#InTech50 – The Secret Sauce

InTech50 is a big success.  The visiting CIOs went back happy. The InTech50 startups are pleased with their POCs and leads. Press has celebrated the new platform and has heralded its importance to the Indian IT industry.

Bk2T11PIIAAvVkGThey say that the biggest enemy of success is fear of failure. No, that’s not true. The greatest enemy of success is hubris. This happens when one forgets the core driver behind the success. In our case, this core reason for success is our volunteer model. And, at this moment of success, I want to take a few minutes to talk about the volunteer heroism that went into InTech50.

Nobody illustrates this volunteer heroism better than Manju Gowda (i7 Networks). In spite of his startup being a critical phase in its buildout he made magic happen. He looked up 350, yes 350 product startups, and wrote to them about InTech50 explaining why they should file an application. He also anonymously wrote all the InTech50 blogposts! He reached out to the Indian CIOs as well. And he is the one who came up with the idea of using tables instead of booths (which worked well and saved Rs 5L). He ran the 50 pitches like clockwork using his grace and humor. This ate into his own presentation preparation but he never complained. If you ever need an example of a selfless, passionate and heroic volunteer, please think of him.

Besides Manju, Praveen Hari (ThinkFlow), Sumeet Anand (Kreeo), Aditya Bhelande (Yukta) and Nakul Saxena (iSPIRT) were other active volunteers. There are two other people who were instrumental to InTech50.

Arvind Kochar is one of them. This was his first time at this and he stayed on top of everything on his plate. He displayed stamina and speed over the six months of planning.

Avinash Raghava – well, what does one way about him other than that he was his usual self: a superman saint. He let nothing fall through the cracks. He kept innumerable balls in the air. In his inimitable way he brought out the best in everybody that he touched. It’s an open secret that everything that iSPIRT does has “Avinash-inside”.

The most important person behind InTech50 is Piyush Singh (Co-Chair). He is the one who turned a hazy dream about creating a new platform into reality. He had the gumption to go to his fellow CIOs and tell them that India will be a Product Nation and they must come and leverage this opportunity today. It was a tough sell. They viewed India as a land of services, not products. And needed to carve out a whole week on their calendar to be at InTech50 for two days. Piyush pulled it off and we had 25 Global CIOs here. This is a testament to his missionary zeal and deep-seated confidence in the Indian software product companies. Like other Founder Circle members of iSPIRT, he truly believes in the larger “Product Nation” cause. But what’s most striking about him is that he has no airs and is a doer par excellence. He worked alongside everybody else as another volunteer. How many Fortune 500 CIOs you know who will do that?

We have learnt over the years that no path breaking effort is a straight line. What makes magic happen is the heroism of iSPIRT volunteers. These thoughtful practitioners are at the core of what we do.  They are ones who make the ecosystem better and lift all boats.  We salute them as we celebrate the success of the first InTech50.

Innovation Leaders coming from the US #InTech50

We are a few days away from InTech50 – a very warm welcome to CIOs and technology leaders from all parts the world to Bangalore. These leaders are responsible for bringing about Innovation in their corporate environments and are congregating in Bangalore to see the 50 best Enterprise Indian startups – the InTech50 list!

This gathering is a huge step for the Indian product ecosystem because it brings, for the first time, CIOs and technology leaders to India to see the early stages of broad spread software product innovation. The smartest CIOs already leverage product startups to infuse innovation in their business. I congratulate the top 40 companies who are picked already and look forward to the announcement of the remaining 10.

These have been carefully selected by the Advisory Board from the 200+ Indian Enterprise product companies that applied. Below is a list of luminaries who are going to be present for the occasion. Let’s all welcome them to InTech50:

PATRICK FUNCK SVP, CIO Accretive Health Company Vertical: Hospital & Health Care Company Size: 1001-5000 employees

DAWN PAGE, Managing Director, Citibank Company Vertical: Financial Services Company Size: 10,001+

JAY JAYARAMAN, Vice President, Global Strategic Innovation &Technology Alliances Colgate-Palmolive Company Company Vertical: Consumer Goods Company Size: 10,001+

CHANDRA VENKATARAMANI, Chief Information Officer, Convergys Corporation Company Vertical: Outsourcing/Offshoring. Company Size: 10,001+ Employees.

