The iSPIRT Roundtable @Pune – 11 Startups share Metric Driven Growth Secrets

As a startup founder or growth marketer, you obsess over metrics: what is my lead-generation rate, how many customers did I win or lose, how is my monthly revenue growing, or how many customer referrals did I get? Analytics is critical for your business, without which you’re flying blind. However, data overload is real and you might not derive the right actionable insights.

To simplify metric-driven growth for product startups, iSPIRIT, on 18th June 2016, organised a half day roundtable of 11 product startups in Pune. The roundtable was moderated by Paras Chopra, Founder, Wingify and Sanket Nadhani, Growth Marketer, Wingify.

The discussion was structured in a way where attendees spoke about the 3 metrics that are most important to them, an “uncommon” metric that they track, and their expectations from the roundtable. The format was kept fluid with attendees pitching in with thoughts and interesting ideas. At the end of this, all of us saw an exciting video about using Lean Analytics for growing your business.

As a growth marketer, I found interesting growth tactics that these startups use and some insightful metrics that they track. I have structured these in Dave McClure’s famous AARRR pirate-metric framework for SaaS businesses.

 

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Acquisition

Where do I get customers from?

Acquiring new customers is hard. Especially for newly born startups. The best way probably is to just throw mud everywhere and see where it sticks. Once you’ve identified a performing channel, or hopefully multiple channels, you build strategies around them to ramp up acquisition.

Invariably all the startups agree tracking the number of enquiries (opportunities) and their conversion rates across channels is crucial. Paras was of the opinion that keeping an eye on weekly trends on the performance of acquisition channels will help uncover tipping points of when the channel is about to take off or when it’s time to forget about a channel if it has not been performing for a while. To identify optimal acquisition channels, Sandeep Khode, WordsMaya, tells us to ask your customers where they came to know about you. Though it’s a manual process, it helps them to identify users’ exact search terms, which is very useful for keyword optimization. WordsMaya leverages Quora to acquire customers by answering questions or starting a topic.

Jayesh Kariya, VP Finance, TouchMagix, contributed an interesting idea that maintaining a trend of number of prospects lost every week is an eye opener. This lends the idea that your startup should improve its own performance week-on-week.

Landing pages and pricing pages plays an important part in customer acquisition. However, due to information overload, 55% percent of visitors spend fewer than 15 seconds on a new website. Optimizing landing page was a top priority for everyone. Paras told us that a landing page should tell a complete story; it should give all the information that the visitor wants in as few words as possible. Amit Mishra, CEO, InterviewMocha shared an excellent framework, HABITS, to design landing pages. He also says that inserting call to action buttons on your own blog posts gives a click-through rate of around 2%, effectively using your own website as an acquisition channel.

Habits_for_Conversion_Optimized_Landing_Pages

 

Activation

Oh! I got 1000 signups in a day but nobody used the product.

This sucks, right? To improve activation rates, answer this question: once someone signs up, how quickly can she actually use your product? In other words, how soon does she realise the product’s value proposition? If it’s not soon enough, the user goes away never to return.

The onboarding experience of a user should be smooth and, importantly, short. You should NOT ask a user to fill out a form with more than four fields. Some of the tactics and metrics that were discussed –

  • Keep the on-boarding experience short. Examining onboarding experiences of other companies will help you design your own.
  • Measure the ratio of number of users who sign-up to number of user who complete onboarding. Make sure that you measure every step if you have a multi-step onboarding process.

Retention

I signed up a 1000 users a month back. Today, only 10 of them are using my product.

Customer Retention is the real growth accelerator. The math is quite simple: 1 – 1 + 1 = 1. If you don’t retain customers, there’s no use acquiring them. Here’s a great infographic with helpful tips to boost customer retention and reduce churn.

Vrushali Babar, Founder, Meatroot, a B2C business, says that it’s crucial for her to retain her customers. She says that sentiment analysis of what her customers are saying online is indispensable. She currently does it manually on Twitter or Facebook but using a tool like Sentiment140 or BuzzLogix could be useful.

A useful exercise could be developing a dashboard that plots the engagement of users with your product on a daily basis. The philosophy is that a customer who is not engaged will leave. Such a dashboard will give you a snapshot of when engagement of a customer is on the decline so that you can take proactive action before the customer cancels. Another useful metric, for SaaS businesses, is to measure the number of sessions for a user during the trial phase. This will let you know which users are more likely to convert to a paid subscription.

To demonstrate how important is customer retention, Sagar Bedmutha, CEO, Optinno Mobitech takes this issue to an obsessive level. When a user submits a rating of less than 4 on their app on the Play Store, he tracks the user, fixes the bug, and sends a test app to the customer! He says, this personal touch often makes the user change her rating and helps Optinno maintain good ratings, the primary driver of app installs.

Paras contributed a great insight on how to properly measure churn rates. He says, that measuring the average churn rate doesn’t help uncover the reason for the churn. Instead, you should do a churn cohort analysis, that is, measure the churn rate segmented by customer cohorts. Examples of cohorts could be the number of months a customer used the product before leaving, the specific features churned customers use, etc.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 11.12.51 AM

 

Let’s say you have 100 customers and 5 of them leave in a given month. Your churn rate turns out to be 5%. However, the graph above makes it clear that the churn is much higher for customers who are less than 6 months old after which the churn is much lower. This points to a problem with activation: customers drop off when they are not fully activated.

Revenue

I have over a 1000 customers, but I am not making any money.

A bad problem to have! Businesses should make money from the customers they serve. This, seemingly obvious, fact sometimes slips away when you are working on many things. Measuring how much revenue you’re generating month-on-month (monthly recurring revenue) is indispensable.

Not only should you track revenue growth, you should work towards increasing it in ways other than signing up new customers. A great way to do that for SaaS businesses is upselling. Upselling lets you get more revenue from one customer and help you define and build the whole product. Kaushal Sanghavi, co-founder, BreathingRoom takes this a step further by saying that maintaining a predictable revenue stream is important. He is trying various techniques and says that incentivizing customers to pre-purchase, or buying in bulk for future use, is showing a lot of promise.

Amit seems to have perfected the art of upselling. He says not to wait to build out a feature before upselling to your customers. Sell as soon as you have an idea. Doing so will give you insights on which are the features customers really want and help you prioritize your product roadmap.

Referral

How I wish my customers referred more customers to me!

A working referral system is what differentiates SaaS companies. An amazing referral system, like that of Dropbox’s Refer-a-Friend, is probably the easiest thing that can bring exponential growth.

Building a working, and non-creepy, referral program for your startup is hard. From my experience, most experiments fail. But you can look at some successful referral implementations and learn from them.

Amit tells that monetarily incentivizing salespeople to follow up with their customers and ask them to write reviews on various web directories has worked well for him to acquire more customers. InterviewMocha, an online assessment software, stores email addresses of people that their system collects, follows them on LinkedIn, and when someone changes a job, reaches out to them to install InterviewMocha in their new companies. Though manual and time-taking, this method, I believe, justifies the ROI.

