It takes time to build something successful!

Since SaaSx second edition, I have never missed a single edition of SaaSx. The 5th edition – SaaSx was recently held on the 7th of July, and the learnings and experiences were much different from the previous three that I had attended.

One primary topic this year was bootstrapping, and none other than Sridhar Vembu, the CEO and Founder of Zoho, was presenting. The session was extremely relevant and impactful, more so for us because we too are a bootstrapped organisation. Every two months of our 4.5 year-long bootstrapped journey, we have questioned ourselves on whether we have even got it right! If we should go ahead and raise funds. Sridhar’s session genuinely helped us know and understand our answers.

However, as I delved deeper, I realised that the bigger picture that Sridhar was making us aware of was the entrepreneurial journey of self-discovery. His session was an earnest attempt to promote deep thinking and self-reflection amongst all of us. He questioned basic assumptions and systematically dismantled the traditional notions around entrepreneurship. Using Zoho as an example, he showed how thinking from first principles helped them become successful as a global SaaS leader.


What is it that drives an entrepreneur? Is it the pursuit of materialistic goals or the passion to achieve a bigger purpose? The first step is to have this clarity in mind, as this can be critical in defining the direction your business would take. Through these questions, Sridhar showed that business decisions are not just driven by external factors but by internal as well.

For example, why should you chase high growth numbers? As per him, the first step to bootstrapping is survival. The top 5 goals for any startup should be Survive, Survive, Survive, Survive, Survive. Survival is enough. Keep your costs low and make sure all your bills are paid on time.  Cut your burn rate to the lowest. Zoho created 3 lines of business. The current SaaS software is their 3rd. They created these lines during their journey of survival and making ends meet.


Why go after a hot segment (with immense competition) instead of a niche one?  If it’s hot, avoid it i.e. if a market segment is hot or expected to be hot, it will be heavily funded. It will most likely be difficult to compete as a bootstrapped organisation and is henceforth avoidable. Zoho released Zoho docs in 2007, but soon as he realized that Google and Microsoft had entered the space, he reoriented the vision of Zoho to stay focused on business productivity applications. Zoho docs continues to add value to Zoho One, but the prime focus is on Applications from HR, Finance, Support, Sales & Marketing and Project Management.  Bootstrapping works best if you find a niche, but not so small that it hardly exists. You will hardly have cut throat competition in the niche market and will be able to compete even without heavy funding.

Most SaaS companies raise funds for customer acquisition. Even as a bootstrapped company customer acquisition is important. As you don’t have the money, you will need to optimise your marketing spend. Try and find a cheaper channel first and use these as your primary channel of acquisition. Once you have revenue from the these channels, you can start investing in the more expensive one. By this time you will also have data on your life time value and will be able to take better decisions.

Similarly, why base yourself out of a tier 1 city instead of tier 2 cities (with talent abound)? You don’t need to be in a Bangalore, Pune, or a Mumbai to build a successful product. According to Sridhar, if he wanted to start again, he would go to a smaller city like Raipur. Being in an expensive location will ends up burning your ‘meager monies’ faster. This doesn’t mean that being in the top IT cities of India is bad for your business, but if your team is located in one of the smaller cities, do not worry. You can still make it your competitive advantage.

Self-discipline is of utmost importance for a bootstrapped company. In fact, to bootstrap successfully, you need to ensure self-discipline in spends, team management, customer follow-ups, etc. While bootstrapping can demand frugality and self-discipline, the supply of money from your VC has the potential to destroy the most staunchly disciplined entrepreneurs as well. Watch out!

And last but not the least – It takes time to build something successful. It took Zoho 20 years to make it look like an overnight success.

This blog is authored by Ankit Dudhwewala, Founder – CallHippo, AppItSimple Infotek, Software Suggest. Thanks to Anukriti Chaudhari and Ritika Singh from iSPIRT to craft the article.

External Commercial Borrowing norms for Startup (ECB)

What is ECB?

External commercial borrowings(ECB) imply borrowing (debt) from a foreign (non-resident) lender. ECB is an attractive financing route as it generally offers access to finance with low rate of interest available from overseas low interest markets.

ECBs have been in use by many corporations, PSUS and especially by MNCs setting up operations in India. Who can raise an ECB, from where and under what conditions, rate, maturity period etc. are all governed by Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in India.  Startups till now did not have access to the ECB route of funding.

RBI announcement on ECB for Startups

Announcement was made by the Reserve Bank in the Fourth Bi-monthly Monetary Policy Statement for the year 2016-17 released on October 04, 2016, for permitting Startup enterprises to access loans under ECB framework.

Sanjay Khan Nagra, iSPIRT volunteer talks about this announcement in the video embedded. Below.

As such RBI circular is self-explanatory attached here. However, for ready reference, some salient features of the RBI announcement are covered in the text given below.

What are the key announcements?

What is a Startups as per circular?

The above circular covers Startups as defined by the Official Gazette of Government of India dated February 18, 2016 (i.e. Startup Policy of DIPP) given here.

How much can a startup borrow and in what currency?

A startup can borrow up to US$ 3 million or equivalent per financial year either in Indian rupee or any convertible foreign currency or a combination of both. In case of borrowing in INR, the non-resident lender, should mobilise INR through swaps/outright sale undertaken through an AD Category-I bank in India.

What is minimum maturity period?

Minimum average maturity period will be 3 years.

For what end-use can startups use ECB?

Usually there are end-use direction for an ECB. However, for startups under the above said circular of RBI, ECB can be used for any expenditure in connection with the business of the Startup.

What is all-in-cost of ECB?

There are no limits. The RBI circular says, this shall be mutually agreed between the borrower and the lender

In what forms can one receive the lending?

It can be in the form of loans or non-convertible, optionally convertible or partially convertible preference shares and the minimum average maturity period will be 3 years.

Can this be converted in to equity?

Yes, conversion into equity is freely permitted, subject to Regulations applicable for foreign investment in Startups.

Who can lend?

Previously, ECB regime inter alia set out various conditions for Indian companies raising loan from external borrowings including conditions relating to (i) eligible borrowers (ii) eligible lenders (iii) permitted end uses etc.

