India’s Health Leapfrog – Towards A Holistic Healthcare Ecosystem

In July 2018, NITI Aayog published a Strategy and Approach document on the National Health Stack. The document underscored the need for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and laid down the technology framework for implementing the Ayushman Bharat programme which is meant to provide UHC to the bottom 500 million of the country. While the Health Stack provides a technological backbone for delivering affordable healthcare to all Indians, we, at iSPIRT, believe that it has the potential to go beyond that and to completely transform the healthcare ecosystem in the country. We are indeed headed for a health leapfrog in India! Over the last few months, we have worked extensively to understand the current challenges in the industry as well as the role and design of individual components of the Health Stack. In this post, we elaborate on the leapfrog that will be enabled by blending this technology with care delivery.

What is the health leapfrog?

Healthcare delivery in India faces multiple challenges today. The doctor-patient ratio in the country is extremely poor, a problem that is further exacerbated by their skewed distribution. Insurance penetration remains low leading to out-of-pocket expenses of over 80% (something that is being addressed by the Ayushman Bharat program). Additionally, the current view on healthcare amongst citizens as well as policymakers is largely around curative care. Preventive care, which is equally important for the health of individuals, is generally overlooked.  

The leapfrog we envision is that of public, precision healthcare. This means that not only would every citizen have access to affordable healthcare, but the care delivered would be holistic (as opposed to symptomatic) and preventive (and not just curative) in nature. This will require a complete redesign of operations, regulations and incentives – a transformation that, we believe, can be enabled by the Health Stack.

How will this leapfrog be enabled by the Health Stack?

At the first level, the Health Stack will enable a seamless flow of information across all stakeholders in the ecosystem, which will help in enhancing trust and decision-making. For example, access to an individual’s claims history helps in better claims management, a patient’s longitudinal health record aids clinical decision-making while information about disease incidence enables better policymaking. This is the role of some of the fundamental Health Stack components, namely, the health registries, personal health records (PHR) and the analytics framework. Of course, it is essential to maintain strict data security and privacy boundaries, which is already considered in the design of the stack, through features like non-repudiable audit logs and electronic consent.

At the second level, the Health Stack will improve cost efficiency of healthcare. For out-of-pocket expenditures to come down, we have to enable healthcare financing (via insurance or assurance schemes) to become more efficient and in particular, the costs of health claims management to reduce. The main costs around claims management relate to eligibility determination, claims processing and fraud detection. An open source coverage and claims platform, a key component of the Health Stack, is meant to deal with these inefficiencies. This component will not only bring down the cost of processing a claim but along with increased access to information about an individual’s health and claims history (level 1), will also enable the creation of personalised, sachet-sized insurance policies.

At the final level, the Health Stack will leverage information and cost efficiencies to make care delivery more holistic in nature. For this, we need a policy engine that creates care policies that are not only personalized in nature but that also incentivize good healthcare practices amongst consumers and providers. We have coined a new term for such policies – “gamifier” policies – since they will be used to gamify health decision-making amongst different stakeholders.

Gamifier policies, if implemented well, can have a transformative impact on the healthcare landscape of the country. We present our first proposal on the design of gamifier policies, We suggest the use of techniques from microeconomics to manage incentives for care providers, and those from behavioural economics to incentivise consumers. We also give examples of policies created by combining different techniques.

 

What’s next?

The success of the policy engine rests on real-world experiments around policies and in the document we lay down the contours of an experimentation framework for driving these experiments. The role of the regulator will be key in implementing this experimentation framework: in standardizing the policy language, in auditing policies and in ensuring the privacy-preserving exchange of data derived from different policy experiments. Creating the framework is an extensive exercise and requires engagement with economists as well as computer scientists. We invite people with expertise in either of these areas to join us on this journey and help us sharpen our thinking around it.

Do you wish to volunteer?

Please read our volunteer handbook and fill out this Google form if you’re interested in joining us in our effort to develop the design of Health Stack further and to take us closer to the goal of achieving universal and holistic healthcare in India!

Obsessive Focus To Product Market Fit – Tricks of the Trade and 5 Case Studies

As we begin 2019, for many startups the big question is – have they reached Product-Market fit or what should they do to reach Product-Market Fit.

Market it is!

There are 3 important ingredients for making a product – the actual product, the people who build this product and the market for which the product is built. The point of getting the right intersection of the three with success gets you to product market fit.

Marc Andreessen, whom I consider as the Father of Product Market fit, describes Market as the most important of the above 3, and Product Market fit is more likely to be achieved when you have a market – “In a great market – a market with lots of real potential customers – the market pulls product out of the startup”.

So the most important thing in your journey is to identify what market you are addressing. Basically, it means customers – businesses or consumers – who are seeking a solution, a better solution or cheaper solution to a problem.

The market definition has to be very clear and focused – as that would drive the product directions and help you get to the product – market fit.

Here are some questions you can get answered to validate the existence of the market:

Why need? – why do the customers want to solve the particular problem – what’s the real need. Is the problem that you are solving is a painkiller, vitamin or vaccine?

Why buy? – are they ready to pay for it – many solutions are liked by customers, but they could back off if they have to pay for it. So value hypothesis of this would help. Also if you are not expecting the users to pay for it, who will pay for it e.g. ads pay for social media users

Why now? – is this the right time for the product – timing is very important as customers have many solutions and many problems, and they care to address only some problems that have higher priority for them to solve – so timing is an important element to understand if there is a market that exists.

It’s happening vs not happening

How do you know if your product has hit the product market fit? Here are some nice indications

Isn’t Happening It’s Happening
Not getting any customers Customers are buying your product – at least few in B2B and many in B2C
The problem you are solving is not a high priority for your customers Usage is growing
Word of mouth is not happening You have to hire sales and support people
Customer feel your product price is not giving them enough value You are called out by the press, analyst – get good social media mentions
Press reviews are not happening, no tweets or mentions Customers send feedback and complaints – issues

Obsessive focus for Product-Market Fit

For any entrepreneur or product leader, there should be an obsessive focus to get to product market fit. The below is a Create > Prove > Iterate process that can help you to get to product market fit. Also, it’s not going to happen very fast, it needs perseverance and constant focus to move the needle – it’s a long-term journey.

During the process, you may have to do any of the following change to get to the product market fit

  • Rewrite your PRODUCT
  • GO AFTER a Different MARKET
  • REPLACE your PEOPLE or Hire SPECIALIST
  • IMPROVE THE USABILITY
  • CHANGE THE TECH ARCHITECTURE
  • UPDATE YOUR Deployment MODEL
  • Revisit PRICING STRATEGY
  • Fix Quality issues or Customer grievances

5 Takeaway case studies of Successful Product-Market Fit

I wanted to lay out few examples, all Indian, on things that will help you validate your market hypothesis as well as give some references on some generic areas that have worked. I am picking three examples in software tech and two non-software to broaden the horizon of how we should think product-market fit.

Transformation of Existing Product: Royal Enfield – You may notice in the Indian roads a lot more Royal Enfield Bullets plying which was not a case for many years when the 100cc bikes became the hot thing. This is a huge success story when it comes to finding the right Product Market Fit. Royal Enfield was in a do or die situation in the early 2000s – the discussion was around whether to sell off or shut down and its next-gen leader Siddhartha Lal stood up and asked for the last chance to revive. Here are the things they did to reach product-market fit – and the success is big case study now

  • Leisure Segment – The bike had its reputation, a cult following, an instantly recognisable build, and aspirational value. So it was given not to go to the commuter segment
  • Innovate with new tech but still keep the old charm that customers loved. They changed the engine which had 30 % fewer parts, and 30% better power, plus fuel efficient
  • Fix the quality process and problem – formed a field quality rapid action force to bridge the gap between customer expectations and the reality
  • Sales Experience had to be improved – new company-owned showrooms were launched and dealer network was expanded
  • Get the best talent – the company hired top talent – a new CEO who had enormous experience in transformation and revival, with auto experience

So as you can see over the years, there were very visible actions taken and we know how Royal Enfield is such a huge success. You can read the full case study here

Clear Definition of Market and Problem Statement: Career360 – When I was doing some innovation projects to leverage big data a few years back on EduCareer, I bumped into this startup that I thought had a very clear differentiation of their market and huge potential in India which has a huge number of young students – seeking to know what, where, why and how they should study something in order for them to reach their dreams.