Final Words

There are a lot of metrics that you can track and you probably are. It’s easy to get lost. The video from Google Ventures that we saw makes a great statement: for a company of a type at any stage of the company, there is one metric that is the most important, which you can’t afford to not track.

As a founder, keep an eye on that one metric and just focus on growing that metric. Here’s a PDF of what that metric is.

At the end of the event, I caught hold of Sanket to pick his brain. One of the main questions I had was what does a founder do when he is just starting out and does not have too much data to derive insights from. Customer Interviews. When you’re small, you can afford to pay attention to each customer. In turn, those customers, often happy with the personal touch, will tell you what they want exactly and give you insights that no market research can.

Customer Interviews are tricky: if you don’t conduct them well, you won’t get the insights that you want. Or more dangerously, you will listen to what you want to listen and fail at validating your assumptions. Spend effort in creating good user interviews and refine over time.

I hope that this post gives you an overview of why metrics are important to grow your business, how to define appropriate business metrics, and learn how startups are already doing so.
About the author – Siddharth Saha – a Product Marketer with an interest in full stack marketing. Questions? Criticisms? Insights? Shoot him an email on sidatsaha@gmail.com

 

5 Questions You Should Ask Before Launching A Product Startup

The number of startups launching every month is growing at a fast pace. Some entrepreneurs opt for a service based model, while others like me go the product model way. Although, there is no clear winner in terms of which model is the best, right or a deal breaker, there are many factors that contribute to the success or failure of startups.

However, when I launched my startup Sainergie, an IT products and services provider, I realized that running a product startup is fundamentally different from a service startup. Apart from a few other steps, you need to take care of idea generation, design, prototype, development, testing and iterations, before you actually launch it. A sizeable amount of resources such as capital, time and energy has to be spent, believing that you are really developing an amazing product that will sell itself. Well, if it was only that easy!

There are several factors you need to bear in mind while launching a product startup. I am listing them here based on my experience.

Is there a market?

You have developed a great product. At least you think so. But, is it good enough for anyone to buy? Does there exist even a little or a niche market for your product? According to an article published in Fortune, the ‘lack of market need’ was the top reason due to which most startups fail! It may even happen that you are ahead of the market curve, that is, customers do not require your product at the time which you think is right. Or maybe, the need is there, but there isn’t an appropriate supporting technology.

For instance, Pebble, Apple and Samsung are among a few leading brands in smartwatches today. But, it was Microsoft who launched it about a decade ago, only that it failed because it was as much a matter of bad timing as that of a poor design.

So, don’t jump to the product development stage straightaway. Put efforts in conducting in-depth market research, studies or surveys to see if the time is right to bring your product in the market.

Are you trying to innovate or reinventing the wheel?

The debate regarding which is better – innovation and reinvention of the wheel, isn’t new. Every product entrepreneur delves on this question before going to the drawing board. But, let’s first understand the difference between the both.

Innovation is building a product that brings a paradigm shift in the customer behaviour. It provides a novel solution in addressing the customer’s pain point. For example, FusionCharts, the provider of interactive JavaScript charts, is one of the most innovative technology companies that disrupted the data visualization industry. Reinventing the wheel is about coming up with a new or a creative idea to change or improve a product that already exists. Here, we can take the example of TATA, which designed the cheapest and smallest car Nano to disrupt the car segment and gain 17% market share.

In my opinion, you shouldn’t be afraid of either innovating or reinventing the wheel as long as it could help your product to become a game changer. The only thing you should ensure is to keep your product simple and useful.

Do you have a sales strategy in place?

So, now you have ensured that there is a market for your product and you have a product ready to hit the shelves. Here comes the tough part – selling it. You need to have a well-thought sales strategy in place. This involves:

  • Setting deliverables (how much you want to sell in what time frame, market price, profit margins)
  • Identifying the sales territories (where you want to sell)
  • Creating marketing collateral (mailers, white papers, brochures, blogs, PowerPoint presentations, etc.)
  • Finding methods to sell (direct, retail, online, word of mouth)
  • Training the sales team (product features, sales pitch, sales targets, customer relationship)

A robust sales strategy will be your road map to positioning your product correctly and gain a competitive advantage.

 Do you have the right sales team?

A sales strategy alone wouldn’t suffice. You need talent that can sell your product with the same passion as you i.e a killer sales team that doesn’t let you and your product down.

Ideally, there is no better salesman than the entrepreneur himself. So, think about how you would sell your product if you were the salesman. Or, if you were the customer, what you would want to hear or experience during the sale. Once you learn to sell the product to yourself, you would know the right kind of people to hire. When building a sales team, ensure that:

  • You don’t sacrifice quality and fit for a quick on-boarding process.
  • Salespersons understand that selling is a pre-cursor to relationship building with customers.
  • They want to climb up the ladder, are patient with customers and are open to constructive feedback or criticism from customers.

How flexible is your product?

The customers may love or hate your product. Even if they love it, they may still give inputs on what else could make your product better. If they hate it, perhaps you haven’t done your homework well and need to iterate or redesign your product. Ideally, try to push your first iteration in the market to study what works and what doesn’t. Either way, your product should be flexible enough to change or evolve to meet customers’ expectations. Be open to customer feedback and adjust your product accordingly.

Product startups have their own share of challenges. But, with a right set of mind and determination to do the things the right way, it shouldn’t be difficult to overcome these challenges.

This article was originally published in Inc42.

SIX INDIAN COMPANIES EMERGE AS WINNERS OF GREAT TECH ROCKETSHIPS 2016

UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) India and iSPIRT announce the winners of the Great Tech Rocketships Initiative 2016 (GTRS)

The 6 winners are:

  1. Wigzo – A machine learning engine that understands user attributes, and allows marketeers to personalise and engage each user 1:1 onsite, and on communications
  2. Tydy – Employee Onboarding & Engagement Software. With automated & paperless data collection, a process built on best practices, customized workflows based on teams, groups or locations and a complete feedback management system – tydy makes onboarding a really seamless part of building a successful organization
  3. Silver Push – A platform which measures true ROI of TV ads, by mapping TV ad spots with digital performance, backed by 15 patents (pending) and real-time TV ad tracking technology
  4. SayPay – Provides voice biometric authentication solution that eliminates hardware tokens/OTPs used by financial institutions for wealth management & corporate clients.
  5. Project Mudra – Technology for Braille-based education for visually impaired people and innovative solutions for non-visual data delivery to meet the growing accessibility needs of smart urban spaces.
  6. FT Cash– A mobile app that allows micro-merchants to come on-board in less than 5 minutes and allows customers to make payments electronically through credit/debit cards, mobile wallets and PayPal.

In its second year, and part of the India-UK Tech Bridge initiative, the Great Tech Rocketships awards connect India’s high-potential technology companies to the business and entrepreneurship ecosystem in the UK. This ambitious initiative was launched in 2014 and this year applications opened on January 14, with a call for submissions from the most impressive emerging Tech companies in India. The competition offers the opportunity to fast-track their international growth through access to the UKs leading tech clusters.

