AI/ML Shift for SaaS Companies: Insights from SaaSx Fifth Edition

Early stage SaaS startups typically struggle with one of two things. When you are just starting out, the first struggle is all about mere survival. Will we find customers willing to use and pay for our product ? Good teams typically manage to find ways to negotiate that first challenge. The playbook has been sufficiently commoditized that if you execute well enough, you can actually succeed in getting those early customers. Its a challenge for sure, but is getting easier and cheaper to overcome — which takes me to the second challenge. Once you survive that initial phase, how do you continue to stay relevant and grow? For if you don’t grow, you’ve only prolonged the inevitable and will likely get disrupted into irrelevance by the next upstart that comes along. When you play in a commodity market, that’s the sad reality.

If you find yourself gaining customer adoption, you can be fairly certain that competition isn’t far behind. Unless you find a way to establish sustainable differentiation while you have that head start, you will ultimately die. And that differentiation now increasingly comes down to the value of the data flowing through your platform and how you are able to leverage it better than your competition. In other words, if you are not thinking about constantly learning from the data that you are gathering and enabling implicit intelligence via your products, the odds of survival are going to be stacked against you. Given the significance this topic carries for us at Swym, I was really excited to have the chance to sit in on Ashwini Asokan and Anand Chandrasekaran’s session on AI/ML for SaaS at SaaSx5. And they most certainly didn’t disappoint. With a lucidly laid out argument, their talk served as a strong wake-up call for the SaaS founders in the room that weren’t sufficiently worrying about this topic.

SaaS growth is slowing

Ashwini started out by underscoring the fact that SaaS growth was slowing in general. There’s no denying that most solutions are rapidly becoming commoditized — building a good product has gotten fairly prescriptive, costs have come down and barriers to customer adoption are a lot lower than they used to be. That inevitably leads to markets getting very crowded, making survival increasingly difficult. If you don’t stand out in very defensible ways, you will perish. To make matters worse, AI is slowly but surely causing entire categories of work to disappear — Customer Support, SDRs, Financial/Market Analysts, to name just a few examples. If those workers were your market and you were helping them be more efficient, you are in trouble because your market is disappearing with them. You better be evolving from being software that’s serving those people that in turn serve a function, to actually serving the function itself. Of course you do this with human assistance, but in a progressively intelligent fashion that makes you indispensable.

Embrace the platform mindset

In order to stay relevant, you really need to create a viable roadmap for yourself to graduate from being a simple feature that’s part of a larger platform (No one likes being told they are nothing but a feature, but this really is where most early stage SaaS products sit today) to becoming the platform itself over time. It can most certainly be done because the opportunity exists, and the access you have to your data and how you are able to leverage it is likely to be the most effective weapon to get you there. Think really hard about new use cases you can light up, automations you can now enable, important solutions that hitherto weren’t possible or practical — enabling those capabilities is what will give you stickiness. And you can in turn leverage that stickiness to allow others to build on the data platform you’ve created to expand your moat. Easier said than done of course, but it is the only path to staying relevant. Alexa, Salesforce, Adobe, Hubspot, and most recently Stripe with their just announced app store, all come to mind as stellar examples of execution on this strategy.

How should I be thinking about Data Science?

Anand followed that up with some really good advice on how to go about this, especially touching on what not to do, and it was clearly resonating with the audience. For instance, when he highlighted the fact that most AI initiatives that start with “Here’s the data I have…what can I do with it?” are doomed from the get go, a lot of heads in the room were nodding in agreement — seemed like a pretty common trap that folks had fallen into. Instead, his advice was to identify the end goal that mattered first, with the caution that this could be deceptively challenging. Once that goal is well understood, then focus on the data you have and the gaps that exist — and your challenge basically boils down to filling those gaps and cleansing/validating your data. Those are your most critical, time-consuming steps in the process for once you get the data quality you want, it becomes much simpler to build and iterate your model around that and figure out how to engineer this into a repeatable part of your workflow. The sub par data quality is one of the most common causes for AI projects “failing” and no amount of modeling proficiency will save you from bad data or a poorly understood problem statement.

Get on the train, but don’t lose sight of what got you here

I’m really glad to have had the benefit of listening to their talk in person, and now that I’ve let the arguments sink in over the past couple of weeks, a few truths have become indisputably clear in my head. The AI shift is not one you can ignore as a SaaS founder. If you don’t get on the train, you’ll likely end up under it. And no, getting on the train doesn’t mean simply attaching a “.ai” to your domain name and claiming success. It really comes down to internalizing your vision for why you exist, identifying in very clear terms how your roadmap to making that vision a reality will need to evolve given the AI shift. How do you see your problem space changing in the the next 2–5 years thanks to AI, and what does that mean for you? And given your existing strengths, what can you do to make the most of that shift?

Its important to remember that a lot of the fundamentals of a good SaaS story still don’t change. For instance, a sound distribution strategy is still very much necessary, for without sustainable access to customers, the rest of it is moot. Likewise, you want to be able to protect the access you have to your most valuable asset, your data) and lower the barriers enough for adjacent players to be able to work seamlessly with your offering. All those advantages you have still very much matter. Really, the biggest mental shift you need to make is thinking very deliberately about how the world around you is changing because of AI, and how you leverage those strengths so you continue to have proprietary access to the data you need and become an integral part of that change.

The article is authored by our volunteer Arvind Krishnan, CEO & Founder – Swym Technologies.

Deeper Strategic Partnerships – Pitching for Significant Scale and Co-Creating the Value

David Vs. Goliath had a happy ending, but the odds of beating Goliath as a startup are slim and most startups do not have a fairytale ending, unless…

At SaaSx5, I had the opportunity to hear Vijay Rayapati share his story of Minjar. This was a fairy tale with all the right ingredients that kept you engrossed till the end. With angels (investors) on their side, along with Minjar and Vijay’s prior experience, Minjar could have faced many Goliaths in their journey. Instead of going the distance alone, Vijay followed the Potential Strategic Partner (PSP) playbook (Magic Box Paradigm) and identified one in AWS. His reasons were clear, one of the biggest challenges a startup faces is distribution. And, a PSP can open several doors instantly, making distribution easier, revenue growth faster and gives the startup multiple options. As a startup, you need to think about a PSP early in the game at the “Flop” and not at the “Turn”. You need time to develop a PSP and you need to start early.

