SaaSy bear SaaSy bear what do you see?

Shifts for SaaS - SaaSy Bear

I see 3 shifts critical for me!

Taking a line from the popular Brown Bear children’s book, I believe that our SaaS startups have a real opportunity to leverage some leading shifts in the global SaaS evolution. While there are many areas of change – and none less worthy than the other – I am highlighting 3 shifts for SaaS (tl;dr) which our entrepreneurs can actually work with and help change their orbit:

  • Market shifts with AI/ML for SaaS to build meaningful product & business differentiation,
  • Platform Products shift to transform into a multi-product success strategy,
  • Leveraging Partnerships for strategic growth and value co-creation.

Some background

I joined iSPIRT with a goal to help our community build great global products. I believed (and still do) that many entrepreneurs struggle with the basics of identifying a strong value proposition and build a well thought out product. They need strong support from the community to develop a solid product mindset & culture. My intent was to activate a product thinkers community and program leveraging our lean forward playbooks model.

I had several conversations with community members & mavens on playbooks outcomes and iterating our playbook roundtables for better product thinking. I realized that driving basic product thinking principles required very frequent and deeper engagement with startups. But our playbooks approach model – working in a distributed volunteer/maven driven model – is not set up to activate such an outcome. Through our playbooks model, our mavens had helped startups assimilate best practices on topics like Desk Sales & Marketing, something that was not well understood some years back. This was not a basic topic. The power of our playbook RTs was in bringing the spotlight on gaps & challenges that were underserved but yet highly impactful.

As a product person, I played with how to position our playbooks for our entrepreneur program. I believe our playbooks have always been graduate-level programs and our entrepreneurs are students with an active interest to go deep with these playbooks, build on their basic undergraduate entrepreneurship knowledge, and reach higher levels of growth.

The product thinking and other entrepreneurial skills are still extremely relevant, and I am comforted by the fact that there are many community partners from accelerators like Upekkha to conclaves like NPC and event-workshop formats like ProductGeeks which are investing efforts to build solid product thinking & growth skills.

As the SaaS eco-system evolves, and as previous graduate topics like desk sales & marketing are better understood, we need to build new graduate-level programs which address critical & impactful market gaps but are underserved. We need to help startups with meaningful & rapid orbit shifts over the next 2-3 years.

Discovering 3 Shifts for SaaS

Having come to this understanding I began to explore where our playbooks could continue to be a vibrant graduate-level program and replicate our success from the earlier playbooks. Similar to an entrepreneur’s journey, these three shifts became transparent through the many interactions and explorations of SaaS entrepreneurs.

Market Shift with AI/ML for SaaS

There is no doubt that AI is a tectonic shift. The convergence of big data availability, maturity of algorithms, and affordable cloud AI/ML platforms, has made it easy for SaaS startups to leverage AI/ML. During a chance roundtable learning session on Julia with Dr. Viral Shah & Prof Alan Edelman, it was clear that many entrepreneurs – head down into their growth challenges – were not aware of the realities behind the AI hype. Some thought AI/ML should be explored by their tech team, others felt it required a lot of effort & resources. The real challenge, however, is to discover & develop a significantly higher order AI-enabled value to customers than was feasible 2 years ago. While AI is a technology-driven shift, the implications for finding the right product value and business model are even greater.

As I explored the AI trend I saw a pattern of “gold rush” – build a small feature with rudimentary AI, market your product as an AI product… – making early claims with small changes which do not move the needle. It became clear that a step-by-step pragmatic thinking by our SaaS startups was required to build an AI-based leapfrog value proposition. This could help bring our startups to be at “par” and potentially even leap ahead of our global brethren. Here was an opportunity to create a level playing field, to compete with global players and incumbents alike.

To validate my observations, I did quick small research on SaaS companies outside of India on their approach with AI. I found quite a few startups where AI was already being leveraged intrinsically and others who were still trying to make sense. Investments varied from blogging about the AI trend, branding one as a thought leader, to actually building and delivering a strongly differentiated product proposition. E.g.:

There are no successes, yet! Our startups like Eka, Wingify, FreshWorks, WebEngage… have all been experimenting with AI/ML, stumbling and picking themselves up to build & deliver a higher level of value. Some others are setting up an internal playground to explore & experiment. And many others are waiting on the shore unsure of how to board the AI ship.

How do we enable our companies to create new AI playgrounds to analyze, surface, validate and develop higher order customer values & efficiencies? To chart a fruitful journey with AI/ML there are many challenges that need to be solved. And doing it as a group running together has a better chance of success.

The AI+SaaS game has just begun and it is the right time for our hungry entrepreneurs to Aspire for the Gold on a reasonable level playing field.

Shift to Platform Products

As market needs change, the product needs a transform. As new target segments get added different/new product assumptions come into play. In both these scenarios existing products begin to age rapidly and it becomes important for startups to re-invent their product offerings. To deal with such changes startups must experiment and iterate with agility. They require support from a base “internal” platform to allow them to transform from a single product success strategy to scaling with multiple products strategy.

This “internal” base platform – an infrastructure & layout of technology components to interconnect data & horizontal functional layers – would help to build & support multiple business specific problem-solution products (vertical logics). The products created on such a platform provide both independent as well as a combined value proposition for the customers.

Many startups (Zendesk, Freshdesk, Eka, WebEngage…) have undertaken the painful approach of factoring an internal platform to transform their strategy & opportunity. Zoho has been constantly reinventing itself and launching new products on a common platform, some of which are upending incumbent rivals in a very short period of time. WebEngage transformed itself from a “tool” into an open platform product.

“As the dependency on our software grew, customers needed more flexibility to be able to use their data to solve a wide range of business problems…significant difference in the way we build products now. We have unlocked a lot of value by converting ourselves into an open platform and enabling customer data to flow seamlessly across many products.” – Avlesh Singh, WebEngage

The effort to build an internal platform appropriately architected to support growing business needs (many yet unknown) is non-trivial and requires a platform thinking mindset for increased business development. It must be architected to allow rapid co-creation of new & unique product values in collaboration with external or market platforms. This can help the startup be a formidable player in the growing “platform economy”.

Leveraging Potential Strategic Partnerships

A strategic partner offers 2 benefits for startups. First is the obvious ability to supercharge the startup’s GTM strategy with effective distribution & scale. How does one make a strategic partnership? Pitching to a strategic partner is very different from pitching to a customer or investor. PSPs look for something that is working and where they can insert themselves and make the unit economics even better. 

“I thought I knew my pitch and had the details at my fingertips. But then I started getting really valuable, thought-out feedback…I had to focus on pitching to partners, not customers.” – Pallav Nadhani, FusionCharts

The second leverage with a partner is the ability to innovate in the overlap of the partner’s products & offerings and the startup’s product values. A good partner is always looking for startups which can co-create a unique value proposition and impact an extremely large customer base.

“…we still have only three four percent market share when it comes to customers. So if we have to participate we have to recognize that we are not gonna be able to do it alone we’re going to have to have a strategy to reach out to the entire marketplace and have a proposition for the entire marketplace…you need to (do it) through partnerships.” – Shikha Sharma, MD Axis Bank

Both these partnership intents if nurtured well can bring deep meaningful relationship which can further transcend scale into a more permanent model (investment, M&A…).

Working with the 3 Shifts of SaaS

While each shift is independent in its own importance, they are also inter-related. E.g. an internal platform can allow a startup to co-create with a partner more effectively. Partners are always interested in differentiated leading-edge values such as what is possible with leveraging AI/ML. Magic is created when a startup leverages an internal platform, to co-create a strong AI-enabled value, in the overlap & gap with potential strategic partners.

And that’s what I see

I see a vibrant eco-system of SaaS startups in India working on creating leading global products. Vibrancy built on top of the basic product thinking skills and catapulted into a new orbit by navigating the 3 shifts.

“Reading market shifts isn’t easy. Neither is making mindset shifts. Startups are made or unmade on their bets on market/mindset shifts. Like stock market bubbles, shifts are fully clear only in hindsight. At iSPIRT, we are working to help entrepreneurs navigate the many overlapping yet critical shifts.” – Sharad Sharma, iSPIRT

Through our roundtables, we have selected six startups as the first running group cohort for our AI/ML for SaaS playbooks (Acebot, Artoo, FusionCharts, InstaSafe, LegalDesk & SignEasy).

If you are hungry and ready to explore these uncharted shifts, we are bringing these new playbooks tracks for you.

Please let us know your interest by filling out this form.

Also, if you are interested in volunteering for our playbook tracks, we can really use your support! There is a lot to be done to structure and build the playbook tracks and the upcoming SaaSx5 for these shifts for SaaS. Please use the same form to indicate your support.

