Mobile Product & Growth Hacking RoundTable #playbookRT by @amitsomani & @VishalAnand

Having a completed a half century of RoundTables, the iSPIRT team was back with the 51st RoundTable on what’s currently the hot topic of discussion and debate in the startup community – mobile! A lot of startups are also trying to figure out their mobile strategy and this was evidenced in the great interest shown by startups in participating in this RoundTable. And why not? It’s not too often that you get a chance to deeply interact and learn from senior industry practitioners like Amit Somani, who was the facilitator and Vishal Anand, co-facilitator for the RoundTable.

The participating startups were from different domains (healthcare, HR, payments, consumer services etc.) and across stages (already have something up and running on mobile, tried something on mobile, but didn’t work, yet to figure out mobile strategy and so on). There was a round of introductions with each startup giving a context about their company and industry, the key challenges and their expected takeaways from the RoundTable. The iSPIRT RoundTables are highly collaborative in nature with a lot of peer learning and feedback as part of the discussions. As the introductions were happening, the facilitators were mapping the areas that startups were looking for help to the mobile journey. With the introductions complete, the group had a fair sense of the key areas that would be taken up for discussion during the RoundTable.

One of the first topics that came up for discussion was ‘Activation’ – how do you get the user to make the first action on your app. Many points came up for discussion – coupons, notifications, social/referral and so on. But two stood out, which Amit stressed upon – one was how do you get the users to have their aha moment and secondly, how do you ensure that you’re scaling this in a sustainable way? While the current sentiment seems to be around growth at any cost, Amit mentioned that it’s important to start looking at the unit economics sooner rather than later. Some of the key points mentioned around Activation where:

Mobile Playbook

  • Coupons:
    • This is perhaps the simplest and easiest way, but could you be smarter in doing this? Could you create different segments of users and offer targeted coupons instead of a blanket coupon? E.g. Say, an iPhone user is more valuable than other users. Could you then possibly offer her a higher value coupon?
    • You’d also need to be careful about the positioning and perception of your brand? If the focus is on coupons, will you come to be known as brand offering coupons rather than be known for your service? Also, with coupons, are you sure that you’re attracting the right kind of users or you’ll end up acquiring only ‘deal-hunters’?
    • While coupons are an effective channel, it’ll be helpful to create segments to as minute levels as possible and offer them to users appropriately.
  • Supply Side Users
    • Some of the companies participating in the RoundTable were marketplaces that had users on the ‘supply side’ as well. Key points mentioned were – a) show demand to the supply side user. b) Some kind of revenue calculator/estimator. These would help the supply side user get a sense of the demand and then take the necessary action (create listings, upload products etc.)

There were some companies that were still in the early stages of their mobile play or were evaluating how to go about their mobile strategies. Some of the points discussed were around:

  • Building in-house v/s Outsourcing
    • There is limited availability of high quality mobile developers and designers these days and startups have to compete with some heavily-funded companies for the same talent pool. Given this scenario, does it make sense to outsource mobile development and design? Participating companies had interesting experiences to share. For some of them, outsourcing hadn’t worked well. Some of them were able to find high quality freelancers and engaged them effectively.
    • However, one insight that Amit shared found resonance among the audience – one way to perhaps go about outsourced mobile development could be to breaking down the deliverables into design, frontend, backend etc. Perhaps engage a good designer for design and do the rest in-house? Also, in most cases, the backend is core to the company and that’s perhaps something that needs to be done in-house.
    • Similarly,
  • Does mobile lend itself to a one-time use use case?
    • For example, if there’s an app for employees in a company to check and update their records etc, does it really lend itself to a strong use case for mobile? Can one create enough hooks to engage the user to come back frequently to the app?

The next key discussion was around metrics and tools to use to measure the metrics.