After this circular, the lender / investor shall be a resident of a country who is either a member of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) or a member of a FATF-Style Regional Bodies; and shall not be from a country identified in the public statement of the FATF. (Please see RBI Circular for detail)

However, overseas branches and subsidiaries of Indian banks and overseas wholly-owned subsidiary or joint venture of an Indian company will not be considered as recognized lenders.

What are security norms?

Foreign lenders or Investors are allowed to request security for any collateral in the nature of movable, immovable, intangible assets (including patents, IP rights etc.) but shall comply with foreign direct investment norms applicable for foreign lenders holding such securities.

Issuance of corporate or personal guarantee is allowed. Guarantee issued by non-resident(s) is allowed only if such parties qualify as lender under paragraph 2(c) above. Exclusion: Issuance of guarantee, standby letter of credit, letter of undertaking or letter of comfort by Indian banks, all India Financial Institutions and NBFCs is not permitted.

For more details you are requested to refer the RBI circular here.

 

8 Personal Finance tips for Bootstrapping Entrepreneurs

Starting up is hard, make no mistake about it, while media romanticizes startups and mostly talks about the glorious success stories, what goes behind is months and years of toil, frustration, fighting all kinds of odds. Cliched as it might sound but overnight success is the culmination of years of hard work.

bb1

Bootstrapping a startup is even tougher, apart from challenges of building right product, right team, right marketing plans and dealing with daily operational chaos, you additionally need to worry about money and  cash flows and hence constantly innovate to compete, there are no easy paths, what you need is undivided focus and continued perseverance.

Now with all these challenges last thing a bootstrapping entrepreneur needs are fresh challenges on personal finance front. It can be distracting to least and can even have a debilitating impact on your business, when all your energy and time should be focused on getting your business to move to the next orbit, unforeseen issues on personal finance side can sap your precious energy.

While we cannot mitigate all risks in business, but with a better financial planner you can reduce distractions and also some legitimate business risks, here are few tips that can help you manage your personal finances better.

1. Keep your personal fixed expenses low

As you bootstrap, start with a review of your personal expenses see if you can lower your expenses especially the fixed ones, there are always expenses which can be cut, like a costly dish TV subscription with all the channels you never watch or suboptimal phone bill plans when you can get a better offer or the weekly outings where you splurge or non-healthy junk food, or the gym membership where you never go, maybe a jog in nearby park can be better. Cut expenses wherever you can and migrate to a leaner personal expense structure.

2. Track your expenses and do active budgeting

Last thing you want when you are running a startup is surprises every month on your expenses which can be due to faulty planning. Plan your expenses to the last tee, do active budgeting. If required, use budgeting software. If not, pick up a simple excel sheet. There are a lot of pre-formatted excel workbooks available which can help you plan your budget.

You can use the following sheet for expense planning.

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 2.37.32 pm

3. Before you bootstrap plan for the worst

Create multiple cash flow scenarios. A lot of assumptions go bad when you are starting up as there are too many unknowns in a startup environment. Slipping product timelines, fundraising plans going awry, growth not taking off as you expected there are simply too many moving parts. So for any plan you create do a thorough analysis. Hope for the best but always have a plan ready for the worst.

4. Get a good health Insurance for you and your family

One of the major unplanned expense that can hit you is unforeseen health. Cost of health in general has skyrocketed in India. So before you bootstrap, ensure that you have a good health insurance cover for you and your family, the cover should be adequate and should reflect your lifestyle.

5. Do not park money in savings account, Invest in liquid funds

Your day to day money requirements should be parked in instruments which give higher returns. Every additional rupee matters. Therefore, do not keep your money in savings account but invest in short-term liquid funds. They provide 2-3 % higher returns than saving accounts and are almost as liquid as savings account, so you can use your money anytime and also earn higher from your savings.

Let’s say you maintain 5 lakhs rupees balance in your liquid account, this is an account for your emergency funds. Below chart explains what will be your account balance at the end of 3 years, if you see liquid funds will give you 4.3 % and 8.3 % higher return vis-à-vis Fixed deposits and savings accounts respectively.

bb2

6. Avoid speculative investments like daily stock trading

As an entrepreneur, you are already grappling with ambiguities and surprises. The last thing you would want is surprises on your personal finance front. So start avoiding any risky investment you are making and stay away from stuff like daily stock trading or other speculative investments in the stock market or otherwise.

The below infographic explains why day trading is not a good idea 🙂

bb3

(Source: Zerohedge)

7. Create a personal financial plan

You must have created a proper business plan for your startup but what is also equally important is that you create a financial plan for yourself. Look at how your cash flows are going to be like what are your projected expense, both recurring and non-recurring, sources of income, how much savings you have, short term and long term liabilities. Finance planning helps you create a detailed view of what to expect on money front in next few years, here is a simple step by step guide to create a financial plan

bb4

8. Ensure your loan liabilities are taken care off.

Having large loan (personal or home loan ) commitments is not a good idea if you are planning to bootstrap. If you have such commitments relook at them and figure out a way to manage risks arising out of these liabilities. Set up a viable payment plan for all of these liabilities.

Article Credit : Sarabdeep Singh, co-founder of Bodhik.

 

ESOP provisions get a booster from MCA for Startups

ESOP another Stay-in-India checklist item gets MCA nod

Ministry of corporate affairs (MCA) has recently relaxed sweat equity issuance norms for startups. These new relaxations are for limited to Startups recognized by Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP).  The announcement will immensely help startups. For startups not recognized under DIPP, there is not change.

The new announcement is  – Companies (Share Capital and Debentures) Third Amendment Rules, 2016 (Amendment Rules). It amends the Rule 8 governing sweat equity shares issuance and Rule 12 of Rules 2014 that pertains to issue of shares under ESOP. The other rules to draw out an ESOP plans remains same.

This blog explains the new announcement and some basic concepts for those who may not be aware of terms like ESOPS and Sweat Equity and how they benefit the startups.

Mr. Sanjay Khan Nagra, iSPIRT volunteer explains the new announcements in below the embedded video.

There is lot of material on internet on examples and ESOPS plans and how they benefit the entrepreneur and the employee both. The objective of this blog is to set a background and describe new announcement.

