#ArthaSiddhi: Imparting life skills and effectual skills to pre-entrepreneurs…

2 week back, Rohan, Madhav, Milind and I graduated successfully from a first of a kind program, called ‘ArthaSiddhi’. This activity based program was conceived with the intent of imparting life skills to pre-entrepreneurs. The objectives of the program were to get participants to understand what it would take for them to embark on the entrepreneurial journey. Further, through various activities along the course, the capabilities of participants were assessed against the necessary and sufficient entrepreneurial skills that are required to start up.

Manjula, Prasanna and Rajan, the iSPIRT anchors of this program co-created these sessions under the guidance of Prof. Saras Sarasvathy. The course was designed based on the principles of effectuation, which is a way of thinking, discovered through scientific research, used by expert entrepreneurs to build successful ventures.

This program was very different and effective from the many offerings and public information that exists related to pre-entrepreneurship. This program was about participants getting aware about the process of entrepreneurship and intrinsic skills that would help entrepreneurs navigate the difficult situations. There was accelerated learning on many aspects of entrepreneurship, the key ones are highlighted below:

Examination of the behavioral side of yourself – to assess your readiness to take the entrepreneurial plunge

The first session of this program began by asking the participants to obtain INR 1000 from a third party, by convincing that person to support the participant on their entrepreneurial journey. This exercise led to discovery of one’s abilities and inhibitions as participants reported of different experiences in their attempts to complete this activity. The effectual principle of bird-in-hand was explained at this juncture, enabling the participants to discover who they are, what they know and whom they know.

Madhav, one of the successful graduates says that when you are asked to raise money from strangers whom you don’t know, when you attempt asking them and when you actually ask – all these chain of events provide a very different experiential insight about you as a person, which you have never realized. It makes you look back into you as a person (character), help you identify, acknowledge and mold your outlook as per your need. It was just the challenge of experiencing uncertainty and trying to cope with it. He further states that this course has helped in various explicit areas as well many more implicit areas which he probably don’t even realize now. Many of the times learning are just imbibed without we actually realizing it. This has changed me as person and my approach towards any of the activity.

Milind, a serial entrepreneur and another successful graduate of the program says that he had thought that he was a failure and had lost hope, when one of his startups did not work as he planned. However, on account of this training for the emotional part of being an entrepreneur, he got time to delve on understanding who I am, what am I bringing on the table and what more needs to happen.

Rohan feels that regular, small wins help keep the morale and build momentum. As a part of the group, it feels amazing to share a win and equally motivating to see anyone else achieve a win. He says that this sort of interaction really generates a lot of positive energy and brings momentum to one’s own tasks.

Key facts about this program

How will this help?

Through this course, the effectual way of working will be imbibed in practice rather than just theorizing the concepts. It will help participants to make the ‘asks’ much easily than what it would have taken to do so otherwise. The format of the course, where multiple smaller goals with targets being set and working towards it even when you are not sure of the actual final targeted goal is something very unique. This will help in realizing that entrepreneurship is not as cool thing as is thought from outside.

Who should attend this program?

Any person interested to consider entrepreneurship as a career option is most welcome. Those who are considering to start up or those who are in early stages of setting up their startups will benefit the most. However, there are a few takeaways on effectual decision making for the late stage entrepreneurs too.

The other key aspect that is unique in this program is about the heterogeneity of participants. There were college kids just completing their education and wanting to startup at one end, while at the other end, there were entrepreneurs who had done a series of startups, both successful and unsuccessful. A lot of participants were in between these two extremes.

Since many of the participants were at different phases of their entrepreneurship journey, the experiences with respect to problems, approaches, learning, solutions, etc. make us more informed about the new possibilities which awaits us with respect to limitations as well as possibilities.

What were the outcomes from this program?

Here is what some of the participants had to say as their key takeaways from the 10 week program:

  • Gave me a great understanding of the concept of affordable loss and also the courage to be an ASK person.
  • As kids asking came naturally but somewhere down the education and corporate job, we forget how to do that. Learning to ask and getting commitment which every entrepreneur needs to be able to do is now slowly happening.
  • Typically I used to manage multiple activity and keep trying in a very haphazard way. This program has taught me how to find the few relevant activity in a very analytical manner and then focus.
  • It has brought in more clarity on how to go about the entrepreneurial tasks, and how to interpret signals from others (potential customers, other stakeholders) and use them to your advantage in an effectual way.
  • I would say the ASK framework provided me with a profound understanding of what happened with me since the past year – and how I should be prepared going forward. This insight and preparedness to pursue entrepreneurship is what I think this program helped me with, which I would not have thought or would have learnt it the hard way otherwise.
  • Definitely helped to apply the effectual principles. Concepts like affordable loss and co-creation are very easy to read but discussing different contexts in which you apply in real life are making a big difference. I did not buy into the effectual principle before (probably due to an mba !) but hope to become a practitioner.

If you or any of your acquaintances you know can benefit from the above program, please suggest/refer them to the second batch that is about to begin shortly. Please sign up using the link:   http://goo.gl/forms/qK2qRl4kRG

Follow what the anchors of this program had to say about us at: https://pn.ispirt.in/kicking-off-the-second-edition-of-pre-entrepreneur-boot-camp-arthasiddhi/ and https://pn.ispirt.in/launching-ispirt-pre-entrepreneur-program/

Product positioning is all about connecting emotionally to your prospective customers – Insights from the Positioning and Messaging PlaybookRT

The 50th PlaybookRT session was held at Helion Ventures in Bengaluru to brainstorm and understand best practices for positioning and messaging of startup products. This roundtable was led by Shankar Maruwada, who by virtue of his illustrious past experiences as the brand builder for Aadhar and P&G, and being a successful entrepreneur at Marketics ably anchored the deliberations. Twelve product entrepreneurs spread across IoT, mobile, social, analytics and B2B sectors benefited from the insightful interactions.

This roundtable was special for iSPIRT family, since it marks a milestone of a journey that began with the same person – Shankar Maruwada in April 2013, at the same venue as well! To mark this special occasion, Sharad Sharma, co-founder of iSPIRT was present at the start of the session. He traced back the evolution of PlaybookRTs and explained that these roundtables came to action to fill the need for honest and open peer to peer knowledge sharing and gaining among product entrepreneurs. Shankar recollected his experiences of running the roundtable on the same topic at various locations across India and narrated the differences and common patterns he observed amongst the participants across these sessions. Rajan wrapped up the pre-event activities by describing the metrics iSPIRT uses to measure the effectiveness of such programs, and the way forward.

The roundtable began with Shankar asking all the participants to jot down three things about their prospective customer Bob:

  • The problem that the customer faced/is facing
  • Solution provided by the participants to alleviate the above problem
  • The value/benefit that Bob, as a customer derives by using the above provided solution

Once completed, a review of the pitches that participants had written was done in the group. There was a lot of variety in the pitches. While one such pitch was crisp, succinct and focused on numbers/metrics to drive the value proposition of the solution for Bob, a customer in the B2B space, the other was a story that tried to explain the value provided by the participant’s IoT solution invoking a connect to the customer’s parents. This variety in the pitches generated a lot of discussion among the participants about the best/optimal way to pitch/position their corresponding products.

At this point, Shankar introduced the concepts of curse of knowledge*, and the Golden Circle* that helped the participants to understand the need to emotionally connect with their prospective customers, as well as, the need to keep in mind, the knowledge of the customer (not the know-how presenter of the pitch), while describing the key tenets of their products.

These concepts paved way for further brainstorming on the applicability of the inside – out or outside – in approach of the WHY – HOW – WHAT trilogy of the Golden Circle across different segments. For example, there were discussions on whether it is appropriate in the B2B context to start with an outside – in approach, and vice versa for a B2C context and so on. There was also an opinion that Marketing team in a startup would usually use the Why – How – What route, whereas the Sales team would go vice versa. A video of Steve Jobs addressing his internal marketing team about how they should reach out to their intended customers helped internalize these aspects.

One of the participants resonated with the ill effects of the curse of knowledge when he shared how he had assumed that all of his customer base would be aware of the familiar ‘Settings’ icon. Upon getting a support request from an aged customer, who cited inability to locate the ‘Settings’ option, he realized that he had not provided a text alongside the icon based on the assumption that what he knew would be also known to his customers.

As the group digested these concepts, Shankar nudged the participants to revisit the pitches that they had initially created, and explore if they could make any changes based on the learning they had on account of the above two concepts. This brought about a few revisions to the pitch each of the participants had made. At this juncture, the group listened to pitches from a few more participants and ideated on what aspects of the pitch resonated with them.

The group then moved on to understand in more detail, the art of explaining the core value of their products. This was done by reviewing the Dropbox advertisement* created by Lee Lefever and discussing about how the ad starts by establishing a common connect/chord with the audience (SETUP), and then, in common language (without jargons) explains the key benefits a user would get (SOLUTION) using analogies, and finally, reinforces it with factual details of its features (SUPPORT).