Ending this note with a sense of beginning, I believe that our startups have a real opportunity to lead instead of fast-follow, create originals instead of clones. They need help to do this as a running group instead of a solo contestant. It is with this mission – bring our startups at par on the global arena – that I am excited to support the ProductNation.

I would like to acknowledge critical insights from Avlesh Singh (WebEngage), Manav Garg (Eka), Shekhar Kirani (Accel Partners), Sharad Sharma (iSPIRT). Also am thankful for the support from our mavens, volunteers & founders who helped with my research, set up the roundtables, and draft my perspective with active conversations on this topic: Ankit Singh (Wibmo/MyPoolin), Anukriti Chaudhari (iSPIRT), Arvi Krishnaswamy (GetCloudCherry), Ganesh Suryanarayanan (Tata GTIO), Deepa Bachu (Pensaar), Deepak Vincchi (JuliaComputing), Karthik KS (iSPIRT), Manish Singhal (Pi Ventures), Nishith Rastogi (, Pallav Nadhani (FusionCharts), Praveen Hari (iSPIRT), Rakesh Mondal (, Ravindra Krishnappa (, Sandeep Todi (Remitr), Shrikanth Jangannathan (PipeCandy), Sunil Rao (Lightspeed), Tathagat Varma (ChinaSoft), Titash Neogi (Seivelogic), and many other volunteers & founders.

All images are credited to Rakesh Mondal 

Product Manager as the Wicket Keeper





Wishing you all a very happy 2017, may you get the guts and courage to make the change this year.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, one of the most successful cricketers is certainly an inspiration for all of us – cricket fans and Indians. While he is a famous and winning captain, probably being a wicket keeper has helped him to shape up his instincts, strategy and execution.

Being a product manager for few years now, I often relate to being a wicket keeper, who really wears multiple hats to help his team and win in the market. Often there is lack of clarity on the role of a Product Manager and why are they needed. In this post I would like to focus on drawing some parallels between Wicket keeper and Product Manager , especially differentiating the greats from good ones.

Pitch reader (Market)


Understanding the pitch is a key aspect to winning a cricket match – so is the understanding of the market to win with a product. Wicket keepers are great pitch readers, as they stay close to it always. So is the product manager, as understanding the market is a very significant success factor for products. If product managers can read the pitch (market) well, they can certainly guide the team very well to shape the right product that fits the market.

Supporting the bowler (Development)


One of the primary roles of product managers is to work very closely with development to shape and release the product. They are involved every ball, they need to be attentive to every detail, they need a great presence of mind, they need to keep motivating and appreciating every milestone. They also support the bowlers on field placements – read as key reviews of every aspect of the design of the product. They can give instant feedback and suggest changes, on the spot to ensure success. They also catch to take wickets – similar to some key contributions by product managers on prototyping and closing loop on the product.

Alert with fielders (Quality Assurance)


Wicket keepers stay alert with fielders and set an example in the field, as well as guide the field on what’s coming from the bowlers. Product managers similarly are one of the initial quality assurance /testers of the product, and guide the QA on how to ensure the quality of the product.

Close to opponent (Competitive insights)


Wicket keepers stay very close to the opponent batsman. They know whats their strength and weakness by closely following and watching them. This can certainly help share their insights to the bowlers. Similarly Product Managers have to stay very close to whats being done by competition, and how the products they build can surpass the competitor products, by understanding their strengths and weakness.

Handy batsman (Sales)


Finally wicket keepers can also support with the bat. While they are not the strike batsman, they may be useful handy batsman as they know the pitch and the opponents, and in some situations could single handed win with their extra batting abilities (like a Dhoni or Gilchrist). Product Manager similarly can support Sales to win in the market. Product managers know all the details of the product, the market and the competition – so they can certainly help win in sales. While they are not the strike sales man, they can be an effective supporting person for the striker. Some Product Managers have a very high success rate of closing business when they are involved.


There could be more parallels…but hope the above helped you understand the critical role of product manager, as critical as a wicket keeper in a cricket match, and some of the key ingredients and potential contribution they can make to your product.

When we all started playing (read startup), we may not need a full time wicket keeper as someone wears that hat in rotation, but to make it big (beyond early stage startup) you probably need one.

Great Product Managers move on to become Great Product Leaders and are winners….Adam Gilchrist or our MS Dhoni !



PS : Never thought MS Dhoni will resign captaincy when i wrote this blog post (he resigned on same day when this post was published). Anyway hoping he will continue to be a wicket keeper for a some more period, and great team player 🙂



FirstHive @PNGrowth2016

‘Omwana ni wa bhone’ – a famous African proverb meaning: “ Regardless of a child’s biological parents, its upbringing belongs to the community”

A cold November morning, we drove down to Devanhalli on the outskirts of Bangalore, having blocked three days to be a part of PNGrowth2016. Reading about the previous version of PNGrowth & the regular updates  coming in from Avinash, we could not wait to be there. We were hungry to learn from the journeys of Indian products that traversed the same path successfully.

We reached the venue around 9 am and it could not have been a better start – a cup of hot tea, networking with the other founders from across the sub continent and some french cricket to break the ice (more so when we won our match! :)). The formal sessions kicked off with Shankar / Aneesh / Pallav / Shekhar / Girish setting up the context and inspiring to see the passion from Sharad for achieving iSpirit’s vision. It was already clear what mammoth effort must have gone into bringing together such stellar leaders from the the Indian Product startup space in a single room. I realised that while our asses might get kicked in these three days by this group, we were definitely going back with actionable learnings to help us grow 10X!

FirstHive was part of the Global SMB cohort with 12 other founders. With Girish (FreshDesk) and Suresh (KissFlow) as our coaches, we could not have asked for anyone better! Shankar and Aneesh took us through this session by filling in the framework for their business with generous inputs from Girish. “Bullshit!” – this word resonated many a times in the conference room that first session in various cohorts but it was accompanied by sharp inputs & perspective by the respective cohort mentors! I loved this concept so much, we are using it @FirstHive in our meetings 🙂  (hopefully we will slowly not have to use it that often!).  The frameworks given to succinctly define our value prop stumped many of us, led to much introspection among most founders.

As we got past the critical “Who Am I?” question, Girish and Aneesh took to the stage and walked us through what does 10X scale look like. They challenged us to imagine and define this for our respective products. Metrics and mistakes shared with respect to their growth stories made this session very relatable and actionable. The insights on the Top of the Funnel drops (TOFU), Middle of Funnel leakages (MOFU), and closure challenges, including delving into sales challenges, team structures, compensation best practices were invaluable. For us at FirstHive, this session could not have come at a better time as our internal goal was to scale 3X in 2017!
Manav and Shekhar sessions following this on sizing your market was interesting, because it gave us two different ways to look at the market, product expansion, TAM and how success can be achieved. The impact of market size on the size of your business was a recurring lesson and the important of defensibility forced us to evaluate the ‘hard to replicate’ levers for our business. There was also the quintessential point on timing that Shekhar went into and how different companies dealt with this. The learnings from Aneesh on how he created his sales plan and achieved success in new markets with Capillary, Girish speaking of the challenges faced in scaling Freshdesk, and Suresh sharing the sales process that worked for him at KissFlow, Shekhar walking us through how a VC potentially looks at businesses or sectors, Pallav walking us through everything including factors that aid the result oriented culture at FusionCharts were invaluable.

Nags (24/7) and Raghu (Taxi4Sure) walked us through their respective successes and a good glimpse into what rapid scaling could mean. Phani (RedBus) spoke to culture, defensibility of a low margin business, speaking of how and his team travelled in buses (to ensure they eat their own dog food at RedBus) and Sanjay Anandram’s story of passion to coming back to India to ignite the nascent startup industry and Sanjay Deshpande’s journey in deep tech were inspirational. Mohit’s story of how Carwale happened and culture was absolutely amazing and how important culture was to building an organisation from an idea. Pallav helped our cohort with his examples of product / market choices and culture and we found comfort in his point that sometimes good choices are retrospectively self-evident. But most founders were probably in a similar state as us – optimistic, a little confused but above all, very hungry to succeed that led to innovation & jugaad.

The whole event was wrapped up with each of the founders presenting a curated pitch to their respective cohorts which was followed by a peer review. Some of us including FirstHive were given the opportunity to  present in front of all the cohorts which helped us get some more feedback. But my note will be incomplete without a mention of the fantastic after event party where everyone hung out, loads of informal interaction & some collaboration opportunities were identified. It also would not have been easy for everyone to take three days off from their businesses & families to  spend time grooming potential future success stories like FirstHive and for this we shall remain indebted to them.

