The best way to predict the future is to invent it!

India is interestingly poised today. About half of India’s 1.25billion people are under the age of 25 and by 2020, India will be the world’s youngest country with an average age of 29. According to the World Bank, India’s will overtake China to become the world’s fastest growing big economy by 2017-18. The scale of opportunity – and of course the challenge – in India is unprecedented. Millions of jobs have to be created in the coming years. Wealth has to be created. At an increasing pace and in   an ever changing world.

It is clear to all, including the government, that technology will play an ever more important role in the future. The inevitability of that fact is slowly but surely seeping into the consciousness of all decision makers at all levels. That technology needs to be embraced and leveraged in improving the lives of Indians.

New technologies and platforms are rapidly emerging – e.g., IoT, Mobile/Smart phones, Cloud, Aadhar, Payments – that can and will have profound impact on how we as a country think about the next 5-10years. Our future.

It is clear that continuing to do what we’ve done since 1947 isn’t going to get us far into the future.

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it” and “Change is the only constant” are two popular adages usually bandied about in seminars, corporate-speak, by VC s and successful entrepreneurs! What’s left unsaid are – how do I invent the future? How do I deal with change? And from there on to, what are the possible futures? What are the possible changes? What’s causing them? How will different industries like Financial Services, Retail, Healthcare be likely impacted?

These are the tough questions. Successful entrepreneurs, investors, corporations, academics and governments spend – or, need to spend – a lot of time thinking about such issues.

What are new ways of framing the potential and overcoming these challenges? What is unique about India and what solutions and resources can be shared from around the world? How can India utilize the enormous, young and entrepreneurial energy to craft scalable solutions to impact lives? What are the emerging global megatrends that can be harnessed that will enable India to leapfrog decades of inefficiency and empower people?

We have done this before: From mainframe computing to client-server. From land line to mobile. From paper based to digital identity.

Can we do this again across multiple areas? What will it take?

Answers will be found through debate and discussion by various stakeholders invested in the India of a new India– government, thought leaders, practitioners, entrepreneurs, executives among others. A forum for learning, discussing, debating, sharing of ideas of a future impacted by technology would be very impactful. To catalyse conversations, connections and collaborations that would help provide the answers to the questions.

A journey of a million miles begins with a single step. It is time for that 1st meaningful step to be taken!


Understanding tech play in the B2B (business to business) Space

The last few years of my time I spent in IBM was in the space of B2B. Here are some of my observations during my consulting and interactions with the B2B companies over the years.

What is B2B?

B2B and B2C are often used terms in the Startup space. Let me begin by explaining these two.

B2C (Business to Consumer) are those companies who have products or Platforms that are used by end consumers like you and me. Most omnipresent examples of B2C companies in our lives are sites like Facebook, Twitter, Snapdeal, Flipkart.

B2B (Business to Business) Startups are those companies who have Products or Platforms that are used by Business or Enterprises. These Businesses or Enterprises could be a Bank or Insurance Company, Manufacturing Plant or a Retail Store, or a Hospital. The Startups in this space may not ring a bell. But if you see the iSPIRT’s InTech50 winners for 2014. They are classic examples of B2B Startups. I am putting up the link for anyone to refer to.

B2B few examples B2B product companies around 14-15 years back would focus on Automating things that were done over paper. I can take the classic example of Enterprise Resource Planning for Manufacturing Industry.

Before the advent of Information technology, all the processes in a Manufacturing company used to done over Documents. Right from generation of Master Product Schedule to Manufacturing Resource Plan, to generation of Purchase requisition and converting that to Purchase order.

The other ubiquitous change we all must have observed is when we walk into the Banks. There was a time when all the accounts were maintained in Registers. For our account statements, they used to give passbooks which would have all the transactions we did with the Bank. I haven’t taken a Passbook for the last 9 years. Thanks to the Core Banking Solutions, Loan Origination Systems, Internet Banking etc now it would be difficult to find Banks where the accounts and the transactions are maintained in registers. We can sit at our home take a view of the Transactions in the Bank we have done in the browsers. The Products for the Banks come from many providers like TCS, Infosys, Oracle, Infrasoft, Finacle to name a few.

As we passed through the years, we see the various Industries, be it Banking, Manufacturing, Retail, Logistics, Insurance, Hospital they have implemented Information technology in at least doing away from the Manual processes. In Banking as I mentioned earlier one has Core Banking Solutions, Payment Solutions, Channels Solutions, CRM applications, Basel II applications etc. Similarly in Insurance one has Underwriting, Policy Administration, Claims Administration, Product Configuration etc. Each of them are a subject in itself and I can probably write a book explaining each of these.

Startups Play in B2B

Now the questions comes is how Startups will play a role in the B2B space. The answer to this is there are always areas to achieve efficiencies in the existing landscape of any industry. Also there are new market to cater to. With advent of new technologies in the area of Enterprise Mobility, Cloud, Internet of Things, Big Data and Analytics, Startups have a great potential to provide solutions in these space in a fast and swift manner. I will take some examples in each of the above areas.

