Announcing #PNcamp2(8th Oct, Pune) – Not bigger, but definitely better

In late 2013, the iSPIRT volunteer team I was part of decided that the best way to approach pn-camp-logo (1)the problem we had on our hands was to simplify it. We wanted to bring together a group of product people who were ready to ask each other the tough questions. When they came out of the event we were putting together, we hoped they’d be changed, they they’d find answers, and in the process, new questions as well.

And that is how we decided on the bootcamp format, which was so well received that we were inundated with applications. It was a great event, and we wanted to replicate it again. But other things intervened, and PNCamp had to wait. Until now.

This time, we are doing it way better. And in the experience of other events, we have decided to keep it small. So the bootcamp becomes an actual run through a difficult trail. No one can lag behind or hide. Everyone has to run, everyone has to move.

So what will this PNCamp focus on?
These things:

1. Product Market Fit
2. Product Management Principles that actually make sense in the real world
3. Sales and Marketing things you can go and do, like right-away

With a smaller, curated audience to ensure peer- learning, to learn from other entrepreneurs challenges and solutions, and to encourage deep, interactive conversations, we are going to be having focused group round tables. There will be no PowerPoint, no monologues; just tips, insights and questions from doers like you for you to ruminate on.

Are you excited? We certainly are. We’ll have a lot of updates for you soon. Watch this space. Please apply before 15th September 2016. We will confirm your participation by 25th September 2016. 

The #PNgrowth #OneThing Series – Mohit Gundecha, CEO of Jombay

When we as a ecosystem try to help our entrepreneurs, we make the mistake of always focussing on the mistakes others have made, and trying to steer away from those. This is evident even from the stuff we write on blogs and platforms with the specific purpose of helping others.

Maybe it’s time we step away from that.

In this new blog Series from #PNgrowth, we are going the other way. We are going to publish a series of posts on what we call the #OneThing. Our best product people will be asked a simple question – what is the one thing that worked best for you when you were trying to scale your company? These answers will be insightful partly as success stories and partly as guides for other startups looking to scale. In the second blog of the series, we talk to Mohit Gundecha, CEO of Pune based Jombay, the hiring portal that uses psychometry science and analytics to find the perfect fit for a job profile.

Mohit Gundecha, CEO of Jombay

Jombay is one of the cooler startups in recent years. With psychometry and associated analytics growing more powerful and insightful in the last few years, there is tremendous interest in these areas. Jombay has ridden high on this with a super-cool tool that is already working for organisations like Citibank, Nestle and Reliance Capital.

When I talked to Mohit, he was in the middle of several other calls, but graciously talked to me, taking his time to explain what he thought was the one thing that worked for them. This turned out to be quite similar to Subrat’s answer in Part 1 of this series

The difference, though, was in the phrasing, and in effect, critical.

Mohit’s answer wasn’t content marketing or something as specific as a particular blog. It was ‘thought leadership’.

If we go to Mohit’s LinkedIn profile, we have a series of posts that span an arc around his company and his interests – mainly around HR and employee culture and hiring and retaining employees and so on. Sharing his thoughts about relevant topics and what he is most passionate about has assured him a devoted following, some of them pretty important influencers themselves. People from his now 30-people strong team write too, and this deliberate attempt has paid off handsomely. Mohit’s articles have been picked up by newspapers and magazines, assuring constant media attention and several interviews, all of which has helped the company gain customers by way of recognition and of course, to attract major talent.

“It is LinkedIn which has been the most important channel for us,” says Mohit. This is understandable in hindsight, as Jombay is first and foremost a hiring portal, but for Mohit and his team to get this insight and execute on it is truly admirable.

There are several kinds of content/inbound marketing, and identifying which kind and what channel works best for your organisation is as important as creating great content.

About #PNgrowth

PNgrowth is a year long mentorship program with some of India’s top product people and founders, with learning sessions and curriculum prepared in collaboration with the universities of Stanford, Harvard and Duke. Content marketing will be one of the major areas being covered, as will all the other points our #PNgrowth series will highlight. 

Nominate your Startup here (Apply before 15th November)

The #PNgrowth Series 1 – The @Vidooly Secret to Scale

When we as a ecosystem try to help our entrepreneurs, we make the mistake of always focussing on the mistakes others have made, and trying to steer away from those. This is evident even from the stuff we write on blogs and platforms with the purpose of helping others. The things ‘not to do’ always take a upper hand over things ‘to do’.

Maybe it’s time we step away from that.

In this new blog Series from #PNgrowth, we are going the other way. Starting today, we are going to publish a series of posts on what we call the #OneThing. Our best product people will be asked a simple question – what is the one thing that worked best for you when you were trying to scale your company? These answers will be insightful partly as success stories and partly as guides for other startups who find themselves in a similar situation. In the first blog of the series, we talk to Subrat Kar, the CEO of Noida based Vidooly, the video analytics tool that has just secured its first round of funding, and is on its way to becoming an Indian startup success story.

