Validated: InTech50 – boosting India’s next-gen tech innovations

Did you know that India is ranked as the fourth largest startup hub in the world with over 3,100 startups? According to the economic Survey 2014-15, the startup scene has been mainly driven by ‘hyper-growth’ in the technology startup and software product landscape. Owing to some great software product innovations of late, India is no more tagged merely as a technology service provider, but is also known for its innovations. Investors and big tech giants from across the world globe are acknowledging the tech startup momentum in India, thanks to initiatives like InTech50 which have given these companies a platform to showcase their products and potential to the world.

InTech50A joint initiative of iSPIRT and Terrene Global Leadership Network, the InTech50 event was held at Bangalore on April 15th and 16th this year and received great acclaim from startups, investors and the industry in general. India’s ‘fantastic fifty’ innovative software product startups, that had made it to the finale, got a unique opportunity to interact closely with a panel of renowned CIOs/CTO’s and investors from across the globe, in this two-day action-packed event.

Know-it-all before you hit the launch pad is the mantra at InTech50 and startups are made to do their homework quite well, before they meet the CIOs. In keeping with this, when the countdown for the event was on, Mr. NRK Raman, Co-Founder of iFlex, the man behind closing the famous USD 909 million iFlex acquisition deal with Oracle back in 2005, was instrumental in helping the startups fine-tune their pitch for investors so they could derive maximum value at the event and get a POC from the investors. To further complement the effort, the Business Catalyst Program that we had launched this year, helped in generating the required traction for these startups, a crucial step in ensuring their long-term success.

Overall, InTech50 lived up to its promise of connecting the startups with investors and CIOs of global repute so they could interact and explore synergies in their operations, thereby mutually benefitting in the process. The startups managed to forge ties with the right people in every field right from funding, product marketing to sales etc., which could not have been possible otherwise in such a short time frame, that too without spending a bomb. It is now the prerogative of these startups to convert these relationships into business opportunities and prove their mettle.

Here are some testimonials from the participants this year:

“InTech50 gave our small startup the opportunity to mingle with industry leaders and titans, something that we would never have dreamt of before!” – Kiran, Tydy

“Amazing effort by the iSPIRT team! Makes it possible for Indian innovators to get direct feedback and prospects from the global markets, which would otherwise entail a substantial financial investment.” – Eashwar, Uniken

“InTech50 was a wonderful platform to meet Global CIO’s, Indian CIO’s and ecosystem enablers. We received good interest from multiple companies and thank the team for putting together a flawlessly executed event. Thank you for being a strong enabler for the Indian product ecosystem.”Sudarshan, RippleHire

“It’s a must for all startups looking for strategic consult, marketing support and media exposure to validate ideas, scale-up business or expand into Western markets. A great place where great products meet great people.” Sumit Goswami, KeyPoint Technologies

InTech50 is a well organised event giving product companies a good opportunity to interact with some of the top CIOs from India and US. Some of the CIOs also spent time with us discussing about our product roadmap and how we should prioritize some features for roll out.” –  Tom, Talview

“InTech50 2015 was a super-useful event for Reverie. It helped us pitch better, position ourselves well, open business partnerships with some dream prospects, expand tech partnerships to enrich our Language Gateway, explore sales channel alliances, and above all, build some great relationships.” – Dheeraj, Reverie

Please note that we intend to continue the process of mentoring and advising the companies, even after the conclusion of the event.

Feel free to reach out to us …

The trouble of selling to BigB

I was talking to one of the CEOs of an enterprise product company who sells to CIOs of enterprise. The typical industry classification for them would be B2B, a business selling to business.  When you read it that way it seems like a fairly balanced relationship between the two.  However as we discussed his situation further and I learnt about the realities of what he has to go through I realized that it was not just a simple B2B but it was SmallB to BigB. He wanted to target big enterprises with at least 1000+ people, as a result he was selling to IT departments and CIO’s had to sign off on the purchase on business value basis.

