Playing with the new Electricity – AI/ML Playbook Sessions

[Update] Symposium RT is rescheduled to 10 March 2018 as we are confirming the expert Mavens for the sessions. Other dates will be updated shortly.

“Tectonic” market shifts happen every few years creating a change in landscape, market and opportunity. The most recent “tectonic” shift is the emergence of the Artificial Intelligence era. In just the same way electrification in the early 1900s transformed major industries globally, AI, Machine Learning & Deep Learning are poised to transform a multitude of industries, services & products.

It took 100 years from the discovery of electrical generator to electrification of industries. AI is doing this in a span of 70 years (from the time of the Turing Test).

AI/ML has gone through many winters and is now in its eternal spring. It portents a new framework for startups to navigate and evolve from an internet era startup into an AI era startup.

Every new era shift begins with a lot of smoke and hype before it is well understood. iSPIRT ProductNation & Julia are launching a series of AI/ML playbook roundtable & workshop sessions to dispel the hype around AI, break the myths, and help bring a pragmatic mindset & process change necessary for product startups to leverage AI/ML. These 2-step playbooks are for all categories of startups regardless whether they are in direct AI / AI-First, SaaS, FinTech / HealthTech / <Domain>Tech, or any other category, startups who can leverage and apply AI models with their data to create superior value for their customers. These deep sessions will focus on the impact & opportunities of AI on businesses, process of working with AI, AI/ML adoption strategies relevant to your context and enabling strong AI/ML tech competency within your teams.

The 2-step playbook roundtable sessions focused on founders (+1 typically CXO) + tech workshop are a sequence of:

    • AI/ML Symposium RT (step 1) – An invite-only 3 hour mini-symposium playbook with AI/ML & Julia experts, first mover AI leaders & Mavens from our startup community and 15-20 invited startups, focusing on Why AI/ML? How to identify the opportunities to leverage AI? What do you need to get started with AI (if not already running)? Data needs for AI/ML investments… The shared awareness created in this session, combined with the commitment by startups to articulate their AI/ML opportunity, and detail their approach will lead to the next AI/ML roundtable.
    • AI/ML Playbook RT (step 2) – Startups at similar AI readiness from the Symposium will be invited for a 5 hour deep-dive roundtable discussion on the AI/ML opportunities in the context of the startup domain, effectively going through an AI/ML readiness/approach review & teardown, covering data collection & modeling strategy, AI transformation algorithms… This session is restricted to 6-10 startups (having similar needs) per roundtable. Invited startups will be required to be ready with their approach for a deep-dive review & peer feedback in true roundtable style. The outcome for each startup would be to develop an action plan/checklist for next few months of execution. Additionally, startups can identify a tiger tech team to go to the AI/ML Training Lab to get traction for their checklist…
    • AI/ML Training Lab with Julia Sandbox (on need basis) – A 3+ day workshop intended for the 3-4 person tiger tech teams (CTO, Engg, Data guy, PM…) from each startup. The workshop will help focus on building competency, getting traction & executing implementations related to the checklist developed at the roundtable.

For the first set of these playbooks, we are inviting nominations/applications for startup founders (+CXOs) who are either directly focusing on AI-based opportunity or have started integrating AI/ML as a core strategy for their product growth/success. Please provide your nomination for startups you believe should be part of the first series of the AI/ML playbooks. If you are a startup and interested to be part of this please register below. On final approval, an invite confirmation will be sent via email.

Please submit your nominations here. A registration link will be sent to your nominee.

Dates & Venue for the first of the series:

AI/ML Symposium RT – 10th Mar (Sat) 2p – 5p @ Accel Partners (Bangalore)
AI/ML Playbook RT – end Mar/early Apr-TBD (Sat) 11a – 5pm @ TBD
AI/ML Training Lab w/ Julia – Apr-TBD @ TBD (Bangalore)

While the sessions are in Bangalore, we believe this topic is of emergent interest to startups across the country and would invite all to register.

Experts

TBD

Cost

All iSPIRT roundtables are pro-bono (read below for how that works)

This series of playbooks is being actively setup by our Mavens & Volunteers, Ankit Singh, Deepak Vinchhi, Karthik KS, Praveen Hari, Ravindra Krishnappa, Sandeep Todi

P.S. Some great material for pre-reading

Strongly recommend all to go through many of these.

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

* The Julia team is on a social mission to train a large number of people in India to develop grassroot skills and competency with AI & ML.

+Feature image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/gleonhard/34046647175/

Deep Learning Session with Julia Computing

robot-2167836_640

An evening with Julia

iSPIRT, in association with Julia Computing, is proud to announce an open-session with Prof. Alan Edelman and Dr. Viral Shah, co-creators of Julia, an open source programming language, and co-founders of Julia Computing Inc.

The event will be hosted in Koramangala, Bangalore, on the 22nd of January 2018, from 5 – 7pm. Register now for an invite to the session or to join the live cast (venue details will be shared along with the invite).

What is Julia?

Julia is a modern, high-level, high-performance programming language for numerical computing, data science and AI. With syntax that is familiar to users of other technical computing environments, Julia solves the eternal two language problem, by providing productivity similar to Matlab or R, and performance similar to C for writing mathematical and statistical software. Julia is open source, its research is anchored at MIT since 2009 and is growing very rapidly in its adoption across industries, from Finance to Life Sciences.

Julia … can even be used by those who aren’t programmers by training

Why Should You Care?

Julia’s deep mathematical roots and comprehensive customizability make it very friendly to work with for data scientists, who are generally limited with popular Machine Learning approaches due to their issues with customizability and efficiency.

This 90 minute session will cover a quick introduction to Julia, showcase a few challenging and compute-intensive case studies that Julia has helped solve across domains, and demonstrate how Julia as a framework is used to enable nextgen AI & ML modeling & computing with the AI tools of your choice, including popular libraries like Mocha, MXNet and TensorFlow. This will be a great opportunity to interact with Prof Alan and Dr. Viral on best ways to approach an AI/ML strategy.

About the Speakers:

Prof. Alan Edelman is a Professor of Applied Mathematics, Computer Science and AI at MIT. He is a co-creator of Julia language, and a Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Julia Computing, Inc.

Dr. Viral Shah is a co-creator of Julia language, and a Co-founder and CEO of of Julia Computing, Inc. He has been an important part of Aadhaar team from 2009 to 2014, and has co-authored a book called Rebooting India with Nandan Nilekani.

Julia Computing was founded in 2015 by the creators of the open source Julia language to develop products and provide support for businesses and researchers who use Julia.

Register now for an invite to the session or join the live cast.

Also, Workshop will be streamed on Youtube live for those who can join us virtually. The Invite will be shared on 21st Jan 2018 with the registered participants.

Is your SaaS product ready for GDPR?

What is GDPR you ask? and Why should you care?

Some of you may know about the upcoming rollout in EU of the General Data Protection Regulation. GDPR is a regulation that requires businesses to protect the personal data and privacy of EU citizens for transactions that occur within EU member states. GDPR implementation date is 25 May 2018, but do not get complacent by the date, it requires reasonable effort and time for companies to become ready & compliant. And there are significant penalties for not being compliant.

If you are operating in the EU or if any of your customers are operating in the EU, GDPR applies to you.

Who?

  • Customers in EU – YES
  • Employees in EU – YES
  • Vendors or partners in EU – YES

GDPR Workshop / Webinar

iSPIRT and Microsoft are conducting a GDPR workshop for founders to demystify the GDPR and help understand the steps required towards compliance. This will be a mix of in-person and webinar session (choose when you register).

The session will cover among many topics, clarity on the impact of GDPR, application to organizations in India, additional responsibility about controls, notifications and data governance for managing and tracking personal data, and how organizations need to start thinking about GDPR compliance. There will be presentations by both Legal teams from Microsoft India and the CTO of Microsoft Accelerator.

Apply here using the Registration Form

Date & time: 16-Nov, 3-5pm

In-person Venue: Microsoft Accelerator – JNR City Centre, IBIS Hotel Annexe ,Raja Ram Mohan Roy Road, Bangalore.

