Why just ‘knowing’ your customer is not enough

Every customer support forum and blog has at least one post talking about the importance of ‘knowing’ the target customer. This is one of those well established cliche-stereotypes that David Foster Wallace points out in Infinite Jest – we talk about them so much because they happen to be true. The only question is, how true?

Is ‘knowing’ your customer really enough?

Cadbury’s knows that its customers are young parents buying chocolates for their kids or teens buying chocolates for each other or middle aged people buying chocolates as gifts. Netflix knows that its customers are strapped-for-time movie buffs who love the convenience and ease that Netflix gives them. But do Cadbury’s and Netflix really know who their customers actually are, what they are doing when they want to buy a chocolate or a movie, when the decision is made to buy a chocolate or order a movie, and so on.

The ‘ideal customer profile’ is not going to reveal the details, and these are the details that matter.

Getting your hands dirty

A month back, Economic Times ran a fascinating story on Airline bosses and the lessons they picked up from talking to passengers while travelling. They figured out how important cheese sandwiches were, faced ground-level problems, got themselves a crash course in regional culture and basically got their hands dirty. The CEOs of India’s flying corporates, though competitors and sometimes bitter enemies, all agree on the point that they learn more from actually being in the shoes of their customers than by anything else.

This is something FMCG companies like ITC and Unilever know very well. Both these companies send their fresh recruits out into the field, into the place where the product has to be sold – the rural heart of India. Even the top management heads out to the street sometimes, in search of that small and elusive insight that could take the sales charts off into the stratosphere.

Do it like Dockers

In Malcolm Gladwell’s retelling of the story, this is exactly what ad agency FCB did with the Dockers campaign of the 1980s. The campaign called ‘Dockers World’, catapulted the khaki brand into probably the most ubiquitous male fashion statement of that period. The insight that FCB used was the male baby boomers’ urge to conform to standards, and not look like a made up Ken doll. The Dockers khakis were exactly that, they came in just three colours then, and all of them were made up of the stringently similar amount of cotton. And so the men who wore Dockers ‘fitted in’, which was exactly what they wanted to do. The iconic campaign is still remembered as one of America’s greatest, and FCB still consider it one of their crowning achievements.

Look for that insight

This story again illustrates why just knowing your customer isn’t enough. And in a product marketing setting, it only makes more sense. The customer profile you have drawn up can help, of course, but it will never come close to looking at the world from your customer’s eyes, figuring out his motivations, his reasons for doing something and what he wants from the product you want to sell to him. These questions may have the most surprising answers and from these answers, will come the insight that will endear your product to the consumer.

#PNMeetup – Showcase your Product & Get Advice from leading CIOs

We are pleased to partner with APAC CXO Forum to put together the 8th #PNMeetup in Noida.  If you have a brilliant Enterprise Product and you just know that its the best out there, here is an opportunity for you showcase your product and get one hour of quality one-on-one time with the CIO community. In this one hour, you not only get a chance to showcase your product to the CIOs but also get one-on-one mentoring/guidance on product strategy, Go-To-Market (GTM), scaling and sales among other things.

Interested?

Please click on the following link to apply. Alternatively, send us an email at pnmeetup(at)pn.ispirt.in 

Only 3 companies will be selected so that each startup gets quality time of one hour with the CIOs.

Process:

Your application will be vetted by the CIOs. Final selection of companies will be done by the CIOs themselves.

We are expecting some very senior and eminent CIOs in this session, supported by APAC CXO Forum. The session is scheduled for 20th July in Noida. Stay tuned for more details.

Quick Research / Usability Methods: Expert Usability Review

(Post 1 of a series on quick research and usability techniques. Start-up’s can use these techniques fairly easily to connect to and understand their end users better, as well as maintain usability standards on their products.)

ProductNation in collaboration with a few like-minded design professionals, recently put together an informal forum for designers, engineers, product managers & entrepreneurs in the Delhi NCR region. The objective of this forum was to evangelize and encourage a dialog around Design Thinking among the start-up community.

I conducted a short workshop on this topic at the forum’s launch event – a day long interactive meet up – hosted at the MakeMyTrip office in Gurgaon.