The problem that they laid out to solve, is a huge one – as every student and parents of the student have this as their top priority – which validates the market need.

The objective as laid out by their founder Peri Maheshwar really makes the problem statement very clear – “

– To ensure that every student makes an informed career choice.

– To force institutions to greater transparency with their data and achievements

– To create an Information eco system suited for the 98% Indians than the 2% most meritorious one’s.

For us, a career is a life. A student isn’t any other customer. He is a life. He needs to be protected.”

As the market is clear and exists, once the focused founder is on a mission to build a product for this market (Student), they were naturally able to get there. Offcourse their journey has been with a lot of hard work, innovations – it’s been great to observe from what they have started out with to how they have really transformed their product and tools to address the market. With a high school going daughter, we have been personally benefitted by them, so are the millions of students/parents in India. The best part of their offering is that they are multi-platform – Careers360’s has been reaching out to students through multiple platforms viz. print, web, mobile and TV. So it’s a case of great omnichannel experience for the student through traditional and tech channels.

Career360 is a clear example of how Marc A says “In a great market – a market with lots of real potential customers – the market pulls the product out of the startup”.

Leverage similar idea to validate market: SeekSherpa – I met this startup in one of the Google Launchpad events, and I straightaway was blown away with the idea. I have been personally tracking the travel industry very closely and how tech is helping this further. In that Airbnb, story is amazing, as it really was a huge vaccine product to address a market that existed for the “tired of hotels”travellers. SeekSherpa was a great offshoot of Airbnb type idea – in the same industry but for a different product offering. SeekSherpa connect “real” local tour guides and Sherpa’s for the “tired of regular guides” travellers.

So with the market validation, obviously the offering/product has to be compelling – and I saw their Lazor focus on great UX being a killer differentiator initially, and the ability to connect the local guides to travellers as a way to get to product-market fit. Its been a fantastic journey by Dhruv and Sukhmani who founders of this great startup, they have also addressed different channels that appeals to connect the traveller with the sherpa.  And once again, the most important thing here is that the market existed, very well validated with a similar idea which makes it easy to explain, and it’s a problem better addressed by tech.

 

Expanding product capabilities to reach market: Schoolpad – I met with this startup through iSpirit, and what really caught my attention was the way the founder Abhiraj Malhotra explained to me how he transformed his product features to make it a viable option for Schools to buy it. Schoolpad started off with a USP of improving the Parent – Teacher collaboration. Soon they realized that while this is a great capability, it cannot on its own sell. So they expanded the product to include the core School management features. So essentially it became a solid School ERP with the differentiator of the collaboration feature which was the original capability. This has helped them reach a great market – as Schools are now willing to embrace this solution.

A great story of innovating and expanding the product to get to the market – and therefore reach product-market fit.

Price point to reach market: Xiaomi Mi – Apple products are aspirational, but many cannot afford it or they don’t see the value. So customers are always looking for alternatives that are cheaper and provides near equal features. This is where a company like Xiaomi comes in, where they really penetrated into the mobile market with a great product at a very affordable price, as that then opens up a huge market.

In order to do that, they had to initially sell through only online channels – Mi sold only through Flipkart initially. Also, they couldn’t spend a lot on marketing, so they leveraged the flash sale idea to promote their products. Over the years, as others started copying their model, they have now gone into the physical store – to sell through new channels. They also make a lot of the parts locally to get a cost advantage. Finally, now they are looking to penetrate rural markets as their phones are affordable.

To read more on their story, look for their original china story and then the India story.

So again here, the market is the winner – the market here is affordable smartphones, which was not addressed by Apple.

Products do not have to be original, you can always build products to address market based on Price.

In summary, getting to a product market fit is a journey, it may take time, but most important is to identify and get the market definition right, and channel your resources to build the product to address that market.

Happy New Year 2019!

What lies beyond the horizon: Digital Sky & the future of drones in India

Drones have been around for a long time, going back as far as World War II. For most of their history, they were considered part of the military arsenal and developed and deployed almost exclusively by the military.

However, the past decade has seen a tremendous amount of research and development in the area of using drones for civilian purposes. This has led industry experts to predict that drones will be disrupting some of the mainstay industries of the global economy such as logistics, transportation, mining, construction and agriculture to name a few. Analysts estimate a $100 billion market opportunity for drones in the coming few years  [1]. In spite of the overwhelming evidence in favour of the value created by drones, it has taken quite a few years for the drone industry to take off in a commercial sense globally.

The main reason for this has been the regulatory challenges around what is allowed to fly in the air and where is it allowed to fly. A common theme around the world is the unconventional challenges that old governmental structures have to face as they try to understand and regulate new technologies. Hence the default approach so far for governments has been reactionary caution as they try to control what are, essentially, flying robots in the sky.

However, with electronic costs coming down, the hardware becoming more accessible and the software interpreting data becomes more powerful a number of humanitarian, civilian and industrial application have emerged and as governments across the world are realizing the potential of drones, we are starting to see the first version of regulations being drafted and adopted across the globe.[2]

Closer home India has a relatively adverse approach to drones or more lackadaisical rather. [3]

But as India continues to drive to become a more technology-oriented economy the role of drones in the worlds fastest growing economy and the potential benefits it can bring are hard to ignore.[4]

However, India’s approach to drone regulations cannot be that of other major economies that have the luxury of friendly neighbours and a large network of monitoring apparatus, India has had to take an approach that has to be novel and robust. Something that balances the security landscape while also being designed to allow maximum utilization of the potential that drones offer. Out of this need to both regulate secure how and where a drone can fly and keep multi-ministerial stakeholder interests accounted for was born the Digital Sky, India’s foundational framework for all things drones.

What is the Digital Sky and how does it work?

What the Digital Sky accomplishes beautifully is to fill the institutional void that needs to be collectively fulfilled by so many institutions and make it easier for the industry and consumers to interface with the government legally through one platform. Permission to fly drone no longer requires a 90-day intimation with an arbitrary number of NOCs to be approved by umpteen number of ministerial bodies at the central and federal level. The industry and the public now know one place to interact with in order to register their drone, get recognised as a certified operator and apply for permissions and all concerned government agencies ensure their overarching interests do not interfere with the large-scale adoption of drones.  

There are crucial components required for the Digital Sky concept to work, the most central being that drone operators should not be able to fly drones if they are not approved by the government. To accomplish this the Drone 1.0 regulations revolve around the concept of No-Permission-No-Takeoff (NPNT).

Our maven Tanuj Bhojwani explaining NPNT at the DigitalSky RoundTable on 4 Dec 2018 in Bengaluru

What this implies is that unless a drone has got valid permission for a particular flight through tamper-proof digitally signed permission tokens, it will not be able to take off. The Digital Sky is the platform to automate the processing of these permission tokens as they flow in from different parts of the country without overwhelming the authorities through a flight information management system (one of only three countries to build this nationally after China and the USA). In order for this vision to come true, there will be an enormous change in the way drones are manufactured and operated. Entire new industry verticals around getting existing drones compliant, developing interfaces that interact with the Digital Sky platform and making applications for India’s needs will develop. Hence this begs the question.

How are the current state of the industry are changing with 1.0 regulations

Until the introduction of the regulations companies especially in the UAV operations were doing non-restricted work and end up becoming the jack-of-all-trades. Companies in the manufacturing domain were unclear of who is their target customer and what they needed to build. All the companies in this domain were working with no clarity on the safety and permissions.

With the introduction of the Drone Policy 1.0, there is a buzz which has been created and efforts are being made to understand the regulations by all the entities who are set to gain from it. They understand that there will be a new aspect that needs to cater to i.e. the sense of accountability.

For manufacturer’s The NP-NT mandate will be the most immediate requirement, the most common route to implement the mandate will be through changes to existing firmware architecture. The changes themselves are being driven by open source initiatives with various operators, system integrators and manufacturers contributing to the shift to NP-NT for all major drone platforms in the country. The Digital Sky has inadvertently catalysed the first industry-wide initiative to bring together all members of the ecosystem. Other requirements such as ETA bring in much-needed standardisation in the hardware space, this allows benchmarking of products, easier availability of information about the standards to look out for end users.