Growth Hacking after PNgrowth

We left the venue very very tired (less than 8 hours of sleep in 3 days) but our hearts were pounding & our minds were brimming with ideas – thanks to a wealth of new information, learnings that we had to internalise and apply to our business. We had to put together a 45 day GrowthHack plan for FirstHive incorporating as many ideas as we could from PNGrowth! So we set out three days of sessions with our leadership – our VP Engineering, VP Products and our VP Sales. We did similar exercises, used the frameworks, shouted out BullShit many times and eventually got to a plan for FirstHive! We are now pursuing a master list of 8 initiatives across the company: Our singular goal – get ready for 3X growth in 2017!

iSPIRT’s  mission is to transform India into a nation where the best of breed global products will germinate from and with PNGrowth they have truly provided us at FirstHive and all the others who were there, with the tools to go ahead & take “ pandas  in the global marketplace. We  hope to say our thanks by making FirstHive a leader in the B2C Cross Channel Marketing space. If there is one thing that was exceptional about PNGrowth, to me it was True learning – No halos, no facades, no bullshit! Honest dialogues with real examples from folks who traversed the same path which were are on today. The willingness of these founders to openly share their internal growth numbers and metrics that can help us benchmark our business, sharing with us mistakes made to ensure that we do not repeat those – this was truly ‘Omwana ni wa bhone’ in practice.

Behind the scenes of $2 billion Indian startup movie #PNgrowth

Last month, for the first time, I witnessed something really special. Even for someone like me, whose very job and calling is to evangelise this nascent software ecosystem of ours, this was something extraordinary.

I’ve been doing this a while, and what happened last month was one of the best feelings I’ve had in this journey.

This is what happened: Some of the leading B2B enterprise startups in the country, including FreshdeskEka SoftwareCapillaryZenotiFusionChartsKiSSFlow, etc all got together under a single roof.

This is what they got together for: To help 52 other, smaller B2B startups in achieving scale, like they have.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the founders of these companies are some of the most important product leaders we have.

In the first session itself, Shekar Kirani pointed out that a platform like this will not be easily available, and the assembled startups needed to leverage the best from the network and from the folks who had arrived with the the express intention of helping them. And the product leaders who also made an important point – that they did not want the new age startups to go through the same grind, or make the same mistakes they had made in their years of scaling.

I was amazed. It is almost never that you see such accomplished professionals come together towards helping and nurturing young startups from their own learnings.

And what was this? What was happening?

This was the 2nd edition of #PNgrowth.

The first one had been in Jan 2016 at the Infosys Campus in Mysore where we had assembled around 186 founders to help companies think about Category Leadership. It went really, really well, but the feedback was that that perhaps keeping it focussed for fewer founders would help the cause better.

Many heated discussions were conducted over breakfast, lunch, dinner, and beer (especially beer) on the program for the 2nd edition and on how we can add value to the content.

These conversations were typically 4-6 hours long, which meant that the entire program/content took us over 200 hours with 12 founders brainstorming for the past 3-4 months.

It really did take us that long.

And those deep discussions based on the 1st edition’s feedback was what the program for November was based on.

And now that #PNgrowth 2016 is over, I decided to take a look back and share some of the learnings in organising this, and on how we pulled this together. 

This year, the program was designed to help companies chase ‘Good Scale’, that is, to achieve high growth without compromising on quality. There were 52 founders with us, from all over India, and a few from outside as well.

Before we get into the details, a larger question must be addressed again, largely because it keeps getting brought up. This time, I’m trying to use a different approach to explain this. Bear with me.


iSPIRT’s mission is to make India a ProductNation. We have many initiatives like Playbook RoundtablesPNcamp, etc which are focussed around building products and helping companies achieve good scale. Although there are many accelerators in our country, very few offer value to the founders/companies. Keeping this in mind, iSPIRT wanted to do something unique and create a platform which would help companies think about growth in an effective manner. More importantly, we want to make ongoing mentorship accessible to the founders.

_mg_0662The goal was to create 8-10 companies every year which would eventually go on to become $10mn revenue companies in the next 3 years.


These are the co-chairs.

The first edition of PNgrowth had just finished and I was looking for someone to be the architect for the second edition. I met Shankar Maruwada for lunch at Muffets & Tuffets and was having a completely different  conversation. But, as we touched upon the PNgrowth topic, Shankar had lots of suggestions on how we could do this better. I immediately requested him to help in designing the program and helping me organise it better.. He accepted graciously, and was keen to help.

_a5a7389My next request was to get Pallav Nadhani involved again. There is a reason for this. Pallav, in many ways, was the person who forced us to think around Category Leadership. The first meeting took place at Pallav’s place which went on till 2:30 am.

By then, I had had several interactions with Aneesh Reddy, and the early playbook roundtables on Product Management had been done by him. I reached out to him and he was very keen to be part of the program and help us.

With Shankar, Pallav and Aneesh on-board, the pillars of the event were erected.


These, of course, were the facilitators.

Around 4-6 months in advance, we started working on the content for the event. Various topics were discussed. One thing was clear to me: Every founder had immense passion and commitment to add value to a certain topic. The format we had in mind was to make very interactive session. All of us had had enough of the ‘sage on stage’ approach. The founders were to lead sessions and work along with the participating entrepreneurs to help them extract maximum benefit.

Many discussions later, Pallav & Shankar actually started with using the frameworks & mindflips and were later joined by Girish & AneeshManav & Shekhar also used the same in their session. 

_mg_7722It was great to see that all the facilitators did an outstanding job of delivery of the frameworks and ensured that they shared real life stories and lots of data and numbers from their companies. What was more important was that they made sure they spent time with all the attendees and ensured they received personalised attention. They were able to build a personal connect and trust within the startup community by sharing internal information even though they didn’t have to, thereby making the discussion even more credible.


Oh, that. We had huge demand for tickets from the audience, the founders of India’s growing startup community.


This time, right from Day 1, we only wanted to get select founders to be part of PNgrowth.

To begin this selection process, we laid out which stage of startups would benefit from PNgrowth. We then went on and created a list of founders and reached out to them. Apart from this, we reached out to folks from within the eco-system and got them to recommend companies to us.

Each company was recommended by atleast 2-3 founders from the PNgrowth curation team. We did zero marketing for PNgrowth except for a video, which we used to communicate to potential participants. We received overwhelming response for the event thus putting me in a fix at several situations where I had to inform founders that they have been rejected for a program/event. It was difficult, but in the interest of the event, it had to be done.

We finally had 54 founders who confirmed their participation, out of which 52 showed up for the bootcamp. These companies were divided into groups of 6 based on the type of customer/geography they were catering to.


These were the mentors, and we were able to get around 14 founders as mentors and were simply amazed by their commitment for the two and a half days of the event. Mentors were involved in all facets of the event – from intense board room discussions to the dance floor. Let me go little more deeper on the role that they played. In every session, the founders got access to few frameworks, mindflips which they had to fill and discuss with their peers + mentors. Lot of learnings were shared by mentors and it became very valuable to the founders. Very few of them tweeted from the program as everyone was busy interacting, engaging, absorbing content, but here is one of the tweets which acknowledges the mentors.


Getting to them, the volunteers.

In my work, I get to interact with many volunteers in many initiatives, but this time the commitment and the passion with which the volunteers worked was unimaginable. Folks would go to sleep at 5am and be ready next day at 8am. They would ensure that mentors/founders have had breakfast, etc and would go an extra mile to take care that founders are focussed on their work and don’t get distracted.

Volunteers also interacted with the founders to understand if the pace/level of the sessions suited them. Lot of planning was done in advance that each and every person who is part of PNgrowth goes back with a WOW experience. I still wonder where they get so much of inspiration from.

_mg_8120I don’t know if i would ever be able to do something like that. Hats off to all the volunteers who put together an awesome experience for the PNgrowth family.


Day 1

The Founders started with a cricket match between the cohorts itself. 

Sharad Sharma, our guiding light, kick started the event with his words of wisdom for all the founders.

And then it began with Pallav’s session on Who are you? As founders, entrepreneurs have to pitch or sell their ideas constantly, so as to inspire the listener to believe in their dream to either fund the idea, join the team, tie up with the startup, or write about the startup. Is there a method to this? Can this be an acquired skill? 

In this session, founders learnt and practiced a simple framework that enables them to improve their ability to pitch their ideas in the shortest time, to the desired target audience – VCs, journalists, co-founders, customers, business partners, and employees.

The next session was focussed on how to maximise the value of your product. If you as a founder were to increase the perceived value of your offering (Increase average MRR by 1.5X and/or reduce churn to 0.5X),how would your economics change? How would it change your CAC, margins? What would you as a founder then do differently with your product strategy, go to market strategy (positioning, marketing, channel, pricing), team/organization structure, to increase pricing by 1.5X, in the scenarios below as relevant to you. This was followed by an interactive session with the mentors. 

