Every Product Needs A Good Teardown

(originally posted here)

Last Saturday in Chennai at the SaaSx3 I had the privilege of participating in my first “Product Teardown”

A Product Teardown, “or simply teardown, is the act of disassembling a product, such as a television set, to identify its component parts, chip & system functionality” – Wiki

In the context of the teardown of my company, Hummingbill, a Software as a Service (SaaS), it involved a deep dive into the company’s Idea, Discovery Process, Landing Page, Sign Up, and its “Wow” experience.


(image courtesy of Suresh Sambandam of Kissflow)

But before getting into the details of the teardown I want to make mention of the audience in front of whom I presented, and the panelists who judged me. This teardown event was among several sessions during this year’s SaaSx – a conference cum meet up of India’s best-in-class SaaS founders, among whom in the audience were Girish Mathrubootham, founder of FreshDesk, Avlesh Singh, founder of WebEngage, and Pallav Nadhani, founder of FusionCharts. And as impressive as the audience was, so too were the group of panelists critiquing my company. They were, Shekhar Kirani, partner at Accel Partners India, Suresh Sambandam, founder of Kissflow, and Bharat Balasubramanian, director of Design at Freshdesk. The entire experience was an honor, to say the least.

So! how did it all go down?

The panelists had me up on stage with a projector showing our website, and we started with Shekhar and Suresh who was requested a description of the Idea of Hummingbill, which included a snapshot of the problem, solution, and our characteristic customer and user.

Our Idea:

(bear with my plug!) Hummingbill is a Gmail plugin that automates accounts receivable management for organizations that track hundreds of unpaid invoices from hundreds of customers. Our characteristic clients are SaaS and advertising companies. Currently, these companies use QuickBooks Online, Tally and Zoho to manage their invoices, but the problem is that these softwares make invoices inaccessible to those who need them most – sales reps and account managers who are among many things also responsible for payment collection. Today, the only window accounts and sales staff have into Accounts Receivable is a manually generated, manually distributed weekly aging report sent from the finance team.

Second, we discussed the Discovery process of Hummingbill:

or how businesses find us on the web. Because Hummingbill is more of a direct sales organization at-the-moment, we were let off-the-hook on this one, but for any disciplined SaaS company, they must be extremely conscientious of the “keywords” they use on their website to make their website more likely to be found by their target customer on Google. This is called Search Engine Optimization. By identifying those keywords – e.g. “Invoice Management” and “Accounts Receivable” – and carefully placing those keywords into their website, businesses can improve their performance ranking on Google which allows them to be more easily found by their target customers.For an example of a highly search-engine-optimized website, have a look at HiverThey are one of my favorite examples of a company that carefully updates its website over and over again to improve its performance for specific keywords within its category.

Then, after discussing discovery, Bharat critiqued us on the Design of our website

A lot of learning happened here. Some of the key takeaways were:

  1. If you have big customers like we do, put them up at the top of your webpage. This helps build trust in your product.
  2. Use the most accurate language possible on your landing page for your target users. Don’t be generic. During the event, the title on our landing page was “Get Paid Faster” – Suresh pointed out that this title  would be an empty statement for our target users, CFOs and Heads of Finance. Instead we should use more accurate language like “Reduce Days Sales Outstanding”.
  3. Add a second Sign-up button at the bottom of your landing page. This makes it easier for people to sign-up for your product .. .which is just good for everyone.

After the Design step, Bharat walked us through the Sign-Up process

or onboarding experience of Hummingbill. This step is where new users enter in their contact information and preferences, and then are guided through the software product.  If you’re not familiar with SaaS, then you should know that this step is the first impression customers have of your product, so it can “make or break” a business. It’s the reason why, for example I didn’t use Ola cabs, a very popular taxi service in India, for a whole year – I found their sign-up process clunky and time consuming, so I immediately switched to their competitor taxi service. And similarly to how I fell-off of Ola, SaaS founders need to be conscientious of their target customers’ patience, less they lose them at the first step to using their product. Building a fluid and intuitive sign-up process takes significant discipline to decide which information to collect from users now vs. later, and which features of the product to show now vs. later.  For inspiration on great onboarding experience, check out UserOnboard.com to see examples of how some of the best tech companies in the world  sign-up their users.