In Banks and Insurance there has been lot of data for them over the past 10 – 14 years. Many Banks and Insurance are looking at making more sense of the Data. For example what is the Product Profitability Analysis, Channel Profitability, Individual Customer Profile, Branch Profitability, Customer Lifetime Value etc.

This would be typically solved using Analytics solutions. How a Bank or the Insurance would typically generate this report is by pushing their Transactional data into a Data warehouse repository using Extraction, transformation and load (generally termed as ETL) tools. And on top of they would have an Analytics Engine. The Analytics engine would get the data from the Data warehouse repository and have it put in its Data Models. From the Data Models the Analytical reports are generated. What some of the B2B companies are doing is having pre build Data Models for a Bank or Insurance company and than having pre built Analytics reports.

These Prebuilt Data Models and Reports would cater to most of the Analytical report requirement for a Bank or an Insurance Company. But they can be also customized depending on the specifics of an organization by tweaking here and there. The advantage a Bank or an Insurance company gets is faster time to go live with the Analytics projects instead of defining the Data Models and the Reports from scratch and than the Technology Implementation partner developing those. Similarly Prebuilt Analytics Solutions can be developed for any other industry such as Manufacturing, Retail, Healthcare etc.

Another example can be extension of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications using Mobile Technologies, especially with Location based services of Mobile Technologies.

Imagine if one can create a Customer opportunity in the CRM using his Mobile on his way back to office after he or she has a successful Customer meeting. Or if a Manager is able to figure out how many of his employees have made customer visits location wise in a week or month in a single Dashboard (I know this gets little intrusive).

One more example using the Internet of Things (IOT). This example would be for Utility companies especially Water. Imagine if the Water Utility Provider wants to know how much of Water is flowing across various pipes in a single Dashboard. This is possible by having sensors called Flow meters which detect the flow of water in a pipe and which would be sending the information to a central server using Wire less technologies (could be combinations of ZigBee, GSM). Once it reaches the Central server, it goes into a database from Dashboards can be generated.

Once they have the infrastructure in place, Utilities would be able to detect leakages or theft of waters in their areas. Let me illustrate how this can be done using a simple example. If there is Pipe A supplying water to Pipe B and Pipe C, the sum total of water flowing through Pipe B and Pipe C should be approximately equal the water that has flown through Pipe A. If there is an inequality (Water flown through Pipe A in a day < Water flown through Pipe B in a day + Water flown through Pipe C in a day) one can suspect a Water leakage. This would come as an alert in the Dashboard, which would be actioned by the Utility.

Applying analytics now the Utility can also get historical reports how much of water has been flowing through the various Water networks in the cities. It would be also possible to predict the Water that is required for the coming day based on past historical data. This can lead to better planning of the Utility resources right from figuring how much water should be pumped from the Water reservoirs to the Overhead Tanks depending on the amount of Water present in the Overhead Tanks. There are level sensors (another usage of IOT) which communicate the level of water in a tank to the Central Server.

I would take one last example which illustrates an entirely new customer segment being catered with the advent of technology. I am taking the example of Cooperative Banks. There are still many Cooperative Banks who have not been catered by the Solution providers in the Banking space. There are B2B Startups who are focused in these space. Cloud technologies have helped these Startups in the Economies of Scale to cater to this segment.

The examples mentioned are just scratch in the surface. By identifying a problem statement and finding a solution which is scalable by applying the right set of technologies to it, the possibilities are galore.

As per my observations most of the B2B companies originate with their Founders

  • Have experience in the specific Business domains, and they see an opportunity to solve a problem in that domain.
  • Have experience as an IT Consultant or Tech Specialist in a specific domain.
  • Are in the System Integration space to start with and have graduated to Product or Platform Solutions in a Domain.

IBM has interesting tools and middleware, which can be used by the B2B startups. We are working with some innovative companies in this space. Putting a few names below

  • A3 RMT has a solution for remote wireless patient monitoring which would lead to life saving emergency medical response in difficult conditions such as uneven communication networks, unstable power, jerky ambulance journeys etc. These mobile solutions deliver high precision medical parameters e.g. full 12 lead ECG, to any internet connected devices like a low cost mobile phone through which the doctor can remotely monitor a patient in critical condition. Their solution has enabled saving of over 1000 lives. They have integrated with WebSphere Application Server and DB2.
  • Ideyeah has a Cloud based offering called opTEAMize for Delivery & Operational Heads of IT/ITeS companies who need to quickly find resources and accurately quote for a project. opTEAMize integrates with existing HR, CRM, ERP & Resource Management Systems of IT/ ITeS companies and aggregates skill, capability, and cost data. And this enables fast decision making through information models and interactive analytics. The product runs on IBM Softlayer and IBM Cloudant and are integrating using IBM CastIron.
  • GlobalSinc has a Product called Educube, which is a cloud based collaboration and ERP suite for K-12 Schools enabling collaboration between students, teachers and parents, streamlining the business processes for schools such as Fees Automation, Payroll, Admissions, HR, performance and assessment of Students, knowledge management for teachers, teacher effectiveness monitoring with advanced Business Intelligence and Analytics tools. They are integrating with IBM Cognos BI.