This was end of Day 1 and then we had networking dinner, drinks, some dance and lots of conversations led by Vinod & Ashish.

Day 2

The second day was a more power packed with two sessions. To their credit, the founders were highly engrossed in their sessions, sans their mobile phones and laptops which helped in making these sessions successful.

During the first half, Girish and Aneesh engaged in an extremely fruitful session on product-market how to scale 10X with emphasis on how to establish your sales funnel and building a repeatable sales cycle. This session covered on selling processes from SMBs (by Girish) and enterprises (by Aneesh). They also shed some light on how pricing, positioning and selling varies from one geography to another.

Apart from this, Suresh also gave his insights on selling global products out of India.

_mg_7993The complete session went on till almost tea break after which the candidates came back in for the third and final session by Shekhar and Manav.

This session was meant to give a befitting end to the two rigorous days of activity.

While Manav spoke about how to choose your niche category and expand to other similar industries and geographies, Shekhar’s session was centred around what a VC looks for a in a startup. In the session,

Shekhar did a Q&A round with Nags and Girish on what it takes to build a successful organisation.

He also delved a bit deeper on aspects like how to choose the right market and how to intelligently figure a way out of a market and move into one that is expanding by extracting maximum business value.

Here Raghu also added his thoughts on what it takes to raise venture capital and how one should structure an organisation for a CEO to utilise his time in the most efficient manner.

Though the mentors tried to cover as much ground as possible over the two days, they took questions from audiences on anything they still might have a doubt about.

After this was a complete group photograph since some of the mentors had to leave that night. The energy of the picture speaks for itself. Before calling it a day, the founders were given tasks/homework for them to present on the final day.

Day 3

The third day, we had some inspirational stories from Sanjay Anandaram(Seedfund), Mohit Dubey (CarWale),  Phanindra Sama(RedBus), Raghunandan G(TaxiForSure), Sanjay Deshpande(FortyTwo Labs). We had actually planned for only Sanjay to talk about “entrepreneurial mindset” and then we thought about inviting all of the above folks to share their energy.

Something which we had planned for 20-30 minutes went on for around 90 mins and it was an absolute pleasure to hear some of the learnings/failures from all these founders. Below is the NPS score of 89 for PNgrowth 🙂 

nps-score-pngrowthAfter this, all founders were made to do this exercise on “Getting to 3X Growth in 12 Months”. All mentors with their cohorts spent time with the founders and helped them on what they should be thinking about this. Six Founders got an opportunity to share with the whole group.

Finally Shankar invited all volunteers to share few words on why they volunteered for PNgrowth. With it, a spectacular three days came to end, with some photographs and a lot of hugs, cheers, and greetings.

For me, it was a great feeling to see all of this happen, and at this scale. This probably capped off the year of 2016 for me and iSPIRT as a year in which we were actually able to make the ecosystem function as a cohesive, united entity. Lots of work is ahead of us, but as I write this, I acknowledge a task well begun.


Many thanks to Sairam for editing & Shruti for filling the blanks.

Every scale has an expiry date #PNgrowth 2016

It was all about #GoodScale at #PNGrowth2016 !!

Pitching to Peers in Gurukul Style

I participated as a volunteer this time around and missed the keynote in day one since I was busy in printing #MindFlip worksheets for 50 odd entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs were handpicked by a very credible set of people who knows what #Scale means to B2B products.

Pallav and Shankar Maruwada did the priming by asking all the founders to reflect and redefine themselves within a framework that was designed carefully. Here not only they were asked to redefine who they are but were asked to open their heart and mind to play ping pong shooting game with co-participants sitting next to them. Learning to allow others become your mirror is a great way to identify your mistakes faster. These hard hitting peer challenge just bring the hidden self and does the world of good and the benefits will longer. Once they know who they are, they were told to pitch for a different context and at a different level. Mentors and peers played a critical role here and acted as an investor, prospective employee, customer etc.

When Phani talked about how he was lucky and all that happened around him at RedBus just happened and he just sailed through the wave. With all that humility he then explained if he had to present something like Girish, it will be something. The contrast was visible and it was beautiful as nature painted on a canvas. Girish spoke about #GoodScale he narrated the techniques that helped him to shape up Freshdesk. These techniques are not #GrowthHack these are practices that have been experimented, hammered and perfected. The honesty and ability to open up without ego, self-promotion was incredible to see.

Learning sales funnel from people like Aneesh, Suresh, Girish is like dream come true and Aha moment for many. These are something that can be practiced and implemented the next day !!

Manav re-iterated that it’s all about Sale-Sale-Sale for the founders to win. It truly amazing to listen how he closed big deals or key hires over cup-of-coffee, I personally loved the way Manav has navigated the journey by increasing his target market size with one step at a time. Solving one problem at a time and then moving to adjacent space which made it easier to traverse instead of starting big from day one.

Preparing for Final Pitch Selection within a cohort

The mentors were in no mood to get the feel-good emotion to sync deep inside founders, while some of them were in the go-kill-it mood, Sanjay Anandaram, and Sanjay Deshpande did a Jugalbandi and helped people to come down to earth from cloud 9. While everyone one builds a multi-billion dollar business it is also important to understand what the expiry date for the things that we do and then taking the smaller exit when appropriate does a world of good to the founder and as well as the country.

There were some discussions around “let go” — while good scale requires founders to realise it’s important to let go things and have other participate in growth, however depending comfort one could choose to hands-off-and-eyes-on model. Lots of participants participated in this discussion and shared how this could become the biggest bottleneck to scaling.

Building #ProductionNation is not an individual effort and is no less than #FreeDomFight for a country like India. People compare everything we do with #SiliconVally. However, I can’t imagine whether #PNGrowth is possible in #SiliconVally where successful founders will come and spend 3 days apart from spending days together in preparing the content and structure of the program during the last couple of months. The selfless attitude and ability to open their armouries to a group 70 odd startups are simply amazing to see.

Signature Club Resort at Brigade Orchards was amazing in the evenings. Hanging out with 50+ founders with DJ Music and beer gets even better. Ashish Tulsian and Vinod Muthukrishnan are shining star and we discovered them during last PNGrowth. After the heavy and long day, there is no better way than chilling with them. Their unique ability to hold a large group of people and make them laugh is just unthinkable and you can only relate to it if you have been part of the show before. This time the VC teardown in front of a VC was just the killer effect of the whole event !!

Mentors and Volunteers

Hope this has shaken and woken up some of the founders and they will carry all that they got and move from #HappyConfused state to a 100 Million dollar or more startup in years to come.

I am so fortunate to witness this event. Great learning for me as well even though I was not able to sit through all the sessions. My biggest learning: everything has an expiry date and learning how to map that to what I do is key to success small or big !!

50 Companies. 3 Days of Bootcamp. 1 Year of Mentorship. #PNgrowth2016 is back

We’ve done this for two years. It has been successful. But we still felt that it could be improved. We went back to the drawing board. We thought hard about how we could do this better.

And we’ve come back with something that will be more powerful, and even more demanding from our product entrepreneurs.

#PNgrowth2016 will feature only 50 startups, giving each startup more facetime with the mentors, more scrutiny, and more learning. Reducing the number also means that the quality of the startups attending will also go up, thereby making peer to peer learning  and networking even more valuable.

whatsapp-image-2016-09-13-at-4-57-29-pmSo 50 Companies. 3 Days of Bootcamp. 1 Year of Mentorship.

The Product Bootcamp is back. Smaller, better, more intense. Apply now!

Who is #PNgrowth for, and who is it not for?

PNgrowth2016 is a program to help companies chase ‘Good Scale’ i.e. achieve high growth AND increase in quality. Achieving Good Scale is a critical first step to a company achieving Category Leadership.It will be a year long program comprising of selecting around 50 companies who will go through a three day bootcamp, followed up with monthly mentoring sessions to track progress over the next 12 months.

The idea behind #PNgrowth2016 is to identify companies who can be significantly impacted with Mentoring and put them together in an intense environment to accelerate their learning curve. It is not meant for companies who are:

  1. Well funded, have their business model figured out and have access to business inputs and sufficient mentors.

  2. Companies who are in survival mode, are wondering whether they will survive the next six months or don’t yet have a working product and some initial customers.

How will the format be?

The inputs to the companies will come from structured frameworks provided to them and from intense practice of these frameworks as it applies to their individual cases. During these practice sessions, they will get relevant feedback from their peers, and from experienced Mentors. The feedback will help them improve their thinking and the structure (including metrics) will allow them and their Mentors to judge the progress being made over the next 12 months.

What happens in the three day bootcamp?