For operators, a massive increase in the volume of business is expected as they can now focus on getting certified drones into the air, and not so much on getting approvals. The Digital Sky brings in much-needed certainty and predictability into an industry that will be focused on balancing demand and supply of drone-related operations in a market that has a huge need for drones and their data but limited expertise to acquire and process it. This also puts onus an industry to become security and privacy conscious and insurance agencies will play an important role in this regard. It will also immensely help in changing the thought process of the companies providing services and their customers. Customers will start understanding that they also need to have a defined plan, process and execution instead of a haphazard existing process of execution.

How industry/playground will change over the coming years?

With the introduction on the regulations and a platform like Digital sky enabling the ease of doing business for the companies who are serious stakeholders in this domain, there is no limit to what developments will occur in the coming years. It opens up possibilities for utilization of Drone and its related technologies in Agriculture, Medical, Energy and Infrastructure and transportation.

The existing players will become more mature and more focused. They will understand that with regulations in place a more focused approach is the key to scale. They will look at opportunities to compete with the global market also as the solutions that are developed around the Drone Regulations 1.0 and 2.0 will be key factors that contribute to the Indian ecosystem to becoming a global standard to test, adapt and innovate drone applications and management.

What are the opportunities? What does that mean for the current and new players?

UAV/ Drones as a business was a far-fetched thought for many entrepreneurs and has been a struggling industry in the past in India. Going forward it is guaranteed that it will be one of the biggest markets in the world for UAV as a business. What the regulations and Digital Sky platform will enable is a new levelled playground ground for the UAV companies to initiate good scalable business models both existing and the ones entering new to the sector.

The existing companies with the right resources can now plan to scale their operations and also have the added advantage of doing work for the private sector in India. Due to the restrictive method of operations adapted previously the solutions to private agencies was unavailable. Now going forward the companies will shift their focus from being a B2G entity to a B2B entity. Many new businesses for UAV air traffic management, surveillance, AI and ML-based UAV solutions and deliveries will emerge out of India with technology specific to India.

The blog is co-authored by Anurag A Joshi from INDrone Aero systems, Abhiroop Bhatnagar from Algopixel Technologies and Gokul Kumaravelu from Skylark Drones

It takes time to build something successful!

Since SaaSx second edition, I have never missed a single edition of SaaSx. The 5th edition – SaaSx was recently held on the 7th of July, and the learnings and experiences were much different from the previous three that I had attended.

One primary topic this year was bootstrapping, and none other than Sridhar Vembu, the CEO and Founder of Zoho, was presenting. The session was extremely relevant and impactful, more so for us because we too are a bootstrapped organisation. Every two months of our 4.5 year-long bootstrapped journey, we have questioned ourselves on whether we have even got it right! If we should go ahead and raise funds. Sridhar’s session genuinely helped us know and understand our answers.

However, as I delved deeper, I realised that the bigger picture that Sridhar was making us aware of was the entrepreneurial journey of self-discovery. His session was an earnest attempt to promote deep thinking and self-reflection amongst all of us. He questioned basic assumptions and systematically dismantled the traditional notions around entrepreneurship. Using Zoho as an example, he showed how thinking from first principles helped them become successful as a global SaaS leader.


What is it that drives an entrepreneur? Is it the pursuit of materialistic goals or the passion to achieve a bigger purpose? The first step is to have this clarity in mind, as this can be critical in defining the direction your business would take. Through these questions, Sridhar showed that business decisions are not just driven by external factors but by internal as well.

For example, why should you chase high growth numbers? As per him, the first step to bootstrapping is survival. The top 5 goals for any startup should be Survive, Survive, Survive, Survive, Survive. Survival is enough. Keep your costs low and make sure all your bills are paid on time.  Cut your burn rate to the lowest. Zoho created 3 lines of business. The current SaaS software is their 3rd. They created these lines during their journey of survival and making ends meet.


Why go after a hot segment (with immense competition) instead of a niche one?  If it’s hot, avoid it i.e. if a market segment is hot or expected to be hot, it will be heavily funded. It will most likely be difficult to compete as a bootstrapped organisation and is henceforth avoidable. Zoho released Zoho docs in 2007, but soon as he realized that Google and Microsoft had entered the space, he reoriented the vision of Zoho to stay focused on business productivity applications. Zoho docs continues to add value to Zoho One, but the prime focus is on Applications from HR, Finance, Support, Sales & Marketing and Project Management.  Bootstrapping works best if you find a niche, but not so small that it hardly exists. You will hardly have cut throat competition in the niche market and will be able to compete even without heavy funding.

Most SaaS companies raise funds for customer acquisition. Even as a bootstrapped company customer acquisition is important. As you don’t have the money, you will need to optimise your marketing spend. Try and find a cheaper channel first and use these as your primary channel of acquisition. Once you have revenue from the these channels, you can start investing in the more expensive one. By this time you will also have data on your life time value and will be able to take better decisions.

Similarly, why base yourself out of a tier 1 city instead of tier 2 cities (with talent abound)? You don’t need to be in a Bangalore, Pune, or a Mumbai to build a successful product. According to Sridhar, if he wanted to start again, he would go to a smaller city like Raipur. Being in an expensive location will ends up burning your ‘meager monies’ faster. This doesn’t mean that being in the top IT cities of India is bad for your business, but if your team is located in one of the smaller cities, do not worry. You can still make it your competitive advantage.

Self-discipline is of utmost importance for a bootstrapped company. In fact, to bootstrap successfully, you need to ensure self-discipline in spends, team management, customer follow-ups, etc. While bootstrapping can demand frugality and self-discipline, the supply of money from your VC has the potential to destroy the most staunchly disciplined entrepreneurs as well. Watch out!

And last but not the least – It takes time to build something successful. It took Zoho 20 years to make it look like an overnight success.

This blog is authored by Ankit Dudhwewala, Founder – CallHippo, AppItSimple Infotek, Software Suggest. Thanks to Anukriti Chaudhari and Ritika Singh from iSPIRT to craft the article.

The Second 20 Confirmed Batch at #SaaSx5

2 days to go for #SaaSx5 and we are reaching our limits for this year. I had missed a few folks in the first batch of 50 announced, so including them along with  the next 20+ (in no particular order).

  1. 99Tests
  2. Appmaker
  3. Auzmor
  4. Botminds Inc
  5. CallHippo
  6. CIAR Software Solutions
  7. Cogknit Semantics
  8. CustomerSuccessBox
  9. Deck app technologies
  10. GreytHR
  11. Happay
  12. HotelLogix
  13. Indusface
  14. inFeedo
  15. Infurnia
  16. LogiNext
  17. Makesto
  18. Mindship.io
  19. Pepipost
  20. PregBuddy
  21. Recruiterbox
  22. ReferralYogi
  23. Swym

There will be one last list sent out tomorrow of confirmed participants. Really excited about the sessions which are shaping up at #SaaSx5

The First 50 Confirmed Companies at #SaaSx5

We are almost there. Only 3 days for #SaaSx5.

For people who are have attended earlier SaaSx I don’t need to tell this, but for all those who are attending the event for the first time – SaaSx is an informal event for knowledge sharing by SaaSprenuers for SaaSprenuers. This is why we have it on the beach for the last 3 years. 🙂

If you don’t know what this is about, SaaSx5, iSPIRT Foundation flagship event for software entrepreneurs of India, is being held in Chennai on 7, July 2018 (Saturday). SaaSx has been instrumental in shaping Global Software from India in the last 3 years. This year the theme is to help SaaS entrepreneurs setup for growth over the next 1-2 years.

So the first 50 confirmed list #SaaSx5 companies is here. It has been a slog for us going through all the applications we received, especially the initial drive to set extremely fair criteria and process. Listening to feedback from earlier SaaSx this year we decided to allow Founder and +1 (from their leadership team). Having a tag team we believe is extremely helpful to the founders in learning, assimilating and taking it back to their teams. This also meant that given the small limited space we had to be strict in our curation to ensure most SaaS product startups had an opportunity.

By the time this post goes live many other invites will have been sent and confirmed. We will continue to announce the companies finalized as we go along, so they can start preparing for the amazing sessions.

There are still spots, so if you have not registered or confirmed your invite (check your email), please do it quickly.

saasx5

In no particular order, here are the first 50 (based on their confirmations).