 Kumar Iyer, Director General of UKTI in India said: “We are really excited to see the high growth potential among young Indian entrepreneurs. The competition was tough but it shows that “Start-up India” is alive and kicking, and through these awards the winners will not only be national winners but hopefully internationally successful too. We hope this is the beginning of a fantastic journey for them where UKTI is here to help and introduce them to international networks, mentors and new ideas, starting with their upcoming visit to the UK. There really are some GREAT companies here!”

The UK is an excellent platform for Indian companies to gain access to the right exposure and resources to assist them to go global. It is the number one destination for FDI in Europe, having attracted a record number of FDI projects, bringing in the largest financial value and associated jobs over the past year. Around 50% of that figure is in Tech. The UK has a vast pool of experienced industry leaders, veterans, venture capitalists and mentors that can provide the right direction to startups to establish a firm footing abroad. One of the greatest barriers new companies face in their journey is access to capital, and this is an area where the UK can help significantly.

This year’s winners get a week long fully paid trip to UK that includes:

  • Bespoke interaction with world class investors, incubation hubs and science tech parks
  • A guided tour of Tech City, Europe’s most vibrant innovation hub
  • Networking sessions with like-minded entrepreneurs, start-ups, research scholars and pioneering companies

Through this trip to the UK, the winners will get an opportunity to interact with the local technology ecosystems; meet other entrepreneurs; identify funding options and build product propositions to fit those markets.

Sharad Sharma, Co-Founder and Governing Council Member iSPIRT said: “A number of technology startups in India are now well-prepared for global markets. Through this initiative we provide high-potential companies with assistance and access to the UK market as a first step for them to go global.”

 The nationwide initiative saw 285 applications from across India. Applyifi, the program partner for this initiative curated 40 for a jury across 4 Indian cities (Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad and New Delhi). 11 startups were shortlisted in the regional rounds and were reviewed by an international jury comprising Julie Lake (Co-Founder The FinTech50 and Director FinTechCity), Sharad Sharma (Co-founder iSPIRT), Baz Saidieh (CEO TrueStart), Ian Fordham (CEO of Edtech UK), Satyam Bansal (Director, Strategic Alliances and Gift Cards), Alpesh Patel (UK Government Dealmaker, Private Equity Fund Manager, Fintech Entrepreneur) and Prajakt Raut (Co-founder Applyifi).

Further Information: 

  • UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) is the Government Department that helps UK-based companies succeed in the global economy. UKTI works with UK based businesses to ensure their success in international markets through exports. We encourage and support overseas companies to look at the UK as the best place to set up or expand their business.In India we do that through a network of diplomats and local specialists spanning the entire country.  Our trade and investment experts are based in the British High Commission in New Delhi and in our Deputy High Commissions in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Pune and Ahmedabad. Our sector expertise covers mass transport, financial services, infrastructure, life sciences, creative industries, energy, business and consumer services, education and skills, defence and security, healthcare, advanced engineering, aerospace, agri-tech, chemicals, automotive, smart cities and ICT.
  • GREAT for Collaboration is an ambitious and exciting new campaign showcasing India-UK business collaboration. The campaign, launched by Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Cameron, will inspire new partnerships and encourage greater awareness of the scale of the UK’s commitment to India. The overall objective is to increase business between the two countries across a range of sectors, such as energy, healthcare, advanced manufacturing, financial services and infrastructure. GREAT for Collaboration video link: bit.ly/1PS5Pag
  • iSPIRT Foundation connects and guides software product entrepreneurs and catalyzes business growth. It’s an enabler of a stronger ecosystem. We encourage buyers to improve performance by leveraging software products effectively. We advise policy makers on interventions that can set the industry on a higher growth trajectory. We are a not-for-profit industry think-tank founded by key participants and proponents of the Indian software product industry
  • About Applyifi – Applyifi is an online pitch deck & assessment report platform for startups. Applyifi guides startups in creating a comprehensive pitch deck, and provides startups and investors a 36-point scorecard and assessment report on the startup’s investment-worthiness.

 

Finance Secretary – interacts with Product Industry in Bangalore.

Mr. Rajiv Mehrishi promises deeper Institutional Reforms

Mr. Rajiv Mehrishi, Finance Secretary, Ministry of Finance for Government of INDIA, is a pro-reforms, vocal advocate of institutional transformation of the Financial System in INDIA. Additionally, he is also  the Secretary, Department of Economic affairs. Mr. Mehrishi and his team – Mr. Manoj Joshi (Jt. Secretary), Mr. Ajay Shah (Head, Macro/Finance Group, NIPFP), Ms. Ila Patnaik (Principal Economic Advisor) and Mr. CKG Nair (Advisor, Capital Markets) – specially traveled to Bangalore to understand the software product industry landscape and discuss ways to make India go cashless.

The 4 hour interaction was at ITC Windsor Manor. It was chaired by iSPIRT Mentor Mohandas Pai.  iSPIRT Governing Council members Bharat Goenka (Tally), Vishnu Dusad (Nucleus) and Sharad Sharma (BrandSigma) were also there along with Fellows Avinash Raghava, Nakul Saxena and Sudhir Singh. Shekhar Kirani who had planned the industry landscape showcase had to skip the meeting to be at his daughter’s music recital.

Showcasing behind the scenes transformation of India

The first session focused on bringing the software product industry landscape to life through a carefully curated showcase of 10 product startups. Each startup is a story of dreaming big about transforming India and the world. The goal of this session was to showcase India’s under appreciated prowess to shape industries and tackle deep rooted problems through its tech startups. The companies that participated in this carefully curated showcase were Ezetap, Instamojo, Capillary, PeelWorks, InMobi, Foradian, Team Indus, Forus Health, OlaCabs and Practo. The session went well and was an eye-opener to the policy makers. It helped them understand the breadth and depth of the emerging software product industry in India. One of them remarked that this was “one of the most awesome afternoons of his life”. They found the session to be “revealing and energizing”.  Everybody felt more optimistic about India’s future after this session.

Making India go Cashless

The next session was a thoughtful discussion on how to make India go cashless in 4 years. It was led by Bharat Goenka and Sanjay Jain (iSPIRT Open API Expert Team member, former Chief Product Officer of Aadhaar). They presented a comprehensive approach and suggested a new Program, Jan Samridhi, for the Government. This builds on the Open API work that iSPIRT has already done (in eSign, UPI and GTSN) and proposes specific and inter-related policy and regulatory changes. This benefits of going cashless are many. It’ll curb black money but will also expands micro-credit to small businesses in a big way.

Tax Friction for Product Startups

The final session was about tax friction for software product companies. Most of these are arise from poor definition of software products within the Finance Ministry. Mr. Mehrishi promised a quick resolution of these issues.

