

Step 2 – A cohort of startups from step 1 will be taken through multiple AI/ML Playbook RT for How AI – deep dives on topics to help with structuring an internal AI playground, competency with data product management, product positioning & branding, business model shifts, and more.
These playbook RTs will help the startups carve out a lean playground for rapid experimentation and analysis, with a 3-4 person team of a data PM, & engineers. The team, actively lead by the founder, runs regular sprints (business/product/engineering sprints) of experimentation and validation, and have review touchpoints at intervals with AI-Mavens and the cohort as a running group.
There is also an optional Tech Training Lab to build internal ML competency with a multi-day workshop with Julia experts.

Four startups have been initially selected for the cohort for the step 2 AI playbook RTs (Acebot, FusionCharts, InstaSafe & LegalDesk).

SaaSx5 – June 2018

We are working to set up the 5th version of our marquee SaaSx to engage with the larger SaaS startup community. We will definitely focus on the impact of AI/ML on SaaS and have workshops based on our momentum of the playbooks track on various topics above. Date & details to be announced shortly.

The AI+SaaS game has just begun and it is the right time for our hungry entrepreneurs to Aspire for the Gold, on a reasonable level playing field.

Click to Nominate or Register a startup for the AI/ML Playbooks Track.

Dates & Venue

AI/ML Symposium RT #1 – 10th Mar (Sat) 2p – 5p Done (read more)
AI/ML Symposium RT #2 – 21st Apr (Sat) 11a – 2p @ Bangalore TBD
AI/ML Symposium RT #3– 28th Apr (Sat) 10a – 1p @ Chennai TBD

May the force be with you!

* All iSPIRT playbooks are pro-bono, closed room, founder-level, invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend all sessions completely, to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

Featured image modified from source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jedimentat/7557276684

Launching the SaaS Survey 2017 – by SignalHill and iSPIRT

The third edition of the popular India SaaS survey is here.

As always there are 2 parts, Form A, a 100% anonymous survey, and Form B, a distinct & separate form capturing company details for us to share the final report. Please note that forms A & B are kept distinct to protect your privacy. Both together take about 10 minutes to complete. Scroll down to read more about the survey.

India SaaS survey

image credit – Nick Youngson

What is the survey about?

Every burgeoning ecosystem requires a robust set of benchmarks to compare itself against and reach better levels of performance. Signal Hill and iSPIRT Foundation have been at the forefront of addressing this need for the Indian SaaS ecosystem. The survey aims to anonymously benchmark Indian SaaS companies to better understand the unique challenges they face and the unique advantages they leverage, creating a single reference point updated annually.

If you found the results of the 2016 SaaS survey valuable, please help us make the third version of this survey the most meaningful and relevant. It is a marker of the maturity of our Indian SaaS ecosystem.

What’s New?

What sets this survey apart from the previous two editions is the addition of two new sections to better understand, (a) how SaaS product companies achieve Product-Market Fit and (b) the effective metrics behind successful Inside Sales engines. With the addition of these 2 sections, the survey is poised to provide a complete analysis of the India SaaS advantage covering the product, market, sales & customer support.

Here are the takeaways from the 2015 & 2016 India SaaS Surveys:

2015: Horizontal applications dominated vertical specific ones
2016: Vertical focussed SaaS players occupy majority share of the scaled and funded respondent pie.

2015: 84% of respondents reported looking overseas for growth, ranking North America as their #1 target geography
2016: Unchanged, the US is the most favoured destination for Indian SaaS startups. With that said, whilst companies are building for global markets, the first market for companies to get traction in is typically India.

2015 & 2016: The median CAC payback period (for >$1Mn ARR) is 6-12 months. 

Staying Focused And Achieving The Product-Market Fit Are Key To Managing CAC.

It takes 10 minutes to fill the Survey

To participate in the 2017 survey, respondents will need to fill in two simple forms:

  • Form A, a 100% anonymous survey, 100% multiple choice, and
  • Form B, a distinct & separate form capturing company details for us to share the final report.

Please note that forms A & B are kept distinct to protect your privacy. Your 10-minute contribution to this effort will be hugely useful in helping the Indian SaaS ecosystem benchmark itself.

Some highlights from the web

ET Tech, 2018 is poised to be the year of Indian SaaS explosion

An anticipated increase in global spending on information technology over the course of this year will be a big driver for SaaS companies, even after factoring in changes in political climate such as Brexit and churns in global markets.

Tracxn Report for India SaaS (2017) 

The growth in SMEs and their increased cloud adoption and government initiatives such as Digital India are also expected to drive the SaaS market. Increasingly mobile workforces are also pushing the adoption of SaaS with startups and companies providing mobile-first applications.

 

Experiments with psychology that got us 4x Conversions on our website

SaaS Conversions - Astra SecurityAttracting potential customers on your website is always challenging. While you somehow manage to figure that out by SEO, Adwords and Social Media Marketing, the second challenge comes up – how to get those potential customers to pay. Getting customers to website is the tip of the iceberg, getting them to pay is the real challenge. We found ourselves in the same position a few months ago. Our challenge seemed only more humongous because:

  1. We are a SaaS & services company: The conversions happen on the basis of a potential customer’s experience on our website. We do not see or talk in-person with our customer. If the website is convincing enough, customer buys our solution otherwise just moves on.  It’s not a shirt which comes with cash-on-delivery option or a contract which can be discussed in a starbucks. Imagine you have a huge rock which you are supposed to break with just a small sledgehammer. That’s how we felt about getting conversions with the limited budgets and resources we had.
  2. We provide website security: Our solution Astra is a website security suite providing plug-n-play firewall with the power of security researcher community making security insanely easy for website owners. While we knew that an average website gets fifty odd attacks every day, but that’s not what website owners believe until they see for themselves. Small and medium businesses have a tendency of not considering security until hacked, making our job only harder. The classic Steve Jobs quote ‘Customers do not know what they want’ somewhat applied in our case.  As after sign-up we haven’t seen a single customer leaving our product. But then, these were the same people who were saying they never get attacked.

While we were getting a couple of hundred hits a day on our website, none was converting. With the above two challenges, the task of getting potential customers to pay seemed only more difficult. We realized that website is THE place where we need to focus our energies on. A customer bases his complete decision on what your website makes him feel and what you want your customer to feel is completely in your hands. The next few months were exciting for us as we tried a number of different things. It was interesting to see some strategies work and some fail badly. I’m sure you could use some of them in your e-commerce shop, ticketing website or a SaaS business. A few simple strategies that worked for us and made customers click on that Sign-up button: 

  • Colors Matter: It’s 2017 and your website needs to look from this generation. I see businesses using websites which look so old that they could be put in museum. The design, user experience and most importantly color scheme plays a huge rule in what customer perceives when he lands on your website.