During the workshop, I introduced participants to the concept of Design Thinking and touched upon a few design research and usability methods that they could use to support design thinking within their organizations. A brief recap:

Design Thinking is an approach to design rather than a specific technique or method.
A core principle central to supporting design thinking is iteration. A ‘prototype and test’ focused approach fuelled by empathy for the people who will ultimately use the product, is recommended to be followed throughout the product development lifecycle.
There are several user research methods that can help companies connect to and understand their end users better. Guerrilla Research techniques in particular, are especially useful  in context to the start-up environment – Where time is of essence, budget is limited, teams are small, people are typically multitasking and playing multiple roles.
Guerrilla Research includes research techniques that can be done more quickly, with less effort and budget, as compared to formal or traditional user research techniques. Remote  / Informal Usability Testing, Man on the Street Interviews, Micro-surveys, Fake Doors, ‘Design the Box’ and Personal Inventory are a few examples of quick research techniques that can be learnt and implemented fairly well by a newbie researcher / anyone on a start-up team doubling up as a researcher.

In this first post, I want to introduce a discount usability engineering method called the ‘Expert Usability Review.’

Like Guerrilla Research methods, a Usability Review is an effective way to quickly identify usability and ease-of-use issues on a product. However, unlike user research, this method does not involve talking to end users at all.

What it involves is ‘expert evaluators’ reviewing a product, to identify usability and ease of use issues across different UI areas like Navigation and Structure, Layout, Visual Design, Interaction, Error Handling, Content etc. The experts are able to identify issues by drawing on their own experience in the areas of design and usability.

Subjectivity is minimized and issue validity maximized (or attempted to!) by ensuring that issues identified map onto existing and recognized design guidelines / principles / best practices or heuristics.

The issues identified through review, can then be fixed as part of an iterative design process. The kinds of issues that a Usability Review typically identifies are the ‘low hanging fruit’ or obvious usability problems.

Doing a review helps to highlight any aspect of an interface that violates usability and design principles.

The issues that surface through a review are different from the type of issues that come up while using user based methods like Usability Testing. So a review is a good complement to other user research techniques that may also be employed.

(More on typical issues found through Heuristic Evaluation and Usability Testing vs. Expert Reviews)

To demonstrate the type of issues typically found through a Usability Review, I evaluated the ‘Submit Ticket’ function on Freshdesk. Freshdesk is an online customer support software, targeted at small and medium sized businesses looking for a cloud based solution.

Here are some of the issues that I found:

Note: This is not an exhaustive review of the ‘Submit Ticket’ page, but a few example issues that help illustrate the type of issues that may be found through a usability review.
The products selected to be used as examples in this series of posts are products that are well designed in general. This highlights the importance of iterative design / the type of issues that can be unearthed even in well-designed products, by using various usability and research techniques.

issue observation 1issue observation 2issue observation 3issue observation 4issue observation 5issue observation 6The examples shown above are just a fraction of the issues that a Usability Review could highlight.
The success and effectiveness of this technique is dependent on the experience and skill of the reviewer. A review is typically done by three or four experts in the field of usability and design.

This method is best suited for start-up’s who have access to skilled and experienced usability / design professionals who can conduct a Usability Review.

Post 2 coming up soon, will introduce a related technique called ‘Heuristic Evaluation’.
With similar goals to an Expert Usability Review, a Heuristic Evaluation is a relatively easier starting point for novice researchers – Ideal for start-ups who don’t have a formal design / usability team in place, but want to try their hand at usability evaluation.

Are you a design thinker evangelizing or facilitating user research and usability methods within your start-up?

We would love to hear about your experience / answer any questions that you have about the methods that you used.

We also invite members of the start-up community to volunteer their screens / functions for use as examples in upcoming posts showcasing additional research techniques. Email me  at devika(at)anagramresearch.com to check whether your screen is eligible for selection. 

Presentations to CIOSE and the KUDOS!!!

In our latest blog we had written about CIOSE(CIO Strategy Exchange) and  about the 5 companies that were shortlisted to provide a presentation to Ernest M Von Simson and these five companies were 

  • ArrayShield – “Two-Factor Authentication”
  • C2il – “Asset Life Cycle Management”
  • i7 networks – “Agentless BYOD Discovery & Control”
  • Fieldez – “On Demand mobile workforce management”
  • Kreeo – “Knowledge management”

Everyone who presented to Ernie walked out with a smile, with abundant knowledge on how to pitch for the CIO and also what makes sense in the local market and what might not. Ernie was very happy to be the audience for these presentations and he was all praise for the Indian companies and this is what he had to say:

Though the presentations and dialogues were fairly brief, I was impressed by the sophistication shown by the Indian developers of mobility apps and mobility cyber security. They had learned much from analyses of their American counterparts and developed products that produced similar results with much, much lower TCO. “Less is more” in the words of the famous architect Mies van de Rohe.

