40th #PlayBookRT in NCR on “Break the Barriers of Selling” by Deepak Prakash

iSPIRT kicked off its first roundtable for 2015 on 17th January at the office of Eko India, Gurgaon. The PlaybookRT was led by Deepak Prakash, Former VP of Sales at Tally Solutions. He has led building the entire sales network bottoms up and was the #1 sales person at Tally. Under him, Tally evolved from direct selling to single-tier home grown network for dominance and further evolved into a two tier network to create availability supplementing with all possible marketing activities with money/without money to reach-out to every potential buyer of our product(s).

The theme of the PlayBook Roundtable was something that poses a challenge for all tech entrepreneurs – Sales. Sales is what riddles most of the IT Product company start-ups – each one to his riddle. The intriguing problem of sales combined with Deepak’s experience and expertise in this subject ensured we had a full house on cold Saturday morning.

2015-01-17 18.30.11Overview

There are roughly about 1.25 crore SMEs in India, and about 40 Lakh of them have computers and are ready for automation. This provides a huge opportunity for enterprise software providers. Most of tech entrepreneurs have built interesting products to address this large market, however sales has always been the Achilles’ heels. Deepak broadly outlined the following sales strategies to tackle this market.

Building an effective sales team

Understand the sales psyche

In order to build a successful sales team, it is imperative to understand the psyche of sales people. As tech entrepreneurs, we usually tend to apply the same yardstick for both technology folks and sales team. This approach is incorrect.

  • Engineers and techies can accept failures easily, take it up as a challenge and build upon it. If there is a defect or something is not working, they will try new approaches to solve it. But for a sales guy, who is in front of a customer alone, failure can more often than not challenge his pride and ego. It needs a lot of effort for a sales person to swallow this failure and start afresh next morning. Inorder to keep his motivation high, it is necessary that we celebrate small sales victories and communicate the role he is playing in the organization.
  • Developers and tech teams go by logic and enjoy data, analytics and whatsapp/SMS. While sales teams enjoy phone call over IM and there is more emotion in place. It is very easy for a sales person to become lost or feel small in a tech setup. Entrepreneurs need to work and ensure that both teams understand each other’s importance.

Hiring A Sales Team

In response to a question on what traits we should look for while hiring for a sales position, Deepak mentioned:

  • The person should be able to make the customer comfortable and make him speak about his problems and needs. Only if a sales person can understand the pain point of customer, can he suggest the right value proposition. Someone who talks a lot and does not let others talk is not necessarily a good sales person.
  • A good sales person will typically have his pipeline on tips of his fingertips. He should be able to spell this out at any time.
  • Someone who says I can sell anything and I don’t need to know the product is a person you want to avoid. Because as an entrepreneur you want him to focus on product demo, and confide in the fact that your product is good enough that sale will happen if the right message goes to the customer.

In response to comments that it is difficult to find sales people who are ambitious or motivated, Sumit Kapoor from Employwise mentioned that it is not entirely correct. It is for the leader to inspire their people. We are able to inspire and motivate tech people easily but not sales people.

However, before hiring a sales team, founders need to ensure that the product or startup is at a stage where someone else can do the sales for them. E.g. if the sales calls become repetitive, you know that our sales process and collateral are ready for delegation.

Sales Team Training and Measuring Success

Deepak also shared his approach of measuring the success of sales teams:

  • Do not measure the success of a sales person by the number of cheques he gets but by the number of demos he makes. As an entrepreneur, we need to believe that our product is good and so if the sales person focuses on a good demonstration, cheques will come and business will happen.
  • The target or objective for sales team should be to talk about your passion, your innovation and your pride.
  • We need to understand the dream of sales people. Rather than imposing our dream on them, if we start worrying about their dream, they will start worrying about yours.

The discussion then meandered into how to train and motivate your sales team. Everyone one chimed in with interesting thoughts and here are some of them:

  • The first sales call for a new joinee is like sending a child to school. As parents we have to hold their hands and be there at the background. In case we close sale, do not ever say that sales happened because of me. Motive the new member and make him feel that he was the one who closed the deal.
  • In technology, we attempt to solve problems that are under your control, while sales depend on other people (end user, decision maker and several stakeholders) and so we have to be patience and cut the sales team some slack.
  • The only fear that sales folks have on the road is that sale will not happen. With every rejection, they lose a bit of self esteem. They have to recover from this loss over the night and get ready for a new day and a new fight. And on top of it, we as organizations impose tools such as CRM they have to fill in. These CRMs do not talk back and understand their feeling. At Tally Deepak used to call his boys everyday at 7 pm and hear them out, giving them a chance to vent out their feelings.
  • In a tech company, usually a sales person is considered an outsider. But if the rest of the team starts seeing as a bread winner and if the sales person gets a feeling that the team depends on him, this will give him a high.
  • As entrepreneurs, we also need to understand the difference between entrepreneurs and employees. Employees live for a lifestyle while entrepreneurs live for building an organization. Employees will plan for vacation, holidays etc. and we need to appreciate this.
  • Normally we give just product training to sales teams but customers usually want to talk to someone who understands them. So domain knowledge becomes important.
  • We try to surround sales people with tools such as CRM citing terms such as productivity, efficiency etc. These terms more often than not are Greek to them and they feel you are trying to control them, while the feeling inside them is freedom. We have to explain them to them that the tool is for liberation so that they start enjoying it.