Subrat Kar, CEO of Vidooly

Vidooly has been one of this year’s poster boys for the Indian startup community. The product is awesome, the market is growing, and the opportunities are endless. The team is completely homegrown, and for a company that’s growing and making waves, has a founding team that lets their work do the talking. There’s no gimmickry and absolutely no noise, except about the product they are making.

When I talked to Subrat, he was travelling back to his home state of West Bengal, and I asked him the question point blank, because I wanted to know the first thing that popped into his head.


His answer was quick too – “That blog we wrote.”

On further investigation, this turned out to be a post on the Vidooly blog, published in October last year called ‘How to maximise your YouTube views organically’. Subrat said that though at that time, this wasn’t a marketing move at all on their part, the reader interest and viral lift they got out of that post made them believe in the power of content marketing. “We don’t spend any money at all,” he says, “Our marketing is purely content.” This is incredible for a new entrant like Vidooly, and Subrat acknowledges it.

Vidooly“This is the one thing that helped us grow”, he says, “The confidence that initial number of readers and commenters told us that we were on to something. And we built on it. We didn’t do anything to actually make it go viral, so maybe there was an element of luck involved. But it convinced us that if we gave out good information, there were people hungry enough for it who would become our customers.”

About #PNgrowth

PNgrowth is ayear long mentorship program with some of India’s top product people and founders, with learning sessions and curriculum prepared in collaboration with the universities of Stanford, Harvard and Duke. Content marketing will be one of the major areas being covered, as will all the other points our #PNgrowth series will highlight. Nominate your Startup here (Apply before 15th November)


Why the CEO of OrangeScape thinks you should go to #PNgrowth

Orangescape is one of India’s first true product companies. KissFlow, their workflow automation software for small and medium sized businesses was one of the first successful products made out of India. This makes Suresh Sambandam, the CEO of OrangeScape, a visionary who saw what was coming long before any of us even had an idea about it. As Suresh himself says, it was a slog for him and the core team for the first year or so, working more than 18 hour days and trying to get things right and providing as quick customer service as possible. He was constantly learning because his team had to do everything themselves.

When asked what would have helped him most when he and his team were trying to get to crtitical mass, he is prompt in his reply – peer advice. If he had known that someone had already tried what he was doing, maybe he would have discarded the plans that were not working quickly, in order to focus on the things that actually were.

In this short video from #PNgrowth, Suresh talks about his product, its awesome launch, and its struggle to go from recognised, profitable product to something more, something special, something customers want to use.

This is where #PNgrowth comes in, he says, a platform to bring together India’s early stage software product companies. In collaboration with Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, iSPIRT’s #PNgrowth initiative aims to get the people who want to learn, and the people they need to ask in a room, and give them the perfect space to learn and grow.

You can learn more and apply for the program here.

Announcing the biggest software entrepreneur school in India – #PNgrowth

India’s product startup ecosystem is at an exciting stage right now. There are several startups who are being talked about as unicorns, several others which are bring touted as the next big things, and a whole host of others who are in their infancy. Though India’s metres are the ones driving this revolution-in-a-bottle, smaller cities are also catching up.

One reason for the emergence of these companies has been the inspiration that India’s first product startups have been. These were the trailblazers, the ones who went where no one had gone before, and learnt things by making mistakes, and in some cases a lot of them.

And these are the companies that are now going one step ahead. They are coming together, of their own accord, to help India’s growing product companies who are at a particular stage of their lifecycle – the growth curve.

iSPIRT is happy to present to you, in association with Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Duke’s Fuqua Business School, a new initiative for India’s growth-stage product startups. We call it PNgrowth, under the now-familiar Product Nation banner.

pngrowthWhat are we doing?

PNgrowth is a year long mentorship program with some of India’s top product people and founders, with learning sessions and curriculum prepared in collaboration with the universities of Stanford, Harvard and Duke.

The program, prepared with some of the best minds in business and academia, is aimed at equipping the new age internet entrepreneur with an understanding of every skill he/she needs to build and scale a world class organisation.

Who is eligible?

Applications are now open. The program is open only for growth stage companies and is limited only for 200 entrepreneurs. The companies can be either B2B or B2C, but they will need to have already achieved product-market fit and must be aiming to become category leaders in their space.

We’ve started receiving applications here, and you can also follow us on Twitter or Facebook to keep abreast of everything that’s happening.

What’s the program schedule?

The program will start in January 2016 with a 3 day residential event in Mysore, where everyone will get together to learn how and what they are going to learn and implement in their companies in the course of the next year.

Applications are due by November 15th, and we’ll also be having Selene Delecourt and her team over in Bangalore in August in order to understand the challenges starts are facing and what kind of help they might need. You can reach out to us to participate in that as well.

You can see the entire program schedule here.

We are super-excited about this, and so are the mentors we have brought together for the program. We have here a sneak peek from Pallav Nadhani, CEO of FusionCharts who is telling you why you should be applying to #PNgrowth.