Some time was spent in explaining the importance of using analogies as a bridge to transition the customer attention from the initial few minutes to introducing the product/solution to the customer, while keeping his attention intact. The Dropbox video and another video from the thisamericanlife.org archives*, where a doctor explains the vulnerabilities of children who face daily abuse from drunken parents helped the participants to understand the power of using analogies to convey the right message.

These videos and a couple more on the book ‘Made to Stick’* by Heath brothers helped the participants to craft/revise their positioning and messaging pitches, which started with building a context to establish emotional connect, used analogies to describe the solution and finally strengthened the pitch with factual/logical and data driven narration to make a lasting impression on the prospective customer.

Towards the end of this roundtable, as a last aid, Shankar introduced the 6 tips of persuasion* which entrepreneurs could use to help build up customer connect. As the participants completed these deliberations, they had imbibed the knowledge that being able to connect both emotionally and functionally to the customer is key while positioning and messaging for their products to prospective customers. The participants spent more than four and half hours and not one of them moved till Shankar actually ended this session at about 9 PM.

The evening was very well spent, and the participants had an accelerated learning by virtue of this roundtable. Dinner, arranged by Rajan, courtesy iSPIRT and the friendly staff at Helion provided the perfect way to end a very eventful learning experience to all the participants as they ruminated about the things that they learnt and shared their thoughts about time well spent during the session.

* The following URLs provide additional information about the concepts and views expressed by fellow participants of the previous sessions on this topic. Skimming through these write-ups and watching the videos will provide additional context for those who want more insights:

  1. Simon Sinek’s ‘The Golden Circle’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5Tw0PGcyN0
  2. Dropbox Intro Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4eTR7tci6A
  3. Lee LeFever on the Art of Explanation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6gyI7_j-1o
  4. Made to Stick–Review of the book (Part 1): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7U74c0Hzbk
  5. Made to Stick – Review of the book (Part 2):


  1. Science of Persuasion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFdCzN7RYbw
  2. Steve Jobs – Think Different Speech:


  1. Summary of the PlaybookRT session on positioning and messaging products, held at Bengaluru: https://pn.ispirt.in/some-takeways-from-the-first-ispirt-playbook-roundtable-on-positioning-messaging-in-bangalore/
  2. Summary of the PlaybookRT on this topic, held at Bengaluru: https://pn.ispirt.in/ispirt-playbook-roundtable-positioning-and-messaging-lot-of-it-is-common-sense/
  3. Summary of the PlaybookRT on this topic, held at Mumbai: https://pn.ispirt.in/8-powerful-things-i-learned-about-positioning-your-startup-at-the-ispirt-round-table/
  4. Summary of the PlaybookRT on this topic, held at Mumbai: https://pn.ispirt.in/why-no-other-product-like-yours-is-not-cause-for-celebration-playbookrt/

12. Summary of the PlaybookRT on this topic, held at Delhi: https://pn.ispirt.in/the-best-things-are-simple-is-your-messaging-there-yet-from-playbookrt/

Business Software Discovery made easier by SoftwareSuggest.com!

SoftwareSuggest.com is India’s leading business software discovery and recommendation platform. Product Nation interviewed Ankit Dudhwewala, co-founder and CEO of the company to understand their journey thus far. Read on…

SoftwaresuggestHow did you hit upon the idea of SoftwareSuggest?

The idea of providing a software discovery platform came about on account of my own prior experiences. In my earlier stint at a mid-sized pharma company, we spent close to about 3 years and multiple iterations to finalize the right ERP software for our firm. The entire process drained us out on all fronts, and at the end, we still did not have the right software solution that met our needs. This experience of mine made me understand that lakhs of similar buyers in India face the same problems that I faced. I sensed that there was no single place where a buyer would be able to reliably understand the software offering, compare different vendor solutions and get feedback/input on best practices of deploying software solutions. On the sellers’ end too, I figured out that such a platform would help them build their sales pipeline and gain credibility in the marketplace. Hence, we started SoftwareSuggest.com in 2014.

What has been your learning thus far? What worked well for you, and what did not?

In terms of positives, our hunch that there is an unmet need related to listing, reviewing and selection of software solutions both from the buyer and the vendor side was very quickly validated. Within 2 months, we had enough traction that helped us in validation of our idea. As more and more queries came from both buyers and vendors, we were able to scale up and provide a categorized listing, review and consulting option for both parties. This has resulted in us listing over 2000 software solutions from various vendors, across business functions, and over 1500 customers using the platform to review their software needs on this platform.

I think this scale and acceptance of the platform has been achieved primarily because we have been very conscious of quality of solution offering while on boarding our vendors and at the same time, have a good customer service mechanism for prospective buyers evaluating a software solution buy. In just about a year, we have good working partnerships with key SME software vendors, for whom we have been valuable in generating qualified leads, resulting in quicker sales of their software offerings. For the customer, our free consulting services, coupled with a converged list of qualified vendors implies that overall time and effort spent in evaluation, purchase and deployment of software solution is greatly reduced. This has been the key factors aiding our success thus far.

As regards to areas we could have done better, I think during our initial months of operation, we did not do a good job in advising a few of our prospective buyers, not to proceed forward in search for a software solution. These set of prospective buyers were just trying to mimic other colleagues in their line of business, but did not fully understand how to use software solutions to their benefit. We spent enormous amount of time to make these set of customers realize that they were not yet ready for software adoption. Looking back, I now feel that we could have dealt with them better.

There are global players who offer such software discovery platform elsewhere. What do you do differently from them, and why?

I agree that there are a few known names who offer similar kind of platform in the developed countries. However, one needs to understand that what works there will not necessarily work as is, in the Indian scenario. While at a macro level, our platform and other existing platforms may appear to provide the same functionality, the differentiation is in the level of details.

India, as an emerging economy has its own nuances. The variety of small businesses in the country, the diverse range of awareness of small business owners in understanding the value of software, the approach of evaluation of vendors, and so many other aspects are very unique and different in India. Since we understand these nuances more intimately than any other existing vendor, we are able to cater to these needs, and hence get better satisfaction levels from buyers as well as sellers, who use our platform.

Great insights! As a last question, can you share with us top three things that you have learnt working with Indian customers, that other fellow product entrepreneurs could benefit from?

I cannot say if this is true for all products/services targeting Indian customers, but, in our case, we have been very clear that our business model should not look at charging the customers, when they come to evaluate different software options. All of our revenue come from our partnerships with vendors, as of now. It is our firm belief that the more and more we enable our buyers, our platform will get further strengthened and be of more value.

Secondly, I think there are lots of opportunities, similar to ours, where in many challenges faced by Indian customers can be alleviated to an extent – by streamlining the processes via platforms. We just are solving the pain points of software discovery and evaluation for the Indian customers. I believe there is scope for other product entrepreneurs to look at areas where ease of doing business can be enhanced.

Lastly, just the sheer size of the Indian market and the demographics make it worthwhile for product entrepreneurs to look at India as a market to offer products that solve local needs. There are already a few success stories here, but I believe these are just the tip of the iceberg. There is unlimited opportunity for the product entrepreneurs to make a difference!

Product Nation thanks Ankit for his time and wishes him many more successes in their venture!

Voice of Customer Digital platform for Indian SMEs – the Inquirly story #BootUpINDIA

inquirly-logoInquirly is an integrated Voice of Customer Digital platform, designed exclusively to help Indian SMEs listen to their customers, engage with them, act on specific requests, all of these, using a single integrated platform. Product Nation interviewed Anjan Choudhary, founder of Inquirly to understand about the start-up, its products and experiences working with Indian SME customers. Read on… 

Tell us about the circumstances which led to creation of Inquirly

Inquirly came into existence formally about a year ago. However, the thought process behind it started some time during 2012 – when I was working at Accenture. Inquirly was born primarily due to the culmination of my prior experience as an entrepreneur in the manufacturing sector, and later as an IT professional working in an MNC.

While at work for Accenture, in the US, I noticed that digital technologies were disrupting the economy in many different facets – bringing about new ways to perform marketing and sales activities, financial transactions etc for an enterprise. Immediately, it stuck to me that I could leverage these technological advances, and put it to use to serve the sales and marketing needs of many SMBs in developing markets. This led me to start small experiments to validate my thoughts and concepts. After a few iterations, and early customer validation, I quit my job to start Inquirly.

What is unique about your product – and how do you think it differentiates itself in the marketplace?

Inquirly is an Integrated Voice of the Customer Digital platform that enables companies to move beyond the limitations of traditional marketing, Sales, and customer service. Inquirly offers a holistic platform to listen to the customer, engage with the customer and act on real time and continuous actionable data thereby enabling businesses to get precise insights leading to proactive business decisions that result in greater efficiency, enhanced customer satisfaction & engagement and ultimately propelling continuous business growth.