Identifying a PSP in your vertical maybe easy, but building a relationship with them is the hardest. It requires continuous investment of time to build the bond with the PSP such that they become the biggest evangelist of your product. This involves building relationships with multiple people at the PSP -from Business, Product & Tech- to make sure you have the full support from the company to scale this relationship without roadblocks. In the case of Minjar, with AWS as their PSP, it opened roads to customers, built their brand and also increased the value of the company. One of the highlights of the Minjar story was about the CTO of AWS, evangelizing the product at their conference. As Vijay ascertained “Invest time in people who can bring visibility and credibility to your company”. Focusing on these people is a sales channel by itself, and a Founder has to be involved in building that channel when it shows glimmers of hope. The Minjar story had a happy ending, because they invested more time in building their PSP relationship and limiting other marketing activities: they did not spread themselves too thin. This involved multiple operational changes like training, presenting thought leadership & co-selling at conferences, and making sure the end users at the PSP are successful in using your product.  It is also important to note that a partnership is not a reseller or transactional relationship. A partnership is a relationship of strengths, in which each entity brings unique skills and together provides exponential value to the end customer. Partnerships work when you have champions leading on both sides of the table and one of the best outcomes a PSP can provide to a startup is a strategic acquisition. A PSP is one of the best ways for a startup to exit, especially if you have not raised a lot of capital.

At Tagalys we have tried to develop relationships with PSPs; twice, and we seem to be making good progress today after one failed attempt. My learnings resonate with Vijays’ and some of them are

Persona: Not every large enterprise, who might also serve your target customer, is a valid PSP. An enterprise is an ideal PSP if the value you provide as a startup is something that can be incorporated into the product or process of the Enterprise, and without which the end value of the enterprise depreciates. If your startup is not important to the customers of the PSP, then they are not a match for your startup.

Timing: In your early days, a startup needs to focus on customers, customers and more customers. A PSP is likely to work with you only if you are part of the affordable loss for them. Very early in your stage the risk is too high for the PSP to consider the relationship an affordable loss. Remember, you are adding value to the PSP, hence any risk in the value proposition you bring to the table, is a risk to the end customer. Only after having proven your value to your own customers, will a PSP be willing to take you to their customer.

Credibility: Today, Tagalys works with many recognizable customers in the country and that makes the process of gaining credibility & trust easier. Your product is only as good as what your customer says it is. For a PSP to work, you need buy in from stake holders like the CEO, CTO & Product Managers and they are going to put their neck on the line if they can trust you. Customer references are the best channels to gain trust.

Lifecycle: As CEO, I have time to invest in meeting with various stakeholders at the PSP because our product is in steady state. This steady state of the product is theright time to speak with a PSP because your team can take on this additional responsibility. We also have a clear understanding of our expected outcomes, risks and upside in working with the PSP, hence our conversations are well guided and makes the discussion very productive.

Bill of Materials: While Tagalys is a line item in what the PSP provides to the market, we are an important line item who can potentially extrapolate the end value provided to the customer.

Not every startup can find a strategic partner, but one thing is for certain, as Vijay said, “You miss 100% of the shots you do not take”.

Antony Kattukaran is the Founder & CEO of Tagalys. Tagalys is a merchandising engine for online retailers, dynamically predicting what products to display across search & listing pages to increase conversion.

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

Setting up Inside Sales to sell SaaS into US – Learning’s from iSPIRT #PlaybookRT

Inside Sales was presented as one of the strategic levers for SAAS companies selling to the US market at a recent Google Accel event. no wonder when

iSPIRT arranged for a round table on this topic there was a buzzing interest.

If you are not familiar with the round tables of iSPIRT check them out here. (Highly recommended)

Suresh of kissflow.com who has been successful in cracking the US market with his DIY Self-service workflow product conducted this round table.

Agenda

What was interesting is when the group was setting an agenda. It sort of covered areas from the complete funnel from marketing to Sales. Here are the sections and key learnings that were discussed in each. End of the article we also have links to tools and resources that can help.

Leads/Marketing
This is concerned with generating leads. These might be signups on your free-trial self-service product or request for demos. [Inbound]

These might also be leads that you have gathered by list building/event which you might be nurturing through email marketing or Inside Sales for outbound.

Learning

  • SEO is a must and early start helps
  • Start with a keyword list (Commercial intent) and then keep building backlinks and writing content. In Suresh’s words its do-able and needs discipline and not hacks. [In my own opinion we as Indian entrepreneurs have done a shoddy job in this area and need to learn this fast]
  • Keywords, which you cannot rank on, go with PPC. The typical signup costs discussed were between 50 USD – 200 USD per signup / MQL
  • Data for outbound prospecting is very important; Mass Emailing does work but it is super important to spend time on defining segment well and crafting messaging which is relevant.
    [In my opinion one would actually have to go a step further with personalization if you are not a mass market solution and selling to mid-large markets]
  • Having a strong Web Engineering team which works on Google Analytics and conversion optimization is a must

Inside Sales

Roles

You may be calling this team with different names. In theory the following are possible

  • Lead Development Rep – Qualify Inbound leads
  • Sales Development / Account Development – Generate Qualified meetings from outbound
  • Other names discussed were BDRs (Same as SDRs or some times channel)
  • Account Executive – Someone who closes
  • Product Specialist – Someone who knows product well and closes
  • Should you have a product specialist closing or Account executive?
  • Self-Serve product with low complexity AE (sometimes even an SDR) can close
  • If a product requires mapping use cases configurations (Like KissFlow) then Product specialist are in the best position to close
  • If you selling 50K + ACV then a field Sales or experienced AE in the US is recommended.

Where to Hire Inside Sales

There were different thoughts and opinions on what talent can fit into this role. Typically the options are

  • Someone who has been in a BPO
  • Fresh Graduate who wants to build a career in Sales
  • Experienced Lead Generation in IT Services / SaaS

It was recommended that if you are starting out get someone who is more experienced and can then train new members. Training was an important aspect of Inside Sales and once you have 2-3 members it’s best to invest into training.

One of the learning I have had is that the player coach model does not work. If you are getting someone to manage / coach a team do not have a individual quota for them.

Compensation Structure

  • At one point this became a discussion of Chennai vs RoW ☺
  • SDRs should be compensated and evaluated on meetings / opportunities passed and accepted.
  • AE should be compensated on MRR addition (and may be a bonus on long term contracts)
  • The starting costs of SDRs discussed varied from 4L – 8L [Inbound is far easier than outbound]

Metrics discussed

  • Inbound leads per Rep per month – 200 – 300 this is for ACV <10K kind of deals. Larger deals lesser leads
  • Outbound accounts per SDR per month – 200 – 300 and aim for 1-2 meetings per day
  • Email Open Rates for Cold Emails – 20% – 30%
  • Right party Conversations per Day – 8 – 12

Tools discussed

Resources/Books

Guest Post by Sachin Bhatia, Founder at InsideSalesBox

 

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

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

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

Who Are We?

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

Expanding To Outbound Lead Generation Channels

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

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

Incentivising Customers To Opt For Longer Duration Plans

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

Then Came The Growth Hacks!

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

scrapescanner free tool

Wise Investments To Achieve Growth

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

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

It’s Ok To Say “NO”

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

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

Strong Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

 

Freshdesk at #SaaSx3

The story of how Freshdesk grew 500% in revenue in 12 months, and how Girish Mathrubootham and team went about telling us how they did it at SaaSx 2016.