  1. You might have heard of a Product Teardown? #PNgrowth2016 starts off with a three day bootcamp for your business model.  It is an intensive ‘business model’ teardown for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs.

  2. To begin with, you will be provided with a structure along with frameworks and metrics which you will apply on your own business.

  3. There will be three main sessions (each lasting 4 hours or more) – Market (Demand), Product (Supply) and Product-Market fit.

Across these three sessions, your business model will first be torn down and rebuilt. Along the way, will be questioned on every assumption you have made about your customers, your product, metrics, your business etc (maybe even about yourself)!

You will also get feedback on your efforts from peers – you will be in a cohort of 12 other entrepreneurs. These fellow entrepreneurs will be in your cohort throughout the three days, and for the rest of the year (Think iSPIRT RoundTables)

You will get feedback from Mentors who are practitioners of the science and art of building companies – VCs, experienced entrepreneurs, specialists in Product, Marketing and Sales, Finance. There will be two mentors assigned to each cohort of 12, and there will be around 4 cohorts in all.

There are three formats of learning we’ve planned:

  • VC or ‘Judgment’ – Where your business is judged by those who might want to invest in you and their judgement is a kind of feedback for you to refine your business model.
  • Sage on Stage or ‘Teaching’ – Knowledge from experts whose experiences inspire or instruct you to refine your business model.
  • Guide by the Side or ‘Learn by doing’. You get relevant feedback and insights on your own efforts from peers and mentors that are directly applicable to refining your business model.
  • PNgrowth will be 85% of ‘Guide by side’, 10% of ‘Sage on stage’ and 5% of Judgement model. Your output is proportional to the effort you put in. There is no passive learning.

At the end of the bootcamp, based on all the business model tear down and rebuilding, you will walk out with the top metrics of interest for you, your goals for those metrics over the next three, six and twelve months, and your choices and actions to reach those metrics. The metrics will enable you to progress check in monthly meetings/calls with Mentors and your cohort group.

The preparation for bootcamp will begin with the curation process itself. You will start answering the very simple set of questions that will be repeated throughout #PNGrowth2016 – What is your hypothetical customer Bob’s problem that you are solving (Market-Demand), how are you solving it (Product-Market fit) so that you can have a scalable, sustainable Business Model  which allows you to achieve ‘Good scale’ and positions you on the track to Category Leadership.

And since there are only 50 slots, you should start now!

On Independence Day, India’s budding product entrepreneurs get the freedom to choose: Introducing the Product Nation Founders Hub(PNFh)

On Independence Day, we at Product Nation have an important announcement to make. This one was a long time coming, as we tried to classify, clear up, and target our efforts for the product ecosystem better. This update is mainly focused on the Playbook pillar, one of iSPIRT’s key initiatives, and will have effects on other fronts as well.

We are reviving some of the initiatives; to others we have added more rigour and form.

Depending on what stage(Discovery, Happy Confused) you are in as a founder you can leverage the iSPIRT programs accordingly. We now have a mailing list we call the PNFT (Product Nation Founders Tribe), where we will update subscribers on the Playbook and other iSPIRT initiatives. If you are not part of iSPIRT, but still want to receive our updates, please fill up the form.

This won’t make you a part of iSPIRT, though, and we reserve the right to extend invitations for smaller, more pointed events only to our members. Our programs like the RoundTables, PNcamp, and PNgrowth, are oversubscribed to, and therefore we extend invites only to curated startups.

Why on Independence Day, though? One, for purely sentimental reasons: our mission, after all is to make India a Product Nation. And two, we’d like to say that will better clarity, entrepreneurs now will have the freedom to choose which iSPIRT programs they want to be part of.

iSPIRT-Playbook LandscapeSharing some of the initiatives classified based on stages:

Pre Entrepreneurship – iKen
This is a boot camp aimed at folks planning a startup or who are in the early stages of their startup. It is based on a ‘by entrepreneur-for entrepreneur’ model and on the effectuation model put forth by Professor Saras Saraswathi. This is a 10-week exercise/task oriented course designed at gaining clarity and action. The participants do most of the work during the week and review happens at a 2-hour meet every weekend. Once they graduate, the community continues to meet to help each other through the journeys.
More details can be seen at
City: Bangalore

Discovery – PNcamp(8th October 2016)
This is a boot camp for product people, by product people. It is a day-long coming together of doers: ones who have been there, done that; and ones in the journey of getting there. Orchestrated by hand-picked facilitators, it promises focused, interactive, deep conversations within small, curated groups. PNcamp is a surefire avenue to find inspiration, insights and tips, and connections for life to tangibly get ahead in your product journey.  The 2nd edition of PNcamp is in Pune on 8th October. More details can be seen here.
City: Pune

Happy Confused – Playbook Roundtables
Playbook-RoundTable is one of iSPIRT’s most sought after community events. It’s a gathering of 12 like-minded product startups who are beyond the early stage. RoundTables are facilitated by an iSPIRT maven who is an accomplished practitioner of that particular theme. All RoundTables are conducted on a pay-it-forward basis. The only payment you have to make is to provide your undivided attention and active involvement in the process. Playbook-RoundTables are a dialogue and there’s no monologue. None.
Cities: Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad & Bangalore

Happy Confused – PNgrowth(25-27th November 2016)
#PNgrowth camp is a long term mentorship/peer learning program that is focussed and has only one one aim – category leadership. The second edition is being planned for 25-27th November and only 50 founders will get to be part of it. The theme for this year’s PNgrowth is “Achieving Good Scale”. We will be curating around 50 startups for PNgrowth this year. We have around 14 mentors who will be working with 50 curated startups for the next 12 months.
City: Bangalore

Product Tear Down sessions (Happy Confused & Discovery stage)
Product Tear Down session where SaaS founders offered their product to be teared down by expert SaaS founders and audience. The experienced SaaS founders publish guideline templates based on which they will provide feedback to brave startups. We hope to start this series on a monthly basis. Check details here
City: Bangalore, Chennai & Pune

Growth Stage – F6
A group of six founders whose startups are already making over $25 million in annual revenues, and are hungry to learn from peers about challenges unique to their life stage: namely, hiring sales professionals for tapping global markets and avoiding the mistakes that others have made. This group meets once in a quarter and is a closed group.

SaaS Community – SaaSx
SaaSx brings together best-in-breed SaaS entrepreneurs across India to celebrate, inspire & spark up the spirit of start-up ecosystem. It’s an exclusive invite-only bootcamp, created by SaaS entrepreneurs for SaaS entrepreneurs, as an opportunity to network, learn, and engage with the most passionate individuals in India’s startup ecosystem. We have done three editions and the next one is scheduled in the month of October.
City: Chennai

ProductNation Blog
We have an active blog where there is lot of information for Founders. Lots of learnings from PlaybookRTs have been captured here.

The key mavens who drive some of the Playbook Initiatives at iSPIRT are.

  • Aneesh Reddy, Capillary Technologies (Anchor for Sales Playbooks)
  • Girish Mathrubootham, Freshdesk (Co-Anchor for SaaSx/SaaS playbooks)
  • Manav Garg, Eka Software (Anchor for F6)
  • Pallav Nadhani, FusionCharts (Co-Anchor for PNgrowth)
  • Samir Palnitkar, ShopSocially (Anchor for PNcamp)
  • Shankar Maruwada, EkStep, (Anchor for PNgrowth)
  • Shekhar Kirani, Accel Partners (Anchor for Product Tear own session)
  • Suresh Sambandam, Orangescape Technologies (Co-Anchor for SaaSx/SaaS playbooks)
  • See a complete list of Mavens here

If you would like to apply for any of the initiatives at iSPIRT, please apply at

Amal Tiwari helped in designing the infographic & Sairam Krishnan assisted in editing this blog post. 

PNGrowth – An Experience that transformed…

Getting up at 4am in the  morning and discovering 200 founders lined up at Madiwala, to catch the bus before the scheduled departure, instantly reminded me of  the huge line of techies in front of the American Consulate at Annasalai for my H1B visa, two decades ago 🙂

What a transformation India has gone through!!  I have no doubt in my mind that India has started a new innings and is steadily transforming into a Product Nation.

Finding Your North Star

Day One was all about defining the Vision, Goals and the Scope of our respective companies. Aaron Chatterji, from Duke, started with this analogy “Finding Your North Star” – which is about identifying that one thing that will give you direction when you are lost in the middle of nowhere. He then, conversed with  Pallav, from FusionCharts, on his “North Star”; which was then extended to an elaborate discussion on why it is important to manifest a sustainable belief statement and focus hard to keep things open and adapt to environmental changes that may occur in the future. Pallav further elaborated this with a few examples. I will pick one of them –  Adobe believes that they will help people create digital assets and publish them in an easily and creatively. Twenty years back, it was consumed by DTP(Desktop publishing) centers, then web design, and now it’s digital marketing. But with all the changes that happened over the past twenty years, their belief statement  still aligns with what they do!