We also do some interesting stuff in the B2B space. We are launching a competition for B2B Startups, the first of its kind by a Corporate in India. If you are a B2B Startup, less than 5 years and privately held. You can apply to the competition by becoming a Global Entrepreneur Program member. There is a bouquet of prizes for the winners. The details are in the website

Guest Post by Radhesh Kanumury, Country Lead, Global Entrepreneur Program, IBM.

Zoho, Cloud, Sridhar Vembu

Those who know me well have heard a lot of stories about my experience at Zoho when they transitioned from AdventNet to Zoho. I worked there between 2001-2004 when it was quite a new thing in the indian product ecosystem to talk of Product Management etc. During that period, the company went through a very significant phase of transformation which I was fortunate to be part of, see & learn from close quarters. Today, Zoho was named 4th best Cloud company to work for – makes many of us very proud.

The first thing that struck me was Sridhar’s focus on leveraging data. It went to a point where we realised that inefficient code can put paid to aspirations of leveraging data. And he rethought the data model for our suite of products ground up. The larger ambition was “Deliver software as service, not as installable“. This was in 2003! Back then, the company had about 5 big platform products (SNMP, WebNMS etc). Rethinking the data model, writing and enforcing code that didn’t obfuscate the database (most code was in Java, so it was easy enough to write inefficient code) were tough but important changes he brought about.

Sridhar cared a lot about how teams were organized – large teams are an inherently inefficient lot! Sridhar had the view that teams should be less than 7 people, cross-functional. The reward for growing a team beyond 7 was that it will be split :). His view was that since “Software will be delivered as a Service”, the company should transform from 5 big ships to a 1000 speed boats. To do that, each team team had to focus on a specific market, build and ship a unique product. By 2004 when I was leaving for Yahoo!, there were already 18 products underway. Before the end of the last decade, they were doing over a 100 products!! To go from 5 to 100 in just a few years is quite something.

There’s a lot to lay by the founding DNA of a company and what it can accomplish. While building Credibase which I’ve cofounded a few months ago, here are a few lessons I took away that we try to practice:

Data is God

Focus on the User and all else follows

Small teams create great work

Code always goes from Simple to Spaghetti, but never comes back

Announcing the CIO Mentorship Program for Enterprise Product Startups

A ‘startup’ is a company that is confused about – 1. What its product is, 2. Who are its customers, 3. How to make money.

– Dave McClure

As a startup we all struggle either with the Market Fit, the right price for the product and finally the sales. There have been times when we have wondered if the product is perfect or I could have added some new feature, all the while loosing time to launch the product. When the product is out we wrestle with how to sell – Free, Premium or Freemium models and wonder, when will we get to close the big orders. We wonder why our product is being outsold by our competition – What does he have that I don’t.

We sometime wish that how wonderful it could be if we could share our thoughts, bounce our ideas with someone who could understand us and help us in a sustained long term manner, in short become our Guiding Lights as Mentors.

To help startups with just this dilemma, we are pleased to partner with CIO’s of leading Indian Enterprises to put together the CIO Mentorship Program. Where some of the very recognized CIO’s of the Industry from Hero Motors, BMW, Ericsson, Matrix, Max NewYork Life, Moser Baer are ready to use their collective wisdom and experiences to help the startups scale over a sustained time period of 5 months.

If you are brilliant Enterprise Product who is willing to take advice, implement advice and share your pain points then this is just the opportunity. So if you are operating in HR, Education, Data Analytics, Cloud, Mobile applications, CRM’s then you need to apply here. This is only open as of now for companies in NCR region. The last date of getting the entries is 17th Dec. Only the short listed companies will be contacted for the event on 21st Dec in Delhi NCR.

The march of the product brigade!

For the last fifteen years and more, there has rarely been a meeting of visionaries and practitioners in the IT industry where somebody does not offer the view that the days of IT services are nearing an end and the product movement will create new heroes for the industry and country.  In each of those fifteen years, the gap between the revenues of the services firms and product pioneers has only widened and a cynic might be pardoned for asking “Is it really worth our while to obsess about products when the services sector continues to do well and find newer and newer avenues and models for growth?”

The truth is that the success of  product ventures is an idea which has been slow in developing but whose time has now surely come. Many successful Product Conferences conducted by NASSCOM in Bengaluru and led by the passionate  Sharad Sharma and his band of merry evangelists, the iSPIRT and ProductNation initiatives of the product group championed by former NASSCOM stalwart Avinash Raghava, the very successful Knowledge Management and Intellectual Property movement led by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the huge deals flows seen from product wannabes for funding by the Indian Angel Network all point to a renewed surge of enthusiasm for a “Made in India” wave that will sweep the industry forward and unleash a tsunami of success for many young entrepreneurs.