#SaaSx2 is here – The premier event for SaaS companies looking to scale

When SaaS was discovered by India, a group of young people saw its potential and built incredible businesses around it.

These were the originals, the first SaaS hackers.

We brought a few of them together in March this year, under the banner of SaaSx1, so other SaaS entrepreneurs could learn from them, and don’t have to commit the same mistakes all over again. The idea was that the learning would allow the new, driven breed to leverage experience when building innovative companies. As we said then, the knowledge needed to grow SaaS business from zero to $10k to $100k to $1m in MRR is rare, and the only people who can tell you something about it are the people who have done so already.

The super successful event ensured that we kept getting mails asking us to do another, and soon.

But the quality of the first event ensured that we had to wait and work to put together speakers of the same calibre again, so SaaSx could become a premier event in the ecosystem.

And so here we are.

saaSxWith #SaaSx2, and in the same place where it began – the newest kid of the startup ecosystem, Chennai. The event now returns with a leaner, meaner program that aims at ensuring that people ask the questions they want answers to, and take away specific action items they can immediately implement. This season will also debut an extended networking session, thus ensuring that everyone’s ideas have equal space in the ether, and the information shared and gained benefits everyone in the ecosystem.

Each one of the elements of the program has been tweaked keeping in mind last year’s experience, and the several Playbook RTs and meetups we have facilitated over the last few years. The speakers this year include Girish(Freshdesk), Aneesh Reddy(Capillary), Few SaaS startups and the tentative program is as follows.

Time Session Title
1030 to 1300hrs Pre-Event Playbook – “What it takes to Fund SaaS companies”
1030 to 1300hrs Pre-Event Playbook – “Are you ready to hit the growth pedal’ MVP”
1300-1400hrs Registrations & Lunch Networking
1400-1415hrs Introduce & Welcome #SaaSx2
1415-1515hrs Fireside Chat – “Assembling a Commando Team in the early days”
1515-1535hrs 3 SaaS Founders talks about “One Thing” talk for 5 min each
1535-1635hrs Fireside Chat – “The Nuances of Enterprise SaaS”
1635-1700hrs 3 SaaS Founders talks about “One Thing” talk for 5 min each
1700-1830hrs Group Event
1830-1850hrs SaaS Landscape report to be launched by Signalhill/iSPIRT
1850-1905hrs SaaS Guide to be launched
1905-2000hrs Keynote Address
2000hrs onwards Entertainment – Standup comedy, Networking Cocktails & Dinner

We will keep you updated over this as and when we have information, and please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you need any sort of assistance or have questions you need answered.

The Startup PR Checklist – What to do before a big launch

Copy of branches&creaturesFor early stage startups, cash-strapped and overworked, there are few things more valuable than PR. There is nothing more important at that stage than getting the word out there and getting users on board, for which PR is the only real shortcut available. And when there is an important feature release or a launch or a funding announcement and so on, all of which can be leveraged to get your startup up into the fickle spotlight, you need to be on your best game.

Here’s a small PR checklist that can be used as a starting point for campaigns. Based on a plan I’d made for a company I consult for, it can be used for different domains with appropriate tweaks.

Press Release

Write the draft yourself. Don’t let your PR agency write it. Remember that most wires will just pick up your release and distribute it. Writing the release itself let you control the small nuances that would make an impression on a reader. No PR person, as good a writer as they may be, will know exactly what you want to say or be able to communicate what you know. Ask them to review and edit it later, of course. But when your positioning needs to be clearly articulated, no one can do it better than you.

Tip – Read the PRs which made an impression on you. See what caught your attention. Replicate.

Reach-out mailers

About three weeks before your release date, prepare a small outbound list of tech journalists, podcasters and bloggers, and start reaching out to them with the story you want them to tell. The best case scenario would be that you have built up a relationship with the journalists and bloggers over some time, and are now in a position to leverage it. If not, this is as good a time to start as any. Try to tell them a story, give them a ‘hook’ to write about and ask them if they’d be interested to write about you. Most will not, a few will, but maybe next time, when there’s an even bigger launch, they will. And what coverage you get now for the story will be a bonus.

Tip – Have a list of journalists you consider important on your table. Mail them at intervals, give them tips, ask their opinions on vital debates. Be useful and interesting to them, basically. They’ll be more receptive when you reach out to them later.


Connect the Press Release’s story with the homepage. In effect, make the homepage the landing page for that day, so there’s a smooth experience for the reader who’s coming in from reading the release. If they say different things, you may lose his/her attention. But when what is said on the release connects snugly with the homepage, there is a higher probability for the reader to spend time on the site. You can check how many readers actually followed this process, read pages or clicked on CTAs to know how this worked, so you can tweak it on future releases.


