Voice of Customer Digital platform for Indian SMEs – the Inquirly story #BootUpINDIA

inquirly-logoInquirly is an integrated Voice of Customer Digital platform, designed exclusively to help Indian SMEs listen to their customers, engage with them, act on specific requests, all of these, using a single integrated platform. Product Nation interviewed Anjan Choudhary, founder of Inquirly to understand about the start-up, its products and experiences working with Indian SME customers. Read on… 

Tell us about the circumstances which led to creation of Inquirly

Inquirly came into existence formally about a year ago. However, the thought process behind it started some time during 2012 – when I was working at Accenture. Inquirly was born primarily due to the culmination of my prior experience as an entrepreneur in the manufacturing sector, and later as an IT professional working in an MNC.

While at work for Accenture, in the US, I noticed that digital technologies were disrupting the economy in many different facets – bringing about new ways to perform marketing and sales activities, financial transactions etc for an enterprise. Immediately, it stuck to me that I could leverage these technological advances, and put it to use to serve the sales and marketing needs of many SMBs in developing markets. This led me to start small experiments to validate my thoughts and concepts. After a few iterations, and early customer validation, I quit my job to start Inquirly.

What is unique about your product – and how do you think it differentiates itself in the marketplace?

Inquirly is an Integrated Voice of the Customer Digital platform that enables companies to move beyond the limitations of traditional marketing, Sales, and customer service. Inquirly offers a holistic platform to listen to the customer, engage with the customer and act on real time and continuous actionable data thereby enabling businesses to get precise insights leading to proactive business decisions that result in greater efficiency, enhanced customer satisfaction & engagement and ultimately propelling continuous business growth.

For example, a restaurant owner, can monitor all online review comments from one screen with sentiment and Intent analytics, influence scores, by using this platform she can also understand the prospective customer preferences of dining, identify and target the prospective customers more effectively by offering discounts and other incentives, review whether these promotions worked effectively or not, and most importantly, get actionable feedback from customers – all of these in real time. Most of these could not have been done on a single platform earlier – and at affordable price points. This is how Inquirly differentiates itself from other point based solution providers.

Describe your experiences from the field during your first six months. What were the key learnings you obtained from these initial days of operation?

AnjanWe have had both good and bad experiences as we started to work full time on this product. The good part is that we have been continuously getting positive feedback on the features and utility of our product from our customers. Early adopters have given us constructive feedback on how things can be improved further – and we have been at it.

On the other end, one of the key things we misread during the early days was our assumption about the Indian market opportunity. During the controlled launch period, we learnt that the market penetration was not going to be at the pace we had initially assumed, and so, we had to rework on those projections a bit. We also learnt that India is not a Do It Yourself (DIY) market and so we had to start our services arm much early than we anticipated. Another important one was that recurring payments in SaaS based platform is not possible as per the Government guidelines and the market is not ready to make yearly/quarterly payments in advance.

As a result of the above experiences, we have learnt that we need to remain agile, identify the right ‘Market’/ buyer persona and target the same with perseverance, and to invest in inbound marketing while building the product.

How has internal operations at Inquirly evolved based on the above market place realities that you narrated?

Clearly, the learning we have had from the field has impacted our internal organization. On the sales front, due to our experiments in our early months, we now have a good understanding of the sweet spot for our product and also on its applicability in different domains. We now have been converging on this set, and have built up case studies and business scenarios, which is helping the sales team to close more deals.

Having a very strong, balanced development team is always one of the key assets to a start-up. We have ensured that our development team is staffed with the right mix of experienced folks and young talent – so that we are able to iterate on new features within weeks and release the updates to the market. On the financials front, we have been bootstrapped all this while, we are on target to break even by March 2015, post which, we expect to get more financial leverage to expand our business to other cities in India in the short-term. In the long-term, we do plan to go international.

Thank you for your insights! In closing, can I ask you to share three things that you deem as priority for product entrepreneurs targeting the Indian customers?