Webinar: Link will be sent to those who choose to attend the webinar.

Session Scope:

  • GDPR & Data Privacy, and its growing importance
  • A Risk assessment Checklist – Go to https://www.gdprbenchmark.com/ to access a quick, online self-evaluation tool available at no cost to help your organization review its overall level of readiness to comply with the GDPR
  • Data Privacy Business Scenarios – Technical Demos

Registration

If you are keen to attend the workshop please apply using the Registration Form. Since seats are limited for both in-person and webinar, please register ahead of time. We will confirm with an invite subject to availability. There is no cost to attend. We start sharp at 3 pm.

Strongly recommend going through the Risk Assessment Benchmark Evaluation.

The checklist will help you prep for the workshop and get the most out of it.

Some sources for pre-reading:

What is the GDPR, its requirements and deadlines? – CSO Online

GDPR in the age of SaaS: One SaaS vendor’s journey to compliance …

If You Use SaaS Products, You Need To Prepare For GDPR. Here’s How

Are you ready for the GDPR? A quick, no-cost, readiness self-evaluation tool.

The Global Impact of GDPR on SaaS Providers – Spanning Backup

Home Page of EU GDPR

Coming soon – 2017 SaaS Survey

BTW did you know the new SaaS survey is coming? We are excited to announce that we would be launching the third edition (2017) of the India SaaS Survey in a week from now. This survey is an annual exercise conducted jointly by SignalHill and iSPIRT to gather valuable data for drawing insights which help various stakeholders in the ecosystem understand this space better.

Please click on the following link to access last year’s survey results

Please stay tuned to this space. We will be providing a link to this year’s survey very soon in an upcoming blog post.

Product Teardown Roundtables are coming to your city.

Read more details on the teardown sessions, and preview the teardown format. If interested please apply here (Limited Seats).

Smart tools for SaaS founders to handle inbound & outbound sales processes – #PlaybookRT94

When #iSPIRT announced a roundtable on ‘Building & Scaling Growth Teams for Saas Founders’  with Ashwin Ramesh (Synup) leading it, I was thrilled to join it, assuming it would be a direct take off from Ashwin’s session at #SaaSx4. Well, we were not disappointed. I am sure the other participants share my feelings on the outcome – It was an action-packed interactive session on the strategies one can use to be successful in SaaS.

Most fellow founders who joined the discussion chimed up with a common theme, with questions on how to get good inbound leads, how to scale up, crack the game, and most importantly – how to switch from outbound to inbound.

In this post, I want to provide a summary of all the tools that were discussed in the roundtable to help in content creation and distribution, and tools that will help you do outbound in a structured way. The sheer number of tools that we discussed was overwhelming to the group, to say the least.

WhatsApp Image 2017-05-05 at 10.36.03 AMContent is still King, so let’s lead with it.

Content: Good content is more important than the fact that it is a blog or a post or guest post. It could be anything that attracts folks, and gives your product or service the attention span needed. Some of the examples of good content that were discussed include websites,  checklists (e.g. http://localseochecklist.org/), videos, visualisations, infographics, data driven content, Quora ads, & Answers wiki.

If you need ideas on how to create great content, take a look at https://tympanus.net/codrops/

Now that you have the content, let’s shift the focus to distribution. The traditional models of distribution have become saturated. No one’s going to come just because you wrote and published something. So you need to come up with innovative ways to distribute content. Well written content, if it is not reaching the intended audience, is a dead investment and one has to have deliberate policy of setting aside a budget, even if it’s a small one, for distribution of each piece of content. You should try the following options:

  • Start contributing on reddit, and especially to a subreddit specific to your industry, business area or technology. The strategy suggested is to become active participants of a specific community, engage in discussions, post comments, contribute and build your credibility. The content you may share here would be actively promoted by other participants and also gets picked up other channels. The key is to build credibility and be supportive to other members.
  • Another idea is to sign up to https://inbound.org/ and once again be an active participant, and a slowly become a regular contributor. 
  • A third option is to use services like QUUU to distribute or share content across social media including Twitter , Facebook.
  • Investing in FB paid ads also has been found effective for many businesses.
  • If you feel that the above strategy is high on investment and low on initial results, start using article syndication services like Outbrain or Taboola to engage your target audience while they are browsing or reading interesting content on the web. 
  • A good way to use Taboola or Outbrain would be to use it with  Bombora, one of the best B2B intent engines. It gives you better options to identify / reach your B2B customers. There are integrations available for Bombora with Outbrain, and you need to decide on the budget. 
  • If you need to reach out to key influencers to help you share your content on a wider scale, use Buzzsumo to build the list and also get an idea about what your competition is sharing.
  • Once you have the list, use Buzzstream to manage the outreach that is desired. It helps manage the relationships and also monitor the content sharing. 
  • One related area which may be of benefit is to reach out to journalists using tools like Haro and Bite Size PR
  • If you have good content, you can choose to distribute the same through newsletters. Look for a curated list of newsletter sites or owners and get your content into these newsletters. It is an ongoing challenge for newsletter publishers to get good content for their readers, so reaching out to provide them content becomes a win-win proposition

Social media is a powerful medium for reaching out to a wider audience.  Tools that may be used for leveraging social media audience are:

  • Lead Sift ( twitter )  – This is used to keep track of potential customer who are engaged by  your competition . Helps in qualification of leads and setting up engagements faster 
  • EngageWise : To help present your content to a wider audience based on the interest they show in similar content. This helps in growing the pipeline using the reach of social media.
  • Lead Feeder :  Identifies the visitors to the website thereby qualifying the visitors and makes better / faster engagement possible. Offers and integration to CRM as well.
  • Ad Espresso :   One can create and test FB Ads in a very short time and run ad campaigns instead of single ads to effectively reach the different sections of audience thereby reducing cost and increasing efficacy of the ad.

Any website / online content strategy has to consider SEO.  Some of the tools that can be used for SEO include ( apart from the tools offered by Google ) 

  • Screaming Frog   – This can be used for in-depth technical analysis on your site .  It is a website crawler, works very fast & quickly allows one to analyse the results in real-time. 
  • All in one SEO  :   It can be used to optimize WordPress site for SEO. 

Another key element of growth involves reaching out to prospective customers. For that , email is still the most effective mechanism.  When it comes to using outbound emailing, getting good data ( email ids ) is equally important as the mail content and delivery strategy . 

For Creating the Data ( emails ) the options available are 

  • Scrape websites for data  
    • Screaming frog : The custom extraction feature allows you to scrape any data from the HTML of a web page using CSS Path, XPath and regex
    • Scrappy :  An open source and collaborative framework for extracting the data you need from websites, in a fast, simple, yet extensible way.
  • Some other common tools are 
    • Builtwith  :  One may get to see leads in your list by known technology spend, the usage or non-usage of competitor or other technologies as well as the usage or non-usage of entire categories of technologies like A/B Testing.
    • Limeleads : Access to a large repository of business leads across multiple verticals
    • Zoominfo : ZoomInfo’s Growth Acceleration Platform offers the most accurate and actionable B2B contact and company intelligence 
    • Buy data from publishers like D&B . This link is useful for Indian websites only.

Once you have the data , cleansing or cleaning up email list is the next key activity 

  • External agencies may be employed to clean up the email list. There are many service providers engaged in doing this for an acceptable consideration.

Once the email list has been curated, then you have to decide on the best way to engage the prospects or identify a delivery mechanism. There are many tools which support a structured approach to sending mails in a personalised manner, away from the mass mailers.

  • Klenty : This is an outbound sales automation tool for your inside sales team to prospect, outreach and follow up at scale. 
  • Prospect : A simple tool for sales automation. Works well for cold emailing and drip marketing. 
  • Quickmail : Another simple tool to automate outbound emails. 
  • Outreach  : Yet another platform that supports emailing and calling. 

Any inbound process revolves around the sales funnel. Organisations constantly look for increasing the conversation across all stages of the funnel or improve the funnel itself. Some of the recommendations that came out of the extensive discussion included usage of Google Analytics and other exclusive tools for understanding the user’s journey in your website and app through session recordings, heat map analysis, etc.  It would be good if cohorts are defined before initiating analysis so that patterns can be identified. 