  1. 3Five8 Technologies
  2. 930 Technologies Pvt. Ltd.
  3. AceBot
  4. ADDA
  5. Airim
  6. Almabase
  7. Appointy
  8. Artifacia
  9. Artoo
  10. Asteor Software
  11. BlogVault Inc
  12. Bonzai digital
  13. CogniSight
  14. DevSys Embedded Technologies Pvt Ltd.
  15. FactorDaily
  16. FlytBase
  17. FormGet
  18. Fourth Dimension Software Systems India Pvt Ltd.
  19. Fyle
  20. Gaglers Inc
  21. Godb Tech Private Limited
  22. inFeedo
  23. Infilect Technologies Private Limited
  24. InMobi
  25. Inscripts
  26. JKL Technologies
  27. Leadworx
  28. LiveHealth
  29. Lucep
  30. Mindship Technologies
  31. Netcore Solutions
  32. Olivo Inc
  33. Omnify Inc
  34. Playlyfe
  35. Plivo
  36. PushEngage
  37. QueryHome Media Solutions Ind Pvt Ltd.
  38. ReportGarden
  39. Rocketium
  40. ShieldSquare
  41. Siftery
  42. SlickAccount
  43. Stealth
  44. Strings.ai
  45. Syscon Solutions Pvt. Ltd.
  46. Tagalys
  47. United Translogix Pvt Ltd
  48. Vernacular.ai
  49. Waffor Retail Solutions Pvt Ltd.
  50. webMOBI

[Update: Next 20+ also announced]

All confirmed participants will receive further information in their mailboxes.

Looking forward to an amazing #SaaSx5!

Thanks to our many behind the scenes volunteers who have been tirelessly working on getting us this far and continuing on. Thanks to Chirantan & team from Software Suggest for crafting this post.

Product Roadmap considerations

Roadmap1

 

Roadmap is a key part of a software product company, especially Enterprise Software (B2B) software. When you sell your software to a customer, it is not just on the current capabilities but lot of emphasis is made on the Roadmap. Especially with cloud based software this is becoming super important, as the innovation and capabilities come out incrementally, in frequent cycles.

In my interaction with startup founders, one of the aspect they want to manage better is Reliable Product Roadmap – to ensure they do not over or under promise.

There are two steps to Product Roadmap –

  • Creating or documenting the product roadmap
  • Communicating the product roadmap to various internal and external stakeholders

In this post, I would like to share some key areas to focus for effectively create and communicate roadmaps that may have different flavors.

Vision vs. Execution

roadmap2

 

Logically split Roadmap into the above two areas in order to communicate to right stakeholders. One part should cover the Product vision – or even a higher vision of the product segment or umbrella. This would be the driving factor based on which the customers should perceive the product, of how problems are solved today and into the future.  As an example, Microsoft Office vision would be to improve productivity – and how they plan to leverage future technologies to improve productivity. The other part is around the Execution – more of delivery plan, more of product capabilities that are coming in, more of the details. A clear link should exists between the vision and execution – but it is important to have this as two parts.

Long term vs. Near term

Roadmap3

 

Another important distinction to cover in roadmap is what is going to be covered in the long term and what is planned in the near term (short and medium term). Depending on the product lifecycle – long term could be between 2-4 years while near term can range from 3 months to 2 years. The long term ones are still ideas that has been experimented through some proof of concepts or things that would take a longer term to realize or productize, but they are important innovations or things that are coming to get near to the vision. Near terms are the ones which are almost getting completed or is under development, with reasonable predictability of getting them out sooner.

Rigid vs Flexible

Roadmap4

We live in ever changing world, where priorities keep changing. It is important to balance the roadmap priorities between being too rigid or too flexible. The roadmap often changes due to customer needs not being met, competitive action driving some changes, internal priorities and investments, lack of market for certain investment. On the other hand, if you keep the roadmap too dynamic and flexible, you will lose focus and probably trust from your stakeholders. It is very important to keep the roadmap and investments spread between certain areas where you can be a bit rigid, whereas keeping some open-ended areas for ability to change the plans. For this reason, it is critical to keep the future roadmap not covered in any legal or contractual commitments.

Incremental vs Disruptive

roadmap5

 

Roadmap should consist of both incremental features as well as disruptive ones. Often we get into this innovators dilemma wherein the focus is on many minor incremental features that improves the product, satisfies the customer needs, solves the problem in a better way, bring better usability – so on and so forth. But in regular intervals – atleast once a year – its important to think about the next wave, the next big thing and start working in parallel to solve some new business problems, that could eventually eliminate a problem totally. Read my post on “what product are you making – pain killer, vitamin or vaccine” – once in a way you should experiment something disruptive, create and prove , and show what’s coming. Whatsapp is an amazing example of such a disruptive technology – in the past we have seen things like Google, ipad etc which are disruptive. Many smaller, less popular products have also been disruptive. In your roadmap, while it would be hard to communicate the disruptive ideas when they are in Labs, depending on its maturity, its best to prove some of the lab ideas with few handful of customers and validate them with real life use cases and scenarios. For such create /prove situations, a more restricted roadmap with NDAs are discussed with select customers. So use your roadmap to think and cover both incremental and disruptive solutions to problems.

Objectives (the what) vs Activities (the How)

roadmap6

 

 

Product Roadmap is not a Project Plan. Many a times we come across some of the roadmap that looks like a project plan, listing out different activities and milestones. Instead of being a list of activities with milestones, roadmap should lay out the objectives of the product – the vision, the capabilities and the tentative timelines those are going to be made available. This is important because the activities may vary based on the approach taken to a solution but the objectives of the product may still be same.

Solution bound vs Time bound

roadmap7

Another question that keeps coming back is whether a roadmap is solution bound or time bound. Roadmap is always time bound, as the user of the roadmap is looking to or planning based on the roadmap. The time need not be exactly accurate, but it needs to be indicative with an acceptable minor deviation. Usually indicating a period of short term, medium term and long term with a usual timeline fixed for each of them would be a good way to represent the roadmap. This helps customers plan better.

External vs Internal

roadmap8

Finally, while Roadmaps are drafted based on common vision and solution, Roadmaps have to be slightly different for external and internal stakeholders – especially with respect to the level of details presented, the timelines and the goals. For customers, Roadmap should address solution to the problem, with rough estimate of the time and the benefits that will bring by adopting them. For other external stakeholders such as investors or partners, it may go further into details of the market potential, and the ROI of investing in a certain set of roadmap items for the business. And for internal stakeholders it could go into more details on the strategy, more specific timelines, risks, competitive reasoning and few other internal only information may be laid out.  Communicating the roadmap to different stakeholders is one of the key. Roadmaps should be clearly planned at an appropriate level of details with each of the stakeholders.

Product Roadmaps are living document and most important one for any product company. Lot of engaged time should be dedicated on documenting and communicating the roadmap.

Wishing you all Happy New Year 2018 !

Announcing Product Pathshala #ProdShala, 15–16th Sept, Goa

I’m sure you remember the popular song Masti Ki Pathshala from Rang De Basanti. We are planning to pull together something similar for the Product Thinker community.

Last month, in a collaborative post, we spoke about the missing Product DNA in India. We got an excellent response. Many product guys resonated with the problem and also felt that we should be doing something to solve it — the problem of building and fostering a product thinking culture in India. Since then, we have reached out to folks, collated a lot of good ideas and had many discussions. We saw a clear need for creating a platform where product thinkers can assemble. Today we are proud to announce this platform — #ProdShala.

Thanks to Tathagat Verma(TV) for coming up with the name.

What is ProdShala?

Prodshala is not your typical grandfather’s conference! We have designed it as a fast-paced action-oriented event where wounded warriors tell their story unadulterated. You will meet other tribespeople and gain valuable knowledge, acquire insights and build a network to help deliver your kickass product! Think of it as an Ivy League MBA on steroids.

Prodshala is an opportunity to bring product folks (Product Thinkers, entrepreneurs, experts) under one roof to learn from peers, make new friends and also build a vibrant community so that we can build world class products from India. Prodshala will be a 2 day unconference with few talks, (un)conference sessions, few workshops, networking games, pecha kucha and some product demos. It is designed as a single-track event with lots of time for networking and we will force you to make new friends and share your learnings 🙂

15th and 16th September in Goa

Ohh and did we mention Goa? Yes — we wanted to break the old mold of doing things in closed door, LCD projector driven conference rooms. And we wanted to do this in a zero legacy place. Not Bangalore, not Mumbai, Not Delhi or Kolkata — let’s go to Goa and unlearn in the ProdShala unconference.