  • Amit gave a simple, yet powerful formula to look at metrics – Record everything, Track 12 and focus on 3. This will help in identifying the really important metrics and drive the company’s energy to focus and improve on those.
  • An ideal comparison for Lifetime Value (LTV) to Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is LTV > 3*CAC. In a lighter vein, Amit mentioned that given the amount of marketing spends companies have these days, he’d be very eager to meet and invest in a company that even has LTC = CAC! That said, the importance of thinking through the right economics and working towards it with reasonable visibility is something Amit stressed throughout the session.
  • Rather than averages, Amit mentioned it might be useful to look at percentages, have cohorts to measure movement and perhaps look at percentiles as well depending on the metrics.
  • (Daily Active)/(Monthly Active) >= 15% is a good number for any app. Also, (Monthly Active Users)/(Install Base) >= 25% is good as well.
  • Some of the tools mentioned during the discussion were:
    • Google Analytics for simple and basic analytics
    • Flurry – gives comparative data and is free.
    • AppAnnie – for comparative data
    • Appfigures for Ranking / Review and Ratings – Daily reports
    • App bot (sentimental analysis on Reviews)
    • Crashmetrics –  Crash reports
    • – for tracking uninstalls
    • – post install deeplinking
    • – integrates different tools used


The participants left with a lot of food for thought and actionable takeaways that they hope to put into practice at their startups. There were also some very interesting books recommended by Amit to deeply understand user engagement and get some insights:

  • Hooked
  • Made to Stick
  • Influence

Anuj Tandon Talks about “How Rolocules is Using Games to Build Personal Bonds” #iSPIRT Event – Conclave for India as ProductNation

We recently had 11 disruptive startups that made a presentation to the Hon. IT Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad. The first presentation was made by Anuj Tandon of Rolocules. You can access the presentation made by Anuj here

Anuj Tandon Talks about “How Rolocules is Using Games to Build Personal Bonds” #iSPIRT Event from iSPIRT // ProductNation on Vimeo.

How We Got The IT Minister Excited About Indian Product Startups & Made Him Our Spokesperson #UnleashTheEnergy

A behind the scenes account of how a showcase of 11 disruptive startups was put together in just 100 hours!

If you’re reading this, I’m sure  you are a part of the Indian product startup community in one way or the other. And unless you were living under a rock (which is fine, if you were busy hacking away or traveling to sell your product), you wouldn’t have missed that our Hon. IT Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad was in Bangalore on Tuesday meeting with the product startup community. iSPIRT hosted  the “Conclave for India as Product Nation #1″, an open dialogue between the Product industry and the IT Minister.

What made it all the more special was that the he was the first IT Minister to meet with startups and also that he first met with the startups first before meeting officials from his ministry! The Minister met with the industry leaders, gave a patient hearing to the needs of the product startups and also saw presentations from 11 disruptive startups.

And here’s what the minister had to say after meeting with the startups!

So how did we pull this off? And what if I told you that it was all put together in 100 hours. We ourselves cannot quite understand how everything fell into place! But as Sharad often says, when a bunch of passionate volunteers come together towards a common cause, magic just happens. At iSPIRT, we take our volunteering quite seriously. No wonder then, that we actually have open sourced our volunteer model through a whitepaper to help other communities benefit from it!


A text message from Rajan on Saturday morning got me involved. Could we get on a call, he asked. There’s an iSPIRT event scheduled on Tuesday and some help was needed. We spoke and I got to know that there’s an interaction with the IT Minister scheduled on the coming Tuesday. As part of the interaction, we needed to put together a showcase of disruptive product startups to help the Minister get a sense of the kind of impactful work being done and the opportunities ahead. There was list of companies drawn from across various segments and stages, with whom we’d need to connect and get their availability for the event on Tuesday. Tapping into our network of volunteers (many of whom are themselves startup founders and industry leaders), we gathered the contact details of these companies and started reaching out to the companies. These were companies spread across the country and we checked with their founders if they’d be available to present. Based on the availability of teams and the some intense discussion and debate among the Program Managers for the showcase, a short list of the companies presenting on stage was drawn up. The thought process behind the selection of companies was to give the Minister a good view of the breadth (sectors where product startups are making an impact), the depth (companies that have achieved global market/tech leadership) and how far they can grow with sound support from the ecosystem, which includes the government as well. We were immensely privileged to have Mr. Mohandas Pai spare his valuable time for multiple meetings through the whole process and share his inputs on what kind of stories would make the maximum impact.

Product Leaders with the IT MinisterArriving at the shortlist was surely a good beginning. They say well begun is half done. But the tougher half lay ahead! We were already at Monday morning, and within the next 24 hours we had prep up the presenters. Each of the companies were to have a short, crisp presentation with the key points to be covered in under 4 minutes! Shekhar went about this with the precision of a toolmaker, thoroughness of a scientist and the strictness of a school teacher! From putting together notes on what points to cover, iterating multiple times with the presenting companies on their presentations over a sleepless night, to conducting the actual showcase in front of the minister, Shekhar was always on.