An ESOP plan effects the basic capital structure of the company. It also has long term legal or tax implications. A good ESOP plan can maximizing the benefits from the existing and new provisions. Hence, we suggest startups interested in drawing up an Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP) should seek a professional advice.

What is an ESOP?

An Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP) is a benefit plan for employees which makes them owners of stocks in the company. ESOPs have several features which make them unique compared to other employee benefit plans. Most companies, both at home and abroad, are utilising this scheme as an essential tool to reward and retain their employees. Currently, this form of restructuring is most prevalent in IT companies where manpower is the main asset. (Definition Source: The Economic Times).

How ESOPS benefit Startups

ESOPs are a proven tool for startups to succeed and grow. There are many ways that ESOPS can be beneficial for startups.

Some of the ways this helps are as given below:

  • Promoters or founders who can’t contribute capital but bring knowledge and dedication to startup can be have access to equity.
  • Startups can attract experience and talent with sweat equity
  • Startups can use ESOPs as a reward to motivate employees
  • It gives sense of ownership to employees and hence act as an employee retainer ship tool

Change made for Startups

MCA has announced two changes. One, that will increas the base of sweat equity that a startup can issue. Two, that will expand the horizon of sweat equity to promoters and director. Both the changes have are described below.

Increase in limit of Sweat equity shares issued by start-ups

The Rule 8(4) of Rules, 2014 restricted companies from issuing sweat equity shares in excess of 25% of the paid up capital at any time. The rule also limits the issuance of sweat equity shares per year to 15% of the paid up capital or issue value of Rs.5 crores whichever is higher.

The amendment in new announcement expressly permits Start-ups to issue sweat equity shares not exceeding 50% of its paid up capital up to 5 years from the date of its incorporation or registration.

The limits of 15% of paid up per year or capital or Rs.5 crores whichever is higher will still need compliance.

Stock options to promoters and shareholder/directors of startups

The new announcement allows Startups to issue the sweat equity under ESOP to their promoters and to directors who hold more than 10% for the first 5 years from the date of their incorporation. The restriction on issuing stock options to promoters and such directors continues for all other companies

In order to provide this benefit MCA has used notification to exempt the startups from application of Clause (i) and (ii) under Explanation C of Section 62 (1)(b) of Act, 2013 that defines the term ‘Employee’. The Explanation in Section 62(1)(b) reads as below.

Explanation:

For the purposes of clause (b) of sub-section (1) of section 62 and this rule ”Employee” means-

(a)   a permanent employee of the company who has been working in India or outside India; or

(b)   a director of the company, whether a whole time director or not but excluding an independent director; or

(c)    an employee as defined in clauses (a) or (b) of a subsidiary, in India or outside India, or of a holding company of the company but does not include-

             (i).   an employee who is a promoter or a person belonging to the promoter group; or

           (ii).   a director who either himself or through his relative or through any body corporate, directly or indirectly, holds more than ten percent of the outstanding equity shares of the company.

[The clauses (i) and (ii) given in blue does not apply on DIPP registered startups for 5 years]

There is no such thing as a startup culture

As of April 20th, 2016, Exotel is four years and 10 months old as an organisation. In the start-up investor jargon, Exotel is a VC-funded, high-growth start-up. Our home-grown on-demand cloud telephony services, powers over 1000 businesses of all sizes and shapes.

Now, if that’s a lot to take in in one go, welcome to the startup world. This sense of overwhelm is the reason employees and entrepreneurs alike find it fascinating.

The la-la-land of startups

Entrepreneurs are storytellers of the modern age. They know that the most famous stories are simple. The story’s appeal is founded on fundamental human emotions. There is always a hero and a villain. Surprising twists are always around the corner. They succeed because they’re able to captivate their investors and the initial set of employees with their story.

The early employees in any startup make or break it. Given this, it is essential that startups work with the best people they can find. But today, the world is filled with folks who want to join a start-up but have no idea why. They are replete with myths about start-ups. The biggest one being – there’s something called a startup culture.

The two main points that get listed under startup culture are

  1. one would learn the most in a start-up
  2. success is proportional to the funds raised.

A quick search on the interwebs would list dozens more.

Where then is the disconnect?

In the scramble to stick coloured labels and putting them on various axes to make life easy for themselves and their investors, most entrepreneurs forget the employee side of the story. What should people expect when they join a start-up?

I’ll try and answer that with a number-driven story, backed by the experience of a founder and the HR person.

The story I’m going to recount now is from my personal experience. It’s one of my company and its employees.

chart

Looking at the graph, you can see three distinct phases – Jun 2011 to August 2013, Aug 2013 to September 2014, September 2015 and later.

The myth of the mono-narrative start-up

Can there be a single unifying employee story across the three phases? Was there a single start-up culture. Every founder sets out to create a fantastic place to work. They assume that their company is a great place to work in; the pay, culture, freedom and so on, is on par with the rest of the ecosystem. And this assumption is a result of the founders’ perception of the truth rather than malice.

From the vantage point of a co-founder and the HR person, I have a unique perspective. And this is what I want to tell the people who are eager to work in a start-up. An untainted version of all other versions.

Multiple narratives

Here’s the twist right at the beginning. There isn’t one story. There are three stories. As a person who wants to work in a start-up, it’s important that you understand which stage the company is in, and what you can expect.

The early days

Perks: ESOPs, beer, and camaraderie

The first phase from June 2011 to August 2013 was the soul-searching phase – Product-Market fit, in entrepreneur parlance. The company was trying to find out if there was a market in the real world, and that they’re willing to pay for it.

Note how the average experience of employees in the graph increases steadily. Also, note how there are very few new hires. There was a good problem to solve, and there was light at the end of the tunnel. The problem was so challenging that none of us left. We all put our heads together to solve the problem.  Long work hours and a salary that ran out by the 10th of the month.

You should not join in this phase if you’re looking for:

  1. a safety net
  2. a specialised role
  3. a lucrative health insurance policy, again

You get the idea.

If you are a generalist who has ambitions of running your company in the future, this is your chance. Grab the opportunity by its tail.

The most professionally satisfying phase

Perks: steady paycheque, ESOPs

The second phase was from Aug 2013 to Sep 2014 – the repeatability phase, in entrepreneur parlance.

