How a much needed niche banking product was born – The iCreate story.

ProductNation caught up with iCreate Software co-founder Naren Santhanam, on what went in to the making of a successful product.

It was circa 2006 when Naren met Anup while they were consultants on the Banking vertical at a technology MNC. They knew from experience that banks had a challenge in accessing information across different systems and there was potential in pioneering something exciting. Over a series of extensive debates they decided on developing a decision enablement product exclusively for the banking sector b leveraging the best of Business Intelligence and Data Integration technologies. 

At that point in time Banks which wanted to have BI & analytics had to develop a customized solution over the available tools, employing the services of an SI. The banks functional team would provide the business requirements. This resulted in substantial lead times apart from higher costs; even then, id guarantee the desired results. 

The big idea

The iCreate idea was based on the founders’ expertise with the functional nature of systems that banks used and other transactional systems. They conceptualized a product that could connect with the bank’s ecosystem quickly. 

This ensured the product could be up and running powering the bank’s decision needs in a fifth of the time conventional approaches take. Also, ideated were new versions/modules of the product that could be rolled out quickly, making the product scalable and customizable to a bank’s requirements.

Both Naren and Anup were confident that banks in emerging markets would see most value in their product as they were still in early phase of technology adoption and competition was low.

Between then and 2009 they invested substantial efforts in understanding the intricacies and pain-points faced by the banks in emerging economies before deciding to focus efforts on them. 

Naren does a quick flashback, “It was an early stage in my career and life, when I had an abundance of energy and not too many strings attached, which made it easier for me. We were clear on the direction, given our past lives in the banking technology space. The big idea was to create a banking-specific decision enablement product”. Since it was a capital intensive proposition, they agreed to embark on the consulting route and then deploy the insights in shaping the product. Naren continues “Yes, there were several challenges of staying afloat and not losing focus on the long-term goal of creating a product company. The last 7 years have been the most fulfilling and exciting ones- something I wouldn’t have ever experienced in corporate life”.

On high octane

They began providing high-end banking technology consulting to select banks in Africa. In 2009 they approached the prestigious National Bank of Kuwait (NBK); while the product was still in its infancy. It was their domain knowledge and technology expertise that won them the account. NBK signed up iCreate to play a pivotal role in their ambitious enterprise transformation initiative, which is lauded as a first-of-its kind for a start-up. By late 2009 iCreate was well entrenched in the banking decision support space. This was around the time they received their first round of VC funding from IDG Ventures India.

By then the product had started taking shape and was christened ‘Biz$core’ – a unique name that encapsulated BI, Core of Banking Systems, Score for Scorecards, Biz for Business and the $ sign signifying money.

iCreate began quickly onboarding the best tech brains to work on the product. They also put together a global GTM team with a ‘whatever-it-takes’ DNA to take Biz$core’s unique value proposition to banks worldwide. By then Vivek Subramanyam was onboard as CEO to pilot iCreate’s growth and revenue strategy. 

Proof of the pudding 

With the change in strategy, the journey started getting more exciting and iCreate found itself in an accelerated growth mode. iCreate’s banking customer count today stands at an impressive 22, of which 16 were added in the last year and a half alone. From a revenue stream comprising 25% product sales and 75% consulting services in early 2010, the split reversed to 70% product sales and 30% from consulting services towards close of FY 2013. 

iCreate’s early stage  banking customers from across diverse geographies, played an active role in in defining their products into a well-rounded ones. Naren explains “Leaders like HDFC Bank and IndusInd Bank with complex business processes, trade finance specialists like Ghana International Bank, Metro Bank – UK, progressive banks like East West Bank, Philippines helped us tremendously with their insights as we were developing our product.” 

Mission to achieve the vision 

iCreate today boasts of five banking-specific products that span critical areas like decision enablement, risk, compliance, regulatory reporting and Basel; and has plans to launch five more during the next year. The recent series-B funding from Sequoia Capital and IDG is expected to help them further expand their product portfolio and foray into newer geographies including North America. 

“Our focus on emerging markets like Asia, Africa and West Asia continue, and we have already established our presence in markets such as Egypt and the Philippines. There are two promising deals in the offing from the UK as well. Most importantly, there is that sense of pride of having created a product that completely changes the way banks look at information management”, remarks Naren. 

iCreate’s road map definitely looks interesting and seems to be aligning well with their vision statement what they call the ‘Vision 5:50:250’, i.e., to be among the top 5 in BI for banking space, win 50 strategic banking clients world-wide and touch Rs. 250 crore in revenues by FY 2015.