For example, a restaurant owner, can monitor all online review comments from one screen with sentiment and Intent analytics, influence scores, by using this platform she can also understand the prospective customer preferences of dining, identify and target the prospective customers more effectively by offering discounts and other incentives, review whether these promotions worked effectively or not, and most importantly, get actionable feedback from customers – all of these in real time. Most of these could not have been done on a single platform earlier – and at affordable price points. This is how Inquirly differentiates itself from other point based solution providers.

Describe your experiences from the field during your first six months. What were the key learnings you obtained from these initial days of operation?

AnjanWe have had both good and bad experiences as we started to work full time on this product. The good part is that we have been continuously getting positive feedback on the features and utility of our product from our customers. Early adopters have given us constructive feedback on how things can be improved further – and we have been at it.

On the other end, one of the key things we misread during the early days was our assumption about the Indian market opportunity. During the controlled launch period, we learnt that the market penetration was not going to be at the pace we had initially assumed, and so, we had to rework on those projections a bit. We also learnt that India is not a Do It Yourself (DIY) market and so we had to start our services arm much early than we anticipated. Another important one was that recurring payments in SaaS based platform is not possible as per the Government guidelines and the market is not ready to make yearly/quarterly payments in advance.

As a result of the above experiences, we have learnt that we need to remain agile, identify the right ‘Market’/ buyer persona and target the same with perseverance, and to invest in inbound marketing while building the product.

How has internal operations at Inquirly evolved based on the above market place realities that you narrated?

Clearly, the learning we have had from the field has impacted our internal organization. On the sales front, due to our experiments in our early months, we now have a good understanding of the sweet spot for our product and also on its applicability in different domains. We now have been converging on this set, and have built up case studies and business scenarios, which is helping the sales team to close more deals.

Having a very strong, balanced development team is always one of the key assets to a start-up. We have ensured that our development team is staffed with the right mix of experienced folks and young talent – so that we are able to iterate on new features within weeks and release the updates to the market. On the financials front, we have been bootstrapped all this while, we are on target to break even by March 2015, post which, we expect to get more financial leverage to expand our business to other cities in India in the short-term. In the long-term, we do plan to go international.

Thank you for your insights! In closing, can I ask you to share three things that you deem as priority for product entrepreneurs targeting the Indian customers?

Sure. First and foremost, make sure that you converge on the target market which has the most burning need to use your product. This may take few iterations in the early days, but be at it and ensure that you have greater clarity on the sub-set of customer segment that you want to target to begin with. Second, ensure that you simplify user experience dramatically. The adoption rate of Indian customers, in my opinion, is directly dependent on how easily they can use your product. Last, perseverance is required when working with emerging market – since, given the nature of the market, and the background of customers, you need to continuously work with them to reassure the value that they will obtain, by using your product. This will mean that your sales cycle will be longer. Hence, plan for it in advance and execute accordingly. Good luck!




Cropin – Transforming agribusiness sector by leveraging ICT

Cropin Technologies are one of the leading players in the niche and emerging agribusiness startups. Krishna Kumar, CEO of Cropin shares his journey and perspectives with Product Nation in this discussion. Read on…

You are among a niche set of startups that have focused on agribusiness opportunities. Could you provide an overview of your organization – what you do, whom do you cater?

Cropin is our effort to leverage the advances in Information Technology (IT) and apply it on the agribusiness sector. Over the years, we have successfully created an efficient and safer food supply chain for consumers around the world, by putting a network of ERP and BI solutions that different stakeholders of the agriculture supply chain use and update on a regular basis. This has ensured that all participants of the process get visibility of activities in near real time basis – which in turn has ensured superior quality and safety of food for end consumers.

CropinYou started your career with an MNC company. What prompted you to start Cropin? Did your work experience help you after you set up Cropin?

I started to work for GE after my graduation. I was doing very well at my job, I got recognized for coming up with new solutions that had market impact. To groom me further, GE put me on a very niche leadership training program that spanned over 2 years – which provided me well rounded skills related to new business development, financials etc. These aspects helped me get equipped with the basic skills needed to manage businesses across the lifecycle.

While this was going on, some developments about farmers suicide and people throwing tomatoes on the road for lack of viable price made me sit up and take notice of their plight. I started to think deeply on if anything could be done to alleviate – even partially, these issues of farmers. I soon realized that information asymmetry caused most of these problems to all stakeholders involved in agriculture. This led to a thought of creating a platform where all key stakeholders – the buyers of produce, farmers and other involved institutions could interact seamlessly and transparently.

Can you describe some of your early experiences as you setup Cropin? What worked, and what did not work?

At the very beginning, the idea I had was to make every farm traceable – and I thought that once this was achieved, all stakeholders interested in that piece of the farm land could easily collaborate. However, after spending 6 months dabbling with this idea – I realized that this business model was not sustainable – primarily because the farmers, who are the key stakeholders in this supply chain simply could not afford to pay us the amounts that were required to sustain the tracking and tracing capabilities of their farms. So, the next logical step was to sell the idea of traceability of farms to companies who procured regularly from farmers. This pivot in our business model really worked, and we were able to provide a host of benefits to not only the buyers (companies), but also to the farmers, in a sustainable way.

Most procurers of agricultural produce are large companies. How did you go about acquiring customers?

You are right, in that we had to sell this idea of traceability of farms to large companies. As we started, we had identified a few farms in the vicinity of Bangalore, from where I had heard these sad stories of farmers’ plight. When we started working there with a few farmers, we noticed that Safal was actively procuring produce from the farmers in that vicinity. So, we approached Safal and offered to help them out. With a lot of coaxing and hard selling, they finally agreed for a free pilot which we ran for about 6 months. These 6 months gave us so much learning and insight about the core issues that every stakeholder faces in the supply chain. Although Safal later did not continue the pilot, nor did they provide us business, they helped us identify the key issues that needed to be solved.

Armed with this knowledge, we slowly started approaching other major procurers. Fieldfresh (a joint venture between Bharti and Belmonte) bought into our story and initially asked us to monitor a very tiny portion of the land that they engaged with. Once we executed beyond their expectations, we increased our business with them by over 20 times their initial order. While we were working with these initial customers, we also got a good push from CNBC Young Turk Program – who made a story on what we were attempting – and this had created some goodwill amongst the CEOs of top companies engaged in this business.

Although going beyond these initial customers was difficult, I was persistent in my attempts to reach out to key decision makers in companies such as Maccain, Mahindra, Kancor, Technico, etc. Over multiple discussions and meetings with them, I was able to convince them that our startup would provide them the value that eluded them hitherto, and that we were competent to understand the nuances of the business that we were in. These efforts resulted in us signing up virtually all the large companies that operate out of India in the food produce procurement space. Of course, as we dealt with each company, we also learned about specific needs that our solution did not cater to – and over time, we were able to make our solution robust and feature rich – without compromising on usability, to cater to these needs.

The other key aspect is that all along, I have been able to get the buy-in of key seed and angel investors who have believed in the capabilities and potential of our team and the solution. This has helped me to scale our operations rapidly from managing 6 acres in 2010 to managing more than 40000 acres by 2013 – across 14 states of our country and now looking to expand our operations in other emerging markets across the world.

Tell us about the key capabilities of your solution that has resulted in such large scale embracement of customers. What are your plans to enhance these capabilities in the future?

I can describe the benefits of usage of our solution in terms of the different stakeholders who use our product. For farmers who grow the produce under a contract to the buyers, the benefit is real time advice from agricultural experts from across the world on any unknown/unforeseen development that hinders their crops. This ensures that they get the assured price for their crops. For buyers and procurement offices of these large companies, our solution helps to plan and forecast their procurement, provides 360 degree view of every detail of status of agricultural produce at any farm land under contract. We provide a variety of alerts that they can track and mitigate risk of fall in output.

The other key USP of our solution is the ease of use of the capabilities. Since our solution is cloud based and is rendered on cell phones, farmers can easily use voice or video to communicate and collaborate with experts to report or to seek input on an issue. They can talk in their local language or better still, upload a picture taken from their cell phone to explain the issue at hand. On the other end, the procurement officials find mobility of the solution a great aid in efficiently managing their tasks. I can confidently state that we are the first ones in the world to provide visibility to the most granular level possible in the agribusiness supply chain thus far.

Looking ahead, we are trying out various experiments to improve different aspects of our tracing capabilities. Our focus always has been to use the cutting edge technology for the benefit of our customers. We are using Big data and analytics to create next generation agriculture practices and inteligent systems which keep learning from the past. In this regard, we are evaluating usage of Google Glass for information capture and reporting capabilities. We are also toying with UAVs to evaluate whether we can map the areas under cultivation more effectively.

All these sound very exciting! For the benefit of fellow product entrepreneurs who are targeting Indian market, tell us three things that you have done right thus far.