Manjunath M Gowda, CEO of i7 Networks who was one of the presenters was very happy with the outcome and was amazed how much he knew of  the space and how laser focus were his feedback and this is what he had to say “He knew the subject very well and he asked me the right questions and his help in how to position was amazing. Looking forward for the next step”.

Pavan who is the CEO of ArrayShield was amazed to know how well it can fit into US enterprises too and he was thrilled and he profusely thanked Product nation for providing this opportunity and he said “The feedback and suggestions shared by Ernie was quite valuable, especially good to know that the market demand for our kind of products in US is high and we are addressing an opportunity which is currently under-served”

The Gap Unfilled

No one is sure of their exact number, but a census of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) done a few years ago estimated that there are 26 million small and medium enterprises in India. It is well known that this market is fragmented and price-sensitive and, hence, large companies have tried to tailor products and services to target this market. But, is that enough? Take a look at the case studies below and see for yourself. 

MSMEs often complain that they don’t have adequate access to financing. One reason for this is that banks and financial institutions find it expensive and difficult to do a thorough analysis of a small firm’s credit-worthiness. Seven years ago, Crisil, India’s premier rating agency, stepped in to address this problem. The challenge was that any credit-worthiness assessment had to be completed within a reasonable period of time, maintain Crisil’s standards of analysis, and yet be affordable.

Crisil launched SME ratings in 2005. It created a network of qualified individuals in more than 180 cities, who were given intense training based on a specially-developed methodology, and had to meet rigorous certification requirements. This network of trained professionals became the bedrock of the SME rating system. To attract these individuals who are not formal employees of Crisil, the company even brought their parents to the Crisil office to show them that the company was solid and that this could be a career option. Reputed chartered accountancy firms with an all-India reach were hired for verification and oversight. The rating was based on a simple, two-dimensional scale of performance capability (five categories) and financial  strength (two categories). Once all the data is collected, technology is used to complete a rating in a few days. Overall, the rating is completed within about a month. With this process in place, Crisil is able to do about 10,000 SME ratings a year, making it the largest SME rating agency in the world.

With a credit rating, an SME can get better access to bank finance and, sometimes, even lower interest rates. However, even with these benefits, the Rs 50,000-1 lakh price tag was found to be too expensive by many SMEs. So, in spite of the well-designed product, and the business and process innovation that Crisil introduced to make the rating product accessible, the government had to step in to provide a subsidy for those MSMEs who couldn’t afford it. But, pricing is not the only barrier to adoption of new products by MSMEs. In 2007, India’s largest IT services company, Tata Consultancy Services, identified SMEs as an important segment. But since it lacked adequate experience in working with SMEs, the company met with more than 250 organisations to understand how they use technology.

TCS found that SMEs had made significant investments in devices and hardware, including networking, and used their computers mainly for accounts and inventory. But MSME owners complained that the reports they generated didn’t reflect actual performance because there were islands of data that were not integrated with each other. Others reported that they struggled to keep up with technology changes, keep their systems virus-free, and to hire and retain staff for IT. Even evaluating offers made by vendors was a tricky task.

Based on these customer inputs, TCS saw an opportunity to take responsibility for running SMEs’ IT, based on some basic principles such as covering all key business processes and providing for all statutory compliances. To avoid fresh capital expenditure, the company provided an operating expenditure-based service.

The resultant TCS cloud-based solution, TCS iON, was launched in the market in March 2011. iON is periodically upgraded by TCS, but the user doesn’t have to do anything extra at his end. Though iON is available across six verticals, in the first year and a half TCS had only about 300 installations, with the largest concentration in the education space, apparently much less than what the company hoped to achieve.

Overcoming the trust deficit between technology acceptor and new product is the biggest barrier to innovating for the MSME market

At the other end of the spectrum is Tally, arguably the most successful product ever built for MSMEs in India. It is estimated to be in use by about two million users although less than one million users have purchased licences. Right from the beginning Tally was built with Indian users in mind — it used minimum hardware resources, and was tailored to Indian accounting practices. Even novice users were able to quickly learn how to use the product and it rapidly gained a large installed base of users, thereby creating a platform for the positive returns of network economics. Tally worked closely with hundreds of institutes across the country to impart training and thus create a base of accountants with Tally skills. Early on, Tally created good relationships with the chartered accountants community. With its huge installed base, Tally has become a basic requirement for any accountant in India — if you don’t know how to use Tally, you can’t be a practising chartered accountant! 