Having achieved the Product-Market fit, some of the old bunch left us to start their companies. Establishing repeatability for a company that wasn’t founded by them wasn’t an exciting prospect. On the other hand, a new bunch of people joined us – great entrepreneurs, the ones who could take responsibility of one vertical, bringing in fresh blood and new ideas.

You take home a steady pay cheque that’s not your market salary, compensated handsomely with stock options. You get to sell to, and talk to the movers and shakers of the industry – entrepreneurs, established industries, and build your circle of influence. You will get your hands dirty in various aspects of the business and find one best suited for you and the company. You get to participate and define what eventually becomes the startup’s culture.

You need to have the ability to imagine and set your goals. There’s no such thing as a  KRA/KPI that comes to you from the management, and that’s a double-edged sword.

You shouldn’t join in this phase if you’re looking for:

  1. someone to hand you down micro directions
  2. only success and no failure
  3. somebody else to define these successes and failures

The sexy phase

Perks: Everything you’ll get in a corporate job

The third stage from Oct 2014 to now is the scale stage.

The employees who’ve been able to carve out a niche for themselves hit a jackpot, and those that can’t move on. The earlier key employees who can’t think and breathe scale, leave. The company hires a whole lot of specialists – tech, sales, support, operations. You are in a stage where people join you every day/week. You can no longer recall everyone’s names leave alone their hobbies and passion.

At this stage, processes and policies become paramount. You are expected to participate, embrace and adapt them. You are supposed to live up to the numbers and culture that you’ve defined. This stage is the most comfortable stage for most people to join a startup. Of course, you’d be missing the whole multi-tasking phase, which is most exciting.

Advice to the founders and HR

While interviewing potential employees, clearly define what stage you are in and what you expect from them. It is also important to understand what they expect from the company. Do not hire people who won’t fit it.

Advice to people who look to work in start-ups

Startups are not monolithic beasts. They cover the spectrum – all the way from a pigeon to a blue whale. Understand the stage the start-up is in, what you can expect. Do not wait for things to come to you. Keep challenging the management and actively participate in defining the policies and culture.

If you think this is not your cup of tea, join a corporate and live happily ever after.

Guest Post by Ishwar Sridharan, COO & Co-Founder of Exotel

Why We Started A Change.org Petition Fighting India’s Late Payment Culture

 

(Our petition against India’s late payment culture can be found here)

The Late Payment Problem

We’re going to keep this short. Now that 97% of Indian SMBs were reportedly paid late in 2015, the late payment culture in our business environment has gotten out of hand.

Today, India officially carries the longest average payment delays in the Asia Pacific for B2B SMB invoices, 51% of which are always paid late.

The system currently in place is flawed, and heavily skewed in favor of the largest buyers on the market. The judicial system is over-burdened. It consequently delivers justice far too late to save businesses whose money is trapped in clients’ accounts.

What’s more is that the entire idea of justice by law in business is a debunked protection. Smaller businesses almost never take non-paying clients to court because they fear losing out on future contracts. They would rather suffer through the impact of being paid 90 to 120 days late, while their salaries go unpaid or they miss out on larger opportunities to thrive.

This isn’t guesswork either. Not only has this been verified to us in our hundreds of interactions with Indian CFOs and CEOs, but a commission established to study the impact of the EU directive against late payment found that 60% of European small businesses never even consider a legal battle as an option because they don’t want to spoil working relationships.

And why would hard-working Indian businesses, which prefer compromising to build strong working relationships with clients, be any different?

Our Motivation

As supporters of the business reforms espoused by our esteemed Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, we believe that unorthodox action begets change. And yet, the late payment protections for businesses in India have stagnated in the same state for the last twenty years.

The last committee set up in 2014-15 to study further updates required on the MSMED Act – which provides these legal protections to SMBs – did not even consider the necessity for better options. This was despite the comprehensive database of studies measuring the horrendous effects of late payments on the Indian business environment.

Instead, they directly skipped over the issue of late payment protections, and jumped to the question of “How can we provide more access to loans for these companies?” And all we ask is, why? While access to credit is vital for businesses in any growth economy, late payment is the root of significant troubles in the world. It causes bankruptcy and unemployment, and increases barriers to survival in the business world. It also has a significant impact on inflation since businesses up and down the supply chain mark up prices to survive late payments from their clients.

As a single factor, trade credit is indispensable because it allows companies to keep running operations even during temporary working capital shortfalls. But when it extends to the point where clients refuse to pay their suppliers intentionally, as was the case with 38% of Indian SMBs paid late last year, it needs to be addressed.

A late payment culture which forces sellers and suppliers to simply accept it as an unaddressable pain is the equivalent of a cancerous tumor. It creates chaos, and no one can entirely predict which sections of the body it will hit next if left unchecked.

And this tumor isn’t very difficult to target either. Rather that It’s grown this large from a lack of trying than a lack of successful solutions. While we sit and attempt to convince you of the horrific effects of this problem, the UK government has now passed legislation mandating all large companies to release the details of their payment practices twice a year.

This means that SMBs and startups dealing with larger companies will now be able to check beforehand what the average payment term for their prospective client actually is even before signing them on.

Singlehandedly, this increased visibility has become the best prospective protection against large businesses which exploit their financial influence on their supply chain. Now, with the reputation of their leadership on the line, larger companies have lesser incentive to hoard cash while not paying suppliers.

Even though this may not be immediately possible in India’s current business and political environment, our motivation is to bring about similar unorthodox solutions to protect the average Indian business.

What We Want

What we want is simple – for you to sign the petition, and support us by sharing it among your professional and personal circles. This is no longer a problem which affects business alone, but is also a big contributor to why life in India is getting significantly more expensive year on year.

Next, we want the government to approve another sitting committee which will accept input and feedback from the private sector for meaningful practical solutions rather than laws which look good on paper.

Instead of adding more courts alone, which will be overwhelmed just as soon by India’s burgeoning case burdens, we are pushing for the establishment of a first line of defense. We want for policy to allow for out-of-court protections which can be enforced in straightforward non-payment cases, thus clearing the line in courts for more complicated business disputes.