Write at least two tangential/related stories about the release on your blog, preferably personal stories of how the team built this, or how it impacted a specific customer and so on. This way, readers who arrive on the site through this story have additional reading material to spend their time on. Though this isn’t spoken about more often, the blog is often a measure of organisational credibility. For example, I sent a senior manager at Freshdesk a link to a young product that could have been useful in sales processes. The first thing he told me was that since the company did not seem to write anything on their blog, he didn’t have anything to judge them on. The product seemed okay enough, but he didn’t know if he could trust them. This is something product marketers should take not of.

Tip – An article or two on Medium would also help. Medium, being the heavily tech-oriented community that it is, can sometimes get your story noticed more. Again, all of this is possible only if there’s a good story people actually want to read. None of this is useful otherwise.

Case Studies

At least one case study should be there on the home page, where the customer has used the new feature you are releasing. A good case study can be fantastic collateral for a feature release or a product launch; readers who arrive from the news will know immediately that what has been told to them and interest in which has led them here, is already out there being used. This again raises the probability of them clicking on CTAs or getting on mailers or even buying the product itself.

And so on and so forth. There are a lot of these things startups can do on the contextual level that will make the arriving reader spend more time on the page and convert. For the startup with limited money and marketing budget, which needs to ensure that not a single reader who arrives trickles away into the ether, these tricks of the inbound trade are definite aces-up-sleeves.

If there are other things that you have done, or which I have forgotten about early in the morning as I write this, please add them in the comments.

5 things to think about before starting your company blog

A few days ago, a friend of mine who’s starting work as a content marketer told me that she was putting together a plan for the company’s new blog. She was starting from scratch, she said, and this meant that she would putting the base in for future marketers in the company to take off from. This meant that her task was very important, as well as would be set the benchmark for the team.

Roadmap To A Cashless CountryShe asked me for a few pointers, and I jotted down a five point list I’ve distilled from my time as a content marketer at Freshdesk. Her experience is as a sales professional, and this gives her a unique vantage point of the system, and I thought this would be a good lens to look at the process through.

Here’s what I told her –

1. You have to know what your blog stands for, what it’s going to advocate over the long term. For example, the Freshdesk blog talks about how customer support is very important for companies and how new companies are looking at support as integral to their success. That’s the blog’s positioning. This makes the blog a place for support professionals to come in and read about their peers and get tips to improve upon their skills. It has become a destination for them. This kind of thought leadership is beneficial to the business as a whole, because by garnering top-of-the-mind recall among professionals, you have made your product one of the first ones in contention when organisations look for a solution. You have to do this for your company.

2. Once you do that, you have to be consistent. Twice a week would be ideal. A productivity newsletter I follow recommends Monday and Saturday as the best days for a blog to go out, and I have found these two days great for traffic as well. This done, you must have a pipeline for over a month at least. Meaning that the post you put out today should have been written a month ago, and you should have eight more ready for the next month. Don’t go live before filling up the pipeline. This doesn’t mean you don’t write an immediate, urgent post responding to something in the present. I just mean to stress that the blog should never go silent on your posting days.

3. Invest in a good writer and researcher. And yes, they both may be one person. Hiring tip – I use the word ‘good’ knowingly. Don’t go for eloquence (If that comes along, it’s a bonus). Instead, go for the grinder, the person who will sit down and write. This person is more likely to get the job done for you than an aspiring novelist (I should know. I’m one!) Grammar can be learnt, discipline not so much.

4. Benchmark yourself against great blogs in your domain. For example, if you are in the CRM space, read Salesforce, Predictable Revenue, and of course, Hubspot, and so on religiously. Read what newcomers are doing and writing about. See what new strategies blogs are using to grow audiences and more traffic. Think about how you can employ them for your blog. Replicate, measure, repeat.

5. Look at the blog as another top-of-the-funnel point, not as just a branding exercise or somewhere for the company to write a few things. Leads from the blog can be pure gold if you do this well. The important point is that this will take time. At least six months to an year of work has to be invested before returns emerge. Don’t be impatient. Quality writing takes time. I can assure you that once you get the processes in place, the returns will be cumulative.

Organisations sometimes hire a writer or two and put them in charge of things like landing pages, blogs, whitepapers and in general, everything that needs to be written. This can work unto a certain extent, but the best way, in my opinion is to keep marketing and writing as separate activities, meaning that a content ‘marketer’ can look at growth, traffic and SEO while content ‘creators’ can concentrate on churning out stuff the target market wants to read. These are different things, and need completely different skill sets. This might delegate and encourage ownership in a clear, more efficient manner.

Where the best meet the brightest – Announcing #SaaSx Chennai – 26th March

In India’s SaaS startup context, Bangalore and Delhi are the cities spoken of repeatedly as beacons and dens of great innovation and entrepreneurial activity, and deservedly so. But still, there is another city, a rather quiet, unassuming metro that characteristically keeps churning out great companies but remains stubbornly under the radar. The sea blown streets in the old British trading capital of Chennai are buzzing with a different kind of business these days and iSPIRT is proud to play a part in it.