2015-01-17 15.29.56Digital vs. Feet on Street

The discussion also got into choosing between Digital and Foot on Street and whether startups should try both. Sumeet opined that it is best not to get into a situation where we do both.

  • A digital strategy takes time to build as you have to create content, online brand etc. that does not happen overnight.
  • You also need to ensure that your customers are comfortable going through the entire sales cycle digitally including making payments. If there is any trade deficit, digital may not work.
  • While building your digital content strategy, you also need to ensure whether your target SMEs are coming online to search for data. Do they have enough time or knowledge on how some of their problems will be solved.

While if you are going for feet on street, you need to remember to bring in processes that will help you scale. E.g. you have to build a sales engine through which if you run a new hire, he can go and sell your product.

Sometimes combining both digital and feet on street can mask problems in either of the approaches. E.g. if customers are not comfortable making payments online, we get our sales team to talk to them and make payments offline. This prevents us from addressing the real problem, which perhaps could be a trade deficit.

Building a Channels Strategy

The mantra of success was that they created their own channel network, this lead to a dedicated network which will take all the products Tally would have created or will create. They ensured that their channel has enough activity to do, opportunity to encash and inclusive work for their growth was charted.

Channel works well when people already know your brand. There are three major things that channels can help you with:

  • Sell your product
  • Act as fulfilment centres for your product
  • Extension of network for messaging

Your channel strategy also has to evolve in-time. When you want to create deeper reach and availability you need to recruit another set of partners, and in parallel ensure that the already present channel also gains from your expansion.

Channel strategy has changes considerably between pre MNC and post MNC. Earlier there was a lot of relationship building, but now most of the channel partners play around very low margins. Entrepreneurs need to be wary of which strategy they want to adopt here.

Bundling Your Products

Another strategy tried by several companies is to bundle the product with another product that sells more. FMCG industry has done it very successfully. A couple of things that need to be taken care when pursuing this path are:

  • The product you are bundling with should resonate with your own product. E.g. both products can complete each other
  • Are the sales people selling the original product understand your product or are able to explain to customers about your products.


Referrals are another avenue that startups can explore, however before doing so you need to ensure that you are capable to handle all the leads that come in. Throwing a bigger net that you can manage can actually backfire for you.

Right Business Model

Several SaaS based business have a monthly model where they would call businessmen every month to pay. This may not work well with SMEs. Your customer’s business is not to buy software with you. He would rather want to concentrate on his business. Hence it may make more sense to opt for an annual model. The serious customers will anyways buy this. Exotel had a similar experience.

Reaching out to different stakeholders

Often in an B2B setup, the user, decision maker and paying authority are different. The discussion moved to what should be the order in which different stakeholders are reached out. Usually sales team members are hesitant to meet the owner as they face the possibility of heavy rejection. Also owners are not interested in features but in how the tool can either help them save money or make more. However, they do depend on feedback from the user or beneficiary. Hence the sales team should first reach out to the user or beneficiary and then the owner. Sometimes the owner also depends on inputs from a Subject Matter Expert, who could be an IT guy or engineer in his friend/family and sometimes others (e.g. CAs in case of Tally)

However, in case of channels the approach is opposite. You first reach out to the owner to get them buy your proposition. Following this you want to reach out to the sales team of the partner so that they are well educated and trained to sell or demo your product.

2015-01-17 15.30.21Monopolistic Market

Dinesh Agarwal from Busy Software shared insights on how they penetrated a market which was dominated by one large player – Tally. He banked on users and stakeholders in accounting software to identify niche features that were required by a segment but not offered by Tally. One of such feature was statuary compliance. They launched this feature at half the price and this helped them penetrate. They also carved out their channel strategy and ecosystem that helped to build a strong market base.