However there is no case for a simplistic polarization between services and product companies and there is certainly no basis for the argument that IT services firms will decline and give way to product firms. Even five years ago, when we had postulated that the industry would grow to a three hundred billion dollar level by 2020, the canvas was painted in many colours – on-premise and cloud based services, new platforms and frameworks, accelerators and shrink wrapped and embedded products. The boundaries are blurring and most of us in services have embraced IP creation as a necessary part of all our vertical solutions. At Zensar we have built a compelling “Digital Enterprise” strategy that leads our clients from systems of record through the wonderland of Cloud, Mobility, Social Media and Analytics to true systems of engagement. This strategy is delivered through an eco-system of product partners who have focused point solutions for vertical and horizontal engagement. The day is not far when all services firms will attempt to garner over thirty percent of their revenues from systems integration and carry a cohort of product partners into new markets.

This is not to say the product companies cannot succeed on their own steam. On the contrary, there is a strong sense of self-belief in the new generation of product entrepreneurs in our country even as some of the global product majors are beginning to consider themselves as services companies. A forthcoming CII Knowledge Management conference will showcase small companies in India that can provide worthy solutions that push the frontiers of knowledge, for organisations in all user domains and as well as technology savvy services organisations. A revolution is in the making in this country and the march of the product brigade will lead this revolution !

Bizosys Technologies’ Tools for Simplifying Software Development

Bizosys Technologies, launched in January 2009 in Bangalore, India, is an award winning, India-based software engineering company that has developed several tools that are available free to use online or as open-source software with downloadable source code. One of the most significant tools is HSearch, a real-time Big Data search engine for Hadoop. In this interview, Sridhar Dhulipala, co-founder and director – solutions, discusses his company’s tools and also shares lessons learned in the software development journey. This article is brought to SandHill readers in partnership with ProductNation. What was your vision; what inspired you to launch Bizosys? 

Sridhar Dhulipala: Bizosys was born out of a question and not out of a smart business plan. The question we had was: how can one simplify software development? This translated into an engineering quest where Bizosys founders were consumed in research for the first two years, entirely self-funded, thanks to the low capex model afforded by cloud infrastructure.

The three co-founders at Bizosys met during their careers at Infosys in Bangalore and decided to start Bizosys. Bizosys is self-funded and has had no sustained mentor in a formal sense — but a mentor would surely have helped from a go-to-market perspective.

We now provide IT services for enterprise and SMBs, mostly around Big Data, search and analytics, IT performance engineering, new application development targeting existing on-premises deployments or cloud architecture, addressing existing application technology stacks or emerging NoSQL technologies such as Hadoop.

Our tools are now accessed by users from over 100 countries globally. In the longer run, evangelizing our products and having vibrant user communities is a desirable goal. Is there a story behind your company name? 

Sridhar Dhulipala: The idea behind Bizosys is “business operating system.” As our quest was about simplifying software development, the application of this was to develop a business operating system that is easy to build, robust, scalable and especially intended for frequently changing, rapid deploy, long tail of applications. Please describe the tools your company has developed. 

Sridhar Dhulipala: Bizosys has developed several tools that are available free to use online or as open-source software with downloadable source code. 10Screens is an online high-fidelity prototyping and requirements collaboration tool for remote teams. It’s free and has close to 4,000 registered users spanning more than 120 countries. HSearch is our open-source Big Data search engine with real-time capabilities on Hadoop and it has had over 2,200 downloads by users in more than 80 countries. It includes a kids-safe search engine for YouTube videos. 1line is a server-side backend.

They are ready to install and use as shrink-wrapped, off-the-shelf software. They are also available as frameworks that are compiled with custom applications. As a third option, we offer our products and frameworks as a service via robust APIs. Our tools are backed by email support today.