First and foremost, identify who in the customer organization is the decision maker on engaging with you. Once you identify the customer stakeholder, engage continuously till closure of the deal. Enterprise customers take a long time to close a deal – so persistence is key.

Second – ensure that your work gets noticed to the right audience and beyond. I spent a good amount of time in marketing our efforts through various channels – television, news magazines and others. We were covered extensively by most coveted programs such as the Times Now News story, CNBC-TV18’s Young Turks, Fortune Magazine and by other leading national business dailies.  These activities provided legitimacy and the right visibility and helped us talk to the CXOs of the enterprise companies, who otherwise would have thought twice to engage with a young company such as ours.

Third one is about building a strong core team that will help scale the company. I have been fortunate to have Kunal(Founder) and Jena(Co-Founder) join me in 2011 and 2012 respectively as part of the core team. They complement my efforts and have provided the right ingredients for our company to progress forward. We also have a great set of advisors and investors who we use as a sounding board to validate our moves. All of these, in my mind are the things done right thus far!.

User experience and User acquisition are key strategies that a startup should pursue relentlessly – Nitin, CEO of Zepo.in

ProductNation interviewed Nitin, CEO of Zepo.in to understand his successes in enabling Indian businesses sell online. Zepo.in boasts of enabling more than 1200 businesses to sell online within a short span of 30 months. Read further to understand the key aspects that facilitated this success… 

What was the motivation to start Zepo.in? 

Zepo logoThe idea of Zepo.in came as a result of some challenges I faced during my previous stints of managing a T-shirt business and a startup. In particular, while I was running the T-shirt business, I realized how difficult it was for small businesses like us to get online and sell to the Indian market. We got fooled by a web developer who charged us a bomb and came up with a crappy website, we had to shell out huge percentage of our sales to payment gateways, and we did not have the right logistics support to help us deliver our products to our customers on time, to name a few.

These challenges made me realize that there is a huge opportunity in India, if I could make it easier for businesses to sell online, relieving them of all the pains of operational details such as website management, payment and delivery headaches. Zepo.in was born to address these pain points, and I am happy to tell you that we now have successfully enabled more than 1200 small businesses to conduct business online in a hassle-free manner!

Very Interesting! Could you share with us your initial experiences – both good and bad, as you started Zepo.in?

Nitin Purswani Sure. I think there have been lots of good things that have happened since we decided to start Zepo.in. The first thing that comes to my mind is that, before even we formally started off our operations, we had 6 customers who had already given us post dated cheques – just by listening to what we were building. This gave us validation from the customer end – also helped us to tweak our offering better based on the initial set of feedback.

Secondly, we got into the Morpheus accelerator and on account of that, we learnt a lot from Sameer and others out there. The Morpheus team helped us with lots of things, most importantly in bringing in very good and talented people to our company early on. All our key people – the CTO, our designer, key Sales and Marketing folks were all on board, thanks to guidance from Sameer. We also were able to get the angel round of funding at the right time, from Vijay Shekar Sharma, founder of the One97 Fund. Both of these helped us immensely to start on a strong foot.

On the things that we did not do correctly, perhaps pricing was something that we did not do correctly at the beginning. We started off with our pricing being nearly half of what we charge now. However, based on initial customer feedback, we arrived at the price which is a win-win.

Could you describe the current portfolio of businesses that are using Zepo.in to sell online? Also, how are you ensuring that they benefit from working with you?

While Zepo.in can be used by any business willing to sell online, we right now have retailers and manufactures using our site predominantly. Most businesses in the retailer segment are from fashion accessories and clothing, while home based product manufacturers, women enterprises, proprietary and partnership firms and even a few private limited companies have been using Zepo to sell their products online from the manufacturing segment.

Over the years, we have made significant enhancements to our platform that has benefited our customers, and has helped in deepening their engagement with us. By leveraging technology, we started off by providing a very simple and easy way to put and sell products online. We then entered into strategic alliances with logistics firms and payment gateway companies that made it easier for our customers to avail all these services from one place, through a single click of a button.

Prior to this, all small businesses had to go searching for courier firms that would accept to ship their packages. Very few courier companies would accept to ship in small quantities. Similarly, due to high payment gateway charges, one had to price their products artificially high to breakeven. Now, we launched a products as a value-add to Zepo, calling it ZePOST, we offer free pick up and delivery service that makes it so convenient to our customers to focus only on their core activity and leave mechanics of order receiving and delivery, payment collection and other things for us to manage.

On a different note, how have you organized your internal operations to support these activities? Could you provide us some insight on these aspects? 

For us, an unwavering focus on user experience, refinement of our offering and user acquisition has helped us scale and grow so fast in the past couple of years. We invest a lot of time in understanding how the user experiences our site. By thorough research and analysis, we identify the places where the user is experiencing problems, or is spending more time to finish an intended transaction/activity. We prioritize these and fix them at the earliest. On the product offering refinements, we have introduced new things almost every quarter – which has further benefited our customers, including revision of pricing to suit particular needs. This has helped in customer acquisition as well.

Further, on the user acquisition front, we have tried very innovative ways to get new customers and have a fair share of successes. We do a lot of campaigns – one of them – chotuchaiwala.com was a big hit, we leveraged social media to reach out to prospective customers, also do some inbound marketing to targeted set of prospects. We also did some very different things such as putting our tagline and company information on big carry bags that retailers use for transporting goods. This automatically provided visibility of our offering to many distributors leading to more customers. The most recent attempt was to use twitter to promote our offering – and we became the third most trending handle for all of India for almost 11 hours straight!

Thank you for those valuable insights. In closing, what would be the three things that you would like to share as key priorities a product entrepreneur should have, when they focus on the India market?

In my opinion, a differentiated product which provides a satisfying user experience, a focus on user acquisition to sustain and scale your company and superior customer service are the three things that every entrepreneur should focus, irrespective of the target market that they focus on. I believe these aspects will provide you happy customers, satisfied employees and good business success!

workXmate – A cloud based ERP and On Demand SaaS App ecosystem for SMEs

workXmate LogoProduct Nation interviewed Kamal Mansharamani and Atul Bhatia, founders of workXmate – a cloud based ERP & CRM solution designed for SMEs. During the discussion, they share their insights on how technology and external environment changes are creating favorable opportunities for tech entrepreneurs to offer products to the market. Read on…

Can you tell us about your background and motivation to start workXmate?

Kamal Mansharamani, Co-Founder, workXmate

Both Atul and I have been in the software product and services industry for over 2 decades now. We were part of the senior leadership team at DCM – one of the earliest product companies operating out of India. After our stints at DCM each of us has dabbled in to starting our ventures. Atul set up nSys which was a niche player in the verification IP and chip design space. nSys became a market leader within a short span of time, which led to its acquisition by Synopsys. I joined Birlasoft’s leadership team and led its transformation from a 400 member team to about 5000 people over a 7 year span. Post that, I started a startup AlmaMate Info Tech that focused on making graduates employable. I gained great experience running it.

A couple of years ago, we scanned the marketplace searching the next big opportunity that we could work up on. We converged on the resource planning and automation space for SMBs as the segment to target. This was driven by two factors; one by our own past experiences where we faced difficulties to chose the right ERP tool for our startups and second – the technology and globalization changes that are affecting the SMBs. Both of these convinced us that we should provide a practical and effective solution in this space – and this led to setting up of workXmate Technologies.

Could you elaborate a bit more on how the technology and globalization changes are affecting SMBs, and how does your product help SMBs to deal with these? 

Atul Bhatia, Co-Founder, workXmate

Cloud as a technology change has a huge impact on SMB sector world wide. Due to provision of computing services with no upfront investment, it is most attractive to cash strapped SMBs. Also due to the maturity and acceptance of Cloud, most SMBs are now looking to leverage this disruption to their advantage. On a different note, due to liberalization of Indian economy and the proliferation of Internet in India, SMBs operating out of India now have to compete with global players. This has forced them to consider efficiency enhancing solutions.

Our product helps customers to leverage the benefits of cloud based deployment. However, the key differentiator from competition is that our product actually integrates functionality of all point solutions which SMBs use across different departments and offers the same capabilities at affordable costs. Usually, we find most customers managing all their work processes using Tally and excel sheets. workXmate has Apps like CRM, HCM, Project Management, Inventory, Knowledge Management and Intranet seamlessly integrated and working on a single database with a single login. Due to the globalization pressures, as SMEs look to optimize their work activities, our product becomes a compelling proposition.

Great insights! How has your experience been, selling to the initial set of customers and what learning have you had thus far?

We have got off to a very good start, clocking about 25 customers in our first quarter since we formally launched our product. We also have about 50 more customers in the pipeline. The quick ramp up of customers for the product is a good validation of the value that our product provides to our customers. Secondly, it also validates our business model of targeting the services based companies to begin with. We are able to convert most of our leads to paying customers due to our deep understanding and prior experience in services sector. Also, due to the nature of work in the services sector, these segments of customers tend to be more tech-savvy and need to adapt to new technology solutions at a faster pace.