In his mind my friend had a innovative product, it would lead to significant business value and cost savings and there should be a desire to make the paradigm shift.  As he explained his value proposition I was convinced of the same and the thought that struck me was that  he must be  very successful and for sure is raking in huge bucks.  To my surprise he hardly had any POC candidates let alone real customers. I was shell-shocked.  After more conversations over a few beers I realized that it doesn’t matter what product or value proposition you are selling to large enterprises when it comes to SmallB selling to BigB is a huge challenge.  The major reasons why it is a challenge (definitely not an exhaustive list) are:

    • Getting to meet CIOs is a herculean task and to be able to navigate the murky waters of the organization before you get to them is very time consuming(and expensive). From an experience basis in most situations getting to meet them at a client’s place for start-up solutions has a 1 in 20 probability.
    • There are not even a handful of events that have Indian CIO’s focused on Innovation, Most of them are very expensive when you calculate the total costs incurred by start-ups. Entry itself is north of Rs 50,000, then to add a stall and have staff there to man it and put up collateral costs upwards of Rupees. If you do not have a stall then one is left chasing people and handing them business cards – that surely does not lead to sale. You add travel and other costs to it, the costs go up so much that it is impossible for a startup like ours to participate (most events happen in Mumbai, Delhi or Goa)
    • There are many other inexpensive smaller events and they promise CIOs as part of their promotion. However the reality is that mostIndian CIOs never turn up for such events and in tune they send their IT folks who generally don’t have the decision making powers.
    • Assume somehow you did make contact to these CIOs and you were able to mention the value proposition and they liked it, you later need to do several trips to their head office to meet several stake holders, get all their approvals and finally get a nod to do a pilot; all such trips add up huge to your expenses
    • Worse inspite of the value propositions you show, remember the tag line – you can never lose your job if you go with IBM. Even when you manage to get through that almost insurmountable barrier the progress of pilots is slow. One ends up making trips to demonstrate commitment and to push for progress on the the Pilot. Unfortunately sometimes the start-ups get play to justify other purchases as they will never pass the smell test of strong financials or references for procurement departments of large enterprises..
    • On the other hand big brands have deep pockets, large sales force, strong reseller base and reach out to these clients easily. The clients find it easier to trust them due to their relationships and safety trumps agility and foundation of innovation of startups.


If these are a sample of challenegs that you have to go through to try to get a Pilot then imagine the travails of having international clients take you seriously. Imagine trying to do all of the above for potential Global customers.  Also one of the situations he ran across was people in the Indian IT departments advising him to try and get some global customers for credibility.. It seems contrary to the saying that says win at home first to win outside! –To be able to do the same would require significant funding or leap of faith!  Interestingly some of the VC’s loved his product and were ready to invest but with a caveat – they say can you possibly get some Pilots in US and demonstrate success there –  – WHAT????

Just a return ticket to Mumbai and a couple of days stay costs me more than 25K and these people are talking about attending CIO events in USA and then doing pilots in the US market.  Interestingly attending CIO events in USA is not cheap and most of the big ones there (Evanta, HMS, CIO Summit etc.) require vendors to pay hefty sponsorships (starting at US$20,000 to attend)Does this mean that SmallB with small budgets should just not have the vision to build enterprise products even if they have the ideas to solve some of the pressing problems?

Wish there was a way to enter bigger markets that were more focused on innovation and were willing to try out new ideas to make a big difference. . Wish there was a way to showcase to Global CIOs in a manner that did not mean dipping into all the savings in one trip. Keep wishing…

Thankfully I got to meet another CEO of a successful product company from India who passed this litmus test.   He was a case in point that a SmallB can actually sell to BigB. Today his revenues are upwards of $100M but it takes time, patience & money.  He achieved it by doing services on the side and investing that money into marketing the product. His mantra is, there is no shortcut for a SmallBto sell into BigB.  You have to spend quality time with CIOs who are willing to see the vision of the start-ups and drive decision making to make things happen.  Face time and getting early customers is the trick and he concluded by saying that SmallB selling to BigB is where the real money is 🙂

That’s when I ran into InTech50.  They are bringing  25 Global CIOs and 25 Indian CIOs , Product M&A folks, VC’s and media all under a single roof.  They are also bringing the entourage to Bangalore and will utilize their skills and knowledge to select the 50 that get to be at the event to present to them.  In effect they have already expressed an interest in your company if you are selected to be there.  There is no cost to apply!