Going International

Deepak also touched upon some key considerations while eyeing international sales:

  • Your product will need to be adapted to the particular market you intend to tap into. It could be for example statuary compliance or local language support.
  • International markets can be expensive and hence you need to plan well
  • From a sales strategy, there will be broad similarities. E.g. international markets also have channels that work on the same motivations and contours.
  • You need to accept the fact that no one in a new market knows you or your product. So if you start from scratch.
  • The business problems and challenges are similar in different markets. They too have similar HR problems or business problems.
  • There also needs to be a culture adoption, especially the way you communicate or conduct your sales effort.
  • Before starting to build a channel in an international market, it usually makes sense that you acquire the first 10-20 customers yourself. This will help you understand the market better, ensure your product is ready and help you exploit the channel strategy much better.
  • Set clear expectations and objectives so that you know when to get out if things are not working.


One thing that stood clear from inputs of all participants was that there is no size that fits all. Different solutions and strategies yielded results for different teams and entrepreneurs. It is imperative not to wear someone else’s stripes. Pick up a strategy that is doable for you based on the types of person you are and situation you are in.

2015-01-17 13.36.59The high level of interest and engagement from all participants was evident as the session that planned for 3-4 hours got extended to beyond 7 hours. We finally concluded our first Roundtable for 2015 with a promise from Deepak that he will back with us in a couple of months.

“Breeze”, a Mobile App which allows to connect easily with the Customer Care of 100+ companies

Are you tired of listening to long voice (IVR) menus and repeatedly entering the same options every time you call your customer care, Breeze might be the solution you are looking for. Breeze allows you to “browse” the IVR of 100+ companies across 20+ categories without even calling and upon choosing to call an IVR option, the app will dial all the intermediate IVR options for the user.

The app also allows users to ‘bookmark’ their most frequently used IVR options for any company. It also remembers the most recently called IVR option (just like the way a mobile phone remembers phone calls) and this facility can be used to call the same IVR option in a single step.

Earlier this month, I had a telephonic chat with Manjunath Hanasi, co-founder of Breeze on the story behind Breeze, their current customers and future roadmap.

Could you give our readers some background about Breeze and how you started the venture.

People say “necessity is the mother of all inventions”. So is the story about Breeze.

My washing machine, IFB Senorita Plus, that was working flawlessly for almost 6 years broke down suddenly as if it had a major heart attack. I wanted to call IFB service center immediately, however I didn’t have their number handy. I searched the Internet for their number and called them up. My call went to IVR as usual and I listened patiently and intently to the their options and chose the correct one. Finally after choosing 2 IVR options, I got connected to the operator. I spoke to the person who was very courteous and I thought my washing machine will be repaired quickly. However, due to some communication problem between IFB and local service center, I had to call IFB service center for almost 10 times within a span of 2 weeks. Every time, I called them up I was getting irritated by the IVR interaction.

At the same time, my Sony Bravia TV, started showing aging issues. Again I didn’t have their number handy, searched again and called them up. However, this time the IVR was even more horrible. I had to listen to IVR for eternity before I arrived at the right option i.e. Bravia TV related issues. I had to call Sony 3 to 4 times before my TV got repaired. I was hating IVR interaction by that time.

After the above incidents, I started thinking there must be a better way to connect with companies. I discussed this among my friends and colleagues. Out of these discussions, came out “Breeze”, a mobile App to easily connect to companies

Please tell us a bit about what your product does and the response that you have got from your users.

Our product “Breeze” presents the IVR in a visual, browsable fashion. People can traverse the IVR menu visually rather than listening to and dialing an option. In this way, you don’t have to listen intently to the IVR menus. This saves 60-70% of time and money while you connect to your desired option.

Breeze allows users to bookmark their frequently used IVR options and gives quick access to the recent IVR options they called (just like phone contacts). In this way, people can reach their desired options in “one touch”. This is a huge time and frustration saver.

Breeze also displays whether the number is toll-free or charged. Additionally, it also shows the working times of the IVR.

In addition to connecting to IVR, Breeze also supports SMS, web and API connectivity to the companies.

Few screenshots of the product. Breeze has companies across 20+ Categories


User response has been tremendous to say the least. We have got some really wonderful users and they love the App. Here are some of the comments from the Google play store.


Are you also partnering with these companies or do you intend to them in the future? Do you provide any analytics to the companies?

We intend to partner with companies in the future. With partnership and deep integration with the companies, we can take user experience to a grand new level.

By partnering with us, companies can greatly benefit in areas like customer experience, call costs per customer, customer feedback and revenue generation through offers.

Analytics is one of major offerings for the companies. Since we provide last-mile connectivity for the customer care experience, we are able to provide feedback that can’t be acquired by any other means.

We provide analytics about the user experience and feedback, location based analytics and anonymous competitive analytics.

Breeze also supports companies to show non-intrusive offers in their company menu. We provide analytics about the view and clicks.

Can you tell us your user acquisition strategy?

Initially, we were acquiring users in an organic manner with word-of-mouth. We used Facebook to spread the word among our friends. Later, we have used channels like public-relations, speaking and demonstrating in conferences, online startup websites, app bloggers and customer service forums.