  • Heap: Automatically captures every user action in your web or iOS app and lets you analyze it all retroactively.
  • MixPanel: Follow the digital footprint of every user across mobile and web devices. Know precisely what happens inside your product.
  • Inspectlet: Inspectlet records videos of your visitors as they use your site, allowing you to see everything they do.
  • Hotjar: Can be used to understand user behaviour as it visually represents their clicks, taps and scrolling behavior on your website.
  • Crazy Egg: Through Crazy Egg’s heat map and scroll map reports you can get an understanding of how your visitors engage with your website. 

Other tools that were mentioned include marketing automation tools and A/B testing / multivariate testing tools. One common suggestion which came up was to use best in class tools rather than using all in one kind of tools. A few examples of specific tools are mentioned below. Since all of them are well known, I don’t think it’s necessary to add a description of what they do.

Marketing Automation tools / Communication tools: 

A/B – MVT Tools 

A big thanks to Ashwin and the roundtable participants for listing these tools and sharing their experiences in using them.  I may have missed out one or two of the tools discussed. Look forward to your comments on these tools and also suggestion of other equally valuable tools for inbound / outbound processes.

WhatsApp Image 2017-04-29 at 7.01.02 PMDisclosure :  I am Neel Padmanabhan part of Team Lucep and head India Operations . Lucep is an instant response call back tool that is currently being used by several businesses around the world for handling inbound leads. The tool is designed to encourage visitors to the website to contact the sales team and get a response as quickly as possible.

Playbooks is one of the key pillars of iSPIRT bouquet.

Playbook in iSPIRT denotes entrepreneurial learning meant for Indian software product startups to become world class and be successful.

Roundtable is a format of learning intended for startups that have reached a happy confused stage. In this format 8-12 non competing startups are brought together to discuss deeply on a topic that holds them from jumping to their next level.A facilitator, who is an in the saddle entrepreneur deep dives on the topic by becoming metaphorically naked and shares his experience and gets a peer discussion going on the topic.Coaching including peer coaching happens through multiple mode – judgement of the discussion (VC mode), sharing experience (Sage on Stage), being a mirror (Guide by the Side). Playbook Roundtable tend to be more of the last category of mirroring.

playbook-ispirtThink of this as group study for 7th class students in an age where there no school & teacher and one has to pass the 10th standard board exam. Some one who has done that leads the group study.

Playbooks have a longitudinal impact so they are tracked via an input metric.  At the end of every roundtable session a Net Promoter Score (NPS) is calculated via survey, the average NPS score of last 85 roundtable that were held is about +80. (iPhone as a product has an NPS of +71).

Roundtable was initially architected by Shankar Maruwada, Ashish Gupta, Vivek Subramanian & Aneesh Reddy. Some learnings from past roundtable are captured here

Key organizing principles behind creating playbook roundtables

  • In the saddle entrepreneurs are the best to teach upcoming ones. Age, company brand plays no role.
  • Quality > Quantity which means traditional format of 1 to 100 classroom style  and metric of footfall attendance should be questioned.
  • Safe environment are absolutely necessary to have deep discussion.
  • Curation is highly important, ie. have non competing participants and bring people together in similar stage of startup growth.
  • A facilitator and organizer checklist.

I have had the privilege to shadow about 40 of 85 roundtables that have happened in last 3 years. If I describe it as saying that gold dust of the tacit knowledge gets shared it won’t be an exaggeration. Chatham rules apply in a roundtable i.e. to protect the safe environment no quote is attributed to a person. However this deck those captures some of the discussed tacit knowledge as directives

A good mental model to decide which roundtables can be used from the market map

2-3-map-by-rajan

Check details at the events section in PN blog

Playbooks is more than roundtable

The initial focus of Roundtable was happy confused product startup founders a later realization was that playbooks will need to extend across the spectrum of entreprenuership lifecycle.

kindergarden   > discovery (1st to 7th std) > happy confused (7th std) > pre-scale (10th std) > pre-growth(pre college)

Playbooks Progression
Playbooks Progression

 

Some of these additional formats emerged

Playbooks sets down one of the most critical foundation layer for India to be product nation.

How AdPushup Uses Content Marketing To Power Growth #PlaybookRT

Close to about 15 founders gathered on 1st October at the small and cozy office of AdPushup to participate in a Playbook Roundtable on Content Marketing. This was Ankit’s first playbook with iSPIRT and he did a phenomenal job.

AdPushup is a SaaS company that helps web publishers increase their ad revenue by letting them test and optimize their website’s ad layout. Their expertise has been content marketing, and Ankit shared several details of their experience, learning and strategy which have helped AdPushup become a leader in content marketing in the AdTech software space.

Inbound is a Culture

Ankit stressed upon the fact that when starting in inbound practice, founders themselves need to get involved. Inbound is a long term game and requires a lot of patience and perseverance. By getting their hands dirty, founders understand the intricacies involved in inbound and thereby are build the right team and culture.

Buyer Persona

The first step in building your inbound strategy is to put together a buyer persona.  It is basically a description of your ideal customer – someone who will directly benefit from your product or service. Creating content around and for them is what will get you more traffic, engagement and a sustainable growth. You could identify buyer persona by:

  • Interviewing Prospects
  • Feedback from your sales team on the leads they’re interacting with most
  • Looking at your Top 10 customers

A typical buyer persona will consist of the following:

  • Job Role/Title
  • Job Skills
  • Performance KPI
  • Tools used
  • Goals
  • Challenges
  • Personal Demographics (if appropriate)
  • Recent purchase and the decision tree
  • Online communities/websites they use to consume content

A buyer persona will help you identify the kind of content and channels you need to focus on in your inbound strategy.

how-adpushup-uses-content-marketing-to-power-growth-playbookrtContent Creation

There are two types content that founders can focus based on their industry and product:

  • Relevant to business or industry ( informative)
  • Relevant to the Persona (targeted and actionable)

The tone of the content should be educational and non promotional. Create content only keeping in mind – “is this helping someone solve a problem?”. At AdPushup, their target audience is long form bloggers and large web publishers. They write content which either informs them or helps in dealing with a painpoint (e.g. blogging tips, how to get more subscribers, how to get more traffic, user psychology, increasing user engagement, among others).

Each content piece should be:

  • Thorough and meticulously researched
  • Up-to-date
  • Well designed

Content should have:

  • Scannable text – bullet points, sub-headings, short paragraphs, images. Remember bulk of readers do not read but scan the content.
  • Actionable Insights
  • Content Frameworks
  • Citations and sources

Content ideas mostly come from:

  • Keyword research
  • What topics your competitors are writing about
  • Evergreen content (guides, tutorials, how-tos, best-practices)
  • What the industry experts are tweeting, sharing on social media
  • Comments on blogs and from relevant communities
  • Round-up posts

Nail the headline of every post that you publish and you will have won 70% of the battle. If your headline doesn’t inspire confidence, interest, excitement or any sort of emotion then readers wont click on it. Then even though your content might be brilliant and relevant, it will just not get the importance it deserves.

Content Distribution

An important rule of thumb to remember is that whoever is the content creator – allocate 50% of time in creating content and the rest 50% in distributing it.

Some of the channels for content distribution include:

  • Relevant Subreddits
  • Google+
  • FB Groups
  • LinkedIn Groups
  • Pinterest
  • Hacker News
  • Forums
  • Influencer outreach
  • Syndicate/Guest Post
  • Article that will rank on SERP
  • Refurbish for Infographics, SlideShare, etc
  • Competitor URL outreach

When you join communities on social networks, regularly engage with their members. This helps when you have to share your content there and not come across as a spammer.

Reddit is infamous for being ruthless with spammers and self promoters. So the only way you come across as neither is by providing all the value right there in the community post and add a small link in the end which says something like – “to read the full post, here’s the link” (and provide the exact url, not bitly or any short links). Provide the entire outline right there. Anyone reading it should only click on your post when they know exactly what is in the content and they would still want to read it.