Sure. First and foremost, make sure that you converge on the target market which has the most burning need to use your product. This may take few iterations in the early days, but be at it and ensure that you have greater clarity on the sub-set of customer segment that you want to target to begin with. Second, ensure that you simplify user experience dramatically. The adoption rate of Indian customers, in my opinion, is directly dependent on how easily they can use your product. Last, perseverance is required when working with emerging market – since, given the nature of the market, and the background of customers, you need to continuously work with them to reassure the value that they will obtain, by using your product. This will mean that your sales cycle will be longer. Hence, plan for it in advance and execute accordingly. Good luck!




Bootstrapping! Great or Bad?

BootStrapping! Good or Bad?Off-late, I have been seeing many articles on “Funded” V/S “Bootstrapped” models. Few articles have projected bootstrapped ventures as great in comparison to funded ones. I run a company that is profitable without any external funding and at times find it very odd with these sorts of comparisons. Many entrepreneur friends suggest me to continue the way we are and ask me to stay away from investors as they feel it is great to bootstrap a venture.

To me it is a factor driven by who you are, what you want to do and what your business demands. Every business needs resources (which are unique to that business) to build the business and run it. Hence the capital needs are different for each business.

I categories companies into three types

  1. Self-funded
  2. Customer Funded
  3. Investor Funded

Please note all of these are funded! Someone is funding them and that is universal.


We are a blend of Self-Funded and Customer Funded. Back in 2008 we started building a-ipas, a product that targets large manufacturing plants as its customers. We got exposed to an interesting problem faced by manufacturing plants where-in the ERP implemented by the company was the bottle-neck in the Manufacturing plant. The workers/operators found it hard to work with the ERP System. The ERP system was not mobile (Then) and hence the operators had to go to a computer and perform these tasks. The factory had ERP Operators sitting all day and performing the transactions as and when the workers approached them with a paper/job! Being an entrepreneur, I saw an opportunity to build something that could solve a real world problem, so negotiated with my wife, who is a software engineer to let go of her job and take up the task of developing a solution that can address these challenges. With no liabilities on our shoulders, it was an easy decision for us to risk some cash for the joy of developing a solution that would solve a real problem.


No business plan, no “Mission” / “Vision” statements, we started working from our rented house’s garage. Savita worked solo, with some support (mostly cooking and cleaning) from my side. We build a base version of the solution in about 4 months and offered it to the factory which we knew had this problem. As we had no identity or brand value, we had zero expectations. Lucky for us, the IT manager of the factory took interest in the solution and deployed it in the factory. He also helped us make it more effective for the worker. For him, he was getting a custom solution at a very low cost. For us we were building something that was solving a real problem. With this ideal win-win scenario, we ventured out to build an Enterprise class solution for a niche market segment with zero plan and support from outside.

Apart from Savita’s lost salary and small money we paid a couple of trainees, we had no major costs initially. We kept our focus on the solution and our goal was to make the factory workers life better and make factory a better place to work. The critical part of this journey was the partnership with the factory & their teams. They were working with us like “Product managers”, driving the requirements. We took each and every need of theirs very seriously and starting putting features into our solution. We licensed our solution to one factory and made enough money to lead a normal life. We had revenue from other business to keep us happy. Contrary to theory, we did not expand our business for a long time. We wanted to perfect our solution. Growth meant dilution in quality and delivery. So, we opted to keep low profile and continued adding features/modules to one single factory for four long years. We could have taken VC money after our initial success and grow rapidly. However, the product we were building requires deep understanding of the manufacturing domain. It required evolution of a solution and with VC money on your back, slow growth could eventually kill the business. So we opted not to go for any external investment and hence we ended up as “Self-Funded + Customer Funded”. Just to reiterate, bootstrapping was part of the need and choice.

So to say, the product development was done with significant investment of our time and energy. To keep our operating costs low, we always picked fresh engineers and invested lot of time and effort to train them. To make our product robust, we needed experts from a lot of other domains for which we developed a network of experts who worked during after office hours. Net-Net, we innovated in ways to develop bleeding edge solution using low cost resources and all the possible support from the Eco-system.


