ProductNation interviewed Kishore Mandyam, Founder and CEO of PK4 Technologies, the company that owns the Impel CRM offerings. During this interview, Kishore shares some of his experiences in creating a product suited for Indian customers, and discusses his learning from dealing with customers and technological developments. Read on…
What was the motivation to start Impel?
There were a couple of factors that came together in influencing creation of Impel. During 2006-07 timeline, after having successful career and managing different aspects of business around the world, I was looking at what could be the next big challenge to take on. Frequent travels to different parts of the globe also had started to become taxing. The domestic market was showing encouraging signs of robust demand for product based solutions. All these factors influenced in we taking the decision to set up Impel, a product company based out of India.
What were your experiences during the initial years of operation and what was the learning?
As we setup Impel, we converged on the CRM area as our focus to provide solutions, since we understood that many customers in the target segment that we were aiming were not very organized in dealing with Sales leads and customer centric operations. We invested our initial 18 months to build the product and made it available for customers by 2009. Given our previous corporate experience, we initially started leveraging the state of the art marketing and selling techniques and were able to land about 120 customers during the first year of operations.
However, the biggest learning came next year, when we could not retain most of these customers. When we analyzed what went wrong, we discovered that our method of signing in customers using web based sales ensured that customers bought the product – but just purchasing the product did not mean that they would use it. It turned out that most customers had not tried the various features and capabilities of our product offering and hence were skeptical to renew the relationship with us for the next year.
As an organization, how did you respond to this learning and what new measures did you take to overcome these limitations?
We all gathered back at the drawing board, analyzed the developments and worked on how we could enhance our offering to ensure more usage and hence more engagement from the customers. We further segmented our target customer base, identified the key sub-segments that showed more promise and started working closely with leads from that bucket. During 2011 and 2012 we got very good traction from lifestyle businesses and rural businesses that focused on selling and marketing seeds, solar lamps, pesticides, FMCG and so on. The targeted and focused engagement with this sub-segment yielded very good results for us, and by 2013, we had about 120 to 130 stable customers.
During the same year, based on our experiences thus far, we shifted our focus to engage with mid size companies and fast growing small companies. This shift in focus helped us to increase our profitability and ensured diversification into another segment of customers.
What are your observations on the Indian market based on your dealing with them over these years?
The Indian small and medium companies have many challenges for which they desire solutions. However, they currently are unable to articulate their problems and explain the desired solutions to the vendors who approach them. On the other end, if any vendor is able to identify these gaps in their operations, clearly articulate the pain points and propose a technology based solution that adds value / solves their pain points, the customers will lap it up.
In our own case, we started off with a CRM offering – we wanted to be the Salesforce for India. However, as we listened to our customers, we discovered that they were buying our software to solve a variety of problems around the CRM domain of which we had no initial knowledge of. This interaction made us tweak our offerings based on their feedback.
Secondly, the perception of Indian customers about cloud has drastically changed since the past 5 years. Customers now accept cloud as an alternative and secure medium of deployment. They realize that it provides them certain benefits than the traditional modes of deployment. This development, combined with the rapid acceptance of mobile and smart phones in the Indian ecosystem is creating a market of significant size that are willing to look at mobile and cloud based solutions to solve their challenges.
What are some of the areas which you wish you could have executed better on?
Being a bootstrapped startup, one needs to always prioritize on the areas that need the focus and attention to attain growth. Having said that, as I reflect back, there are a few things that I think we could have executed better. One of them is about the trial process we have to let our prospective customers try out our offerings. We notice that despite our best efforts, we were not able to better engage our prospects in ensuring their conversion.
While the above one was on pre-sales, I also think we needed to do one thing better – on providing better documentation of our product, on the post-sales and support side. I notice that a few startups in India have been very good in this regard – and they have good customer retention and lesser support costs on account of this. I think that if we can simplify the usage of the product to the end user, and support the end user with description of how to use different features of the product; this combination will help in long term sustainability for our company.
Interesting insights! In closing, what are the three things that you would like to share with your fellow entrepreneurs who are targeting the Indian market?
I think we are at very interesting times as regards to targeting the Indian customers with our technology solutions. The first thing I want to let other entrepreneurs know is that the average Indian manager is much more willing to engage and evaluate your technology offerings. This is a very encouraging sign for all entrepreneurs. Secondly, mobility as a technology development is a big disruptive force, especially in the emerging markets. Hence, plan to leverage the power of mobility in all your solutions and that will surely delight your customers. Lastly, Indian customers take really long cycles to decide to buy. Continuously engage with them through marketing and other touch points, even when you may have ruled out immediate purchase in this quarter. If the customer is engaged, he will simply come back to you when he decides to buy and will close the deal in a day!