iSPIRT works to transform India into a hub for new generation software products, by addressing crucial government policy, creating market catalysts and grow the maturity of product entrepreneurs. Welcome to the Official Insights!
Author: Avinash Raghava
I am an evangelist for Made-In-India Software Products and contribute actively in building towards a healthy Product ecosystem. You can follow me @avinashraghava
I’m sure you remember the popular song Masti Ki Pathshala from Rang De Basanti. We are planning to pull together something similar for the Product Thinker community.
Last month, in a collaborative post, we spoke about the missing Product DNA in India. We got an excellent response. Many product guys resonated with the problem and also felt that we should be doing something to solve it — the problem of building and fostering a product thinking culture in India. Since then, we have reached out to folks, collated a lot of good ideas and had many discussions. We saw a clear need for creating a platform where product thinkers can assemble. Today we are proud to announce this platform — #ProdShala.
Thanks to Tathagat Verma(TV) for coming up with the name.
What is ProdShala?
Prodshala is not your typical grandfather’s conference! We have designed it as a fast-paced action-oriented event where wounded warriors tell their story unadulterated. You will meet other tribespeople and gain valuable knowledge, acquire insights and build a network to help deliver your kickass product! Think of it as an Ivy League MBA on steroids.
Prodshala is an opportunity to bring product folks (Product Thinkers, entrepreneurs, experts) under one roof to learn from peers, make new friends and also build a vibrant community so that we can build world class products from India. Prodshala will be a 2 day unconference with few talks, (un)conference sessions, few workshops, networking games, pecha kucha and some product demos. It is designed as a single-track event with lots of time for networking and we will force you to make new friends and share your learnings 🙂
Ohh and did we mention Goa? Yes — we wanted to break the old mold of doing things in closed door, LCD projector driven conference rooms. And we wanted to do this in a zero legacy place. Not Bangalore, not Mumbai, Not Delhi or Kolkata — let’s go to Goa and unlearn in the ProdShala unconference.
Just apply and get short-listed. We are targeting Founders with the product mindset, Product Architects, Product Managers in growth stage companies, UX Designers, Engineering leads and folks who have a keen interest in building awesome products. If you know someone who would be interested in something like this, recommend them or get them to apply here.
Like many initiatives at iSPIRT, this one is also volunteer driven and here are the people who are making it happen so far as part of the core team. Their contribution ranges from putting the theme together to getting the website up and finalising the program.
We will need many more hands to put together something awesome. If you think, you would like to help us out, feel free to reach out to me at avinash(at)ispirt.in
We are all passionate about building the product thinkers community and this is just a beginning. We want you to be part of this community. If you are like us….want to have masti ki paatshaala….don’t miss this one.
Do apply before 20th August and we have a surprise for you.
For the last two decades I have followed global products and success stories, and a question constantly in front of me is why India has very few globally comparable products and even fewer category leaders?
Despite India’s vast engineering resources, budding design talent, and our hustle mentality, we have not been able to create a stream of successful global products. Our startups, even after massive rounds of funding, have been unable to scale beyond our borders and establish a global footprint. Our founders have been often accused of just copy-pasting successful ideas from the west, and we have rarely developed products that global tech giants keenly wanted to acquire!
These observations bring up the next set of questions in my mind. Do we have a fundamental problem of the absence of a solid product culture and a mindset? Has our very strength — an abundance of engineering talent — become a crippling weakness? We are great at writing code to replicate or adapt something, but are we mediocre at creatively problem-solving to develop something from scratch?
Let me try to dive deep and answer these questions through a lens of an artistpreneur and product thinker.
What is an artistpreneur? What is a product thinking mindset?
We have all experienced great products — WhatsApp, Twitter, Airbnb, to name a few — that have pushed the boundaries of design, technology, communication and social behavior, and simplified the interplay of all of these for users. People behind these products possess a rare combination of entrepreneurial and artistic thinking. We call these people ‘artistpreneurs’ (artist + entrepreneur) since they apply creative thinking to solve hard problems and in the process create value for everyone. We need precisely such people in India, who can solve problems in a way that works well in our context.
An artistpreneur understands that building great products is very difficult because it goes beyond what all one can logically conceive. It requires a critical observation of the drivers of human behavior, passion for tinkering and fixing things, and an ability to weave a story and delight users with good technology and design. Successful artistpreneurs are able to weave all of these skills to build great products. They do so by constantly nurturing and developing a mindset which allows them to think through each step of developing a product very creatively. We call this a product thinking mindset.
How can one develop a product thinking mindset?
Product thinking mindset is based on the following 5 key tenets, which anyone can master with deliberate practice:
Founder gut-feel & insight into a real pain point or opportunity.
Willingness to push the boundaries of existing solutions.
Ability to articulate and design a viable experience.
Ability to experiment with focus & speed.
Staying connected to the customer.
Building a great product is often a function of founder gut-feel that gets translated into successful products. Founder gut-feel comes from a real pain point or opportunity that the founder faced or saw close at hand. Ability to critically observe how users solve or work around a pain point helps refine the gut-feel.
Once a pain point is identified, the founder quickly reviews the current market solutions, rips them apart and identifies the solution that would disrupt the current equilibrium. This is where the founder is not afraid of pushing the boundaries of existing solutions.
When the idea or a solution concept first gets conceived in a founder’s mind, depending upon the resources & skills available, he/she articulates and design a “Minimum Viable Product / Prototype (MVP)”. Typically, this is a very fast short cycle, which happens over a few weeks to a month to get something out there.
This is not a stage where founders let their creativity be hampered by business models and the “how will you make money out of this” kind of questions. If Jack Dorsey or Jan Kuoum would have tried to solve this question at MVP stage, the world wouldn’t have likely seen Twitter or WhatsApp the way it exists”
There are many factors crucial to making a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) successful, such as timing, environment, ability to reach out to early adopters, etc. Even if all of these are taken care of, but the founders aren’t willing to experiment with speed and focus, then the MVP may not graduate beyond this stage. During MVP stage, founders relentlessly monitor the proposed solutions and experiments, observe the usage, record the hits & the misses, recognize more latent pain points & opportunities, and go back to rapid iterations. Founders know that identifying the right pain-point and market generally takes many iterations and benefit from their passion for tinkering.
Only a handful of those founders, who graduate from MVP stage and launch useful products, go on to become great founders, the ones we all want to emulate. They do so by not only embracing the above-mentioned four behaviours but also by developing an acute customer-centric focus. These founders learn to put customers at the forefront of everything they do, every single day. When they repeat the entire process over and over and apply design thinking on the top of that, they facilitate the birth and growth of great products.
Why is a DNA of product thinking so important?
While we can argue that product thinking mindset improves the odds of succeeding for founders at launching great products, they also depend on access to a mature support environment. Armed with a product thinking mindset the artistpreneur founders have to work, grind and leverage their support environment and ecosystem to bring to life their visions of change. Thus the birth and growth of these products of change are also nurtured by a good product thinking environment.
This DNA combination of product thinking mindset + a product thinking environment paves the way for a whole ecosystem to thrive on innovation and mutual, complementary successes. Pinterest brought card design into the popular imagination, Twitter brought hashtags into the mainstream, Gmail got AJAX into the limelight — the list is long and it is predominantly a list of products driving technology, design and process innovations, upon which other great products were built.
We have seen good product thinking and success from Indian companies like Zoho, BrowserStack, Freshdesk, VWO, Kayako, FusionCharts, Postman, Appointy, InMobi, HelpShift, Indix, Rategain, Zenoti,WebEngage, SimpliLearn and SignEasy, among some others. These are products which have been successful in establishing a global market footprint. We also have examples like Myntra, Bookmyshow, Paytm, Cleartrip, Zomato, UrbanLadder, Swiggy, etc which clearly articulated their product value with an appropriate user experience that was globally comparable while focusing on the local market. We can perhaps think of a few more such successes. However, such successes are mostly isolated and have not yet given way to a sustainable product thinking ecosystem since the critical learning and complementary successes from the struggle and rise of the few are yet to trickle down to all the participants of the ecosystem, whether small or big!
We need our product environment to grow more mature. We need to nurture and support founders, allowing them to solve hard problems like their successful predecessors, and help create a critical mass for building a vibrant and evolving product ecosystem.
What is holding us from developing a strong product thinking ecosystem?
We all know for a fact that a vibrant and mature ecosystem — like Silicon Valley — generally offers an inherent competitive advantage to all its participants for their very participation. There are many important factors that help an ecosystem flourish and evolve to such a stage; some of these factors are the regulatory framework, government support, availability of talent & financial resources, norms & culture, a presence of many successful participants, etc. While we cannot always or directly control these factors, we can certainly control how we think and behave. We have identified the following idiosyncrasies and biases that potentially prevent us (India) from building a very strong product thinking ecosystem. The list is not exhaustive and we try to cover each of these ideas in brief:
Jugaad mentality: Jugaad refers to any smart improvisation, typically developed with a lack of sufficient resources. While it sounds extremely smart, which in many cases it is, it has generally come to manifest itself as a philosophy of solutions that are quick fixes and only get one as far. The long-term disadvantage of blindly following this philosophy is that we as founders or customers are always seeking to solve just our current pain point. Therefore, we end up building solutions rather than products that require one to address fundamental issues. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that our lack of patience to understand real problems and obsession with short-term wins only add to Jugaad mentality eventually reducing our odds of long-term success as a product nation.
