If there is one area within the new-age technology that is red hot right now, it is software-as-a-service or SaaS – both in terms of startup activity and as a tool for entrepreneurs to build a low-cost business from scratch. Techcircle.in has come up with a listing of India’s top 10 emerging SaaS companies who have shown significant market traction, created unique products or services that can disrupt existing markets and most importantly, have a very high potential to make it big in the coming years. The listing has been compiled by a distinguished jury comprising Shailendra Singh, MD, Sequoia Capital; Manik Arora, MD, IDG Ventures and Mukund Mohan, an active angel investor. These 10 companies have also showcased their products during Techcircle Runway at Techcircle SaaS Forum 2012, in Bangalore on Aug 31. Here are brief notes on the 10 startups (note: this not a ranking, the companies are arranged in alphabetical order).
What does a typical B2B newsletter look like? An announcement from the company talking about the latest feature. A featured blog post with a link to read more and a list of other “must-read” blog posts. New success stories, white papers and how-to videos. And upcoming events, webinars and job openings in some cases. It pretty much sums up everything the company wants the recipient to know. But what makes the recipient take more than a 3-sec glimpse at the newsletter when he is sifting through tens, if not hundreds, of emails? Wouldn’t he rather hit your website at a time convenient to him and learn all of it from there? What can you do to increase the open rate and time spent with your newsletter? Here are two untested ideas, more simply just ideas, to increase the overall effectiveness of your email newsletter.
How about writing an article exclusively for the newsletter as its main story? The article doesn’t go up on your blog or get tucked away in the resources section after the newsletter goes out, not even after a fortnight. It is for the newsletter and stays just there. If the reader misses it, he misses it. Tell people about the exclusivity when they are signing up for the newsletter. Also, make sure this article teaches the recipient at least 23 new ways of doing his job better. So if you are selling an email marketing solution (how meta I know) give him tips on how to break through the inbox clutter, or how QR codes can be used to get super busy people to sign up for the newsletter. In addition to increasing the open rate of your newsletter, the exclusive content also primes the space for a big bang when you announce a new product.
Now what about the case where your newsletter hits the inbox at a time when the recipient doesn’t want anything to do with email marketing? How can you get him to at least glance through the newsletter and come back to it later if he finds something of interest? How about having a cartoon strip that takes a dig at the jargons used in the email marketing space? Or a meme bringing forth epic email marketing fails? Maybe an email marketing version of Clients from Hell? Anything that gives the reader a quick chuckle yet is relevant to your industry. And if you are funny enough, he might pass around the newsletter to colleagues and friends just for the funnies, who knows?
Over to you. Do you think these ideas will work for you? What else have you tried to increase the effectiveness of your newsletter?
Like you, I assumed that all VC’s are risk takers. I mean as an asset class if you have to provide the highest returns over the long term, I would suspect you have to take big risks to get big returns. The average Indian bank has been giving around 8% annual returns on FD (source), real estate returns about 13%, and gold loan providers will give you close to 15% I am told. So, VC as an investment class should offer higher returns given how ill-liquid they are and how risky they tend to be.
So, how do you really measure if a VC is an early adopter versus a late adopter? (lets keep it simple and only put them into 2 categories).
My thinking is the only way you can do that is to look at their investments (portfolio companies) and find out the categories of companies they invested in. Then find out if any other VC’s invested in another company in that category after the “first” VC did. There are other ways to do that, like ask entrepreneurs who responded the fastest when they were looking for funds, but those dont evaluate who puts their money where their mouth is.
Why is this question useful to answer?
For entrepreneurs who are innovating in a new area, this list of early adopters will help you determine who you should go to first versus who should you expect will fund a possible competitor.
Lets define our methodology and assumptions:
1. We will look at all their websites and make a list of the Indian VC portfolio. Fortunately we have that list of over 50 VC’s in India.
Flaw: Many dont update their website as frequently so there may be a 20% (or higher) error, but I have tried to be comprehensive.
2. We will then categorize their investment into 5 buckets – Media and content, eCommerce, Business to Business, Mobile and other (Education, Healthcare, etc). This is important so we know not only which VC’s are early adopters but we can also try to find that out by sector.
3. Then we will look at the announcement dates of their funded companies from press releases, Unpluggd, YourStory, ET and VCCircle. We will give them 2 points for every investment done in a sector before any other VC did.
Flaw: Most (I suspect over 50%) of companies report their funding 3-6 months after they have raised the money, so this will be a large flaw, but lets do the analysis anyway.
4. Finally look at stage of investment. If a VC puts money in the series A, I would give them two points in the early adopter bucket. If, however they participated in series B or later, they get one point in the late adopter bucket.
First let me give you the results (not in any order other than early adopters vs. late adopters).
Early adopters VC’s.
- Accel (eCommerce, B2B) – 78 points
- Indo US Venture Partners (B2B) – 56 points
- Saif partners (Mobile, eCommerce), but they are late adopters in B2B – 49 points
- Venture East (B2B) – 45 points
- Sequoia (Media) – 46 points
- Seedfund (Scored enough, but dont have a clear winning category) 42 points
In the middle
- Blume ventures – 40 points
- Nexus Venture partners – 36 points
- Helion – 36 points
- Ojas ventures – 34 points
Later adopter VC’s – all scored less than 30
- Bessemer Venture Partners
- Cannan partners
- India Innovation fund
- Inventus Capital
- Footprint ventures
- IDG ventures
- India Internet Fund
- Lightspeed partners (but have done well in Education)
What I hope this list will do?