    92.6 percent customers have said that they put most importance on visual factors when purchasing products – source

    A few decisions (with rationale behind them) which we took while deciding color scheme for Astra’s website:

    • Main theme would be blue: Simply because blue symbolizes trust. In our domain, that is website security trust plays a huge role. Customers trust us with critical data of their website. More so, customers of our customers trust them with their sensitive data. Blue is used by brands like Dell, AT&T, JP Morgan etc. Clearly, majority of businesses where trust makes a huge difference use blue. You can have a look at this infograph and see how colors and directly proportional to branding.
    • Contrasting color would be green: While having a primary color is important, it’s equally important to have a complementary color. The complementary color should go well with the primary color. The reason we chose green was because it went will with blue and signified growth and safety.
  • Customers Should Feel at Home: When a potential customer enters your website, they should not feel like they’ve landed on an alien planet. It’s important to show them the things they can relate to (something I read under environmental psychology). A huge growth hack for facebook was to translate their website into local languages so that people can use it easily, cutting down a huge barrier to entry. For small businesses, translation isn’t a viable option and it wasn’t for us too. Especially when you are in SaaS business like us and selling globally. Instead, here’s what we did:Astra-Security-HomePagesYes, you guessed it right! Different home pages for different users. We saw the top countries from where we were getting traffic and the top countries where our potential customers were. Depending on the user location, we load our website with a specific home-page. The home-page has an image which a customer can relate to. Our central theme was ‘great geographical places’ of a specific country/continent where the user belongs to. If you are opening our website from India you see the beautiful marine drive and if you open from France you see the legendary Eiffel Tower. If a customer is not from the top list of country/continent from where we were getting traffic then he see’s a general image of a girl browsing through Astra’s dashboard (showing them subtly what’s coming their way). Something like this can be applied to an e-commerce business too.
    An example: Show products that sell the most in a specific city on your home slider if a visitor is coming from that city. Let’s say a certain set of shoes are selling the most in Mumbai for Yute (a friend’s startup) then his home page slider can show those shoes first to a visitor coming from Mumbai. Similarly, for different cities based on the data collected.
  • People Love to Talk: If someone has visited your website, then for sure something in your offering attracted them. If a customer has stayed on your website for more that 20-seconds, then he is interested in what you are offering. A good strategy is to engage customers who have spent more that 20-seconds on your website via website chat widget. People love to talk! Initially, you should not try and use bots for this but do it yourself.  So, we experimented with various online chat services (we were aiming free ones) ranging from mylivechat, freshchat, resend etc. to finally settle with this amazing one called ‘Tawk.to’. We found it feature rich, open-source, continuously getting enhanced, mobile friendly and ofcourse free. Adding the chat feature was just the start, in addition here’s what we did:
    • A Chat They Use Everyday: What are the two mediums that you use to chat everyChat - SaaS Astra Security day? I bet the top answers would be Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger. These are two chat services which people use without blinking an eye to communicate on daily (read hourly) basis with people they love. You don’t think twice before shooting up Whatsapp or Messenger apps and that’s exactly the way we wanted our potential customers to feel. So, we made the UI of our chat system similar to Facebook messenger. They were way less hesitant before clicking that familiar looking chat button unlike before. We saw a huge rate of people asking questions about Astra via chat!
    • People Love People: A chat widget that just says ‘We are here to chat’ or ‘Hi, ask us your questions’ just won’t cut it. Your potentials customers should know that they are talking to a real person. This is where putting a picture becomes important. We added a picture of our team member on chat widget and it made the widget look much more welcoming.
    • Triggers: Sometimes customers don’t start the chat on their own. An important feature which all good chat systems have is ‘triggers’. This is where, depending on the page a customer is you can ask them if they want anything. The trick here is not to throw out a boring ‘if you need anything, ask me’ kinda automatic trigger. But go for open ended interesting questions which are conversational and should feel that a real person is asking them. So, instead of saying asking a customer who is visiting our Magento security page ‘Hi, if you have question about Astra for Magento feel free to ask’  we first ask him ‘Hey, do you use Magento’. Now since he has landed on Magento page, I am 75% sure he uses Magento. But this open ended question gets him in a conversation better!
  • Words Make or Break: Just like important design, UI, UX and color the choice of words play a huge role. Once a customer feels home on your website, the second thing he does is read what he has to say. Good UI/UX buys you additional ten seconds of a customers attention span and in those ten seconds a customers reads what you have to say. I’ve seen people having top-notch products and spoiling it all by throwing in so much technical jargon on the website that customer gets turned off. My note specifically to my engineer turned entrepreneurs (I’m one too):
    • You use AI in your product? Customers don’t care
    • You use machine learning? Customers don’t care
    • You doing NLP?That’s amazing but still: Customers don’t care!My point being, ‘solve a problem, don’t sell a solution’. I used to do the same, telling them the tech we use and the features Astra has and the list continued. Until one fine day when a potential customer asked ‘that’s fine if you use marcov chains in your machine learning algo, but how does it help me?’. This is exactly what should come across on your website too. Tell your potential leads the headache your pill is going to take away from them, not the ingredients of that pill.Here’s how Astra’s homepage looks like:Astra-Website-FirewallWe simply tell the customer ‘We assure security while you do business’. In one line the customer knows what we will do for him. The line below is followed by a few technical terms once which a lead only reads once they’ve learned the problem being solved for them. The website content should be written in a way that an end user think as if you are holding their hand and giving them a personal walk-through of your offerings. Using the ‘You’ throughout surely helps. You can read more here.
  • Make Them Think: You can make your leads think what you want them to think, just by improving your website flow. I’ll give you an example of our pricing page where we tried to give only that information which helps the user making the decision and eliminating any other jargon:
    • Show Them What’s on the Offer: If they’re reached the pricing page, it mans they like what they see. It’s good to show them the product. In e-commerce, you shop them the pictures of phone or the shirt they chose. In our case, we show them picture of the intuitive dashboard they’ll get.
    • Get to the Point: Now that they know what could be their, it’s time to show the pricing. I believe there should not be a delay or too many elements above the pricing area because that confuses people. They’ve clicked the pricing button which means they want to know the prices quickly, so that’s how it should be.
    • Social Proof: Before clicking that final Buy Now or Sign-up button, it’s good to assure leads that it’s the best decision they’ll take. The best way to do it? Testimonials and logos of customers you have already worked with. This assures them that if other businesses like theirs trust you, they can too. For e-commerce businesses, customer reviews always help.You see, using the right words and placing the right sections one after the other help customer think what you them to think. Placing random sections at random places only confuses customers. Say less, but say right.