Code first, solve later: Einstein once said “If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution. And, like I hinted in the first section of this article, we fear that our abundance of engineering talent is perhaps resulting into our obsession with coding, way before we have fully comprehended the nature of the problem we are attempting to solve. This often results in us developing a solution for a problem that didn’t really exist or existed for a very few people or us having a misplaced belief that more features mean better odds of success! Eventually, we end up developing products that generally lack product-market fit and then witnessing extremely slow growth or painful death of products that once appeared promising.
Mistaking funding for success: This is one of the classic myths! Many of us like to believe that a start-up getting funded is the only hallmark of success. Such is the importance we place in getting funded that many founders start companies solely with the intent of raising funds or getting sold (and thus thinking they will make quick fortunes)! Since raising funds is a very consuming process, it has a serious consequence of founders not devoting enough time to their start-ups to validate or solve the real problem, which is often hard, or founders having a very short term vision since they are looking for a quick exit. Unfortunately, for many who do get funded, the feeling of having arrived results in losing focus from the real problem for which they got funded and them becoming complacent and wasteful with the abundance of cash. The reality is that getting funded only improves the odds of success and doesn’t guarantee anything. And a founder, who is on a mission to make it great, knows that funding only means another (important) validation that comes with an intense pressure to solve the real problem sooner than he or she thought!
Built for scale -vs- hiring for scale: Great products generally solve problems with algorithms of scale and efficiency, which result in noticeable economic gains from growth. Products not built for scale do just the opposite; they become difficult to run and manage, and more expensive as a result of growth. Some founders solve for such problems during the growth stage by simply employing manpower into the problem solution to compensate for building a coherent product solution. While this approach to augmenting the product with human intelligence may be ok in the initial stages of validation, there is a natural tendency in the rapid growth stages to continue to add more people with every phase of growth. This strategy soon becomes unmanageable or extremely expensive, and the same, fundamental problems still persist, which could have been better solved by applying technology or automation. This strategy also restricts growth in global markets where such human intelligence is not available or expensive. Great founders must know when to build for scale -vs- hire for scale!
How can you help in building a Product Nation?
We have just begun to think about the fundamental problems that are afflicting our country from becoming a vibrant, successful product nation. To take this thinking to execution, we are contemplating various ideas such as product hackathons, interactive in-depth sessions on specific topics, and developing a (mentor) network of founders & product-leaders. However, we know that our ideas alone may not be sufficient to promote product thinking and build a vibrant product ecosystem since these problems are hard as well as huge.
We are sure that you — as readers or participants of the ecosystem — would also have many interesting ideas. We urge you share those ideas and also suggest some interventions that you would like us to pursue. And, if you feel passionate about doing something about this, we should talk.
Stay tuned as we continue to dive deeper on this and establish a program model to develop more product thinkers.
I would like to acknowledge Chintan Mehta, Tarun Babbar & Titash Neogi who have helped me in putting this piece together and have contributed immensely in shaping my thoughts. Also a big shout-out to Aditi Dilip, for all the design and art help.
Just came back, feeling happy, from Hyderabad after doing the #PNcamp3. The drive from the airport in the evening to Gachibowli was pleasant and I got to see lot of construction in the city. I felt like I was driving in the Silicon Valley highway with wide roads and people driving in their lanes. In the evening, when I drove back from the ISB Campus, it took me just 25 minutes to reach to the airport.
Some background about what we have done so far in the Hyderabad Ecosystem
We have managed to do around 5 playbooks so far, 3 of them have been around Products, 1 of them was by Suresh Sambandam on Nuts & Bolts selling to the US, one of them was on Selling by Aneesh Reddy of Capillary. Few months back, we did put together a playbook around Product Showcase, inspite of having 8–10 confirmations, no one showed up except for Niraj from Hiver who was facilitating the playbook.
I was little upset as I felt founders in Hyderabad did not value the playbooks. I stayed quite for few months and then recently wrote a blog post on my contribution to Chennai and how it is now positioned as a SaaS/B2B hub of India. Chaitanya of Ozonetel tweeted saying he will write a blog post on how Hyderabad is emerging as a B2B hub. I felt guilty of not making an active contribution to the city. So after SaaSx, I thought of putting together PNcamp3, it’s a light format and adds value to the Pre-Product Market Fit stage companies.
The Hyderabad Tech Eco-system
Just to give you a little brief about the Hyderabad tech eco-system, they have an awesome Incubator/co-working space called T-Hub which is truly a global facility. Some of the leading companies from Hyderabad in the B2B space are: Pramati Technologies, Zenoti, Ozonetel, AgileCrm and in B2C we have MeraEvents and NowFloats is in the SMB space. Also you have some emerging players such as ReportGarden, AppVirality, Robustest and few others. This is just a partial list to give an understanding of the tech ecosystem. There are many more which I might have missed.
The team which pulled PNcamp together
Few months back, Shekhar Kirani of Accel had connected me with Sudheer Koneru of Zenoti as Sudheer was keen to get connected to the ecosystem and contribute some of his learnings. Initially, I wasn’t even aware about them, but the more I spoke with Sudheer I found him to be someone who was keen to help the Indian eco-system, keen to do something for Hyderabad. He flew in from Hyderabad as I requested him to attend one playbook before he does any for us….that was a big commitment and he made it happen. I’m quite fortunate to have leveraged Sudheer for 2 playbooks(1 in BLR & 1 in HYD), he was a mentor at PNgrowth and shared his learnings at SaaSx4. Sudheer was the first person who agreed to host #PNcamp in Hyderabad. I then reached out to Chaitanya as he has always been there to support in any initiative that I have reached out to him for. I had been working with Laxman from AppVirality on Beyond Founders…it hasn’t taken off, but I know he was committed and very keen to contribute.
I just shared the format of PNcamp2 that we did in Pune and I said, let’s target around the 75 B2B founders in HYD and do something for startups which are in the early stages. According to Chaitanya, it was a high number, so we settled for around 35–40 as we did not have enough B2B companies in HYD. We did the first blog post announcing PNcamp and noticed that we just got 1 application in 1 week. I realised that we have to probably do little more outreach to get the 35–40 number. Then Sainath Gupta heard about the PNCamp in Hyderabad, he shared it on Facebook and I did speak to him to help us out. Without knowing what we were getting into, he agreed and I set a target for around 75 B2B startups, probably around 40 from HYD and the remaining from other parts of India. I also told him that to get to 75, we have to probably get around 130 applications as we follow a tight curation process. I did update Laxman that we were not doing too well on registrations and he did reach out to Praveen Dorna who was very active in the ecosystem. I got both Sainath & Praveen on a call and requested for help. Both of them took on the target of getting around 75 people for PNcamp. Luckily, we managed to get around 90 applications out of which around 63 were short-listed and eventually 55 showed up for the event.
The day at PNcamp3
We started at 11am sharp with a warm welcome by Sudheer. This was followed by an inspiring talk by Jay Pullur. It’s safe to call him the father of the product ecosystem for Hyderabad. He started Pramati in 1998 and was one of the leading product companies in the Middleware space. Jay shared some insights on what it takes to build a global product company from India. There were lot of questions which came and he gave his insights to the startups and I could see that maturity and the depth of product knowledge that he had gained over the last 19 years.
We quickly moved on to the Product Tear down sessions. I was very nervous till the last minute on how the session would be conducted….but Sudheer and his team which included Mrityunjay, Anand & Bharath did a fabulous job of shortlisting 5 companies.
They actually tested out the functionality, ordered stuff, called up the startups like a customer and availed their service. They did a thorough analysis of their website, their market, their messaging, etc. One of the key things mentioned by the team was copy…copy…copy as the basics were not in place from few companies. This was something which Shekhar had also mentioned when he did the tear down in SaaSx.
The startups who presented got some good value and appreciated the efforts put by Sudheer’s team. Product Tear down is a good format which was started at SaaSx and now we are hopeful that we will be able to take this virtual.
Apart from this, we tried a Pitch tear down session, without the VCs, the session went well and i’m glad that most of the founders were trying to help each other in the session. Kevin William David of Siftery shared some thoughts on how you should be launching your product in ProductHunt. The session was around Product Launch…but a few companies shared their learning on how they launched the product…but it was ok…as the idea was to get them talking.
We were around 5:30pm when Sudheer started his own learnings on Building a Enterprise company for Global markets. He shared his learnings and how they have been obsessed in understanding their customer business. Sudheer and his colleagues actually bought software from the competition to understand how it works and many times went to customer to learn from them….never to sell. That was a very powerful insight. Most of the folks are always in the sell mode when they meet customers…but it was so good to see someone going to meet potential customer to understand how their business works.