To address the piracy issue, Tally reduced its prices substantially a few years ago. The product has also kept up with changes in technology and applications — it was very quick in providing VAT functionality after the law changed; it is available on the cloud; and the product today addresses much more than just accounting, it has become more like an ERP software. Of course, Tally’s success was also the result of some historical factors such as the decision of the Income Tax department and the Department of Company Affairs to make e-filing compulsory. Not all companies will have this path-dependent advantage.

The formula for success

So, what does it take to innovate for the SME market? Recently, a senior industry executive told me that the key to meeting the needs of the MSME market is realising that it is more like the enterprise market of the West than the consumer-like Small Office Home Office (So-Ho) market. Early adopters in the MSME market are very small in number and crossing the chasm to a larger “technology acceptor” market is very difficult. Many “technology acceptors” are reluctant to buy a new product even when they see a business case for it because they have had bad experiences in the past with products that were pushed to them with exaggerated promises, at high prices, and with limited post-sales support. Overcoming this trust deficit that has been created is the biggest barrier to innovating for the MSME market.

Innovation may be the solution to this problem as well. iSPIRT, a think tank recently launched by software product companies, is creating iSMB to be a market maker for software products in the MSME community. iSMB will bring out product guides for important segments of the MSME sector so that they can make informed choices regarding the software products that suit them. They will also certify products and encourage product companies to create visible dispute settlement mechanisms.

So, the key to innovating for the MSME market is not only tailoring products to their needs at easily affordable price points, and updating them to adapt to evolving use needs as Tally has successfully demonstrated, but providing effective ways of bridging information gaps, establishing and communicating a clear business value proposition and lowering the risk of purchase by the customer.

This article was first published in Outlook Business

Great Mentoring Session for Product startups with Piyush Singh & Greg Toebbe

Both, Piyush Singh(Sr. VP & CIO) & Greg Toebbe(Sr. VP) at Great American Insurance, are active participants in the Indian software ecosystem and are acknowledged speakers in the NASSCOM Product Conclave. This time they selected 4 companies to have one-on-one sessions with them on February 27, 2013 after reviewing several companies that had applied for this mentoring session.

Objective of these one-on-one meetings was mentoring/guidance on product strategy, Go-To-Market (GTM), scaling and sales among other things. The number of companies selected was consciously kept less so that each startup gets quality time of one hour with Piyush and Greg.  The time was split as follows: 15-20 minutes of introduction and product presentation followed by a few minutes of the product demonstration. More than half of the allotted time was suggested to be used for seeking advice and feedback. These sessions were voluntarily given by Piyush as part of helping the Indian Software Product ecosystem. Participants were at liberty to seek out the mentors for any advisory role or future involvement. I am sure that every company walked away feeling satisfied and renewed energy to pursue their dreams after these meetings. The companies selected were:

Here are some of the snippets of advice given to the companies (in random order):

  • Presentations should immediately connect with the audience. Great way to do this is to start with user stories/perspectives so that people immediately see the product’s value rather explaining the technology involved or the general problem that the product is solving. He also mentioned that CxOs like numbers. Numbers hit them more than anything else. One of the startups declared that their product reduces the testing effort, increases productivity and saves license costs too. They were advised to take a specific case study and put the actual savings in numbers. These would then make people see the value instantaneously.
  • One company had built a great enterprise technology platform over the last couple of years. However, it had difficulty in selling it to the big guys. Piyush advised them to build vertical-based solutions on their platform and target one or more marquee customers in that segment. He said they could keep the core common and build vertical-focused modules. This would help them differentiate from their competitors as well as have potential customers see the value immediately.
  • While everyone is clamoring for moving their applications into the cloud, he said cloud is not meant for everyone and everything. Companies should not make superficial efforts to move their product into the cloud if it doesn’t make sense to their customers. Alternatively, if they could offer the hybrid model (cloud and on-premise) then customers are free to choose what they want. Ultimately the development should be driven more your customer needs rather than general technology trends around you.
  • For selling in the US, he said there is no alternative to burning shoe leather. Companies will have to meet the leads face-to-face and sell. Specific targeted Tradeshows as well as exposure in right magazines are another avenue to generate good leads. He also advised the startups to tie up with bigger player in their domains and use their sales muscle, if it works out symbiotically for both parties.

Once again, ProductNation and the participating companies would like to thank Piyush and Greg for their valuable time and advise. And last but not the least, we would like to thank Pramati Techologies (Syed Khadar) for hosting these meetings and helping us with the arrangements at a very short notice.