We also realize that all customer acquisition cannot be organic. Hence we are actively looking out for partners and alliances to help proliferate our offerings to the wider market.

Good to hear about your increasing customer base… What are your future plans for the product and the company?

We first want to establish ourselves firmly as the vendor of choice for the Indian SMB customer segment. The next logical step for us is to start selling in International markets. We are studying about the changes we need to make to suit or incorporate geography specific practices in to our product. We expect to target all English speaking countries as part of the first phase of selling abroad.

Excellent! In closing, would you like to provide your thoughts to fellow product entrepreneurs operating out of India?

As product entrepreneurs operating out of India, we believe that these are very exciting times for us. We have a great opportunity to build truly global products, thanks to the globalization and advent of new technologies which provide a level playing ground to entrepreneurs across the world. We would like to be the enabler of success to thousands of small businesses and start-ups as they embark on leading our country to further prosperity.

‘Customers buy your product does not mean they will use it!’ – Kishore Mandyam, Founder and CEO, PK4 Technologies

ProductNation interviewed Kishore Mandyam, Founder and CEO of PK4 Technologies, the company that owns the Impel CRM offerings. During this interview, Kishore shares some of his experiences in creating a product suited for Indian customers, and discusses his learning from dealing with customers and technological developments. Read on…

What was the motivation to start Impel?

There were a couple of factors that came together in influencing creation of Impel. During 2006-07 timeline, after having successful career and managing different aspects of business around the world, I was looking at what could be the next big challenge to take on. Frequent travels to different parts of the globe also had started to become taxing. The domestic market was showing encouraging signs of robust demand for product based solutions. All these factors influenced in we taking the decision to set up Impel, a product company based out of India.

Impel Home page screen shot

What were your experiences during the initial years of operation and what was the learning? 

As we setup Impel, we converged on the CRM area as our focus to provide solutions, since we understood that many customers in the target segment that we were aiming were not very organized in dealing with Sales leads and customer centric operations. We invested our initial 18 months to build the product and made it available for customers by 2009. Given our previous corporate experience, we initially started leveraging the state of the art marketing and selling techniques and were able to land about 120 customers during the first year of operations.

However, the biggest learning came next year, when we could not retain most of these customers. When we analyzed what went wrong, we discovered that our method of signing in customers using web based sales ensured that customers bought the product – but just purchasing the product did not mean that they would use it. It turned out that most customers had not tried the various features and capabilities of our product offering and hence were skeptical to renew the relationship with us for the next year.

As an organization, how did you respond to this learning and what new measures did you take to overcome these limitations? 

We all gathered back at the drawing board, analyzed the developments and worked on how we could enhance our offering to ensure more usage and hence more engagement from the customers. We further segmented our target customer base, identified the key sub-segments that showed more promise and started working closely with leads from that bucket. During 2011 and 2012 we got very good traction from lifestyle businesses and rural businesses that focused on selling and marketing seeds, solar lamps, pesticides, FMCG and so on. The targeted and focused engagement with this sub-segment yielded very good results for us, and by 2013, we had about 120 to 130 stable customers.

During the same year, based on our experiences thus far, we shifted our focus to engage with mid size companies and fast growing small companies. This shift in focus helped us to increase our profitability and ensured diversification into another segment of customers.

What are your observations on the Indian market based on your dealing with them over these years?

The Indian small and medium companies have many challenges for which they desire solutions. However, they currently are unable to articulate their problems and explain the desired solutions to the vendors who approach them. On the other end, if any vendor is able to identify these gaps in their operations, clearly articulate the pain points and propose a technology based solution that adds value / solves their pain points, the customers will lap it up.

In our own case, we started off with a CRM offering – we wanted to be the Salesforce for India. However, as we listened to our customers, we discovered that they were buying our software to solve a variety of problems around the CRM domain of which we had no initial knowledge of. This interaction made us tweak our offerings based on their feedback.

Secondly, the perception of Indian customers about cloud has drastically changed since the past 5 years. Customers now accept cloud as an alternative and secure medium of deployment. They realize that it provides them certain benefits than the traditional modes of deployment. This development, combined with the rapid acceptance of mobile and smart phones in the Indian ecosystem is creating a market of significant size that are willing to look at mobile and cloud based solutions to solve their challenges.

What are some of the areas which you wish you could have executed better on?

Being a bootstrapped startup, one needs to always prioritize on the areas that need the focus and attention to attain growth. Having said that, as I reflect back, there are a few things that I think we could have executed better. One of them is about the trial process we have to let our prospective customers try out our offerings. We notice that despite our best efforts, we were not able to better engage our prospects in ensuring their conversion.

While the above one was on pre-sales, I also think we needed to do one thing better – on providing better documentation of our product, on the post-sales and support side. I notice that a few startups in India have been very good in this regard – and they have good customer retention and lesser support costs on account of this. I think that if we can simplify the usage of the product to the end user, and support the end user with description of how to use different features of the product; this combination will help in long term sustainability for our company.

Interesting insights! In closing, what are the three things that you would like to share with your fellow entrepreneurs who are targeting the Indian market?

I think we are at very interesting times as regards to targeting the Indian customers with our technology solutions. The first thing I want to let other entrepreneurs know is that the average Indian manager is much more willing to engage and evaluate your technology offerings. This is a very encouraging sign for all entrepreneurs. Secondly, mobility as a technology development is a big disruptive force, especially in the emerging markets. Hence, plan to leverage the power of mobility in all your solutions and that will surely delight your customers. Lastly, Indian customers take really long cycles to decide to buy. Continuously engage with them through marketing and other touch points, even when you may have ruled out immediate purchase in this quarter. If the customer is engaged, he will simply come back to you when he decides to buy and will close the deal in a day!

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

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

When to setup your first sales team?

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

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

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

Inside Sales Operations and Management

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

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

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

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

Sales Best Practices

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Complement your Sales efforts by your Marketing efforts

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

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

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

‘In order to succeed in the Indian B2B marketplace, be mentally prepared for the long haul’ – Vishnu Tambi, CEO of Excellon Software

Product Nation interviewed Vishnu Tambi, CEO of Excellon Software to understand the key aspects that helped him to create a successful product company working out of a tier-2 city. In this discussion, Vishnu shares his experiences dealing with Indian customers and tips for succeeding in the Indian market. Read on… 

Could you describe the genesis of Excellon Software in India? 

Vishnu 2013 - Nagpur, IndiaExcellon Software, in its previous incarnation as e-Caliber software was in to software services during initial years. This was set up in Nagpur during 1999-2000 as a part of the US based e-Caliber Inc. However, post the Y2K services boom, around 2001, we wanted to shift our focus to serve the local customer needs. This led us to foraying into developing packaged software solutions, catering to different industries.

We experimented in the local market a bit, by providing solutions to the healthcare and retail industries, but over time, realized that there was a big gap in the market for a software product that would effectively manage the selling, distribution, and servicing of the goods. This led us to develop and deliver an innovative software product that manages post manufacturing activity for industries. By 2006, we got our validation by means of signing up big names in the automobile sector. From then on, we have had repeatable successes till date. This is how we emerged as a credible player in the Indian software product industry.

Getting your first customer in an enterprise market is always a challenge. How did you achieve this? What was the learning from the experience? 

When selling to large enterprises, inevitably, one has to fight the small company label. The customer, Ashok Leyland was initially skeptical about our company, our ability to  provide continuous support and about us operating from Nagpur – which then was not known as an IT destination. However, we were able to address each of their concerns – by demonstrating our deep business knowledge, technology expertise and our willingness to go the extra mile to support them. We also did a very tactical thing in partnering with a large MNC SI as we worked with Ashok Leyland. Due to this partnership, Ashok Leyland also got more comfortable in choosing us against some of the very well established names in the industry.

So, I would say that if you are gunning for a very large customer during the early days of your company, it may be worthwhile to go with an established partner to enhance the prospects of you netting the deal. You should of course keep it interesting for the partner to collaborate with you.

Can you describe the journey of Excellon evolving to its current stage as a leader in the Dealer Management Space? What are your plans going forward? 

Sure. After we got our first big enterprise customer in 2006, for the next two-three years, we focused on acquiring more customers. We worked with multiple partners during this period. By 2010, we realized that we had the best domain knowledge, as well as solid set of initial customers who would vouch for our expertise. We ensured that we executed well  with an aim to make every client a success story – an achievement that we are proud to communicate to our prospective customers.

In 2011, we reinvented our company and our product offering to stay ahead of the curve by incorporating the latest technologies and platform which had become available in India, such as cloud and mobility. This helped to us aim for Clients with need for high scalability and Mobility solutions who looked for a business turnaround and impact by leveraging latest technology. This refresh helped us scale at a much faster pace – we signed a large deal in the Middle East, and were able acquire  marquee customers in India such as Eicher, Mahindra and Bajaj, in a span of 18 months. This enabled us to serve and service customers with thousands of locations and users in more than 50 countries.