Conclusion

It was a very collaborative and interactive session. It showcased how India has emerged as the 2nd largest software product startup ecosystem in the world. It also brought attention to this new paradigm of creating Public Goods with a Social Commons model (open source model) and how this approach would be instrumental in India going cashless in a short period of time. Mr. Mehrishi and team suggested that deeper institutional mechanisms are required to bridge the intellectual distance between Delhi and Bangalore.

These powerful dialogs that iSPIRT is fostering with key policy makers (e.g. SEBI’s UK Sinha, RBIs Raghuram Rajan) are making a difference. They are helping us rewrite the script of the nation. And they are taking us closer to making India a Product Nation! So go ahead, spread the word.

Announcing the 5th and final batch of 10 companies @InTech50 2015

Happy to announce the final and last batch of finalists (out of a total of 50) of InTech50 2015, a flagship event of iSPIRT and Terenne Global.

Congratulations to them all!

The firstsecond, third and fourth batch of finalists has already been announced in our previous blogs.

Here is the final list –

  • Crayon –  MAYA is a personal concierge, powered by Crayon’s SimplerChoices™ platform. SimplerChoices™ maps affinities based on taste (from review sites, social networks), influence (from social networks), context (from public data, location-based data), and behavior (from internal enterprise data) to build a massive cross-category taste graph.
  • Datonis – Altizon helps the industrial world create smart, connected products within a very short span of time and with minimum investment in infrastructure. Altizon’s flagship product the Datonis™ platform is offered in PaaS and on-premise models and is built to handle a Billion events a day from a million devices.
  • Druva in Sync – Druva’s inSync endpoint data protection and governance suite UNIQUELY integrates secure, scalable, high-performance endpoint backup, file sync across all user endpoints, remote file access, data loss prevention, IT-managed file sharing, and governance – including eDiscovery enablement – in a single platform.
  • Nifty Window – Nifty Window is a hyper-local marketing based new customer acquisition platform that helps offline brands and businesses attract consumers online. The platform uses content marketing and distribution to help brick & mortar businesses drive in-store sales across search, social media and mobile channels.
  • Nowfloats – NowFloats enables local businesses to get online, generate relevant content, and be highly discovered for online users to consumer this information in a meaningful way.Using the NowFloats platform, any enterprise whose channel is a small business, can bring the entire local channel online and drive local consumers towards that business.
  • RateGain – RevGain is an ultra sophisticated price recommendation engine for hotels. It continuously tracks over 11 big-data, environmental factors such as market supply, competitor prices, inventory levels and more to tell hotels how much they should price their rooms at.
  • RippleHire – RippleHire is a technology product that gamifies employee referrals and enables social recruiting. By empowering the best way you hire (Employee Referrals), we reduce your hiring costs & efforts. Game mechanics make the process fun, engaging and drives great results.
  • RobusTest – RobusTest is providing SAAS based Automation Solution for Web/Native/Hybrid applications. Its does not require any pre-configuration or setup. User can automate any mobile application from their browser without any scripting/coding knowledge.RobusTest also provides detailed Automation Test reports (including CPU, Memory, network and battery usage).
  • Vymo – Our vision is to help sales teams make a Million Smarter Decisions every minute. Our marquee product is a mobile first Lead Management System. Our operational analytics help in better lead prioritisation, smarter allocation, better pitches, quicker conversions and higher frontline productivity.
  • Zing HR – ZingHR is an End-to-End INTEGRATED Hire-to-Retire Management Cloud platform. You name any process, right from the time a potential talent is called for an interview, through the employee’s entire lifecycle with the organisation, till the employee moves on. Talent Acquisition, eRecruitment, Onboarding, Leave, Time & Attendance, Claims, Payroll, Compliance, Performance Management…more.

There will be no greater joy for us than to see our finalists leverage the associations they’ve built and emerge as truly global companies over the next few years, further validating the credibility of India as a ‘product nation’. That is exactly what we had set out to achieve in the first place.

Looking forward to meeting the ‘Fanastic Fifty’ at InTech50 in Bangalore.

Unlocking the data within Indian Software Product Startups : An iSPIRT Survey [INFOGRAPHIC]

India has the potential to build a USD 100 Billion software product industry by 2025. India has a critical mass of software product companies that have entered their maturation stage. At this juncture, to sunstain momentum it’s very important for the entire ecosystem – product entrepreneurs,  angels,  VCs, government to  be aligned. And this alignment will come about when everybody is looking at the industry issues through the lens of credible industry data. Since this data isn’t available iSPIRT embarked on a systematic research effort in partnership with Prof. Sharique Hasan of Stanford University to address this problem.

The first Product Industry Monitor report is a result of this effort. Following are some key findings of this report.

Survey Infographic_7.0-01

Product RoundTable Bangalore @ Vizury Office

We had some very good hosts @ Vizury office and also joined by their product folks Shiju and Subra for the Product Round table that was organized last Friday. The other awesome people who were part of the event were Siddharth Ramesh (Exotel), Jose (Weavedin), Vinay Simha (Dfy Graviti), Sridhar (ex-Inmobi), Avinash Raghava (Product Nation), Nari Kannan (The man with experience of over 7 startups and currently working on a project for Barack Obama), Anjali (Capillary), Chandra (i7networks), Santosh Panda (Explara), Venkatesh (Insieve), Pandith (Impelsys).

The discussions revolved around 3 things in Product:
1. How to track growth & health of a product or Product Metrics
2. Product v/s Sales (When to listen to customer and sales person and building the feature)
3. Product Marketing

and 2 small sessions of Santosh explaining his re-branding story from Ayojak to Explara and Venkatesh about how they balance in a unique way not building before selling and working on product demo’s without having to build the features.

Sridhar led the moderation of the session and showed his secret sauce of a graph designed for Product decisions:

The graph helps Product folks take decisions based on a problem, and how ideally first level and second level product problems when probed can be solved by Education & Processes. This sort of product thinking gives more bandwidth to technology & product managers to focus on building the tech as well, apart from features as a solution to everything. It helps keep your product from being stretched into a services play.

Nari Kannan & Sridhar again spoke about how the health of a product and its metrics can be linked to the business metrics by the GEM (Growth, Engagement, Monetization) theory.

A lot of discussions around how sales folks like to ask fore more features, and how to decide what to build and what not to, but the graph helped a lot.

A snippet on the learning from Santosh’s Ayojak to Explara journey was that he communicated the brand change much in advance internally and decided to leave aside feature requests etc. and kept focussed on the UI/UX and internal communication of the change. It helped everyone realize that multiple massive changes should not be attempted together.

Venkatesh also spoke about how they develop new feature requests in a staging environment, and release it just for the customer in a prototype without pushing the code into the product, and ask him/her if they will pay for this and is this what they want. It is an interesting way to get a yes from the customer before getting your tech team working on something which might or might not sell.

All in all, everyone had some great learning’s, a few beers and cookies along with chai and coffee thanks to the Vizury team, and we hope to get some more Product Roundtable’s running consistently and involving more of the product companies to have cross learning’s via sharing best practices.