Early 2014 we assessed that our solution was mature and can be scaled up. We started expanding to other geographies. Today we have Six factories globally using our solution with one factory being the world’s largest adhesive manufacturing plant. We are competing with multi-billion dollar software gains and at times are luck to steal a deal just below their noses. We have moved out of a garage to an office that can accommodate more than 40 engineers. We have 22 full time engineers working on the solution and have a branch at Singapore and two engineers at China. More than 15 Experts work with us on a need basis. We have not yet taken any external funding and are profitable.

Is it good to continue the way we are? Should we take investment? Why? Why not? are question we regularly brainstorm. We believe external funding would help us accelerate our growth. While customer funded business model helps us grow organically, an investor funded catalyst would push us to faster gear. We have just started talking to investors. There is interest but there are other challenges we have to deal with. Having bootstrapped, we are conservative with money. We are asking small money and have reasonable revenue on board. This causes confusion amongst investors. We are hopeful of closing our first round very soon. If the cost of capital is much more than what we are willing to pay, we can afford to go much longer without external funds. In event we go ahead without funding, please note that we are not continuing bootstrapping because we think it is great way to build business. It is just that we are not yet ready for funding OR have no right options of funding!

The big benefit of self-funded & customer funded businesses is their ability to do what is right for the business with long term view. They would have more flexibility and agility to deal with market dynamics. They carry risk of starvation but are generally better prepared to handle the drought conditions. On an exit, the founders tend to have much larger pie at much lower valuations. If we exit at $10M today, we would be making similar gains like what RedBus founders gained at $100M Exit. Conclusion, no model is right or wrong. No model is great or otherwise! It is your business and it is for you to define the right way to build it and execute it. We chose the self-funded route + customer funded route, because we could afford it and was the right thing for the business then.

Guest Post by Subramanyam Kasibhat, Founder & CEO Aureole Technologies

#BootUpINDIA Inner Circle kicks off with 8 companies!

Thank you for your enthusiastic participation in BootUpINDIA. We received over 100 high quality applications. The Jury painstakingly went through each of them to pick 8 companies who are being inducted into BootUpINDIA Inner Circle today!

BootUpINDIABefore I share the 8 selected companies, I want to tell the applicants that didn’t make to the Inner Circle this time that there will be more opportunities to get included in the coming year(s). BootUpINDIA is an ongoing program that will expand the Inner Circle over time. We are also organizing a Bootstrap Summit for the applicants and will be profiling all the applications on the on the ProductNation site. You are part of the important Bootstrapping community and our effort is to make it stronger and more mainstream over time.

With that, let me welcome the eight bootstrapped companies to the iSPIRT BootUpINDIA Inner Circle

  1. ApnaStock Solutions: ApnaStock.com’s mission is to level the playing field for the individual home builder and small developers by getting them the wholesale price and logistics benefits usually only available to large national builders.
  2. Exclusife: A sales acceleration application for Indian Retail SMEs. This mobile application allows businesses, for the first time, to capture real-time information about all their store visitors.
  3. Global Groupware Solutions: EmployWise™ is an award winning, integrated SaaS employee life-cycle management software. Its key modules can handle all aspect of human resource needs from recruitment to retirement.
  4. Inquirly Technologies: An Integrated Customer Experience Management platform that enables companies to move beyond the limitations of traditional digital marketing, Sales, and customer service and employee engagement.
  5. PowerStores Ecommerce: A SaaS based ecommerce platform targeting the SME sector in Asia.
  6. SignEasy: SignEasy is the simplest and most convenient way to sign documents and fill forms right from your iPad and iPhone. Save time, money and eliminate the hassles of printing, scanning, faxing and shipping the signed paperwork.
  7. The Media Ant: Creating market place for offline media with currently aggregating over 5000 media option comprising Magazine, Radio, Cinema, Airport, Airlines and other non traditional media.
  8. VoiceTree Technologies: MyOperator is a call management system. In country like India where 80% business proceedings happens over phone, MyOperator acts as a platform for organizing their phone calls in a simpler and affordable way.