Going ahead, we want to tap content marketing and social media channels even more.

What kind of business model you have in mind?

Breeze is “free for users and freemium for companies”.

We list companies on Breeze without any charges. We charge companies based on premium features like showing offers, notifications to users, analytics and customization/white labelling.

What kind of results are your customers able to see after using your product?

Users are enjoying the product. They are able to cut down on time and money while connecting to companies. One behaviour I saw from the users surprised me “lot ot people are browsing the companies to see what’s there in the IVR”. Would you ever do this by calling up companies IVR? Never.

Customers (Companies) are able to see feedback for all the customer care interactions, cost optimization and improvement in customer experience.

How does the roadmap for Breeze look like in the next few months?

We are adding many more companies to the platform in categories like telecom, banking and insurance. Additionally we are working on an integration platform to simplify integration with companies.

We have launched Breeze Android App for few months now. Our iOS version is getting ready.

We are building self-service portal for companies. Using this portal, companies would be able to push offers, and see feedback and analytics in real time.

We are also working with cloud IVR providers to integrate their IVR platform with Breeze.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

Keeping up with IVR changes and ensuring that the IVR is up-to-date has been the biggest challenge. This would be minimized to great extent once we start having deep integration with the companies.

Apart from that, since Breeze platform is essentially an enterprise product, sales process on the customer side (companies) usually takes long time. Meeting the appropriate person, keeping in touch and following up during this time is a big challenge.

Wizters – The anonymous social network.

There’s a lot of news about Whisper, Secret, and other anonymous social networks lately. Anonymous forums that have existed online for years, such as the anonymous confessions at PostSecret and  the anonymous question-and-answer network. Unlike older, Web-based message boards and forums, these apps use the mobile capabilities to easily pass posts through text messages or on social media. All you need do is upload a screenshot to spread something meant for a few friends to dozens or even hundreds of people.

The latest to join Anonymous Social Media bandwagon is Wizters. Its go to market strategy was to aim at college students, and probably one of the best features on Wizters is the random contextual names. Every user is given a random name for any particular activity, and this changes for another activity. To counter the ill effects or misuses, the team behind Wizters is also working on machine learning so that it can automatically detect socially unfit posts and keep them out of the social network.

WiztersI had a chance to interact with Apoorv Saini, the CTO and Cofounder of Wizters. Here are excerpts of our chat: 

Please give us a background of the Wizters founding team.

I (Apoorv Saini) am the co-founder and CTO of Wizters. I have been working on Wizters for over 2 and a half years now and just completed my Engineering from IIIT-Delhi and now aim to take Wizters to next level.

Dr. Ponnurangam Kumaraguru, is the Co-founder, Chief Strategist and member of the Advisory board. He is also the Assistant Professor at IIIT-Delhi and Ph.D. Alumni from Carnegie Mellon University

How did the idea of Wizters come into being?

It all happened in summers of 2011, just after completing my 1st year of engineering, I started working on an anonymous social network for colleges. The idea was given to me by a friend of mine. For around one year I worked on it in stealth mode and then finally launched it in July 2012. Wizters received positive reactions instantly and from that point onward, I have been developing it and shaping the then-non-existent anonymous social space.

Please describe your product in detail and its differentiation in the market. 

Wizters is an anonymous social network which allows users to share anything (Videos, texts and pictures) and connect with friends, likeminded people or strangers.

Social anonymity market is very new and it has very few players (most of them came way later than Wizters). It is our motive and set of features that differentiate us from our competitors like Whisper and Secret.

Wizters is for sharing anything instantly in real time while others just want you to share your innermost thoughts or confessions, Wizters does all of it and also gives you the rush of real time sharing. Wizters can be doubled up as Anonymous Twitter.
The android app of Wizters allows users to record and anonymously share 12 seconds of video. It is such a big power to users and none of our competition even comes close.

Not only this, we want to the “Center of Social Anonymity“, so we even have a plugin to share content on the web anonymously on Wizters and will be providing Developer APIs for developers to create apps that require user anonymity.

What are some of the challenges that you see in the next few months?

The main challenge would be the rise of competitions. The social anonymity market is on the rise and there are more start ups coming this way. Our biggest challenge will be to stick to our roots and keep tackling the competition.

Next is user engagement. As we are on the rise with our android and web app, we are already working releasing sets of features that will keep users engage and they can spend more time on Wizters. Next few months are dedicated to testing our features and validating them.

We are also taking Wizters to Japan, trying to see how people react to social anonymity there, including promotions and native support, we will also run experiments to make Wizters better and achieve some traction in Asian market.

Please share any early success that you have had. What do your users think about Wizters?