Engaging visitors and converting them into customers is a science. And just like science, it requires a lot of experimentation. These experiments when work and when not should not be quantified by gut or intuition. Rather, proper tools should be used to see the effect of every change you make in your path to get more customers. A quick recommendation would be:

  • Google Analytics: Just don’t put the tracking code and forget, use it. It’s a very feature rich tool which sometime does require a learning curve but it’s worth it.
  • Mixpanel: If you want to profile your users, nothing beats mixpanel here.
  • Hotjar: Helps you understand how users interact with your website by recording their actions, tracking their mouse moments and clicks.
  • Mautic: This is one beast which can help you run email campaigns, manage drips and email lists. Quite power open-source tool but does require a learning curve.

Every second google gets more that 40,000 searches which makes it 3.5 billion searches/day. Getting visitors to your website is relatively easy, true art lies in converting those visitors into users. Right mix of creativity and science with an amazing offering is all you need. Keep hustling!

I shared our top learnings with you, would love to hear your feedback. If it’s bad I’ll write better, if it’s good I’ll write more. You can contact me on facebook or follow on twitter.

Why #SaaSx4 Product Teardown is for all SaaS startups

Whether you’re an early stage, late stage or VC funded startup (pun intended). There is one thing all of us struggle with always and that is ‘Growth’. So, how to keep this repeatable in constantly changing market dynamics?

Acommunity is a great place to learn, unlearn and grow at the pace you never imagined. For SaaS startups in India(bravery award goes to you), SaaSx is a community built by thought leaders for other builders to nail this process in and out. #SaaSx4 was a tech event that provided SaaS founders the opportunity to network and share product insights with other SaaS founders.

How we got into #SaaSx4 Product Teardown..

Widely is an early stage SaaS startup, we’re right now hustling, learning and trying to respond to the amazing traction we’re receiving. While all this was happening, we got a call from Prasanna K to attend SaaSx, that was the first time we heard about Product Teardown and horror stories around it. Imagine your product being grilled down to levels in front of the whole community.

It did seem scary, but we said YES!

Because very often when something scares you, it’s the very thing worth doing.

So, what were our asks?

Initially they were simple, to validate our thought process, marketing channels, and product roadmap, but subsequent calls and discussions with Avlesh Singh, CEO, WebEngage, Bharath Balasubramanian, Director of Design, Freshdesk, and Shekhar Kirani, Accel Partners, made us realize it is an opportunity to deep dive and their critical remarks made us rethink over pricing to customer onboarding.

#SaaSx4 Event Day: The D-Day

This was my first SaaSx & by the end of the day, I was left amused and happy to become part of the SaaSx community. It is by SaaS founders for SaaS founders, hence, the learning becomes easier & straight cut out for us.

UnConference, Product teardown & Fireside chats, also in between meeting Investors (trust me that was not the driving force for anyone joining in there), the energy was to learn and grasp as much as possible. When you hear guys like Girish, Sudhir, & Avlesh talking about their mistakes, you feel confident within.

There comes the Scary Product Teardown

So, how it began?

I was called on the stage, Bharath, Avlesh and Shekhar ready with their inputs. The hall was full of awesome SaaS founders, including those of India’s best SaaS companies, interacting constantly over the good and bad parts of products(Imagine receiving suggestions from the experienced).

Widely Product Introduction
  • Introduction: I went up and gave some context to the audience

Widely helps online businesses to acquire new mobile users, increase conversions and grow user retention with nothing but their existing website by upgrading it into a progressive web app in minutes. Introducing native mobile app features into a website, the plug and play setup with the analytics based dashboard to trigger and customize a Progressive Web App (Mobile Web App).

  • Product teardown segments & Widely’s State

Product teardown was segmented into three sections primarily, Finding Customers, Keeping Customers & What is my market.

  1. Widely’s primary traction channels are SEM and SEO,
  2. Also, our customer segment is a marketer or a product manager.
  3. For us to convert a website visitor into a customer is a simple 2 step process, a signup and then 15 minutes plug & play integration into their website.
Widely Setup Flow

These details were used in teardown, and so teardown was designed in a way to be helpful for others struggling in the similar space.

  • The Teardown began

As an early stage startup with a goal to reach the global audience, we’ve identified search and ads as great ways to go ahead. So, exactly this was the first step, Widely’s SEM at one side works great, SEO is where our keywords don’t match. That was eye opening to me as sometimes while building and selling the product we tend to forget most basic things.

Then came product landing, with few ifs and buts, here we saw our moments of wows & learning, in the form of better representation.

Product Landing Page

Bharath pointed out key areas we need to improve upon during Sign up too, although this is something we’re constantly working upon and rigorously followed making website our best marketing person, but exactly the point, improvements to become sticky for the set of next 100 customers should be the focus.

The Wow Moment

The final step to Setup!

So, out of all signups we get every day there are many who don’t integrate (A huge loss to our marketing efforts), there could be many reasons, we’re constantly using visualizations and website conversion optimization tools to see where our funnel breaks and fix those parts immediately. For us to come at something which we saw next would have taken some next 100 signups we believe,

Current State of Setup Flow using Widely
The whole process

The next step of teardown focused on our claim of no coding required, though that is not required but looking at the setup it feels a coder is required, and for us targeting product managers this doesn’t look related at all.

Suggestions by Bharath for the setup screen

Sign Up After Landing
Easy UX

The designs in themselves speak louder than words and hence, something we loved instantly, apart from great design and user experience inputs. We got great insights from,

Girish — Website landing page heading should initially focus on technicalities, then functionalities and later on the larger message when the brand is big enough.

Ex: Coca-Cola — open happiness.

Ex: We say ‘Upgrade into a Progressive Web App’, this is good for us initially as an early stage startup, segmented only for the crowd who knows.

Shekhar — Asking telephone numbers from our initial customers is a great way to increase conversions rapidly, our signup should have that one field.

The last but not the least, Product Positioning and Market

All the above insights make no sense when we don’t know our market. I did talk about the positioning of early stage startups and how we did it for widely.

As there is this increasing need of brands to be accessible by all mobile users, we get queries from enterprises, brands, services/agencies related to our solution, we’ve been on and off on where to focus and what we should leave. This also made us change our pricing many times.

The last part of teardown was a relief when the founders sitting there, Shekhar & Avlesh made us believe you don’t need to stay at one, until you get where the best market is. All this made sense, as then we could generate higher revenue by understanding our value add to the users.

At the same time, we received Girish’s point of view on growing freemium way and onboard as many users as we can,

So here is the beauty of SaaSx, you get everything, now it is going to be a tough fight within the team to choose a way.

Key takeaways..

An enthralling experience in Widely’s product journey, SaaSx, and product teardown happened to be extremely helpful. In my opinion, teardown is a great way to eliminate blockers and move faster against competition and changing market.

I’d like to end by a note I sent out to Avlesh, Shekhar, Bharat & Avinash.