(That’s me on the left  trying to get the slides up!)

The event received some very good coverage in the media. Below are some links:

Here’s hoping that achchhe din are indeed ahead for the Indian software product industry!

Well Begun Is Half Done: Glimpses From iSPIRT First Year Anniversary Party

They (you’ll never know who these wise people are) say, well begun is half done. If you ask anyone connected with iSPIRT, I’m sure all of them will agree that we’ve definitely begun well, but definitely not on the ‘half done’ part!

That definitely doesn’t take anything away from the impact iSPIRT has had in the short period that it has been in existence. From organizing India’s first bootcamp #PNCamp, conducting over 23 PlayBook Roundtables across segments like Sales, Marketing, Product Management, driving a focused initiative on driving M&A opportunities for Indian startups to even driving a policy intiative to work with the government and its organization, iSPIRT has indeed created a strong impact in the Indian Product Startup ecosystem with over 300 companies impacted and over 220 product entrepreneurs touched.

And the reason those involved with iSPIRT – Founders, Fellows, Mavens &  Saarthis won’t agree with the ‘half done’ part is because they believe there’s a lot more to be done in the coming years.

On the other hand, it is quite hard to imagaine that so much has been done only one year of iSPIRT’s founding! To mark this occasion, a get together of all those connected with iSPIRT was organized last Saturday in Bangalore.

The well-attended event saw participation from various sets of people associated with iSPIRT and from across different spectrums of the product startup ecosystem. In attendance were iSPIRT Founder Circle Members, iSPIRT Fellows, Mavens & Saarthis, representatives from iSIPRT’s partners for different initiatives, key people from the investor community and the media as well. iSPIRT’s anniversary party provided for a good reason for the different stakeholders to come together for an evening filled with great conversations & fruitful interactions.

There was an interesting twist at the beginning itself. At the entrance, each participant was to pick up a card and write their names on it. The card also had a pledge that they’d take towards promoting & helping Indian product startups by ‘paying it forward’. One would then write their names on it and hang it to the ‘tree’ in the center of the room. On the way out, one would pick up a random card (of course, ensuring that it’s not one’s own) from the tree and then connect with the person whose details are on the card! That’s a pretty nice way of getting people connected and having them know one another.


The evening began with each participant introducing themselves and sharing how they’ve been associated with iSPIRT and their experiences and learning. This brought out very interesting perspectives. There were ‘customers’ of iSPIRT – those who had benefited from the various initiatives of iSPIRT, there were ‘angels’ (Founders Circle Members) who were looking to help other startups grow by making their valuable resources available to other product startups and there were the iSPIRT ‘team’ members – Fellows and volunteers who firmly believe in the ‘pay it forward’ philosophy. There were also those from the media tracking product startups who shared their views on how  iSPIRT has impacted the ecosystem


Oh, and that was quite a nice cake!


The conversations gathered pace as the introductions happened and the participants stepped out to the lawns to launch the fire lanterns. It was quite cold and there was a slight breeze because of which the lanterns wouldn’t light up easily. But entrepreneurs being entrepreneurs, they wouldn’t give up so easily. We did manage to launch quite a few lanterns and it was quite a sight to see the lanterns float high in the sky! Reminded one of Sharad’s blog post – Fireflies Lighting Up The Sky!


Dinner, drinks and some more conversations followed! It was an evening well spent – reminiscencing about the wonderful year that iSPIRT completed, meeting interesting people from the product startup ecosystem & having interesting conversations with them and going back with a stronger resolve to do our own bit to indeed transform India into a ProductNation!


Scale Hacking at #PNCamp: What To Expect on Day 2 (Dec 5)

It’s a conference….it’s a summit….it’s a camp! Being a startup ourselves, we constantly listen to  our customers (who are startups as well!) and try and come up with initiatives that solve their problems and address their pain points.

In that regard, the genesis and the program design of the ProductNation Camp has come from what we’ve been hearing from you – the Indian product startup community. Sandeep has very nicely elucidated the need for a Product Bootcamp for Product entrepreneurs and laid out the broad agenda of the #PNCamp.