Wizters for Windows phone was featured as the best new comer app on App Flow. Wizters was also featured on the Top apps in Windows Phone Market Place.
Wizters was placed among top 150 startups in Pioneer’s challenge at Vienna in 2013.

NextBigWhat called Wizters “The Gossip Queen for Colleges” last year, but we have moved out of our College bubble and are now open to all.

What are your plans to get product adoption?

This is where we had been facing issues earlier, but we have are building a better anonymous ecosystem unlike others (where users come, get excited and then get bored and leave). We are using short version recycles and combining them with custom campaigns for users. Everyone wants to be anonymous and to be hard at the same time, so we have given them full control of their audience using hash tags and handles (like those of Twitter), as people know how to use them (as for hash-tags, people use them even where they are not required and we have utilized this thing). The sense of familiarity and the set of features that we have planned for users, I don’t think they are not going to run out of reasons to keep using Wizters regularly.

What is your product roadmap for the next few months? Which features can we expect?

We have just released our Android app and it is getting some good reviews and bags huge potential. Imagine how much power can you have sharing videos anonymously with the world. For next 5 months we are going to work on making our web and android app better based on user feedback. Along with that, you can certainly expect “Anonymous Chat” feature for sure. We already have chat feature on web app, but we are trying to build a much better chat experience for users to connect with people anonymously on web and mobile platforms.

Wizters for iOS will hit the App Store next year around July.

Appiterate: Instant publishing & A/B testing on mobile apps using visual editor for iOS and Android apps

Product management and development teams have been using A/B Testing on the web to optimize the experience for users. However, doing A/B testing on mobile has been a challenge especially because the way native apps are deployed currently:

– Native apps are deployed via the marketplaces, making MVP and beta releases very difficult.

– The app stores, especially iTunes, has a review cycle which means apps are available download only after a period of time.

Therefore companies aren’t able to experiment as quickly or thoroughly as they are on the Web. Every app release is a gamble that relies on the assumption that every aspect of the release will appeal to the app’s audience. If it doesn’t, or if there’s a problem, filing an updated version of the app and having it reach the marketplace can take days or weeks.

Developers and product managers need to see how small changes affect engagement, retention, lifetimes value and, of course, monetization of their apps. AppIterate intends to solve this problem with their WYSIWYG A/B testing platform for native mobile apps. It allows app publishers to A/B test and iteratively optimize their designs/UX and functionality of their mobile apps to improve in app purchases, user engagement and conversion metrics. It also allows app publishers to run tests and deploy based on user segments and see real time conversion metrics.

Some of the main features of the app include Real Time A/B testing on native apps, using which developers can test new designs, copy, call-to-action buttons in real-time and push the winning version to all the users without pushing a new update to the app store. Feature Testing and Roll-back is another feature using which developers can test new Features, UX-flows etc during an app update process on a sample population. If the feature does well, deploy it to all of the users, otherwise roll-it back, all without pushing another update through the app store.


Many a times, small changes to the app are required, like a change in copy, change in phone number, increase/change in size/position of a button. The service also gives app-publishers, the ability to make these changes and push them to the users live without re-submitting the app to the app store. Segmentation lets you target a subset of your users based on the criteria defined by you. You can target users based on their OS version, activity, location or any other custom criteria defined by you. Thanks to WYSIWYG editor, even Marketers and Product Managers can create A/B tests easily without any knowledge of coding at all.

Mobile A/B Testing has seen a flurry of activities in the last few months. This includes startups with venture backing such as Apptimize, Swrve and Leanplum. Most of these allow publishers to do A/B testing on native apps using a web interface and get interesting analytics. Other rivals include Pathmapp and Bees & Pollen.  There also players such as BetaGlide which can also measure CPU and memory consumption of an app while it is running and can track it against an event.

Appiterate: Instant publishing & A/B testing on mobile apps using visual editor for iOS and Android apps

AppIterate is a WYSIWYG A/B testing platform for native mobile apps. It allows app publishers to A/B test and iteratively optimize their designs/UX and functionality of their mobile apps to improve in app purchases, user engagement and conversion metrics. It also allows app publishers to run tests and deploy based on user segments and see real time conversion metrics.

On April 21st, Avinash and I had a telephonic chat with Tanuj Mendiratta on the story behind Appiterate, their current traction and future roadmap.

Q. Could you give our readers some background about Airwoot and how you started the venture.

[Appiterate]: Appiterate was founded by 3 cofounders who were each pursing different paths. Anuj and I started working on DSYN while I was still studying at IIM Calcultta. Anuj was my batchmate from DCE. We figured out the in the mobile space a lot of tech was happening but nothing much on design. DSYN was trying to fill this gap. By December 2010, we had signed up a few clients including the likes of Vodafone. We both, then decided to skip the placements. We soon got in touch with Mayank, an IITD grad, who was working on tech offerings in the similar field. Given our complimentary offerings, we decided to partner together. We grew the services company to 35 people, with more than INR 2 Cr annual revenue and signed up clients such as Zomato, Ixigo, Sears, P&G etc.