And last but not least, the product teardown ended with the functional Wow of Hummingbill. The functional Wow is simply the moment when users experience the 1 or 2 features of your product that fulfill the value they were seeking and found on your website. This is where products can close the deal and why it’s important for companies to get to that functional Wow delivered as quickly as possible. For example, if a company has a CRM product, then the functional Wow would be something like guiding the new user to creating a “prospect” customer in their sales pipeline, enter in the prospect’s details, and then move the prospect to becoming a “lead” in the CRM. For Hummingbill, we like to Wow users during onboarding by getting them to: 

1. Generate an Invoice 

2. Track the invoice in Accounts Receivable

3. Receive an email aging report

This functional Wow helps confirm to the users why they signed-up for your product. Seeing is believing, so the best practice here is to show your users the functional Wow ASAP

All-in-all the Product Teardown was an excellent learning experience for my team and I

As a public forum, it forced me to look more carefully at Hummingbill through the eyes of my target customer. Because SaaS is very much a numbers game – about driving as much traffic to your website, then trying to convert as many visitors to becoming users of your product, then trying to convert those free users to becoming paid users – SaaS is all about constantly iterating your website and customer onboarding experience to improve those conversions. Do teardown your product yourself. Though it’s an exhausting process, do it with a potential-user who can be honest with you and give their feedback in real time as they visit your website, sign up, and try your product for the first time. Best of luck in this process and keep doing it because it’s the only way for early stage companies, apart from marketing, to ensure they will have a constant growth of new users.

– Adam

Digital India: What Is eSigning & How It Works

Digitising India is the only sure-shot way to reach the benefit of growth to India’s masses and that then will create the multiplier to ensure the target 8 to 10% sustained GDP growth… [Digital India is] certainly the most appropriate call for transforming India into a vibrant and strong global economy.

– Pramod Saxena, Chairman & MD, Oxigen Services.

And we agree. Digital India has the potential to become one of the most meaningful reforms for Indian businesses in recent history.

As we’ve mentioned in the past, India can fulfill the promise of reaching a double-digit growth for businesses in the near future. But, as the Doing Business reports keep not-so-subtly pointing out, our infrastructure moves like a burdened elephant, rather than a ferocious tiger.

If we want to compete with the swift eagle (U.S) & the nimble dragon (China),we need to adopt tech-savvy practices which help us speed up business in every way – like digital signature certificates to attest the soft copies of documents & invoices. Yet, for many business owners, such practices are either too time-consuming to implement, or have little accessible information about their benefits for them to be understood well.

This is where Digital India can help. Last time, we had a chat about the DigiLocker service, and its possible benefits to Indian SMBs.

This next service which we address today birthed from a realization that digitally signing documents is an important basic amenity in the 21st century. But, it can’t be scaled if the plan calls for a billion people to be provided their own USB pen drive – which is what was required with the Digital Security Certificate system.

This week, let’s talk about eSigning.

This article will answer the following questions:

  • How does eSigning work?
  • How does it differ from regular Digital Security Certificates (DSCs)?

We will continue our conversation on how this impacts businesses in India in the next article of this week.

What Is eSigning?

Before we get into the ‘how’, we need to clear the ‘what’. And no – eSigning is not the same as getting a digital signature from a government-approved authority.

An eSign is an electronic signature which requires no prior paperwork, as long as you’re a registered Aadhar user. It can be instantly applied for, and approved for, a single-use validity of half an hour.

This differs from an issued long-term Digital Signature Certificate,which has a validity of one to three years, and is usually carried around in a dedicated USB device.

If you’re a user of eSign, this is how the process will seem to you:

  • You sit at a regular computer terminal, or a specific one installed by the service provider if you want to provide biometric data.
  • You verify your biometrics through the hardware installed by the provider, or through a One-Time Password (OTP).
  • You instantly receive a single-use eSignature to affix to whichever document you wish, as long as you use it within the next half an hour.
  • That’s it. You’re done. No, we’re not kidding.

Unlike the usual use of the term ‘eSigning’, however, the eSignature services launched under the Digital India campaign do not refer to a traced, handwritten signature on a digital screen or pad.

Instead, these eSignatures are highly regulated, legally binding, valid identity proxies which are issued only after the confirmation of biometric data such as fingerprints or iris scans, or through OTPs sent to the mobile number registered to the user’s Aadhar card.

Of course, there’s a lot more which goes on behind the scenes.

How eSigning Works

The biggest advantage of eSigning as a technological tool is that it’s absurdly simple to use for the end-consumer. However, since it’s a highly regulated service, the behind-the-scenes machinations are significantly more complex.

In the beginning, the architecture of the system is heavily derived from the Application Service Provider (ASP) which is choosing to provide this service to its users. One example of such a service is eMudhra’s emLocker service, which is currently allowing its users to eSign their documents. Another is the Indian government’s DigiLocker.

When a user accesses the eSignature service, the ASP creates the application interface – which acts like an application form. This API is used to access a partner eSign Service Provider (ESP), which is a government-approved entity that is registered as an eKYC authentication user under the UIDAI.

When this connection is established, the user provides an authentication of their identity based on the information saved under their Aadhar profile – either through fingerprint or iris scans, or through an OTP verification code sent to the mobile registered to their Aadhar. As soon as this information matches the saved KYC information in the Indian government’s database, a Certifying Authority – another government-regulated and approved entity –issues a temporary Digital Signature Certificate (DSC). In cases of entities like eMudhra, the Certifying Authority may also be an ESP.

A key pair is generated for that DSC, and an audit trail containing the authentication response and timestamp are created. The ASP finally receives the eSignature from the ESP, which can then be attached to the document. Once received, the user can now fix the signature to the document, and the key is then automatically destroyed after a one-time use.