Looking ahead, I believe that as a company, we are at the best times. There is significant demand for our product in the Middle East and South East Asian economies as well. Our existing Indian enterprise customers are intending to use our products in subsidiaries that are based in other geographies. So, overall, we are well positioned to cater to the opportunities better than ever before.

On a slightly different aspect, could you share your experiences dealing with Indian enterprise customers? 

Given that I worked in the US for almost two decades in different functional roles including experience with packaged software and technology, prior to focusing on Excellon full time, I guess I can provide you a comparative analysis of US and Indian customers. I would say that customers in US and in India are diagonally opposite. While the US customers are straightforward in discussing, accepting,  and communicating, Indian customers usually do not like to talk upfront. Probably due to the cultural factors, some Indian customers tend to be polite and so you would not hear a ‘no’ from them directly until a few iterations.

I found negotiations, while dealing with Indian customers to be the difficult part. Some people usually tend to negotiate endlessly and at all levels. You think that the deal is signed, done and everything settled, even then there are such small things which get negotiated, some of which do not stop even during the implementation phases of your project. So, one needs to be careful on these aspects. Most importantly, at least in the initial stages of your company, you cannot remain completely profit focused in India, due to the above aspects. As an entrepreneur, you do need to protect your margins, and carefully give in to customer demands on a case to case basis. One must learn quickly when to pull the trigger and  end a discussion or negotiation, if you think you cannot make ends meet.

Great insights! What advice would you provide to fellow product entrepreneurs focusing on Indian enterprise market? 

I would like the product entrepreneurs focusing on Indian market to stay focused on creating and enhancing customer relationships. Do not get unnecessarily bogged down by negative factors such as heavy compliance burden, primitive ecosystem or banking support for software companies etc. Focus on creating a solid team with expertise / deep skills and one that stays with you for the long term. This way, you can lean on others in bad times to work out of the situations. You need to be mentally ready for the long haul, and surely, perseverance pays!


Earning a rupee in India is more difficult than earning a dollar in US! – Kumar Vembu, Founder and CEO, GoFrugal Technologies

ProductNation interviewed Kumar Vembu, Founder and CEO of GoFrugal Technologies. In a candid conversation, Kumar shares his experiences of dealing with Indian retail market and shares key mantras for succeeding in the Indian market. Read on…

Could you explain the rationale behind venturing into the Indian retail space through GoFrugal?

I started GoFrugal during the late 2004, inspired by the thought of solving problems local to India. At that time, my brothers and I were doing well with our other entrepreneurial venture – Zoho. We were primarily focusing on selling to US and European markets. However, an interview that I watched on NDTV with Bill Gates and Narayana Murthy, seeded my initial thoughts to focus on solving India-centric problems, specifically in the area of retail sector.

I distinctly remember Bill Gates lamenting about entrepreneurs not focusing on solving locally relevant problems. Having studied and worked at IIT Madras under Prof. Ashok Jhunjunwala and Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthy, I thought that I had the right skills and expertise to delve into one of the most promising areas in the Indian market. This was my inspiration behind starting GoFrugal Technologies.

Interesting! What were the initial challenges you faced as you were setting up GoFrugal? What did you learn from them?

In the initial days of GoFrugal, I was quick to realize that I had not done adequate research in understanding the market dynamics. I probably got carried away by the size of the oppurtunity at initial iterations. I was of the opinion that if there was a good product that I could provide to retail customers, they would buy it. However, I soon discovered that many retailers had very little time or interest to evaluate my offerings, and even for those who had the time, they were unable to judge the value of the offering. I realized that most retailers made their buying decisions based on prior relationships or through references. Hence, I had to make drastic changes in plans to take into account these market realities.

I learnt that retail practices in India are different for every 100 kilometers, primarily because there are different clusters/communities that conduct businesses in very different ways, especially in terms of procuring and running their retail outlets. I also discovered that retailers were not open to adapt industry-wide best practices. They were more comfortable to consider automating their existing processes, even when we told them about better ways to manage those activities. All these early experiences led me to quickly reconfigure the entire process and goals at GoFrugal.

These are very vital insights. What factors do you think gave rise to this kind of buying/evaluating behavior in the Indian retailer? What are your ideas to improve the environment?


I can think of few key reasons that, in my view, caused such changes in thought process in the Indian ecosystem. Firstly, most of the retail entrepreneurs were self made, were forced into this business due to external factors and possibly did not have any formal training. Hence, they had their own view of how to run their operations. Most retailers did not see, that focusing on best practices could be a competitive advantage. Usually, you would find them thinking for short term.

Secondly, for those people who understood the relevance of differentiation, I found that they did not trust the software solution vendors. This is because many vendors could not profitably serve the demands of the customer due to lack of ecosystem and encouragement from the Indian market. Also, vendor refusal to address customization requests from customers, left the latter in a fix.

To tackle these two key issues, I think that market awareness and education is required. The high entry-barrier for software vendors approaching customers should effectively be lowered by creating bridges of trust and relationship. Apart from this, we also need to make the retailers understand the need to upgrade, in order to effectively tackle the onslaught of globalization.

Could you explain what specific interventions you did to enable GoFrugal to emerge as one of the leaders in this space, overcoming the challenges that you outlined earlier?

At GoFrugal, when we started, I was planning for a hyper growth strategy – driven by large-scale customer acquisition plans. However, when we understood the intricacies of market, we pivoted and expanded at a much slower pace than what was initially planned, but with more and more happier and repeat customers. Our current focus is to provide continuous improvements to our offerings on an iterative basis to ensure customer delight and retention. We also have standardized all of our internal processes across product licensing, support, development practices etc. This has helped us move forward and absorb such marketplace changes as in technology and customer expectations.

There was also a particular focus to make all functional teams agile, to be able to take inputs and change processes very swiftly to meet the external changes. This also meant that most of the existing team had to be trained in these new processes. I hired a lot of new talent who helped in leading this transformation internally.

Apart from these internal alignments, I also saw that the external environment was in favor of companies such as ours. I now see signs that the market is looking for more credible vendors, and that customers are warming up to the concept that the best products would win and are worthy of use. With more clarity on regulations from the Government, many opportunities will open up for vendors such as ours. Overall, due to the actions we have taken over the past decade, and the emerging external environment, we seem to be in a very good position to leverage the upside and do well.

Thank you for these insights. As a parting question, what message would you like to provide to tech entrepreneurs who focus on India as a market?

I can recollect a few aspects that every entrepreneur should not forget as s/he builds their enterprise. The most pivotal input is never to be complacent on any aspect of your business. Complacency is your worst enemy. What you have now will never be good enough for tomorrow – and hence always think of ways in which improvements could be made to your business. Next one is to focus on hiring quality people, especially if you are in the retailers’ growth/scaling out stage. This is absolutely crucial for the success of your company.

Lastly, on the market side, realize that adoption of IT based solution is very slow in the Indian market. Be prepared for a long haul. Do not have excess fat in any functional area of your enterprise. Always remember that earning a rupee is more difficult than earning a dollar!

Sanket – A disruptive health/wellness product to monitor health ailments

Sanket – a revolutionary product in the healthcare/wellness space is the brainchild of Agatsa, a Noida based product and Solutions Company. ProductNation interviewed Rahul, co-founder of Agatsa to understand the product and their plans to make it available to the masses. Read on…2_listentoyour heart_jpg

What was the motivation to start Agatsa?

My wife Neha (Co-Founder) and I started Agatsa back in 2010. When we started, our aim was to exploit the opportunity of providing innovative solutions to worldwide customers on the mobile/web/internet platform. We leveraged our expertise in working with mobile devices and built custom solutions and applications to clients in different sectors such as healthcare, education and social networking.

However, from the past year, we have pivoted, and reoriented ourselves as a product company in the healthcare space. All our current efforts are focused towards these aspects now.

How did this shift in direction of the company come about? What idea propelled you to think about this product?

The idea for the product came about as a result of personal experience of having to deal with heart related ailments in my extended family, and a lot of deep thinking about how these could be prevented. These days, we have compact and easy to use devices to monitor and keep a tab on few diseases such as diabetes, blood pressure etc. However, when it comes to detecting symptoms of heart related ailments, it usually involves a detailed diagnostic procedure at one of the labs. If one digs deeper, it comes out that most of the heart attacks could have been prevented, had there been proper and early diagnosis of the symptoms.

This led us to conceptualize and prototype a device that is smaller-then-a-credit-card sized pocket card device which can be carried along as a card in the pocket. This device would enable monitoring the vital stats of the functioning of the heart. We have named it ‘Sanket’, to reflect the signalling capability any potential ailments in the functioning of the heart.



Can you provide a few more specific details about the device – Sanket? How would one use it and what benefits would one get?