Prodshala is an invite-only (un)conference with 75 product thinkers coming together.

How do you get in ?

Just apply and get short-listed. We are targeting Founders with the product mindset, Product Architects, Product Managers in growth stage companies, UX Designers, Engineering leads and folks who have a keen interest in building awesome products. If you know someone who would be interested in something like this, recommend them or get them to apply here.

Like many initiatives at iSPIRT, this one is also volunteer driven and here are the people who are making it happen so far as part of the core team. Their contribution ranges from putting the theme together to getting the website up and finalising the program.

  1. Aditi Avashti from Embibe.
  2. Anant Kochhar from Yippster
  3. Chintan Mehta from Bigbasket.
  4. Pravin Jadhav former FreeCharge.
  5. Seema Joshi from Serv’d.
  6. Tashina Singh from Yippster
  7. Tarun Babbar from SnapDeal.
  8. Tathagat Varma from Thought Leadership.
  9. Titash Neogi from Kontikilabs

We will need many more hands to put together something awesome. If you think, you would like to help us out, feel free to reach out to me at avinash(at)ispirt.in

We are all passionate about building the product thinkers community and this is just a beginning. We want you to be part of this community. If you are like us….want to have masti ki paatshaala….don’t miss this one.

Do apply before 20th August and we have a surprise for you.

Creating a company brand — outside a product brand

One of the top two responsibilities of the CEO is to ensure that there is sufficient cash in the bank at all times. That often requires raising money from investors; an unpleasant task for most people! This article discusses a mindset change that is useful for fund raising.

The company by itself is a product that is best sold gradually and continuously to the investors — both public and private.

When we buy any product — say a mobile phone — we do so either because someone told us to or because our research led us to it. Even when we research a product, our view gets influenced by what we have heard about it. In the world of consumer goods, this is the power of the Brand. Raising money also relies a great deal on how the company is “perceived.” This perception is the company’s brand. The first round of money is largely driven by this brand perception. A lot of other aspects of the company (including fund raising in subsequent rounds) are affected by brand, as we will discuss in this article.

A company has two types of brands that coexist — the brand of the company and the brand of its product(s). Frequently the company’s brand gets forgotten or confused with that of the product. Yet, the company brand is omnipresent; created by the team, vision, past success, market opportunity, etc. For e.g. Nandan Nilekani’s next startup will have an immediate brand because of the team — well before the product has even been identified. As mentioned before, the first round is primarily driven by the company brand because there is nothing else.

The importance of company brand to fund raising often diminishes with time because delivered financial and operating metrics become the criterion for evaluating the company. When customers start using its product, the company’s brand gets pushed even further back because the overwhelming brand is that of its product. However this neglect is a wasted opportunity. In most companies there is no explicit recognition of the company’s brand and it has no identified owner. Given the criticality of the company brand for raising money, it’s imperative for the CEO to build that brand. CEOs who are very skilled at raising funds realize that they need to maintain the company brand in addition to the product brand. Consider for e.g. PayTM where Vijay has successfully navigated in and out of many businesses, while keeping the company brand associated with the promise of the future. Another example of the company brand being a driver is Theranos, the Palo Alto based Health Tech Company; of course the Theranos story did not end well because their brand was not backed by execution. However just that brand alone enabled Theranos to raise a fortune.

The Company Brand is not built in a day

Company brand building happens well in advance of fund raising and ideally never stops; the intensity just varies with time and circumstances. There are many ways to build the company brand in the early years of a company’s life.

  • 1–1 engagement with investors to cultivate familiarity: set up periodic meetings with relevant investors to keep them updated, get their views, and build a relationship. These same people will talk about your company in forums and eventually people buy from people.
  • PR — press appearances are noticed by investors (and by prospective employees, and customers). Its often hard to stay in the press for the right reasons so this has to be dealt with conservatively.
  • Presence in forums — establish the position of a thought leader, be seen by peers in the correct context. These same peers will be used as references by future investors. So speak at events like the NASSCOM product forum or TIE.
  • Key influencers in many areas; they can be cultivated as references or engaged as advisors
  • Customer proxies — for e.g. head of HR of INFY if the product is to be sold to HR
  • Product experts — for e.g. an advisor from Apple for a company that banks on usability
  • Go-to-market experts — for e.g. someone from the sales team at Workday, for a SaaS company

A good company brand offers benefits that go beyond fund raising. It drives recruitment and retention (e.g. “best place to work”). It drives sales because customers often buy the company before they buy the product (e.g. the proverbial purchase from IBM). It drives policy/public acceptability (e.g. Google/Infosys wanting to be seen as doing good.)

Company brand building therefore needs to be owned explicitly — often by the CEO — and catered to as one of the critical outbound agenda items. By investing in the company brand from day one, the company’s odds of successful fund raising go up substantially.

Guest Post by Ashish Gupta, Helion Venture Capital

Capability -> Functionality -> Usability

The capability to build something – a product or a solution – is, but, just the start of things. Capability is needed to build a product but capability is not what gets your product to be loved by your (potential) customers.

One leverages capability to create a functionality (call it a feature, if you may). This functionality is created based on a broad understanding of the market needs e.g. one needs a mode of transport to go from one place to another. That is a broad market need. Based on this realisation, we set about building our solution. Depending on how one has understood the problem, the solution may result in producing a physical product like a new kind of cycle or a service, like a cab-hailing service.

This can be called creating the functionality.

But this too is not enough. With functionality, one has expressed his/her understanding of the problem and to a great extent how one’s own perception has influenced the solution. When one goes a step further to get into the specifics of particular user needs (as compared with the broad market needs that I mentioned a bit earlier), then one starts to look at the usability or, as I prefer calling it, the usefulness of the solution.

To understand the user’s needs one needs a deep understanding of human behaviour itself. More specifically, one needs to observe and understand human behaviour in specific situations. So while one can build functionality based on a market need, to build usability, one needs to really observe and understand the user.

Being a keen observer, I notice multiple things and many times I find myself wondering at the thought that went behind creating that experience. An interesting example is this wash basin that I found at a major sports store.

Numerous times I have been a witness to a mis-aligned combination of tap, tap knob, wash basin and basin outlet. I am sure you too have. This one ranked among the top. The tap was actually hidden away. Did the person who put this thing together, have the capability? Yes! Did s/he understand the general market need? Yes! Did s/he really think about the user while building this? I would say, No? Or maybe, s/he did not care enough. But I am sure you get the point of usefulness.

In our own experience for the past 2 years, we have build multiple hi-tech features, cracking complex technical problems, patting ourselves on the back for being the geniuses that we are. But we realise that this is just a demonstration of our capability and what we can build from here is mere functionality until we get into the skin of the user. Of course, when I say user, each solution could have multiple, each with his/her own whims and fancies and hopefully a few common universal traits.

At RobusTest, on a daily basis, we try to bridge the gap between functionality and usability. Reminds me of something that I learnt in school about a variable tending toa value. In our case, on the number line between functionality and usability, we are striving towards usability – which is a constant goal but never completely reached.

The same should apply to any product/service and may well, be that small tweak that may get you that product/market fit that you seek.

Guest Post contributed by Aishwarya Mishra, Robustest

Do we have the DNA to build great products in India?

For the last two decades I have followed global products and success stories, and a question constantly in front of me is why India has very few globally comparable products and even fewer category leaders?

Despite India’s vast engineering resources, budding design talent, and our hustle mentality, we have not been able to create a stream of successful global products. Our startups, even after massive rounds of funding, have been unable to scale beyond our borders and establish a global footprint. Our founders have been often accused of just copy-pasting successful ideas from the west, and we have rarely developed products that global tech giants keenly wanted to acquire!

These observations bring up the next set of questions in my mind. Do we have a fundamental problem of the absence of a solid product culture and a mindset? Has our very strength — an abundance of engineering talent — become a crippling weakness? We are great at writing code to replicate or adapt something, but are we mediocre at creatively problem-solving to develop something from scratch?

Let me try to dive deep and answer these questions through a lens of an artistpreneur and product thinker.