They exactly understood their customers’ business, only then pitched on how their product can add value to their business. Sudheer’s session was very interactive and almost every attendee in the room had a question which he answered patiently. The end time for PNcamp3 was around 6pm and as with all interesting events, it kept stretching. knew that folks were flying back in the same evening, so around 6:45pm I had to bring it to a logical conclusion. We have collected feedback and the NPS score for the event is ~78 which makes my colleague Rajan happy 🙂
Sudheer hosted some of the folks at his house after the session and it was great to catch up with some folks informally in the evening. I had to rush around 7:45pm as I had a flight at 9pm….and somehow I made it 🙂
I feel happy after making a small contribution to the HYD eco-system and I hope to work with the team again to put together the next #PNcamp in the city. Also, thanks to ISB for allowing us to host PNcamp in their wonderful facility. Was blown away by the infrastructure that the city has.
Blown away by the commitment of folks like Sudheer Koneru, Chaitanya Reddy, Laxman, Sainath Gupta, Praveen & Ronak Samantray for putting a great show. We just pulled this off in less than 25 days, with just a few calls…and a few whatsapp messages.
I have worked with iSPIRT for many years now and one of my key lessons has been around the dynamics behind community and ecosystem building. I have learnt that just having a plethora of startups in one geographical location doesn’t make that place the natural epicenter or capital. There is something more to it, an X factor that goes beyond mere arithmetic.
This X factor is something that I think Chennai has.
There is no doubt in my mind that Chennai is the capital of SaaS startups in India today.
Firstly, the numbers themselves are mighty impressive. Just between Zoho and Freshdesk, two of India’s bellwether SaaS companies, there is around $400m in revenue, about a $100+ million in funding and around 4000+ SaaSemployees.
But what is more significant is that around tentpole companies such as these, a massive ecosystem for many other SaaS companies has been created in Chennai. And this is going from strength to strength as we speak.
To explain why I am personally excited about Chennai and its focused and committed founders who are building companies in this same mould, let me go down memory lane a bit. If the story seems a bit rambling, please indulge me as it is a personal story that is close to my heart.
When Chennai was Madras
My early memories of Madras are when I was probably seven years old and my uncle was posted at the Tambaram Air Force station. When we travelled from Delhi to Bangalore by train, the GT Express would halt in Madras for 5 hours as the engine would get changed. Our uncle would pick us up and we would go to one of the beaches. It was also probably one of my early experiences by the sea. I also got to spend holidays a couple of times in the quiet and green Air Force Base in Tambaram.
I got placed by NIIT as a GNIIT in a Madras-based software company called RiteChoice technologies (Yes, I was a GNIITian!). They had built the back office software for the National Stock Exchange and I joined as a Support Executive to help them with the sales/support/installation of the software in the Delhi region. We got intensive training about the stock market and how the software functions at the company headquarters. It was great fun those days as you worked for 6 days and the 7th day would be an off site with colleagues who had come from different cities. In those days, North Indian food was hardly available in Chennai and it was tough to have idli/dosas for almost two months (no offence to all my South Indian friends!). The software segment was just picking up at that time and there were very few IT companies.
Ritechoice was a product company at a time when we really did not know the demarcation between a service and a product organisation, and their other software was called Suxus. I remember interacting with the founding team; they were full of passion and keen on building more products.
The Ramco mafia
I moved on from Ritechoice after six months as we were not able to sell/support the software in Delhi. There were lot of changes being done at NSE and in hindsight, I now understand that we were not able to find the product market fit. I continued with my journey of working with Internet startups with DSF Internet & Trisoft Systems, until NASSCOM happened in 2002. I was again able to interact with a lot of software companies.
In the early days whenever we used to talk about products, the company which drew all the limelight was Ramco. It was probably one of the fastest growing companies then, selling ERP software and making a big impact in the user community. It was fighting SAP in those days. I remember that there were around 60 ERP companies at one point of time. Other notable companies in Chennai at that time were Polaris Software(now acquired by Virtusa) and MyAdrenalin. Apart from these companies, there were a few IIT-Madras incubated startups like as well.
And there was another small company called AdventNet, which had just started making some noise.
The Role of Proto.in
I was introduced to the Twitter/blog world by Kiruba Shankar & Vijay Anand. I remember following them and getting to learn about social media through some of the sessions at NASSCOM. In the early days of the startup ecosystem, very little action used to happen in Chennai, but Proto made a big dent by getting all startups under one umbrella. For me attending Proto gave me exposure to the startup community. I got to see Ashish Gupta surrounded by many people and later on got to know that he was one of the founders of Junglee. The event was at IIT-Madras and it was hard to get into any of the halls. They were just full. The man behind the show was Vijay Anand. There were others, of course, nothing in our ecosystem is a one man show, but Vijay did a magical job of getting it all started.
I remember how Shalin Jain proudly demoed DoAttend which got built because of Proto. Wikis were used quite extensively first in Chennai for Proto: I’m yet to see another event, even in these event-rich times, which uses Wikis extensively.
Some of the well known companies like Myntra, iXigo, Drishti (Now Ameyo), ValueFirst, iCreate (Now Fintellix), Novatium, etc launched their products at Proto 1. Do take a look at Proto 2 as well. Thanks to Amit Ranjanwho continued to upload all these decks and also write about them at WebYantra. If Proto was alive today, it would have probably been the biggest enabler of the startup ecosystem in our country. Pity that it isn’t, but we need to remember that the movement actually started in Chennai.
Me at NASSCOM, and how the Emerge community took off
Some of the initial people who really made the EMERGE community happen were people like Suresh Sambandam of Orangescape (now KissFlow), Late Mr. Raja from Coromondel Infotech, Lakshman Pillai of LPCube, and George Vettah of Kallos. These were also product companies and played an important role in building the community. I continue to stay in touch with Suresh and leverage him as much as I can in building the ecosystem.
Apart from Delhi, it was the EMERGE conclave in Chennai that was a roaring success. So many people took ownership of the event. It was almost completely driven by people in Chennai and we successfully were able to build a community for product companies.
In the early days of iSPIRT, I did get to do some playbook roundtables at the Orangescape office. I remember Ashwin Ramaswamy of PipeCandy(in those days it was called ContractIQ) volunteered for most of the playbook roundtables. I remember I got introduced to Girish Mathrubootham by Sairam Krishnan for the first time in their small office….met them in the boardroom and i remember one of the members was working in the boardroom as they were falling short of space 🙂
I did get to do some playbook roundtables in the early days of iSPIRT, basically i would use Chennai to validate some of the playbook roundtables. Most of the playbooks were done at Orangescape and more recently Aditya Sanghi(Hotelogix) got some 6–7 founders from Bangalore to learn SaaS scaling from Freshdesk. I remember, it was one of the insightful playbooks and I got to meet Sanjay Parthasarthy from Indix for the first time at their office and also did a tour of the ZOHO campus which was quite far from the city.
In 2014, I was in Chennai for some meetings. It was around the time of SaaStr and it was then that it struck me that two large SaaS companies are already based out of Chennai, that and many others like KiSSFlow, UnMetric, Indix, Chargebee, Pipecandy and Zarget were all SaaS companies. It became clear to me that this city had a strong DNA of building SaaS/B2B products.
I and called up Shekhar Kirani from Accel (I consider him to be the Force behind the SaaS ecosystem in India). I bounced this idea off of him, asking for support for something around SaaS in Chennai. I got a green signal after which I reached out to Suresh and Girish. I got full support from them and in less than 20 days, we pulled together SaaSx Chennai.
Full credit to Suresh Samabandam for coining SaaSx. By the way, EMERGEOUT was also his coinage. The energy at SaaSx is always very high and we did the first three editions every six months. The beauty of SaaSx is that it is by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs and some real sharing is been done by people like Girish, Suresh, Avlesh, Paras, Krish, etc..
As iSPIRT, we are blessed to have strong support from such people who believe in paying it forward and are happy that we have been able to create a robust & safe place for SaaS founders. We will continue to stay focussed, curate the audience, and ensure that the platform becomes a meaningful one for SaaS founders in India.
We are all excited about the fourth edition of SaaSx in Chennai on 17th March, and I’m proud to continue to bat for the city (like Krish Srikkanth) and make an impact in the SaaS ecosystem.
Strength of a industry is not just judged by how much it contributes to the economy. There are a number of factors to consider and surveys play a major role in painting a clear picture.
The India SaaS Survey is all about getting the pulse of the burgeoning SaaS ecosystem in our country. A survey of this kind is indispensable in drawing an insightful analysis and in getting credible benchmarking data about how the industry is shaping out. Though nascent, the SaaS industry has a lot of potential. The data from the survey is useful not only to help entrepreneurs and investors but also showcases the prospect of the industry to technically sound aspirants looking to step into the industry.
Signal Hill, India’s largest software investment banking advisory practice in partnership with iSPIRT, the Indian Software Product Industry Round Table decided to conduct the India SaaS Survey last year. In their commitment to refreshing results of the survey annually, the second edition took shape. The learnings of the first edition has made the second iteration a better fit to the cause.
iSPIRT puts the number of respondents who took the survey at 10% of the entire SaaS ecosystem in India!
This sizable sample size with variation ranging from bootstrapping startups to the biggest names in the industry is what sets it apart from the rest. As the SaaS ecosystem in India continues to grow, participation is bound to further increase and India SaaS survey would be the benchmark.