Read the complete interview at

Platform Play Versus Product Play in an Indian Scenario-Part 1

From the beginning, we at Ozonetel had always wanted to build a platform. Initially, we did a VXML platform with off the shelf hardware. But VXML was not sexy enough and there were not a lot of takers. So in 2010, we did a pivot and built our own custom hardware( PRI cards) and built KooKoo and top of it. KooKoo was our attempt at Telephony Platform as a Service play. Once KooKoo was opened to the developers it took off and we got good traction. A lot of innovative telephony apps were built on top of KooKoo and telephony became cool again.
After 6-8 months, we started to think about building products and do a product play. A couple of things influenced our decision to do a product play. First was that though innovative telephony apps like connecting experts, water alerts, appointment reminders etc were being built on KooKoo, core telephony apps like PBX systems and call centers were not being built and there was a huge market opportunity. Second was that, being a bootstrapped company, market forces made us to look at alternative sources of revenue as the customer turnaround time in a platform play is longer. They have to first build their apps, market them, make money and then only they pay us 🙂
So with that, we separated out a product team in Ozonetel who would go on to build two core telephony products, a PBX on the cloud called asBizPhone and a full featured cloud call center product called as Cloudagent. So now that I have seen both the scenarios of a platform play and a product play, I thought I would share some pointers in both(no particular order).
Platform Play:
  1. Patience: You should have a lot of patience. Developers will take their own sweet time in building the application and marketing it. Many times, you will want to get in and help them develop. But that is not scalable. Though it will take time, it is better for them to figure out the solutions on their own as in the long run that will mean lesser support.
  2. Documentation: This is the most important part. You wont believe the amount of support calls that are reduced by having some decent documentation. Unfortunately, this is one area where we still have to improve and thats why we still get support calls.
  3. Logging: Your platform should explain what is happening behind the scenes to the developer through logs. It will help them in debugging the issue themselves before they reach out to support.
  4. API: Think through what and how you want to expose your API. Because, once you open it to the public and they start using it, it will be really hard to take back and you will end up supporting multiple versions.
  5. Evangelize: You should have a team of evangelists who should go to events, do live coding, help hacking communities etc to drive adoption. This is the hardest part, convincing developers to invest their time in learning your platform. It is much harder in India as the hacker community is in a nascent stage(though growing very very well).
  6. Star products: Every platform should have some star performers. They are the ones which will help in people believing in your product. Identify your star products and put all your efforts in making sure they succeed.
  7. Mashups and Blog: Build mashups on your platform yourself to showcase the capabilities. You know your platform best, so you will have to build very innovative and fun apps. After building mashups, blog about them and spread the word. Again, in India, its hard to build mashups with content from an Indian context. Till last year, we did not have a lot of APIs for Indian content. But now a lot of companies like Zomato have started opening up APIs and phone mashups can easily be built.
  8. Support: This will make or break your platform. Developers have very little patience. If they send a mail to support, they better get a response within 5-10 minutes. Otherwise, they will end up Googling for another platform which will solve their platform. Luckily, so far at least we have been able to keep our developers happy with our support. Support does not just mean technical support. Many times we have actually had to mentor a lot of startups building on our platform. You should be willing to listen to their problems and suggest advice if you have any.
  9. Developer events: You should conduct developer events and hackathons so that the new developers get to know about your platform. Unfortunately, being bootstrapped, we have not yet had funds to do this 🙂
  10. Sponsor events: In addition to conducting events, another way of getting mindshare of developers is to sponsor events. We are continuous sponsors of Startup Weekend events in India and have also sponsored hackathons in colleges like BITS where students have built very innovative applications.
In the next part I will discuss my observations on the product play.

Day 2 of NPC: Attempting to Steer in the Right Direction

As NASSCOM Product Conclave 2012 drew to a close, Sharad Sharma reiterated that product technology will eliminate poverty in India. The social consciousness and import of this statement, usually reemphasized as electoral slogans of gharibi hatao by politicians, points to envisioning a future in which the role of product technology encompasses not only growth of global companies, impacting the world (changing the world!), in India but also its increasingly central role in the nation’s development. M. Rangasami is the visible face of NPC, curating sessions with childlike enthusiasm. He wants to pay back his home country, from which he grew up for the first 20 years of life, something substantial and impactful. And he sees product technology as one means, as it is likely to explode in the coming years. The Valley has about 30% plus of Indian cofounders in startups and innumerable successful product executives and entrepreneurs. If they are inspired by MR to pay back to the nation, imagine its impact. In a way, NASSCOM Product Conclave brings some of them into the sessions to inspire the product entrepreneurs in India.

India—what is happening really?
As predictions are glorious of the future, what is happening on ground in India? What prompts envisioning a game-changing future for product tech? Maybe success of companies like InMobi. Naveen Tiwari, InMobi founder, was generous with his time to explain how InMobi succeeded and was seen in the hallways talking to people wanting to strike a conversation. In the breakfast session, he explained the InMobi way of global growth and scale. InMobi did not go after developed markets like US and Europe to start with. They identified huge white spaces in markets like Southeast Asia and Africa where customer needs were identified by online sales first. Then one of the founders would typically fly to that country to understand the market. This is not an easy task and over time, InMobi would hire a local person to run its operations. And thinking big and not content with growth, the InMobi team constantly brainstorms on how to usher in say 10x growth. Any big achievement starts with thinking big and following it up with risky initiatives. And you should stay undaunted by failure and missteps. There was a mention by Niel Patel, founder of QuickSprouts in his keynote in the evening, that product ventures don’t succeed at first iteration. They turn successful at third iteration. And product ventures cannot hit scale on a template model like services. In addressing the press, to showcase apps that promise to be game changers, Sharad Sharma said, “TCS showed the way and everyone followed it [in services]. But in products, it cannot be done.” Each story is different and each endeavour unique. Naveen Tiwari and InMobi can inspire product entrepreneurs to think of huge possibilities if one goes cracking. And identifying the sweet spot to achieve that takes multiple iterations. Deep Nishar, the star product manager at LinkedIn, earlier in the keynote, pointed out that no first iteration was successful. For example, PayPal started initially to enable payments on handheld devices and then changed to Internet payments. YouTube started as a video dating site and became a social video site later. Some have vanished on the way too, due to various reasons.