The gurus of bootstrapping, our Jury Members, are now going to switch into a mentoring role for these Inner Circle companies. This is not for a few months but for a whole year. We have found that there nothing more powerful than an expert entrepreneur helping another entrepreneur to achieve greatness.

In addition to this structured group mentoring, Inner Circle companies will also get press coverage of Customer Impact Stories, access to Performance Warrants, and a privileged opportunity to participate in other iSPIRT initiatives (M&A Connect, SAI Playbook Roundtables, etc.).

BootUpINDIA is a long term commitment for us. iSPIRT believes that there are two viable pathways to building strong software product companies – Bootstrapped and VC funded. We are equally vested in both these pathways.

Six months back when the idea of “BootStrap Award” was discussed for the first time in the monthly iSPIRT Fellows meeting, an intense hour long discussion ensued. As a result of this initial discussion, and the subsequent reviews that followed, we abandoned the idea on a one-time Award and formulated a one-year program in its place. This fits better with the iSPIRT model of making a big impact on promising companies in our product ecosystem. We  launched the BootUpINDIA program on August 15th as bootstrapping brings some sense of independence for startups from external funding.

The last 45 days have been extremely hectic for the BootUpINDIA volunteers. To stay synced up we have had a conference call every single night. The Jury members also pitched in. Many of them attended various planning discussions. They also did video interviews which helped convey the BootUpINDIA idea to all of you. These video interviews are of lasting value. Do check them out here…

Once again, congratulations to the BootUpINDIA Inner Circle companies! We at iSPIRT are very excited about the program and will continue to work hard in creating IMPACT and empowering startups. On this auspicious Gandhi Jayanthi, we once again commit to building India as a Product Nation.

‪#‎BootUpIndia‬ Inner Circle Members featured in ET (full page)

I Just Wanted 50K INR per month, but ended up building company with $9M revenue – Paras Chopra, VWO.com

Paras Chopra from Wingify is great story for startup ecosystem in India and I personally become a fan of him after I watched his Unpluggd Talk on “How To Bootstrap A Tech Startup In India” – His simplicity and honesty gives lot of clarity on how he started his company. All that he wanted to earn is 50,000 INR and had no plan to create company that will generate 9M USD revenue. His perseverance, hard work, and ability to learn from few failures before has out wonderfully for him. Being bootstrapped and growing at 100% rate is just phenomenal success. I am very confident his story inspires many young entrepreneurs.

It was very clear in his words, that bootstrapped startups suffer from media attention which could help them to reach to their target customers, he was envisioning a dedicated publication on Bootstrapping, YourStory started a Bootstrapping Series where they have covered more than half a dozen startups and we are hoping they will do much more soon. The main stream media has been doing some story lately and our goal is to steer that interest and bring awesome ventures to forefront and provide them what they need most.

You can watch full conversation in this video: 

9 Things that I learnt while bootstrapping in India

Bootstrapping is hard especially in India! It takes a toll on founders as well as people around them. No fancy corporate trips, no room for slack, myriad things that can go wrong and on top of it, no wiggle room financially. Here is what I learnt during past 3.5 years of bootstrapping SocialAppsHQ and now, Shimply.com

1)     Cash flow is the only thing that matters – I have people who tell me that their ventures are extremely profitable and then few months later, I find that they are closing down. Mostly, it’s their customers not paying their bills on time. Everyone who has ever run a business experiences this! Don’t book the amount as profit until it’s in your bank (note – I hate service tax because we have to pay it when an invoice is created even when money has not been paid to us). Another rule – if you are in services business, ask for some money upfront no matter how urgent that work is.