SaaSx_headerOver the course of several weeks of conducting the SaaS roundtable in Chennai, the quality of the ecosystem in city has become evident. And with the idea of leveraging the knowledge for the city’s younger entrepreneurs as a whole, we conceived an event called SaaSx which is now live and will be held on the 26th in Chenna(Venue to be confirmed soon).

SaaSx Chennai will be a one of a kind event organized by SaaS entrepreneurs for SaaS entrepreneurs. Reason being that the knowledge needed to grow SaaS business from zero to $10k to $100k to $1m in MRR is rare, and the only people who can tell you something about it are the people who have done so already.

Which is why we have assembled an all-star team that you can speak to and get advice from, including Avlesh(WebEngage), Girish Mathrubootham(Freshdesk), Niraj(GrexIt), Paras Chopra(Wingify), & Suresh Sambandam(KissFlow). The iciing of the cake will be a talk by Aaron Ross, celebrated author of Predictable Revenue and renowned SaaS guru. Register here, there are few seats and the event is only open for SaaS Founders.

We will also be launching A Jump Start Guide to Desk Marketing and Selling for Mid-Market SaaS. The goal of the guide is: Let the truth be told – SaaS businesses are amazing. Predictable recurring revenue, great margins and inbound marketing. Best of all, the ability to operate from India and sell to the world. Stay tuned. 

SaaSx Chennai will be another milestone event in India’s SaaS community, a batch of entrepreneurs who are making the world sit up and take notice. iSPIRT is delighted to play an integral part in this movement.

See you in Chennai!

Five things about Product Marketing you can learn from Chetan Bhagat

As a product marketer specialising in content, I’ve always found it irksome to explain to people just how difficult my craft is, and how much time it takes to do it well. Building a brand isn’t easy; it takes a lot of effort, planning, strategy & execution, and involves as much editing out as it involved creating more. And even then, one misplaced word or misguided blog post can turn around and bite you (a case in point is the much maligned Uber’s Rides of Glory blog post, since deleted).

Product marketingBut there is one gentleman (or a brand, however you choose to see him) who has consistently been so good at product marketing, that it would be a shame not to try to learn from him. Chetan Bhagat has been so good at selling books that several of our more established, critically acclaimed (and might I say, better) writers have had to go into therapy to treat their egos. He single handedly changed publishing in India, and though his methods may be suspect, they are nothing if not effective.

From the beginning, I’ve looked at Chetan Bhagat as a product marketer, and not as a writer who’s good at selling books; one reason for that is that his ideas (& tradition, as he has spawned several copycats & me-too writers) offend my literary sensibilities. Books are respected repositories of our knowledge, wisdom & stories for a reason, and somehow Bhagat’s books (or products) seem to undermine the very reason books are written & read.

None of that, though is relevant in a discussion about selling books, of which he is an absolute master. There is much to be learnt about product marketing from this seller of mass-market paperbacks, and I’ve distilled five of them.

Here goes –

1. There’s no such thing as bad publicity

Bhagat goes out of his ways to court attention. There is a reason he consistently picks fights with what he calls ‘the literary elite’; they are a self serving bunch not concerned about writing for ‘the common man’, he says, and is constantly getting into debates with them on national television. He has no original ideas to share at these platforms; all he does is reiterate that India’s new English readers need simplicity and stories that make them feel good, and that he is providing it to them. But intellectual debate is not the point of his appearances at all. The point is to stay in the news and never to go out of the mainstream. If you are always in front of your potential consumers, of course the probability that they will buy your product goes up exponentially. This is Marketing 101!

2. Revenue doesn’t care if it comes from shameless self-promotion

All of Chetan Bhagat’s books have one very prominent (& jarring) common factor. He appears in all of them in the beginning, as himself, listening to the story he is going to tell. It is a cringeworthy opening set-piece that smacks of supremely lazy writing, but what it also is is a reiteration that the book the reader is holding in his hand is part of the Chetan Bhagat brand, more a proclamation of allegiance than worthy literature. In marketing, we call this real estate. If you have a place you can showcase your brand or your product, every inch of it has to be used. Chetan Bhagat is so good at this that he has literally used the product he sells, that is, his books, to sell his own brand. If that is not genius, I don’t know what is.

3. Create your own market

The Blue Ocean strategy was something that was taught to me in my MBA days. I remember thinking that it was a pretty neat concept, but then as college students are wont to do, promptly forgot about it. The first time it struck me how Chetan Bhagat had applied it, I was mesmerized. In short, the Blue Ocean strategy puts forth the idea that instead of trying to compete against an established company in a congested market, a better way to create value would be to create a new market in the first place and then, by virtue of being the only players in that space, surge ahead before anyone even thinks about catching up. Before Chetan Bhagat came into the scene, the simple language/easy to digest/cheap paperback novel did not exist, simply because no one knew that such a market existed and that it could be serviced and made heaps of money off. I wasn’t paying attention during my MBA, but Chetan Bhagat certainly was.