What is an artistpreneur? What is a product thinking mindset?

We have all experienced great products — WhatsApp, Twitter, Airbnb, to name a few — that have pushed the boundaries of design, technology, communication and social behavior, and simplified the interplay of all of these for users. People behind these products possess a rare combination of entrepreneurial and artistic thinking. We call these people ‘artistpreneurs’ (artist + entrepreneur) since they apply creative thinking to solve hard problems and in the process create value for everyone. We need precisely such people in India, who can solve problems in a way that works well in our context.

An artistpreneur understands that building great products is very difficult because it goes beyond what all one can logically conceive. It requires a critical observation of the drivers of human behavior, passion for tinkering and fixing things, and an ability to weave a story and delight users with good technology and design. Successful artistpreneurs are able to weave all of these skills to build great products. They do so by constantly nurturing and developing a mindset which allows them to think through each step of developing a product very creatively. We call this a product thinking mindset.

How can one develop a product thinking mindset?

Product thinking mindset is based on the following 5 key tenets, which anyone can master with deliberate practice:

  1. Founder gut-feel & insight into a real pain point or opportunity.
  2. Willingness to push the boundaries of existing solutions.
  3. Ability to articulate and design a viable experience.
  4. Ability to experiment with focus & speed.
  5. Staying connected to the customer.

Building a great product is often a function of founder gut-feel that gets translated into successful products. Founder gut-feel comes from a real pain point or opportunity that the founder faced or saw close at hand. Ability to critically observe how users solve or work around a pain point helps refine the gut-feel.

Once a pain point is identified, the founder quickly reviews the current market solutions, rips them apart and identifies the solution that would disrupt the current equilibrium. This is where the founder is not afraid of pushing the boundaries of existing solutions.

When the idea or a solution concept first gets conceived in a founder’s mind, depending upon the resources & skills available, he/she articulates and design a “Minimum Viable Product / Prototype (MVP)”. Typically, this is a very fast short cycle, which happens over a few weeks to a month to get something out there.

This is not a stage where founders let their creativity be hampered by business models and the “how will you make money out of this” kind of questions. If Jack Dorsey or Jan Kuoum would have tried to solve this question at MVP stage, the world wouldn’t have likely seen Twitter or WhatsApp the way it exists”

There are many factors crucial to making a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) successful, such as timing, environment, ability to reach out to early adopters, etc. Even if all of these are taken care of, but the founders aren’t willing to experiment with speed and focus, then the MVP may not graduate beyond this stage. During MVP stage, founders relentlessly monitor the proposed solutions and experiments, observe the usage, record the hits & the misses, recognize more latent pain points & opportunities, and go back to rapid iterations. Founders know that identifying the right pain-point and market generally takes many iterations and benefit from their passion for tinkering.

Only a handful of those founders, who graduate from MVP stage and launch useful products, go on to become great founders, the ones we all want to emulate. They do so by not only embracing the above-mentioned four behaviours but also by developing an acute customer-centric focus. These founders learn to put customers at the forefront of everything they do, every single day. When they repeat the entire process over and over and apply design thinking on the top of that, they facilitate the birth and growth of great products.

Why is a DNA of product thinking so important?

While we can argue that product thinking mindset improves the odds of succeeding for founders at launching great products, they also depend on access to a mature support environment. Armed with a product thinking mindset the artistpreneur founders have to work, grind and leverage their support environment and ecosystem to bring to life their visions of change. Thus the birth and growth of these products of change are also nurtured by a good product thinking environment.

This DNA combination of product thinking mindset + a product thinking environment paves the way for a whole ecosystem to thrive on innovation and mutual, complementary successes. Pinterest brought card design into the popular imagination, Twitter brought hashtags into the mainstream, Gmail got AJAX into the limelight — the list is long and it is predominantly a list of products driving technology, design and process innovations, upon which other great products were built.

We have seen good product thinking and success from Indian companies like Zoho, BrowserStack, Freshdesk, VWO, Kayako, FusionCharts, Postman, Appointy, InMobi, HelpShift, Indix, Rategain, Zenoti, WebEngage, SimpliLearn and SignEasy, among some others. These are products which have been successful in establishing a global market footprint. We also have examples like Myntra, Bookmyshow, Paytm, Cleartrip, Zomato, UrbanLadder, Swiggy, etc which clearly articulated their product value with an appropriate user experience that was globally comparable while focusing on the local market. We can perhaps think of a few more such successes. However, such successes are mostly isolated and have not yet given way to a sustainable product thinking ecosystem since the critical learning and complementary successes from the struggle and rise of the few are yet to trickle down to all the participants of the ecosystem, whether small or big!

We need our product environment to grow more mature. We need to nurture and support founders, allowing them to solve hard problems like their successful predecessors, and help create a critical mass for building a vibrant and evolving product ecosystem.

What is holding us from developing a strong product thinking ecosystem?

We all know for a fact that a vibrant and mature ecosystem — like Silicon Valley — generally offers an inherent competitive advantage to all its participants for their very participation. There are many important factors that help an ecosystem flourish and evolve to such a stage; some of these factors are the regulatory framework, government support, availability of talent & financial resources, norms & culture, a presence of many successful participants, etc. While we cannot always or directly control these factors, we can certainly control how we think and behave. We have identified the following idiosyncrasies and biases that potentially prevent us (India) from building a very strong product thinking ecosystem. The list is not exhaustive and we try to cover each of these ideas in brief:

1.

Jugaad mentality: Jugaad refers to any smart improvisation, typically developed with a lack of sufficient resources. While it sounds extremely smart, which in many cases it is, it has generally come to manifest itself as a philosophy of solutions that are quick fixes and only get one as far. The long-term disadvantage of blindly following this philosophy is that we as founders or customers are always seeking to solve just our current pain point. Therefore, we end up building solutions rather than products that require one to address fundamental issues. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that our lack of patience to understand real problems and obsession with short-term wins only add to Jugaad mentality eventually reducing our odds of long-term success as a product nation.

2.

Code first, solve later: Einstein once said “If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution. And, like I hinted in the first section of this article, we fear that our abundance of engineering talent is perhaps resulting into our obsession with coding, way before we have fully comprehended the nature of the problem we are attempting to solve. This often results in us developing a solution for a problem that didn’t really exist or existed for a very few people or us having a misplaced belief that more features mean better odds of success! Eventually, we end up developing products that generally lack product-market fit and then witnessing extremely slow growth or painful death of products that once appeared promising.

3.

Mistaking funding for success: This is one of the classic myths! Many of us like to believe that a start-up getting funded is the only hallmark of success. Such is the importance we place in getting funded that many founders start companies solely with the intent of raising funds or getting sold (and thus thinking they will make quick fortunes)! Since raising funds is a very consuming process, it has a serious consequence of founders not devoting enough time to their start-ups to validate or solve the real problem, which is often hard, or founders having a very short term vision since they are looking for a quick exit. Unfortunately, for many who do get funded, the feeling of having arrived results in losing focus from the real problem for which they got funded and them becoming complacent and wasteful with the abundance of cash. The reality is that getting funded only improves the odds of success and doesn’t guarantee anything. And a founder, who is on a mission to make it great, knows that funding only means another (important) validation that comes with an intense pressure to solve the real problem sooner than he or she thought!

4.

Built for scale -vs- hiring for scale: Great products generally solve problems with algorithms of scale and efficiency, which result in noticeable economic gains from growth. Products not built for scale do just the opposite; they become difficult to run and manage, and more expensive as a result of growth. Some founders solve for such problems during the growth stage by simply employing manpower into the problem solution to compensate for building a coherent product solution. While this approach to augmenting the product with human intelligence may be ok in the initial stages of validation, there is a natural tendency in the rapid growth stages to continue to add more people with every phase of growth. This strategy soon becomes unmanageable or extremely expensive, and the same, fundamental problems still persist, which could have been better solved by applying technology or automation. This strategy also restricts growth in global markets where such human intelligence is not available or expensive. Great founders must know when to build for scale -vs- hire for scale!

How can you help in building a Product Nation?

We have just begun to think about the fundamental problems that are afflicting our country from becoming a vibrant, successful product nation. To take this thinking to execution, we are contemplating various ideas such as product hackathons, interactive in-depth sessions on specific topics, and developing a (mentor) network of founders & product-leaders. However, we know that our ideas alone may not be sufficient to promote product thinking and build a vibrant product ecosystem since these problems are hard as well as huge.