Thank you note SaaSx

Definitely I’m in awe and I’d like to mention Product Teardown of Omnify & Product Teardown of 99Tests, these were our fellow product teardown startups, they have explained the process extensively to explore further. Hope it helps more SaaS startups growing and hustling.


Anshuli Gupta, Co-Founder @WidelyHQ, My twitter handle @anshulix

Team 99tests At #SaaSx4 Product Teardown

#SaaSx4 is a leading tech event that provides Saas founders the opportunity to network and share product insights. Product Teardown session was one of the key highlights of this year’s event held in Chennai on 17th March, 2017. The goal was to help SaaS entrepreneurs gain actionable product insights. Entries were invited from innovative SaaS products from all over the country.

When we, at 99tests got the first email invite for the Product Teardown from iSPIRT, our first thought was that, this was about UX and we might not be a good fit for the event. We then had a conversation with Prasanna who explained to us that product tear down is about Business Discovery of our Product and retention of customers. Basically, a session that will enable to understand your product from a customer’s perspective. This piqued our interest in the #SaaSx4


A panel of established SaaS founders and mentors that included Avlesh Singh, CEO, WebEngage, Bharath Balasubramanian, Director of Design, Freshdesk, and Shekhar Kirani, Accel Partners, were assigned the task of selecting the final products for the event. The first screening call with the panel was very interesting. It was a 30 minute call where we got the chance to showcase what 99tests does, and how it works. We answered questions about revenue, SaaS model, our core value proposition, and how we delivered our services.

With only three slots left, the pressure was on us as we waited for the results. After a few days, we finally got the message that 99tests was selected in the SaaSx4 Product Teardown. We were pretty excited and looking forward to all feedback on our product from eminent members of the Indian startup ecosystem. We admit that we were also a little nervous that our mistakes would be out in the open!

Key Takeaways From The Event

Software products chosen for the product tear down session were critically analysed by a team of expert SaaS mentors and SaaS founders. The aim was to understand the customer onboarding process, retention and discovery of business opportunities for the products. These insights helps entrepreneurs in answering key market questions like:

  • Who is my customer?
  • Who could have been my customer?
  • What characteristics of my customer makes them like my product?
  • If I am successful, who will come after me?

Our Experience At The Product Teardown

In the next call that we had a call with Bharath, Director of design, Freshdesk, we explained how 99tests actually works. The key questions were around customer on-boarding, understanding how much of our service was self-serve and how much was fully managed.

On D-day, we were a little nervous, wondering what aspect of our product would be showcased to a room full of SaaS founders. The first teardown by the first team did give us a hint into what would come next.

What We Learnt About Our Product

The first part of the teardown was about seeing how the search keywords map to our target personas. It was good to see one of the teardown companies having website that perfectly matched the keywords that they were targeting. In our case, we learnt that on our page, the content did not contain enough matching keywords that a customer would type in. This makes it difficult for them to find us.

The next feedback was on our homepage. We found that it was using too much of testing concepts. Moreover the Home page did not clearly highlight the functional message of Automation Testing by Crowd, our USP.

The last set of feedback was on customer on boarding. Here, we learned that our product asked too many questions that assumed that our customers would know a lot about testing. This is causing a lower sign up to the demo page. It was also great to learn that we needed focus in terms of countries, based on how customers would perceive our product. The most useful feedback that we got, is that product owners were not clear on how much time they needed to spend with 99tests on a daily and weekly basis. although they could get started in only 30 minutes.

Overall, we got the feedback, that we do have a fantastic product, but the messaging was not yet sophisticated enough for an international audience and could be improved. 99tests is very thankful to iSpirit, Bharath from Freshdesk, Avlesh from WebEngage and Shekar from Accel for the opportunity to be a part of the Product Teardown at SaaSx4. The feedback and insights we gained from the SaaSx4 Product Teardown was very helpful in identifying areas that needed improvement and also in gaining new ideas to make our products great.

Guest Post by Praveen Singh, 99tests.com

What we learned from the Product Teardown of Omnify at #SaaSx4

A week or so before #SaaSx4, I woke up with an early morning call from Prasanna (SaaSx Volunteer) to tell me that they have nominated Omnify for the Product Teardown. Honestly, I jumped out of bed and my first reaction was like Ohh sh*t.. Not the Teardown!!

But then he said that they will select three companies out of the few nominated. So I agreed for a Hangout call hoping that we will not be selected.

So, Why did we do it?

I think, as a startup it’s good to go through “Make & Break” cycles which helps building a stronger product. Incidentally, that week we were sort of doing an internal teardown of our product and our conversion funnel. After the first hangout call with Avlesh, Shekhar and Bharath, I realised that it is indeed a great opportunity to get external feedback as we will be making a lot of effort this year on Product Design and Marketing.

Also, best part about the SaaSx community is the positive environment where no one is judging others and it’s all about learning from each others mistakes. Guys like Girish, Avlesh and Sudhir openly talk about the mistakes and learnings so others can benefit.

So, in the same SaaSx spirit we decided to participate in the Teardown for the benefit of us and anyone who can learn from our mistakes.

About Omnify (to give some context)

Omnify helps small businesses to Sell and Schedule their services online through One, Simple Platform. We have built comprehensive scheduling for Group Classes, Appointments, Events, Camps, etc. which can be easily sold as Packages and Subscriptions through Omnify.

Goal of the Teardown

I had multiple calls with Avlesh, Shekhar and Bharath before the teardown. The purpose of the calls were to have better understanding about Omnify and see how they can help.

After some discussion, we decided to find gaps in our conversion funnel; right from discovery, signup, onboarding to setup.

Discovery

Our major channel for getting customers is Search. Hence this part was focussed on our SEO. Interestingly, we got a thumbs up for this part as we have already put some work into our SEO. There is so much more to do and scaling our Top of the funnel is currently our Top Priority as pointed out by both Shekhar & Avlesh.

The best part about Search is that it shows “Intent” which has a direct impact on your conversion. For SaaS startups (especially at early stages and targeting global market) this should be the most important channel for customer acquisition. Hence, my advice for anyone who has not yet worked on their SEO is to atleast get the basic On-Page optimisation, Major Keywords and URL structuring right. It is a time consuming project but it will be worth your time and effort.

Here is an old, but a simple post on this by Moz.

In case you have no clue where to start, just hire an SEO expert from UpWork for a $100 project to do an SEO Audit of your website.

Action Plan: We are now spending a lot of time on Keyword optimization, Improving on page optimization and figuring out ways to churn good quality content at scale. Will share our learnings with some data once we can.

Website

Next target for the Teardown was our Website (https://www.getomnify.com/)

Bharath did a great job pointing out few key issues in our website that may be affecting our conversion and also did a comparative analysis with our competitor’s website who has probably spent millions of $$ to optimise it for the target audience.