Then, it was time for an “empathy interview” –  where two founders interviewed each other  in turns. Here, we tried to put ourselves into the other person’s shoes and see how we can help the other side to discover and/or realise things that he/she can’t see otherwise. If you care for someone, then you won’t be afraid to be brutal in your opinions, and that helps the person you care. So, the intent of this exercise was to get brutal, if required, and make the other person realise what they have not realised till date. On day one, everyone got tensed with all the harsh feedback from mentors like Sharad Sharma and Kunal Shah; as both of them did their best to convey the message to all the participants – that they are here to become the category leaders in their space. I guess the intent was to ignite that fire, and make participants realise they need to get their act together, if at all they want to become the category leaders in their respective spaces. You could see that people went to bed with long faces 🙂

Unfair Advantage

Day two was about discovering our unfair advantages and leveraging the ecosystem.

Aaron Chatterji from Duke started the day with beautiful remarks and helped people understand the semantics of “Unfair Advantage”. Sharad Sharma took the stage and in his usual style asked people who they are taking a “Panga” with, he then gave a case study of Sridhar Vembu from Zoho and quoted him (from the NASSCOM Emergeout event 2009), “watch out guys, I will be coming with products, which will take away your business!” Then Sharad was in the fact-taking “Panga” with all the service companies in the Indian software ecosystem. And now, Zoho is the  leader in it’s space. So the message was very clear –  if you want to become a category leader in your space, you have to take a “Panga” with someone, you have to disrupt somebody, it may be a company or a system, but you have to take a “Panga” and Sharad was aggressive while saying this.

Then Shankar Maruwada took the thread and asked the participants to travel to the future, and assume that Forbes India has just listed them as a part of the ‘Top 100 Richest Indians’ and asked everyone to list out the unfair advantage that helped them become successful. Participants were given 5 minutes… you could feel 200 entrepreneurs churning inside the cores of their body and mind and it was indeed a powerful realisation. The mentors were visibly happy that the participants were putting in real effort to discover themselves, with tools provided to them. Aaron then spoke about various resources and capabilities that could be potential advantages to the entrepreneurs, and then we all carried out the exercise of identifying the “dhobi list” of all possible resources and capability that work as an advantage to our businesses. Then, we slowly filtered the list using a few parameters like ‘valuable’ and ‘can’t be copied.’ We did a few more exercises to identify the top two or three unfair advantages, that help us be a category leader. Later in the day, we went through another critical aspect, where we went through a bunch of worksheets to identify our IPO (Information, People, Organization) that can potentially help us become category leaders. IP Framework is a very powerful tool which enables entrepreneurs to leverage the ecosystem, while building powerful companies and creating substantial value. The second day was very satisfying, and I saw many  gratifying faces during dinner time. The Infosys Campus was beautiful and green, but there was no place to hangout and have bonding sessions and fun with fellow entrepreneurs ; so, a bunch of us went out to a local pub, and to our surprise they arranged a campfire and we had loads of fun. We discovered two spontaneous and outstanding stand up comedians, who can make you laugh till you drop !!!

Action Plan

Day three was about creating an action plan and refining it via ‘SharkTank-style grilling’ interviews with mentors. Aneesh Reddy from Capillary was at his usual best in sharing how to grow, how to focus on things that matter today, and then derive an action plan accordingly. Everybody was asked to create a “laundry list” and then continue eliminating till they were left with the top two action items. The Sharks (Mentors) then picked a few entrepreneurs they wanted to grill. It was more like the “empathy interview” we did with fellow entrepreneurs. The intention here was to ensure that each one of us were made aware of the tools we had in hand to go fight it out, and increase our chances to become category leaders. Through all three days there were mentors and coaches all around us, who were helping entrepreneurs brainstorm and refine their gameplan to win, and win profoundly. It was a life changing event for many, including me, here are three essential things that I learned:

    • Have a sustainable belief statement with focus on function, so it will be easy to evolve and adapt to environmental changes  that may occur in the future
  • Having a strong disagreement is not enough, take a “Panga” with whoever (company or system) you are disrupting
  • To take a “Panga”, you need to have tools; so identify your ‘Unfair Advantage’ (read as Brahmastra)

It was a great experience for me and it was wonderful to see people like Phanindra Sama, Aneesh Reddy, Shankar Maruwada and other mentors going out of the way in helping the entrepreneurs.  


Folks at work @PNgrowth #pngrowth

— Ankur Agarwal (@annkur) January 9, 2016

I have also attempted to capture some experiences from fellow entrepreneurs –

Harshit Agarwal  from Appknox: We are too busy in building our business and we don’t get enough time to come out of that loop and think from outside about where are we heading and what is our vision. PNGrowth helped us realise that we need to have a proper plan and we need to know our unfair advantages and make a growth plan accordingly. Mentors, who had gone through this journey and built successful companies shared their experience and worked one-on-one with us to make an impact. For sure, a majority of us came back with a proper executable plan to make sure we are category leaders in our space.

Suneil Chawla from PNGrowth was a one-of-a-kind experience – having 200 fellow founders and some very successful founders like Kunal from FreeCharge, Anish from Capillary, Phani from Redbus –  all spending time together over a weekend with only one goal: creating category leaders who innovate and have an unfair advantage against other players in their chosen markets. Personally, it really helped us to get valuable inputs and feedback from 20+ founders and nearly 10 startups keen to launch ‘Influencer marketing’ campaigns. We also had a bunch of startup founders from Chennai and I’m sure we will continue our new friendships. Sharad and the entire Product Nation team drove this fabulous initiative as volunteers  – we definitely need more such initiatives to become a Product Nation.

Paul Mathews  from This was no ordinary conference or workshop. We got the taste at the end of the first day, when Kunal (Freecharge) and Sharad (iSPIRT) did not mince words, and told us that we have to call each off other’s ‘BullShit.’ The mood shifted from then on. Becoming a category leader is not easy; you need an unfair advantage; need to take a panga (fight) with a leader; and need to stay focused on an action plan for 10x growth. This was no ‘feel-good’ seminar. Calling this a BootCamp is an understatement.

Jaineel Aga from Planet Superheroes: 3 days of a turbo charged environment, where entrepreneurs from all walks of life had only one thing on their mind – Displace the incumbent, take the “panga” and not settle for mediocrity. With solid frameworks backed by academic research by professors of Entrepreneurship from Duke and Stanford, and corroborated by real life learnings from arguably the best in the business, this program and experience over three days would outshine most “entrepreneurship” programs in business schools.  After 3 days, I have been left with a razor sharp vision for our business, solid framework and metrics to track and lastly, the one that I value most – a  network of 200+ entrepreneurs and industry mentors whose support, feedback and bonhomie will be the necessary fresh air while traversing the circuitous and lonely journey to the top.

Osho Sidhant from We get so busy doing things that we forget to check if we are doing things which will bear fruits. In the life of an entrepreneur, it is critically important to do only the right things because resources are limited and every wrong step potentially takes you behind in terms of time. PNgrowth was an event which has trained our minds to run in the right direction. For the three days at the bootcamp, we were compelled to rethink our strategies and what it will take to be a category leader. The talks of seasoned entrepreneurs like Phani, Kunal, Aneesh, Pallav further let us know the highs and lows of entrepreneurship, and to keep our minds and hearts at peace.

Ravi Datanwala from The best investment for any founder aspiring to be a category leader and taking a #panga with the incumbents. Knowledge sharing by those who have been there and done that and how they did it – was very insightful and helped me make the necessary corrections in our planning and execution. It helped train our mind on how we should be razor-focused on the short term goals to get to the next innings, whilst building the right long term goals for our success. Do #epicshit and learn to say NO. The best way to say thanks to all the organizers and program mentors would be to put the learnings into action and show them how you are on the path to becoming a category leader and being a part of the Product Nation.

Ajay Chanam from PNgrowth will prove a game changer for not only the companies that participated and benefitted through its extensive learning program, but also for India as a whole in terms of our ability to produce the next wave of innovative companies. While PNgrowth evidently seeks to help the first 200 startups, it also lays precedent for ‘Paying it Forward’ and companies will do it happily having experienced its power – first hand. The conventional mindsets are at the cusp of being torn apart, paving way for a transparent entrepreneurial eco-system and while companies will continue competing with each other, the new ecosystem will empower the better company to win and make the playing field more equitable for the Davids of the world (against the Goliaths of the world). It was one such experience for me – an experience of a lifetime, absolutely. I will never be the same, Half Step Rock will never be the same, and the  world will never be the same going forward.  So, get your gear, set the stage, check the sound. There are Rock Stars from every part of India who are now only waiting to be found!