We are sure that you — as readers or participants of the ecosystem — would also have many interesting ideas. We urge you share those ideas and also suggest some interventions that you would like us to pursue. And, if you feel passionate about doing something about this, we should talk.

Stay tuned as we continue to dive deeper on this and establish a program model to develop more product thinkers.

I would like to acknowledge Chintan Mehta, Tarun Babbar & Titash Neogi who have helped me in putting this piece together and have contributed immensely in shaping my thoughts. Also a big shout-out to Aditi Dilip, for all the design and art help.

I would also like to acknowledge various people with whom I have had a conversation around this topic — Pallav Nadhani(FusionCharts), Girish Mathrubootham(Freshdesk), Suresh Sambandam(KiSSFlow), Paras Chopra(Wingify), Ritesh Arora(BrowserStack), Shashank ND(Practo), Sridhar Ranganathan(Credibase), Varun Shoor(Kayako), Amit Somani(Prime Venture Partners), Ram Narayanan(ex-eBay), Sunil Patro(SignEasy), Amit Ranjan(Ex-Slideshare), Praveen Jadhav(Servify), Nischal Shetty(CrowdFire), Tathagat Varma, Mrityunjay Kumar(Zenoti), Rushabh Mehta(ERPNext), Seema Joshi(Serv’d), BG(HelpShift), Vishwesh(Microsoft), Anand Jain(CleverTap), Rushabh Mehta(ERPnext), Niraj Ranjan Rout(Hiver), Krish Subramanian(Chargebee), Avlesh Singh(WebEngage), Sudheer Koneru(Zenoti), Amarpreet Kalkat(Frrole), Sharad Sharma(iSPIRT), Thiyagarajan M(iSPIRT), Nikhil Kulkarni(Flipkart), Indus Khaitan(Sirion Labs), Sampad Swain(Instamojo), Shekhar Kirani(Accel), Sharique Hasan(Stanford), Ashish Gupta(HelionVC), Nagesh Srinivasan(Cleartrip), Ahimanikya Satapathy(DocEngage), Ankit Oberoi(AdPushup), etc There are many more I might have missed here….these are just few names that i could pull together.

This piece has taken me over 4 weeks and probably one of the pieces for which I got lot of inputs. If you would like to read the draft with detailed comments, do let me know 🙂

Special thanks to BG from HelpShift who triggered this thought for me and for Seema Joshi from Serv’d who helped me put my initial thoughts together.

Customer – to listen or not to listen

 

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses

There is a pretty high chance you have heard the quote and an equally good probability that you yourself have used it to support or demolish an argument on “customer knows best”. It is quite interesting to note how quotes by well known people become the base to support an argument without any need to understand the true import of what has been said.

While we do not know if Henry Ford really said those lines, there is ample evidence that he thought along those lines. To the extent that his company suffered. Steve Jobs also showed similar inclinations (in terms of the customer not always knowing what s/he wants) when he said

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them

Now, there are brilliant companies that have been built on innovation and creativity that is attributed to the capacity to think independent of public opinion/noise. On the other hand, frameworks like the Lean Startup recommend listening to your customers at regular intervals to get feedback on your product. In fact, Eric Ries even recommends

Frequency is more important than talking to the “right” customers, especially early on.

 

So, as a startup, how do you build your product – basing it on your experience & intuition or by constantly going back to your (potential) customers regularly for feedback?

For us, at RobusTest, the answer is not a choice between the former or latter. It is a combination of both approaches. Having an insight into what the customer wants can be a matter of creative thinking that comes about without the need to talk to any customer. It can also come about from a deep understanding of customer’s problems. Of course, the latter is not as sexy.

We, the founders and our early employees have worked extensively in the app testing and test tooling space. We relied on this experience to arrive at the feature set of the early version of RobusTest. As we met more customers to pitch our product, we realized that customers are not looking for a product, they are looking for solutions to business problems. And these problems are unique to each customer. We, therefore, focus a lot on listening to the customer. When we say, “listening to the customer”, it is not the mere act of hearing what the customer says. It includes observing the customer’s business and business practices. Asking questions without having the answer already set. My earlier post on product design touched upon this aspect of discovering the usefulness of your offering.

How did you go about creating your product? Was it gut feel to start with and then market research? What do you think about talking/listening to the customer to create your product?

Product Led Growth

The software product industry is swiftly graduating from desktop to cloud based applications. Interestingly, there is also a hand-in-hand shift in the associated sales and marketing strategy around these products. Till some time back, a typical B2B sales cycle was heavily dependent on building relationships, and hand-holding the prospects through the product implementation. In this new age however, the products are driving the sales and marketing by themselves.

Let’s define “Product Led Growth”. For this, let me ask you a question: What is common across all of the below products?

Product led growth

The answer: all of them are in the MULTI-million dollar club! All of them have demonstrated an exponential growth in business, and all of them are being used by millions of customers around the globe. And then, what else?

Well, its simple: all of them have minimal setup and minimal implementation time. Any person can simply go to the website of these products, and get him/herself started; all within a few minutes. All of these products offer a free trial and/or a freemium version: and it is exceptionally simple for anyone to start using these products. And this is exactly the definition of “Product Led Growth”.

“Implementing the product is faster than selling”

Jeff Lawson from Twilio (@ SaaStr ‘ 2017)

“Product Led Growth” is a concept where the product sells itself. Quick on-boarding of customers, and simplicity of the product become the reason for their exponential growth. There is no hand-holding of customers, and there is no requirement of any explicit sales effort.

It is important to get the customers to identify the ‘value’ of the product in the shortest amount of time. The product must show-case its most important feature (I like to call it the ‘aha’ moment of the product) in the least number of clicks and the least amount of time. Free Sign-Ups and Freemium packages are a very useful ways to achieve this goal. The ABSOLUTE best way to show a customer that the product solves his problem is by having the product to solve his problem. If the product is able to demonstrate ‘value’, then it’s easy to convert the customer into paid accounts.

“Self service is the core to our DNA; and the reason for our growth”

Mikkel Svane from ZenDesk (@ SaaStr ‘ 2017)

Let’s pick on the example of Slack:

(1) Free Sign-Up: Any person and/or organization can simply jump onto the Slack website, and get started. Getting Started does not involve any physical sales intervention and/or any payment formalities.

(2) Implementation Time: It takes less than 2 minutes to get yourself started! Slack provides an extremely simple, step-by-step process flow to receive the required information.

(3) Tutorial: What’s more, once you get into the product, you are welcomed by a SlackBot, and a series of screen overlays that tell you everything that you need to know to start using the product.

(4) Retention and Conversion: This is the best part – till 10,000 messages, Slack is Free. And by the time you exhaust your limit, you get so hooked-up to the product, that you feel good about paying for it!

More often that not, I come across a lot of startups in India, that struggle to hire expensive sales teams, even to reach out to retail customers. Right here, is a solution: there is much a lot to learn from the success stories from around the globe and identify the reasons for their success and growth. In essence, a product that is easy to use and simple to on-board can and will sell itself. With an initial kick and strong push from marketing, your products can quickly become their own self-sustaining entities. And once you have a self-sustaining entity, you can use the money that you’ve made to hire your sales teams, and focus on selling to enterprises.

Guest Post by Pranab Agarwal, Product Head @ RateGain & Co-Founder, ZipBoard.

Indian E-commerce: Moving on from GMV

It has been a nervous month for the professionals working for internet and e-commerce companies in India. Shutdowns and layoffs have been the flavour of the month, and business models have come under scrutiny. The effects of recent events at Stayzilla and Snapdeal have not been limited to job losses only. Weighed down by these developments in the sector, Rakuten, the Japanese e-tailer, has puts its India plans on the back-burner.

Stayzilla, an alternate and homestay aggregator, has shut operations. Investors including Nexus Venture Partners and Matrix Partners have invested USD 33 million across multiple rounds in the company. The founders have promised to bounce back ‘with a different business model’.