Although we had spent quite a lot of effort on our website as it the most important part of our company and our doorway to customers across the world.

Although, there is a lot of room for improvement but here are a few things that we already worked on.

Trust

  1. Good Design breeds trust.
  2. Simple things like SSL certificate (https) improves trust in your website.
  3. Transparency — About us page with photos and social profiles of the team.

Mobile Responsive

A big chunk of the website visitors are probably coming through mobile, so it’s super important that the website looks and works great on any mobile device.

Speed

Today, everyone has very little patience. So if it takes more than a few seconds to load a page we might lose potential customers. Simple things like image compression, lazy loading, etc can be very effective to improve speed drastically.

Visual Content

People scroll through the pages in seconds, it’s super important to have enough visual content like images and videos to grab their attention.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Our messaging on the landing page should be more targeted and simple to understand.
  2. Improve Trust on our website through customer review, case studies, etc.
  3. Learn from our competitors on targeting.
  4. Content language should be optimised for the biggest market (US in our case).
  5. We should have country specific landing pages for at least our major markets.

Action Plan: We are doing a sprint soon to optimize our landing pages with more targeted content and adding customer reviews + case studies.

We are also going to try Zarget (https://zarget.com) to experiment and improve our website conversions. Thanks for the dinner Arvind! 🍺

Customer Onboarding

This is where we already knew our funnel is broken and although we have already been working on it, we got good critical feedback and suggestions from Bharath.

Signup

Interestingly, this is one of the most ignored pages for most startups (including us).

Even small things here can increase drop-off or conversion.

In our case, I think we got away with small ux issues as Omnify is a business product and the value of a Free trial outweighs the effort of the signup. But, needless to say we are making it simpler.

Onboarding & Setup

To give more context, our current onboarding process is a wizard that appears on Home page of the Dashboard for new users and stays there until completed. One major issue with this is that once you navigate away from Home there is very little hand-holding.

This is how it works currently:

  1. Setup Business: Basic information and contact details.
  2. Setup Services: Comprehensive and a little time consuming.
  3. Website: Auto-created but valuable only after a few services are setup.
  4. Attach Payment Gateway: Connect Stripe or Paypal.
  5. Add/Import Clients

Design Suggestions

Bharath suggested a simple 2 step onboarding process for Omnify.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Our Onboarding needs more customer hand holding.
  2. Setup needs to be simpler or create Website with Sample Services for Instant Gratification.
  3. Auto-fill wherever we can.

Action Plan:

We believe in fast iteration and are already redesigning our onboarding and setup. I will share a detailed post on our Onboarding redesign later but for now, here is a Sneak peak on what we are upto (Still iterating):

Market and Positioning

Last part of the Teardown was about understanding the target market and our positioning.

There were 3 points that were discussed.

Understanding our Target Customer

Omnify can be used by anyone who provide services and scheduling is an important part of their business. Most prominent segments are fitness, wellness, sports, kids activities and recreation.

Horizontal or Vertical SaaS

This was one of the hot topics at SaaSx and I am hoping for more content on this from the community.

In case of Omnify, we started as a vertical SaaS product but went through a customer discovery process thanks to Inbound Marketing and pivoted to Horizontal SaaS.

Since we didn’t have control over who was signing up, we thought we might as well turn it into an experiment to understand demand and gaps in the market. After working with hundreds of customers across different categories and 50+ countries, we learnt that we are solving a core problem for a wide set of customers who behave very similarly.

Hence, our view of the market changed to horizontal.

Target Geography

While it’s extremely important to choose the right geography if outbound is the core channel for customer acquisition, businesses like ours who run on Inbound Marketing have an advantage of understanding different geographys at due to lower cost. Saying that, we are currently picking up few key geographies with better volume and conversion rates to put our efforts on.

Key Take-away:

Leveraging existing market segments is easier than creating new segments.

Last words..

Overall, product teardown was a great experience and we would recommend other startups to do both, internal and external teardown of your products regularly. It’s a great tool to find gaps in the product so we can iterate fast and grow faster.

Big shout to Avinash, Avlesh, Bharath, and Shekhar for putting so much effort into the Product Teardown.. taking calls at 8am on a Sunday, spending time going through our product demos, etc. Thanks guys, it was super helpful.

Also, it is truly a pleasure being part of such an amazing community of Entrepreneurs and I would like to thank everyone who worked hard for making SaaSx possible. Already looking forward to the next one.

Keep Hustling..

Manik Mehta

Founder & CEO, Omnify Inc.

Say hi @manik_me

P.S. It was the first SaaSx for my Co-founder, Kabandi and she can’t stop talking about it 🙂

Key Take Aways from #SaaSx4

The SaaSx conference took place in Chennai on March 17th. Most top companies from the Indian SaaS space were part of the conference. I had made some notes for myself which I think might be useful for other startups as well. Many of these thoughts are not my own and may not express my views.

On marketing

– Tailor your marketing material based on your audience. For example, if you are targeting product managers, then using a term like “White-labelled Mobile Apps” is too technical. You can use something like “Tailored Mobile Apps”.
– Trust is everything
— Showing trust is extremely important. Use testimonials (with name, company name, designation, domain) to build trust.
— Having a local number increases trust among companies. Everyone prefers a company which is present locally. It’s fine if it redirects to your local number to begin with.
— Adding names & photos of your real support team helps build credibility.
– Use a keyword planner to see what kind of traffic your website is attracting. If the keywords are incorrect, then you need to tweak your copy as the traffic you are receiving is not relevant (read: will not convert).
– On your landing page, you can have three kinds of copy: Emotional, Functional, Technical. Established brands like Coca Cola can use an emotional copy like “Taste The Feeling”. For everyone else, a functional copy (i.e. talking about the benefits) along with a little technical information is the way to go. An example would be “Enable your users to collaborate with each other” or “Increase your user engagement” would be the functional copy and “Add voice, video and text chat to your site/app” or “Add chat using our simple APIs” would be the technical copy.
– If you want to target a country like USA, then your UI/UX must be absolutely perfect. If you are unable to achieve that, then targeting a country like India is easier, where UI/UX is not priority.
— For example, in a signup form, you cannot have “Create your account” as the title of the form and “Create my account” as the signup button. When a company is spending hundreds of dollars on your product, they look consistency.
– In order to be effective for enterprise sales, your complete pricing should not be available on your website. In other words, you need to have a logical separation. For example, you can have a plan which says “Enterprise” and add a “Contact Us For Pricing”. The features of this “Enterprise” plan can be those which are infrequently asked for by SMBs.
– Look at avenues like trade shows and sponsoring events. They may not provide direct leads but help in building brand value.
– Focus on a single country instead of multiple countries. You may continue to receive sales from different countries but your marketing (copy, ads, campaigns etc.) should ideally target a single country in order to be effective.
– Using media friendly terms in copy is essential. For example, Salesforce did a press release saying they launched “Lightening UI” instead of “New UI”.
– If your marketing is designed for product managers, then your on-boarding should be for product managers as well. For example, you cannot ask for API keys during signup to a product manager. Instead you can show a “Send this information to your developer” link so that a dev can input any additional information required.