To this end, as some of the most prolific activists pushing for more awareness of the phenomenon of late payment in India, Hummingbill intends to release a policy white-paper for the Indian government as well in the coming month.

Keep an eye on this space for more updates on this exciting journey. Now that we can depend on your support, click here to read and sign the petition.

But, before you leave, what policy recommendations would you put forth from experience, which could help fight the late payment culture in India? Leave your answers in the comments section below.

change.org

 

 

 

Why Flipkart Taking Clients to Court For Non Payment Is A Big Deal

Flipkart_2673995f-300x175

What’s The Scoop With Flipkart?

 

“The digital industry is suffering because there have been several cases where advertisers default on payment… We do not have a strong industry body in terms of payment collection yet.” –  Amar Deep Singh, CEO, Interactive Avenues

 

(article originally posted here)

Between April and May 2016, one of India’s e-commerce leaders – Flipkartfiled cases against 20 of its clients for payment, to collect unpaid advertising dues.

 

Unlike Snapdeal and Amazon, who charge their clients ahead of time,Flipkart provided advertising services to clients on credit.

 

Though this move made sense as an advantageous proposition to attract more clients away from competitors, they have now initiated legal procedures against non-paying patrons who respectively owe them anywhere from Rs. 90,000 ($1,350) to Rs.1 crore ($150,000).

 

Is This Non-Payment A Common Problem?

The Indian business culture is infamous for the chaotic state of its payment practices. In fact, India has the longest average payment delays in the Asia Pacific region (Atradius Payment Practice Barometer).

 

Furthermore, 97% of Indian SMBs were paid late by their clients last year.38% of these businesses claimed that the late payment was an intentional move by clients. It was a means of using trade credit to finance their own working capital needs.

 

What’s more is that most of these companies will never enforce their contractual terms on overdue Accounts Receivables. Even when 1 in 2 B2B SMB invoices are paid late. And 1 in 7 B2B invoices are still pending past 90 days.

 

This is because enforcing a contract in court for non-payment by a client can take up to 3 years and 40% of the claim value to resolve (Doing Business India). By the time suppliers manage to get their money from the over-burdened court system, they’re already sinking under.

 

Which means that larger clients and buyers run pretty roughshod all over smaller SMBs in their supply chain. They even threaten to withhold payment altogether if their suppliers don’t give them unreasonable discounts to get paid faster.

 

Large buyers are well aware that their smaller suppliers are:

  • Either not aware of their legal rights in such situations;
  • Won’t act upon their legal rights because they would choose preserving business relationships over getting paid faster;
  • Will be tied up in an expensive legal case for years if they try to take matters to court.

 

This has created an environment where only the most exclusive businesses can demand payments upfront. While others are usually forced to roll the dice on the kind of client they land up with. Or have to face being ignored altogether by prospective customers.

 

To put this in perspective, for all the talk of “Why don’t businesses just demand payments upfront”, 98% of Indian SMBs extended goods and services on credit to their clients in 2015.

 

And if you think the situation is bad for regular Indian SMBs, it’s even worse for businesses which deal in digital services or mass communication products.

where in the world is that payment

So Why Does This Story Matter?

Because the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) has used the publicity provided by this issue to push for the development of a payment recovery mechanism for their industry.

 

Several of the largest digital communication platforms and services are members of the IAMAI. And the organization is wisely using this move by Flipkart to justify enforcing meaningful out-of-court payment protections for the digital communication service industry in India.

 

The issue of late payment has been a given in the Indian business culture for a long time, to the point where it’s barely mentioned in mainstream media. Even according to law firms interviewed on the Flipkart matter by YourStory staff, this case has gained significance in the media only because a large brand like Flipkart was involved.

 

This is why, by this point, we’re sure you’re asking – How does this affect me as a small business? Of course Flipkart, a well-known brand, would be able to afford taking its clients to court. Yet if we, as small businesses, did the same – we’d probably be bankrupt by the time a verdict came in.

 

First, most late or non-payment situations can be addressed by integrating global best payment practices into your business – which Hummingbill’s Gmail plugin automatically does for you for free.

 

SecondIndian companies are gradually getting less court-shy in getting back money they’re owed by non-paying clients.

 

Third, the actions of the IAMAI shine a light on the necessity of out-of-court payment mechanisms.

 

Yet, none of the mechanisms put in place by the IAMAI’s committee will protect other non-member small businesses like you or us. Even though we need these defenses just as sorely.

 

With that in mind, we at Hummingbill are scaling up our war to break India’s late payment culture in the immediate future. The Indian business culture needs a concentrated effort to create better non-litigious protections which can be enforced. SMBs and startups need shielding from larger buyers who wish to exploit their position on the supply chain.

 

And for that effort, we will need the support of every single one of you. Keep an eye on this space for more information over the next few days.

 

In the meanwhile, let us know in the comments section below. If you had the ability to enact out-of-court enforceable protections against late paying clients, what measures (except straightforward mediation) would you put in place?

– Adam Walker & Aniket Saksena

5 Types of People Every Startup Should Hire

It takes passion to start up and convert your idea into a moneymaking business. However, passion alone is never sufficient to succeed in a business. It is people that make business happen; the ‘right’ kind of people.

The core team plays a key role in shaping the future of a startup. It is the moot point that sets the course for the future. Hence, it is imperative that the founding team comprises of people with the right credentials, zest and attitude since they serve as role models for the rest of the team to follow.

The founder or the core team should ideally have the following qualities:

Visionaries

They know how to think long term and can develop a rock solid vision for the company. They have a clear objective with regard to growth and how to take the company forward. They are able enough to provide insights with a panoramic view of the business and know how to meticulously plan long term. They are innovative and have a diverse view with regard to business and its growth.

When starting up, you most certainly need a visionary to provide direction to the team at every stage.

Money specialists

Their key attribute is that they are good with money. They know how to strategically invest and will help the startups keep expenses under control. The right people who specialize in money management can help straighten up your sales strategy and attract money from various sources. They know their numbers and know how to play well with them. Having a golden goose in the company certainly multiplies the chances of success manifold.

People’s persons

Such people have the knack of knowing just what it takes to bring the best out of everyone. They have great interpersonal skills and understanding of what motivates others and can put their influencing skills and tact to good use in the best interest of the business. Be it managing a team to deliver the desired results, to influencing a prospective client or accomplishing some liaising work, they are the go-to people.