4. Tailor your product & communication to your audience

Chetan Bhagat know who he is writing for. His audience is not the reader who has been reading for years and knows the kind of books he prefers or doesn’t, who already has a favorite author or authors or who can distinguish between a Mills & Boon and a Penguin Classic. Bhagat does not write for them. He writes for an aspirational middle class for whom English is a distant second language. And he makes no bones about that fact; Bhagat never claimed to be Naipaul. When you are this clear about the market you are selling to, you usually cannot go wrong. And he doesn’t. His books are not high literature, but they are perfect for the people he is selling to.

5. Go for the low-hanging fruit; grab the easy-to-acquire customers first

Though product marketers are beginning to catch on to the fact that pageviews is largely a vanity metric, there is a certain segment of the online content factories that have made this their field of expertise. And the foremost among them is of course Buzzfeed. The overwhelming majority of Buzzfeed’s content are listicles and feel-good stories that can only be described politely as great for passing the time. But there can be no argument with the fact that they work. Buzzfeed is an extremely intelligent, data driven company (run on Valley money) that knows exactly what it is doing. It is low-brow because it chooses to be, because that’s where the money is, and because it’s so easy to get that money. Chetan Bhagat understands this. India’s English book readers are a minority; in a country with so many regional languages and low literacy levels, the market for literary fiction and nonfiction in English is relatively miniscule. But there are millions of people who can read and understand simple English, and since they had never been sold books to before, all Bhagat had to do was write his books and spread the word. The low-hanging fruit was his for the taking.

I’m sure there are many more things we product marketers can learn from him. If there is anything I’ve left out that you’ve noticed, do point it out. As they say, knowledge shared is knowledge gained, and a discussion featuring books, in whatever oblique way, can never be not fruitful.

On that age old debate, Bootstrapping Vs Venture Capital

“The best way to do something ‘lean’ is to gather a tight group of people, give them very little money, and very little time.” – Bob Klein, chief engineer of the Grumman F-14 program.

I first came upon this quote on Paul Graham’s website, and it always intrigued me, the small detail about the money – it could be little or a lot, but money is a factor, and a very important factor at that.

Bob Klein’s F-14 program is now legendary in aviation history; the Tomcat was one of the airplanes I was familiar with even in the Indian Air Force circles of the 90’s. Designed to fulfill duties both as a air superiority fighter as well as a naval interceptor, the F-14 Tomcat was easily one of the greatest airplanes ever built then, and Bob Klein did it, as he said, by keeping it fast and cheap.

Bootstrapping or Venture Capital

So is that the blueprint to build something amazing and meaningful? To just sit down, tighten your belt and do it, what we call bootstrapping, or is embracing the stability of venture capital a better way?

It’s an important question in the context of the product startup, and I believe there’s no right and wrong answer to it.

Last week, in a conversation with iSPIRT’s co-founder Sharad Sharma, this topic came up and proceeded to lay claim our entire discussion. When these days a bootstrapped startup is seen as something of an aberration, and scale is seen as validation, Sharad maintained that there’s no formula here; both these paths can lead to success, if followed with caution and perseverance.

Quoting Sharad –

“When you are building something that hinges on a market prediction, that so and so market will be worth so and so in 2025, and you want to be there to fill that gap, then VC funding for the idea and for you is probably the way to go. But if you have no such idea or bet on the future for what you are building; it’s much more experimental (which is ok, that’s how innovation happens), then bootstrapping might make better sense, even if just for the sake of flexibility and more control.”

I could find no reason to disagree.

The Zoho Example

The success of Zoho, the poster child for the bootstrapped product startup, is now quite well known. And all of it with not a penny in external funding. The company is growing, has always been growing, and has just announced a bold move to make one of its flagship products completely free. These are big decisions, made strategically and with a much larger gameplan. Zoho has always stood for something, and its clear, unmuddled decision making has been one of its strengths through the years.

Would Zoho have been able to make such decisions if a member of its board was an investor? Perhaps, but not very likely.

Which I think is significant. What ails the ecosystem these days is a ‘go big or go home’ attitude that typically results in an organization and a product that scales far ahead of its time, resulting in chaos and sometimes even graver problems. Zoho didn’t fall into that trap, it took its own time, and now stands tall as an organization.

Sometimes VC money, though a huge competitive advantage, can come with its own baggage, and the pressure of having to execute something extraordinary all the time can weigh down on doing what actually needs to be done.

But sometimes that baggage is exactly what you want.

The Zomato Story

When Deepinder Goyal started Zomato off, he certainly would not have known that the product he was building, a restaurant review and recommendations site that is today used in 40 cities across the world, would change the entire landscape of eating out. He would have had a vision, but of course he could never have knows what exact shape his business was taking. But he knew he had something; he raised funding. Venture capital stood him up as he expanded hard and fast and cool. It was great to watch.