On product

– How many of us are riding a wave? Are you in a good or hard market? Tweak your product to ride the wave. It’s easier. For example, if AI/NLP is in, tweak your product so that it is in line with the latest trends.
– B2B categories are very difficult to establish. Marketing automation and communication & collaboration are a new wave in B2B. Creating a new category altogether is extremely tough. It’s easier to target an existing budget.
– Even breadcrumbs are worth millions in certain categories. For example, if you build a product similar to Salesforce, then the market is big enough such that the customers that don’t end up using Salesforce will still be significant.
– The customer should be asking why they should buy your specific product versus why buy any product at all. For example, they should ask why buy a Panasonic washing machine versus why buy a washing machine. Educating customer about a whole new category is hard. It’s easier to just compete at a “mine vs yours” level.
– Customers only care for features (including price) while media cares for difference. If you have a similar product to the competitor, you can easily sell it as long as you have a better price. Media cares only if your product is different from your competitors.
– To decide what feature to add next, think if the feature will bring 2X the amount of sales. Adding customer requests is also important as you do not want to disregard your existing audience’s requests. However, do not let customers drive the road map; it is important that you stay true to your vision.

On sales

– If you plan to build an Indian sales team, it is advisable to make sure that your marketing does all the heavy lifting. Consultative selling over the phone from India is very tough. The sales team should effectively assist and not consult.
– It is easier to have local partners for non-English speaking countries. If you plan to sell to non-English speaking countries, your website/product should also be multi-lingual.
– For enterprise sales, it is better to have a separate deals team.
– A pre-sales team can be used for giving demos and technical information.
– A separate reseller team can be built if required.
– Building a customer happiness team is essential. If you are not invested in your customer’s success, you will not grow, if they do not grow.

On hiring

– Hire people who look up to their role. Do not hire people who think of it as a favour to join. Invest in freshers if you cannot afford great talent.
– For sales, it is better to hire engineers. Many fresh engineering graduates are not interested in programming and would prefer an allied job. But that gives them enough technical knowledge so it’s easy for them to handle technical products.
– For customer support, it’s easy to hire from BPOs. Most do not like BPOs due to timings and they already have the required training and empathy to speak to customers.
– If you hire a great designer to build landing pages, he will leave. You need to give employees the work they deserve. If you cannot keep them interested, they will not stay for long.
– Each team member should have a “key to respect”. In other words, every member must have a reason why his peers should respect him.
– Scale your engineering team before your scale your sales team. Otherwise, your engineering team will not be able to handle the load.

On doing business (and everything else)

– It’s very important to have a closed feedback loop between sales, marketing & product. The product team should have the capability to say no to sales & marketing (e.g. for adding X feature for a client).
– The focus of marketing should be to increase leads, the focus of sales should be to increase sales.
– If a feature request fits the overall roadmap of the product, only then undertake it. Avoid any customization which do not help the product grow. In the short term these deals may be tempting, but in the long run, they will have a negative factor on the growth of your product. You may lose business because of this, but that’s part of building a product company.
– Prioritization is a key role of product manager. He is bombarded by customer requests, investor requests etc. He needs to be able to take a call as to what fits in the product and what doesn’t.
– Celebrate each and every team. For example, your design team cannot celebrate sales/revenue. You should find something that they can celebrate, say UI. Celebrate craftsmanship in every department.
– Managers have a responsibility to understand business goals and then encourage activities which are aligned with the business goals.
– Squads give you agility and tribes give you wisdom. Squad works on a single goal. Tribe consists of members who have specialised knowledge. For example, QA, design & SEM are tribes. Putting a design team member in a development team is of no value. He should be together with other designers. A squad can move fast. A tribe is a shared resource. If product knowledge is not so important, then the member should be part of tribe. But dedicated people should be part of a tribe if the product is big. Tribe has no priority w.r.t. products. As much as possible put people in squads. Tribal members in squad can go for weekly knowledge sharing sessions.
– It’s important to focus on the problem. People in your organization will constantly have issues (with each other). It’s important that you solve the problem instead of taking sides.

On the Indian landscape

– Check out the Indian SaaS survey by iSpirt to see how your business is doing in comparison to others.
– There are approximately 750 SaaS startups in India.
– It typically takes 2–4 years for $1 million in ARR

On tools being used

Full Contact
Enterpriseready.io
Prospect.io
Hunter.io
99tests
Nerdydata

Guest Post by Anant Garg, CometChat

My first SaaS experience in Chennai #SaaSx4

My first SaaS experience and boy, amazing amount of insights and learning on what it takes to build successful SAAS companies based in India. Below are some of my notes and what I learned and observed from the entire day.

What a way to spend close to 18 hrs amidst some of the most inspiring and motivated people – Entrepreneurs and Founders .

We went in as a startup that has its product at a MVP stage figuring out a Product Market Fit.

SAASx in its 4th edition is curated and managed and executed by a bunch of volunteers with a passion to  “GIVE Back” to the ecosystem and enable budding entrepreneurs learn quickly from success SAAS entrepreneurs and thrive in the industry.

We had a SAASx bus from BLR to CHENNAI, and the journey started off by a 3 hrs introduction session of each startup and their asks from the fellow founders, this enabled starting conversations with the right people. This was held at Minjar Cloud Solutions office.

We reached Chennai the next day. The event was held at Intercontinental resort and hotel at ECR Road Chennai, had the leading SAAS founders and entrepreneurs from all over the country attend the event. The audience had over 150+ founders and investors all eager to learn and share their views on what is working and whats not working in today’s digital world.

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Some of the key themes of discussion

Money  on the table – Take it! – As a bootstrapped startup if there is a  market or customer opportunity to make money in alignment to your product, do take it as its critical for cashflow

Focus vs Diversion – Several early stage founders had this dilemma on retaining focus on their key market  & product vs diversifying to other allied sectors (where they need only a portion of their product with customisation etc), Stay focussed and learn to say NO. A key difference between gaining momentum and problem discovery. If the pond has enough fish, then continue to FISH there before you venture to a new pond. Think of Winning big in One Market and/or Sub-Market.