Sanket is the name of our product range that includes health monitoring, wellness devices. The very first product in Sanket portfolio is possibly the world’s smallest Pocket ECG card that can read and interpret ECG. It’s even smaller than a credit card !

There are at least three ways in which one would benefit by using this product. Firstly, Sanket simplifies the process of getting an ECG done. In the current practice, one needs to travel to a diagnostic centre, wait for his/her turn and get the ECG conducted at the lab, place gel and electrodes at numerous places on body. Using Sanket, one can do the same at the location of their choice, and without any external dependency or help. This greatly reduces the time and effort spent by the individual without the use of any gel or electrode. Moreover, Sanket records all the ECG data measurements of the individual, couples itself with mobile through Bluetooth and smartphone app and transmits this data to a central cloud server. A cohort analysis is performed on the cloud server, and data is benchmarked against reference standard readings and physician recommendations for that individual. The individual gets regular ECG reports/statements based on a predefined schedule.

Secondly, Sanket can provide early warning of abnormalities discovered as and when an ECG is measured by this device. As soon as the ECG measurements are taken from the individual, if there are any deviations observed in the ECG, immediately, the device will raise an alarm and has possibility of connecting live with doctors in case of emergencies, for quick consultation and advice.

Thirdly, due to the built in danger level indicator, if the ECG recording of the individual indicates an emergency situation, such as initial few moments of a heart attack, it starts an audible beep to alert the user to quickly get to a doctor. It can be improvised sends an SOS alert to the registered health provider and nominated family members about the situation of the user.

So, in summary, Sanket provides a revolutionary, easy to use alternative to traditional ways of getting ECG done. One can use smart mobile apps to display, record and interpret ECG waveforms. Due to its sophisticated circuitry and patent pending technology, Sanket can capture the electric heart signals of a user, with the same amount of accuracy as a traditional ECG recording setup. A user can monitor the trends of his/her heart condition due to the analytics and cloud based data storage. Most importantly, Sanket can reduce the fatalities by alarming or sending SOS alerts to concerned people in case of irregular or emergency situations.

This seems to be a very disruptive sort of an offering. How are you ensuring that you protect your IP, and ensure you have competitive edge over others who may copy you once this device is out in the market?

We realize that this sort of offering is very disruptive in the marketplace. Hence, we have proactively worked on protecting our IP. We already have filed for over 6 patents on the different unique aspects of the device, which are in various stages of processing. With this, we are confident that our IP would be protected. In terms of dealing with competition once this product is out, we think that there is not much one can do to curtail or stop imitation – especially when a solution is this effective. Hence our approach is to stay ahead in the thought leadership and sustain our early mover advantage by introducing similar new products/variants to the market. Of course, one needs to execute well on their plan as well to maintain this edge.

Have there been guides/mentors for you on this endeavour? Who have helped you in this path thus far?

We have been fortunate to get a few people who have greatly helped us to be where we are as on day. Rohan Sehgal and Arvind Jha from Gurgaon Angels not only seed funded our initiative but have also been a great source of strength, motivation and mentoring.

How much has your background helped you in this endeavour?

I have a background of over a decade of professional working experience, working in companies such as LG, Samsung and ST Microelectronics. This experience has helped me in drawing out the technical specs of the device – both in terms of hardware, firmware and software.

Neha, the second Co-Founder has been working earlier with Hewitt, CSC and has expertise in QA and  Software development. She has experience in handling large scale projects which are product oriented. This helped us in managing various stages of product development and troubleshooting  day to day issues/problems in developing a world-class electronic device in India.She is also a key part in designing the core strategy of product development and planning the much needed rigorous clinical trials.

What sort of initial traction and interest have you received from the market?

Even though we are in an early beta cycle, and trials with a select set of users, we have received huge interest from various players in the ecosystem. Firstly, we are very excited because we have received positive feedback from the initial set of users. Then, there are a few device manufacturers interested to collaborate with us to enable us scale. We are also in advanced stage of discussions with a global semiconductor giant to explore a joint go-to-market strategy which would allow us to scale and make the device available across the globe. So, in all, we have been overwhelmed by the initial traction that our device has received from the interested communities.

We are on track to make the product available in India by early next year, and are looking forward to make a disruptive change in this space!

ProductNation joins them in wishing more successes as ‘Team Agatsa’ moves ahead with the formal launch of Sanket.


Complementary skills in your founding team is critical for a startup’s success – CSN Murthy, Founder and CEO, Ozonetel

ProductNation interviewed CSN Murthy, Founder and CEO of Ozonetel, a leader in cloud telephony based solutions. In this freewheeling chat, Murthy, a serial entrepreneur, shares his mantras on building a successful technology based venture. Read on…

What was the motivation to start Ozonetel? 

OzoneAround 2007, after the successful exit from Intoto, we examined various opportunities in the marketplace to start a new venture. Having worked in the telecommunications space over two decades, we recognized a huge unmet need in the Indian marketplace in the area of usage of telephony by businesses. Businesses were losing out on vital customer leads and important information due to their reliance on traditional telephony based system.  We therefore setup Ozonetel during 2007-08 to solve the customers communication based challenges through cloud based telephony solutions.

Can you explain the rationale behind using cloud as a delivery mechanism of communication products/services to Indian customers?

Cloud based telephony solutions is a natural progression from the previous physical PBX solutions. On the technology front, cloud based solutions help overcome the existing limitations of telephony solutions such as missing an inbound enquiry from a prospective customer. It provides tools to track your efficiency in responding to customers. Businesses can scale quickly based on the volume of customers they deal with on a pay-as-you go basis. Thirdly, since the workforce of businesses has increasingly become mobile, a cloud based telephony solution enables a business to respond to customers without being bogged down by physical location based constraints. These and many more aspects provide unprecedented value to businesses to solve their communication challenges. So, we started offering these cloud based telephony solutions to the Indian market.

How did you get your initial set of customers? What learning did you obtain from dealing with them?

We targeted the segment of customers who were willing to experiment with our offering. The first version of our offering required significant technical expertise at the customer end to use and benefit from it. Luckily for us, our first sets of customers were mostly technology based startups who understood the value of our solution. Companies like ZipDial and Asklaila used the APIs that we provided and integrated them in the manner they preferred. Grameen Foundation, another early customer of ours took help from ThoughtWorks to integrate our solution with their other systems. We also learnt from our initial prospecting that cost was an important parameter for businesses in India.

How did the company evolve from the first offering to its current state, where it has diversified cloud product offerings? 

home_kookooAfter finding initial customer acceptance, we quickly realized that in order to scale our business and make it usable across different sectors, it was important to make our solution more consumable and usable by end customers. Towards this end, our first solution was to announce KooKoo – a telephony platform that allowed end customers to build their own applications either on voice, SMS or fax. We then further enhanced our portfolio with Bizphone – a virtual PBX solution on cloud which customers could use out of the box, with no set up costs and hardware investments. The Bizphone offering helped us cater to needs of diverse set of customers across different sectors. Based on our insight and customer feedback, we enhanced our product portfolio by introducing CloudAgent – our cloud based contact center solution for businesses that are slightly more sophisticated business communication requirements. The growth of business in India augured well for us and we now offer these solutions to businesses of all sizes and sectors.

How have you ensured that you have competitive advantage in the marketplace? 

We had the first mover advantage when we started – which helped us to garner the initial set of customers. However, as the marketplace started seeing benefits of cloud based telecommunication solutions, new competitors emerged. Having been in this domain for a fairly long time, we had envisioned this scenario – and have developed key differentiating strategies right from our inception.

Back in 2007, when we started, we could easily have integrated a solution from different vendors and provide the same to businesses to satisfy their immediate needs. We instead chose to develop the entire solution stack – right from the hardware, telecom cards and software on our own. Though this took us about 18 months, this approach helps us in minimizing our dependency on external software/hardware/technology vendors. We also are in a very good position to incorporate customer feedback on to our solution stack – since we have total control on all layers of the solution. This approach has helped us to innovate constantly and maintain an edge over the competition.

Another complementary strategy we have executed in the recent years is to ensure customer stickiness. We have constantly delighted customers with superior service and helped them scale effortlessly as their businesses have grown. Thus, many of our initial customers have now migrated from using the low-value virtual PBX solution to leveraging our high value cloud contact centre solution. This approach has helped us both retain our existing customers, as well as ensured that we earn more working with them.

What internal measures have you taken to ensure that Ozonetel retains its edge in the marketplace? 

From an operational perspective, we have ensured that the Organization has the best leaders in every functional area. Our founding team is a great mix of complementary capabilities that are required to drive excellence across all aspects of the company. Getting to specifics, on the Sales front, we have presence now in many cities. This helps in building and sustaining relationships with customers. We realized very early that physical presence is important to close a sale. Hence we took steps to ensure we were physically accessible to customer.