Here are the 7 key takeaways of the India SaaS Survey 2016:
NCR has moved up three places to the second position and established itself as the latest hotspot for SaaS companies
Vertical focussed SaaS players occupy majority share of the scaled and funded respondent pie
Enterprise focussed clients have reported higher median growth rates compared to SMB/SME focussed players
Though inside sales is by far the most preferred and effective sales channel, post the $1Mn ARR mark respondents do report an increased usage of feet on street (which is still #2 after inside sales)
‘Try and Buy’ is the most preferred sales model (vs. sales channel)
Horizontal and Vertical SaaS players report similar median growth rates, however companies that focus on the US as their primary market (as against India or Asia) reported distinctively higher median growth rates
The median CAC payback period (for >$1Mn ARR) is 6-12 months
Do have a look at all the data we dissect with the survey:
In an explosive SaaS market with entries from all over the world, survival is not enough. “Survival is not Enough” is the theme of #SaaSx4, scheduled for 17th March in Chennai, and like last time we are heading to the beach. 🙂
SaaSx is a community for SaaS founders by SaaS founders, so if you are just contemplating starting a SaaS business, this event is not for you. This is the 4th edition of the event where all the SaaS founders come together to share notes, network and go back with a lot of lessons.
Here’s a sneak peek into what’s in store for you (some of these are subject to change):
We’ll start with an Unconference session on “Getting the basics right: Right problem, Right market”. This session will help those on the quest for the right product-market fit, and how to get there quickly and efficiently. Experts who have been there will share their stories of how they set the right foundation for their growth. This is meant for folks who are in the early stages of their SaaS journey.
For SaaS founders who have crossed $1MN in ARR, we have a Org/Growth teardown for 5-8 growth stage startups. This is a closed door session and you will need to get an invite after your registration is confirmed. If you don’t hear from us then please assume we couldn’t accommodate you.
If there is enough interest and companies in the range of $300k-1M, we might run a Metrics workshop on the cards.
Like last time, we will have Product Tear Down sessions where 3 founders will get an opportunity to talk about their product and get feedback. Take a look at the previous edition to see what it is like. This is a great opportunity for new startups to have their product analysed by an expert panel from various angles such as opportunity, UI/UX, funding, etc.
If you are wondering “How do I make Biryani, i.e. building a differentiated product?”, we are also planning a session to list popular examples and tear them down by “aspects of differentiation and moat”. We’ll discuss the “Aha” factors of your SaaS product and will also do a Biryani teardown for startups that have crossed $300k ARR.
We will have a dedicated session on “What is the right org/model that needs to be put together for diff types of SaaS biz”…Our community has been buzzing with many such questions lately and SaaSx3 might be a great way to address some of the questions here.
Apart from these sessions, you will have ample opportunities to network with some of the leading SaaS founders from India. If you are coming from Bangalore, the sessions start right from the bus!
We only have seats for 150 founders, and we’ll have to give a heavy-hearted “no” to lots of disappointed people!
If you would like to be part of this, reserve your slot right away!
Register now if you would like to be a part of this fun-filled, unconference!
See you in Chennai soon and let’s get high on SaaS!
As an eco-system builder, I’m always challenged with finding more Founders to contribute or help other early stage Founders. Normally, successful people have very little time to contribute and many a times, there is no formal platform which allows them to engage on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately, our eco-system has many fake mentors and founders who know it all 🙁
I have been fortunate to have access to a lot of Founders who are willing to help and share their learnings with early stage, growth stage companies..,but it has always been a challenge to expand this pool.
A couple of months back, Amarpreet Kalkat of Frrole had reached out to me on why most of the iSPIRT activities are focused only around Founders. How do we extend the same by involving some of the team members in a startup to leverage and also contribute back to the eco-system?
So, I believe there is a lot of knowledge sitting inside a company which is still untapped and the eco-system is yet to leverage that. Thanks to Laxman, who put a working document and has been kind enough to be an early customer for this beta program called #BeyondFounders.
So, What is that we are trying to solve?
If you’re a founder of SaaS company having trouble figuring/building outbound sales channel. It’s not necessary that you have to wait for Girish (Freshdesk) suggestion or mentorship, you can simply talk to the person who is incharge of Outbound sales at Freshdesk. But, how could you find them? That’s what we are gonna solve here.
Let’s just say that you have persistent problems with breaking that glass ceiling of the elusive 1K/10K MRR figure in Sales – and now you fear plateauing from here on. What if someone just showed you that small process refinement in your Sales cycle that could do the trick and turn the tide?
Apart from Sales, we would like to explore areas like Product Management, Operational Excellence, Growth Hacking.
How do we solve this?
BeyondFounders is an initiative to help startup Founders, equipped with a clear vision and a pinpoint challenge, find the right person (Founder or an executive from a fellow successful startup) to solve their burning problems.
For example: A startup founder with $10K MRR finding it hard to build the right sales process and team to scale further, is looking for an advice from Founder/Head of Sales at a successful startup who have reached $100K MRR.
The Mechanics of #BeyondFounders
How does this work? – Entrepreneurs-in-need fill a detailed form about themselves, their startup, stage they are at, challenges they face, who would they want to talk to (if any preference, so we can request them), etc.
Is this FREE? No, you would be paying back to the community by helping your fellow Entrepreneurs-in-need.
Why should I help? What’s in it for me? You would be really proud helping build a great company from India. Entrepreneurs would appreciate your time and valuable suggestions and may give credits wherever possible. As a Mentor, we expect you to spend at least 60-minutes per week, whenever possible.
You, as a mentor, can either give in-person slots or virtual (Phone/Skype/Hangouts).
If you would like to contribute as a mentor, do send out an email to me at avinash(at)ispirt.in on where you would like to help, the startups that you are currently with and what kind of startups would you be keen to help.
What type of questions can I ask? You should be really really straight with the challenge/problem you’re facing. You can’t come up with a broad problem like “How can I improve my revenue” or “How can I scale by tech infra”. Instead, you should come with questions like “I’m doing XYZ already, how can I generate more leads via outbound” or “How do I improve API response time handling data update asynchronously”.
If you are a startup who would like to be part of this program, do fill out this form, we are only looking at doing a beta program with 5 companies for the next 3-4 months. Please apply before 20th February 2017. We hope to start the first batch of 5 companies by 2nd March 2017
If you would like to volunteer and help in this program managing this, do write to me at avinash(at)ispirt.in
I missed the 4th anniversary celebrations of iSPIRT in Bangalore today as my father has been unwell for the last couple of weeks and I have been avoiding travel. I thought it will be good to refresh my memory by reading up some of the old emails and also share the journey of the 9 months of preparation before we officially launched iSPIRT. In the early months we called ourselves as SPIRT — Software Product Industry Roundtable.
iSPIRT officially got launched on 4th Feb 2013 after missing the launch date on 26th January 2013. You should read up the annual letter issued today which talks about the journey, the good progress made and why India has the potential to innovate for the next six billion.
Why I started?
The idea of setting up a product body came about after I ended my ten-year stint with NASSCOM in February 2012, where I was lucky to have worked closely with a number of inspiring individuals in the software product space. While my next career milestone took me back to the corporate world at One97 and I remember Paytm was in the early day: I never knew VSS would make it so BIG one day.
The desire to contribute to the start-up and software product eco-system in the country never left me. This desire in me forced me to reach out to Vishnu Dusad, MD of Nucleus Software. I met him at his office and he encouraged me to stay focussed and he will put all efforts behind convincing and engaging with people like Bharat Goenka of Tally & Sharad Sharmawho chaired the NASSCOM Product Council.
While I was at One97, I had a candid conversation (of leaving One97. I was just 3 months in the system) with Vijay Shekhar Sharma about my passion as I didn’t want to be unfair to a friend who had offered me a job when I needed. I still remember the brief conversation that I had with Vijay where he said “You go ahead and follow your passion, I will support you in whatever you do, be it on the rolls of One97 or outside”. I think that was a big commitment, I know very few people who can do things like that. He said — don’t worry about sustaining yourself, I will take care of that, you go and follow your dream.
I still thank him as he was the first person who freed me and became the angel for the Product mission.
How the key people came together
Vishnu was able to convince Bharat & Sharad that it was time to focus on creating something unique for the Software Product companies in India. We also engaged with Pari Natarajan of Zinnov as he had a good understanding of the ecosystem and also knew some of the gaps that had to be filled. I remember, we did few calls and everything would stop for few weeks as people got busy. I had to again nudge people so that they start contributing back. Many a times, I thought it was difficult to pull something together, but something inside me didn’t allow me to stop.
We always were trying to identify more people, but early on someone had suggested that it is better to start with a small team and then keep adding more people. I remember in one of the calls, how Bharat had motivated me by giving some valuable advice. I remember I had written it down somewhere, but it was more on the lines of when you have a dream and when you discover your mission, it will fill you with enthusiasm and a burning desire to work on it. It was always good to hear Bharat on how much passionate he was for India and for Software Products from India.
Once everyone was aligned, we virtually laid the foundation for SPIRT on 15th August 2012 where Bharat & Sharad met at the Tally office and Vishnu and I joined on the call from Delhi. I came officially on board after that.
How we ideated on the mission and the core beliefs…
After lot of back and forth and around 8–10 calls, we arrived at the Draft 1 of what SPIRT should be focussing on. Once in a while, we would also get an outsider to share their perspective and we got advice on how to create another trade body on software products. I’m glad we did not go ahead with the trade-body concept and created a think tank thanks to Sharad.