Whoever you mention in our post, product or person, make sure to send them or the relevant team members an email telling them about the mention and encourage them to share it on their social media. Most people do actually share if you ask them. Also, it helps if you are relatively well known and the content is really well written.

Look for guest posting opportunities because they are an effective way to make your presence in the industry. And guest post only on sites that are relevant to your audience, have a very high volume of traffic and well respected (e.g. HubSpot, KISSmetrics)

Generating Leads

Once you have created content and distributed, it is imperative you capture details of the readers. You could devise several ways to do that:

  • Opt-in Subscription Forms
  • Banners
  • Email courses via drip campaigns
  • HelloBar
  • Native mentions (with disclosures)
  • eBooks, reports and whitepapers

Make sure your email marketing is sorted out. Put pop-up email capture boxes (and similar lead capture forms/boxes) in your blog to encourage visitors to convert into subscribers. Once you have a decent number of subscribers (300+) and are pushing content out regularly, start rounding them up and email them to your subscribers in the form of a ‘weekly newsletter’.

Here is a screenshot of how AdPushup uses its content to capture user details.

adpushup-blog

Measurement and Analytics

Finally it is important to measure and analyze your inbound activities. As Ankit puts it, “Inbound is a continuous rinse and repeat process”. Few key metrics to track include:

  • The channels that are giving more traffic
  • Channels that are converting better
  • Type of content that gets more organic reach
  • Statements/Emotions in the headline that perform better (e.g. questions, negative statements, suspense, informative etc)
  • Reader Demographics
  • Best time to publish
  • Best channel to distribute for every topic

Once you have a sufficient success in measuring ROI – cut out what is not working and concentrate only on what is getting results. And always keep creating hypotheses and rigorously testing them. You never know what product or customer insight you might stumble across.

Guest Post by Rajat Harlalka, Bellurbis

Announcing #PNcamp2(8th Oct, Pune) – Not bigger, but definitely better

In late 2013, the iSPIRT volunteer team I was part of decided that the best way to approach pn-camp-logo (1)the problem we had on our hands was to simplify it. We wanted to bring together a group of product people who were ready to ask each other the tough questions. When they came out of the event we were putting together, we hoped they’d be changed, they they’d find answers, and in the process, new questions as well.

And that is how we decided on the bootcamp format, which was so well received that we were inundated with applications. It was a great event, and we wanted to replicate it again. But other things intervened, and PNCamp had to wait. Until now.

This time, we are doing it way better. And in the experience of other events, we have decided to keep it small. So the bootcamp becomes an actual run through a difficult trail. No one can lag behind or hide. Everyone has to run, everyone has to move.

So what will this PNCamp focus on?
These things:

1. Product Market Fit
2. Product Management Principles that actually make sense in the real world
3. Sales and Marketing things you can go and do, like right-away

With a smaller, curated audience to ensure peer- learning, to learn from other entrepreneurs challenges and solutions, and to encourage deep, interactive conversations, we are going to be having focused group round tables. There will be no PowerPoint, no monologues; just tips, insights and questions from doers like you for you to ruminate on.

Are you excited? We certainly are. We’ll have a lot of updates for you soon. Watch this space. Please apply before 15th September 2016. We will confirm your participation by 25th September 2016. 

Why did I love this Saturday?

I usually start my weekends with an intense workout regimen. This one was also quite intense but in a very different way. I attended the 71st edition of ‘Playbook Roundtable’ on Saturday the 28th of May, 2016. Incidentally, this was my first time at any Playbook event. From the time I received the invite, I just had one question: how should I prepare to give it my very best? Little did I know that rather I would get the very best from this infectiously energetic tribe of people we call entrepreneurs on earth.

The event began at 11 A.M. with the first sip of cappuccinos and a brief introduction by everyone. We had 12 entrepreneurs (plus their co-founders), who had come to spend this Saturday to learn from one another. Besides passion, everyone was running high on desire to solve meaningful problems by using technology and change our world forever. While few of them had already (successfully) launched a product and were now facing next level growth challenges, many were still somewhere in MVP stage, figuring out product-market fit.

I was amazed to see an eclectic mix of problems these start-ups wanted to solve – beyond many industries and businesses. We had a renowned Fintech company making peer-to-peer banking easier with its latest product, a B2B engagement platform that helps convert one’s clients to promoters, a knowledge management product that makes life easier for customer support staff, a marketplace for those who want custom-tailored clothing minus hassles, an employee engagement platform that makes it easier to share ideas and innovate bottom-up, a mobile push notifications platform which has a unique ‘do it from your notification itself’ feature, an AI-based data cleaning & organizing tool, a personalized curated video platform which helps discover ‘still hard to find videos’ at YouTube, a collaboration platform which seamlessly works over Gmail, an education portal that aims to make multiple forms & cumbersome application process around admissions redundant, an open source ERP for small businesses with an enviable community across the globe, and a managed marketplace for getting super-affordable flash presentations. Phew, that was a lot… But that’s how best Saturdays are made!

The format of the event – with a handful of participants and an intimate setting over a roundtable, literally – allowed for an easy interaction for everyone. After hearing elevator pitches by everyone, we all were kicked to get into the next phase of our day – the demo!

Every entrepreneur had a total of 30 minutes to give a brief demo and then get into question-answer session, which was a unique opportunity for everyone. While a lot of questions satisfied curiosity of the audience, many entrepreneurs actually took on the audience by asking difficult questions that were giving them sleepless nights. “Almost everyone giggled when this young gentleman innocently asked – how do I reduce my cost of sales? And one response came – don’t ever sell to this segment!”

While everyone learned a thing or two, I noticed recurring themes in advice and insights that most of us agreed with. I call those timeless pieces and they are:

  1. Articulate the problem you’re solving really well (for whom, how, and why)
  2. Keep it super simple during MVP stage
  3. Speak to users, don’t assume
  4. Your product is super cool, but maybe for some other segment!
  5. Solve one problem really well for just a handful of users before conquering the world.

We concluded the session with everyone summarising their one or two key takeaways from these awesome 6 hours spent together (damn, nobody mentioned expanded LinkedIn network!) For me, more than anything, it was a humbling experience to be with these ultra-human beings for I’d like to be like them, some Saturday!

How culture is the fevicol of a startup

I recently attended a Playbook Roundtable organised by iSPIRT on “Culture Design” discussing how to preserve culture of a company that it started with? Reading so much strife because of culture conflict globally or in India or how MNCs should imbibe the “Transparency Culture” & “Accountability Culture” has made me wonder Isn’t “Culture” a confusing word?

Each time we use the word culture we incline toward one or another of its aspects: toward the “culture” that’s imbibed through osmosis or the “culture” that’s learned at museums, toward the “culture” that makes you a better a person or the “culture” that just inducts you into a group.

As per Wikipedia, Culture is, in the words of E.B. Tylor, “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”

Tirthankar Dash articulated culture that can be depicted in a pyramid. At the base is the Philosophy – what are the belief systems underlying the culture.

On that base is built the Mythology or folklore. This would mean Stories – what are the stories that make your philosophy real and personal. And at the top would be Rituals – what can you do that will bring it all alive.

One truth we have seen over the centuries – whether it’s a team of 3 or a country or a civilization, culture exists in every community. So the choice is between letting an unconscious culture crop up like weeds or consciously creating a culture we truly love.

A lot has been said about “Corporate Culture” of late especially about “Startup Culture”. One can have big vision and goals, smart people, super pay, great products and more, but the undercurrents of culture many a times determine whether the company crosses the chasm from good to great.

So, the key question is what kind of culture we want to propagate, as a company, community and the country? How do we provide an environment where one can respond (said and unsaid) to people and situations to bring out the best in each of us?

How does one ensure that we preserve and pass the culture of company from the 10th employee to the 100th to the 1000th?

While each startup or a big company should identify its own values, rituals, celebration and mythologies, there are three critical aspects that each culture should have for it to sustain, have its employees be “in the zone”, an experience when your concentration and focus peak and you are able to scale uncharted territory.