JACK PRESSMAN, Executive Managing Director, Cyber Innovation Labs, LLC (“CIL”) Company Vertical: Information Technology and Services. Company Size: 51-200 employees.

CHRISTOPHER T. HJELM, Senior Vice President & Chief Information Offier, The Kroger Co. Company Vertical: Retail. Company Size: 10,001+

ANUP NAIR, Senior Vice President and CIO Vantiv Company Vertical: Financial Services. Company Size: 1001-5000 ➢ Damon Frost Director at P&G Company Vertical: Consumer Goods. Company Size: 10001+

KSHITIJ MULAY, India IT Leader (GBS) Procter & Gamble Company Vertical: Consumer Goods. Company Size: 10001+ employees

TARUN SAREEN, Head, EMC IT – APJ COE and APJ Theater Lead EMC Corporation Company Vertical: Information Technology and Services Company Size: 10001+ employees

PARTHA SRINIVASA, SVP and Group CIO, HCC Company Vertical: Insurance. Company Size: 1001-5000 employees ➢ Piyush Singh Sr. VP and Chief Information Officer Location: Cincinnati Area Company Vertical: Insurance. Company Size: 1001-5000 employees

GREG TOEBBE, Sr. Vice President Great American Insurance Company Vertical: Insurance. Company Size: 1001-5000 employees

KETAN MEHTA,  CEO of MajescoMastek Co-founder and Board member of Mastek Company Vertical: Information Technology and Services. Company Size: 1001-5000 employees

STEFAN VAN OVERTVELDT, CTO of MajescoMastek Location: Mumbai Area, India Company Vertical: Information Technology and Services. Company Size: 1001-5000 employees

GEOFF SMITH, IT Strategy/Leadership CIO Roundtable Company Vertical: Management Consulting

➢ MAHENDRA VORA, Deals and Partnerships Vora Ventures LLC Company Vertical: Management Consulting

ROB HEIMANN, Director River Cities Capital Funds Company Vertical: Venture Capital & Private Equity Company Size: 11-50 employees

RAVI KOKA, Head of Insurance Products Polaris Software Labs Inc. Company Vertical: Management Consulting Company Size: 51-200 employees

PHANENDRA BABU GARIMELLA, VP of Engineering, Aurea Software Company Vertical: Computer Software Company Size: 201-500 employees

KARTHIK SUNDARAM, President & CEO, Purplepatch Services LLC Company Vertical: Marketing and Advertising Company Size: 11-50 employees

MARK A. BUNCH, AVP and Enterprise Architect, Great American Insurance Group Company Vertical: Insurance. Company Size: 1001-5000 employees

We will soon be sharing another list of Innovators who will be participating at InTech50

Fireflies lighting up the sky

Some years ago, Infosys and Wipro put Bangalore on the global map. Now, Bangalore is once again marching ahead. It is creating a new kind of technology ecosystem, which is culturally different from what exists today.

Today’s tech-ecosystem is about a few ‘hathi’ firms doing IT Services. Metaphorically, this is about manicured lawns, straight rows of carefully planted flowers and an occasional oak tree. In contrast, the new ecosystem is about hundreds, nay thousands, of small tech product startups. It evokes the image of a vibrant forest with fast running streams, wild flowers and bamboo shoots. If you think of the current ecosystem as a cathedral, then the new one is a bazaar.

Behind the cacophony of the new tech ecosystem are two powerful trends. The first one is about Software as a Service (SaaS). Gone are the days of buying big servers, expensive software licences and bulky implementation services. Increasingly, business software is just rented and used by employees much the same way you and I use Yahoo mail. This seemingly small shift has momentous implications.

Since a software company doesn’t need an army to sell and deploy its business application anymore, size is not an asset; focus is. So a plethora of small single-minded startups have emerged. And some of them like Zoho, InMobi and Fusion Charts are making waves around the world.

The best days are still to come. SaaS is spreading like wildfire. Doctors’ offices are using it for less than a price of a Café Coffee Day latte. Apartment complexes are using ‘ERP’ type SaaS business software for Rs15 per apartment per month. Lots of small companies in Peenya and Okhla are using world-class payroll and leave management SaaS business software for Rs10 per employee per month.

Basically, SaaS is going into nooks and crannies where no business software has gone before. Just like mobile phones brought telephony to the masses, SaaS is bringing useful business applications to all SMBs. Indian startups are at the forefront of this emerging revolution.