Sarang Lakare from Someone rightly said, if you want to make a great dish, you need to mix the right contents in the right amounts. PNGrowth was one such great dish, a delicacy if I may call it that, perfected by some of the most experienced Chefs from Stanford, Duke, and the Indian product ecosystem. When you give such a dish to 200 startup founders, you are bound to get healthy product startups out of it! One day, we all hope to make these Chefs proud for what they created for us.

3 Days to remember : 200+ Entrepreneurs , Inspiring mentors and a life-changing workshop – @PNGrowth 2016.

It was an eventful Friday morning – 7 buses with more than 200 attendees made their way to Infosys campus, Mysore, the venue for a 3-day entrepreneurial retreat.  #PNGROWTH 2016, was handcrafted by iSPIRT foundation and  academia professionals of  Stanford and Duke school of businesses for Indian Start-ups. Each bus was assigned a bus facilitator and Pallav Nadhani, who set the ice-breaker game rolling in our bus.


Infosys Campus, Mysore is one of the best campuses one can experience. We were highly-charged with great energy and enthusiasm after a delicious lunch that was arranged at the venue by the organizers.

PN Growth Collage

Enter, Day-1 Session.  

The agenda was focussed on crafting visions statements, setting goals and identifying scopes.  We were assigned partners, asked to exchange information about our company, our vision, goals and scopes and also gave feedback to one another.  Thanks to ways we’re programmed, our feedback was sugar-coated, attempted to never offend anybody with our brutal expressions. Little did we know that this exercise had a greater purpose until Sharad Sharma insisted  “Sugar-coating was never the name of this game!” The session was an eye-opener for many of us, as he explained that it was important to learn the art of calling out on somebody’s bullshit on their face. This exercise put every one of us into deep-thinking, unlearning and reconciliation.

Relevant Tweets:

Day 2 , 9th Jan Saturday

PNgrowth 2016, was essentially designed to construct a mindset wherein entrepreneurs need to ascend from just being profitable to becoming a category leader.  As the first step, each of us had to get to the grass-root level of what “unfair advantage” our businesses offer.  Adding to it, we were asked to analyze many other aspects of our businesses. The PN Growth ecosystem is so solid, that this mentorship program not only helps new-generation and budding entrepreneurs of product companies to learn from peers, but also strengthen the startup ecosystem with the sound knowledge on how to run a business like a visionary.  This one-of-a-kind experience of business modelling was presented to us based on combined efforts of industry unicorns and academic professionals from Duke & Stanford.


Day 3, Jan 10th  Sunday

The enriching conversations and the beam of positive vibes injected by mentors is what made this retreat a fun learning experience.  It was Sunday morning and it never felt like it . The third day was designed to focus on putting every learning that we had gained over day 1 and 2 into action.  During this implementation, we were not only able to define action items for the early-stage and growth-stage of the businesses, but also understand and prioritize each of these action items. “Shark Tank”, one of the most valuable sessions at the event happened. Every participating company was given a 15-minute slot to present their idea. The mentors questioned us,  gave feedback and also guidance. This collaborative mentoring was priceless.  Our special thanks to all the learning coaches who took their precious time off their busy schedules to contribute to the community and a big shout out to the iSPIRT team,  especially Avinash Raghava and Sharad Sharma to make this event happen. Everyone of them have been a wonderful source of inspiration and exuberating great passion and energy.


PN Growth program has helped shape many of us to build great companies and for that, a great deal of thanks! We are now driven by this one superordinate goal of becoming a category leader. India is already proud of many such companies and many more will get there soon. They say “all good things come to end”– but for PN Growth members this is just the beginning!

Guest Post by Arvind Parthiban , CEO – Zarget (A/B Testing & Heatmap Software)

Prof. Sharique’s(Stanford’s) email to internal iSPIRT community

Dear iSPIRT Family,

I wanted to follow up with an update from the PNgrowth team at iSPIRT. A little less than a year ago, a small group of iSPIRT volunteers proposed something unconventional:

We would run a bootcamp to jolt 200 growth stage entrepreneurs from India to aspire to category leadership. The bootcamp would combine learnings from strategy courses taught at Duke and Stanford with detailed case studies of Indian companies such as InMobi, Zoho, Paytm and more. More radically, we would eschew the Sage-on-Stage model for 3 days of active learning where founders worked with peer and mentor support to rethink their own startup’s raison d’etre. To provide as intensive an experience as possible we would have morning and evening breakout sessions and the bootcamp would be fully residential with accommodation, food and transport from Bangalore available to all participants. Finally, we would do this with only minimal cost to the participants. In early 2015, something of this complexity and scale seemed not just unconventional, but improbable.

As many of you know, last week a team of nearly 30 iSPIRT volunteers pulled off the PNgrowth bootcamp in Mysore for 200 growth stage startups. The response before and after has been tremendous, and we have learned much in the process. After the bootcamp, participants have taken to social media to share their experiences. A few examples on the iSPIRT blog:

And read the many tweets on #PNgrowth:

Now, with some experience under our belts, we hope to continue working with the PNgrowth participants over the course of the year, learning about their startups and providing help and resources when possible. But, if producing many category leaders from India is the ultimate goal, then even the best organized 3-day bootcamp will be insufficient. So, as 2016 begins, a small group of volunteers is beginning to reimagine even bolder ways to help India’s product entrepreneurs. The ideas are likely to be audacious and unconventional, but that might be what it takes.

Thank you,

An incomplete list of the volunteers who made PNgrowth possible:

Aaron Chatterji – Duke University; Amit Somani – Prime Ventures; Aneesh Reddy – Capillary Technologies; Avlesh Singh – WebEngage; Kunal Shah – FreeCharge; Manav Garg – Eka; Manjula Sridhar – ArgByte; Nags – [24]7 Inc; Pallav Nadhani – FusionCharts; Phanindra Sama – Former redBus; Prasanna Krishnamoorthy – Microsoft Ventures; Sanat Rao – iSPIRT; Sanjay Deshpande – Uniken; Sanjay Shah – Zapty; Shankar Maruwada – EkStep; Shekhar Kirani – Acces; Sumanth Raghavendra – Deck; Avinash Raghava – iSPIRT; M. Thiyagarajan(Rajan) – Intuit; Sandeep Todi – Remitr; Rohit Veerarajappa – Wow Labz; Praveen Hari – Thinkflow; Manu Jolly – Student; Tanish Thakker – Zone Startups; Rem Koning – Stanford GSB; Sharique Hasan – Stanford GSB; Solene Delecourt – Stanford GSB; Randy Lubin – FactoryX; Gokul K S – PNgrowth; Sairam Krishnan – iSPIRT; Hrishikesh Kulkarni – Freshdesk; Senthil Kanthaswamy – Freshdesk; Sharad Sharma – iSPIRT.

“What’s your Unfair Advantage ?” #PNgrowth

This was one of the questions posed as a challenge to all startup founders at the #PNGrowth Camp last week. We all thought that we had the magic sauce or the unfair advantage that will help us build category leadership companies, only to realise that most of us did not.

200 startup founders across the country, spanning different domains had participated in the PNGrowth Camp at the Mysore Infosys Campus last week (Jan 8-10). It was the first ever such large gathering of Indian Founders at a single bootcamp.   This was organised by iSpirt to nurture the Indian startup Ecosystem to help founders create more successful ventures.

The Advantage had to pass the following criteria to be qualified as an Unfair Competitive advantage.

– An Advantage that

  • you could derive value out of.
  • cannot be copied.
  • is quantifiable.

Putting this to test, most of us realised that we did not have the unfair advantage.

In the “North Star” module, we explored how much we have stayed true to the core goals and vision we started out with and how much we have steered away from. A small digression initially looking harmless, takes us far far away from the original goal over a period of time. In the day to day running of a startup and firefighting, we often forget the big picture, missing the forest for the trees. This module bought us back to the core.

“Your network is your networth” is a well known adage.

In the “IPO module”, we got to know where we stood w.r.t leveraging our network (Information, People and Organisations – IPO). We explored what missing connections we needed to take our startups to the next level.

In the “Shark Tank” module,  mentors reviewed our actions plans and gave us candid and honest feedback on what we need to do. This was the best part of the whole program for me to be picked and my startup strategy reviewed, and getting candid feedback.

Overall, this 3 day bootcamp was a great transformation experience to get my bearings right, get honest feedback from mentors and peers, make a lot of new connections, revisit some of the assumptions and have a solid plan to execute.

Thanks to iSPIRT team and #PNGrowth program team members for giving us this “Unfair Advantage”!