“How many of you recognize this man on screen?” Girish Mathrubootham, CEO of Freshdesk, asked the room. He was gesturing to a picture of a man with thinning dark brown hair, a wide forehead, and a familiar crooked smile. A lot of hands went up even as people called the name out. Quentin Tarantino, people murmured, the eccentric filmmaker.

“Today’s presentation is going to be like a Tarantino movie.” he announced. “There will be different characters in it, narrating different stories that were happening at the same time. Hopefully, you’ll be able to put everything together in the end.”

There was a ripple of laughter as Girish turned to the four other people with him. They turned out to be co-panelists; early employees of Freshdesk who were going to join Girish in sharing inside stories from way back in 2013.

Panel-Freshdesk

The last presentation to round out SaaSx3, a full day event for founders of subscription-based startups, Girish’s session was literally what everyone was waiting for. The session was supposed to take the attendees through Freshdesk’s journey from a $1 million to $5 million in a year. For the people who’d attended SaaSx2, this talk was the sequel to Girish’s presentation the year before about going from $0 to $1 million.

But before Girish slipped into the nitty-gritty details, he began with a disclaimer. “I’m going to be sharing some real numbers,” he said. “Learn all you want. Just don’t take pictures. And please don’t put anything up on social media.”

If the Tarantino joke hadn’t gotten the attendees to sit up, this sure did.

Chapter 1 – The First Million

Girish was true to his word. In typical Tarantino style, the first slide read “Chapter 1 – The First Million”. The year was 2013, he told us. The month, January.

And then, he was off. The next few minutes were a blur of anecdotes and insights, numbers and theories.

One of the highlights of this section was his “n-1 theory of pricing”, where he explained the reason behind adding a fourth “Estate” plan, at $40, to Freshdesk. The Estate Plan, he told us, went live with just one additional feature a few months before. This was intentionally done to make the cheaper “Garden” plan, at $25, look more attractive to customers. This decision, according to Girish, played a significant role in accelerating Freshdesk’s revenue.

Then, just to prove that he wasn’t making it all up, he showed us an actual investor report from January 2013. The report read that Freshdesk had crossed 84400 in MRR, which meant they had over a million dollars in annual revenue at the beginning of 2013.

But where were they going to go from there?

Chapter 2 – Happily Clueless

At the beginning of the year, Girish admitted with brutal honesty, his team had no clue about their target for 2013. Everything was up in the air; they were flying by the seat of their pants. He had a number in his head, a number he’d had, ever since he’d learned about Twilio and Sendgrid’s growth at Bessemer’s Business of API hackathon. But it was in his head and no one else knew about it.

Until this point, Girish was the only one actively talking, explaining and expounding. This was when his team jumped in to elucidate just how clueless they’d been. There were some candid stories about targets being set on a whim and how people would bargain with “G”, as they fondly called him, for more realistic numbers. As they spoke, we began to realize just how normal and confused Freshdesk had been before they had decided to go after the five million target. I’m pretty sure more than half the people there could relate to this because most companies go through something similar when they’re small.

However, Freshdesk was on the right track during this turbulent period even as they wavered over their targets. They moved to a freemium pricing model, offering three seats on their lowest plan, “Sprout”. An attractive offer, it helped them double their customer count in a month.

By this time, it was already end of March, however, and the team closed the quarter at an ARR of 1.4M.

Chapter 3 – The Big Dream

By the time Girish finally seeded the 5M dream in his team, it was April. A quarter had galloped by and there were only 9 more months in the year. Nobody believed it could be done. But try, they did and quite a few changes were done to spur them on.

  1. Monthly targets were changed from “no of seats sold” to monthly recurring revenue to make sure that the sales team knew where they were with the annual target. The small team was split so that there was one sales rep per geographical region and given their respective goals.
  1. The digital marketing team worked backwards from the 5M goal to create projections for the number of leads they needed to generate every month. This was done using assumptions based on existing numbers for conversion rate, ARPU and seasonality.

The team admitted candidly that the 5M target was the first time the sales and marketing team’s goals were aligned at Freshdesk. A lot of experiments were run to make sure they were doing it the smart way and not the hard way. Every 15 days, they’d check their course to make sure they were doing everything they could to reach the target.

As they began ramping up operations and aligning goals, the Freshdesk team realized that they needed more people to take care of the increase in leads. And they needed them immediately. Girish jumped in at this point to explain how they’d solved this problem by hiring “freshers” right out of college and put them in customer facing roles.

“It’s important to match people with work they will enjoy doing. I believe that you can’t put in something that God intentionally left out of someone.” He explained, emphatically. “So, when we hire a candidate, we look for talent. We know that we can train them for skill later. That’s why we look for people with good communication skills, who can interact well with your customers. Everything else can be taught.”

This was also when the pre-sales team came into being. A team dedicated to helping customers with their evaluation, pre-sales reps spoke to customers, understood their requirements and helped them fit the product to their needs. A one-two combo, reps would prep leads before they passed them onto sales to increase chances of conversion.

By end of Q2, the team had achieved an ARR of 2.1M.

Chapter 4 – Escape Velocity

While the aligned goals of sales and marketing gave them quite a boost, the team still had to look at other ways to scale their growth in a sustainable manner. The right, and obvious, thing to do next was to align the product to the business goal.

This was done, Girish explained, by splitting engineering into core development and customer development. A decision taken in tandem with his co-founder, Shan, this would ensure that while the core developers focused on building important functionality, the customer developers could take care of bugs, feature requests and migrations.

When this was put in place, the core team started working towards making the product attractive for bigger deals. With input from sales, the product team started adding features to the $25 Garden and the $40 Estate plans to support the business. Meanwhile, the customer development team worked on making sure that existing customers were happy and their revenue was safe.

At the same time, they also realized the importance of upgrade revenue in SaaS. Girish showed us numbers detailing how their free or low-value customers were upgrading on their own by buying additional seats. Without any effort from Freshdesk, the accounts were growing. As businesses grew, they stuck with the solution that had helped them out when they were small. It had an even bigger effect on revenue, thanks to compounding.

Girish referred to it as “the advantage of SaaS” and stated that every founder at SaaSx has the opportunity to take advantage of it.

When Q3 rolled to an end, the team was at 3.1M ARR.

Chapter 5 – The Last Mile

By this time, Freshdesk was running like a well-oiled machine. A lot of new processes and ideas were in place and the team continued to see the benefits of the changes they’d made in the previous quarters.

But as Girish put it, “Life doesn’t stop at 5 million. You will have investors asking you what’s next and you have to look for things beyond your current target.”

So even as they were busy chasing their target, the team had begun working on some long-term projects for the next year. This included the beta launch of their second product – Freshservice, a channel sales program to find resellers in upcoming markets and raising more money from existing investors in an internal round.

He also had an important lesson to share about the effect of high targets on team morale.