Q. How and when did you decide to pivot from a services company to a product company?

[Appiterate]: Our services business was growing pretty well. But we wanted to scale quickly and build a big company. A lot of interesting things were happening on mobile, and with age at our side, we wanted to experiment with something that could grow big quite fast. We also felt that running product and services together was impossible as it meant compromising on the services delivery.

We started working on a product in January 2013. By middle of last year, we raised funding from SAIF and by October we closed down the services business completely.

Q. What happened once you decided to close down your services business?

[Appiterate]: Once we decided to pivot, we felt the need to hire a completely new team as working on a product meant different skill sets and approach. However, we worked with every employee to ensure that they were able to transition to positions at other companies. This included working with our clients to absorb some of engineers as well as conducting interviews at our office for our employees.

Q. Was the decision to close down services business completely triggered by having investors on board?

[Appiterate]: No, it was a completely internal decision. We wanted to purely focus on product.

Q. Was the decision to close down services business completely triggered by having investors on board?

[Appiterate]: No, it was a completely internal decision. We wanted to purely focus on product.

Q. How did you identify the product that you wanted to focus on?

[Appiterate]: During our services business, we interacted with a lot of clients to figure out what they were looking and whether we could productize any of these. We figured out that there was no platform in the market that allowed companies to interact and manage relationships with their users for their mobile apps. Hence we narrowed down to Appiterate.

Q. In terms of your approach and mindset, what did it mean to pivot to a product company?

[Appiterate]: There is a mindset challenge that you need to overcome when pivot to a complete product based company. With services, revenue was coming in steadily and we were a decently established profitable company. From this we moved to a company with no customers and start building out a new product from scratch.

Q. There are a couple of other A/B testing platforms that have come up, so of the backed by accelerators such as YC and TechStars. How do you see them?

[Appiterate]: There are a couple of startups that have come up in the silicon valley offering an A/B testing platform for mobile. This is a good validation for us about the market opportunity. However in terms of product, we believe we are more refined than the other players.

Q. Which is your current focused market?

[Appiterate]: We are focused on the global market. At the same, the Indian ecosystem has also matured, and we are seeing traction here as well.

Q. Given that you do not have presence elsewhere, how are you tapping the global market?

[Appiterate]: In today’s globalized world, location does not matter. We travel to meet our potential customers, organize webinars etc. to get in touch with and explain our offerings.

Q. Tell us something about your current team

[Appiterate]: Our current team strength is 10 and that includes some brilliant folks.

Q. What is Appiterate’s business model?

[Appiterate]: We are offering our platform on a SaaS model.

Q. What does Appiterate’s roadmap look like?

[Appiterate]: A/B Testing is just the start for us. We want to help app publishers better monetize post download. We want to be a CRM for mobile apps wherein a product manager can manage all communication with the users.

Q. What is your marketing strategy?

[Appiterate]: We intend to use both inbound and outbound marketing and position ourselves as a complete relationship management platform for mobile apps.

Airwoot – Revolutionize customer support on Social Media

Airwoot is a social customer service helpdesk, using a sophisticated filtering and priority engine that separates social chatter from relevant support queries, which enables brands to deliver real-time customer support on top of social media.

On April 3rd, Avinash and I had a telephonic chat with Saurabh Arora on the story behind Airwoot, their current customers and future roadmap.

Q. Could you give our readers some background about Airwoot and how you started the venture.

[Airwoot]: We were a bunch of PhD guys who got together in December 2011 to experiment different things on social media and extracting intelligence out of it. One of the things that we tried was to find who was reading what as this will give insights on who is purchasing what kind of books. While on it, we realized more consumers were found complaining about the product than accepting and endorsing the product. Then we turned our focus to figure out how companies and brands were responding to such complaints.  We started tracking some of the active international brands on Twitter and realized that they were not able to handle the social engagement appropriately with often slow and ineffective responses. We studied the tools which these brands were using to do social customer support, and realized that there was no optimized solution out there for brands. We came up with Airwoot to solve this problem. Airwoot uses the combination of data science and user experience offering a smart customer service helpdesk which enables brands to deliver effective and real-time customer support on top of social media.

Q. Please tell us a bit about what your product does.

[Airwoot]: Airwoot uses sophisticated natural language processing and machine learning techniques to pick out the actionable conversations in real-time. It automatically identify people who need engagement in real-time. The more brands and marketers use it the smarter it gets. Airwoot captures your social etiquette and creates a social priority inbox for you.