Action Plan for increasing M&A opportunities for Indian product startups

Indian product companies punch below their weight. Despite huge innovation and rising entrepreneurship, most Indian product companies are invisible on the global map. The reasons are many, but a big one is the lack of meaningful exits for companies that actually create value in their product markets. This paper focuses on a plan to address this gap.

The iSPIRT position paper of March 2013 identified several issues that need to be addressed to improve M&A activity in the US-India corridor. While discussions with the Product Nation community members strengthened the propositions made, we needed to get a buyer’s perspective before formulating an action plan. This led to an Executive Brainstorming Session with several prolific technology leaders and acquirers from Silicon Valley.

The brainstorming session at Palo Alto, CA on May 21, 2013 had broad participation from across the tech industry and was attended by M&A professionals and senior executives from Autodesk, Cadence, IBM, Intel, NTT Docomo, Facebook, Paypal/Ebay, VMware, and Walmart Labs. The iSPIRT team also had a private meeting with the head of M&A at Oracle. Representatives from Cisco and BMC could not be present due to last-minute issues.

On May 22, the iSPIRT team met with the CEOs of about 20 Indian startups, most with some presence in Silicon Valley to gain better access to their markets and customers. This meeting further stressed the need for improving M&A exits for startups, particularly for those that lack strong US VC backing. There was unanimous agreement within this CEO group that improving company readiness, visibility and access to potential acquirers would go a long way in planning successful exits. Inputs from this meeting have been included below.

iSPIRT M&A Connect Action Plan 2013 Version 2

Where is my story?

Most startups talk about product features and how they are better than their competition in terms of their offerings. They really don’t tell stories, however people remember stories for long and not the facts and figures. Most often than not, people say we are a startup, we don’t have paying customers and we do not have stories to communicate. The fact that they are developing a product itself is towards addressing a market gap that the incumbent solutions are not addressing – product creation story. Why don’t you communicate that as a story?

Let me give you a couple of examples.

I was consulting one of the product startups in the education space, which provides smart classrooms. They also were communicating features, benefits as a part of their communication, but they realized that they wanted to do stories. I asked them, why did you choose to develop this product and how did you go product startups about doing this?

In fact, when they wanted to develop their product, they understood the gaps in the market and they had an idea about how to address the gap but they weren’t very clear. In order to get the clarity, they interviewed hundreds of students and hundreds of teachers from across the country before beginning to design their courses. These interviews provided them with a clear idea of the instructional methods followed and what was lacking in it. With this, they started to develop the courses and after about 36 months of work, they have more than 6000 classrooms using their product. This is their product creation story, which they started to communicate very efficiently.

They also prided themselves on the usability of their product and its intuitiveness. I asked them, what does your customer feel about the usability of your product? They said that they are completely positive about the experience. I persisted, what do your prospects who are evaluating the product feel about usability? They weren’t very sure about it. That’s when, we wanted to influence their perception and we decided to do this as a story as well.

We decided that we would not demonstrate the product to the prospects; instead, we will install the setup and get a couple of volunteers from the school to play around with the product. Once they did that, they understood the usability experience, they felt a part of the experience and they started championing the product sales, which resulted in improved conversions.  This became their usability story, which is a part of their pitch now.

These examples are only triggers for you to identify where your stories are. I am sure that this would act as a starting point for you to find your stories.

10 reasons why I spend a lot of time in the product ecosystem

As product entrepreneurs, every hour of our time is important. We run businesses that can succeed or fail depending on our choices. One of those choices is the time we spend on the eco-system.  Yet I have chosen to spend a lot of time on the ecosystem. Here is why.

1)      Learn from mistakes and successes: How much ever you say that you are doing something unique, you will be surprised to see that there is someone else doing something similar. They have made mistakes and they have had successes. Learning not to do their mistakes and learning to emulate their success is vital for your success. Learn every day.

2)      Networking  is exponential:  At first glance networking seems one to one. But if you are genuine, you would be surprised to find that networking can be exponential. Talk to someone, that person talks about you to someone else and soon its viral in a social sort of way. You never know how the stone that goes out comes back positively.

3)      Sharpen your knife for free: Get that UI feedback, or sharpen that go to market strategy. What you thought was the best based on your own thinking may turn out to be second best before you got that good opinion.

4)      Proactive helping gives joy: I find joy in sharing something to someone, which would save that person from huge mistakes or a lot of effort. Along the way if someone helps me back the same way, I will be happy, but not expect it.

5)      Winning awards is much more than being egoistical:  Your customers are looking for third party endorsements from reputed organizations. They may not ask you, but seeing one on your site gives them comfort. Win some for you and your company

6)      Collaborate to win the market: Many of us attack the same market. How often do you get an inquiry that you cannot use. Share it with someone who need it. You will get one back some day. If we organize ourselves well we can even create a market.

7)      Big brother isn’t so difficult with an ecosystem: Learn how to deal with the government. Taxes, banking, laws and much more can be handled much more easily by working with others in similar situations. It is not just learning how to handle a situation, but also acting jointly for getting something done.

8)      Mentor or be mentored: You will be surprised at the number of senior people willing to spend their time with you without expecting anything back. Years of experience, yet ready to help you with your problem. Remember to give back why you are ready to mentor too.

9)      Get Funded, find a partner, or even find a solution: The ecosystem is a magnet for all kinds of people  – investors, solution partners, suppliers and everything in between. Mingle around, be open and gain from it.

10)   Make friends along the way: The moment someone realizes that you are helping not for monetary gain, but because you just want to help, you make a friend. Business acquaintances are aplenty, but a friend is rare. I’d love to nurture them.

I’ve met many people who have inspired me along the way. Surprisingly most of the people who inspired me are not ones who speak from podiums, but people who open their hearts out with their passion. Cheers to the software product ecosystem – whatever shape or form it is!!

Guest Post Contributed by George Vettath, Kallos Solutions. Image Courtesy – NPC, Zinnov, Martecker

How far should you go with Professional Services in your product business?

Turning on a giant switch

For any products company, product support is a given, and part of the products business fabric. However, almost all Enterprise Products Companies end-up offering the professional services beyond basic product support. These services could range from simplistic implementation support, to integration, to solutions-building, to architectural consulting, to IT advisory support. The decision to perform professional services could be driven by customer-demand, or by the intrinsic need of the product being sold, or even driven by the business strategy itself to generate peripheral revenue.

It’s important to understand where the boundaries lie, and what goal does a certain type of professional services serve. The decision to commit to a particular type of professional services needs to be driven by a conscious thought process. This is important because the time & resources required to build various skills & operating models for serving the various flavors, change dramatically from one to the other.

Professional Services in Products Business

1. Product Support

This is the core to the products model and serves as just that – support to the main products revenue, and to ensure customer satisfaction. While the core strategy for any product should be to make it so good that it requires minimal support, there’s always a need for support – offline and real-time for the customers.