Complementing this SaaS trend is a grassroots movement for strengthening the tech ecosystem. Gone are the trade bodies; in its place have come in volunteer-driven think tanks and communities like iSPIRT and HasGeek. Much like the Aam Aadmi Party, they use bottoms-up participation to fuel a collective process of creating public goods that everybody consumes.

Entrepreneurs help other entrepreneurs by putting their winning (and even losing) playbooks in the public domain. All this is inspired by the amazing success of the open-source movement that created Linux and Wikipedia. Based on all this, a new glow is visible. Look out for the fireflies lighting up the sky.

Events Landscape 2.0

About four months ago, most of the core volunteers that had built NASSCOM Product Conclave into a successful event gracefully handed over the keys for NPC’13 to a new team. Thereafter, in an effort to address the remaining gaps in the product ecosystem, multiple initiatives were born. Playbook Round Tables was one of them which has been immensely successful right from the word go. They have already brought unmatched experiential and peer learning to 120+ product startups.

Playbook Round Tables are an example of small, highly-curated, nation-wide events that are hyper focused on specific real-world problems most product startups face. Back in 2009, and I know it’s hard to picture this now, NPC was reimagined just along these lines. We saw it as the specialized version of the mega event of those times – the TiE Entrepreneurial Summit. In fact, we kept the format as-is and just populated it with very product-centric and highly curated content. This clicked and NPC went on to become the mega event that it is today.

Now, the wheels are turning again and further specialization is happening in the ecosystem.

UnPluggdDEMO, etc. have become places where early stage angel and VC investors get together to hear curated entrepreneurial pitches. This category came to life when the self-help volunteer community created Proto.in.

Now the same powerful energy is at work in building another specialized event. This will bring many global CIOs in front of dozens of curated startups. Watch out for more about this important event in the coming months!

There is another fundamental shift afoot not just here, but all over the world.

Community powered learning is becoming the new norm. This trend has been in the works in our ecosystem for years. A wonderful example of this is The Fifth Elephant, a three-day workshop and conference on big data, storage and analytics, with product demos and hacker corners.

Early next week an important new community powered learning event will be launched. This will take the Playbook Round Tables to their logical conclusion. It will be a 2-day “learning orgy” (yes, that is an acceptable phrase now!) for practicing product entrepreneurs where they’ll fluidly exchange knowledge about playbooks. It’ll be a transformative experience. To maintain high quality of peer learning, it’ll be invite only! Somebody who is already attending will need to pull you in.

Defying economic gloom, Indian Product entrepreneurs are gaining confidence.

They are now reaching out to eclectic groups beyond their immediate ecosystem in The Goa Project. They are taking a bit of Bangalore to other countries with Startup Festivals. The self-help volunteer community is on a roll. In the next few months, you will see the event game go up one more notch.

We are now creating open-source based “public goods” that small buyers (e.g. jewelers, tier 2 manufacturers, etc.) can use to drive their own learning programs. The initial pilots have gone very well. And these are leading to some powerful partnerships with trade associations. So, together with our new partners we are planning to rapidly grow the pool of informed software product buyers. We are talking about delivering our “Be an Informed Software Product Buyer” sessions to, not thousands, but hundreds of thousand small businesses in India.

There is lots of new stuff on its way.

Step by step, we are fixing critical product ecosystem gaps on our own using the pay-forward model. We, the self-help volunteer team, won’t rest till India becomes a Product Nation!

[Thanks to ThiyagaRajan, Avinash Raghava, Bala Parthasarthy, Pallav Nadhani, Sridhar Ranganathan, Vijay Anand and Kiran Jonnalagadda for reading drafts of this and suggesting improvements.]

Indian Product Industry: How Far We’ve Come And How Much More To Go

These are exciting times for us in the Indian software products industry. The air is pregnant with cautious, yet very strong optimism that some truly great product companies will emerge out of India in the coming years. There is a significant shift in the mindset of Indian entrepreneurs, with a focus now on building great products and not just good enough products. A talent pool of  highly qualified and experienced professionals who have worked with MNCs across various functions and roles is now available. The support system has also gotten stronger with more angel investors, accelerators and incubators, focused events and meetups with founders, entrepreneurs and experienced professionals coming together, sharing their knowledge and helping each other. Entrepreneurs now have more exposure to the Valley and other innovation hotbeds and international markets by virtue of their interaction and participation with accelerators, investors and entrepreneurs outside of India. More importantly, we already have examples of successful Indian product companies that have built products for the world and are now well-established names in their businesses.