I think we – the enterprise product companies from India should grab this opportunity and make every effort so that we make it to the list.

Would love to hear comments form entrepreneurs who are playing in the enterprise product selling into big enterprises.

M&A is critical for the Product Startup ecosystem in India

Small $20-30m M&A transactions are the lifeblood of Silicon Valley. Over 400 such transactions happened last year. Israeli companies accounted for over 20% of these transactions. India had only a couple of transactions to speak of. This has to change of Indian has to become a Product Nation. 

iSPIRT is focusing on this issue through its soon-to-be-announced M&A Connect Program. The M&A Connect Program team – led by Jay Pullur and Sanjay Shah – was in Silicon Valley last week for listening meetings with various stakeholders. As a part of this exercise they hosted a long brainstorming session with more than a dozen M&A heads of serial acquirers ranging from Facebook to Vmware.

One other listening meeting was with about 20 Indian product entrepreneurs camped in the Valley. I was privileged to attend this meeting. It was a delightful 3.5 hours discussion. There were three set of issues that were discussed. One set of issues related to improving discovery of Indian startups. It turns out that addressing this is not as simple as doing a SV delegation or getting TechCrunch coverage. More than that is needed. The second set of issues related to the regulatory friction of doing small M&A deals in India. The third set of issues were about improving the readiness and preparedness of product entrepreneurs.

There was active participation by all the attendees. These included:

  • Indus Kaitan,Bitzer Mobile
  • Suresh Sambandam,OrangeScape
  • Manjunath M Gowda, i7 Networks
  • Asif Ali, Reduce Data
  • Vamshi Mokshagund, Credii
  • Rohit Nadhani, Cloud Magic
  • Madhur Khandelwal, ShoppingWish –
  • Kumar Rangarajan & Satyam Kundula, LittleEye Labs
  • Deobrat Singh, Gazemetrix
  • Rajan Arora, SchoolAdmissions
  • Bharath Mundiapudi, Orzota
  • Annkur P Agarwal, PriceBaba
  • Srikanth N, Arktan
  • Jay Pullur and Vijay Sundaram, Pramati (they hosted the meeting) 


I was most impressed by the dedication and passion of the iSPIRT team driving this effort. Their selfless commitment to making a difference was heartwarming. I could sense that most of us attendees felt the same way. The self-help community that iSPIRT is creating is truly inclusive and impactful. 

If you are product startup interested in exploring a possible M&A exit in the future do watch for more details about the M&A Connect Program. Try and become part of this. Given what I heard in the meeting, I’m sure that this new Program be game changing for the ecosystem.  

Are you a #MadeInIndia Software product company that sells to Enterprise segment?

Do you like to share the success on a global platform? Here is your golden opportunity…..don’t miss it!! The members of this exclusive group are the best and brightest CIOs from some of the cream of the global companies like Aetna, Bechtel, Boeing, BP, Caterpillar, Disney, Dow, ExxonMobil, FedEx, Ford, GM, Goldman Sachs, Honeywell, JPMChase, McDonalds, MetLife, Pfizer, P&G, Starbucks, Shell, Toyota, Wal-Mart, etc. to mention a few. The exceptional quality of the actively participatory membership and the prohibition against attendance by substitutes is the cornerstone of the value proposition of this group. Their meetings include a range of guests, starting with top executives of major industry firms. Steve Ballmer, John Chambers, Michael Dell, Ginni Rometty, Sheryl Sandberg, Joe Tucci and Meg Whitman have all participated, usually repeatedly. They are based our of US and they are coming to our doorsteps, to be precise, to Bangalore to see our product and how it can do in the global market and this I feel is a golden opportunity for all Indian product companies including startups to demo your product in front of the group representative.

The group I am talking about is CIO Strategy Exchange (CIOSE) and you can find all about it here Its director Ernest M. von Simson (Ernie) will be in Bangalore during last week of February to hear to your business impact of selected top 7 product companies from India and here is the opportunity to be that top 7.