2. Implementation Services

An ideal product is ready-to-use off-the-shelf, however, in case of Enterprise products the need to configure & customize could wary. Most times, customers demand for an implementation service packaged in the license deal initially, in order to ensure success. Most times, products businesses have to employ this mechanism also to close sales cycle and to ensure a consistent source of post-sale revenue from such services, and also indirectly to ensure expansion of the product usage through consistent personnel presence on the customer premises.

3. Integration Services

This is where it starts going slightly further away from the core skills that the organization may possess organically. Integration with the existing IT systems and other products at the customer premises would require the skills & management practices beyond the core areas of the organization. An extra source of revenue is one of the temptations, but there are also scenarios where integration of the product is critical to the success of the product, making such services mandatory. This is especially true if the product interfaces are not built with open-standards, and require the integrators to know the details of how the product is built internally. The correct approach would be to build the product interfaces in a way that doesn’t force the business into such compromise to induct professional services for integration. There’s an indirect impact of diversion of core product resources to such integration projects unless such professional services are pursued by design, and resources built accordingly.

4. Solutions & Consulting Services

This is where the game gets strategic, and resources expensive. And the reasons to do this are not any more intrinsically important, but strategically targeted to higher value to the customers and hence, access to the larger pie of the wallet. However, this is easier said than done. Unless there’s enough scale & case in the existing business to allow the focus on such services, strategic, and by design, a business is better off focusing on building the core products business stronger by investing resources there. This makes sense for the products, which are more like Platforms that provide larger leverage than in a Point-solution product.

5. Advisory Services

This is important for the products that are targeted for larger ticket sizes and are built for Enterprise-wide deployments. The IT strategy alignment as well as the strategic positioning of the product becomes important, and it also requires much larger IT leadership level involvement. For Enterprise Platforms, or even for departmental level strategic investments, this approach to professional services can bear fruits. However, building it into a business line requires the core product business to be strong, ready for the leap.

So what?

While the Businesses can look at starting off with the lower scale of Professional Services and build up over time, the decision is very strategic and long term. Professional Services, while offering additional top-line, could actually be a resource-intensice and money-draining proposition if not built properly. The mindset that governs the professional services line of business is drastically different from the product side of business. The operational efficiency is paramount, & profitability can very quickly take a hit. Even more importantly, professional services are more intensely people-driven and the skill sets required to build and sustain this business over long term are not trivial. Look, think, and think hard, before you leap.

PS: There are other considerations on Professional Services that directly or indirectly impact the core product business. I will cover in those in the next post. Until then, hope this helps! 🙂

3 objectives your homepage has to accomplish

As a tech startup, your homepage is the first encounter a visitor will have with your business. The first real encounter. And as a business, what is it that you would like to convey during this encounter? Ideally, you would talk for 30 hours straight but then people have lives to live, promises to keep and food to eat. So what do you do?

Get your homepage to cover you on three simple grounds. Three primary objectives. Here they go.

What’s your promise?

Every company has a promise. The promise answers the question Why should I look at your products? and sets the expectations before the visitor takes a dive into your offerings. Are your products the easiest to use in the market? Most powerful? Reliable?

For companies having a single offering, it is the promise of that single product itself. MailChimp promises easy email newsletters as opposed to Campaign Monitor’s beautiful email newsletters.

MailChimp's Homepage

For companies having multiple offerings, it is the common promise that runs along all the products, more like the promise of the company. 37signals’ promise is making collaboration productive and enjoyable for people every day while Atlassian’s promise is to help innovators everywhere plan, build, and launch great software.

Atlassian's hompage

However, if you have been chosen as the special one and different products of yours have different promises, it is best to stick to the promise of your flagship product.

Talk about your products
This is a drill you know all too well, so I will just focus on how this differs for a multi-product company from a single-product company.

If you are a company with a single offering, just talk about the benefits of your product liberally sprinkled with examples and use cases like FreshBooks does. FreshBooks' Homepage For multi-product companies, it is best to display the most important products from the portfolio with a short description of them and link them to the respective product pages. 37signals Homepage Remember the homepage is not about throwing all the information you have in your visitor’s face, it is about sending them the right way in the right frame of mind.

Build credibility

Would you have dinner at a restaurant where you would be their first guest at 10 pm? Would you go to a concert that starts in 2 hours but has sold only 300 tickets till now? No. If there isn’t anyone else at the restaurant, or there aren’t thousands of people attending the concert already, it just isn’t good. Period.

Human beings are social animals, and for us to be convinced that something is worth our time and money, we need to be told that other people have used the product earlier and found it to be food. We need to be ascertained of the credibility. And as a tech startup, you establish credibility using customer names, testimonials, success stories and press coverage. If you have all of them in aplenty, the world just gave you a standing ovation. If not, a couple of them work fine too.

Campaign Monitor's Homepage

However, building credibility is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. A prospect will become a customer only if he can see a customer list, and you can have a customer list only if prospects convert to become customers. In cases like these, get customers to invest emotionally instead — tell them the story of your company, show them the pedigree of your founders and give them a behind-the-scenes peek.

Final words

Of course, you can get creative with the order and medium of the obejctives I mention above. You can have a 90-sec video, an illustration where your mascot does all the talking, screenshots of the product itself or wax eloquent in good old text.

What’s your take? Do you think there’s anything else that a product homepage has to have?

Cross Post – PokeandBite.com

Why aren’t more developers creating serious Mobile App Products?

Mobile Apps

These are the times, when every third person that you meet in Technology world has an idea for an App. It could be every alternate person if you’re hanging out in geeky groups or among heavy Smartphone users.

The Industry trends suggest a phenomenal surge as well. According to Gartner, Mobile Apps Store downloads worldwide for the year 2012 will surpass 45.6 billion. Out of these, nearly 90% are free Apps, while out of the rest of 5 billion downloads majority (90% again) cost less than $3 per download. This trend has a strong growth curve for the next five years. (See Table 1. Mobile App Store Downloads, courtesy: Gartner) 

Another report suggests that 78% of US mobile App Companies are small businesses (based on the Apple and Android App Stores based research). The typical apps that dominate this market are games, education, productivity, and business.

Mobile App Store Downloads - Gartner 2012

This comes as no surprise. There is a huge divide between the Enterprise Mobility (dominated by the Enterprise Architecture, existing platforms and mobility extensions to the platforms that ensure business continuity) and End-User (Consumer) Mobile Apps dominated by the App Stores supported Small and Mid-size App Development Companies. The barriers to entry in the Smart phone Apps Market seem pretty low with the supporting ecosystem from Apple, Amazon, Google, and Telecom carriers.

However, let’s get back to the fact that majority of these Apps “do not” generate direct revenue.

While the entry seems without barriers, there are multiple hurdles on the race track:

1. Developers need to focus on the User Experience. The smartphone apps pick-up is highly skewed toward Apps that offer a good user experience even for minimal functionality. After the initial success, the App makers end up adding functionality for sustained interest, but the User Experience tops. It’s difficult to focus on UX while still trying to do everything right at the underlying architecture level for long term.