I’ve stated this earlier as well, that it is my firm belief that the software product industry will lift India out of its poverty. While I strongly believe we’re firmly on track to make the prediction come true, I would also like to strike a note of caution. Having been in the industry for close to 25 years new wearing multiple hats and seen it evolve, there are some observations I would like to share with the readers.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s probably the most cliched phrase, but I think it makes sense repeating the cliche once more in the current context. As entrepreneurs and investors, it is indeed important that we celebrate key wins and milestones like funding, new hires, entry into new markets etc. However, we also need look at the larger, long time picture and focus on what is needed to build a meaningfully successful company, a company that creates value for all the stakeholders – founders, employees, investors and most importantly the customers. And it is that part, of envisaging the larger picture and actually painting it, which is a true test of one’s faith in their core beliefs, their endurance and perseverance.

It is said that dramatic changes happen in a dog’s lifetime. Dogs usually live between 10-15 years on an average, and if they were to follow technology they’d be witnesses to some incredible and eventful happenings. Ten years maybe doesn’t seem like too long a time for us humans, but I were to borrow from the tagline of a very popular coffee chain, a lot can happen in ten years! Rewind ten years to this day, and this is what we would be looking at. Facebook, Groupon, Zynga did not exist. Google’s AdSense & LinkedIn were just about to be launched. On the mobile side, Nokia was the largest vendor of mobile phones and Samsung hadn’t introduced mobiles phones in India yet. Seeds of iOS and Android had probably just been sown in the minds of their creators. In the fast-paced world we live in, it’s very easy to miss how much can happen in what now seems like a short period of ten years. But if you take a step back and notice each of the happenings, you’ll realise how impactful and significant these changes are.

The observations and insights from the points mentioned above hold a lot of meaning for us in the Indian software product industry. While it’s very natural and fair to expect things to move quicker, people to be smarter, government and regulators be more friendly, investors be less risk-averse and so on, but it is also important to remember that magic doesn’t happen overnight. However, small wins and milestones added up over time will see your product and your company achieve something significant over time. Moreover, as an entrepreneur, you’ll need to believe in non-linear growth and that there’ll always be a point from where your growth will take off and go the hockey stick way. Remember, that Angry Birds was Rovio’s 52nd game and they were almost bankrupt at the time they released Angry Birds. What if they had given up after their 50th game? Of course I believe in overnight success, and the only overnight success is getting a good night’s sleep! For all other kinds of overnight success, there are miles to go before one sleeps!

I’m reminded of a tagline that Timex watches had for a long time. (A Timex watch)…takes a licking, but keeps on ticking. That’s some inspiration for us entrepreneurs there! I’ll leave you with some vintage Timex commercials. Hope you enjoy them.


YouTube Video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_fKppH8B0g

Happy Building,

Transforming a nation with products

India is at a crossroads today. Gloom has replaced what seemed to be an unending boom just a few years ago. After a decade of rapid growth led by the services sector, the Indian economy has hit a plateau. While services exports continue to grow and create a surplus in services trade, they only constitute 35% of the country’s total exports and are unlikely to compensate for the deep deficit in merchandise trade that stands at 10% of gross domestic product (GDP). This deficit in goods trade is partly attributed to the services-led route of economic development taken by India in the post-liberalization era, in contrast to a manufacturing-led route to development that creates a strong base for goods trade.

From a national policy perspective, excessive dependence on services is akin to putting all one’s eggs in the same basket. For a country of India’s size, diversity, and global aspirations, a more diversified economic basket is an urgent imperative.

The current situation has created a need to nurture and bolster “products” or “goods” industries. But the challenging question is where to begin, and which industry might lead the charge. Given India’s rise to prominence in the last two decades as a software hub, could software products be the ideal place to start?
Unlike manufactured products, software does not need major logistics infrastructure, nor does it depend on inputs other than human capital. Further, software products can be delivered through the cloud.

Therefore, the software product industry holds the potential to circumvent India’s relatively weak position in manufacturing and yet capture a high enough degree of value to address at least some of our economic challenges.