Trust: Every culture should command and demand trust among its community. If there is trust deficit, it leads to fear which creates processes and policies. Leaders of many organizations are afraid of the 2 per cent employees who may break their trust. The reality is, whether you create restrictive processes or not only 2 per cent of the people break your trust.

You end up penalizing the 98 per cent of the employees with restrictive policies (attendance tracking, detailed travel policies, time-tracking etc.) Any driven employee cannot ever be in the zone if they feel restricted, monitored and trapped.

Progress: Growth, movement , opportunities whatever you call it progress is like oxygen for any company or culture. Driven people constantly look for avenues where they can satiate their hunger for learning. Hence the culture should foster open communication and collaboration coupled with professional & personal growth.

The Indian culture, often labelled as an amalgamation of several sub-cultures is a prime example of this progress over several millennia.

Purpose: As a leader, if you had to choose to do only one thing to get your team to be in the zone, it should be to continuously, shamelessly and loudly remind them of the larger purpose of the team and the organisation they are a part of.

Remember, there are a bunch of operational tasks and distractions vying for your team’s time and attention. It is your job to take out time and remind them of the larger purpose of the organisation. It is your job to get them back on track when they are distracted and to give them the feedback and support they require.

At InMobi we believe in nurturing a culture that enables people to become more of who they truly are. YaWiO which is the foundation of our culture is like the wind – it’s the presence that can’t be directly seen, but it can be felt very strongly. It is our glue that holds the organization together and can guide how to behave & act!

Guest Post by Ankit Rawal, Proud Veteran InMobian

Understanding Software Sales from the Tally Experience

It is safe to say that Tally is the grand daddy of all Indian Software Products, the only company to have discovered the holy grail of selling software to Indian small businesses at scale. So when one of the key architects of the Tally sales network, Deepak Prakash (Tally employee #3) came down to Mumbai to do a iSPIRT Roundtable, there was little chance I would miss this. And Deepak Prakash did not disappoint. In typical Delhi banter, Deepak walked us inside the mind of a top performing sales executive and how the goals of an entrepreneur and sales person, while contradicting from the outside can be wonderfully complementary if managed right.

2015-03-14 14.29.14 HDRIn the era of online marketing and social media, old world sales seems like a relic of a bygone era. But not in India. In a country full of contradictions, traditional sales still has its charm and companies that want to sell in India, must understand the nuances.

Empathy

The most recurring theme Deepak’s talk was Empathy. The ability to listen and ask good questions. This applies to both, the relationship between the customer and the sales person and the sales person and the entrepreneur.

Deepak talked about the importance of knowing the sales person and making sure their aspirations are aligned with the company’s aspirations. If the aspiration of the sales person is to buy a car or buy a house, then the person must be able to see that this job will be able to fulfil these aspirations. Aspirations of changing the world have to be translated to the sales person.

Being in sales is a crushing job. Most of us a wary of sales people and feel they are intruders. Hence it is very important for someone who is managing a sales team to constantly boost the ego of the sales person, It helps to keep up the “shabash” and back slapping. If the sales have not been good, its not a good idea to bring it up the first thing in the morning. Mornings should be positive. Its best to have an evening call and close the day’s issues.

Productising Sales

Once the sales process is stable and repeatable, it is important to standardize it. Deepak calls it productising the sales. Getting the words right is very important. It is necessary to always talk in the language of the customer. While calling the customer to renew, saying that “their account is going to ‘expire’” can send wrong signals. Avoiding use of jargon, having a clear pitch and script was at the heart of the sales process. A good sales person is always well prepared should never be in doubt of what to say in any given situation.

Strategy

One of the key learnings for most of the fellow startups was market segmentation. Deepak shared to attack  a new market. For example if you  were targeting automobile dealers,you  would first have have your own sales people break into 10% of the market and once the network effects started, i.e., you will  have enough references and word of mouth going, then you  start handing it over to a reseller or partner network.

In Deepak’s words “you should  eat the elephant, but piece by piece”

Channel Building

A point will come when it will be  impossible to keep growing the sales network. Not only will it be  expensive, it will  also difficult to manage large sales teams. Hence it imperative for you  to start building a partner network. On being asked, when was the best time to start a partner network, Deepak answered, when there was a repeatable (productised) sales process.

International Expansion

There were many other topics Deepak touched upon like hiring (good sales people are great listeners), Tally’s approach to piracy (don’t inconvenience the customer), managing targets, bringing in influencers (charted accountants in case of Tally) and being clear of what you want (Tally was clear they did not want to go for enterprise customers).

Some of Deepak’s stories reminded me of the Jagdeep Sahni scripted “Rocket Singh, Salesman of the year”, which I think is a brilliant, highly underrated Indian movie for startups.

The Key to selling software to SMEs in India

One of the things Deepak wanted to share with the startups, something that Bharat Goenka, the founder of Tally has also spoken elsewhere, is that the buying patterns of small businesses in India are like enterprises in mature markets. They are used to being sold things rather than they pro actively going and buying stuff. Deepak wants to warn software companies (and their VCs) that they need to plan for scale (more than 10,000 customers). This is not a market for half measures.

My Take

While the session was delightful and insightful, I don’t think startups should try and emulate what worked for Tally. Tally was a product of an era where there was no internet and software adoption was in its infancy. They succeeded because they had the right strategy, risk apatite and execution for the market they wanted to succeed. Also once they hit critical mass, the role of the sales person was only to ensure availability, because the customer already knew they they wanted Tally.

11063806_10152785041892794_1847266351215314437_nThere is a reason the roles of travel agents or insurance agents is shrinking every day. The internet is a wonderful for discovery, learning and distribution of software and startups should go on this path. While sales may be necessary for enterprise, it is too expensive small businesses.

We understand that today, the Indian small business may not be ready to buy without being sold to, but this is changing fast. We are happy to wait and perfect the online game, so that when the markets open up, we have to most compelling offering ready.

The best things are simple. Is your messaging there yet? : from #PlaybookRT

The most crucial lessons come from looking at the mistakes: those that we make and those that we spot others making. A thought might get triggered by listening to great dreamers like Steve Jobs. But the termination, in terms of realization, implementation and imbibing the essence comes only when you have walked through that journey and declared a new start.

Shankar, who imagined and steered the 43rd round table in Delhi, created amazing examples to drive across the points, we had often read heard and hoped to understand. I will try and share what were my takeaways.

This session, thanks to Rajat Harlalka and the amazing iSPIRT movement, started off with an unforgettable lesson, on what is the Curse of Knowledge.

You need to attend one round table to experience it. For now I can only re-iterate one of the ways it is often represented.

The moment you know how to speak a language, you forget what it is like, to not know it.”

The same thing happens with you and your product. You know it too well to imagine what it looks like to those who don’t know it. What should the message be, so that the potential customers want to have it?

Who?

So if you are looking at spotting your messaging, spot the Who of your customer.

  1.       Who is your Bob (What Bob?)
  2.       What does he look like
  3.       Where does he go
  4.       What does he do

Why?

Once you have figured out the Who, move on to answer the Why

  1.       Why should Bob need your product
  2.       What’s in it for him
  3.       How does it make him better

Only after figuring these questions would it make sense to move on to ‘What’ your product does and ‘How’ does it do it.

I want you to read that again. Give it some time to sink it. Let it challenge what you think you know.

List of Videos by ShankarIt’s only after spotting “Who is your Bob” and “Why should he bother” that you product and it’s features and functionality come in.

First response of one of my fellow entrepreneur to this statement was: I know all that.

‘I am the best ecommerce setup for finding XYZ. That’s why he should care’, he went.  Really?

It’s like saying, “I am the best writer. You better read my books”. Does that work?

If you have both the answers, feel confident. You are amongst the top 5% companies who have their basics right.

Now what do you do with this knowledge?

Let your Bob know!

This was where I would say, the workshop’s original aim hovered.

If you have your answers, incorporate them in your messaging. Share a story that people can relate to. Share with your Bob that you are going to make him better. Let your messaging help Bob, feel this sentiment.

If you look at the steps we went through and reinforced during our Bob journey, there were just 2.  Make yourself :

  1.       Meaningful, and,
  2.       Differentiated, to your Bob.

One other takeaway that stuck with me was this: The best things are simple. Is your messaging there?