Also, since most of the conversations were done on phone, i don’t have any photographs of the team in the early days. Normally, startups always show their photographs from the garages 🙂
Sharing what Pari of Zinnov had put together on. Since beginning, we had lot of confusion on the name, as you can see, SPIRT became SPIRIT 🙂
In one of the initial meetings, it was decided that we will be taking the 3 pillar approach — Policy, Market Catalyst & Playbooks. This was articulated beautifully by Sharad and what SPIRT would be focussing on..
Over the period of time, Bharat, Sharad and Vishnu crystallized the vision and we put together this document, although I remember lot of efforts went behind this.
Launch of ProductNation — the community for Product Founders
Once the core team had decided launch the mission, I was assigned the task to build the community for software products. I remember i had proposed few names to Sharad out of which ProductNation was picked up. The other two names which were close were ProductoNomy.com & ProductsFrom.In
The other list which got dropped was:
TheIndusValley.com & theindusvalley.in are available (this is inspired from The Silicon Valley).
The ProductNation Blog was launched in the first week of September 2012 and I was fortunate that many product folks came and supported this by writing blogs, doing interviews and few meetups.
This is a writeup that I had done at that time
Productnation aims to be a forum for these individuals to contribute their points of view and opinions and energize the software product industry with their passion for enhancing the product eco-system. The citizens of this great “nation” bring experience, diversity, information, knowledge and cut across caste, creed, race and color! In a nutshell, Productnation.in is by the product guys, for the product guys.
The initial name was SPIRT and why we changed to iSPIRT.
Sharad came up with the name of SPIRT which stands for Software Product Industry Roundtable. I guess after few weeks, Sharad came up with this beautiful analogy of why a think-tank positioning is better than the trade body approach. He had all his facts & data ready with him and others also agreed and we were all set.We tried the following domains early
SPIRuT.in (Software Products Industry RoUndTable )
But when we applied for the name at MCA, it got rejected twice and that’s when we thought about adding i for India. Luckily, the third attempt(i was told it is the last attempt) was successful and we got the name registered as Indian Software Product Industry Roundtable Foundation and called it as iSPIRT Foundation. I added the i in the name 🙂
We again had a tough challenge in getting the domain as someone had registered ispirt.org and few other domains that we wanted. I also wanted to block ispirit.in as many people continued to call us iSPIRT(with the I) in the end.
Joy from WoodApple, a dear friend helped us with the design of the iSPIRT logo…and you can see the wonderful options that he created and I think we picked up the best.
How the funding happened…
It was clear that iSPIRT will not be a trade body and will not have members. Instead it will be funded by grants and contributions from products firms and individuals. So, we made a list of 30–35 product founders in the month of December 2013 and started to reach out to them.
VAS: One97, OnMobile, NetCore
SaaS/PaaS: OrangeScape, Zoho (has announced India launch)
In the first list, I remember we had not even put Freshdesk and today, you can’t do anything in the product eco-system without the Girish’s touch. So happy to see that Girish has built a powerful brand in the last 4 years.
This would be a 20–30 minute led by Sharad on why we are setting up iSPIRT, how it will be different from a trade body model and how they can be part of this movement and support it. To our surprise, most of the founders believed in the story and came forward and donated money to iSPIRT.
Some of the meetings in Bangalore were face to face whereas the meetings in other cities were on phone. The meeting with Naveen of InMobi was pretty good as he gave us lot of insights on what kind of companies/Founders we should be adding in the first 30. The meeting with Shashank of Practo was also insightful as he shared some pain areas of a growing startup and no help he was getting from the eco-system.
The meeting with Pallav happened at Mainland China and Pallav was on full fire, he asked so many tough questions on why we are starting? 🙂
The conversation with Suresh of Orangescape was the easiest as he was one of the early guys who always believed and supported the work been done by us.
I remember collecting 4 lakhs form companies which were in the early stages, but believed so much in the mission, that they did not even question us on the mission or on where the money would be used.
Before the launch, we had 30 founders who had signed up for the mission and came for the first meeting scheduled at Pramati’s office in Bangalore.
We had most of the founders who attended the first meeting on 4th Feb, some of them flew from different places to be part of the meeting. You can see some photographs here. It was good to share the mission, what we had planned to do and also how we were planning to execute it.
Before the launch, Sujit John & Shlipa Phadnis of TOI did a breaking story of the launch by calling it as 30 software product firms break free from Nasscom. This created lot of issue for me & Sharad as both had played an active role in NPC and the EMERGE forum.
Luckily those days, I think @Sumanthr was not active or he did not notice us and hence we never got some mileage 🙂
When we launched iSPIRT, I remember after few weeks we had Manish Bahl of Forrester questioned that iSPIRT will not be able to make an impact as it is driven by volunteers and doesn’t have a proper secretariat, etc. Based on his blog post, i remember there were couple of stories written about iSPIRT as why we might not be able to do what we have set up as a mission.
Surviving and thriving against all odds!
Initially, some of the leaders also thought that iSPIRT will be an experiment for 1 year, if it worked, we will continue, if it failed, the spirit will just evaporate 🙂 I’m glad that we continued the spirit and good to see the movement has taken off. I can see that now we are a large number of volunteers with many initiatives and happy to be one of the volunteers part of this amazing journey, onwards to many more years of thought leadership as #iSPIRTturns4. It has been an awesome journey!
Special thanks to my friend Sairam who did take a look at the blog inspite of his offsite.
Last month, for the first time, I witnessed something really special. Even for someone like me, whose very job and calling is to evangelise this nascent software ecosystem of ours, this was something extraordinary.
I’ve been doing this a while, and what happened last month was one of the best feelings I’ve had in this journey.
This is what they got together for: To help 52 other, smaller B2B startups in achieving scale, like they have.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the founders of these companies are some of the most important product leaders we have.
In the first session itself, Shekar Kirani pointed out that a platform like this will not be easily available, and the assembled startups needed to leverage the best from the network and from the folks who had arrived with the the express intention of helping them. And the product leaders who also made an important point – that they did not want the new age startups to go through the same grind, or make the same mistakes they had made in their years of scaling.
I was amazed. It is almost never that you see such accomplished professionals come together towards helping and nurturing young startups from their own learnings.
And what was this? What was happening?
This was the 2nd edition of #PNgrowth.
The first one had been in Jan 2016 at the Infosys Campus in Mysore where we had assembled around 186 founders to help companies think about Category Leadership. It went really, really well, but the feedback was that that perhaps keeping it focussed for fewer founders would help the cause better.
Many heated discussions were conducted over breakfast, lunch, dinner, and beer (especially beer) on the program for the 2nd edition and on how we can add value to the content.
These conversations were typically 4-6 hours long, which meant that the entire program/content took us over 200 hours with 12 founders brainstorming for the past 3-4 months.
It really did take us that long.
And those deep discussions based on the 1st edition’s feedback was what the program for November was based on.
And now that #PNgrowth 2016 is over, I decided to take a look back and share some of the learnings in organising this, and on how we pulled this together.
This year, the program was designed to help companies chase ‘Good Scale’, that is, to achieve high growth without compromising on quality. There were 52 founders with us, from all over India, and a few from outside as well.
Before we get into the details, a larger question must be addressed again, largely because it keeps getting brought up. This time, I’m trying to use a different approach to explain this. Bear with me.
WHY IS iSPIRT DOING THIS ‘MOVIE’ CALLED PNGROWTH?
iSPIRT’s mission is to make India a ProductNation. We have many initiatives like Playbook Roundtables, PNcamp, etc which are focussed around building products and helping companies achieve good scale. Although there are many accelerators in our country, very few offer value to the founders/companies. Keeping this in mind, iSPIRT wanted to do something unique and create a platform which would help companies think about growth in an effective manner. More importantly, we want to make ongoing mentorship accessible to the founders.
The goal was to create 8-10 companies every year which would eventually go on to become $10mn revenue companies in the next 3 years.
WHO ARE THE DIRECTORS OF THE MOVIE?
These are the co-chairs.
The first edition of PNgrowth had just finished and I was looking for someone to be the architect for the second edition. I met Shankar Maruwada for lunch at Muffets & Tuffets and was having a completely different conversation. But, as we touched upon the PNgrowth topic, Shankar had lots of suggestions on how we could do this better. I immediately requested him to help in designing the program and helping me organise it better.. He accepted graciously, and was keen to help.
My next request was to get Pallav Nadhani involved again. There is a reason for this. Pallav, in many ways, was the person who forced us to think around Category Leadership. The first meeting took place at Pallav’s place which went on till 2:30 am.
By then, I had had several interactions with Aneesh Reddy, and the early playbook roundtables on Product Management had been done by him. I reached out to him and he was very keen to be part of the program and help us.
With Shankar, Pallav and Aneesh on-board, the pillars of the event were erected.
WHERE DID I FIND THE STAR CAST FOR THE MOVIE?
These, of course, were the facilitators.
Around 4-6 months in advance, we started working on the content for the event. Various topics were discussed. One thing was clear to me: Every founder had immense passion and commitment to add value to a certain topic. The format we had in mind was to make very interactive session. All of us had had enough of the ‘sage on stage’ approach. The founders were to lead sessions and work along with the participating entrepreneurs to help them extract maximum benefit.