The all-rounders

These people have probably been on the other side and handled all aspects of running a business, either as an entrepreneur themselves or as a manager. This is a definite advantage because not many first time entrepreneurs know how a small decision can impact the entire business. Their insights can, therefore, be really handy for a startup.

The connector strategists

The mind of the strategist can create what is important and destroy what is hampering the progress. They bring growth by analyzing every process and tweaking it to it optimum levels. They are capable of creating new processes and strategic goals of the business that help you leapfrog. Without a strategist, your business will lose its sense of direction to proceed in the chosen path. You will get a stepwise heads up on how to go about implementing your business goals. Whether it comes to product launch or sales strategy, these people specialize in how to make a business goal effective and see to its end. They are the geniuses that know to get to the bottom of things and choose the right method to achieve a business goal. They are the experienced insiders who understand the landscape of marketing and sales. They are communicators and connectors who know how to connect you to diverse people to help your business grow.

The core team forms the foundation on which the startup rests. A mix of people with the right expertise, energy and attitude is what is needed to ensure that things fall in place as planned in order to make the vision come alive.

VU-Picture

Guest Post by Vikram Upadhyaya, Chief Mentor & Accelerator Evangelist at GHV Accelerator

 

 

Startups!! Do You Know Your Customers Well?

A business exists only till the time it has paying customers. The day your customers cease to exist, or have no reason to pay you for your products or services, your business is in deep trouble. So, if we consider all the stake holders in a corporate, an i.e. employee, executive management, investors and customers, the customer is the most important. Now the chances are that you know all other stake holders reasonably well due to daily interactions in the office or board meetings. The question is that do you know your customer well? If not, what can you do to know them well?

Especially important for a startup to know, as his starting up, sustainability and scaling up are directly dependant on the customer !

There are several stages of knowing one’s customer. What business they are in and which industry they belong to are the easier ones. The more challenging aspects are:

  • Who are your customer’s competitors in the industry? What are the competitor’s differentiators vis-a-vis what your customer is offering?
  • What is their vision of the industry that they are a part of? Where do they think the industry will be in 2 years and 5 years from now?
  • What is preventing your customer to secure a larger market share in their industry?
  • Who is your customer selling to, i.e. your customer’s customer. (By the way, this is the end customer from your perspective). What is his ask? In which industry is he sitting and how’s that evolving?
  • How is your customer’s roadmap evolving with respect to the developments in the end customer’s industry? Are the two aligned or are they diverging? If they are aligned, you are in good shape but if they are diverging, you may go out of business because your customer will go out of business.

To summarize, knowing your customer is a three-tier process: I) knowing the immediate (paying) customer, II) knowing your customer’s industry and its trends and III) knowing the end customer’s (your customer’s customer) industry and how it is evolving?

The problem is that in most of the organizations sales owns the customer and acts as a heavy-handed gatekeeper for any and all customer interactions. Since sales is transactional by its very nature, knowing the customer stops at the very first step of knowing who is making the purchase decision, who will issue the purchase order and release payment. Mostly knowing the customer stops here! Unfortunately, none of these guys can give you long term visibility into the customer’s business which is so essential for long term sustainability of your own organization.

What you need is a three-tier customer relationship, each focusing on one aspect of knowing the customer.

Starts with sales at step (I) where a relationship is built around a transaction and customer organization is mapped.

Then your product manager (for products) or domain expert (for services) has to focus on step (II), i.e. reach-out to its peer at customer’s end and engage him on a product and industry-centric discussion.

The common pitfall here is that product managers tend to get far more engineering (inside) focused in delivery. Their external interaction is mostly limited conferences and exhibitions to collect generic inputs about the industry. They really don’t spend enough face time with their customers directly to get to know customer’s industry, competitors and the customers’ customer industry. Most of the time they depend upon sales to provide the inputs against questions (a)-(c) above, but that’s a wrong expectation. It will never happen.

Now coming to step (III), i.e. knowing your customers’ customer industry. This is where a free exchange of ideas at the executive level starts to matter. The CTO/CEO of your company has to engage his peers at the customer’s end (could be CTO/CEO or BU head) and understand the industry trends. Your executive management needs to collect this information from threads picked across all of their key customers and then make a sound call on how they expect the very end customer (customers’ customer) to evolve. It has to be more than a gut feeling or some internet-based research. Their assessment has to be based on hard data collected from discussions done with your customers.

Once you have a sense of changes in end customer’s industry, address the question (e) above, i.e. is your customer helping to shape the industry or is he trying hard to catch-up? Once you know which customer is sitting in which bucket, you know what to do for your own long term growth and survivability.

Unfortunately, what happens in CXO-CXO meetings is that it gets limited to resolution of tactical issues which couldn’t be resolved at lower levels like price, contract legality, delivery issues etc. It rarely goes outside of this sphere, of never-ending business issues and any discussion to get a deep understanding of their future gets sidelined. In turn, your future gets compromised as it is directly dependent on your customer’s future!

Everything starts with the customer – June Martin

Gues post by Suresh Kabra – Founder, PriceMap

Managing business is about having the right data at your fingertips

Hindsight, they say, is 20/20.  The advantage of hindsight is that all the data that affects a decision has been revealed and is known.  Unfortunately, real life never works that way.  As an entrepreneur, you have to operate on a combination of one part data, one part intelligent guesses, and, if we are really frank about it, one part luck.

Managing a business, when broken down into its simplest form, is about making a series of decisions. And how those decisions are made can make all the difference.  Most entrepreneurs have a lot of faith in their gut or instincts. And why not? The decision to become an entrepreneur itself is one that is based on passion, the belief that you have a winning product or service idea, and the unquenchable desire to do something on your own. Just look at the words – passion, belief, desire. Not really things you can measure and make data points about. But, combine or guide your gut feeling with the right data at the right time, and it could lead to better business decisions.

The trick, of course, is to have access to the right data at the right time.

The data that you need to make decisions while managing your business, in many cases, is about your business itself.  It is about how much you spend, how much is due to you, what is your inventory situation – seemingly simple things. But if you are able to have this information at your fingertips, accessible whenever you want it, it makes your decisions not just faster, but more sound as well.