Guest Blog post by Kritika Prashant, VoiceTree Technologies

40th #PlayBookRT in NCR on “Break the Barriers of Selling” by Deepak Prakash

iSPIRT kicked off its first roundtable for 2015 on 17th January at the office of Eko India, Gurgaon. The PlaybookRT was led by Deepak Prakash, Former VP of Sales at Tally Solutions. He has led building the entire sales network bottoms up and was the #1 sales person at Tally. Under him, Tally evolved from direct selling to single-tier home grown network for dominance and further evolved into a two tier network to create availability supplementing with all possible marketing activities with money/without money to reach-out to every potential buyer of our product(s).

The theme of the PlayBook Roundtable was something that poses a challenge for all tech entrepreneurs – Sales. Sales is what riddles most of the IT Product company start-ups – each one to his riddle. The intriguing problem of sales combined with Deepak’s experience and expertise in this subject ensured we had a full house on cold Saturday morning.

2015-01-17 18.30.11Overview

There are roughly about 1.25 crore SMEs in India, and about 40 Lakh of them have computers and are ready for automation. This provides a huge opportunity for enterprise software providers. Most of tech entrepreneurs have built interesting products to address this large market, however sales has always been the Achilles’ heels. Deepak broadly outlined the following sales strategies to tackle this market.

Building an effective sales team

Understand the sales psyche

In order to build a successful sales team, it is imperative to understand the psyche of sales people. As tech entrepreneurs, we usually tend to apply the same yardstick for both technology folks and sales team. This approach is incorrect.

  • Engineers and techies can accept failures easily, take it up as a challenge and build upon it. If there is a defect or something is not working, they will try new approaches to solve it. But for a sales guy, who is in front of a customer alone, failure can more often than not challenge his pride and ego. It needs a lot of effort for a sales person to swallow this failure and start afresh next morning. Inorder to keep his motivation high, it is necessary that we celebrate small sales victories and communicate the role he is playing in the organization.
  • Developers and tech teams go by logic and enjoy data, analytics and whatsapp/SMS. While sales teams enjoy phone call over IM and there is more emotion in place. It is very easy for a sales person to become lost or feel small in a tech setup. Entrepreneurs need to work and ensure that both teams understand each other’s importance.

Hiring A Sales Team

In response to a question on what traits we should look for while hiring for a sales position, Deepak mentioned:

  • The person should be able to make the customer comfortable and make him speak about his problems and needs. Only if a sales person can understand the pain point of customer, can he suggest the right value proposition. Someone who talks a lot and does not let others talk is not necessarily a good sales person.
  • A good sales person will typically have his pipeline on tips of his fingertips. He should be able to spell this out at any time.
  • Someone who says I can sell anything and I don’t need to know the product is a person you want to avoid. Because as an entrepreneur you want him to focus on product demo, and confide in the fact that your product is good enough that sale will happen if the right message goes to the customer.

In response to comments that it is difficult to find sales people who are ambitious or motivated, Sumit Kapoor from Employwise mentioned that it is not entirely correct. It is for the leader to inspire their people. We are able to inspire and motivate tech people easily but not sales people.

However, before hiring a sales team, founders need to ensure that the product or startup is at a stage where someone else can do the sales for them. E.g. if the sales calls become repetitive, you know that our sales process and collateral are ready for delegation.

Sales Team Training and Measuring Success

Deepak also shared his approach of measuring the success of sales teams:

  • Do not measure the success of a sales person by the number of cheques he gets but by the number of demos he makes. As an entrepreneur, we need to believe that our product is good and so if the sales person focuses on a good demonstration, cheques will come and business will happen.
  • The target or objective for sales team should be to talk about your passion, your innovation and your pride.
  • We need to understand the dream of sales people. Rather than imposing our dream on them, if we start worrying about their dream, they will start worrying about yours.

The discussion then meandered into how to train and motivate your sales team. Everyone one chimed in with interesting thoughts and here are some of them:

  • The first sales call for a new joinee is like sending a child to school. As parents we have to hold their hands and be there at the background. In case we close sale, do not ever say that sales happened because of me. Motive the new member and make him feel that he was the one who closed the deal.
  • In technology, we attempt to solve problems that are under your control, while sales depend on other people (end user, decision maker and several stakeholders) and so we have to be patience and cut the sales team some slack.
  • The only fear that sales folks have on the road is that sale will not happen. With every rejection, they lose a bit of self esteem. They have to recover from this loss over the night and get ready for a new day and a new fight. And on top of it, we as organizations impose tools such as CRM they have to fill in. These CRMs do not talk back and understand their feeling. At Tally Deepak used to call his boys everyday at 7 pm and hear them out, giving them a chance to vent out their feelings.
  • In a tech company, usually a sales person is considered an outsider. But if the rest of the team starts seeing as a bread winner and if the sales person gets a feeling that the team depends on him, this will give him a high.
  • As entrepreneurs, we also need to understand the difference between entrepreneurs and employees. Employees live for a lifestyle while entrepreneurs live for building an organization. Employees will plan for vacation, holidays etc. and we need to appreciate this.
  • Normally we give just product training to sales teams but customers usually want to talk to someone who understands them. So domain knowledge becomes important.
  • We try to surround sales people with tools such as CRM citing terms such as productivity, efficiency etc. These terms more often than not are Greek to them and they feel you are trying to control them, while the feeling inside them is freedom. We have to explain them to them that the tool is for liberation so that they start enjoying it.

2015-01-17 15.29.56Digital vs. Feet on Street

The discussion also got into choosing between Digital and Foot on Street and whether startups should try both. Sumeet opined that it is best not to get into a situation where we do both.

  • A digital strategy takes time to build as you have to create content, online brand etc. that does not happen overnight.
  • You also need to ensure that your customers are comfortable going through the entire sales cycle digitally including making payments. If there is any trade deficit, digital may not work.
  • While building your digital content strategy, you also need to ensure whether your target SMEs are coming online to search for data. Do they have enough time or knowledge on how some of their problems will be solved.

While if you are going for feet on street, you need to remember to bring in processes that will help you scale. E.g. you have to build a sales engine through which if you run a new hire, he can go and sell your product.

Sometimes combining both digital and feet on street can mask problems in either of the approaches. E.g. if customers are not comfortable making payments online, we get our sales team to talk to them and make payments offline. This prevents us from addressing the real problem, which perhaps could be a trade deficit.

Building a Channels Strategy

The mantra of success was that they created their own channel network, this lead to a dedicated network which will take all the products Tally would have created or will create. They ensured that their channel has enough activity to do, opportunity to encash and inclusive work for their growth was charted.

Channel works well when people already know your brand. There are three major things that channels can help you with:

  • Sell your product
  • Act as fulfilment centres for your product
  • Extension of network for messaging

Your channel strategy also has to evolve in-time. When you want to create deeper reach and availability you need to recruit another set of partners, and in parallel ensure that the already present channel also gains from your expansion.

Channel strategy has changes considerably between pre MNC and post MNC. Earlier there was a lot of relationship building, but now most of the channel partners play around very low margins. Entrepreneurs need to be wary of which strategy they want to adopt here.

Bundling Your Products

Another strategy tried by several companies is to bundle the product with another product that sells more. FMCG industry has done it very successfully. A couple of things that need to be taken care when pursuing this path are:

  • The product you are bundling with should resonate with your own product. E.g. both products can complete each other
  • Are the sales people selling the original product understand your product or are able to explain to customers about your products.

Referrals

Referrals are another avenue that startups can explore, however before doing so you need to ensure that you are capable to handle all the leads that come in. Throwing a bigger net that you can manage can actually backfire for you.

Right Business Model

Several SaaS based business have a monthly model where they would call businessmen every month to pay. This may not work well with SMEs. Your customer’s business is not to buy software with you. He would rather want to concentrate on his business. Hence it may make more sense to opt for an annual model. The serious customers will anyways buy this. Exotel had a similar experience.