On the development and R&D front, given that we are a technology based company, we have a maniacal focus on developing the best solution using the latest technological developments in our domain. We have effectively used our prior working experience to provide superior post-sales support to our customers. We take customer care very seriously – and it also is one of our key differentiators from competition, due to our superior execution and empathy for customers. All these have ensured that Ozonetel as an Organization responds nimbly to external environmental changes.

On a related note, how important it is to have a good founding team? What characteristics of the top management team in your experience will enable success of the firm, especially in its formative years? 

It is absolutely critical to have leaders with complementary skills in the top management team. It is also equally important that there is good chemistry between the founding team members. Once you have the above combination in place, you will automatically be geared to deal with the uncertainties and ambiguities that confront a nascent organization. In our case, I have been very careful in signing on our founding team and the top management team. I recommend that one closely work and observe the working style of any prospective founding partner that they want to bring on board. This helps in validating the nature of contributions that the person will bring in, as well as help understand if the person gels well with the rest of team members.

Another thing that I have realized from working across multiple ventures – is to recruit your sales leader up front – right from a very initial stage. This helps in enabling the Organization to grow rapidly at later stages. The Sales leader understands the other functional units of the company better due to the fact that they worked together in the initial stages. This bonding helps immensely as the company grows.

Thank you for your insights. As a parting question, what would be the top three things that you would advice to your fellow product entrepreneurs operating out of India? 

As I reiterated, starting off with the right set of founding team members – in terms of complementary skills and good teaming is very critical to any enterprise, more specifically for a technology product based company. Secondly, as the founder, ensure that you hire right for the Organization. Do not compromise on skills or on any other aspects that affects the culture of the company. Thirdly, as many others would tell you, keep your ears close to the customer. Constantly delight them and seek to improve continuously. Success will surely follow!

ProductDossier – An integrated platform for project planning and execution

ProductNation interviewed Sandeep Kumar, Founder of ProductDossier, a company focused on providing integrated project management software solutions to customers worldwide. Read on to understand the genesis of the company and the learning from the experience gained in selling to different sectors of B2B customers…

What factors led to creating ProductDossier? 

0f89878During my professional career and extensive travel to the West, I noticed that a lot of project based industries were struggling to manage the execution of their projects and programs. While they had ERP systems and PDM software, these solutions were still not able to help them manage the project planning and execution. I reasoned out that the cause for this gap was due to ERP systems being transactional in nature, and PDM systems aiding only in data management. This led to the inception of ProductDossier, positioned primarily as a platform for project planning and execution.

Besides the above, two more factors aided me in starting up ProductDossier, out of India. My education was from IISc, which imbibed a strong desire in me to create something from scratch or something new. Secondly, I had noticed a strong bias on IT services in the Indian ecosystem, while in the West, they appreciated the product oriented work in equal terms. I wanted to work on things that would help put India in the world of products. So, these aspects also contributed in me starting up.

Going to customers who are so used to ERP and PLM concepts, and trying to explain your offering should have been tough. How did you manage to convince your initial customers about the need and value of your product? 

Since we setup our company in India, we targeted customers in our backyard, i.e, India for the first iteration. I found out that Indian customers were not able to verbalize their needs. Most of them were confused with the utility of ERP, PDM, PLM and CRM solutions and jargons – and were not sure of the value provided by these standardized solutions to their business. While in reality, some of these solutions could be a good fit, their lack of awareness of these solutions, and equally, the inability of these vendors to explain the value that these solutions can provide to the business – all led to the confusion.

Hence, we started approaching our prospective customers in a consultative fashion. Our first meetings with them would be to provide structure and meaning to the set of activities that they performed, mapped with the tools and practices that they currently used. Once the customer became aware of the landscape of their activities, we would then start discussing areas where there were big gaps and explain how our offering could help. This mode of complementing their existing solutions, showing them the bigger picture, aiding them to move to their desired goal, incrementally helped us win customers.

Product dossier - courtesy sme storyHow did your company evolve into offering diversified solutions to different industry sectors? What learning did you have as you straddled different sectors? 

We first positioned ourselves as an Integrated Project Management company, who would work to aid project based companies in the manufacturing sector in India. After a few engagements, we discovered that Manufacturing perhaps was not the best industry to go after, at the time we started. This was because in this sector, customers were not willing to pay, they expected any software to be delivered free, and they were not ready to look beyond what they already knew. Decision making was very slow – since the chief beneficiary of our solution was not the owner of the company or the key stakeholders but perhaps just the engineering manager.

We learnt a lot from the above experience. We realized that we were not solving a mission critical problem. Customers looked at our offerings as a nice to have capability – and not as a ‘must have’ capability. This way, we would stand a very less chance of converting a prospect into a sale. These experiences led us to focus on other similar project based industries, namely to Professional Services, Life Sciences & Pharmaceutical, & EPC.

We now focused on solving problems of the key stakeholders in these industries. We also made sure that we were solving the ‘must have’ problems – things such as project profitability, cashflow status, resources utilization, project material procurement, visibility of project status execution in real time, statutory compliances (ISO/CMMI,FDA, etc), NPD project portfolio, cross functional collaboration etc. This led us to more customers across different sectors.

Very interesting insights! What are your thoughts on selling and pricing your offerings in a market where every customer seems to have a unique need? 

There are different aspects one needs to master, when you begin selling to enterprise customers. Firstly, there is a huge opportunity in the B2B marketplace if you can do two things: one is to provide your product as a solution and not as a pure software and second is to position it right along side the existing IT landscape without displacing anything in the beginning. As I mentioned earlier, the lack of awareness of customers, along-with the rigidity of established solution vendors provide immense opportunities for other players to satisfy the needs of customers, not only in India but across the world. So for instance our product has several modules with each module a complete product in itself. So what we do is we pick a few features from each module, assemble and deploy it at a customer location as a customer specific solution

However, pricing such highly customizable product or solution is a challenge. One needs to remember that a customer is only looking at whether the package or offering suggested by you helps in his business or not. So, many a times, pricing becomes the perceived benefits that the customer expects to derive from your solution, as you pitch to him. We are still learning in this aspect but I believe we are on the right path.

Given these observations, your Sales team would have a big challenge, since you go-to-market as a solution. How do you address this challenge?

If you notice, scaling the sales team has been one of the most critical success factors of B2B companies that have now become large entities. The issue to be addressed here is about your sales team’s ability to articulate the pain points that their customer faces. Given the highly unique circumstances of the target customer segment, it becomes a challenge to bring in consistency and repeatability in the value proposition articulation process. To mitigate this, we have relied on visuals that tellingly explain different scenarios a customer would face, and how our offering can help us. We also have come up with many case studies, and based on the prospect, we provide the closest case study as an example, during the selling process. These have helped us in scaling our sales execution. We have also setup a back office team whose sole mission is to innovate around all aspects of product so that it becomes easy for our sales team to demonstrate the value proposition and also easy for our implementation team to implement.

Many other companies similar to yours rely heavily on partners to scale, while you seem to be focused on scaling your sales team organically. Why? 

In my view, partners are only one of the many different means to reach to your customers. It is very easy to sign up a partner, but it is difficult to enable them to sell our offering in a comfortable fashion. At best, then can be lead generators, introducing their captive customers to us. We initially engaged with a few partners, but it turned out that we had to do all the heavy lifting, in terms of engaging with the prospect, explaining the value of our solution and then even attending to their deployment despite partners being around.

This is not to say that the partners are not of value. The key problem is in enabling them to sell and manage the relationship with a customer even after deployment. So, we now are focused on creating an infrastructure where our sales team or partners can use the capabilities (visual, audio, content) to set up demos and articulate better. Once this is in place, I believe we will have a much fruitful relationship with partners.

When did you start selling globally? What has been your experience dealing with global customers? 

We did not explicitly start selling to global customers. However, due to the nature of industries in which our India based customers worked, we were able to get good foothold and visibility on to foreign markets. For example, QuEST Global and Tata Technologies – two of our most valued Professional Services customers used our products worldwide to manage projects and resources. So, in reality, our product, while was deployed in India was used by about 5000 users across 30 countries almost from a couple of years since our inception.

However, we made concerted efforts to sell in the international market only from last year – since we wanted to have a good set of domestic customers as references prior to us formally entering foreign markets. We are making good progress in this front, signing up customers across different geographies in a short span of time. Moving forward we will be focussing a lot more on the overseas markets as a part of our growth strategy.

Thank you for your insights. As a parting question, can you share a few of your personal learning that you believe other fellow product entrepreneurs will benefit from? 

I would say that as an entrepreneur, you should be out with your customers as much as you can. This is critical, because, when you interact in person with a prospective customer, you learn so much about their needs and requirements much closer at their workplace, as it happens, than by reviewing these trends from your office.

Secondly, try and solve a business critical problem that has significant impact on the target organization. This will maximize the chances of sale of your product and bring this stickiness. Thirdly, do not go by the herd mentality – stay focused on solving your customer problem. Everything else will follow!