In addition to the direct benefit of a healthy software product industry to the national economy, technology can bring about an order of magnitude improvement in the effectiveness and competitiveness of other sectors, be they industrial or social. Industries as diverse as healthcare and jewellery could benefit from standardized software applications that enhance their competitiveness. Therefore, a competitive software product industry will not only benefit the economy but will have a ripple effect across the society at large.

Though the aspiration for a vibrant software product industry is compelling, international comparisons show that we have much ground to cover. While the number of engineers in the Israeli software industry is only a third of those employed in the Indian product industry (including MNC captives), Israeli start-ups raise almost double the amount of venture capital that Indian start-ups do. Further, we have thrice the number of start-ups as Israel, but Israeli investors managed 40 times the number of exits compared to Indian companies in 2011. So far, India’s software product industry is punching below its weight category and needs a fillip.

In the past we have failed to realize our potential in products. Take telecom as an example. We have created mobile services giants like Airtel but have no telecom product industry to speak of. Our air force is one of the largest in the world and yet we haven’t been able to get the light combat aircraft (LCA) deployed in 30 years. We have somehow not been able to develop a product industry in India.

A challenge as big as this one is unlikely to have a one-shot solution. Yet, a vibrant product industry is unlikely to emerge by chance either. The solution needs to emerge gradually and iteratively, based on a continuous dialogue between software product companies, investors, policy makers and potential customers. Shaping policy, funnelling investments and stimulating the market can potentially steer the software product industry in the right direction.

This article first appeared in the LiveMint

Software Products Industry: Transforming India at Large

In my mind transformation is something that takes place when there is a significant change that happens and a whole genre of populace move from one condition or state to another. It is palpable, widely felt and very tangible right down to the grassroot level. One such occurrence that comes to mind is the Indian Railways reservation portal which was launched a few years back where millions across the country suddenly had the facility of bypassing greasy touts and getting a seat on a train of their choice in an honest way.

I believe another such transformation is already being felt. The phenomenon is criss-crossing the country like never before. Suddenly from the bylanes of Indiranagar and Koramangala in Bangalore and the swank office blocks of the NCR region, not to mention localities like Aundh in Pune and other such places, a breed of software product entrepreneurs are willing to stand up and be counted. But again, mistake me not, these entrepreneurs do not necessarily come from the Tier 1 and 2 cities (as demographers like to classify) but indeed from cities like Belgaum, Udupi and Bhopal, Agra, Jalandhar and Coimbatore and so on.

These new breeds of entrepreneurs are not those who have a blueprint in mind but have actually launched a software product of their own because they have identified a need in the market. These needs are not necessarily easy opportunistic needs that some early generation product companies took but those which require a sound architecture and robust package (including pricing) to positively influence the market. So why am I excited?

The first undeniable fact (and Zinnov says so, not me) is that there are about 100 million lives being transformed across 10 million SMBs in the country. To put this in another perspective, this is virtually like CK Prahlad’s “Bottom of the Pyramid”. While the software industry has been renowned for its transformational activities among the Fortune Global 2000 list, this is a bottom up revolution.

Secondly, these recently started software product enterprises offer job opportunities not far from “home”. What I mean here is that no longer will engineering graduates have to uproot themselves from hearth and home to travel across the length and breadth of the country to the large cities in search of employment. There is already evidence of companies in towns which have a population of less than a million who have demand for such skills.

Thirdly and most importantly, these software product companies have mushroomed because of a demand that has arisen from manufacturers. Small entrepreneurs, retail enterprises, cooperative banks and a variety of other organizations have made it a point to adopt best practices that once seemed to be the preserve of only the larger conglomerates. Efficiency is the buzzword down the enterprise chain and the attraction to software products has only become greater given that it is often available on a “pay for use” model. Very often the software could come bundled with the hardware at an even more attractive price. What more could a customer ask for?

Just consider this. If a pickle manufacturer in Jaipur can streamline his inventory and manage his complex distribution and invoicing using a software product that is made locally and sold on a SaaS model and for every kilo of pickle he retails he saves 20% of the cost because of efficiency and is able to achieve lesser wastage in the process because of better inventory management, then why would he not consider using local software that is easily accessible and where service is only a call away.

The transformation has already begun and there’s no turning back.

This is part of a series and watch out for the next one.