2. Marketing is important. Getting the early eyeballs is key for the App developers. Any serious App needs an immediate initial take-off, and among the things that they need to do to make it happen is to market the App beforehand and to get the authoritative reviews in place.

3. Initial Take-off is just the first hurdle. App needs to be able to handle traffic bursts, it needs scale with increased traction, support virality & social connects inherently, and also build an effective User ecosystem. None of these may seem like the core functional features of the App, but are most critical for the broad-based success.

4. The Freemium model is very popular, but it can kill the business if the marginal costs are not sustainable. The paradox of the Free model is that unless the 10% paid users are able to pay for your 100% costs, every additional user takes you closer to the grave. With this come in two questions – how do you keep the infrastructural costs low, and how do you build additional revenue models around the app.

  • IaaS can solve some of the infrastructural headache, but doesn’t provide you with the other functional layers that every App needs. You need to still build them. PaaS providers provide the scalable platform for building Apps, but you still need to build some of the functional features such as Gaming Rooms support, Messaging, User Authentication & authorization models, and so on. Mobile developers are still doing a lot of repetitive work across the smartphone Apps that can be consolidated into a framework.
  • Supporting the additional revenue models require integration with external Ad-services, Payment systems and more importantly the bandwidth to deal with this even more fragmented set of agencies.

5. The End-point device platforms are fragmented and getting even more so. A typical model for App developers is to develop an Android App, iOS App or a Windows App and then support the other platforms as they go along. However, keeping up with these multiple platforms is only getting more and more difficult with the speed with which Apple, Microsoft, and Google keep rolling out the OS. There’s tremendous pressure to release the App within the 1-3 days window of the release of the underlying platform.

Hence, while there are millions of people developing smartphone Apps as we speak, there are only a fraction that get built at serious level, and even smaller fraction that gets built for sustainable business success.

And considering these hurdles, the arrival of the Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) is a blessing for the App Developers. Forrster’s Michael Facemire refers to them as “The New Lightweight Middleware”. He goes ahead and lists out some of the basic tenets of what makes a Mobile Backend as a Service, but I see this list evolving as the vendors offer more and more functionality to the customers leading to en ecosystem.

And the term “ecosystem” is going to be the key. That’s because a successful mobile App doesn’t stop at the user starting the app, using the app, and leaving the app. A successful App creates an ecosystem for the viral growth, user engagement, social functionality, in-built broad-based connectivity for multi-user interactions, and more importantly the ability for cross-platform usage. In a Gaming scenario, the user interactions and the relevant immediate feedbacks are paramount. Most successful apps build an ecosystem. Instagram, 4Square, Pinterest are the common household examples today.

ShepHertz App42 Cloud API is complete backend as service to help app developers develop, buid and deploy their app on the cloud.While Michael lists out the usual suspects in his post, most of them in the Silicon Valley, there is a very interesting player in Shephertz’s App42 platform, right here in India. The ecosystem approach that they have taken seems pretty much what may be required for serious app developers that need a robust backend provided as a service, so that they can focus on the app functionality, user experience, and more importantly the marketing aspects of the App.

Now why, still, aren’t more and more developers building even more serious mobile App products? Why shouldn’t they be? I think, they will!

Product companies will constantly change business plans, product ideas, and offerings to meet the ever-changing market opportunities, Piyush Singh, CIO, Great American Insurance Co.

Piyush Singh is the Chief Information Office (CIO) and Senior Vice President at the Great American Insurance Company—a property and casualty insurance company, and Vice President of it’s parent company, American Financial Group [NYSE:AFG]. Under his direction and vision, Great American’s IT department has transitioned from supporting a legacy IT environment to become a trusted player in the company’s business success—offering agility and adaptability to align with the executive vision. In this interview, Mr. Singh shares his observations on innovation in Indian software companies, product development, and how large IT companies could accelerate the pace of product innovation. 

Piyush, you have been watching the Indian software industry over a period of time. What are some of the changes you see now especially in the context of the software product industry in India?

The Indian software Industry is the envy of many countries around the world, and numerous governments and business associations have been trying to emulate its model. It has made a significant difference in elevating the professional services job market and provided the necessary fillip to the country’s infrastructure—transforming sleepy suburbs into high-tech cities with world-class facilities. The Indian software Industry contributes $67B to the economy in direct revenue, but delivers a bigger economic impact (probably tenfold) when you think of all the tertiary employment it generates and the indirect revenues created.

Yet, this phenomenal growth has been a result of labor pricing arbitrage, and many of the large companies that lead the software services are today challenged by lack of innovation and intellectual property (IP). Yes, outsourcing and large services contracts are definitely attractive but unsustainable in the long-term. Sustainable growth and maintaining unique value propositions demand significant investment in IP—and this needs to be more than just systematizing processes. I do not see IT services companies investing in actual development of product portfolios that might address vertical markets or provide horizontal solutions. Typically, I see global services brands create deliberate pools of internal innovation that harnesses the knowledge of its workforce or buy IP-based companies to provide them the necessary scale for reach and investment. So far, I’ve seen neither processes here, but am hopeful that this will change.

Culturally, do you think Indians (and this is very broad considering our diversity) are risk takers and willing to start out businesses? Or are they averse to taking risks?

I don’t think so, and there are numerous examples of our appetite for risk—numerous Indians in the Silicon Valley have taken their start-ups all the way to public offerings. What I have noticed is, we tend to invest in real estate—really investing for the long haul.

Today, I find ourselves increasingly accepting entrepreneurship and its risks, even as senior executives leave large corporations to do something more meaningful, and different. But these new companies will need significant capital and gestation periods before they begin to show results. This is in contrast to the services industry growth that sets an average 20-30% growth every year—leaving start-ups struggling to showcase such growth. The risks and returns are completely different in a product company—Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, Apple are all shining examples of IP-led revenue-generators. Their valuation and market sizes are incredibly spectacular. But they didn’t grow into such successes overnight.

Product companies will constantly change business plans, product ideas, and offerings to meet the ever-changing market opportunities. These evolutions take time, effort, and capital—ask any Silicon Valley venture capitalist.

On the other hand, if you read the balance sheets of many of the services firms, they have idle cash, and great market reach. It will be a win-win for all if they use the cash to fund or accelerate the incubation of products that they can take back to their markets.

What is your take on emerging companies in the product space? We see, for example, many of them are developing apps and very few seem to be venturing into the enterprise or B2B space. Do you agree?

I agree completely. In the insurance space, for example, of all the companies out of India I’ve worked with, only a few have made any real IP investments—MajescoMastek, PlanetSoft (acquired by Ebix), L&T Infotech, and Mphasis. But if you see the revenue portfolio of the top 200 services firms out of India, the financial services industry is a leader in driving investments. And only a handful companies have made any IP-led investments. Strange, don’t you think?