Would Zomato have been able to scale the way it did without venture capital? The answer is an emphatic no. The awesomeness of the Zomato model rested on its ability to execute, and they did it magnificently well; waiting was something Zomato could not have afforded anyway.

In this case, the VC prerogative to execute fast and hard tied in perfectly with what Zomato itself wanted to do. What resulted is Zomato’s incredible success as a platform, a lovely example of using funding to take an idea big.

“There is no formula”

Again, though, Sharad put in a word of caution – it all depends. This may be a good rule of thumb but there is no formula. Product startups are all different from each other, and what works for one is not at all guaranteed to work for another.

And this is when it struck me that there’s a third category here as well, the perfect example of which is that darling of the younger generation, Instagram.

The Instagram Model

Instagram started out as Burbn, a location sharing app with the option of taking a photo thrown in, but then pivoted to the unbelievably successful photo sharing app we know. And they were funded from the beginning by Andreessen Horowitz and Baseline Ventures.

So here’s a venture funded company, which was trying to build something purely ‘social’ and ‘viral’ in parlance, and the VC’s let them experiment to an extent as to change the focus of the product itself. This is the third kind, the company which adds the no-commitments freedom of bootstrapping to the competitive advantage of venture capital, and becomes a sort of hybrid, absorbing the good in both approaches and ridding itself of the bad.

An important point here is that Instagram never really had a monetization plan in the first place (other companies like this include Tumblr, Twitter, Foursquare, and so on). Positioned for acquisition because of the exponential increase in their user base, they could tread this middle ground with the confidence of knife edged focus.

WhatsApp also did something similar. When Jan Koum and Brian Acton started working full time on WhatsApp, they already had $250000 in funding from friends, which meant that they had the freedom to innovate and at the same time had the stability of capital.

The Last Word

In 1986, Tony Scott’s Top Gun hit the silver screen, in which a young man called Tom Cruise flew a F-14 Tomcat to box office glory and superstardom. The immediate aftermath was that the US Armed Forces were overwhelmed with young people wanting to sign up for service, so much so that the US Navy opened recruitment desks outside cinema halls.

The Tomcat became the symbol of a generation, the high of the air and the allure of uniform combining to give an era its own narrative. And it was exhilarating.

It was a small team that built it. With the entire might of Grumman (later Northrop Grumman) behind them, Bob Klein could have done it in any way he wanted, but he and his team chose the best way for the specific thing they wanted to do, and executed.

And that’s exactly what we can learn from them – that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer to this question, and the ecosystem should encourage bootstrapping as as much of a viable pathway to growth as venture capital.

As for the startup, it should choose wisely.

Why should you attend the inaugural #PNCamp?

I mean, why should you. Haven’t you seen all this already?

If that’s your question, well, no. You haven’t.

The #PNCamp is the first Indian product event that brings together product professionals in a bootcamp format, designed to make you take away a wealth of information and actionable insight.

Based on the highly successful iSPIRT Product Round Tables, it is also a highly curated, limited access  event which ensures that participation and engagement among people actually trying to solve the same set of problems.

We’re almost full now, but if you are interested in the last remaining seats up for grabs & still have doubts, this infographic should clear it up for you.

Well, I have to go now. The team is working hard to put together what we believe is soon to become one of the premier events in the Indian software product landscape.

Mission – To transform India into a Product Nation.

See you in Pune!

First Look – #PNCamp Day 1 (Discovery Hacking)

Exactly a month away from the inaugural #PNCamp and as schedules and attendees are being finalized, we are getting a lot of questions about what exactly is going to happen on D-Days, especially since we have told everyone we are not going to have one-to-many speaking sessions and workshops that have been the norm.

I spoke to Pallav Nadhani(FusionCharts) today, who is planning and designing the first day of #PNCamp, on 4th December, focusing exclusively on what we are calling the ‘Customer Discovery’ stage, the race against time to get those first 10 customers on board.

So much depends on those first 10 customers, and all of us product pros know this. It is not just the matter of the first customers, the first 10 are a validation of the time and effort you have built, a proof of the market that you’ve bet on and the first high-five entrepreneurship is going to give you.

What Pallav has envisioned for the first day of #PNCamp is a one day experiential learning bootcamp that will take a product entrepreneur across the entire journey he is going to take, from the initial idea to his first customers in a series of closed workshops. The small teams that we have planned will enable direct conversations and peer learning like no other format can.

Exciting, yes?

Let’s dive into the program then.

Entrepreneurship is a 7 year ‘bitch’

As a product entrepreneur, are you scared? At the end of this session, Pallav wants you to be. There are so many things that can go wrong in an entrepreneurial journey that starts off looking like a dream. The people who have been there, done that, will be talking to you about what they had to go through before they got to where they are. This is the session when you will be forced to think about what you have gotten yourself into. It isn’t going to be easy. You have to be strong if you want to weather the 7 year ‘bitch’.