Few testimonials from the companies:

Thank you very much ProductNation for the opportunity to Mr. Piyush Singh and Mr. Greg Toebbe.  The feedback and suggestions shared by them was quite valuable, especially good to know the buyers perspective, which will be helpful in presenting a business case to the prospects.  Once again thank you ProductNation for all support extended to start ups – Sudhir Patil, Qualitia Software

It was a great experience meeting Piyush & Greg, very high return on my time spent (RoT).  The quality & amount of, to the point, practical and meaningful advice I got in one hour of our interaction was invaluable and is impossible to get by even attending a dozen startup events.  Very productive, very helpful, expecting more of such interactions with people who know and understand the needs of your target customer segments besides knowing technology! – Sumeet Anand, Kreeo Software

Our main intention was to validate some of the assumptions we have made for building the Enterprise Software. Piyush, being the CIO of a huge enterprise, provided that validation as well as helped us prioritize a few things. His offer for using out free Lite version (when it is available) was also deeply appreciated. Overall, we felt it was time well spent. – Chandra, i7 Networks

The interaction provided some valuable feedback for our company growth and scale. Even though the session time was limited, ROI was there ! Today we need to interact with wide/diverse network of people due to the product DNA nature in the business model and the pace at which this model is growing as compared to the old mentoring model and nature of the companies/business model.
Also he was good enough to keep the interaction beyond the session as well ! I would like to quote Jim Rohn in this context – “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Lot to learn from their expertise and hopefully the session provided the platform for the same/to get started with. Thanks to ProductNation for organising such a session and expect to do more sessions. Abdulla Hisham, Fordadian Technologies

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

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

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

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

This initiative is jointly conducted by ProductNation and CIOSE. If you any questions or concerns please reach out to Avinash(at)pn.ispirt.in or Manju.M(at)i7nw.com.

Why they’re not giving feedback to your idea

Ideas used to be a dime a dozen. Now they’re a dime a million. 

Ideas have a short life. But you need to get some kinda feedback on your idea. It makes all the difference doesn’t it? Here are 3 reasons your idea isn’t getting validated feedback. There’s a clue in #3 that you should try and tell me if it worked for you.

1. You are verbose. Don’t write like diarrhea. Do this – send a single 140 Character tweet to the world about your product’s chief USP. Did someone respond? You get the picture? 

Your idea doesn’t reach the target audience if you’re writing more than 300 words. However, that’s not to say that you can’t draw your audience into a 3-5 min unsolicited engagement through the audio visual format. 

2. You are irrelevant. The person you’re asking feedback from has no relevance to what you’re asking. She doesn’t understand it, doesn’t care about it, and has no time to appreciate why its important for you. 

Your idea doesn’t reach the target audience if you’re talking bananas to a penguin. Penguins don’t eat banana. In all probability, they don’t even know what a banana is. 
 
3. You are being selfish. Don’t ask before you have something to offer in return. My permission is my property. Don’t try to take that from me. So don’t spam me unless you’re offering some free money. (And I will not click on your AD – just send the money in cash please.)

This Validated feedback that I glorify will be amazingly well received by your marketing function. This time, DO trust a marketer – go get that feedback.

Indian Product owners solving problems that Indian Business Owners are facing

In the Speaker Lounge at NPC12, I asked Bob Wright what new he saw at the conclave this year. He said this year he sees Indian Product owners solving problems that Indian Business Owners are facing. This SMB market in India is lying legs-wide-apart – only money can be made here.
Here are 3 industries that I believe are fertile grounds in India:
1. Diagnostics – Data that allows the doctor to search through a list of symptoms and identify possible diseases. Usually the earlier you catch the disease – the easier it is to kill it. 
Which is why Vinod Khosla is betting on this company. That heart monitor can go with you everywhere – so there’s a doctor in the world willing to pay for it. Insurance money, hostpital earnings, patient benefits – you can see there’s nothing not to like in it – as long as it does its job cheaply. 
However dependence on hardware is still mandatory in this space. So before you jump in with your cloud-ready software and all that – do note that the doctors haven’t used computers like you have. The still get scared when you ask them to log off their machine and log back in. 
2. Aviation – the Indian government has crippled the Aviation business. There’s a massive gap between government policies (esp. taxation) and consumer need (Cheaper faster travel). Which is all the more why software is needed to bring in automation and tremendous savings for the Service provider – the Airline. Last I checked – that was what the LCC business was all about. 
IBS Plc is one of Kerala’s success stories that’s got logistics sorted through software. But there’s no success story for software that got the Airline industry sorted. Sabre and SAP solve part challenges. Most Airlines have their software custom crapped or have to invest in scary expensive systems built over the last million years. 
3. Parental Policing – Parents are shit scared of their kids getting hooked to the wrong things on the internet. And by scared I mean paranoid. A wireless router that looks sober and protective, priced at around $70, with a cloud based service that allows data reporting on the pad. 
Meraki does enterprise policing. They’re trying to do whaling, but their product can easily be turned around to make mothers feel so much secure.i7 networks – are you listening? 
Do you know any Indian companies in this space? I would love to get a chance to tell their stories.