“If we’d gone from $1 million to $4.5 million (instead of $5M),” he explained. “It’d still have been a great achievement. When you set targets, you have to make sure that salespeople don’t feel disappointed while the rest of the company celebrates. It’s important to manage their expectations and make sure their morale isn’t affected.”

Chapter 6 – The Fifth Million

And then, it was finally time for everything to come together.

For his final chapter, the end of the year, Girish simply pulled up an investor report from January 2014. At that point, Freshdesk had crossed 408,566 in MRR. This meant that that their ARR, multiplied by 12, was approximately $4.9 million.

Had the Freshdesk team really not met their target? Was this whole presentation an elaborate hoax?

The room was hushed and still as Girish, channeling Tarantino like never before, explained that, in their hustle for the target, they’d forgotten to include one of their revenue streams in their numbers – the humble day pass, which teams could buy to allow temporary agents to log into their account for a day. This worked out to about $8500 a month and helped their overall revenue cross the 5M mark.

There was silence and then, wild applause.

Girish and his team ended the presentation with a question that they asked themselves in the beginning of the year. It left us all in deep thought about how we should be running our startups.

“Are we aiming high enough? Do we want to be happy with 25% YoY growth or do we want to chase 5x in 12 months?”
By the time the team wound up their presentation, it had extended to a little over an hour and a half, twice as long as it was originally supposed to be. But no one had really noticed the time.

Any audience who’d sat through a full day of sessions would have been tired by 8 PM. An audience that had travelled from different cities to be there on a Saturday would have been exhausted.

Despite that, Girish and his team got a huge round of applause, a standing ovation and even a short Q&A session.

“What is your current payback period?” Someone asked when we opened up for questions. “Join us for SaaSx in 2019,” Girish remarked with his trademark wit, “-and I’ll tell you then.”

As I joined everyone to laugh and cheer for his reply once again, I realized the talk, like Girish had claimed earlier when he’d begun his presentation, had something for everyone – actual numbers, funny anecdotes, attention to detail and authentic storytelling.

All of it, combined with Girish’s genuine interest in sharing his experiences with the attendees, had made it special. I found this to be true of pretty much every session I’d attended at SaaSx, where the community was really helpful in sharing best practices and also on what to steer clear of.

Having said that, next year’s SaaSx has some pretty big shoes to fill. And going by the standards, the one after that, even bigger.

Scaling from $1m to $5m, lessons learned by Freshdesk

I travel to India once every quarter to catch up with our India team based out of Coimbatore. I was planning to attend SaaSx for a while now and this time, it was perfect timing the event is scheduled on 2nd April, right in the mid weekend of my India trip. This is an invitation-only event, I’m thankful for the organiser to get me involved. With 200 attendees where the majority of them are founders and key people in some of the promising and growing companies on the Indian start-up eco-system, you can sum up the experience in a single word it’s “awesome”. Even though there were lots of sessions, round-table playbooks, product tear-down analysis, countless conversations we had between founders during the event, the one session by Girish from Freshdesk stood out and made everyone speechless. I wanted to highlight more about it here.

When Girish assembled his sales/marketing team on the stage and opened up the statement, please do not share anything I speak on this stage outside this room, and we need to get investors approval to reveal this data, I know something interesting is going to happen. It was kind of nostalgic moment for me, I heard a similar sentence from Peldi from Balsamiq when he opened his speech at Business of Software at Boston last year and that session turned out into one of the best sessions of BoS 2015 (Rookie CEO Grows Up. Reluctantly).

In that session, Peldi literally opened up some of the confidential emails he had with possible acquisition offers, the conversations he had with his team, and how they boldly stood against the offer etc. Girish did something similar down the lines showing the real reports he was sending to the investors, with some key metrics like revenue targets, projections, the goals they were setting for the sales team, how they aligned the marketing and sales team to work together, different experiments they were doing with several revenue channels, how they drop some non-performing channels, and so on. To respect the confidentiality of the subject I’m not going to go into the detail, but cover some interesting general topic Girish highlighted.

Everyone needs inspiration, most of the founders read tons of books, blogs, magazines etc (I haven’t met a single founder who said I never read any books). The problem is to get a single actionable item from reading a book takes hours and weeks, still you won’t be sure and just need to experiment and find it. But what Freshdesk team has shared is real data that took them from $1m to $5m in annual recurring revenue (ARR), which is priceless (note: the $5m is not their latest number). Every slide they shared had something for me to take away and I believe that’s the case for everyone.

I have known Girish personally for few years now and he is a kind of person who goes with the gut feeling and figure out what’s happening. I’ve captured some of his best statements during his presentation “Do best of your potential and you’ll eventually end up somewhere higher up”. This is such a true statement, you set your vision on $5m ARR and align you sales/marketing team towards that goal, and work backwards. Even if you don’t achieve $5m, for sure you are going to end up somewhere higher up than where you are right now.


The second best statement is on utilising the talent in the right way “Don’t try to put something into people, what god intentionally left out”, this is not the first time I’ve heard Girish saying this but this is something worth repeating. To give you a better analogy, if you take Sachin Tendulkar and ask him to do wicket keeping and complain he is not performing well, whose problem is it? Is it Sachin Tendulkar’s or the selectors? Same for start-up founders, understand the real potential of your team (team member) and place them in right places. Jim Collins highlighted this in his popular book “Good to Great”, it’s not just about getting the right people on the bus, and it’s also about setting them in the right places for you to be successful.

When it comes to pricing, Freshdesk made couple of important pricing changes during their journey, first one is introducing the expensive Estate plan (that time) as their last tier, they figured out people are always reluctant to buy the last tier, even if it has some interesting features, it’s more of psychological thing, and they figured out n-1 tier performs better, hence, they introduced the Estate plan with just gamification, the intention is not to push and sell this plan, but to sell the n-1 tier the “Garden” plan. They also made some important pricing decisions on how they structure their free offer. Previously it was 1 free agent on any tier, and they moved it into 3 agents free for life. There are a couple of key factors in this decision if there is only one person doing support then there is no necessity for a help desk system, and also, they are throwing away free agent license on each tier which the customer would have bought anyway. The key takeaway for me in this is when designing the free tier, make sure it’s useful for the people and also it’s aligned with your goal of eventually converting them into paid customer gracefully.

Getting to the unicorn status, the “triple-triple-double-double-double” formula. Girish highlighted this article from Techcrunch “The SaaS Adventure” during his talk as one of the influential blog that helped him to set the target of growing from $1 to $5m. The article explains how you scale to unicorn status, what are the benchmark numbers to hit. It’s $2m > $6m > $18m > $36m > $72m > $144m (i.e. triple-triple-double-double-double). If you need to be listed as the unicorn, then the magic number to hit is $144m ARR.