Co-Create products with one of your large clients. Sell First build later in such cases. Find that 1 client who believes in you and willing to wait

Niche Vs Generic – Figure out what you are building. Are you in a niche market bottom up or top down. Very important if in niche market to win big and having the ability to integrate with generic solutions to sustain and win through collaboration. Amit from Interview Mocha had some very interesting points to share and seek answers to their growth plans

Product is either Revenue Focuses or Operations Focused – Understanding this helps in messaging, positioning, pricing etc

Teardown’s

  • Website Communication – Home page – Get the messaging right for the Customer to get your message in 3 seconds.
  • Have right Call to action
  • Simplify the Signup Process
  • Avoid Tech Jargons, Keywords for Non-Tech users
  • Do basic search on Competitors website
  • Have SEO Keyword analysis to enable the revenant content to be ranked higher
  • Website homepage messages should always be an Emotional Appeal message or Functional message
  • Use tools like Hotjar/Zarget to understand where the users fall off
  • If you are collecting email id, use Frrole/Full Contact to get mobile numbers for follow up calls

Some of the key questions a startup should find answers

  • Who is my customer
  • Who could have been my customer
  • What characteristics of my customer makes them like my product
  • If Im successful, who will come after me
  • How do i Protect my business

Selling into US from India

Arun from Zarget shared his experience of selling in the US regions from India from 2003 to 2016. Few anecdotes and examples of how a single sale of USD 1.2Mn to a Customer gain 3x as the the customer kept changing jobs and kept buying the same product each – Advantage of Enterprise Sales

Transforming from SMB to Enterprises

Zenoti focused initiatively in India market and later pivoted to the US (still selling in India). Now they sell their Wellness management SAAS Platform to large wellness brands in US.

Founder doing Sales and getting all the basics right before scaling sales. US sales very different than India Sales as customers were mature to know what they want and open to experiment.

In the initial days, the founders visited several high brand wellness centres and used their services to understand the service levels, customer satisfaction levels, customer support, how data is managed, loyalty programs etc, which enabled them to understand the market, customer pain pants, workflows and more.

When reaching out to clients, they used these data points based on their experiences to the CEO’s and pitched Zenoti’s solution to solve those challenges. Invariably the CEOs would respond within a few hrs of receiving this email.

Zenith’s solution was a fully integrated system and the most expensive solution in the market. Yet the customers would buy as the competitor Mindbody would be suited up only for non-enterprises

Enterprise sales timeline 3-4 months, while data migration from existing systems was overlooked and often ran into challenges

Data migration strategy key for enterprise SAAS products and have them thought and defined over as it impacts the sales and pricing models.

Market triumphs everything

Amazing journey share by Srikrishna-Hotline on how they built a a product that was way ahead of its time and how HOPE (every entrepreneurs best friend) kept them alive which finally resulted in their acquisition by Freshdesk.

Girish from Freshdesk chipped in with some key insights and shared a key view point – In a commodity market, Innovate and create differentiator

Fresh sales is now pitched against Salesforce. For a customer evaluating solutions, its very important for the Product to be in the “Consideration Set”, else you would just loose out. Once you pitch yourself against the competitor you become a relevant alternate. Breadcrumbs of Salesforce is also worth $100mn!

Lessons Learnt

This one was one of the most passionate and an honest experience share by a CEO of a fast growing company, a startup that has made great progress and still believes that they have a long way to go and have just scratched the surface

  1. Always hire people who look up to their role
  2. Focus on the problem and not on person
  3. Prioritisation is the most important job of a Product Manager
  4. Feature based Team/Squads for executing the prioritisation
  5. Global Eagle List – Master List of priorities
  6. Unless its someone else’s job, it never gets done
  7. Everyone on the team should hold a “Key to Respect” for others to respond in an organization
  8. Sailing Sales without Scaling Engineering
  9. Squads give agility, Tribes give wisdom
  10. Making Biryani – The art of celebrating great Craftsmanship in every department, team that aligns with business goals
  11. Getting a leader to settle down
  12. Finally – Which Cow, which Ditch – Give time for a new leader to settle down and help them manage one cow and one ditch at a time

ZERO-ONE mn($) in 9 months – Synup

  • Lessons learnt from 1st 18 months critical for the next 9 months to achieve $1Mn
  • Smart use of SEO against the Leader
  • Usage of google knowledge box for SEO as well
  • Figure out the threshold to HIRE Sales Rep against the leads you have to manage your business
  • Synup figured out the magic number and helped in their Sales

Almost everyone was living their dream or were about to start their journey in building world class SaaS companies from India. Single agenda on everyones mind was How to Sell, to US/International, How to Grow from where they were, How to Scale, How to manage the org in scale

The evening ended up with a great dinner beach side sponsored by Zarget.

A day well spent at Chennai, Heart and mind goes out to all those involved in making the entire Saas Ecosystem Thrive through knowledge and embracing the new!

Cheers to these few and many more who worked hard  – Avlesh, Shekhar, Krish, Suresh S, Girish M, Prasanna, Avinash, Arvind P, Rajan, Kesava, Pritesh and many more behind the scenes

Guest Blog post by Bimlesh Gundurao, Aguai Solutions

Key Metrics for Startups on Marketing, Sales and Customer Success #SaaSx

Most of the metrics we are going to see here will sound obvious but I’ve seen even some matured companies do not actively follow it. In a startup company discipline becomes very crucial, keeping things simple and measurable helps a lot. There are more complex metrics like Customer Acquisition cost (CAC), Lifetime value of the customer (LTV), Average revenue per customer (ARPA) etc, but I feel it’s better to have basics correct before complicating it too much.

Marketing Metric

  • Lead Quota
  • Cost of Lead Acquisition

Lead Quota: One of the common mistakes I’ve done in early stages is not setting up a lead quota for the digital marketing team. We simply allocated a monthly budget and not actively measured exactly how many leads we have generate for that month. The goal of marketing team should be increasing the number of leads (quality) we receive every month. If we can measure just this one metric then the other metrics become irrelevant from a top management perspective, example volume of visitors to the website.  The number of visitors to the site really doesn’t matter, it’s the quality of conversion that matters. This will push the marketing guy to look deep into finding new channels, tuning the existing channels, A/B testing the landing pages etc to increase the lead quota.

Cost of Lead Acquisition, this becomes the second part. How much money are we spending each month to acquire X number of leads? In an ideal situation, we wanted to generate a maximum number of leads from the minimum amount spend. Once you have a baseline number say for example 200 leads cost $20k, the cost of lead acquisition is $100 then we can push on optimizing it and bringing the expense down or increase the budget and hence the lead quota. One of the major problems in the digital marketing is if you are not careful it’s literally throwing money in the fire. PPC platforms like Google, LinkedIn, Facebook etc will all just observe it as much as you throw at them.