Picking your battles

Are you building a product because you can or because you should? Is there a market for it? How do you know? Have you tested it? How have you tested it? What are your strengths that makes you believe you can win this battle? Get ready for a maelstrom of questions. Pallav and co. are going to help you chose the battlefield you are going to fight in. This is important, and you know how important it is. You should be the Indian Army fighting in Kargil, knowing that you have the upper hand. You shouldn’t be the US Army in Vietnam, fighting in a terrain you don’t know against an enemy you don’t understand.

Customer Development through design thinking

In the business of designing, building and selling products, the customer is sometimes left in the lurch. As Pallav says, you should be asking the customer what he wants to eat, and then try to give it to him. You shouldn’t be asking him if he wants Hyderabadi Biryani, for instance. Talking to the customer will give you more ammunition than you can ever use. But you should know how to do that, what signals to watch out for, and how to use the information you have gleaned. This session plans to make you masters at this.

Experiments never killed anybody

How do you know what is going to work when you are designing a product mockup, or when you are doing usability testing, or when you are testing a new kind of email form, or when you are booking an expensive ads in a magazine, or perhaps composing a quirky email communication to send out? You don’t. And that is why you do as many things as you can, and choose the best, which you replicate and optimize. But again, how do you do that? What are the tools, the processes to do this? This session is aimed at making you the greatest judge of such experiments.

Shameless is the new sexy

This is the session that is going to put all the disparate pieces of the puzzle together. Now that you have done all you can – you have designed a product for the market, you have studied customers, you have positioned your offering perfectly, and it’s time for you to go after the first customers, you need to remember something, a principle of sorts. Shameless is the new sexy. In short, no customer is going to come use your product because you have something special to give them – if it isn’t broken; they are not going to fix it. You are going to have to convince them. And for that, you are going to have to be shameless. Shameless really is the new sexy. And yes, this is the session I’m most looking forward to.

I think this is more than enough to get you excited for what we are trying to put together. More information will be forthcoming right here, and if you have any questions, remember the hashtag #PNCamp.

If you haven’t applied yet for #PNCamp, you can do so here

The first #PNSummit – Are you ready to report for BootCamp? Yes, that’s right. BootCamp. For Product Leaders.

It has been a pretty frenzied two weeks or so for us #PNSummit volunteers, but here we are, and we have something to show you and the world. 

But first, what went into it.

We brainstormed. We chatted. We argued. We used all that, and combined that with actual user feedback gleaned from the dozens of Playbook RoundTables, meetings conducted by iSPIRT.

The whole team put their thinking caps on, and the most important question was which was the best format to adopt. To reiterate, we wanted to ensure that every single participant of the #PNSummit can take away not just valuable insights, but stuff they can put to work the very next day. Stuff that’s been home cooked by product entrepreneurs and is enhanced by the flavour of intense brainstorming.

So this was the aim.

We arrived at the BootCamp format.


We want the people who go through #PNSummit to come out changed. As people, as entrepreneurs, as innovators, as doers. Like the United States’ Delta Force. Very few even get into training. Very few pass out. None of them are ever the same people.

We want to do that, except for entrepreneurs, and with a lot less running and shooting.

The #PNSummit will home in on Product Entrepreneurs, and will lead them through two critical stages of the startup life cycle –

1.       Customer Discovery Hacking, or getting razor sharp on getting paying Customers. Repeatedly. This is the Day 1 event and has cohorts of 20 folks only. Only a 100 Startups will be attending. If you are here, you’d be typically 9-12 months in operation, with a ready product. You have zero customers, or very few maybe.

2.       Scale Hacking. The secret sauce of turning on the afterburners of your jet engine and skyrocket your startup. This launches on Day 2 of #PNSummit and has groups of 20. Only 80 Startups will be attending. If you are here, you’d be doing INR 2 Lacs in monthly revenue, more than a year in business, and have raised (a little) funding.

You can attend any one of the above tracks, depending on where you think you are.

The sessions will be interactive and actual case driven. We are looking at one on one interaction, problem resolution and immediate, actionable, specific insights through learning that you experience.

Which means the people invited to the #PNSummit will be less; this will be a curated group, hand-picked from the many that would want to attend.

And that is by choice. We want it to be this way.

Military boot camps are successful for a reason. Every soldier is given his due; every soldier has to carry his kit and run miles.

We are hoping that with a small group of committed, curated product people, each one of them gets his due, each one of them goes back with answers to his specific questions, and each one has a plan to implement for the next few months.

We are putting together a bootcamp that is special, unique and completely volunteer driven. Volunteers are folks in the same product ecosystem that you come from. You can even connect with them here to know more about #PNSummit. If you want to attend, hurry and request for an invitation right here. If you have been to a iSPIRT Playbook Roundtable earlier, just type “Roundtable” when you fill in “Referred By” in the form.

And yes, you can tweet about this… use the hashtag #PNSummit. We’ll be listening!