The other important information he shared is finding the magic number of leads for each sales person. At the early days, each sales person at Freshdesk were handling at an average of 800+ leads per month, which of course is not efficient. In order to fight against time, they were using automated email sequences to improve the lead quality. Girish accidentally bumped into this article from Hubspot “CREATING A SALES PROCESS FOR YOUR INBOUND LEADS: 150 IS A MAGIC NUMBER” where they discuss in detail about the magic number for a number of leads a sales person can optimally handle i.e 150 per SDR, and they scaled the sales team accordingly.

A little bit about customer success team, it’s very important to set up a customer success team as soon as possible to avoid churns. Most of you might know the leaking bucket analogy, if you have holes in your bucket, where your customers are churning regularly, then you’ll be constantly fighting against filling the bucket to maintain the level instead of growing. In a lot of companies it will be a bit late when you realise it, when you call a customer who has already left you, it’s way too late. They might have already set-up a system from your competitor, and you need to sit and wait to hope they won’t like the competitor’s product. Freshdesk has done similar mistakes in the past and now they have the process in place to avoid it.

Even though this article would have given you some interesting tips shared by Girish and Freshdesk team, there is no alternate to hearing directly from horse’s mouth. With the great sense of humour in his speech and ability to instantaneously crack jokes on stage, I thoroughly enjoyed the session, noted down some key tasks and set myself a target where I wanted to take BizTalk360 by the end of this year.

In the future if you get a chance to attend one of the SaaSx events, don’t miss it.

Guest Post by Saravana Kumar, BizTalk360

Write up the Business Plan !

Most of us have read the famous story about Jeff Bezos’s cross country trip from New  York to Seattle. Bezos founded Amazon.com in 1994, writing up the  Amazon business plan on the way. Jeff’s important advise for startup company or any   company is to write up the business plan.

CrossCountryJeffBezosadvise

Now if Jeff Bezos has done it, and become one of the most successful entrepreneur in the internet era, why not just do it ? By writing it down, you will certainly get a lot of clarity and reference point for what you want to achieve….

Here are some thoughts of what and how should this business plan be written to become a continuous reference point for your startup and growth story. The examples and references of this is more on Software Products in B2B (Enterprise) based on my own experience of writing business plans and working with startups whom I have mentored, however many of this can be relevant for Software Product in B2C (consumer) as well. Also this business plan should be ideally written by founder or a product manager…

What it is and some guidelines?

  • It’s an internal and confidential write-up – Don’t confuse it with presentations and business plans to be shared with people who will fund this – that should just be a subset of this
  • Is reference plan, and should be revisited frequently to change
  • Prepare it in word /excel, bit free form with text (power points constraints you)
  • Prepare atleast 3 scenarios – aggressive, best estimate, conservative plans
  • Do it for 1 year (short term – in greater detail), 3 years (medium – bit higher level) and 5-10 years (long – very high level) – Remember Bill Gates quote “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
  • Write it free form, and then organize it later, go through several iterations, review, review and review

Start with a summary:

Like an executive summary, this is the place you start jotting down the highlights of your road ahead – covering Introduction of yourself and the team, your idea, product space, history and market definition (presuming you have researched it), clear USP & value, challenges & risks, and overall KPIs that will come out of the rest of the business plan. The summary is most likely to change once you have written the rest of the plan.

Customers & Personas:

Who are the users, what are their current problems and how does your solution solve this problems.

Who pays for the software, what are their challenges and what are their company /career goals that the software would help solve

What are the financial/non financial benefits for the customer based on using this product or the cost reduction using the software, measured by productivity etc. Can there be a customer ROI estimated

Market:

Define the market category and market size ie today, and in the future that you want to focus. Try to break down into 2 – 3 levels of hierarchy and in a multi dimensional way by Business type /Geography / Revenue potential of customer/Size of the customer or any other business context.

Define the share of the market you would like to achieve of the market size, on key market segments in 1/3/5 years. What’s the customer IT spends planned for solving such problems

Market is the most key aspect that is going to drive you to successful product, so understand the potential market, research and put it in there

Product:

Now on to the product – write up about the product, to cater to the above market opportunity, with lot of details and value propositions, differentiations and what problem it solves.

Whether the product you are planning is a pain killer, vitamin or vaccine

Product priorities and use cases – focus is the key, focus on the key market, focus on the design and so on and so forth…

Product Roadmap – at level 1 (vision), at level 2 (product category ) , at level 3 (feature /function level). Product roadmap is your product in the growth face

Competitors and other players in the market, and what they have today, in their roadmap or what they are trying to do. Your differentiation against each of them,plans to differentiate. If you don’t know it, some tips for this are here

When will your product be available , the minimum viable product and is there enough time to get the baby out ?

Monetization:

How do you plan to monetize your product, don’t build a plan that ignores monetization.

Revenue and Customer Goals – Quarterly, yearly and medium/long term goals, subscription revenue including projection of drop offs etc.

Pricing model description – different options to be considered, domestic vs international, subscription based vs fixed etc

Risks , probability and dependencies to achieve these goals

Technology:

Explain the technology used for the product, how it would scale, Ux differentiations, clear differentiations due to tech architecture, performance, simplicity, implementation effort. Important this is not technical architecture , so keep this high level.

Talent:

What the skills required to sustain the business – development, design, sales, customer support, channels marketing etc. Challenges & risks associated with this.

Identify gap in availability of talent.

Layout if its important for you to relocate to be successful, due to availability of talent. Place is super important for success – what are the options – what are the pros and cons.

Customer support & feedback:

What is the strategy around customer support & feedback, how product roadmaps are affected by feedback. Level of engagement required initially and as the product matures.

Past learning’s from customers, what went right and what went wrong. How was it addressed?

Challenges of remote support and how it was addressed /planned to be addressed

Draw your effort, cost and cash flows:

You don’t have be finance person – its like putting forth your personal finances, or just google for templates  – put together your estimate of people cost, server /cloud Operating costs, sales & marketing costs, other infrastructure cost – space/communication/support/software etc,  any other expenses required to do scale the product. Link this with your monetization plan, to ascertain your overall profit or loss over the years.

As you see above, there is a lot that can be written up – as you write up in detail, your thoughts on what you are setting forth gets clearer….

But don’t worry if what you plan is not exactly how it’s all turning out to be in reality…..but its important to have a plan, adjust it for reality…

NYCtoSeattle

So now pack up and start off on your cross country trip from Mumbai to Bangalore, to write your Business Plan in Bezos style  !!!

 

 

Nuts & Bolts of Marketing & Selling in US for First Timers: A crash course playbook!!

After releasing recently SoftALM and SoftAgile (Agile Project & ALM Tools), we at JamBuster were trying to decide on how to sell these tools in US.  We had sold software services in US earlier, but selling software product to US from India is new to us. So we were looking for some help!

They say- we start seeing things, when we start looking for them.  I noticed an email from Avinash Raghava, the co-founder of iSPIRT Foundation, about a PlayBook on Nuts & Bolts of Marketing & Selling in US for First Timers, in Hyderabad on 27th February. It was to be led by Suresh Sambandam of KiSSFLOW.