2)     Keep 3 months reserve ALWAYS – Most internet businesses are becoming more and more dependent on one of the larger businesses like Google, Facebook, Apple and others for survival. Even if they snooze, your revenues will take a nose dive. I will suggest you to keep 6 month reserves but if you really want to live on edge, keep 3 month reserves. It’s crucial for two reasons –

  • Most of the employees depend on their salary to pay their rents, buy food etc. It’s a disservice to them as well as your company, if you fail to pay your team on time.
  • No matter how agile your team is, any major shift in direction/building a completely new product and bringing it to market takes time.

3)     Beware of vultures – As you start a company in India with seemingly bright future, you will realize that you will soon get accosted by wannabes – people who are sitting at high positions in various companies and want to leave their jobs for starting on their own. Nothing is wrong with that  but there are two types of people you definitely want to avoid –

  • People who want to act as commission agents to broker an agreement with their and few other companies. I consider it unethical although I know few who don’t.
  • People who want to provide gyan and want to charge a retainer fee for it. I was introduced to a consultant who wanted to charge Rs. 1.25 lakh per month as retainer.

4)     Murphy’s law applies in startups more than anywhere else in life – Something that you least expect will always go wrong –

  • You decided to take a flight to Mumbai for work, your server will go down exactly at the time when you on board the flight so that you find about it 2.5 hours later!
  • You are in front on 50 army officers giving presentation on social media monitoring and standing on stage, well – server gods know that too (log files filled up space on one of the six front end servers and haproxy kept directing traffic to that server as it was set on leastconn)!
  • You don’t have money in bank and you are waiting for a wire transfer to pay your bills on time (typically, it comes in 3-4 days) – well, too bad it’s going to be late this time for some reason.

5)     Surround yourself with positive people – over past 3.5 years, I have surrounded myself with people of high caliber and utmost integrity. People with whom I can share what we are up to and struggles/successes we are having. I have tried to remain truly transparent on success and failures and sharing our learning with everyone who is willing to hear J. Your journey will be a lot easier with such people on your side.

Many folks however tend not to share and hoard the knowledge as if they are traders in subj mandi (I am sure they will make a lot of money by selling it like tomatoes at the right time). People don’t realize that in knowledge economy, it’s valuable only till someone decides to blog about it!

6)     Fancy offices don’t matter – if you predict that your revenue is going to take a hit, build a contingency plan and act on it.

  • Start downsizing – move to a flat from an office. Your typical saving in 2 years is 50% – rent is Rs. 35 vs 100 per square feet. There is a higher upfront cost if you have to furnish a flat (1.5 -2 lakh for 15 ppl office) but over 2 years, you will end up saving over 50% (figures are relevant to Delhi).
  • Delhi is far better than other regions nearby in terms of electricity and transportation. You can save quite a bit on generator cost and your staff can travel through metro.
  • Get rid of staff that you can do without – keep people who are essential to achieving your vision. Focus on builders, not maintainers. Maintainers can help you sustain your business but not grow it/get out of dungeon.

7)     One bad apple can spoil the entire basket – It’s true for startup as well. If a team member does not act as part of a team, does not help further our shared vision and goals, we need to let him go. I have regretted the decision where I continue to let people stay in the company with a hope that they will focus on learning and understand that they will grow over time with the company. If people are negative, they will stay negative whether it’s in your company or, some other company. It’s not your fault – let them go.

8)     Spend where revenue is directly proportional to your expense  – it’s easier said than done –

  • Be extremely ROI conscious on advertising spends – they can easily get out of control and drive you in negative cash flow territory
  • Don’t take high salaries – You can’t take more than Rs. 50000 as salary if your revenue is 1 crore. 1 crore revenue with 20-30% margin leaves enough for 3-4 people at that salary level and then some for investment in future growth. Don’t compare it to corporate job – if you find yourself doing it repetitively, consider shutting your company and joining it. You deserve to be happy J.
  • Hire only those experienced people who will deliver from day 1, but be ready to invest in training high energy fresher.