Reaching out to different stakeholders

Often in an B2B setup, the user, decision maker and paying authority are different. The discussion moved to what should be the order in which different stakeholders are reached out. Usually sales team members are hesitant to meet the owner as they face the possibility of heavy rejection. Also owners are not interested in features but in how the tool can either help them save money or make more. However, they do depend on feedback from the user or beneficiary. Hence the sales team should first reach out to the user or beneficiary and then the owner. Sometimes the owner also depends on inputs from a Subject Matter Expert, who could be an IT guy or engineer in his friend/family and sometimes others (e.g. CAs in case of Tally)

However, in case of channels the approach is opposite. You first reach out to the owner to get them buy your proposition. Following this you want to reach out to the sales team of the partner so that they are well educated and trained to sell or demo your product.

2015-01-17 15.30.21Monopolistic Market

Dinesh Agarwal from Busy Software shared insights on how they penetrated a market which was dominated by one large player – Tally. He banked on users and stakeholders in accounting software to identify niche features that were required by a segment but not offered by Tally. One of such feature was statuary compliance. They launched this feature at half the price and this helped them penetrate. They also carved out their channel strategy and ecosystem that helped to build a strong market base.

Going International

Deepak also touched upon some key considerations while eyeing international sales:

  • Your product will need to be adapted to the particular market you intend to tap into. It could be for example statuary compliance or local language support.
  • International markets can be expensive and hence you need to plan well
  • From a sales strategy, there will be broad similarities. E.g. international markets also have channels that work on the same motivations and contours.
  • You need to accept the fact that no one in a new market knows you or your product. So if you start from scratch.
  • The business problems and challenges are similar in different markets. They too have similar HR problems or business problems.
  • There also needs to be a culture adoption, especially the way you communicate or conduct your sales effort.
  • Before starting to build a channel in an international market, it usually makes sense that you acquire the first 10-20 customers yourself. This will help you understand the market better, ensure your product is ready and help you exploit the channel strategy much better.
  • Set clear expectations and objectives so that you know when to get out if things are not working.

Conclusion

One thing that stood clear from inputs of all participants was that there is no size that fits all. Different solutions and strategies yielded results for different teams and entrepreneurs. It is imperative not to wear someone else’s stripes. Pick up a strategy that is doable for you based on the types of person you are and situation you are in.

2015-01-17 13.36.59The high level of interest and engagement from all participants was evident as the session that planned for 3-4 hours got extended to beyond 7 hours. We finally concluded our first Roundtable for 2015 with a promise from Deepak that he will back with us in a couple of months.

Innovate on the Product, Not on the Business Model

Entrepreneurs from Bangalore had no problem driving into Chennai amid a tense political situation in Tamil Nadu. There was an air of expectation and enthusiasm on the part of more than 15 entrepreneurs who had come in from Bangalore and Mumbai, apart from Chennai itself, to listen to Girish Mathrubootham, Freshdesk CEO and founder, for the Playbook Roundtable on Scaling a SaaS business. Colourful wall graffiti greeted visitors at the Freshdesk’s vibrant office, which itself exuded energy.

A condensed version of the discussion is given in form of a Q&A.

Girish from Freshdesk

What should I focus on in a SaaS business?

The No. 1 success for your business is your product and it is key to your sustenance in business. You should know what matters to your business. Innovate on the product but don’t change your business model. Look at businesses that are in the same domain as you are or businesses that sell to the same kind of customers like yours. Adopt their business model. Copying business models is not a sin. Tweaking the business model may not be good in the long run. 37Signals started charging credit card subscription only when the merchant bank refused them monthly subscriptions as the bank felt the business is new and could fold up in any time. Such business model changes happen by compulsion and not by design.

How should I go about marketing the SaaS business?

Forget affiliate marketing. It works only for impulse buys and in an e-commerce environment. Success, if any, is not scalable. Only Constant Contact has achieved success with affiliate marketing.

Guest blogs with linkbacks to your product site is a good idea.

Positioning and lead generation are key to marketing. Trigger e-mails is just a drip marketing tool and not scalable. Killing welcome e-mails increases response rates. Getting your e-mail to land in the target’s inbox is crucial and it shouldn’t get into Promotion box in Gmail.

Text-only e-mail with no images and links works best. Attention-grabbing subject line and shortening the length to four to five lines assure greater response rates. Remember, mails are read on mobiles. So keep it short.

Instead of a uniform pitch to customers, talk to them to understand their problems. Then your demo should provide a solution to their problems. Customers at times get confused if you run through your presentation and may not connect with how the product or the features will solve their problems. Be specific.

Make your demo educational for the customer. Say something new and which the customer doesn’t know. It will earn you respect and might convert to sales.

Freemium has two groups. In one, after a trial period, you charge for the product right from the beginning. In the other, there are a free version and a paid version of the product. Nail down which works best for your business. Any number of free trials is not going to hurt your business. Leaving money on the table is a good idea. Because the customer might buy after a long time. Patience is a good trait.

Track the customer from their first visit to your website and determine the pattern of how customers find you. This is called visitor fingerprinting. Then you know where to focus upon.

Trade shows. Do they help? For small companies, they may bring some branding and don’t expect too much ROI from events. What works best is a personalized presentation to your target customer. Do your homework and create customized presentations. This might convert to sales.

Attendees at FreshdeskGenerally, personalize across presales, sales, and marketing. The response rates are 25%.

[Read Marc Benioff’s Behind the Cloud.]

[Watch Gail Goodman of Customer Contact’s video “How to negotiate a long slow SaaS ramp of death”]

Webinars? Webinars are good. All the more good if there is an expert on the topic speaking and it offers something new. Make the webinar having some educational value for the audience.

PR – Be in the news constantly. Hire a good PR agency and avoid scamsters promising hell a lot of things (say, one-page content on you in a magazine that has access to thousands of targets in a domain). They wouldn’t be suitable for your business. Churn out good stories often. Reach the people who don’t need you now. Seed them for the future.

Segregate your marketing function into a campaign team and a content marketing/product marketing team.

Product Management mantras from the 26th Playbook Roundtable

The 26th playbook roundtable was held last week (8th March 2014) at Delhi NCR and brought together over 15 startup and product practitioners to discuss and gain insights on some of the challenging aspects of growth and monetization in product companies. This roundtable was hosted at Eko India Financial Services office in Gurgaon, and was led by Amit Ranjan, Cofounder of Slideshare, and Amit Somani, CPO of MakeMyTrip. In a span of over 5 hours, a diverse set of topics were discussed. Prominent takeaways from the roundtable were insights on approaches to pricing, virality, growth decisions, pivoting, user experience etc. The following paragraphs detail the key learning from each of these above aspects.

Pivoting in a Business

Creating a successful company is essentially a search for the repeatable and scalable business model. To succeed in this search, companies should frequently make and test predictions about what will work in their business models. Businesses, no matter, which stage they are in are always pivoting. As a business, while you do focus on your revenues, but you also need to constantly keep thinking what will drive the revenue in 3 years from now and ensure that you slowly move in that direction. Of the so many internet companies, perhaps only a handful will survive 10 years. Amit Somani mentioned how MakeMyTrip is constantly looking at the next big thing. It started from a flight booking venture for NRIs to become the largest flight booking portal for the Indian market and is already evolving to cater to hotels and holiday packages. The next challenge for the company is mobile and ensuring that the company is successful in an increasingly mobile world.

IMG_2851Amit Ranjan talked about how often ventures have to 3-4 side projects or “distractions” that help you understand what will work in a fast changing industry and ensure you evolve to address these changes.

Moving from early adopters to 10x Growth

One of the best ways to achieve 10x growth after successfully validating your product and without spending too much or no money is virality. By definition, virality is designing and engineering your product such that it markets itself. A viral product derives much of its growth from its current users recruiting new users. A user could recruit another through a simple invitation (“Check out this product, it’s cool/useful/entertaining!”), or directly through using the product (“I want to send you money on PayPal!”). Virality is not an accident. It is engineered. Virality is more about width and depth. Amit Ranjan shared interesting insights on how the homepage of Slideshare during the initial days was designed for virality (with several banners and stickers to attract audience) during the initial days and when the portal was able to achieve significant growth, the homepage was redesigned for user experience.