Where is the market?
Market evolution and customer adoption are crucial to succeeding in a product venture. Deep Kalra’s story is well known. When Internet was still in nascent stages, he started a web-based travel site. Sensing that opportunity exists outside India, he first served NRIs travelling to India. It took close to five years to find that customers will go to Internet to book tickets in India. Effectively, MakeMyTrip took off in India only in 2005. Indian product technology skill sets are not in question. But is the market ready for your offering? That is another question to keep in mind. Apps are exploding. Child prodigies are pouncing on to that space. But where will apps lead India into? Will it stay a diverse apps market with thousands of apps or will something like a global rage app (say Angry Birds) come out of India?

The kind of pertinent questions that are asked at this stage is how to move to the next stage. A vast number of sessions addressed challenging questions such as pitching right to the investor, a novel reverse pitch for investors to find suitable entrepreneurs, how to take mobile apps global, hiring the sales people, and metrics-driven marketing. When the question to Deep Nishar was put forth on what to focus upon to build a business in products, he pointed out to disruptions in enterprise software and building over it. His take was that enterprise products could be tested in India and taken to the rest of the world. The sense one could get out of these types of propositions and expert speak is that the market is in a flux. Enormous product tech activity is happening. But for some products, the market has to mature (adopting Indian products in enterprise) or be created for others (for example, SMBs). Deep Nishar pointed out the new smart phone like iPhone and Galaxy as not overnight innovations. A combination of earlier developments only results in a new innovation. Palm top, touch screen, iPod all combine in a new visual and spatial thinking to result in an iPhone. Can you think of a combination of such innovations to create something new and create a new market for those products?

Building products for India or the world?
A common prescription of experts like Amar Goel and Deep Nishar is that you stay close to the customer for whom you are developing the product. There is another school that thinks customer care shouldn’t be needed as the product should be simple and self-explanatory for users anywhere in the world. Deep Nishar laid seven components of a product to create a product bliss. Simplicity is one overarching principle. He opines that too many choices would make the product unattractive. Focus on select features and build on them. He showcased several LinkedIn features to validate his statement. For example, when LinkedIn was on mobile, the team did not adapt Web into mobile. They sought to understand what LinkedIn would look like on a mobile and created a new look. And sensing that customers log on to mobile devices such as iPad and smart phones early in the morning or late at night, news was added to mobile LinkedIn. Moreover, a feature shows the day’s appointments too.

Given that there is a possibility of Cloud to build a product and sell it all over the world, what kind of products could be developed without needing customer in proximity is an innovation that could be thought of. And most Indian product companies now have a global market. But scale is the question.

More questions than answers
By showcasing successes outside India and bringing in product developers like Tarkan Maner of Dell Wyse who has sold his company to Dell for a billion dollars, there is an endeavour to instil right thinking and point to pertinent directions. And by engaging several people in the ecosystem to understand their experiences of what worked and what hasn’t provides a clarity picture for the product entrepreneurs. At this moment, though, there seems to be more questions asked than answers given. The important need of the moment is asking the right questions. So it is the hope that answers will evolve and such answers would lead to a product tech revolution, as in MR’s prediction, or it would even answer India’s societal concerns of eliminating poverty, in Sharad Sharma’s extrapolation.

Both predictions are not imaginary but understood from the success of products and its greatest impact in the United States. The wealth that Bill Gates created is being channelled into health care concerns of the world and when iPhone 5 was released, there was a report that its sales across the world would contribute a significant percent to US GDP. Such developments set the context for India to take the cue and look ahead.

Contributed Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, Product Tech Ecosystem Enthusiast

Domain knowledge is key to building successful B2B products

Suresh Sambandam is the founder and CEO of OrangeScape, a company he set up along with colleague from Selectica, Mani Doraisamy. OrangeScape provides a Platform as a Service (PaaS) to build domain rich solutions, easily and fast. The company recently launched KiSSFLOW, the first workflow-as-a-service exclusively for Google Apps which seamlessly integrates with Google mail, docs and contacts. In the first of a two-part interview for, Suresh talks to us about what inspired him to start OrangeScape, what factors he feels are important while starting up and when to recognize the deciding moment of whether to give up or continue.

So many people from smaller town today who are getting into the business today — for example you have people from Udupi and Agra who are foraying into the business. What about your story –you yourself hail from Cuddalore, a Tier 3 city so where did it start for you?

I believe that there are two sources of ideas. One is typically a B2C idea – and this comes from your common encounters. You yourself are consumer, and you encounter different problems as a user of a product. You get frustrated and you think about building new products or solutions to solve this frustration. This is where you can see a lot of younger people like college kids or graduates getting in to the game – if you carefully observe most of these products you’ll see more B2C products because the founders would have been users themselves who were faced with a particular problem and then thought about solving it. These don’t really require very deep domain knowledge. On the other hand you can take OrangeScape which is a B2B product that’s complex, as B2B products tend to be. This is because it takes someone who’s been in the area to understand the dynamics, gain deeper knowledge and figure out the gaps and challenges.

