Syscon Solutions was launched in Hyderabad, India in 1996. Its ERP product, Syscon Cronus, is targeted for small and medium manufacturing enterprises. In 2006 it became one of the first ERP solutions to be offered in the SaaS/cloud model. We talked with co-founder and managing director S. Vijay Venkatesh about Syscon’s startup experiences and lessons learned. This article is brought to SandHill readers in partnership with ProductNation.
How did your company originate — what was the original vision?
Vijay Venkatesh: Having worked for 13 years with various midsize manufacturing companies, I thought of starting my own business and started a chemical trading company dealing with pharma and rubber chemicals and representing manufacturers from Tamil Nadu, Mumbai and Gujarat.
When the opportunity came to start Syscon with one of my old colleagues with two developers, I thought it would be something which was of my type. Added to this was the fact that IT was only afforded by big corporates; SMEs could not dream of it.
Our initial idea in 1996 was to develop a customized solution for manufacturing industries. As we started, I observed that we might end up doing the same thing differently for different people. This would leave us with several versions of codes, which might make the maintenance and upgrade impossible. With all the facts, we decided to go in for a product development and tell the customers to use what we have rather than asking them what they want. We shut our marketing department for a while and went for a small loan and working capital. There was no looking back.
Is there a story behind your company name?
Vijay Venkatesh: Syscon stands for “System Consulting” or “System Configuration.”
What are some of the challenges you’ve had that you didn’t anticipate? How did you resolve them?
Vijay Venkatesh: I always used to think, though there is a huge number of SMEs in the market, that the rate of customer acquisition is very slow. But now, instead of blaming the SMEs, I think that it is due to the fact that there are more failures than successes of ERP among SMEs in India.
It is the responsibility of the ERP vendor to bring in all the missing links to address this challenge. I learned that we needed to make our ERP product simple and also train our customers because SMEs are not computer savvy. I also recognized that SME CEOs have so many things to do that they cannot devote time to software product reviews. To address this challenge, we implement only the essential modules to start with and then scale them up step by step.
Please describe one of your company’s lessons learned and where it occurred in the time line of your product development.
Vijay Venkatesh: We have learned several important lessons of being a product company as opposed to an IT services company. First, instead of asking the customer what they want, we learned to tell them to use what we have. Next, we needed to make sure any new requirements made sense for larger target clients and make sure that we take time to bring those features carefully in to the product.
Also we learned that a software product company needs a complete ecosystem including sales, implementation, support and training, coupled with training partners, technology partners, hosting partners and industry associations.
How did you find your first customer? Did it take longer than you anticipated?
Vijay Venkatesh: Everest Organics Limited (EOL) became our first customer in 1999. I met the managing director and told him about our product and vision of being a long-term committed vendor for the SMEs. We gave several rounds of demos for EOL’s core team. After four months they released a purchase order for us.
At that time our product was not fully mature in several functionalities. We have done numerous amounts of customization (almost 60 percent) and made more than 250 visits over nine months for training and implementation. Since there was no Internet in those early days, the data transfer was happening through floppy discs on a daily basis.
The EOL office and factory works online now. We are proud to continue serving EOL today after 14 years!
With our experience of EOL and the product maturity of our ERP solution we are in a position to serve much bigger clients in the pharma segment. Some of the new pharma clients have seven manufacturing units. Our implementation now takes eight to 10 visits over three to four weeks compared to nine months with EOL. We also have started remote implementation for SMEs, which is very cost-effective and easy to manage.