9)     Say NO – When you are drowning in a flash flood, it’s easy to get tempted to hold anything that you can lay your hands on. For a startup, you have limited resources and it takes atleast 2-3 years of sustained efforts before customers start to know your company/brand. If you are building a product and a service job comes along, you have to learn to say NO. It’s hard – I know! Here you are selling $25 per month product and then you are getting offered $2500 for 3 week job. Realize that it will distract your entire team and cost of distracting your entire team is probably higher than what you will earn! All said and done, cash flow is still king! Go figure J

Best of luck and bootstrap away!

If you are bootstrapping, you are not alone here – Sridhar Vembu(@svembu), @Zoho #BootUpINDIA

Sridhar Vembu is a simple person, and most of what he says are tweet sized bits of wisdom. He inspires you almost instantly when you start conversing with him.

That was the first impression when I spoke to him for the first time.

He wanted to get into action as fast as possible. Before we recorded this video I was trying to make him comfortable with what I am going to ask but then he almost immediately started talking about super-interesting things. It was fascinating to hear from him directly. I could almost feel the vibe even when it was virtual. Since I am also focusing on Indian SME and am bootstrapped, I loved this advice: “Go out and learn from the best of the best in the world and then apply them to the local context”. This very much resembles what I wanted to do and my thinking was validated.

We spoke about Zoho’s early days and his remarks will help any young entrepreneurs starting out now. When we start up, a lot of us don’t even know what is the destination and how to navigate the path and what we want to become. In such cases we need a little bit of time and freedom to figure out things along the way. Instead of being forced to adhere to fixed format, setups and rules, bootstrapping is an excellent choice. With bootstrapping there is no sandbox we have to look at.

When I asked him about his hardship to acquire his first 100 customers, he stressed that getting the 1st paying customer is particularly hard. I completely agree; its key to be able to sell to the 1st ever paying customer for any entrepreneur. And the focus here is to find the fit and area where the market leaders are unable to penetrate for some reason. So identifying what is the right place for the current time will become instrumental to get the first one, ten or hundred customers.

At this point I did not want to miss the opportunity to ask a question that I was mulling over for some time. In our first OEQ Hangout on bootstrapping, Shekhar Kirani had said it won’t be possible to build Zoho without funding in today’s times. I did not agree completely with Shekhar at that time. So I asked that question directly to Sridhar to hear his viewpoint. It appears that he somewhat agrees with Shekhar about Zoho. However he said it is possible to build a sizable company now and even after 50 years without external funding. Its just that the entrepreneur must look hard whether the opportunity exists in the current market situation.

So its fair to say that there is nothing wrong in either path. The founders need to evaluate current opportunities and choose the best path that they are comfortable with. Success or failure both can come regardless of the path you choose. So the real focus should be the business and the value the business is creating than the way they are funding their growth. The ecosystem must celebrate both pathways.

Finally, if you are bootstrapping, you are not alone here, this #BootUpINDIA program is for you, come and apply today.

#BootUpINDIA – Giving Independence to Indian Startups!

Being Independent is a fundamental right of all living being. But, as entrepreneurs and startups, when we face tons of challenge and deal with sheer hardship we end up submitting to various ideas that may or may not resemble our need.

Think about why you become an entrepreneur in the first place –  what is it that you wanted to solve and how you are creating value. The support system around us tends to make us believe that there is always one way to excel. So we start with a dream and then end up getting formated to a belief that we never subscribed to.

As an entrepreneur I wanted to build a business and I wanted to make money. But creating value has been always on top of my head. Solving a real problem and finding someone to pay for it is not such a hard thing, as long as you stay with the problem instead of dreaming to become rich overnight. There is no shortcut to success. There is no easy path.

So Bootstrappers, rejoice!

Finally, there is something for you that celebrates your independence.

BootUpINDIA is for you. So, spread the word. Get your friends to apply.


BootUpINDIA is the result of intense internal discussions within iSPIRT. Check out how we think about these issues and sharpen our thinking about making the ecosystem better in this video

Happy Independence Day! BootUpINDIA today!