Personally, prior to starting OrangeScape I was working for a company called Selectica which is a US based company that was one of the leaders in business rule engine space. At some point Selectica sold the Division I was part of, to Accenture, and we saw that as a great segue into the problem of how can we democratize application building process? That is a deep domain knowledge we got exposed due to our intensive work at Selectica in an adjacent area. So all this experience and knowledge helped the core team generate the idea and we decided this was something we should address and go after.

So essentially there are two key factors that started the OrangeScape story. One was the experience that you gained from the previous companies you worked at, that helped you identify scope for improvement. The other was the core team, which is obviously fundamental to getting out on your own. What other factors would you say are important when you’re starting up?

India is slowly moving from services to a product building country. OrangeScape takes this thinking to one more level of sophistication which from product to creating sophisticated technology /platform. As I said before, to know this side of the tracks you need a lot of domain expertise. You need to know the problem and go after that. Second, of course the team is the most important thing. We had been blessed with a great team starting with my co-founder Mani that stayed on course for a longtime on this journey. Thirdly, I would say to some extent the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’ plays a role here. Initially, we didn’t know how big the problem we were going after really was.

It was only after years did we realize that this is problem that an IBM or Oracle would go after, not a startup. But then if I knew all that when I started off, there are chances that we would have given up. Sometimes you don’t know everything about the problem, but then you take chances. And then you need to stay put on the path and committed. You have to be convinced about the problem and pursue the solution. So all these things need to come together for you to go in the direction that you want to.

When you do you decide that you’re making it or breaking it? What is that deciding factor? Where do you decided ‘enough is enough it’s time to get a day job’, or ‘hey, we’ve cracked it’?

The defining moment depends on your assessment of how big the problem you’re trying to solve. If the problem that you’re trying to solve is big enough for you to stay put on your course, then that’s a pretty strong deciding factor. I don’t think many people realize that it took SAP 15 years to go from product concept to launch and in the last ten years, they’ve been doing good business. Now cloud is disrupting their business, that is a different story. SAP was convinced that the problem they were dealing with was big enough and this inspired the vision for them to stay on course. So this is one aspect that determines whether you should hang up your boots or not. I would say that if you’re going after a small a problem then after some years you may decide to give up, but if it’s bigger then this may not happen. The other aspect is that if you’re meeting progress and you’re doing reasonably ok (not significantly, but you’re definitely progressing) then again this gives you the motivation to stay focused. If none of this is happening, then that may be an indicator that you may have to move on.

Why aren’t more developers creating serious Mobile App Products?

Mobile Apps

These are the times, when every third person that you meet in Technology world has an idea for an App. It could be every alternate person if you’re hanging out in geeky groups or among heavy Smartphone users.

The Industry trends suggest a phenomenal surge as well. According to Gartner, Mobile Apps Store downloads worldwide for the year 2012 will surpass 45.6 billion. Out of these, nearly 90% are free Apps, while out of the rest of 5 billion downloads majority (90% again) cost less than $3 per download. This trend has a strong growth curve for the next five years. (See Table 1. Mobile App Store Downloads, courtesy: Gartner) 

Another report suggests that 78% of US mobile App Companies are small businesses (based on the Apple and Android App Stores based research). The typical apps that dominate this market are games, education, productivity, and business.

Mobile App Store Downloads - Gartner 2012

This comes as no surprise. There is a huge divide between the Enterprise Mobility (dominated by the Enterprise Architecture, existing platforms and mobility extensions to the platforms that ensure business continuity) and End-User (Consumer) Mobile Apps dominated by the App Stores supported Small and Mid-size App Development Companies. The barriers to entry in the Smart phone Apps Market seem pretty low with the supporting ecosystem from Apple, Amazon, Google, and Telecom carriers.

However, let’s get back to the fact that majority of these Apps “do not” generate direct revenue.

While the entry seems without barriers, there are multiple hurdles on the race track:

1. Developers need to focus on the User Experience. The smartphone apps pick-up is highly skewed toward Apps that offer a good user experience even for minimal functionality. After the initial success, the App makers end up adding functionality for sustained interest, but the User Experience tops. It’s difficult to focus on UX while still trying to do everything right at the underlying architecture level for long term.

2. Marketing is important. Getting the early eyeballs is key for the App developers. Any serious App needs an immediate initial take-off, and among the things that they need to do to make it happen is to market the App beforehand and to get the authoritative reviews in place.

3. Initial Take-off is just the first hurdle. App needs to be able to handle traffic bursts, it needs scale with increased traction, support virality & social connects inherently, and also build an effective User ecosystem. None of these may seem like the core functional features of the App, but are most critical for the broad-based success.

