Product Nation interviewed Vishnu Tambi, CEO of Excellon Software to understand the key aspects that helped him to create a successful product company working out of a tier-2 city. In this discussion, Vishnu shares his experiences dealing with Indian customers and tips for succeeding in the Indian market. Read on…
Could you describe the genesis of Excellon Software in India?
Excellon Software, in its previous incarnation as e-Caliber software was in to software services during initial years. This was set up in Nagpur during 1999-2000 as a part of the US based e-Caliber Inc. However, post the Y2K services boom, around 2001, we wanted to shift our focus to serve the local customer needs. This led us to foraying into developing packaged software solutions, catering to different industries.
We experimented in the local market a bit, by providing solutions to the healthcare and retail industries, but over time, realized that there was a big gap in the market for a software product that would effectively manage the selling, distribution, and servicing of the goods. This led us to develop and deliver an innovative software product that manages post manufacturing activity for industries. By 2006, we got our validation by means of signing up big names in the automobile sector. From then on, we have had repeatable successes till date. This is how we emerged as a credible player in the Indian software product industry.
Getting your first customer in an enterprise market is always a challenge. How did you achieve this? What was the learning from the experience?
When selling to large enterprises, inevitably, one has to fight the small company label. The customer, Ashok Leyland was initially skeptical about our company, our ability to provide continuous support and about us operating from Nagpur – which then was not known as an IT destination. However, we were able to address each of their concerns – by demonstrating our deep business knowledge, technology expertise and our willingness to go the extra mile to support them. We also did a very tactical thing in partnering with a large MNC SI as we worked with Ashok Leyland. Due to this partnership, Ashok Leyland also got more comfortable in choosing us against some of the very well established names in the industry.
So, I would say that if you are gunning for a very large customer during the early days of your company, it may be worthwhile to go with an established partner to enhance the prospects of you netting the deal. You should of course keep it interesting for the partner to collaborate with you.
Can you describe the journey of Excellon evolving to its current stage as a leader in the Dealer Management Space? What are your plans going forward?
Sure. After we got our first big enterprise customer in 2006, for the next two-three years, we focused on acquiring more customers. We worked with multiple partners during this period. By 2010, we realized that we had the best domain knowledge, as well as solid set of initial customers who would vouch for our expertise. We ensured that we executed well with an aim to make every client a success story – an achievement that we are proud to communicate to our prospective customers.
In 2011, we reinvented our company and our product offering to stay ahead of the curve by incorporating the latest technologies and platform which had become available in India, such as cloud and mobility. This helped to us aim for Clients with need for high scalability and Mobility solutions who looked for a business turnaround and impact by leveraging latest technology. This refresh helped us scale at a much faster pace – we signed a large deal in the Middle East, and were able acquire marquee customers in India such as Eicher, Mahindra and Bajaj, in a span of 18 months. This enabled us to serve and service customers with thousands of locations and users in more than 50 countries.
Looking ahead, I believe that as a company, we are at the best times. There is significant demand for our product in the Middle East and South East Asian economies as well. Our existing Indian enterprise customers are intending to use our products in subsidiaries that are based in other geographies. So, overall, we are well positioned to cater to the opportunities better than ever before.
On a slightly different aspect, could you share your experiences dealing with Indian enterprise customers?
Given that I worked in the US for almost two decades in different functional roles including experience with packaged software and technology, prior to focusing on Excellon full time, I guess I can provide you a comparative analysis of US and Indian customers. I would say that customers in US and in India are diagonally opposite. While the US customers are straightforward in discussing, accepting, and communicating, Indian customers usually do not like to talk upfront. Probably due to the cultural factors, some Indian customers tend to be polite and so you would not hear a ‘no’ from them directly until a few iterations.
I found negotiations, while dealing with Indian customers to be the difficult part. Some people usually tend to negotiate endlessly and at all levels. You think that the deal is signed, done and everything settled, even then there are such small things which get negotiated, some of which do not stop even during the implementation phases of your project. So, one needs to be careful on these aspects. Most importantly, at least in the initial stages of your company, you cannot remain completely profit focused in India, due to the above aspects. As an entrepreneur, you do need to protect your margins, and carefully give in to customer demands on a case to case basis. One must learn quickly when to pull the trigger and end a discussion or negotiation, if you think you cannot make ends meet.
Great insights! What advice would you provide to fellow product entrepreneurs focusing on Indian enterprise market?
I would like the product entrepreneurs focusing on Indian market to stay focused on creating and enhancing customer relationships. Do not get unnecessarily bogged down by negative factors such as heavy compliance burden, primitive ecosystem or banking support for software companies etc. Focus on creating a solid team with expertise / deep skills and one that stays with you for the long term. This way, you can lean on others in bad times to work out of the situations. You need to be mentally ready for the long haul, and surely, perseverance pays!