If you feel you have a great business impact story that you wish to share and if you have global aspirations and you are missing that global networking opportunity, here is your opportunity. If you feel you are eligible and ready to showcase your product, please apply online before 7th February 2013. Looking forward to seeing all here.

This initiative is jointly conducted by ProductNation and CIOSE. If you any questions or concerns please reach out to Avinash(at) or Manju.M(at)

Will your Differentiation pass the D-Cubers Test?

In my previous blogs, I wrote about how differentiation is a must and even wrote about how Bob Wright and Raj Shetty spoke about the differentiation @ NPC-12.

Ok now comes the most critical issue of “yeah I understand differentiation but how do I do a valid differentiation rather than doing for the sake of doing”.  Let me give me an example to showcase the issue. I want to start a tooth paste company and I want to differentiate as the market today is very saturated. What is the differentiation or what the traditional marketing calls as the USP going to be? It cleans your teeth of course, real white, mouth freshening too and removes plaque, cavity etc. and all are taken over already (by your competitors). How about we provide a way to give you a feeling of chewing a bubble gum along with cleaning your teeth!! That’s a nice differentiation but the question is who wants it. Can’t they just chew a bubble gum to get that feeling? Are people asking for it? Or when you provide will they like it or prefer it?

So here comes the real problem of finding the right differentiation and this is what I suggest the RD2 (RDSquare) Test as a way of validating the same (Refer to Killer Differentiators by Jacky Tai and Wilson Chew)

R – Relevance

D – Desirable

D – Defensible

The most important thing is, will your differentiator be relevant (R) to your customers (or a segment of customers). One needs to answer this before appreciating the value of being different. The bubble-gum effect might not be so relevant but assume you come up with Sugar Free tooth paste and it is relevant to your customer segment which is the diabetic crowd and also those who are health watchers.

Once we know there is good relevance to your chosen customer segment that you are attacking, time to see how desirable (D) the difference is. Difference is great, relevant but should be desirable too (else they may not buy your product for that differentiation). Going back to the same sugar free tooth paste, I say that it is desirable because it will help control sugar level in the diabetic patient and by not using they are not only risking their health but also the cost of the treatment. Yes it is very desirable. On the other hand look at this difference which is relevant but may not be desirable. Let’s pick the same toothpaste example where in it makes bubbles like ghost or evil characters – good differentiation and relevant too (for kids) but not desirable as no parent (or say most) will buy that (not Disney characters, as that will be a different story 🙂 ).

Then comes the toughest one in my books, how defensible (D) is your differentiator. The market today is so hyper competitive that you find an attribute to differentiate and your competitors find it very relevant and desirable for their customer segment, they will copy the same in no time. Bigger organizations have much bigger marketing muscle and budget, and they will get to all of the market much faster than you think you can. Today in this hyper-connected and in the hyper-competition world, your competitors are watching you like hawks very closely than you think. Yes there will be an advantage of early mover but again depends on much marketing muscle you have to inform the market that you are the early mover. Also early mover advantage does not last long. Hence it comes back to the same question on how defensible is your differentiator is. Google’s page ranking or the original formula of Coke or may be the market share or the distribution arm of HUL has in India etc. that you have but others don’t have and cannot be easily copied – can be a measure of how defensible is your differentiation is. Coming back to our toothpaste example, assume for a minute that the formula that makes tooth paste sugar free is patented or something only you know and others cannot replicate easily, becomes very defensible now.

Along with this RDSquare test, I also like to introduce another measuring attribute called the “Size of the market” (S) and I feel is also really critical. Assume you have a great differentiation, very relevant to your segment of customers and also very desirable but the size of the segmented market you have chosen is very small. The whole idea of entering the market with this product becomes unviable and not worth investing or creating a product for that market. Let’s consider the same example of sugar free tooth paste and in a country where there is less than 1% population of diabetics. The whole idea of selling that product becomes unviable as the market is very small and will never be profitable or scalable either.

Together I call this the D3RS test or better “d-cubers test” of differentiation. Also I wish there was a way we can measure (say on a scale of 1 to 10) all these attributes D,D,D,R & S and a cumulative measure which says how strong the differentiation is.