4. The Freemium model is very popular, but it can kill the business if the marginal costs are not sustainable. The paradox of the Free model is that unless the 10% paid users are able to pay for your 100% costs, every additional user takes you closer to the grave. With this come in two questions – how do you keep the infrastructural costs low, and how do you build additional revenue models around the app.

  • IaaS can solve some of the infrastructural headache, but doesn’t provide you with the other functional layers that every App needs. You need to still build them. PaaS providers provide the scalable platform for building Apps, but you still need to build some of the functional features such as Gaming Rooms support, Messaging, User Authentication & authorization models, and so on. Mobile developers are still doing a lot of repetitive work across the smartphone Apps that can be consolidated into a framework.
  • Supporting the additional revenue models require integration with external Ad-services, Payment systems and more importantly the bandwidth to deal with this even more fragmented set of agencies.

5. The End-point device platforms are fragmented and getting even more so. A typical model for App developers is to develop an Android App, iOS App or a Windows App and then support the other platforms as they go along. However, keeping up with these multiple platforms is only getting more and more difficult with the speed with which Apple, Microsoft, and Google keep rolling out the OS. There’s tremendous pressure to release the App within the 1-3 days window of the release of the underlying platform.

Hence, while there are millions of people developing smartphone Apps as we speak, there are only a fraction that get built at serious level, and even smaller fraction that gets built for sustainable business success.

And considering these hurdles, the arrival of the Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) is a blessing for the App Developers. Forrster’s Michael Facemire refers to them as “The New Lightweight Middleware”. He goes ahead and lists out some of the basic tenets of what makes a Mobile Backend as a Service, but I see this list evolving as the vendors offer more and more functionality to the customers leading to en ecosystem.

And the term “ecosystem” is going to be the key. That’s because a successful mobile App doesn’t stop at the user starting the app, using the app, and leaving the app. A successful App creates an ecosystem for the viral growth, user engagement, social functionality, in-built broad-based connectivity for multi-user interactions, and more importantly the ability for cross-platform usage. In a Gaming scenario, the user interactions and the relevant immediate feedbacks are paramount. Most successful apps build an ecosystem. Instagram, 4Square, Pinterest are the common household examples today.

ShepHertz App42 Cloud API is complete backend as service to help app developers develop, buid and deploy their app on the cloud.While Michael lists out the usual suspects in his post, most of them in the Silicon Valley, there is a very interesting player in Shephertz’s App42 platform, right here in India. The ecosystem approach that they have taken seems pretty much what may be required for serious app developers that need a robust backend provided as a service, so that they can focus on the app functionality, user experience, and more importantly the marketing aspects of the App.

Now why, still, aren’t more and more developers building even more serious mobile App products? Why shouldn’t they be? I think, they will!

Autodesk Acquires Qontext Social Collaboration Platform.

Acquisition to Expand Social Capabilities of Autodesk 360 Cloud Services.

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 4, 2012 — Autodesk Inc., (NASDAQ: ADSK) has completed the acquisition of Qontext,enterprise social collaboration software, from India-based Pramati Technologies. The acquisition of the Qontext technology and development team will accelerate Autodesk’s ongoing move to the cloud and expansion of social capabilities in the Autodesk 360 cloud-based service. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

“Autodesk’s acquisition of the Qontext technology is a testament to the Pramati strategy,” said Vijay Pullur, Pramati president. “This transaction is a significant milestone in our ongoing efforts to incubate and build companies that address the rapidly changing needs of business through highly innovative technologies.”

Autodesk intends to use the Qontext technology to add new social capabilities to Autodesk 360, a cloud-based platform that offers users the ability to store, search, and view critical design data improving the way they design, visualize, simulate and share work with others at anytime and from anywhere.

Read the complete story here

Fullerton India – Revolutionizing India

At a time when “Cloud” was still a buzz word and “Platform as a Service” as a category didn’t exist, Fullerton India was looking  for the next generation computing technology to help them build business applications faster, cheaper, better.  Fullerton India stumbled across OrangeScape Platform (formerly known as DimensionN). They realized that the conventional approach to build a whole host of of application in the “White Space” area will be heavily time consuming taking anywhere between 30 to 90 days for an application.

And, added to that complexity, these applications change every other week and change management becomes a huge challenge. OrangeScape helped Fulllerton to fill this gap by providing a platform approach not only to build these new applications, workflows as per their business process but also to frequently upgrade them as the business need changes. Listen to Pramod!

Mr. Pramod Krishnamurthy who as EVP – Technology (2005 – 2010) at Fullerton India Credit Corporation Ltd. (FIC) talks about his discovery of OrangeScape and how he adopted our platform which ultimately resulted in their IT team building business apps faster than they would have done in the traditional mode.

Pramod shares more on this success story over a video here and ends with a message to his peers on cloud adoption and working along with emerging companies. Pramod is currently CTO at Birla Sun Life Insurance.

Watch the Video on the Organgescape blog