Many discussions later, Pallav & Shankar actually started with using the frameworks & mindflips and were later joined by Girish & Aneesh. Manav & Shekhar also used the same in their session.
It was great to see that all the facilitators did an outstanding job of delivery of the frameworks and ensured that they shared real life stories and lots of data and numbers from their companies. What was more important was that they made sure they spent time with all the attendees and ensured they received personalised attention. They were able to build a personal connect and trust within the startup community by sharing internal information even though they didn’t have to, thereby making the discussion even more credible.
WHO CAME TO WATCH THE MOVIE?
Oh, that. We had huge demand for tickets from the audience, the founders of India’s growing startup community.
HOW DID WE THEN SELECT WHO ACTUALLY GOT TO SEE THE MOVIE?
This time, right from Day 1, we only wanted to get select founders to be part of PNgrowth.
To begin this selection process, we laid out which stage of startups would benefit from PNgrowth. We then went on and created a list of founders and reached out to them. Apart from this, we reached out to folks from within the eco-system and got them to recommend companies to us.
Each company was recommended by atleast 2-3 founders from the PNgrowth curation team. We did zero marketing for PNgrowth except for a video, which we used to communicate to potential participants. We received overwhelming response for the event thus putting me in a fix at several situations where I had to inform founders that they have been rejected for a program/event. It was difficult, but in the interest of the event, it had to be done.
We finally had 54 founders who confirmed their participation, out of which 52 showed up for the bootcamp. These companies were divided into groups of 6 based on the type of customer/geography they were catering to.
WHERE DID WE HIRE THE SUPPORTING ACTORS?
These were the mentors, and we were able to get around 14 founders as mentors and were simply amazed by their commitment for the two and a half days of the event. Mentors were involved in all facets of the event – from intense board room discussions to the dance floor. Let me go little more deeper on the role that they played. In every session, the founders got access to few frameworks, mindflips which they had to fill and discuss with their peers + mentors. Lot of learnings were shared by mentors and it became very valuable to the founders. Very few of them tweeted from the program as everyone was busy interacting, engaging, absorbing content, but here is one of the tweets which acknowledges the mentors.
WHAT ABOUT THE CREW?
Getting to them, the volunteers.
In my work, I get to interact with many volunteers in many initiatives, but this time the commitment and the passion with which the volunteers worked was unimaginable. Folks would go to sleep at 5am and be ready next day at 8am. They would ensure that mentors/founders have had breakfast, etc and would go an extra mile to take care that founders are focussed on their work and don’t get distracted.
Volunteers also interacted with the founders to understand if the pace/level of the sessions suited them. Lot of planning was done in advance that each and every person who is part of PNgrowth goes back with a WOW experience. I still wonder where they get so much of inspiration from.
I don’t know if i would ever be able to do something like that. Hats off to all the volunteers who put together an awesome experience for the PNgrowth family.
SO, WHAT WAS THE MOVIE ALL ABOUT, THEN?
The Founders started with a cricket match between the cohorts itself.
Sharad Sharma, our guiding light, kick started the event with his words of wisdom for all the founders.
And then it began with Pallav’s session on Who are you? As founders, entrepreneurs have to pitch or sell their ideas constantly, so as to inspire the listener to believe in their dream to either fund the idea, join the team, tie up with the startup, or write about the startup. Is there a method to this? Can this be an acquired skill?
In this session, founders learnt and practiced a simple framework that enables them to improve their ability to pitch their ideas in the shortest time, to the desired target audience – VCs, journalists, co-founders, customers, business partners, and employees.
The next session was focussed on how to maximise the value of your product. If you as a founder were to increase the perceived value of your offering (Increase average MRR by 1.5X and/or reduce churn to 0.5X),how would your economics change? How would it change your CAC, margins? What would you as a founder then do differently with your product strategy, go to market strategy (positioning, marketing, channel, pricing), team/organization structure, to increase pricing by 1.5X, in the scenarios below as relevant to you. This was followed by an interactive session with the mentors.
This was end of Day 1 and then we had networking dinner, drinks, some dance and lots of conversations led by Vinod & Ashish.
The second day was a more power packed with two sessions. To their credit, the founders were highly engrossed in their sessions, sans their mobile phones and laptops which helped in making these sessions successful.
During the first half, Girish and Aneesh engaged in an extremely fruitful session on product-market how to scale 10X with emphasis on how to establish your sales funnel and building a repeatable sales cycle. This session covered on selling processes from SMBs (by Girish) and enterprises (by Aneesh). They also shed some light on how pricing, positioning and selling varies from one geography to another.
Apart from this, Suresh also gave his insights on selling global products out of India.
The complete session went on till almost tea break after which the candidates came back in for the third and final session by Shekhar and Manav.
This session was meant to give a befitting end to the two rigorous days of activity.
While Manav spoke about how to choose your niche category and expand to other similar industries and geographies, Shekhar’s session was centred around what a VC looks for a in a startup. In the session,
Shekhar did a Q&A round with Nags and Girish on what it takes to build a successful organisation.
He also delved a bit deeper on aspects like how to choose the right market and how to intelligently figure a way out of a market and move into one that is expanding by extracting maximum business value.
Here Raghu also added his thoughts on what it takes to raise venture capital and how one should structure an organisation for a CEO to utilise his time in the most efficient manner.
Though the mentors tried to cover as much ground as possible over the two days, they took questions from audiences on anything they still might have a doubt about.
After this was a complete group photograph since some of the mentors had to leave that night. The energy of the picture speaks for itself. Before calling it a day, the founders were given tasks/homework for them to present on the final day.
The third day, we had some inspirational stories from Sanjay Anandaram(Seedfund), Mohit Dubey (CarWale), Phanindra Sama(RedBus), Raghunandan G(TaxiForSure), Sanjay Deshpande(FortyTwo Labs). We had actually planned for only Sanjay to talk about “entrepreneurial mindset” and then we thought about inviting all of the above folks to share their energy.
Something which we had planned for 20-30 minutes went on for around 90 mins and it was an absolute pleasure to hear some of the learnings/failures from all these founders. Below is the NPS score of 89 for PNgrowth 🙂
After this, all founders were made to do this exercise on “Getting to 3X Growth in 12 Months”. All mentors with their cohorts spent time with the founders and helped them on what they should be thinking about this. Six Founders got an opportunity to share with the whole group.
Finally Shankar invited all volunteers to share few words on why they volunteered for PNgrowth. With it, a spectacular three days came to end, with some photographs and a lot of hugs, cheers, and greetings.
For me, it was a great feeling to see all of this happen, and at this scale. This probably capped off the year of 2016 for me and iSPIRT as a year in which we were actually able to make the ecosystem function as a cohesive, united entity. Lots of work is ahead of us, but as I write this, I acknowledge a task well begun.
Many thanks to Sairam for editing & Shruti for filling the blanks.
Playbook Round Tables were created with an intention to orchestrate the coordination and exchange of tacit knowledge. Thoughtful Founders acted as facilitators in this sharing of tacit knowledge. We call them Mavens. For them, their contribution to #PlaybookRTs was a labor of love. It is a selfless contribution to making India a Product Nation.
Thanks to the Founder Mavens, PlaybookRTs went on to become very successful. The topic coverage grew. However, we were not able to find Founder Mavens for topics like Design Thinking and Inside Sales. We wondered if we should look for Mavens who were not Founders. But we were skeptical if they would be animated by the Product Nation mission. And, even if they were, would they contribute selflessly in a pay-forward manner that the Founder Maven did? Would they sign the Maven Code-of-Ethics?
Then we ran into Deepa Bachu.
Her commitment to making India a Product Nation was there. Yet we wondered if she would be willing to pay-forward in PlaybookRTs. We knew this was not an easy call to make. After all, it meant forgoing workshop revenue from product startups for the foreseeable future. As we talked, we realized that Deepa’s dilemma wasn’t whether she should make this selfless contribution! Instead, she was worried if the PlaybookRT attendees would value something that was free!
This led to a couple of experimental PlaybookRTs.
And here we are! Deepa learned that Sometimes Free Is Valuable. And we learned that there are contributors to the product ecosystem who will put the cause before their business. We find that the Practitioner Mavens are as vested in the pay-forward model as Founder Mavens. We cherish and value both of them.
Most of our iSPIRT volunteers have demanding day jobs and yet they jump in to build public goods. They are animated by a cause and a sense of community. Some of them take their commitment to the cause so seriously that they let no task, however unsexy and mundane, get in the way of progress. Their do-what-it-takes approach is what, ultimately, turns ideas and intentions into reality. These unsung volunteers are heroes to all of us!
Take Rohith Veerajappa for instance. He stepped on the night 7th January 2016 to take charge of the 200 PNgrowth attendees boarding buses at Madiwala at 5:30am next morning. What was likely to be a chaotic and messy beginning turned out to be a wow experience. The boarding was smooth and efficient. He made the first touchpoint for attendees to a transformational bootcamp an out-of-norm experience. It was the best start that one could imagine.
Nobody asked Rohith to step in; he took the initiative on his own. Nobody was there to commiserate with him when he worked through the night; yet he was energised and upbeat. Nobody was there to demand a high standard from him; he set the bar himself. This uncommon ownership and determination is what makes him an iSPIRT volunteer hero.