Snapdeal, announced that it will lay-off about 600 employees from the company including from its Vulcan (logistics) and Freecharge (payments) business divisions. The company has so far raised USD 1.75 billion from investors which include global heavyweights such as Softbank, Kalaari Capital, Temasek, Alibaba Group and eBay. However, Snapdeal reportedly is left with less than enough cash to survive the next 12 months. The merger talks with Paytm, facilitated by the common investor Alibaba, are not murmurs anymore and seem to be the logical next step in many ways. A very honest and important insight on the business model emerged from this episode, in which the founders admitted to ‘doing too many things’ and ‘diversifying and starting new projects while we still hadn’t perfected the first or made it profitable’.

The above incidents highlight the fact that Indian e-commerce in 2016 has been significantly different from its ‘glory days’ in 2015. GMV growth in 2016 was flat, even though long term prospects remain intact for now. The year-end sales were also impacted due to the demonetisation exercise carried out by the government. The cash on delivery (CoD) transactions, which account for approximately 50% of total GMV, were severely impacted due to the lack of availability of the new currency notes.

Figure 1: India e-tailing GMV (USD mn)

Source: Company data, IAMAI, Euromonitor, Credit Suisse

AHHHGMV, as the supreme emperor of metrics, has lost its sheen and the challengers which have come to the fore include revenue per customer (function of number of orders per year, value per order and commission), net promoter score (a measure of customer satisfaction) and overall user monetisation (including alternative sources such as advertising as well as new service offerings such as hyperlocal services).

The sustainability of business model is back in focus as a tool to evaluate potential winners and losers. Throwing money at the customers as discounts has not worked out very well for a lot of players. There has been a definite move towards trying to find other means of retaining customers. Going forward, winners are most likely to be companies that provide a differentiated customer experience. An obvious example is Amazon Prime which now brings more personalized experience to the company’s customers. Flipkart (Flipkart Assured) and Snapdeal (Snapdeal Gold) have similar offerings to enhance the stickiness of their customers. While ‘Flipkart Assured’ has seen limited success so far, Amazon Prime, launched at a very attractive price point of INR 499 per year, seems to be more suited for success going forward. Amazon has also clubbed its Netflix challenge – Prime Video offering with Amazon Prime subscription. With these offerings, the companies are trying to take focus away from discounts and towards customisation, quick delivery, consistency and reliability of shopping experience.

The control over supply side is a key element of constructing an enhanced and consistent experience for customers. Logistics is one of most prominent cost items for ecommerce firms, and depending on the category and value of the goods being delivered, could be 10% to 20% of GMV.

In India, the number of Amazon fulfilment centres has grown to 27 by the end of 2016. Shipping from stores is less efficient than from dedicated fulfilment centres. Amazon is looking to replicate their success in North America where they have invested billions in network of fulfilment centres. It has more than 75 such centres in North America, covering 25 US states. This gives Amazon an easy two-day reach over the entire US. Snapdeal has opened 6 logistics hub during 2016, with an estimated investment of USD 300 million. Paytm, flush with a USD 200 million funding from Alibaba, is reportedly firming up plans for a significant strategic investment in a logistics firm to improve its deliveries process.

The key growth drivers for e-commerce in India remain in place. There is a large aspirational population, faster and wider internet access, a never before push on digital payments and an opportunity to further penetrate the offline organised retail market. Nevertheless, the year 2016 has been a reality check. The Indian players have had to review their business models and take some tough calls to focus on sustainability. While the market may continue to be volatile in the short term, with more potential shutdowns and/or consolidation in the offing, we can now be more confident that the firms that do survive will turn profitable soon.

arvind-yadav

This is a guest post by Arvind Yadav,

Principal at Aurum Equity Partners LLP.

 

You may have a viable product but do you have a viable business?

(Also posted on LinkedIn here).

I’m a big fan of the “Lean startup” movement. Steve Blank, Ash Maurya and others have done amazing work around innovative, startup companies. Two of my most recommended books in this area are The 4 Steps to Epiphany and Running Lean. I strongly recommend every founder read these. Shockingly, most haven’t!

I’ve come across a new breed of founders who are well versed in the lean startup methodology. They understand the importance of customer discovery, a minimum viable product and the power of testing. These are all necessary to build new products.

I submit that they are not sufficient to create a company.

Here’s why.

A feature isn’t a product; a product isn’t a business; a business isn’t a company; a company isn’t an organisation.

Sanjay Anandaram.

Here are four additional questions you need to look into before you startup.

1) Are you talking to the right, representative prospects to validate your idea?

I’m a big believer of getting out in the field and talking to customers. Dozens even 100’s of them. It is an order of magnitude better than sitting in your office and pontificating. However, talking to 200 people does not make your idea into a viable business opportunity.

Are these 200 people truly representative of the prospective customer pool ?

Or, is there a selection bias? Perhaps, these are only tech-savvy customers in urban areas or the upwardly mobile. You need to estimate how big is that addressable market over the couple of years.

Secondly, how critical of a pain point is it for these users?

Is it an ongoing pain or a one an infrequent, perhaps even a one time, problem ? In general technology has made people be more open to saying “yes” more often to new ideas. This is the classic Aspirin vs. Multi-Vitamin question that VCs often talk about. While new ideas area interesting, it often takes years to change customer behaviour unless it a dire problem for a large number of prospective customers.

Don’t try to “invent” demand. Find basic human needs and solve them better, cheaper and faster.

Evan Williams, Co-founder of Twitter.

Market creation is hard for a variety of reasons; one of the primary reasons is that the cost of distribution is continually getting more expensive.

Lastly, would customers pay — ideally with money or at least with their time(e.g. Snapchat, Instagram, Google)?

2) Can you get effective distribution of your product or service ?

Human beings and businesses alike are being bombarded with a breathtaking innovations at a rapid pace. However, the amount of time, energy and money they have is limited.

How will you reach a large number of customers whether they be consumers or businesses? Are there existing channels that you can tap into ? Would they be cost effective?

Every innovator believes that their product will have strong word of mouth, virality and/or some kind of network effects? Well, most don’t. For most ideas, esp. in B2C, I would be very dubious if you don’t have strong, organic user acquisition channels to grow.

3) Are the unit economics viable?

So you have a problem worth solving, a solution that’s differentiated and a shot at distribution. Now comes the question about “Unit economics”. The simplest place to start is with your gross and net margin. How much money would you make per transaction (or unit of engagement)? This is not GMV or Transaction Value but the money that your business makes.

The first step for this is to calculate your Contribution Margin, or the money you make per transaction less your variable costs. For most businesses, variable costs are marketing, payment gateway charges, delivery/logistics charges, etc. This does not account for fixed charges for your employees, server costs, etc.

Is your margin or take rate (%) enough to cover your variable costs per unit?

If you are relying on scale to get your contribution margin positive, you are barking up the wrong tree! You may never get there.

4) Is there a large enough profit pool to tap into?

If you’ve gotten this far, you clearly have a problem, distribution channel and business that’s worthwhile.

Is there a large enough market size and profit pool in the area that you are in?

I don’t know about these new valuation metrics, but remember that the only way to value a business that will always be true is: present value of discounted future cash flows

Prof. Bill Sahlman, HBS, Circa 1999

If you don’t have a large enough profit pool, you may build a company with great unit economics on a large enough market but have little discounted future cash flow (e.g. IRCTC — Indian Railways). See Rajan Anandan’s prescient comments on the Indian B2C e-commerce marketplaces.

Now comes the source of capital to build your business. If you are aiming for something big and ready to scale fast, then I would recommend using venture capital (if you can affirmatively answer all 4 of these questions, give us a shout at Prime Venture Partners). However, VC money may not be appropriate or relevant for your business or your approach. Here’s one representative list of questions to ask yourself before raising VC money.

All of this won’t be empirically figured out on Day 0 of a startup. Of course, you will learn along the journey. However, you won’t be able to change the contours of the market or the availability of profit pools once you are 6–12 months into your startup.

It behooves you to spend a few weeks or even months to think through these questions before you commit yourself to a new company!

Guest Post by Amit Somani. He is a Managing Partner at Prime Venture Partners, an early stage VC firm based out of Bangalore, India. Prime invests in category creating, early stage companies founded by rock star teams. Prior, Amit has held leadership positions at Makemytrip, Google and IBM. He is also deeply engaged with the early stage startup ecosystem in India and actively volunteers with iSpirt, TiE and NASSCOM. He tweets occassionally @amitsomani and is trying to become an active, late blooming blogger.