  • Sales Quota

Sales Quota – also termed as revenue generated per SDR (sales development rep). This will hugely vary from startup to startup, most likely in the range of $2k-$3k MRR (monthly recurring revenue) in a typical SaaS startup. It’s important to balance out the number of leads required for the SDR to achieve the assigned sales quota. The number of leads that can be handled by an SDR will be industry specific, in a B2B long tail sales pipeline typically a 1 or 2 quality lead per day is a good number, whereas in a short sales cycle SaaS startups it can go up to 8 per day. Don’t go beyond this, it’s practically impossible for the SDR to handle since you also need to consider the backlog follow-ups that add up quickly.

Customer Success Metric

  • Expansion Revenue
  • Churns

Once your SaaS startup gets enough traction and you have a handful of customers, it’s important to set up a Customer Success team to make sure the existing customers are happy and address their concerns as soon as possible before they become unhappy and start looking for alternate solutions. The startup founder should give as much importance to customer success as marketing and sales team. I’ve seen companies focusing purely on acquiring new customers and not paying attention to churns, if you think the amount of effort gone into acquiring those customers, it’s become vital to preserve them. It’s 5 times harder to acquire a new customer.

Expansion Revenue is the revenue that gets generated from existing customers. Ex: If you are help desk product,  the expansion revenue is the additional revenue generated by existing customer either buying more agents or moving all of their agents to higher tiers.  This could be one rewarding metric for CS team.

Churns: The goal of the customer success team should be predominantly reducing the churns, and any expansion revenue they generate is a bonus. The culture of the team shouldn’t be set for increasing the revenue, rather it should be set for pure customer happiness and reduce the churns.

You can monitor the expansion revenue and churns as metrics for customer success teams.

Guest Post by Saravana Kumar, Biztalk360 from SaaSx4

India SaaS Survey 2016 – Decoding our SaaS industry

Strength of a industry is not just judged by how much it contributes to the economy. There are a number of factors to consider and surveys play a major role in painting a clear picture.

The India SaaS Survey is all about getting the pulse of the burgeoning SaaS ecosystem in our country. A survey of this kind is indispensable in drawing an insightful analysis and in getting credible benchmarking data about how the industry is shaping out. Though nascent, the SaaS industry has a lot of potential. The data from the survey is useful not only to help entrepreneurs and investors but also showcases the prospect of the industry to technically sound aspirants looking to step into the industry.

Signal Hill, India’s largest software investment banking advisory practice in partnership with iSPIRT, the Indian Software Product Industry Round Table decided to conduct the India SaaS Survey last year. In their commitment to refreshing results of the survey annually, the second edition took shape. The learnings of the first edition has made the second iteration a better fit to the cause.

iSPIRT puts the number of respondents who took the survey at 10% of the entire SaaS ecosystem in India!

This sizable sample size with variation ranging from bootstrapping startups to the biggest names in the industry is what sets it apart from the rest. As the SaaS ecosystem in India continues to grow, participation is bound to further increase and India SaaS survey would be the benchmark.

Image credits to The Economic times

Here are the 7 key takeaways of the India SaaS Survey 2016:

  1. NCR has moved up three places to the second position and established itself as the latest hotspot for SaaS companies
  2. Vertical focussed SaaS players occupy majority share of the scaled and funded respondent pie
  3. Enterprise focussed clients have reported higher median growth rates compared to SMB/SME focussed players
  4. Though inside sales is by far the most preferred and effective sales channel, post the $1Mn ARR mark respondents do report an increased usage of feet on street (which is still #2 after inside sales)
  5. ‘Try and Buy’ is the most preferred sales model (vs. sales channel)
  6. Horizontal and Vertical SaaS players report similar median growth rates, however companies that focus on the US as their primary market (as against India or Asia) reported distinctively higher median growth rates
  7. The median CAC payback period (for >$1Mn ARR) is 6-12 months

Do have a look at all the data we dissect with the survey:


We are open to your suggestions to make this survey better with time. Please do let us know what else you would love to see us cover next time. Write to us at indiasaassurvey(at)signalhill.in

On behalf of Signal Hill & iSPIRT Team

Nishant & Varun(SignalHill), Krish(ChargeBee) & Suresh(KiSSFlow)

“Vertical SaaS” Deep Dive #PlaybookRT in Bangalore

If I were a Cobbler it would be my pride..

The best of all Cobblers to be..
If I were a Tinker, no Tinker beside
Should mend an old kettle like me..


The above poem defines vertical SaaS to a T!

When I got an invite from iSPIRT that there was going to be a roundtable on Vertical SaaS, I jumped from my chair with joy!

First of all I discovered only recently via iSPIRT that there’s a buzzing ecosystem of SaaS startups in India! Not SaaS enabled Marketplaces, but SaaS products that are built worldclass and sell to the world.

So when I discovered that within that little ecosystem, we can go further narrow into sharing knowledge specific to vertical SaaS, I could have given iSPIRT a bear hug!

So last Saturday, in the cosy n energetic office of Hotelogix, few of us vertical SaaS folks gathered around Sudheer Koneru – cofounder of Zenoti.

As with the iSPIRT roundtables this one was also a treasure-trove of experiences shared, founder dilemmas discussed, the unavoidable pain points bantered about.

WhatsApp Image 2017-03-05 at 12.36.07 PM

The 2 main takeaways from Sudheer’s session were

1) Narrow Focus

So when you are starting a business you want everyone to buy your product right? Especially if your product is an Online Software that needs least feet-on-street selling.
 
Now you have chosen a vertical as your karmabhoomi, at least in that vertical, you want everyone, right? In case of Sudheer who builds a kickass product that makes wellness service/spa owners’ life easy, one would expect him to want every Spa, Massage Parlor and Beauty Parlor to use his product. There are at least 5 Beauty Parlors in any 1KM radius of any metro/tier-1 city!
 
The answer is a resounding No. Sudheer chose to focus further narrow on that – upon Customers whose pain point is the most acute. Those are the multiple outlet chains. Now that Zenoti has an established market, it is exploring expanding the customer segment.
 
Apart from the customer segment Zenoti also sets an example in going narrow on geography. Sudheer started Zenoti from Seattle, worked on winning the Seattle market and then looking elsewhere.
 
Reminded me very much how we limited ADDA to Whitefield in Bangalore before spreading wide to rest of India.

2) Empathy

Sudheer highlighted how employees in a StartUp may miss out on the Empathy factor in our dealings with the Customer.
 
To the Cofounder of a Vertical SaaS product Empathy would come naturally. If you are a cobbler all you care about are the feet of customers. When your customer mentions a stitch was sticking out in the shoe, you grimace, you know how annoying it must be to the Customer. Not only you know how it feels you makes sure your Customer knows that you feel her pain. And then of course you fix it
 
But, how do you pass on that Empathy to your employees!
 
Interesting inputs flowed in from all present.
 
Overall, this roundtable set us few steps forward  on the path of overall Wellness and Growth!
 
Of course the final credits goes to Natwar who moderated the session like the pro he is!
 
Guest Post by San Banerjee, ApartmentAdda