1. Make Indian VC’s think about being innovation catalysts rather than ambulance chasers. I understand you have a responsibility to provide returns, but you also have a responsibility to grow the Indian startup ecosystem. Might I suggest a 5-10% of your portfolio towards risky, “first time this is going to happen” investments?
2. Make Indian company founders announce their funding. Unlike the US, here entrepreneurs are loathe to do so. I can understand the competitive pressures, but not doing any announcement is just lame.
3. Educate Indian entrepreneurs on their target VC list. Depending on the opportunity you are trying to pursue, please target the right VC firm. The only thing you have (and dont have) on your side is time. Use it judiciously.
P.S. I have confidence in the methodology but I would be the first to admit its neither comprehensive nor scientific. If you are an eager MBA / Engineer / analyst and would like to help make this methodology and analysis more robust, I’d love your help. You can take all the credit. In fact, I can convince many publications to give you credit for the work if you desire and if you keep it updated every 3-6 months.
P.P.S. If you are a VC and not in the early adopter list, or you are not happy with the analysis I’d also welcome your associate’s help in making this analysis robust.
Editor’s Note: InnovizeTech Software and its product, Sapience, is an early leader in India’s emerging software products story. Earlier in his career, InnovizeTech’s CEO and co-founder Shirish Deodhar founded two IT services companies, which had successful exits to Symantec Corp. and Symphony Services. Deodhar is also the author of the book, “From Entrepreneurs to Leaders.” In this article, he shares with SandHill readers his insights on personal attributes that are necessary for a CEO to lead a company from launch to mid-stage to success.
InnovizeTech Software is based in Pune, India, and started operations in early 2009. Its product, Sapience (meaning wisdom, astuteness and the intellectual ability to penetrate deeply into ideas), helps companies to increase work output by 15-20 percent – without requiring any change in existing processes. It’s a patent-pending, award-winning solution and the first such product that is designed for the enterprise. It gives managers the “big picture” about work effort while respecting and protecting individual privacy. Sapience is available in a SaaS model for SMBs and supports on-premise installation for select large customers.
Four key attributes of successful early stage CEOs
Success as a CEO is not guaranteed. The best CEOs may fail, and someone not as good may get lucky. Still, there are four personal attributes and mindsets that I believe are crucial for becoming a successful CEO.
1. Integrity and optimism
You will be selling your vision to co-founders, employees, investors and customers. The actual product may end up being very different from the initial concept. Earning and retaining people’s trust through the inevitable transitions is possible only if the CEO’s integrity is self-evident in his/her communications and actions on a continuing basis.
A successful CEO must be optimistic. This does not mean a blind belief that everything will go well or pretending that everything is okay when it may not be. It is more an attitude of “Let’s get on with things, know where we are, and change what is not working.” This requires honest and comprehensive communication at all times and ensuring that it reaches everyone.
Editor’s Note: Serial entrepreneur Murthy Chintalapati left Silicon Valley, returned to Bangalore and launched Ozonetel in 2007 with a cloud telephony platform for voice apps development. As founder and CEO, he shares insights on growing a company and presents advice for entrepreneurs.
SandHill.com: What inspired you create Ozonetel?
Murthy Chintalapati: Being a serial entrepreneur, I always look for opportunities to build ventures rather than work for a paycheck. My first venture, Intoto, was built in Silicon Valley and later was acquired by Freescale Semiconductor.
When I moved back to Bangalore in 2005, I started assembling a core team with strong telecom and web technologies backgrounds. We had experience in implementing and deploying solutions around Avaya. We looked at the market opportunity of addressing 50 million small and midsized businesses (SMBs/SMEs) and 800 million mobile/landline voice users and connecting them over a platform.
Looking at India’s SME market, we realized they couldn’t afford the branded solutions, and they couldn’t own a team internally to maintain and manage the solutions. SMEs needed someone to host and manage various enterprise-class voice services. We created our own hardware and the telecom stack to host the service, and launched Ozonetel, a cloud telephony services provider. Fortunately we were able to self-fund the venture, so there was no need to convince an investor.
A relatively young term in an entrepreneur’s vocabulary is “product-market fit” (PMF). Attributed to Marc Andreessen in 2009, this term, has a relatively simple meaning but one that’s hard to really get a sense of:
Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.
If you go after an awesome market – growing fast, has excellent demand and a great growth curve, then you’ve got 90% product-market fit, even though technically 50% of the challenge in any startup is coming up with a good product.
Lets assume you are going after a great market.
How do you know its a great market? Besides the fact that its large (obvious) the speed of adoptionis tremendous.
What then makes a product “fit” a market?
First there are 3 important assumptions I make:
1. The best team does not necessarily create the best product.
2. The best product does not necessarily win in the market.
3. It is rare for startups or entrepreneurs to create markets.
A product “fits” a market when
1. Your metrics for adoption of your product exceed adoption of all your “competitors” combined (Instagram had more downloads in 1 week than other competitors did in 6 months)
2. There are so many missing features in your product but its still being sought after (HotorNot had no other features except an upvote and downvote)
3. The problem you solve for the user is such a big one that they are willing to forgive the lack of “nice to have” capabilities (during its early days, Twitter kept crashing daily)
The first point (metric) answers the question – What should I measure to know when I have achieved PMF?
The second point (features) answers – How can I tell?
The third point is the most important. To know about problems that are painful and large there’s one thing you need to learn, i.e. Learn how to ask the right questions!
Relevant links that I would highly recommend you read:
1. Jeff Bussgang on why early in the product cycle entrepreneurs should be hunch and not data driven.
2. Andrew Chen on “When” has a product-market fit been achieved?
4. Patrick’s perspectives on steps to product-market fit.