So I guess make a list of all attributes of your product differentiation and see which one can pass the d-cubers test 🙂

Differentiate or Die – learning’s from the NPC -12 session

Coming back to busy corporate life after NPC (NASSCOM Product Conclave – 2012) is like starting the second innings 🙂 I thoroughly enjoyed being a core volunteer managing 140+ speakers, and the speaker lounge itself on the day of the event. Not just that but was also managing, choreographing and moderating the session “Differentiate or Die – there is a brutal market outside” with the speakers being Rajesh Setty and Bob Wright both from silicon valley and are champions in their own way in the field of marketing and has been delivering guest lectures and speeches on this topic for a long time, and many companies across the world are thoroughly benefited by them. It was time at NPC for Indian product startups to be benefitted by them.

As much as I enjoyed being a moderator, creator and actually a spectator of his event, would like to bring the summary and core points to those who could not attend the event.  It was a 90 minute event with Raj going first on the stage and man he will tickle your funny bone but make no mistake, he will drive the point firm and hard and this is what I can summarize form his session:

“Being part of crowd is cheap; being different is premium and just be different even if you are addressing a small segment” was his clear message. His idea was very clearly driven that if you have the will you can differentiate and still stand out in the crowd and best is he took an example of overcrowded and saturated market of cars to drive his point. He showed that even today and even in that “overcrowded-saturated-done & dusted” market people are finding ways to differentiate and thrive and survive and more important with profits. Take this: buy a car and there are 100s of brands and each one has a different story to tell – one is on safety, one is on family, one is on fast, one is luxury – all done and now you want to enter and how will you do? The common attribute among all is “owning the car”. Let’s change that to “renting the car” and then came a bunch of companies who do it, better, faster, quicker service, cheaper etc. and started another industry around this saturated car industry. Now what – further saturated and cannot go further – say most people but comes smart entrepreneurs who say the common attribute for all is “renting from airport” and lets change it to “renting from home or anywhere” and a new rental company comes up and again created a niche for itself!! Ok that’s it and you cannot do anything further on this market – come-on there should be a limit on a saturated market. So we all l thought but someone came out with a nice idea about renting cars in the locality of those which are sitting idle and why not rent it in the community and there starts another industry which says “why rent from a company” attribute – amazing isn’t it. If that is not enough another company comes and says “rent and drive” when you can “rent with a driver” and if that is not enough, there comes another company which says ride along so that we can zip faster on the “car-pool” lane. Isn’t it amazing on how an over saturated legacy industry can be even now differentiated!! And we complain how crowded the technology market is and we cannot differentiate at all – I think this should be an inspiring as well as an awakening story for all of us who complain about saturation in the technology market!!!

Raj concluded with his Mantras which I feel are very critical and we should follow religiously which I list below:

(Really) Decide to be different

Don’t forget to create meaning – empathize with the people and their problems

Most important, tell a good story

More important than that, live up to the story (otherwise 1,2 & 3 has no meaning and will hit you on the face)

And he ended up with a famous Buddhist Quote

“When deciding among opportunities choose the most difficult path” – So true!!

What an amazing presentation it was!!

Then Bob followed with his presentation and was another amazing one straight to the point.  He is an expert in positioning which is nothing but differentiation and how you drive that differentiation into the minds of the prospect so that it is “positioned” well in that whatever mm by whatever mm size the brain is. Actually my theory is just create the best product and it will sell automatically with no gtm, positioning, marketing, branding, advertising, etc. etc. as long as  they are selected by a set of machines and not humans but as long as humans make the choice, make sure you do all these right!!!! 🙂

He quoted Al Ries “Positioning in the mind of the prospect. It’s how you differentiate your solution in their mind. It cuts through the clutter. It focuses on the perceptions of the prospect”. According to Bob you should position customer centric and around his problem and what you are trying to solve and not product centric.  The 7 gems he stated which I repeat here are:

Fortune 500 or SMB is not a market

Who is your “Mary”? (Manju: Find that right person to who you like to sell and write down his characteristics – not all are same and you need to know the position and characteristics of the person you likely to sell)