Guest Post by Shashi Bhushan, HealthMacro

Le lo PANGA- Let’s make India a Product Nation


I am Amit Mishra – running a SaaS venture Interview Mocha, a pre-employment skill testing company. In this blog I am sharing my experiences from PNgrowth 2016 and how it transformed the way we (Indian product startups) think.

Brief about PNgrowth

  • PNgrowth helps you redesign your startup to win.
  • 2 1/2 days resident full-time programme organized at Infosys Mysore campus from 8th Jan 2016 to 10th Jan 2016.
  • Arranged by iSPIRT and supported by Stanford, Duke.
  • 200 curated Indian product startup founders attended it from every corner of India – metro, non-metro.

Who I am writing this for?

  • Thousands of Indian product startup founders who couldn’t attend it or are willing to attend it in future.

Why am I writing this?

  • To let Indian product startup founders know that you are not alone.
  • To boost up their confidence.
  • My cent to promote iSPIRT to make India a product nation.

My takeaways, thoughts, learnings as below –

1.  Good News! We are supported by reliable Ecosystem.

Acche din ane wale hai!

I was amazed and ecstatic to see, we are genuinely supported by iSPIRT, Infosys, Stanford, Duke and dozens of entrepreneurs who have been there and done that. Infosys (an IT services company) helping us (product startups) made me write a slogan for PNGrowth programme– “Powered by Infosys, Driven by Intellects”.

2.  The Journey is not lonely.


Here, there, everywhere – all product startups.

200 product startups at one place – amazing feeling to know that we are not lonely. The road less travelled is not so lonely and dark anymore.

3.  Bade Bhai log are at rescue.


Bade Bhai (and behan) log were selflessly helping, sharing experiences, showing realities, shaping up our dream, challenging us to take PANGA (to take on fight) with world leaders, saying bullshit quite often to what we do ;)

Thanks, Hats off, Salute bade Bhai log. Keep helping :-) I will join your bandwagon soon :-)

4.  What was told? and What it meant?

Below I list down the crux of what was told and what it meant during numerous sessions, peer reviews, seminars, campfire sessions, spark sessions, coffee/meal breaks in the programme. Key points are

  1. Learn to say no.
  2. Aim to take category leadership position in your own category. Otherwise, you are in bullshit.
  3. Having Vision (belief) and North Star for your business is a must.
  4. Companies in the past are not successful by accidents or incidents. Unfair advantage is the key to success.
  5. Leverage ecosystem – PIO(People, Information and Organizations).
  6. Take PANGA with the leaders in your category from the day one.
  7. Have action plan to grow 10x in 2016.

So, all the startup guys out there – are you ready for the great Indian PANGA!


Guest Post by Amit Mishra, InterviewMocha

Top 10 Observations of #PNgrowth camp

#1. Volunteers: They deserve beyond a standing ovation. They have not only just volunteered- they passionately executed – Awesome job, and hats off.

#2. Participants: They are the best part of this program. Everywhere there is energy, and everyone wants to meet someone new. Great listeners who are wholeheartedly and passionately pursuing their dreams. Everyone of them will be a great leader and make India very proud. They think, live, breathe, every moment about how they can make a meaningful difference to someone’s life. Their ideas are amazing and are solving very specific problem.

Good to see so many first time entrepreneurs with over 15 years of professional experience. The domain knowledge brings completely different value to the ecosystem. Instead of building completely different and disruptive ideas, they are optimizing and creating an incremental value by solving problems in the current system itself. These are big opportunities especially with country over a billion population, great opportunity for many category leaders.

#3. Speakers & Coaches: Amazing delivery. Very interactive and precise. Rather than being on the stage, they walked around showed us that the were with us and available within arms-reach. I enjoyed every second.

#4. Program: It was planned, designed and delivered well by accomplished entrepreneurs and top academicians. The simple and easy workflow streamlined thoughts and reiterated quickly, brilliant!

#5. Discipline: There was Pin drop silence many times during the workshop- hard to do with 200 high energy founders in one room. No cell phone rings, no side conversations, or laptop clicks. It was a bold idea to use whistling many times to override the energetic tea breaks

  #6. Campus: It was inspiring and majestic. Every inch was sparkling clean and amazing positive vibes everywhere. The choice of this campus was brilliant as it was designed and built to create great leaders. Thanks to Infosys for the opportunity.   #7: Food: There was a question once about how many of you are still following your new year resolution diet and only few hands were up. I think most of us took diet as one of our resolutions and we gave up these three days. Believe me, it was hard to resist.

#8. Brutal Feedback: Many may disagree about the first day “Brutally Strong” feedback, but it was a needed one to push out of the comfort zone and give more power to the peer-to-peer learning. The next two days were completely unbiased and brutally honest discussions. We are warriors and came here to train to win the battle. If we get hurt ,we don’t look at our wounds or worry about the bleeding-we will swing our sword stronger and push the enemy back so we took it in the right spirit.

#9. Schedule: The program was designed for 16 hours a day, from 6 am to 10 pm. After that we caught up on burning issues or socialized beyond midnight and showed up at 6 am next day. We are all entrepreneurs and used to the 18 hours days, so thanks to the organizers for your confidence in us to give our all.

#10. Giving back: The camp is giving back to the country by highly successful entrepreneurs and thought leaders to create more winners and more jobs. It refueled and reignited the startup engine for a long journey.We all have an opportunity to give back every day by sharing the knowledge and mistakes or feedback to the fellow entrepreneurs as participants. What I’ve realized in my last 8 years as an entrepreneur is giving back is actually getting back in bigger value. (Mostly in the form of knowledge of do’s and don’t’s.) We all have an obligation to support the great initiatives of iSpirt to make India a great nation.

Guest post by Prabakaran “Praba” Murugaiah, 

The last list – the final 25 #PNgrowth companies.

This is it, then. The last announcement of #PNgrowth 2016 is here. We have now the entire 200 companies who will get together in January for the inauguration of what is the most ambitious mentorship programs for startups ever put together in India. We now have about half a month to go, and it would be great if the companies talked to each other, think about what they want out of this, and discuss stuff. We have set up a Facebook group just for this, and we will be taking pointers for program design from on there, so be sure to get on it.
For further announcements, you can follow us here or on the Facebook group itself. 
25-founders-collage-8th batchSo here we go, the last 25. #Pngrowth 2016 is well and truly on!
Sivaram Subramaniam of CavinHR
Puneet Sharma of Bugclipper
Satish Kamat of Jambuster
Jay Thaker of sumHR
Salar Bijili of Cuecontent
Hari PK of Bigfoxx
Dr. Shikha Suman of Medimojo
Sanjay Shah of Zapty
Nikhil MS of Clusterzap
Sumesh K Menon of Winds Business solutions
Vinay Simha of Amiya
Kavita Khandadia of Mytripkarma
Vivek Beria of Whizzwifi
Dharam Mehta of Wedwise
Saurabh Saha of Talentpegs
Ish Jindal of Hellotars
Arvind Batra of EventsHigh
Satish Kashyap of AlgoEngines
Subrat Kar of Vidooly
Vishal Singhal of Artzolo
Nitin Chadha of Sride
Suraj Goyal of Printbindaas
Sarang Lakare of Intouchapp
Rittvij Parekh of Pykih
See you all over there!

One more list to go. The last #PNgrowth companies are here!

We are at the end of the announcements of shortlisted companies for #PNgrowth 2015. There’s only more to go after this, and we want to thank all those who applied. We put this event together for you, and you have responded. We are working hard on the programs so you get maximum benefits from Mysore and the subsequent interactions.

So here you go, the second-last list of #PNgrowth companies. Congratulations to the finalists, and there’s only one more to go.

25-founders-collage-7th batch

Sharan Madawal of Inzaxis
Suneil Chawla of Influencer
Alan DSouza of Vavia
Paul Mathews of Nethram
Sidharth Wadehra of Terrabees
Rashmi Padhy of Koove
Rahul Reddy of Nutrifi
Nishant Pandey of Getgreaser
Ankit Dudhwewala of Softwaresuggest
Anil Gupta of Smart Buildings
Abinash Saikia of Enclouden
Vaibhav Lodha of FTcash
Abishek Ballabh of Extraaedge
Abishek Humbad of Nextgenpms
Abhijit Choudhury of AzureAiken
Ashutish Verma of Paymateexpress
LN Mishra of Adaptive processes
Navin Chandra of Mavsocial
Barbara Main of Minsh
Suvodhoy Sinha of Adnabu
Abhijit Mhetre of Canvazify
Krupesh Bhatt of Legaldesk
Rani Paruchuri of Dreamtekis
Akshay Gautam of Heymojo
Manik Mehta of Linkmysport

Congrats to the chosen ones!