The Airwoot team has built tools and framework from scratch to understand the new language of social media and how a brand interacts with these messages. Basically, brands sign up on Airwoot and connect their social channels Airwoot listens in real-time each time users mention brands on social channels. It then identifies customers who need help from the brand and collaborates with the company team in real-time in order to provide support. It sets and tracks measurable social goals such as service levels for responses and customer satisfaction. It also manages complex workflows with a brand’s multiple social media channels.

Which social media platforms do you cover?

[Airwoot]: We cover Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. We are not there on LinkedIn and we do not intend to cover it in the recent future.

airwootWhat kind of analytics support does your tool provide?

[Airwoot]:Airwoot’s philosophy is to find deeper insights about social traffic and figure out trends from this traffic.

For example, if a user has complained about delivery more than once, there could be a potential trend. Our algorithms than figure whether others are having similar complains and how often it is happening. Brands can dive into details of different metrics and also generate reports such as pivot tables on the fly.

We are also doing a lot of analytics on the performance side. Companies can view how their team is performing and set social goals on Airwoot. E.g. companies can view the response time and assess whether their goals are being met.

What kind of sentiment analysis does Airwoot do?

[Airwoot]: We get this asked a lot. We are not just doing sentiment analysis. Sentiment analysis is about saying positive or negative about something. We go into actionable analysis. At Airwoot, we have built a powerful semantic engine which filters and classifies each social media mention in order to figure out if it requires the brand response or not. The tool tells brands whether there is any actionable item for them, and when they take an action, the tool learns from it and adapts accordingly.

What kind of results are your customers able to see after using your product?

[Airwoot]: Different brands are able to see different results and improvements by using Airwoot.

MakeMyTrip is among the fastest online brands while responding to customers on social platforms.  Earlier, their response time was 3.5-4 hours and this has now come down to less than 17 minutes.

Jet Airways is successfully using Airwoot to talk to disgruntled flyers. A lot of celebrities use Jet Airways and a social media post by any of them about a bad flying experience can be a disaster for Jet Airways. Airwoot provides them with real time crisis alerts telling them whether the conversations could go viral and that they should contain them.

Jabong on the other hand is using Airwoot to delight their customers when they face repeated problems. E.g. if a customer has faced delivery problem twice, send them a coupon or something.

Airwoot seems to use advance Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning algorithms, which form the core of the product. How are you protecting your IPs related to this?

[Airwoot]: Patent filing is both a time consuming and costly affair. We are beginning the process for it. Also, we have also believed in going for 10x improvement rather than 10% improvement. This means that our algorithms are constantly upgrading and ensuring that we stay ahead of our competitors.

How does the roadmap for Airwoot look like in the next few months?

[Airwoot]: We are going to go deeper into analytics and devise diagnostic algorithms that will also tell brands why certain metrics are going down or not performing as envisaged.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

[Airwoot]: The biggest challenge that we face is the lack of understanding of social media among marketers. While everyone thinks they are a guru, but most brand managers are not clear about what they want to achieve on social. Hence a lot of our effort goes in educating customers.

How did you manage to rope in big brands in such a short span of time?

[Airwoot]: Our investors helped us open the doors to some of the brands. However, they can only open the door, it’s the merits of the products that help decide whether you stay inside the door or not. We received good feedback about our product from our initial customers and the word of mouth took us further ahead.

Are you going to go international soon?

[Airwoot]: Yes, we are going for an international launch soon and you would be soon hearing about it.


Product Management mantras from the 26th Playbook Roundtable

The 26th playbook roundtable was held last week (8th March 2014) at Delhi NCR and brought together over 15 startup and product practitioners to discuss and gain insights on some of the challenging aspects of growth and monetization in product companies. This roundtable was hosted at Eko India Financial Services office in Gurgaon, and was led by Amit Ranjan, Cofounder of Slideshare, and Amit Somani, CPO of MakeMyTrip. In a span of over 5 hours, a diverse set of topics were discussed. Prominent takeaways from the roundtable were insights on approaches to pricing, virality, growth decisions, pivoting, user experience etc. The following paragraphs detail the key learning from each of these above aspects.

Pivoting in a Business

Creating a successful company is essentially a search for the repeatable and scalable business model. To succeed in this search, companies should frequently make and test predictions about what will work in their business models. Businesses, no matter, which stage they are in are always pivoting. As a business, while you do focus on your revenues, but you also need to constantly keep thinking what will drive the revenue in 3 years from now and ensure that you slowly move in that direction. Of the so many internet companies, perhaps only a handful will survive 10 years. Amit Somani mentioned how MakeMyTrip is constantly looking at the next big thing. It started from a flight booking venture for NRIs to become the largest flight booking portal for the Indian market and is already evolving to cater to hotels and holiday packages. The next challenge for the company is mobile and ensuring that the company is successful in an increasingly mobile world.