India has a drought – not of Investors, but Customers

I came across this rather misleading article by a New Investor in town, that India has a Series A drought. I think its a bit sensationalist and misleading and drinks a bit of his own coolaid and shifts blames on others, but I’d agree with the article on one count – Yes there is a drought.

I am going to start this off on the right foot. This whole venture funding phenomenon is about at the best 15 years old in India. Whenever i sit with the guys who really understand business and even remotely talk about the things we talk about – they give me a dazed and confused look. You know why? Venture capital is nothing more than a bank – a bank which specializes in lending to private companies. I cant think of a single self-respecting business man who built his business based around what the money lender thinks he should do. If Startups today are talking about funding – as their only big milestone – there is no one to blame but the loud-mouthed investors who have positioned themselves to be the focus point for these early stage entrepreneurs.

Now coming back to the topic. We see the following happening in India:

1. Compared to 7 years ago, everyone knows what a Startup is.

2. Mainstream media has accepted Starting up as a perfectly acceptable choice of career – they are dedicated shows and show hosts who think they are celebrities.

3. Almost every well known Investor (Startup Bank) has an office in India.

4. Angel Investment is on the rise and its raising angels in the country right now. I seem to be bumping into more angels than Entrepreneurs sometimes – its scary.

5. The Govt causes a fuss from time to time but predominantly has stayed out of what they dont understand.

So What’s missing?

Are there great ideas? Yes

Are there great teams? Yes

Are there great products getting built with world class UI? Yes Yes Yes, andYes

Are teams bootstrapping/saving up/ getting a bit of money to get off the ground? Yes

Is there ample Series A happening? Yes, but Not Yet at scale

Are there exits happening? Not Nearly

Read the Complete post here

Back to the Future: Software Moves as Catalysts for Driving Change

Several events in the software world during 2012 will have a notable impact on the industry for years to come, according to SandHill’s industry observers. Some are striking enough that our panelists think they deserve an award.

What software event that happened in 2012 will have the most impact over the next two to three years?

Lincoln Murphy, founder and managing director, Sixteen Ventures:  From a purely commercial standpoint — software innovation aside — there was one event that should have the attention of everyone from freemium startups to the biggest, entrenched enterprise software vendors: Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer. Microsoft bought Yammer, a four-year-old company, for $1.2 billion not just to expand their market or for their “Cloud DNA,” but because Yammer was, quite simply, beating them in the market. This should make legacy enterprise software and ISV incumbents open their eyes to the reality of cloud startups in their market.

As an industry, enterprise software companies should have learned from Salesforce.com sneaking up on CRM vendors — including Microsoft — and taking market share. But it was brushed off as an anomaly. In 2012, 2013, and beyond, cloud-native companies disrupting and displacing entrenched, on-premises software vendors is no longer an anomaly; it’s rapidly becoming the norm.

Yammer, a cloud-native company, was winning deals against Microsoft SharePoint; and Microsoft didn’t see it as (or perhaps admit it was) a threat until it was so late that the option of buying Yammer was only available at a premium. If you’re the incumbent on-premises software company being threatened by cloud-native vendors and FUD doesn’t work anymore, what’s your move?

Kevin Cox, vice president corporate marketing, Actian Corporation: The thin client or mobile device or smartphone established itself as the most consumer-desired platform for software consumption and a dramatic extension of cloud as the new most desired platform of software. This will play out over the next three years as a disruptive reshuffling of middleware, applications and service provider markets.

Guy Smith, chief consultant, Silicon Strategies MarketingThe utter domination of Android for smartphones is a shift that cannot be discounted. Android came from nowhere to market dominance in less than two years, which changed everything. There appears to be no slowing its growth save for market saturation. If Apple releases anything like Apple Maps again, their halo sales will drop and Android will own it all.

Read the complete story at Sandhill.com

Do Your Bit – Become a Customer

What does a tech-product start-up need initially? It is not money, not more people to join the team according to me.