Playbook Roundtables are the small, intimate and intense experiential learning sessions that iSPIRT have pioneered.  Suresh is a iSPIRT maven, meaning trusted expert who pass knowledge to others in a pay-forward model. Suresh is a kind of celebrity in selling products or productize services in US from India! He led KiSSFLOW to have more than 10,000+ customers across the globe, in less than 3.5 years. That is absolutely phenomenal success in SaaS world, doing it from India!

Looking at these credentials, I registered for the event and got a quick reply from Chaitanya Chokkareddy of Ozonetel.  Ozonetel was to host the event. Ozonetel offers CloudAgent -a Cloud Call Center Solution that was already successful in India and was also starting on their US go-to-market strategy.  On Saturday morning I met with Vikas & Aditya from FirstHive, who have recently introduced a customer engagement SaaS offering.  I could see this was going to be informative.

Suresh’s presentation was logical, down to earth, like him. He started with timing or relevance of this phase (after Product-Market Fit), followed by knowing your customer through B2B Customers Characterization.  Next focus was on Product, inversion of selling model, freemium vs free trial, and the price.  This is then followed by digital marketing toolset, such as website, SEO, Adwords, Content writing and email marketing. Similarly, Suresh went through step by step in sales, founders and each and every aspect, as available on following presentation: https://www.slideshare.net/mobile/ProductNation/nuts-and-bolts-of-marketing-selling-saas-products-to-us-customers-from-india-for-first-timers

Few quick take aways:

  1. SaaS is a tough business, even when done correct.That is evidenced from the fact that 1st $1MM in revenues is almost impossible, while first $10MM is improbable, but if you do pass $10MM, then $50MM is almost inevitable. Hence the lure.
  2. SaaS models lends itself to simpler applications and focus is on
    SOHO / VSB  : no touch
    SMB & Midmarket : low touch
    Enterprise : high touch
  3. For SaaS, traditional model of marketing, sales and products gets inverted. The marketing’s job is to bring horse to pond, the product is the water and sales is understanding what the horse did with water.

I think the success of Playbook was in small size (8-12 companies), along with focus on making it relevant to your business.  While some topics may feel dry on slide, Suresh made them very interactive by first sharing his experience and then asking participants to chip in their experience.  Suresh used these chip-in opportunities for people to get honest feedback. He suggested to Sainath Gupta of AnythingAI to who go through Product Market Fit analysis for his offerings of AI Platform along with Data Science Team as service. In our case, SaaS turns out to be not a path for now, as our solution focuses on end-to-end Agile Application Development platform for teams of 25-2500.

An interesting contribution here comes from Avinash Raghava, who is walking encyclopedia of Indian Software Product ecosystem, its history.  He is focussed on making this even successful from back end, but during the event, he is the source of amazing information on who’s who, what and when!

While registering, I had asked for payment getaway, Chaitanya mentioned that it was a free event. He was surprised that someone from Pune was traveling to Hyderabad for essentially a six hours long workshop.  For me the timing of it and Suresh’s experience was an immense draw.  Turned out the open discussion with fellow product or productize services companies on their way to sell in US and Suresh guiding with refreshing openness really made it icing on the top.

Thank you Suresh for sharing the blue print, that took you 1-2 years to discover through sheer hard work. Thank you Avinash for the event and the fellow product entrepreneurs for such a debates. Thank you iSPIRIT for building this wonderful ecosystem!

I highly recommend all entrepreneurs, whether you are about to or already started or even successful selling in US to attend this and other Playbook Roundtable. I thought these 6 hours saved me at least 100 hours of discovery work. Even more importantly, it is making Indian Product Ecosystem come alive!!!

Guest post by Satish Kamat, Jambuster Technologies

SaaS-y marketing with Nuns: How @ChargeBee used guerilla marketing to promote an unsexy B2B product.

This is the story of how we spiced up our marketing campaign, brought a lot of smiles and drew attention during the recent SaaStr Annual event.

Background

The objective is to create the largest Enterprise Software company from India. This can be accomplished if top entrepreneurs can learn each other and then pass the learning to others.

When doing your job right involves going unnoticed, how do people find out about your product? Managing subscriptions and recurring billing for Software as a Service (SaaS) companies places us in this category. This is the story of our latest efforts to get the word out about Chargebee.

“This is a revolution, there will be a Before Chargebee (B.C.) and an After Disruption (A.D.), in the industry!”

“O.K. but how do we get people’s attention?”

“We play on the B.C. and A.D. theme; this is year 0 for subscription management.”

“O.K. but HOW do we get people’s attention?”

“Let’s have people dressed as evangelists hand-out flyers.”

“Why not sexy nuns?”

“Hmm, na, company image? We’re a billing company, we must stay somewhat serious. ”

“OK, regular nuns? Nuns handing out the 10 Commandments of SaaS?”

“Might work! But how do we go about it?”

Guerilla Marketing Nuns

SaaStr annual would be full of attendees from our target audience; it was approaching fast. We had just a couple weeks to write out the 10 Commandments of SaaS, get our design team to run its magic, print the mini tablets, and find the nuns!

On opening day, we were struck by divine luck, the SaaStr Annual was being held across the street from a Cathedral!! It was meant to be.

Our plan was to distribute the “10 Commandments of SaaS” as flyers. We included the hashtag #SaaS10 hoping this would become a little social media event. As it turned out, we were violating the event regulations by distributing marketing materials without sponsoring the event. We were gently warned by SaaStr folks to keep it out of the venue. In all fairness, they were right and we moved to corner of street to distribute.

But we then ran into another problem; the building’s agreement with the city forbids distribution of materials in front of the venue. We were however, told the sister could stand in the area in front of the conference entrance if we weren’t distributing anything. We had to regroup.

“Let’s print this tablet size?”

“You mean like the actual 10 Commandments?”

On the second day, the sisters were holding tablet sized commandments. And the result was surprising!

When the sisters had been trying to distribute flyers, people thought they were authentic nuns protesting the conference.

By having them hold big tablet sized SaaS Commandments, people realized this was just good fun, and started asking the nuns to take pictures with them. The social media fall-out was much stronger than the first day!

We brought a lot of smiles. More pictures and even more Tweets.

Plus we landed a 90 second interview. 🙂

Prior to the event we were a bit worried that doing something edgy to spread the word about us might affect our corporate image.

As it turns out, this had a hugely positive impact and we had a lot of fun doing it. Your smiles and pictures made us so happy! Thank You!

Here is a quick run-down of the operation :

  • $400 number of dollars spent for costume, printing.
  • A few hours of planning, design & execution.
  • Finding people for the sister act
  • 5000 SaaStr attendees.
  • 3-4 hours of exposure when most folks are walking in.
  • 2000 views. 100 likes. 25 retweets.