The first step to having the right data is to collect it.  Do you have systems and processes that ensure that every important piece of information is captured? It could be your CRM, or your financial management software.  Unless the data is captured and categorized, it cannot be utilized to distil useful information. Because raw data is just that, raw; and what you need is the analysis to make an informed decision.

When you are managing a business, you have to have your eye on the ball at all times. And that means having all your data accessible in a form that makes it easy for you to interpret and make decisions.  For example, if you are able to track overdue payments as soon they become overdue, or are able to see the payment pattern of a specific customer with a bad payment record in just a few clicks, it makes it easier to track and take remedial measures.  Having anywhere, anytime access to the right data empowers you with knowledge, and helps you monitor and manage your business with complete and up-to-the-minute information. The closest you can get to the 20/20 vision that hindsight promises.

Which brings me back to my starting point. I have found that the more relevant data I have, the more intelligent my guesses are. And the more confidence I have in going with my gut feeling.

Lessons on Pricing for Product Startups – Consumer and Enterprise!

Since the time Philip Kotler wrote his valuable tome on Marketing, technology has evolved so much that new pricing models like Freemium pricing are possible for both Consumer-oriented and Enterprise-oriented product startups. In addition, Free Trial pricing models and conversion to paid ones are common in both. In a price-conscious society like India, pricing can mean all the difference between a successful company and one that is not!

What have been some valuable lessons learned by companies in the recent past using all of these pricing models? If you were a product startup, what would be some of the pitfalls to watch out for?

Main lessons from using a Freemium Pricing Model for Consumer Internet Businesses

First, here are a few YouTube videos of Drew Houston presenting DropBox’s use of Freemium pricing with consumers, the lessons they have learned, and the pitfalls they encountered.

  • Use of SEO for lining up free users is very expensive
  • Affiliate Marketing is also expensive and does not work very well
  • Make sure that there are enough Paid Users that can support Free Users and you can still make money! Make sure that the Long Term Value (LTV) of Paid Users > Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC) of all users. Otherwise, the more users you line up, the more you lose!
  • Build as many tools that help your free and paid users do viral and word of mouth marketing for you as you are building features!
  • Once you have given something for free, it is very difficult to take it back! But it can be done, as the videos show!

Drew Houston : Freemium for Consumer Internet Businesses, Part 1

Drew Houston: Freemium for Consumer Internet Businesses, Part 2

Drew Houston: Freemium for Consumer Internet Businesses, Part 3

Main lessons from using a Freemium Pricing Model for Enterrprise Businesses

First here are a couple of YouTube videos of Aaron Levie presenting Box.Net’s use of Freemium pricing with an enterprise product, the lessons they have learned, and the pitfalls they encountered. Their product is an enterprise collaborative portal that competes with Microsoft Sharepoint Portal but is hosted by Box.Net.

  • Tomorrow’s Enterprise decisions are made by today’s free users. So keep them happy! They are your marketers inside the company.
  • Sell enterprise freemium models to end users, not IT.
  • Unlike other models, Inside Sales will be taking calls from already existing free users – no need to prospect them. They come already qualified!
  • Conversion is key and is harder in enterprise freemium. This is purely because of the sheer larger numbers in the consumer space as compared to enterprises.
  • Understanding the difference between a “Free Trial” customer and a “Freemium” customer! Freemium customers stay on long after Free Trial customers are gone because their trial period ran out!

Aaron Levie: Freemium and the Enterprise, Part 1

Aaron Levie: Freemium and the Enterprise, Part 2

Dumb Pricing Mistakes

Here is an interesting video on dumb mistakes that people make in pricing, especially multiple tiers with different sets of features. And how to fix them!

Pricing Strategies: The dumb pricing mistake people make (and how to fix it)

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get – Warren Buffett

 

Huntshire – Hiring Talent via Virtual Hunts!

HuntShire’s mission is to match the right candidate with the right employer through online talent hunts that are designed to assess specific skills against job requirements. It conducts role specific talent hunts on behalf of a range of recruiters and registered candidates can simply choose to participate to show they have the right skills for the job.

 

 

In conversation with Aakriti Bhargava from Boring Brands the young co-founders talk about their startup moments and life in Huntshire

How did you get the idea for your startup?
The idea of having hunts is inspired from Google’s treasure hunts. While Vishnu, CEO, was doing his under-graduation in NIT Raipur, he organized his college’s online treasure hunt event. A Treasure hunt consists of a series of puzzles, which the user needs to solve, sitting at his home. He was surprised to see that the winners were from different parts of the country and when the test methodology can deliver legitimate candidates for online fun event why cannot it have for a recruitment drive.

What makes Huntshire unique from others in the recruitment  industry?
We are creating a platform that enables companies to have virtual walkins. A company will come to our platform and create a hunt. Candidates from anywhere can participate in the hunt with the Hunt URL. This process takes less just about a week and helps companies access to skill profiled resumes.

Who made the initial investments and how did you get it together?
Our initial investments are from our savings. Vishnu and Gaurav were office mates while in cognizant. Vishnu and I are high school mates.

What are you actually doing what others are not?
Recruitment space has multiple players. But the practices today are still outdated. For a company, to recruit candidates, they need to go to a job board and access resumes. They need to call up candidates and see the interest level of them in the jobs. They need to use another filtering tool to screen candidates based on skills. This process itself takes more than 40 days. Post this; companies have to interview shortlisted candidates.

We combine the process of sourcing and filtering into one and help companies recruit faster. With the 20+ clients that we have worked with, we have seen than saving more than 70% time and 60 % cost.

What is the biggest asset for your startup?
Our team. We are individuals from different educational and cultural backgrounds and united for the common passion of solving the problem that all three of us faced. Also the passion, that it takes, to be part of a startup.

What is the founder’s biggest fear?
Our biggest fear is slowing down. Success doesn’t mean that we are doing our best. We still need to work harder.

As an endeavour to give a platform to product startups in India, ProductNation will continue to bring to you a short tête-à-tête with some really cool and young startups.