#PNCamp is expected to be a very intense, highly curated and focused two-day event with two tracks – Discovery Hacking (on Dec 4) and Scale Hacking (on Dec 5). For a product entrepreneur, getting the first set of customers is mighty important from multiple perspectives – validating the need for the product in the market, generating the first rupees (or dollars!) in revenue  and grow the startup from a buzz in the head to a live organism. While 2013 is expected to end with a Dhoom for Bollywood fans, it’s the same for product entrepreneurs attending #PNCamp. Rather than an ending, we hope it’ll be a new beginning for them to grow their startups to greater heights in the coming year. One of the producers of the product startup community’s Dhoom, Sai unveiled the first look of #PNCamp and gave us a glimpse of what’s in store for attendees of the Discovery Hacking track on Day 1.

It is said that well begun is half done. Let’s stay the tough part, that of beginning well has been taken care of and you are now staring at the tougher part – of growing your startup across multiple dimensions. That is when the startup is in the happy-confused state and there are a lot of questions on your mind.  Sales cures most ills, but how do you sell? This will be the primary thrust of the morning sessions which is mandatory. Here, we will have separate tracks for those who are selling to a global audience and those who are selling domestically. The challenges, hiring, operations, etc are completely different. In the afternoon, we have various exciting sessions on how to understand and communicate with customers and how to pick the right product direction when you have scarce resources to spread amongst several promising ones. Choice in an uncertain world is not easy and while we promise no silver bullets for your problems, we do promise to ignite enough fire in the belly (and in the heads!) for you to go back and navigate your way into scaling your startup. We also have specific “Oh, Oh, How do I do that?” sessions on specific topisc you’ve always wanted to know..

So specifically, what do we have to offer to you on the Scale Hacking Day:

We will have around 75 chosen participants for the Scale Hacking Day divided into cohorts of 15-20 people each. There are mandatory sessions which all participants will attend and then the cohorts will attend the optional sessions depending on the stage of the company and their interest.

The Mandatory Sessions

Great Indian Street Fight or Selling In India”

No wonder most of the selling in India happens through ‘feet on street’. And when you’re out there on the streets, it’s always a fight. Fight against time to sign-up customers, fight against a thousand other things to get the customers’ attention, fight for receiving payments on time and just fight for survival!

You have probably got your first set of customers, but you want to scale now. What are the different ways to do that? Does the Channel Partner route work and what are the pros and cons of taking that approach? How do you reach out to your next set of potential customers in an effective manner? Should you now start considering mainstream media for advertising or scale up your digital marketing efforts? More importantly, how do you plan for scale and put together the right team to execute your plans? How to hire the right people and fire the ones that don’t work out well?

Dhiraj Kacker, who has built Cavera into the leading destination for customized printed merchandize and an e-commerce solutions provider for photographers, will facilitate this session. Dhiraj along with Canvera’s Co-Founder Peeyush was recognized as amongst the top-10 Most Influential People in Photography in India by Asian Photography magazine. So he surely knows what clicks with his customers!

“Dancing with Elephant/Winging in the new flat world or Selling to Global Customers”

If IT services companies made the world flat, Saas product companies have made it even flatter!

While Zoho remains the pioneer, we have seen many SaaS companies FreshDesk, WebEngage, Wingify, Capillary Technologies, ChargeBee among others whose products are proudly Indian and that are selling to customers from across the globe. What does it take to build a global SaaS company out of India? More importantly, what does it take to sell to customers you haven’t met or even spoken to? How do you price your product so that customers from across geographies can buy it? How do you take care of the differences in the customers expectations, time zones, languages, even customs and culture across different regions? After all, every product has a personality. What about providing support to global customers?

Samir Palnitkar (ShopSocially, AirTight Networks) & Girish Mathrubootham (FreshDesk, Zoho) will facilitate this session. You wouldn’t want to miss this session unless you want to see your dollar dreams go sour!

The Optional Sessions

“Customers Buy Features, Not Benefits or How To Think Customer First?”

Here’s a quick question – which is the Indian brand that has grown the fastest in recent times and its identity (hint, hint!) transcends all barriers of language, region and religion? What’s more, it is very much an Indian tech startup! Yes, you guessed it right. It is Aadhar. Meet Shankar Maruwada, who gave the Aadhar its brand name and developed its identity and made it into the household brand it is today. Get to know how to place yourself inside the customers’ heads, try and understand what factors play in their decision-making and how you can approach your customers better by anticipating what’s possibly on their minds.

If you want to get a sense of what’s in store for you, watch this video

Well, you wouldn’t want to be that fish which can’t understand how people live without water!