Prioritizing Customer Inputs in a B2B Product

If you manage a product or service in the business-to-business (B2B) market, customer requests for features will be a regular part of your work. Requests come in through the sales team, service reps, and senior management, as well as directly from customers themselves. This makes it difficult for companies to decide which feature to include in the product or not. A good thumb of rule to decide whether to include the feature or not is that if 3 customers want it or a pushy a customer wants it and you can sell it to 2 more customers, then you should go ahead and include that feature. A key issue is to how do you know multiple customers have the same request? A common way is to utilize software which allows customers to post ideas, suggestions and requests. There are idea management providers that are good for this. Or you can user customer feedback sites. These asynchronous, always-on, open-to-all sites are well-suited for capturing suggestions.

IMG_2852In addition, you may need to check other areas. Your email often contains customer suggestions. Or you have a service ticket database you can check. Relevant knowledge will be in people’s heads, those who directly work with customers.

Also, it is very important to validate this feature. This can be done by rolling out first to your employees and then to few customers. This will help validate your thoughts.

Documentation and User Training

Generating user training manuals and videos can be a tedious job, especially for ERP kind of solutions, especially when the product is frequently undergoing changes. Also, the general trend seems to be that users have stopped reading trend. Even if people did decide to read the instructions, showing too many at once increases users cognitive load. Because users cannot read the hint overlay and use the app at the same time, they are forced to memorize the instructions and then apply them. Thus, it is more effective to focus on a single interaction rather than attempting to explain every possible area of the user interface.

Rather than generating documents and videos which will very soon become redundant, a better approach will be to have built in CTAs in the product to help/guide the users. This includes things such as built in FAQs (built using services such as Zendesk), using coachmarks etc. Presenting hints one-by-one, at the right moment, makes it a lot easier for users to understand and learn instructions. This interaction pattern has the added benefit of teaching the user at which point in the workflow these interactions or functions become applicable.

Making Sense of Data

As a product usage grows, enormous amount of data gets collected and sometimes making sense of the data becomes a challenge for Product Managers. It is no wonder that big players such as LinkedIn, Facebook etc. have large teams comprising of data scientists. Data crunching from this team of scientists even help the companies to validate the probability that a particular feature will be liked by their audience.

Product Managers are knee deep in the product and data can help take an unbiased look at the product, often yielding amazing insights and learnings. Data Analytics are important for one major reason: What you don’t measure, you can’t improve. Without knowing what the state of the system is, it is very hard, if not impossible, to do much to change or affect the system. You can, of course, make changes  blind, but without analytics you will never know whether the system was changed or whether nothing happened. It allows you to see what is currently happening, make a change and see what effect the change has.

IMG_2849A good way to make sense of data is to have an hypothesis and then look for local maximas. Apart from that, product managers can apply operations such as segmentation, funnels and cohorts to make more sense of data. Over time, as the system changes and improves, the KPIs (and consequently the metrics) will change, which in turn leads changes in what needs to be measured. It is likely that new flows and metrics will be discovered that prove crucial to the system so whatever the analytics used, they will need to be continuously adapted to meet this change and keep you on top of what’s happening in your product.

Encouraging Users to Sign Up

For a consumer product, completely logged in experience versus a logout experience is a choice between distribution and engagement. Slideshare and Youtube offer a complete logout experience as users do not need to login to access the portal. Linkedin devised an interesting way to incentivize users to sign up. They show a glimpse of profile to users who then need to sign up to view the full profile. It is also imperative that the process to get users through the front door of an application and engaging with content needs to be as simple and seamless as possible if an organization wants to win and keep mindshare.

Increasingly a lot of companies are using gamification, but it is more geared towards engagement rather than acquisition.

Key Takeaways from the 25th #PlaybookRT at Bangalore – Sales for Startups

The 25th playbook roundtable held last week (01 March 2014) brought together about 14 startup practitioners to discuss and gain insights on some of the challenging aspects of Sales in product companies. This roundtable was hosted at Accel Partners office in Bangalore, and was led by Aneesh Reddy, from Capillary Technologies. In a span of about 5 hours, a diverse set of topics were discussed. Prominent takeaways from the roundtable were insights on approaches to pricing, decision making during sales cycles, dealing with resellers and partners, setting up a sales team for the first time, how to plan for your Sales team when you are scaling up and dealing with Sales in new geographies. The following paragraphs detail the key learning from each of these above aspects.

When to setup your first sales team?

Entrepreneurs should be selling themselves till they achieve repeatable revenue streams, irrespective of the sector and nature of the offering. One should start looking at a dedicated sales team only when the founding team cannot anymore respond to leads / queries in a time bound manner.

If the founding team does not have deep skills in selling, it may be useful to involve a consultant to setup the team and the processes and learn on the way. Firms such as Gosonix have helped setup the sales processes for startups as they began to address increasing customer interest.

There are also organizations that provide inside sales services to startups. A few startups such as Freshdesk have benefited by use of such extended inside sales teams.

Inside Sales Operations and Management

Based on the target geography that you are working on, one should use the qualification criteria to build a sales pipeline. Macro parameters such as number of employees or revenue of the enterprise in the segment and country that you are targeting to sell provide good starting points to develop the qualification criterion.

Inside sales activities have yielded good results in English speaking countries such as US and Europe, however, has been very difficult and non-efficient in UAE, South Asia and non English speaking parts of Africa.

Accent training is a must if you are reaching out to customers outside India. Training partners are available to help you with accent training needs of your sales team.

For markets such as South Asia, cold calling does not work – since language barriers and culture is not very assimilative. Field business development operations are cheaper than inside sales operations if the target market of focus is on South Asian countries.

Sales Best Practices

A 30 second script consisting of factoids describing who you are, what you do, which customers have you dealt with, how has it helped them is a must for any startup Sales – irrespective of whether you set shop just today, or if you are scaling your startup.
Have a clear separation of duties amongst your lead generators and deal closers. Usual practice is to hire a deal closing guy for about 5 lead generators.

Ensure efficiency in your Sales operation by tracking the conversion of calls to meetings to actual leads and finally to conversions or drop-outs. Expect about 1 lead to come for qualification from about 10 calls on an average.

Once you have a lead, qualify the lead using the B.A.N.T or the more comprehensive S.C.O.T.S.M.A.N technique to ensure you spend the optimal time on that lead.

Differentiate and track marketing generated leads and inside sales generated leads. Provide visibility to the Field Sales personnel on the source of the lead to ensure they have the right context to qualify and initiate a discussion with the prospect.

Indian customers – especially in the SMB segment take a lot of time to decide to buy. Keep them engaged continuously with good marketing content after initial contact. They will get in touch with you and buy when they decide to go ahead.

Pricing

Pricing is the trickiest aspect in Selling. For offerings where the value added by your offering / solution can be calculated directly or indirectly, pricing conversations is a lot easier – since you have data to back your discussion. However, in other cases, one has to use all available information and work on a range to begin with.

For startups that are in their early stages, back calculate based on your expenses to decide on pricing. Another approach for SaaS based early stage startups is to price based on the CAC (Customer Acquisition Costs). General agreement is that a CAC of about 5-6 months is ideal, and a CAC of upto 1 year is tolerable for early stage startups.

A barebones calculation of pricing should be based on the product of revenues, gross margin you want to derive and customer lifespan for your offering. David Skok has good articles on these topics.

Complement your Sales efforts by your Marketing efforts

Use marketing as complementary aspect to sales – apart from leveraging it for various aspects of building your brand and communication etc. Nurture your customers by segmenting them based on the previous interaction by your company and send relevant content that could be of use to them.

For startups targeting global customers, ensure that you generate adequate content by means of customer acquisition stories, case studies, announcement of new customer wins, participation in events etc. This will help build the initial set of opportunities from the marketing side.

Use the rental lists of magazines that are widely read in the field of your offerings to increase mindshare. Blog or write regularly on Industry trends in some of these magazines to offer a good discount. Engaging with a PR agency based on the geography in the early stages of market entry also can pay off.