And the 10 Commandments :

Be My Valentine

Feeling the buzz from this event’s success, we had 24 hours to complete another marketing tactic if we were to be in time for Valentine’s Day.

Earlier in the month, we had decided we wanted to occupy mind-space. We decided to send a Valentine’s Day card (yes an actual paper card) to 200 start-up C.E.O.s, to grab their attention, and hopefully make them smile.

We created this :

Chargebee-Valentine

We spent the better part of the afternoon stuffing envelopes, finding mailing addresses, licking stamps, and placing a heart sticker on the back so these wouldn’t be considered “junk mail”.

We managed to ship them all out in time….the only problem is that we have no way to trace the effectiveness of this method. No “open, click-through” stats for snail-mail.

Our next step is to reach out to the 200 people via an email about this blog post to see what the response is. Fingers crossed!

We’re happy to share our tactics but remember the 10th Commandment of SaaS : “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s growth hacks.” 😉

If you think managing recurring revenue, subscriptions and invoicing is a pain in the SaaS, let us help you

Starting-up ? Check out our Launch Plan !

Rediscovering America – The SaaS way !

iSPIRT Roundtable Delhi – 12th December2015

ColumbusCenturies ago Columbus took an adventurous sea journey to discover India in search of gold and in the process stumbled upon America. It is ironical that after ages we Indian product entrepreneurs are re-embarking upon the journey to rediscover America in search of gold, just that we no longer trust the sea and prefer to go via the cloud.

So on Saturday, 12th Dec’15, in the Delhi winter fog, a group of iSPIRT SaaS entrepreneurs met for a Round table titled “” where selling to US was a key focus. I drove in my odd numbered car on even numbered date( the Delhi car rule has not yet triggered in) to get my share of gold. The captain of our ship was Samir Palnitkar from Shop Socially. Samir is a known face in the Indian entrepreneur circle, a serial entrepreneur who has done it all. Still when you meet him you’ll see that glitter in his eyes yearning to achieve more. What I like about the iSPIRT round tables is that they are not about endless powerpoint presentations but active discussions about real issues – real solutions. Every time I attend one I’m amazed by the positive energy in discussions there. You meet real achievers who are hungry for more yet humble enough to help those who have started their journeys. The true bond between us entrepreneurs is that of respect. Respect for hardwork , commitment and perseverance because only we know that that there is no easy way to get up there.

While the queen of spain sponsored Columbus’ sea adventure, ours was hosted by Investopad and I must thank them for that. Located centrally in heart of South Delhi , Investopad has a carefree yet professional environment for any startup to bloom. An ideal setup for our round table. Add to it the Vada Pao and Masala tea from Chaayos, and you are rearing to go. As Peter Drucker said “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” So here we were getting a sneak peak into our future.

The Round table started with a brief round of introductions from each of the participants. Interestingly, there was no debate on why we were there. Each of us knew that if we have to succeed, we have to go global with a special focus on the US market.

Outbound Vs Inbound Marketing

As the discussion evolved, it centered around one key aspect- Outbound Vs Inbound marketing.

InboundThere is a school of thought which believes inbound marketing using content and blogs gives you good quality low cost leads over time. I personally belong to that group having built SalesPanda, an inbound marketing product. But there is another set of people who feel its better to go target the exact customers you want to bring in via outbound. I must say this round table was dominated more by the latter than the former. Like Sachin from Insidesalesbox.com shared the perfect analogy of fishing with a spear and not the net, its yours to choose. In the same room we had two successful startups using both the methodologies successfully. On one side we had Samir our speaker from shop socially who has 70% of leads from outbound email and telecalling and other side we had Sidharth from Wingify(VWO) who have 70% leads from inbound content. Ideally you need to master both and leverage one with the other.

Samir, I must say has mastered the art of selling to global audience via outbound. And it’s not cold calling or randomly hitting on the entire market. It’s a well designed, cured and planned way to segment and target the market. He calls it warm calling to people who show interest to a drip email campaign.

Yes outbound it was, the group agreed and Samir would share his secret recipe to conquer customers globally.

We started the discussion with the fundamental questions

  • How do we find global customers?
  • How do we reach them?
  • Should I build a team abroad?

Marketing-driven Sales

Samir shared the concept of marketing driven sales where the you build a pipeline driven by marketing campaigns both outbound and inbound. Inbound leads are standard SEO and website based leads whereas outbound leads are a mix of email drip marketing and outbound telecalling.

The outbound process starts with a drip email campaign on a carefully built database.

Samir shared his inside sales process as in image below. You have an inside sales team(Qualifiers) to reach out to prospects who either open or respond back to the emails. They pass the leads on to Sales Managers(closers) who demo the product to the clients. There is a customer success team who’s job is to move free trial customers to premium and also upsell and cross sell. For specific hot opportunities a special Pod is created which nurtures these leads to keep hem engaged to close.

Inside Sales Process at Shop Socially

The key question which would come to your mind is that where would the data come from. The team discussed various options and tools to buy data. Here is what Samir shared about their process at shop socially.

  1. Set your target criteria- Industry verticals, Titles, Company Revenue, location etc
  2. Build a list of companies you want to target using tools like Builtwith, Datanyze, Hoovers, Data.com
  3. Work with third parties to scrub list – use elance, upwork etc.

InsidesalesOnce the database is ready, import it to a marketing automation tool, in case of sell socially they use Pardot. Create a drip marketing campaign across different offering. Segregate the prospects as R,C,O – People who respond,click or open your mailers. The inside sales team calls out to people who atleast clicked on the email so its never a cold call as atleast the customer has heard about you before. The chart below details the emailing process. The prospects move to a CRM solution where the lead is progressed. Shop socially use Salesforce and Sugarcm but any other good CRM would do. Ajay from Salezshark also shared how their CRM software provided an integrated mobile ready solution. It have built in contact database seamlessly integrated into the solution. Do check out !

Some of the other salient points mentioned by Samir and agreed by the group were

  • The product needs to have the stickiness for people to come back. You can get people to try but there has to genuine stickiness for them to buy.
  • The email content should be concise. Fancy EDMs are a big no as text mails are more acceptable.
  • Calling script is critical. It should be detailed enough for callers to navigate through all possible scenarios.
  • While reaching the prospects on a call, its always better to get them to block the calendars and follow it up with a reminder on the day of the meeting.

Go Prepared !

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― 

We spend so much effort to create databases, send multiple emails and calling the prospects to fix demos. But the important question is how prepared are we to get into the battlefield. Are our sales guys equipped enough to answer customer queries ? Some of the Sales Collaterals you need to build before starting the process are as below

  • Standard Video and company presentation
  • Whitepapers and Case Studies
  • Video Testimonials
  • Webinars
  • Pricing and Value Calculator

Also remember conferences are for sales. When you participate in events and conferences, go prepared. Fix meetings with prospects there well in advance to utilise your time.

Finally, in the last leg of the round table we discussed on people ratios, targets and other infrastucture details. We also debated on hiring tips for key resources including inside sales and career plan for them.