“How to get featured in TechCrunch, spending $0”

It’s true that media coverage alone isn’t the true barometer of success of a startup. But hey, when has positive media attention, especially from a top global publication like TechCrunch hurt any startup? That is of course, assuming that the product is a good one!

For a lot of product entrepreneurs, getting featured on TechCrunch is a dream and considered as a good means to be visible in front of a lot of people – customers, investors, partners among others. So what does it take to get featured in TechCrunch? Considering they’d be getting hundreds of requests each day, do the writers and editors there even read such emails? Do you need to hire a high-profile PR agency and spend a lot of money?  Or should you just build something meaningful and the coverage will happen by itself?

Valorie Wagoner, Founder of ZipDial, has done that and been there (on TechCrunch). ZipDial is one of the fastest growing global startups emerging from India and Valerie will share her experiences of getting covered in global tech blogs and tell you how your startup can also get featured with no money spent!

“Positioning for Getting Acquired”

So you think acquisition only when you have reached a certain level and scale of business? Well, that’s what a lot of entrepreneurs in Bangalore thought before they attended this round table. How do you know if the time is ripe for your company getting acquired? How do you choose between multiple suitors you may have? What are some of the key things one should keep in mind so that all the stakeholders have a favourable outcome? While an acquisition is a regular business transaction in the US, do we Indians get (needlessly?) emotional about it?

Jay Pullur, Founder and CEO of Pramati Technologies and Sanat Rao, Director, Corporate Business Development (Emerging Markets) at Intel will facilitate this session. iSPIRT has a very active M&A initiative with Jay and Sanat actively leading the M&A Connect. You’d surely not want to miss this opportunity to understand how you can set yourself up for a nice acquisition.

“The Forum or Where You Can Bring Out Your Worst Fears!”

Every CEO needs somewhere to turn for the insight and perspective only trusted peers can provide. When such peers meet together in a setting where there is an atmosphere of confidentiality, respect and trust, it can become a supreme sounding board. We will call such a setting a “Forum”. Such a forum can become most valued asset for the members, because the maxim holds true: it can be lonely at the top, but it doesn’t have to be.

At #PNCamp, we want to experiment, for the first time, with building such a Forum by forming a small group of peers who meet regularly to exchange ideas, thoughts and experiences on the issues that matter most to them. During the first meeting at the PNCamp, this group will be taught effective forum techniques, a set of protocols and a shared language that creates immediate and meaningful connections among members.

We expect that once created, the Forum group will periodically meet either in person or online with the following agenda:

1- Update each other by looking back since the last meeting and looking forward

2- Identify, discuss and park business issues that are typically Important but not Urgent

3- Make presentations around these issues and get non-judgmental feedback from the fellow members

I’ll end this post with a quote from the very inspirational movie, The Shawshank Redemption.

Dear Red, If you’re reading this, you’ve gotten out. And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further. You remember the name of the town, don’t you?

Of course, you remember the name of the town. It’s Pune and we look forward to see you in Pune on Dec 4 and Dec 5 for #PNCamp.

PS. After all this if you haven’t still applied for #PNCamp yet, we’re afraid you may be a little late. Apply Now here!


Don’t Build Something Unless Someone Is Willing To Pay For It & Asks For It Twice!

Notes from the  Product Management Roundtable In Bangalore. Having attended the first ever iSPIRT Roundtable on Product Positioning in Bangalore and closely followed the second one held in Delhi, I was eagerly looking forward to the Round table in Bangalore on Product Management by Sridhar Ranganathan. Sridhar is a senior Product Management professional having spent considerable time in product management roles in companies like Zoho, Yahoo! and InMobi.

The 12 startups that participated in the round table consisted of a healthy mix of companies across various stages wrt their Product organization – some already had a PM function set up, some were scaling fast and were looking for ways to make their first PM hire and some where the CEOs or the founders were themselves donning the hat of a Product Manager.

The session started with a round of introductions and an open discussion around various aspects of Product Management – need for Product Management, hiring of Product Managers and setting up the team, prioritization, building an MVP etc. which set the right tone for the rest of Roundtable.