IMG_2851Amit Ranjan talked about how often ventures have to 3-4 side projects or “distractions” that help you understand what will work in a fast changing industry and ensure you evolve to address these changes.

Moving from early adopters to 10x Growth

One of the best ways to achieve 10x growth after successfully validating your product and without spending too much or no money is virality. By definition, virality is designing and engineering your product such that it markets itself. A viral product derives much of its growth from its current users recruiting new users. A user could recruit another through a simple invitation (“Check out this product, it’s cool/useful/entertaining!”), or directly through using the product (“I want to send you money on PayPal!”). Virality is not an accident. It is engineered. Virality is more about width and depth. Amit Ranjan shared interesting insights on how the homepage of Slideshare during the initial days was designed for virality (with several banners and stickers to attract audience) during the initial days and when the portal was able to achieve significant growth, the homepage was redesigned for user experience.

Prioritizing Customer Inputs in a B2B Product

If you manage a product or service in the business-to-business (B2B) market, customer requests for features will be a regular part of your work. Requests come in through the sales team, service reps, and senior management, as well as directly from customers themselves. This makes it difficult for companies to decide which feature to include in the product or not. A good thumb of rule to decide whether to include the feature or not is that if 3 customers want it or a pushy a customer wants it and you can sell it to 2 more customers, then you should go ahead and include that feature. A key issue is to how do you know multiple customers have the same request? A common way is to utilize software which allows customers to post ideas, suggestions and requests. There are idea management providers that are good for this. Or you can user customer feedback sites. These asynchronous, always-on, open-to-all sites are well-suited for capturing suggestions.

IMG_2852In addition, you may need to check other areas. Your email often contains customer suggestions. Or you have a service ticket database you can check. Relevant knowledge will be in people’s heads, those who directly work with customers.

Also, it is very important to validate this feature. This can be done by rolling out first to your employees and then to few customers. This will help validate your thoughts.

Documentation and User Training

Generating user training manuals and videos can be a tedious job, especially for ERP kind of solutions, especially when the product is frequently undergoing changes. Also, the general trend seems to be that users have stopped reading trend. Even if people did decide to read the instructions, showing too many at once increases users cognitive load. Because users cannot read the hint overlay and use the app at the same time, they are forced to memorize the instructions and then apply them. Thus, it is more effective to focus on a single interaction rather than attempting to explain every possible area of the user interface.

Rather than generating documents and videos which will very soon become redundant, a better approach will be to have built in CTAs in the product to help/guide the users. This includes things such as built in FAQs (built using services such as Zendesk), using coachmarks etc. Presenting hints one-by-one, at the right moment, makes it a lot easier for users to understand and learn instructions. This interaction pattern has the added benefit of teaching the user at which point in the workflow these interactions or functions become applicable.

Making Sense of Data

As a product usage grows, enormous amount of data gets collected and sometimes making sense of the data becomes a challenge for Product Managers. It is no wonder that big players such as LinkedIn, Facebook etc. have large teams comprising of data scientists. Data crunching from this team of scientists even help the companies to validate the probability that a particular feature will be liked by their audience.

Product Managers are knee deep in the product and data can help take an unbiased look at the product, often yielding amazing insights and learnings. Data Analytics are important for one major reason: What you don’t measure, you can’t improve. Without knowing what the state of the system is, it is very hard, if not impossible, to do much to change or affect the system. You can, of course, make changes  blind, but without analytics you will never know whether the system was changed or whether nothing happened. It allows you to see what is currently happening, make a change and see what effect the change has.

IMG_2849A good way to make sense of data is to have an hypothesis and then look for local maximas. Apart from that, product managers can apply operations such as segmentation, funnels and cohorts to make more sense of data. Over time, as the system changes and improves, the KPIs (and consequently the metrics) will change, which in turn leads changes in what needs to be measured. It is likely that new flows and metrics will be discovered that prove crucial to the system so whatever the analytics used, they will need to be continuously adapted to meet this change and keep you on top of what’s happening in your product.

Encouraging Users to Sign Up

For a consumer product, completely logged in experience versus a logout experience is a choice between distribution and engagement. Slideshare and Youtube offer a complete logout experience as users do not need to login to access the portal. Linkedin devised an interesting way to incentivize users to sign up. They show a glimpse of profile to users who then need to sign up to view the full profile. It is also imperative that the process to get users through the front door of an application and engaging with content needs to be as simple and seamless as possible if an organization wants to win and keep mindshare.

Increasingly a lot of companies are using gamification, but it is more geared towards engagement rather than acquisition.