One crucial point the group debated was the need and value of outsourcing some of the processes. As we debated, a concensus evolved on outsourcing top of the funnel activities. We need to focus on closures because as funnels goes down it gets more critical. So you can outsource top of funnel activities like data profiling, appointment setting etc but keep the bottom activites like demo and closure calls with you as every slip can cost you heavily.

Overall it was a great experience for all of us as we came out more clear and confident on reaching global customers. In fact, last few days I myself tested some of the ideas like drip marketing campaigns and reaching out to data profiling team via upwork and I must say it works ! I believe that as years go by, we Indian entrepreneurs would master the art of selling globally via the cloud. Here is the team who attended the round table. Carefully, note down these names coz when decades later your great grand children ask you who rediscovered America via the cloud, you should know J

A big thank you to all who participated in the round table and to iSPIRT for organising. A day well spent. Look forward to the next one !

by Samit Arora, Co-founder, SalesPanda.com

Enterprise Software Products – Big Clients, Big Opportunity

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of investment activity in the B2B Technology product space. One can broadly classify B2B Tech into two categories based on the size of the end clients, and the delivery model (on-premise or Cloud).

End Customer      Mid-Large Enterprises      SMEs
Typical Delivery Model      On Premise      SaaS

Most of the recent investment activity in the B2B Tech space has primarily been in “SaaS”. This is because SaaS products are relatively easier to scale globally as against Enterprise Software products. Some of the drivers for this are as follows:

  Enterprise Software SaaS
New Customer Acquisition (High Cost) Sales Team Driven Digital Marketing (backed by Inside Sales)
Sales Cycles 3 months – 9 months 2 weeks – 1 month
Enterprise “Buyer” Multiple business heads & CIO, CEO / Board Single Business Head (directly impacted)
Integrations & Customizations Needs “Services” Primarily DIY
Recurring Revenue % Low – Typically just the AMC (10%-20%) (not counting the “upselling”) High – Periodic subscription based

That being said, we see a huge opportunity for Indian Enterprise Software product companies. The “edge” such companies have over typical SaaS companies are as follows:

  • Only a handful of global players are fighting it out for the larger clients. For example, in case of Enterprise CRM, the primary competition is from Oracle Siebel, Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce (for large enterprises that are comfortable with SaaS), and SAP. In case of Contact Center Software, it is from Avaya, Cisco, Aspect & Genesys. In contrast, for most SaaS products, the vendor market is quite cluttered since the barriers to entry (and exit) are much lesser for SaaS products.
  • Incumbents in Enterprise Software are large (and relatively slow moving) firms with “legacy” products. Large enterprises have seen lesser innovation as compared to SMEs – immense opportunity to be nimble-footed and have a more contemporary product platform for the younger product companies in this space.
  • Enterprise Software platforms are typically more comprehensive and feature-rich, whereas SaaS offerings are relatively more of “point” solutions.
  • As a result, an Enterprise Software vendor has greater opportunities to expand and penetrate into adjacent add-on offerings, with great ease.
  • Higher customer stability – typically much lesser churn, since the integrations and customizations are an ‘investment’ and provide stickiness to the vendor.
  • India is a great place to start. Getting large Indian enterprises as customers and then expanding overseas (to other developing regions like South East Asia, Middle East and Africa) is a trend we keep seeing.
  • While in developed markets, even large enterprises have adopted the Cloud infrastructure and software as integral to their businesses; in India the mid-to-large enterprises are still in the early-cycle of Cloud adoption.

So if you are an Enterprise Software company, and are looking to raise funding, what are some key aspects from a VC fund raising perspective? Here are a few that we at Zanskar Advisors have learnt from our past engagements:

  • Revenue Scale already achieved: The bars seem to be higher for Enterprise Software companies as compared to SaaS. For e.g. an Enterprise Software firm would need to have approximately $ 5 mm of revenue to attract similar amount of funding (for similar dilution) as a SaaS product firm can attract with say $ 2 mm (that too on an annualized run-rate basis).
  • Established Partnerships (especially for overseas customer acquisition / servicing): As the “expansion” would be primarily coming from overseas, some instances of selling to overseas customers (preferably through channel partners – as direct sales are less scalable) will help.
  • Instances of displacing established incumbents (large product companies) at key accounts (for reasons other than just the cost).
  • Revenue Trends
    • % of Product Revenue (License + AMC) as against Services revenue (upward trend is favorable)
    • % Revenue from top x (say 5) clients (downward trend is favorable)
    • % Revenue through Partners (upward trend is favorable)
    • Average Revenue per Customer (an indicator of “upselling” – could be in terms of no. of users or no. of modules – upward trend is favorable)
  • Global Recognition (from the likes of Gartner, Forrester etc.) is a plus

We strongly believe that a new wave of Enterprise Software product companies from India is going to take on the world – in line with the thesis of “Make in India” (and sell globally).

Guest Post contributed by Mandar Kulkarni, Zanskar Advisors

SaaS Metrics for India B2B

When we started selling our Cloud telephony platform, we had very little idea of what metrics to concentrate on. So we just built the product and winged it 🙂

Now after 4 years, we have a pretty good command of what metrics to concentrate on. What works, what doesn’t. Which channels are better and which sales techniques work. We learnt this the hard way and by reading blogs by David Skok, Jason Lemkin and Tom Tunguz. They did provide some benchmarks to go on. But nothing specific to the circumstances in India.

Looking around, we realize that we are in a very special situation. Since we concentrated only on India for our product, we have SaaS revenue from only Indian customers. This gives a nice opportunity to start creating some benchmarks.

Unfortunately there are not many hard numbers out there which can help new India B2B SaaS companies. So in the interest of transparency, we are sharing the SaaS metrics for our Cloudagent product. Some important points:

  • Cloudagent is a contact center product. It is a high touch point product with a big sales cycle.
  • All revenues and numbers are based only on Indian customers. We are in fact one of the very few companies out there serving only Indian customers :). May not hold true this year though.
  • We are doing this as an experiment. Looking at how it goes, we will open up more and more of our numbers, similar to what Buffer did. So be good to us 🙂
  • None of the metrics are set in stone. This is what works for our business and we are all learning. Please comment here our mail me at [email protected] or follow me @nutanc on twitter. Would love to hear your thoughts.
  • We will be updating this page on the 10th of every month. So please check back in to see how our business is doing 🙂

Building a SaaS machine is hard. But once it starts rolling, it is almost like clockwork. The numbers presented are what helped us to fine tune our process. Looking at isolation, each number may not make sense. But the way they all interact to run the SaaS machine is what is most important.

Kookoo

Since a lot of people were asking for the base spreadsheet used to calculate these metrics, I have created a template in Google docs. Feel free to download and use it as you see fit. You can just modify the “blue” numbers with your own numbers and see your metrics. Base Spreadsheet