According to a recent report by Google and Accel Partners the SaaS market in India is expected to cross over $50Bn by 2025, driven largely by demand from Western markets, in particular from US-based SMBs. Indian firms are noted as uniquely qualified to serve this opportunity given the available talent, mobile-first mindsets and language skills that enable cost-effective inside sales.
In realizing this opportunity, however, there remain a number of hurdles to be cleared. To understand these challenges, and gain insight into the SaaS landscape in India, Signal Hill, a reputed independent advisory boutique and the iSPIRT Foundation conduct the annual India SaaS Survey which is open to all SaaS businesses in India.
We are happy to announce the second edition (2016) of this survey. Like last year, the survey aims to create a single reference point for all players in the SaaS ecosystem to understand:
Company & product profiles
Sales methods & channels
Scale & traction
Customers & key markets
From last year’s survey, some key takeaways included:
Indian SaaS players are predominantly young companies striving to exceed US$1m in ARR
Horizontal applications dominated vertical specific ones
Most companies surveyed offered multiple products; in contrast, Indian SaaS leaders recommended a narrower, more focused approach
84% of respondents reported looking overseas for growth, ranking North America as their #1 target geography
To participate in the 2016 survey, respondents will need to fill in two simple forms Form A, a 100% anonymous survey and Form B, which records company details for us to share the final report. Note that A & B are kept distinct to protect your privacy. Overall, the surveys are 100% multiple choice and will take ~10 minutes to complete, providing the ecosystem with invaluable data & insights.
Apart from the core analysis of the industry and its challenges, participating companies will have their company logo featured in the report and they will also receive a surprise gift from the organizers as a token of appreciation for their support, time and valuable inputs.
It goes without saying that relevant solutions are found only when problems have been clearly identified and understood. Your 10 minute contribution to this effort will be hugely useful in helping the Indian SaaS ecosystem to get there.
On Independence Day, we at Product Nation have an important announcement to make. This one was a long time coming, as we tried to classify, clear up, and target our efforts for the product ecosystem better. This update is mainly focused on the Playbook pillar, one of iSPIRT’s key initiatives, and will have effects on other fronts as well.
We are reviving some of the initiatives; to others we have added more rigour and form.
Depending on what stage(Discovery, Happy Confused) you are in as a founder you can leverage the iSPIRT programs accordingly. We now have a mailing list we call the PNFT (Product Nation Founders Tribe), where we will update subscribers on the Playbook and other iSPIRT initiatives. If you are not part of iSPIRT, but still want to receive our updates, please fill up the form.
This won’t make you a part of iSPIRT, though, and we reserve the right to extend invitations for smaller, more pointed events only to our members. Our programs like the RoundTables, PNcamp, and PNgrowth, are oversubscribed to, and therefore we extend invites only to curated startups.
Why on Independence Day, though? One, for purely sentimental reasons: our mission, after all is to make India a Product Nation. And two, we’d like to say that will better clarity, entrepreneurs now will have the freedom to choose which iSPIRT programs they want to be part of. Sharing some of the initiatives classified based on stages:
Pre Entrepreneurship – iKen This is a boot camp aimed at folks planning a startup or who are in the early stages of their startup. It is based on a ‘by entrepreneur-for entrepreneur’ model and on the effectuation model put forth by Professor Saras Saraswathi. This is a 10-week exercise/task oriented course designed at gaining clarity and action. The participants do most of the work during the week and review happens at a 2-hour meet every weekend. Once they graduate, the community continues to meet to help each other through the journeys.
More details can be seen at ikenstartup.org City: Bangalore
Discovery – PNcamp(8th October 2016)
This is a boot camp for product people, by product people. It is a day-long coming together of doers: ones who have been there, done that; and ones in the journey of getting there. Orchestrated by hand-picked facilitators, it promises focused, interactive, deep conversations within small, curated groups. PNcamp is a surefire avenue to find inspiration, insights and tips, and connections for life to tangibly get ahead in your product journey. The 2nd edition of PNcamp is in Pune on 8th October. More details can be seen here. City: Pune
Happy Confused – Playbook Roundtables
Playbook-RoundTable is one of iSPIRT’s most sought after community events. It’s a gathering of 12 like-minded product startups who are beyond the early stage. RoundTables are facilitated by an iSPIRT maven who is an accomplished practitioner of that particular theme. All RoundTables are conducted on a pay-it-forward basis. The only payment you have to make is to provide your undivided attention and active involvement in the process. Playbook-RoundTables are a dialogue and there’s no monologue. None.
Cities: Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad & Bangalore
Happy Confused – PNgrowth(25-27th November 2016)
#PNgrowth camp is a long term mentorship/peer learning program that is focussed and has only one one aim – category leadership. The second edition is being planned for 25-27th November and only 50 founders will get to be part of it. The theme for this year’s PNgrowth is “Achieving Good Scale”. We will be curating around 50 startups for PNgrowth this year. We have around 14 mentors who will be working with 50 curated startups for the next 12 months. City: Bangalore
Product Tear Down sessions(Happy Confused & Discovery stage)
Product Tear Down session where SaaS founders offered their product to be teared down by expert SaaS founders and audience. The experienced SaaS founders publish guideline templates based on which they will provide feedback to brave startups. We hope to start this series on a monthly basis. Check details here City: Bangalore, Chennai & Pune
Growth Stage – F6
A group of six founders whose startups are already making over $25 million in annual revenues, and are hungry to learn from peers about challenges unique to their life stage: namely, hiring sales professionals for tapping global markets and avoiding the mistakes that others have made. This group meets once in a quarter and is a closed group.
SaaS Community – SaaSx
SaaSx brings together best-in-breed SaaS entrepreneurs across India to celebrate, inspire & spark up the spirit of start-up ecosystem. It’s an exclusive invite-only bootcamp, created by SaaS entrepreneurs for SaaS entrepreneurs, as an opportunity to network, learn, and engage with the most passionate individuals in India’s startup ecosystem. We have done three editions and the next one is scheduled in the month of October. City: Chennai
We have an active blog where there is lot of information for Founders. Lots of learnings from PlaybookRTs have been captured here.
The key mavens who drive some of the Playbook Initiatives at iSPIRT are.
Aneesh Reddy, Capillary Technologies (Anchor for Sales Playbooks)
Girish Mathrubootham, Freshdesk (Co-Anchor for SaaSx/SaaS playbooks)
Manav Garg, Eka Software (Anchor for F6)
Pallav Nadhani, FusionCharts (Co-Anchor for PNgrowth)
Samir Palnitkar, ShopSocially (Anchor for PNcamp)
Shankar Maruwada, EkStep, (Anchor for PNgrowth)
Shekhar Kirani, Accel Partners (Anchor for Product Tear own session)
Suresh Sambandam, Orangescape Technologies (Co-Anchor for SaaSx/SaaS playbooks)
I’m forever being asked a question by the people I meet during my travels, events, etc. I usually smile and avoid it. Or let someone embarrass me by talking about how important and selfless my work has been and is being. But I’ve never really tackled that question on my own. Perhaps I needed to think about it myself. A few days ago, when I was looking back at three years of Playbooks, the action-focussed Product Nation workshops that we conduct, and of course other events, it got me thinking. It was probably time to face that question myself, and answer it, if not for other people, then at least for myself.
When we started iSPIRT, no real sense of a product community existed in India. People in several corners of our vast country were building great products and companies, but there was no attempt at coherence, no communication channel that existed that could make them way more than the sum of the parts. This was why we began the journey of iSPIRT; we wanted to build this community that would add real value to founders; we wanted to help the guy in the mud pit, or as Roosevelt called him, ‘the man in the arena daring greatly”’. And yet, we did not want to be facilitators of any sort. We wanted to be there with the entrepreneur through the long, hard road. We wanted to be the people he could always rely on. We wanted to go deeper.
And this thinking was what led us eventually to the entrepreneur who was in the stage Sharad Sharma termed ‘happy-confused’. This was the Sharad came up with for the entrepreneur who’s found his market, has figured out how to sell his product, but is now stalled at a stage when he doesn’t understand how to go further. In other words, the question of scale. Should he pursue scale? If so, how? It was this guy who needed help, and perhaps some direction, from the people who had already done it before.
So we began a series of programs and bootcamps that in hindsight, look and feel like a lot, but which at the time were just great fun to put together. I’ll give you a small brief on each of them; they have been some of the most interesting initiatives that i have got to work on in the last 3 years.
The Playbook RoundTables, started off with a conversation which had Vivek Subramanyam (Fintellix), Aneesh Reddy (Capillary), Ashish Gupta (Helion) and Sharad (the i of iSPIRT!). After a few brainstorming sessions, the format was decided: It would be a gathering of 12 like-minded product startups(curated) who are beyond the early stage. These RoundTable will be facilitated by an in-the-saddle entrepreneur (we called them iSPIRT Mavens) who is well accomplished on a particular topic/theme. Shankar Maruwada (EkStep) opened the innings for us, and the participants were blown away by the way Shankar conducted the RT. A lot of the success of the Playbooks was because of that first session, which set the tone for them. Pallav Nadhani (FusionCharts) was one of the participants and he added lot of his insights in the RT. We were then joined by Aneesh Reddy, Sridhar Ranganathan, Samir Palnitkar, Amit Ranjan and Amit Somani who helped us with the early RTs. There was so much preparation that would go into the Playbooks – identifying the right audience, the seating, when should we take a break, how do we get the feedback, ensure it’s free of bias, how do we measure (NPS!) and improve upon it? Until today, in every PlaybookRT, we’ve measured the NPS and continue to incorporate it into program decisions.