Sridhar shared his experiences of being a Product Manager and a Product Management leader in his previous roles. His experiences at Zoho were particularly of a lot of interest to the participants, as Sridhar was at Zoho during the period it transitioned from a company making Network Management Systems to the Saas giant it is today. He mentioned how the founders had a strong faith in setting up a Product Management function and empowering the Product Managers to lead the product efforts. He said it was like changing gears from moving in 4 big ships to 11 speedboats – with a Product Manager navigating each speedboat (a product). One insight Sridhar shared stood out, that the founding team needs to strongly believe that there’s a need for Product Manager(s) in the company and remain fully invested in the idea. Otherwise, there are very few chances of a Product Manager making a meaningful contribution and succeeding in their role.

Here  are some key insights from the discussions at the Round Table:

Product Management is a highly cerebral activity

The importance of setting a conducive environment for the Product Management setup was stressed upon heavily by Sridhar.  It is imperative that between the Product Manager and the immediate Product team (engineers, designers, QA), there be a very high amount of trust. The decisions of the Product Manager will directly impact the work, and subsequently the performance of the engineering team. Similarly, the Product Managers needs to believe that his engineers are capable and are able to solve the challenges he poses to them.  Laying the right foundation and building trust among the team is absolutely essential for the Product Management team to contribute significantly towards the company’s goals.

Framework to Solve Customers’ Pain Points

The discussion then moved towards prioritization of tasks, catering to customer requests for feature additions and customizations. Sridhar presented a very interesting framework which is quite handy to place customers’ pain points in the right context and solve them appropriately.


Depending on the target group size is and the complexity of the pain point, one can address the pain points in different ways

  • Education: Can you provide simple walkthroughs of the product through screencasts or tooltips, put down a set of FAQs that customers can refer to and get the help they’re looking for?

  • Process: Can you tell customers on how to do something? As an example, creating a 1-page document on how to apply for a passport and redirecting customers to that section would be a way of setting up the process.

  • Procedure: Taking the above example itself, if you actually build a feature to help customers apply for a passport, it would be creating a procedure to solve a pain point.

  • Solution: Any customizations/hacks over an existing feature/flow would fall under this.

  • Product: Enabling the customers to do something completely through the product itself. E.g. Employee payroll processing.

Building an MVP

How much time should one spend in building the MVP? One of the keenly debated questions was on the amount of time to spend to build an MVP. While there were multiple inputs based on the nature of the product and the market each of the companies was targeting.  However, Sridhar mentioned that one should invest enough time so as to avoid having to pivot at a later stage.

Is your product a ‘painkiller’ or a ‘vitamin’? It is important to understand this very well beforehand and pitch the product in the right manner to your first set of customers. You may be overselling if you’re trying to pitch a vitamin disguised as a painkiller and grossly underselling if it is the other way round!

What features get built into the MVP? Don’t build the product or a feature just because someone says it’s a good idea or if your prototypes ‘look good’. You need to validate that the customer is indeed willing to pay for the product. It’s even better if they ask for something repeatedly, which indicates that they have a pain point and they are willing to use the product/feature.

Taking the MVP to the market. Choose customers who can challenge you and make you think harder. The first 5% of the customers give 85% of the important feedback and the interest tapers off as you get the next set of customers. It is important to keep validating your view of the market and be ahead of the curve. You may have built something that was relevant at a previous time or maybe talking to a customer set that’s no longer representative of the larger market out there.

When to get a PM and what should the PM spend time one?

Sridhar suggested that whether or not there’s a formal designation assigned, there should be a Product Owner from Day 1, which is invariably one of the founders. Over time, it will be good if one can identify a good Product person from among the early engineers and have a Product person for a group of 7-8 engineers. The Product Manager should ideally be able to do 70% of everything! For the effective use of a Product Manager’s time, a helpful rule of thumb is that he spends 50% of his time planning for the future, 30% of the time on current initiatives and 20% of the time on firefighting.

Data, Intuition & Processes

How much does one trust data and how much does one rely on intuition to make decisions?

One of the participants remarked – “If you torture data long enough, you’ll get what you want”. It was general view shared among the participants and endorsed by Sridhar that data is good for discussions and not decisions. There’s a strong element of intuition and market understanding that go into making decisions and there should be ample scope for that.  Finally, it’s the Product Manager’s call on the direction of the product and he needs to be able to take views from multiple perspectives. Data alone being the decision criterion may not be the best way to go about it.

What about processes? Do they kill creativity or actually help in better productivity and accountability?

A quick poll on what the participants thought about process threw up some interesting responses. The hardcore engineers found process to be a bit of hindrance. However when they put on the founder/senior management hat, they found that there needs to be some way to maintain accountability and provide better visibility to a larger group as a company grows. As one of the participants rightly said, process is ‘doing what you say and saying what you do’.