What Does This Mean For The Future? In Closing

What this means for the future, Ladies & Gentlemen, is rather simple. Imagine a future India where the small-time farmer can self-attest documents online to receive faster access to government services and programs, or where his buyers sign and return invoices online to speed up his receivables due.

Imagine a future where, instead of having to attest twenty copies in thirty different departments when setting up a business, small-time entrepreneurs can simply save their documents on DigiLocker and attest them using eSign services – thus saving them days’ worth of physically running around, eventually helping them set up faster.

Imagine a future where a mistyped document submitted for a business visa would no longer require another appointment and a day at the relevant authorities. Instead, you self-attest the correct document online and send them a link.

Or an India where eInvoicing becomes the norm, like so many developed and developing countries in the world. Psst, by the way, eInvoicing can help cut as many as five days from the invoicing process, and so get you paid much faster. But more on that later.

Getting back to the point, that India isn’t so far ahead in the future. In fact, with eSigning and Digital Locker integration within services such as emLocker and DigiLocker, that India is already at our doorstep.

But then, we are but one voice. How helpful do you believe eSigning to be in the larger picture? Let us know in the comments section below.

with Inputs from Aniket Saksena 

Digital India’s DigiLockers: Boon To Startups & SMBs

India’s Step Forward

India’s government is rewriting the rules on basic standards of living and business. It’s an ambitious goal, but there’s been a rise in foreign direct investments in those sectors that have been affected by the “Digital India” campaign. So, the world seems to agree with what they’re doing – let’s not forget the Rs. 4.5 trillion pledged to the initiative by some of the biggest corporate names in the nation.

We want to have one mission and target – Take the nation forward digitally and economically.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi

This increased approval from the world’s business community has also given India the push to jump forward 14 ranks to 55th place out of 140 economies in the Global Competitiveness Index of 2015-16 released by the World Economic Forum.

As we discussed in our previous article in this series, Indian smaller to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that are digitally disconnected are slowly dying out with an 8% decrease in revenue year-on-year.

The appearance of “Digital India” as a market force now brings new hope for these SMBs.

In this post, we will address some ways in which the “Digital India” initiative cuts through bureaucratic sloth and speeds up business practices. In our next post, we will go through the technical elements of how the digilocker works.

In short, this post will discuss:

  • The purpose of the DigiLocker; and
  • Immediate benefits of digital lockers to business

India’s DigiLocker: The Corporate Clog-Cutter

The Sluggish Source of Redundant Red-Tape

Indian governance bodies are reasonably self-aware, and understand the immense burden of documentation that is placed on the average citizen or business – even if they seldom attempt to ease it.

An SMB is required to acquire, manage, and regularly update a dizzying host of documentation across several dozen government departments. What’s more, there are even more government-issued documents that are shared with banks, other private organizations, etc.

With a population of 1.26 billion, it’s understandable why we need verification of documentation.

However, the real damage happens in the time it takes for each agency to verify these documents on the request of every government-to-business (G2B) service.

The process is then made worse by the fact that Indian government departments have historically been notorious for their lack of cooperation with each other.

It’s just as Mr. Narendra Modi himself remarked on his initial experiences as Prime Minister – “Even in one government, there were different governments. It was as if each had their own jagirs (fiefdom),” to the point that different departments even wanted to take each other to court.

Is it surprising, then, that this hostile atmosphere would slow inter-department verification processes – that should only take a day or two at most – to the point of taking weeks? In the end, the real losers of this constant jurisdictional feud are the citizens and, by extension, their businesses.

Still not convinced about the depth of this problem? Maybe this comparison will shed more light on the situation.

29 Days Later

In India, document verification at every step is so redundant that reserving a company name with the Registrar of Companies, paying stamp duties, filing the incorporation requirements, and receiving a certificate of incorporation takes 7 to 12 days on average. Side note: for Hummingbill, this took us OVER 4 MONTHS before we received our certificate of incorporation!

In the United States, this entire process can be completed in less than one day. Not just that, businesses can expedite processing to 2 hours by paying an additional fee.

The entire process of starting a business takes 29 days in India as of 2016; the same process can be completed in US in a mere 5 and a half days, 4 days if done from New York.

The economic ramifications of these differences are mind-boggling.

It takes the same time to finish business registration processes in India as it does 5 to 8 businesses in the United States.

This makes a big difference in productivity. Although these metrics are definitely not immediately related, it’s important to note that the nominal GDP of the United States is roughly 8 times that of India.

Imagine the swiftness with which eGovernance services could be requested and delivered – or a new business could be set up – if documents were digitally shareable and pre-authenticated to reasonable extents.

As the late Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam said,

We can not stress this enough. The arrival of Digital Lockers as a commonplace tool for the India of tomorrow could speed up every aspect of life in the country, from professional to personal.”

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next post on how the DigiLockers work.

Guest Post by Adam Walker & Aniket Saksena, Hummingbill Inc.