 

India has a drought – not of Investors, but Customers

I came across this rather misleading article by a New Investor in town, that India has a Series A drought. I think its a bit sensationalist and misleading and drinks a bit of his own coolaid and shifts blames on others, but I’d agree with the article on one count – Yes there is a drought.

I am going to start this off on the right foot. This whole venture funding phenomenon is about at the best 15 years old in India. Whenever i sit with the guys who really understand business and even remotely talk about the things we talk about – they give me a dazed and confused look. You know why? Venture capital is nothing more than a bank – a bank which specializes in lending to private companies. I cant think of a single self-respecting business man who built his business based around what the money lender thinks he should do. If Startups today are talking about funding – as their only big milestone – there is no one to blame but the loud-mouthed investors who have positioned themselves to be the focus point for these early stage entrepreneurs.

Now coming back to the topic. We see the following happening in India:

1. Compared to 7 years ago, everyone knows what a Startup is.

2. Mainstream media has accepted Starting up as a perfectly acceptable choice of career – they are dedicated shows and show hosts who think they are celebrities.

3. Almost every well known Investor (Startup Bank) has an office in India.

4. Angel Investment is on the rise and its raising angels in the country right now. I seem to be bumping into more angels than Entrepreneurs sometimes – its scary.

5. The Govt causes a fuss from time to time but predominantly has stayed out of what they dont understand.

So What’s missing?

Are there great ideas? Yes

Are there great teams? Yes

Are there great products getting built with world class UI? Yes Yes Yes, andYes

Are teams bootstrapping/saving up/ getting a bit of money to get off the ground? Yes

Is there ample Series A happening? Yes, but Not Yet at scale

Are there exits happening? Not Nearly

Read the Complete post here

How to Build a Great Product by Removing Barriers to Usage

Product creators often tend to think of products in terms of features. I’m not talking about the traditional myth of “more features is better” that got debunked a long time back. Product creators still think of features because they try to deliver a certain functionality. Instead, a product should actually be visualized as an answer to a pain point. Users don’t use products because they need certain features. Users use products because they have been trying to do something but were facing a barrier while doing it so far and the product helps lower the barrier.

A pain point can often be stated in the following terms:

I am a <USER DESCRIPTION>

Trying to <DO XYZ>

But I’m unable to do so because of <A BARRIER>

Products that lower (or completely remove) the barrier to getting something done tend to create entirely new market segments that had never existed earlier.

The Skill Barrier

Lack of skills is one of the biggest barriers to getting something done. We hire the carpenter, plumber etc. to get stuff sorted owing to the skill barrier. Products that help ‘unskilled’ users do something they couldn’t have done before break the skill barrier and open up a new segment of users.

WYSIWYG website creators and editors enable creation of landing pages and websites without the need to know HTML. WYSIWYG editors help non-coders launch landing pages with little effort and create a new market in the process.

Instagram lowers the skill barrier required to create arty pictures that earlier required photoshop prowess.

In all such cases, the lower barriers lead to greater adoption than would have come through direct competition. A me-too Photoshop competitor, even if it was free, would never have gained the adoption that Instagram did.

The Time/Effort Barrier

People are strapped for time. A value proposition based around time savings or lower effort is an attractive one. Bloggers needed to invest time and effort to write posts that would stand out. Twitter brings down that barrier and allows publishing with very low investment of time and effort. Since everyone has the 140 character limit and given how democratic the real time feed is, there is no humungous effort required to stand out anymore.

Another common theme that disrupts the time/effort barrier is aggregation. Platforms that aggregate multiple providers often provide a compelling value proposition as a one-stop entry point. In the early days of the web, Yahoo provided value as the home page of the web. As the web grew and portal-based navigation grew clumsier, Google emerged as the one-stop solution to accessing anything on the web. Meta search engines (e.g. Adioso) act as the one-stop entry point and allow a user to search across multiple providers, thus drastically reducing the time to get her job done.


The Money Barrier

Online services are increasingly trying Freemium offering a basic level for free to the more amateur producers with limited needs. These tools were only available for a fee earlier. Having them available for free creates an entirely new market. Users from the existing market also deflect towards a free alternative. Over time, some of them migrate to a paid tier. While lower price has never been a sustainable competitive advantage, completely free has the potential to disrupt an existing market.

Unbundling is another way the internet brings down the money barrier. Music was traditionally sold as albums. Users would have to buy an entire album even though they liked only 1-2 songs in it. iTunes disrupted this market by allowing per-song billing. In doing so, it made the market a lot more efficient and consumers who would ordinarily not have purchased an entire album to get a particular song also ended up buying the song.

The Resource Barrier

Let’s take an example closer home. Entrepreneurship has become mainstream like never before. There are several reasons that contribute to this phenomenon but one of the most important is the drastic reduction in the resources required to get a company up and running. One of the many contributors to this change is the rise of Amazon Web Services which lowered the resources and upfront investment required to get your service up and running. While a startup would have had to get a minimum level of infrastructure upfront earlier, it can now dip into Amazon’s vast resources on-demand.

The Access Barrier

Platforms often disrupt gatekeepers by allowing producers direct access to potential consumers.

Most media businesses (publishing, performing arts etc.) are industries with gatekeepers determining which producers get market access. Platforms like Amazon Kindle Publishing, YouTube, CDBaby disrupted these industries to varying degrees by allowing producers direct access to a market of consumers tho whom they could market themselves.

This applies equally well to marketplaces. The long tail of sellers on online marketplaces wouldn’t have existed in the real world as they wouldn’t have had access to the niche market that would be interested in their product. eBay created a large segment of sellers which never existed previously by lowering he access barrier.

The investment community (angel investors, VCs etc.) is not necessarily an equal-access community and the right connections and introductions can open many doors that would otherwise not have existed. Kickstarter seeks to democratize access to investment by allowing anyone to set up a project, state funding requirements and raise money online.

These examples repeatedly demonstrate the fact that lowering barriers to get something done creates new markets for the product. Competition on the internet is no longer about fighting tooth and nail over price or features as was the case with traditional businesses. In today’s age, competition is about offering a value proposition that is offered by no one else and creating an entirely new market of consumers who had a latent need but no readily available solution to solve that need. Companies that do this effectively win.

The post first appeared on platformed.info