The First Product Bootcamp #PNcamp
As the Playbook Roundtables became popular, we had the idea wanted to do something at a slightly bigger scale and bring more product founders together. Just the idea caused us excitement enough to push ahead. We started off by calling it PNSummit and then the name changed to PNCamp. We had some of our best volunteers working on this one and Rajan (as always) drove us crazy with different types of organising calls (a war room, a morning huddle, an evening huddle, etc). We explored many formats for PNcamp and then conducted many RTs for different audiences (Discovery/Scale stage) to figure out the best way to do it. I think this was one of the best bootcamps I was part of. It took us such a lot of effort to put this together that we never attempted to do this again. I hope someone from Pune will take the lead and do this for us. We have a blueprint and with few volunteers, we can pull this together again!
The people who make magic happen – Mavens, Volunteers & Friends
The Mavens have played an important role in making the magic happen for the Playbooks. Most of the mavens get naked (metaphorically) with the audience and share many of their hard-won experiences openly. It’s really great to see some of the rock-solid CEOs passionately help each other. I get many volunteers who reach out to me and want to help me in putting together these roundtables, but the fact is very few of them can put in the effort into making such magic happen. From the outside it looks very simple, but it takes lot of effort in curating the event, inviting the right people and then closing the feedback. I’m grateful to the mavens, the volunteers and people like Rajan & Sharad who have always been supportive in making the magic happen again & again.
Playbooks: New Formats
We slowed down on the Playbooks a bit after that, as I got busy with many other things in iSPIRT, including a policy push. We also tried a few experiments with some mavens, but none of the other formats came good. We maintained the rule of never inviting someone to do a Playbook without them having attended one. We have stayed away from getting some of the Gurus who want to just give gyaan. We are still happy to explore new formats which can help product founders. I recently stumbled upon the Product Tear Down session at SaaSx and I think if we can do this right, this can become a great platform for product founders who are looking for help.
On one of my visits to Chennai, I realised that some of the SaaS leaders are based out of the city and there is no platform for all of them to come together. After few conversations with Suresh Sambandam // KissFlow (the marketer), who at that time had just returned after attending SaaStr. He was blown away by the energy and kind of conversations that took place at the conference. We started putting something together; Suresh coined the name SaaSx and with help from leaders like Shekhar Kirani (Accel), Girish Mathrubootham (Freshdesk), Paras Chopra (Wingify), Avlesh Singh (WebEngage), we launched the first edition and it was a big hit. We reached out to folks and almost everyone wanted SaaSx to be held twice a year. We actually had kept it very light; it did not take more time for us to get it up. We always have been able to put up SaaSx in 3-4 weeks. The recent edition was amazing in terms of content and curation, and the networking that it created. It was good to catch up with lots of founders who always seem to appreciate me for events like this, though I’ve always believed that the real rockstars are the volunteers who pull this together.
This one was special. It happened over a long passionate conversation on Category Leadership with Pallav. We did several meetings, and calls with the Stanford/Duke & the iSPIRT Playbook team, and it took approximately 9 months for PNgrowth to take birth :). Rajan & I were nervous till the end, but I think the format and some of the conversations/talks by Shankar, Pallav, Sharad, Kunal, Nags, and Aneesh made all the difference. I think the best part for me was the bonding amongst the founders. We had around 186 founders who attended, many of them took back some great insights, learnings, some made great friends and I think we created a new platform. Hopefully, we can build on this and take it forward.
Returning to that question
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment ~Ralph Waldo Emerson.
And so we return to the question I began this rather long post with. In a recent session with the founders, Pallav again asked me why I’m so passionate about the ecosystem and why I continue to all all this evangelising. And I couldn’t push it away anymore. It made me think question my own motivations, and I came up with something like an answer.
So here we go –
I think of myself as a connector, and since I have been in the ecosystem for a long time, I know many smart people who will benefit by being introduced to other smart people. I’m able to do that, and that makes me happy. I do this without expecting anything in return. There are a few other connectors in our ecosystem who selflessly do this, and they should be celebrated as well.
After evangelising the Product Eco-system for over 12 years, I really want some Indian product companies to go global, to become category leaders. We have had some success in the past, but I would love it if many more would rise from India, and we truly become a ProductNation. I consider myself lucky to be working with some of the smartest people in the ecosystem.
We have many founders who are believers in the Pay-It-Forward movement, but they want to find credible platforms to associate with. Fortunately, iSPIRT has become one of those platforms where they consider opening up and helping other product founders
I stay away from the limelight as it defocuses you. You tend to go after visibility and lose focus. Long time back i had heard this saying if you make a donation, don’t publicise it. Let it just be a donation. I don’t know if that is right or wrong, but that’s what I follow.
I love my work as I get to meet lot of people, make new friends and build deeper relationships with the existing ones.
I think that’s all there is to it. 🙂
How can you support the movement?
I get lot of emails, lots of calls and lot of people reach out to me at conferences saying that they would like to volunteer. Many times, people are not clear on what their strengths are and don’t even know how they can contribute. Volunteering is not easy. I would request people to read the iSPIRT website, see the kind of activities being done and think how would you like to contribute. Then write to us. If you don’t show the passion, it’s hard for us to make you part of this movement. But if you do, and become part of this movement, I’m sure you’ll enjoy every bit of this ride we are on – to make India a true Product Nation.
Thanks to Sairam for helping in editing this blog post.
InTech50, a flagship event of iSPIRT & Terenne Global, running in its third year, is a platform for showcasing of some of the most promising software products created by entrepreneurs from India.
50 companies are shortlisted every year, by an eminent panel comprising of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) of global companies, VCs, and senior executives from Product companies.
The chosen 50 companies will receive advice, on-going mentoring, product marketing support, and funding to scale their offering to the global markets.
This year, we received over 300 applications. The criteria for the first phase of shortlisting were as follows:
Products that were already operating in the market were preferred to those at a concept / POC stage
Products that addressed horizontal opportunities were preferred over those that focused very deep on a vertical
Products that were easy to implement & use were preferred over products that needed deeper integration with enterprise systems (like ERP)
Solutions that could be an “add-on”/”bolt-on” to the existing eco-system
Here is the list of the first batch of 15 companies that are selected for InTech50 2016:
CloudCherry: Cloudcherry is a real-time, Omni-channel customer experience management platform that helps customer-facing brands track, measure & improve Customer Delight – thereby resulting in greater customer loyalty and profitability for the brand.
Drona HQ: a mCaaS – mobile container as a service. It offers mobile app as a container preloaded with various engineering components like SSO, push notification, Security and various other features which can be extended by any 3rd party web app that can be loaded on top of DronaHQ.
FT Cash: ftcash aims to empower micro-merchants, small businesses, retail chains and home based entrepreneurs with the power of mobile payments..
Ideal Analytics: Ideal Analytics provides proactive business suggestions using business rules and advanced statistical & data mining techniques.
Ideapoke: Ideapoke is a B2B software platform, which helps companies to find technology partners, connect and collaborate with them to acquire new innovations fast and at reduced cost.
Indusface: Indusface Total Application Security (TAS) is industry’s first truly integrated web application security and compliance solution. It helps organizations detect application-layer vulnerabilities accurately with web application scanning (detect), patch them instantly with web application firewall (protect), and monitor traffic continuously for emerging threats and DDoS attacks, to mitigate them (monitor).
In10stech: A comprehensive application development and deployment platform that is being built on modular architecture of OSGI that helps large enterprises improve business agility.
Reverie Inc: Cloud based platform hosted in AWS which enables web and mobile based applications to go multilingual. The platform provides SDKs which comprises of APIs for content localization and transliteration.
Senseforth: Senseforth’s humanlike conversation platform helps enterprises chat with millions of customers simultaneously. Senseforth’s intelligent assistants can address queries, resolve issues, perform tasks and even help customers shop.
Teamchat: Gupshup is a smart messaging platform that offers APIs for developers to build interactive, programmable, omni-channel messaging bots and services as well as SDKs to enable in-app and in-web messaging.
Tone Tag: ToneTag is a product first company driven to realize mobile payments and revolutionize the payment ecosystem with innovative payment products.
Uncanny Vision: UncannyDL provides Vision framework for using Deep Learning models based on Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN). UncannyDL is the 1st Deep Learning-based SDK available for ARM Cortex-A series processors.
Wavemaker: WaveMaker RAD Platform helps enterprises build custom applications quickly, saving money and time on application development and maintenance. WaveMaker can be used to build both responsive web (browser based) as well as Hybrid mobile (smart phone installed Apps).
Yogurt Labs: FLIX is a business-grade video maker mobile app that is easy enough for business of any size to use, yet powerful enough to create cost-effective, professional looking, on-brand videos within few minutes.
Congratulations to all the above winners !!
Watch this space for the announcement of the next batch of 15 winners.