What’s interesting is that it’s not that India doesn’t have the talent: every large US-based company (Microsoft, HP, Cisco, IBM) have a lot of product development out of India. The capabilities and talent definitely exists—we need the larger Indian companies to show the way.  They should make use of the talent that exists in their own setups, sponsor ideation, build incubators and make a directional investment in product development. They should stand up to explain their actions and the promise it holds. Analysts might not like the idea initially as it does not fit in their current forecasting models  but as they realize the potential and see results over time, they will warm up to the concept and probably push for higher investment. I would argue that Indian companies do bring in a lot of process expertise in any project that they manage, so  they can definitely build processes that would seek ideation and lead to valuable IP.

What’s your view on innovation in the Corporate environments?

Innovation has become a necessity for existence. As Robert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of News Corp aptly said, “The world is changing very fast.  Big will not beat small anymore.  It will be the fast beating the slow.”  Innovation is being taken out of R&D labs and becoming the fabric of the entire company and an integral part of the culture at all levels. If it’s not happening, it can hurt them. Look at what’s happened to Kodak—they invented the digital camera concept but now the only value left is in the patents which they filed.    Blackberry (RIM) is facing a similar situation – in May of 2008, of the corporate companies surveyed 82% of them were looking at buying RIM based Blackberry’s.  Their lack of innovation in the world of user experience design has left them in a situation no one wants their company to be.

Do you think a major contributing factor in the last couple of years has been contributed by bandwidth availability, relatively easier capital and technology disruptions from areas like cloud computing? Have these leveled the playing field?

Well, these not only level the playing field but also give you an opportunity to differentiate your offering. For example, cloud computing levels the playing field, making it a lot easier for people to invest in or explore new products as long as you provide open integration points,a level of flexibility and a blueprint for future innovation. Commoditization brings prices down but forces you to decide on the USP that would help your company stand out.  You need to balance commodity with strong uniqueness so you can leverage both benefits. People who are going to be nimble and fast, and people who respond to these paradigm shifts are going to emerge the winner.  The key lies in how quickly you react to market forces and how adaptable you are. Any country that can produce a model of constant adaptability becomes a much more stronger player in the long haul.

Five years ago a typical software strategy didn’t take into account elements like user experience design, predictable analytics/big data, mobility and enterprise social networking. If you’re a ten-year old product company or a large services firm, it’s a little tougher to make a shift to embrace these elements. If you’re a smaller company though, and you’re nimble and watching these trends closely you can adapt to them quickly. It depends on how leading edge you are, because people are always talking in the context of ‘now.’ Mobility has been on the forefront since early 2008—but companies are still exploring mobile apps. Big data has been there for 3 plus years—but how many people are truly exploiting the value of this data? Enterprise social networking helps companies capitalize on people, collaboration and sharing better. It provides individuals more command and control—if the person at the lowest level comes up with a bright idea, everybody knows who to give credit to!

So you Piyush – if you had to give some advise to product companies or people who are venturing into the software product element India, what would you say?

  • Identify a domain where you see that there is market opportunity and don’t look at what is currently being offered as a solution.  Try to look 3 years ahead and try to build it around the emerging model of doing business—it’s about how you’re going to do business tomorrow, not how people work today.
  • You’ve got to balance domain expertise with people from outside so that you can think differently. You can’t have people who think the same way all the time. You need to understand how to incorporate User Experience Design—making people react and say “It is obvious.” Product companies have the advantage of disrupting the existing ways and changing the model—that’s what DELL did with PCs, Amazon with the book store, and Netflix changed movie watching at home.
  • You should be willing to find a charter partner who can help you to bring about change and  break the current paradigm.  Once you have this, you’re on the path to building a product that will succeed.
  • Don’t just be happy with what you have and what you build. You really have to be dissatisfied with the present and galvanize resources into action. This requires a fundamental shift in the group mindset, how we operate and how the company is structured. We need to learn from the old Chinese saying ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ – not just the management ranks!
  • Don’t make random calls and hope that there will be sales. Learn the market, understand the potential buyer fully and then target with laser focus. Do not take a shot gun approach and hope that it succeeds.

Which 5 product companies or fields are you interested in meeting?

I would rather choose three fields that are of interest for me:

  • Companies that are working in the insurance sector – what are they doing and what’s innovative
  • Companies involved in infrastructure–what are you doing to improve the end user experience/reliability and availability in the modern complex world
  • Companies that are involved in new and novel concepts that challenges any business model. I want to be challenged to look outside my standard thinking model.

If you are keen to meet with Piyush at NPC. Do drop in a mail to us at info@pn.ispirt.in and we will get back to you.

Should we aim for quantity or quality in Indian startups?

I had a very good discussion with 2 folks over the last week about the current state of technology entrepreneurship in India. The rough estimates from multiple sources indicate a varied number from 250 (low estimate) to 1000 (high estimate) technology product startups each year in India. Compared to that, the US produces tens of thousands and even Israel beats India by having 3-4 times that number.

There are a few folks in the ecosystem that suggest that we should focus on fewer but better quality startups in the technology space. They have some strong points in their argument which include a) the total amount of funding available in the system will only support 50-100 companies annually b) if more companies were to be started, more will fail, which will deter more folks from becoming entrepreneurs and c) there are not too many experienced entrepreneurs & seasoned executives who can tackle issues of scale yet.

I fall on the other camp and my focus is to get more people to buy into the religion. I agree with the premise that most startups fail and that’s the nature of the beast. That has not changed much (or at all) with the number of accelerators or incubators in the last few years. Startups die for multiple reasons and many of them are not easy to fix.

The main reason I think we should focus on quantity first is so we can increase the pool of risk-takers in India. Entrepreneurs take the most amount of risk in the ecosystem. We need more of them, in fact more than the system can really handle. So how do we address the arguments from the “Quality first” side?

1. Most product entrepreneurs I meet in India (I meet a new batch of 5 EVERY week) dont really want to build a company to exit. They would prefer to build strong profitable companies and run time for a long time. They do need some funding initially when they are ready to test a few of their hypothesis. Many build products that take a few pivots to get right and most operate in markets that take long to mature. So what if the ecosystem can only support 50-100 currently? We should be able to find ways to get the not so successful ones to pick up, dust-off and get on the horse again. The other point I make that we really have a lot of money sitting on the sidelines in India, with a fairly immature angel investment ecosystem. Each week I meet one new person interested in investing in technology companies, usually a technology executive at a large software company like Microsoft, SAP or VMware. They are enough to get our entrepreneurs started and build good companies.

2. If the percentage of startups that succeed is fairly constant, then the argument for more startups is even stronger. If we increase the pool of startups and the failure rate is still a constant, we should get more successful startups. The failure rate has not dramatically increased or decreased over the last 5 years, so if we have 2000 startups and a 99% failure rate we will still have 20 successes vs. 250 startups and 95% failure rate.

3. The best way to have “serial” entrepreneurs is to have more people go through the experience once. Regardless of whether they failed at their first startup, the success rate of a repeat entrepreneur is dramatically higher. They are more experienced, seasoned and more willing to understand the importance of persistence.

I believe that we need more, not less technology startups overall to help our ecosystem grow dramatically