It needs validation, feedback, users, inputs and all of this comes from Real Customers like you & me. If a product start-up gets real users, customers who engage in day-day usage of the product, they automatically become the following:

The Product Manager, The Well-wisher, The Marketer, The Adviser, The First Investor, and Friend.

Then can come re-iteration, product tweaking, more sales, more customers, more tweaking, more code, more tweaking, more selling and once you have a little bit of traction, then can come the People to join the team (Who will be excited by progress) and the Investors (who could now see Traction).

If the First Customers can do so much for a start-up, then why not the eco-system get stronger by becoming early adopters and customers of more Indian Product companies ?

At Exotel we have been very very progressive on this front as much as we can be and there are limitations as we are a B2B company in India, but we do our bit.

We signed up initially with these companies – HireRabbit (now in TechCrunch) ,MuHive (Social Media Engagement Tool), are looking at Pacebale right now and are always willing to experiment and try new products. We have been very lucky ourselves, there have been companies in the ecosystem who signed up with us though they might have had a more “Known” brand to take, but the entrepreneurs and teams in those young fast growing companies decided to go with us. CarwaleOlacabsBabajobCA Club IndiaPractoAkosha and more here.

A very small thing I try and do every time on Twitter, is keep connecting people who might have a use of each others products. Prominently I push all Start-up folks on Twitter to use some of the new Cab/Auto aggregators like OlacabsTaxiforsureCabs4HireAutowaleSavaariYourcabs instead of a Meru or Easy as it helps these young companies get more business and test their mettle. Another thing to do is keep connecting folks looking for Maids/Peon-clerk jobs to Chachii/Mypeon type services or help E-Commerce service/product providers get in touch with E-Commerce companies. There are in-numerable examples of what people already do and we should participate in it.

At the end of the day, if the product/service is good and adds value, the customer will stay and be all of the above.

If you were not given a shot once in your company or by your bosses, employers, customers would you be in this position today? Think about that, and help make the eco-system stronger. You have less to lose and lots to give.

If you think I can help you get connected to someone who could use your product/service, feel free to reach out.

 

How far should you go with Professional Services in your product business?

Turning on a giant switch

For any products company, product support is a given, and part of the products business fabric. However, almost all Enterprise Products Companies end-up offering the professional services beyond basic product support. These services could range from simplistic implementation support, to integration, to solutions-building, to architectural consulting, to IT advisory support. The decision to perform professional services could be driven by customer-demand, or by the intrinsic need of the product being sold, or even driven by the business strategy itself to generate peripheral revenue.

It’s important to understand where the boundaries lie, and what goal does a certain type of professional services serve. The decision to commit to a particular type of professional services needs to be driven by a conscious thought process. This is important because the time & resources required to build various skills & operating models for serving the various flavors, change dramatically from one to the other.

Professional Services in Products Business

1. Product Support

This is the core to the products model and serves as just that – support to the main products revenue, and to ensure customer satisfaction. While the core strategy for any product should be to make it so good that it requires minimal support, there’s always a need for support – offline and real-time for the customers.

2. Implementation Services

An ideal product is ready-to-use off-the-shelf, however, in case of Enterprise products the need to configure & customize could wary. Most times, customers demand for an implementation service packaged in the license deal initially, in order to ensure success. Most times, products businesses have to employ this mechanism also to close sales cycle and to ensure a consistent source of post-sale revenue from such services, and also indirectly to ensure expansion of the product usage through consistent personnel presence on the customer premises.

3. Integration Services

This is where it starts going slightly further away from the core skills that the organization may possess organically. Integration with the existing IT systems and other products at the customer premises would require the skills & management practices beyond the core areas of the organization. An extra source of revenue is one of the temptations, but there are also scenarios where integration of the product is critical to the success of the product, making such services mandatory. This is especially true if the product interfaces are not built with open-standards, and require the integrators to know the details of how the product is built internally. The correct approach would be to build the product interfaces in a way that doesn’t force the business into such compromise to induct professional services for integration. There’s an indirect impact of diversion of core product resources to such integration projects unless such professional services are pursued by design, and resources built accordingly.

4. Solutions & Consulting Services

This is where the game gets strategic, and resources expensive. And the reasons to do this are not any more intrinsically important, but strategically targeted to higher value to the customers and hence, access to the larger pie of the wallet. However, this is easier said than done. Unless there’s enough scale & case in the existing business to allow the focus on such services, strategic, and by design, a business is better off focusing on building the core products business stronger by investing resources there. This makes sense for the products, which are more like Platforms that provide larger leverage than in a Point-solution product.