Own a problem (Manju: try stating the problem you own in less than 140 characters – give it a shot – if you can’t I say you are suffering from Laser Focus 🙂 )

Have a point of view

Take a corner of the room (Manju: assume room is the market you are jumping into and don’t try to be everywhere in the room)

Communicate with Stories (this story should answer why your company, how are you different and how will be life be better with your product)

No geek-speak  (Manju: please don’t do this like talking on how many layers in TCP/IP and how you get through that network stack and how that packet flows and how IPSEC works and why the IPS and the IDS works the way it works etc etc – please address what problem you are solving for him)

He ended his wonderful speech with a proposed 10-slide solution, which are

  • Slide 1: Big results from customers like you
  • Slide 2: recent market dynamics: your world has changed
  • Slide 3: Causing a big problem
  • Slide4: …And you may lose your job
  • Slide 5: Traditional approaches no longer work
  • Slide 6: what you need to fix the problem
  • Slide 7:The Answer: Our Company
  • Slide 8: 3-4 reasons why customers like to choose us
  • Slide 9: Cleaned up problem: How your life will be different
  • Slide 10: Call to Action

I am just curious, how many slides talk about your technology? Almost None. Now have a look into your deck and see how different it is from the above. Call to action????

Next, I will come out exclusively for “ProductNation” on not just differentiation but how to find one 🙂 🙂 Watch out this space!!!!

Marketing: “Line Extension Trap” – How SMEs can use this to take on big boys in their own game!!

This is more of a go-to-marketing issue rather than juts marketing per say. This issue
is mainly suffered not by startups but mainly those who probably has a product which
is selling and doing good and now thinking what is the next product I should do or
even those say who are in services successful in one area and want to enter another
or say those who are successful in services and now want to enter products. Basically
those who are successful in what they are doing and now want to enter another area
under the same brand name. This is one of hotly debated topics in the marketing
world which is the “line extension strategy” and “line extension trap”. In fact this is
the problem plaguing most big MNCs and enterprises (and even small and medium
sized companies looking for expansion) and that confusion is something our SMEs
should take advantage of (when dealing with the Big boys of the industry).

Most so called enterprises need to keep growing at a constant pace else they will be
looked down in the stock market and they have to keep looking out on expansion.
Here comes the trouble – where do you expand? There are many ways and I broadly
classify them into two as “the market line extension” and “the technology line
extension”. In technology line extension you base the technology as the common
factor, have multiple products which have similar technology base and then try to
serve probably different markets. Then there is market line extension where in you
extend to other products which are in line with your other products in the market
but may be very different in technology and implementation. In the former, easy for
engineers very tough for marketing and sales and in the latter, easy for market and
sales but very tough to engineering and also lot tougher time to market too. What
decision you take on this “line extension” many a times depends on the pedigree of
the decision maker (say CEO) and this is where the Line Extension can fall into “Line
extension Trap” and push the company spiraling down the hole. Most of the decision
makers from technology background take the former route where as those from the
business and marketing or even sales background take the latter approach.

My opinion after seeing many companies faltering is that, it is better to err on the
marketing side because that is closest to the customer and you don’t have to rebrand
or change the perception in the mind of the customer (what is called positioning)
when you do a natural line extension (in the minds of the customer) compared to
when you do a technological line extension where in your brand suddenly stands for

two totally different things and you lose ground in both places and I call this “Line
Extension trap” and I have seen many companies make the same mistake of taking
the technologically route rather than the Marketing route and you lose your existing
dominance as you are seen going away to the other markets and you get killed or
fiercely defended in the other markets because there is already a leader who will
defend his territory to the hilt. Ofcourse you will suffer in your own market because
the competitions (like SMEs who have laser focus) will start describing the big guy no
longer belongs to this market and solidify their position as the expert in that area. This
is where the SMEs need to keep a close eye on their big brother competitor and as
soon as they fall for this “line-extension-trap”, time to attack the market and make it
your own

There are lot more strategies and learning’s in this topic and I will keep them for
ensuing articles but in the meantime if you have any questions, concerns or if you
disagree with me, please do drop me an email to [email protected]