Sridhar cautioned against having too many processes (don’t put policeman unless there’s a lot of traffic) ot of traffic), he also shared some interesting ways of bringing in process. Rather than enforcing process, can the employees themselves be stakeholders in implementing process and are ihe also shared some interesting ways of bringing in process. Rather than enforcing process, can the employees themselves be stakeholders in implementing process and are incentivized for taking an active part in the process and evangelizing it?

Each of the participants took away some key actionables which they’d go back and try out at their respective companies. They’d also stay in touch to share their learnings and experiences to help one another build a strong product management function. After all, we’re working towards transforming a nation with products!

Some Takeaways from the First iSPIRT Playbook Roundtable on Positioning & Messaging for Products

“99% Practice, 1% Theory”. This was the ground rule laid down for the session by the workshop facilitator Shankar Maruwada at the beginning. Sounds very much like the tagline of a popular softdrink brand that’s No Bakwaas! No wonder it came from someone who has loads of experience in the FMCG space, built and sold an analytics company and has more recently given life to what is arguably India’s biggest consumer brand, Aadhar.

Shankar sharing insights at the iSPIRT Playbook RoundTable

The theory lasted just a couple of minutes with Shankar telling a simple, yet a compelling story of how the Indian flag evokes a strong feeling even though it is nothing but a geometrical shape consisting of rectangles and a circle! The point that a compelling visual and a strong emotional connect can touch a strong chord was driven home very clearly. Over the course of the next 3 hours, Shankar orchestrated a highly engaging and interactive session with the participating companies, making them think hard and think deeper to help them think in the right direction. What also helped immensely was that Shankar had gone through the profiles of each of the participating companies and knew the challenges each of them were facing.

The participants were involved in exercises that helped them think beyond the regular product features and benefits. Emphasis was placed on understanding and communicating the whys of the product rather than the hows and on ways of building an emotional connect with the customers that will resonate strongly with them.

The participants were made to think through the different stages of the communication to customers.  For each step, two companies shared their thought process in detail with other participants sharing their inputs for the two companies. The participants found it very helpful to pick the brain of other entrepreneurs and learn from other entrepreneurs. A couple of participating companies probably found their one-line message or the keyword that signifies their product offering by the end of this workshop!

Shankar sharing insights at the iSPIRT Playbook RoundTable

Here are some of the key takeaways from the workshop, based on the stage and the audience to which one is communicating to:


  • What’s the grand idea that can resonate with everyone? This is beyond the product features, pricing and has a much higher connect. E.g. Education with the reach of television, your own personal secretary..
  • If possible, use connections, metaphors and analogies for better impact. E.g. YouTube of…., Google of…..


  • What will make your customers sit up and take notice? This is something related to their business that they wouldn’t have thought of or know about and you instigate that thought through your messaging. This should make them care for your product offerings and be interested in exploring more and have them say, let’s talk! E.g. Did you know that you can now teach a million students right from your classroom? Did you know that 30% of devices in your corporate network go undetected and potential sources of malware that can disrupt your network?


  • What is it that the customers can actually put to use? What are the tangible benefits that the customers can derive out of your offering? E.g. Deliver courses over low bandwidth and hence reach out to a large number of students even in remote locations, create attractive charts and graphs to derive meaningful and actionable insights out of your data, carry out quick experiments for merchandizing on your e-commerce website with very little involvement from your engineering team


  • These are the features and functionalities built into the product. These would explain how the product works. E.g. Various roles built in for access control and permissions, different interfaces and interactions for different user types, alerts, reports and notifications. 

As you’d observe, the how part becomes more prominent as you move from the Idea stage to the Features stage and the why part becomes more prominent as you move in the reverse direction. Depending on the whom you’re speaking to in the scheme of things at the customer’s end, you can focus on the appropriate stage and communicate accordingly.

iSPIRT Playbook RoundTable

It is said that well begun is half done. Considering that this was the first such roundtable, the response from the product startup community was very encouraging and the participating startups found it to be very relevant and effective. The engagement with the participants will continue even beyond the workshop. The startups will be in regular touch with each other, share their inputs and the learnings derived from the workshop and update on the progress.

Here are some books that Shankar recommended:

There are more such Playbook Roundtables planned in the coming days across various locations and hope the product startup community will make the best use of those and benefit from them.