5. Advisory Services

This is important for the products that are targeted for larger ticket sizes and are built for Enterprise-wide deployments. The IT strategy alignment as well as the strategic positioning of the product becomes important, and it also requires much larger IT leadership level involvement. For Enterprise Platforms, or even for departmental level strategic investments, this approach to professional services can bear fruits. However, building it into a business line requires the core product business to be strong, ready for the leap.

So what?

While the Businesses can look at starting off with the lower scale of Professional Services and build up over time, the decision is very strategic and long term. Professional Services, while offering additional top-line, could actually be a resource-intensice and money-draining proposition if not built properly. The mindset that governs the professional services line of business is drastically different from the product side of business. The operational efficiency is paramount, & profitability can very quickly take a hit. Even more importantly, professional services are more intensely people-driven and the skill sets required to build and sustain this business over long term are not trivial. Look, think, and think hard, before you leap.

PS: There are other considerations on Professional Services that directly or indirectly impact the core product business. I will cover in those in the next post. Until then, hope this helps! 🙂

8 Perspectives on Software Vendors to Watch in 2013

SandHill’s questions on predictions as to how the software vendor landscape will change in 2013 found agreement among industry observers about the changes facing legacy software powerhouses. The questions also sparked tirades about Microsoft. Dive into their perspectives on the difficult challenges and necessary “rebooting” ahead.

Q: Which three to five software vendors will face the most dramatic change to their business in 2013?

Peter AuditorePeter Auditore, principal researcher at Asterias Research:  SAP, Oracle and Microsoft will face the greatest challenge to their business models as the disruptive SaaS and cloud vendors begin eating their installed base with new and innovative licensing models that completely change the enterprise software space.

SAP in particular is in an extremely weak position as it has been unable to bring one single SaaS or cloud product to market. Business By Design, Streamworks, Sales On Demand and Sourcing on Demand along with the massive push on sustainability have missed the mark and completely failed.

IBM and Oracle will gain tremendous competitive advantage with hardware software offerings at price performance levels other vendors can’t meet.

Paul Resslerprincipal, The Cirrostratus Group:

  • Cisco, who we often don’t think of as a software vendor, will make significant product changes to address the software-controlled network business.
  • VMware will make some sort of major acquisition that will put them into the network infrastructure business, giving them the opportunity to dominate the software-controlled network space.
  • HP will try to develop a more focused enterprise software strategy. This will result in continued upheaval in their business including niche acquisitions and significant layoffs. Unfortunately it will not be clear by the end of 2013 whether this strategy will be successful.
  • BYOD (bring your own device) and increased use of mobile enterprise applications will put tremendous pressure on managing mobile security. Symantec will be well positioned to provide mobile security solutions and will provide many new offerings in this space and go through lots of growth. Other major software providers will make acquisitions in the security space to compete.

Read the complete article at Sandhill.com

Does your customer know what you are talking about?

Let us face it, technology startups are often founded by geeks, employ geeks and hence are, more often than not, geekdoms. There is tremendous value in it. However, there is a significant downside to this as it relates to communication.  Geeks speak geekspeak and unfortunately that is all the customers hear a lot of times. This is a HUGE mistake.

Never forget who you are in the business for. It is your customers. If your value proposition is not clear to the customer, you will perish. The customer needs to see value. She needs to know that you understand her pain and will help her. She needs empathy not geekspeak. And this is true even when you are speaking to tech buyers. You need to be very clear on how you and only you understand the pain they are feeling and can help them. If you can establish that empathy and can weave it into the product you are pitching, you are already ahead of the competition.

Abandon the geekspeak and the discussions on all the bells and whistles that your product has. Instead, focus on business value it creates or the business pain it alleviates. Use simple, easy to understand language. For example, instead of saying “the product has an enterprise class data warehouse based on a dimensional data model, supported by all major RDBMs, that houses information from disparate sources”, you can say that “using a single repository of data all the business users see the same version of truth. This allows for accurate and timely decision making and meaningful interdepartmental communication”. By eliminating geekspeak you have shown how the product is meaningful to the business user. Nice technology is good, in fact it is essential, but it is not an excuse for clearly articulated benefits. It is almost as though most technology companies operate behind a cloud of geekspeak, and it is the company that breaks through the clouds and communicates simply, that stands out.

So, spend some time. Understand the business problem you are solving, develop empathy with your potential customers and analyze your competition. You should then be able to come up with a story that resonates with the customer. If you are able to do that, you have the power to change the dialog, project yourself as the hero and differentiate yourself from the competition. And that can’t be a bad thing.