iSPIRT works to transform India into a hub for new generation software products, by addressing crucial government policy, creating market catalysts and grow the maturity of product entrepreneurs. Welcome to the Official Insights!
India has fast emerged as the world’s second largest Internet market. Since 2012, nearly $15 billion has been invested in tech startups with over 300 M&A deals. However, a large percentage of deals (80%, 2014-Q3’16) were sub-$5M deals driven by acquihires and restructuring. Looking west to Israel and the US, it is clear that for a healthy technology product ecosystem, further acceleration in later stage M&A and buyouts is undeniably required. And with this very thesis in mind, iSPIRT, along with TiE Silicon Valley and Stanford University, organized the inaugural Startup Bridge India event on Dec 2,2016, with the goal of fostering cross-border partnerships with Silicon Valley corporates to drive investments and/or acquisitions of domestic startups.
We are building auto-pilot software for managing cloud operations. The rocket ship is Silicon Valley and Startup Bridge was our gateway to it. Vijay Rayapati, CEO, Minjar
The event was an important chapter in the history of India’s tech landscape for multiple reasons.
For one, it was the first step in breaking down borders between Silicon Valley and India. It is no easy feat to gather the top BD and Corp Dev executives from the largest tech Silicon Valley giants all together under a single roof. But with representatives from 65 corporates meeting 28 startups driving 120 connections for partnerships and investment/acquisition discussions, the very fact that the doors were opened, some even knocked down, was a giant leap for the ecosystem.
We were able to have of bunch of meaningful 1-1 conversation with potential strategic partners. Sunil Patro, CEO SignEasy
The second win – a powerful collaborative relationship between TiE Silicon Valley and iSPIRT – was one of breaking down barriers. The coming together of two impactful organizations driven by a similar vision so seamlessly to build a momentous event in ~10 weeks of planning was nothing short of inspirational, an affirmation of the power of the volunteer-driven model that iSPIRT has established itself upon.
The third win, however, was arguably the most powerful – that of breaking down the BS among even the most experienced entrepreneurs in India. iSPIRT has long held a position of being an unbiased stakeholder, with the primary goal of driving positive change in the tech startup ecosystem. Mature entrepreneurs in India, historically big fish in a small pond, have long believed their systems, their pitches, their stories, had been tried, tested and proven. However, playing on the global stage is a whole new ball game and iSPIRT stepped in to break down the BS for entrepreneurs.
I thought I had my deck all figured out. I thought I knew my pitch and had the details at my fingertips. But then I started getting really valuable, thought-out feedback from iSPIRT and I realized I had so much to improve on. I had to focus on pitching to partners, not customers. My narrative was made crisper and my focus was changed from ‘what we’ve done in the past’ to what is coming up next. All of that feedback resulted in a much stronger pitch and more engaged conversations with partners after. Pallav Nadhani, CEO FusionCharts
StartUp Bridge India, with an NPS of 68%, was another valiant step towards putting the Indian startup ecosystem on the global map alongside mammoths like the US and Israel. Team Indus, an Indian startup working to land a rover on Mars, is India’s literal moonshot. Startup India, working to increase cross-border investments and M&A, was India’s figurative moonshot. And after Startup Bridge, it was clear, that this moonshop has a robust arm and is gaining an increasingly powerful momentum.
The story of India’s tech landscape is being written as we speak, and the future is nothing short of exciting…
StarupBridge India is an important step forward for India’s journey as a Product Nation. For the first time, it brought together India’s top global startups at this scale to meet and connect with Silicon Valley’s company to explore potential strategic partnership. This conference will be referred as seminal for years to come as it created a key turning point of software products cross border partnerships. M Thiyagarajan (Rajan), CoFounder & Fellow iSPIRT
Last month, for the first time, I witnessed something really special. Even for someone like me, whose very job and calling is to evangelise this nascent software ecosystem of ours, this was something extraordinary.
I’ve been doing this a while, and what happened last month was one of the best feelings I’ve had in this journey.
This is what they got together for: To help 52 other, smaller B2B startups in achieving scale, like they have.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the founders of these companies are some of the most important product leaders we have.
In the first session itself, Shekar Kirani pointed out that a platform like this will not be easily available, and the assembled startups needed to leverage the best from the network and from the folks who had arrived with the the express intention of helping them. And the product leaders who also made an important point – that they did not want the new age startups to go through the same grind, or make the same mistakes they had made in their years of scaling.
I was amazed. It is almost never that you see such accomplished professionals come together towards helping and nurturing young startups from their own learnings.
And what was this? What was happening?
This was the 2nd edition of #PNgrowth.
The first one had been in Jan 2016 at the Infosys Campus in Mysore where we had assembled around 186 founders to help companies think about Category Leadership. It went really, really well, but the feedback was that that perhaps keeping it focussed for fewer founders would help the cause better.
Many heated discussions were conducted over breakfast, lunch, dinner, and beer (especially beer) on the program for the 2nd edition and on how we can add value to the content.
These conversations were typically 4-6 hours long, which meant that the entire program/content took us over 200 hours with 12 founders brainstorming for the past 3-4 months.
It really did take us that long.
And those deep discussions based on the 1st edition’s feedback was what the program for November was based on.
And now that #PNgrowth 2016 is over, I decided to take a look back and share some of the learnings in organising this, and on how we pulled this together.
This year, the program was designed to help companies chase ‘Good Scale’, that is, to achieve high growth without compromising on quality. There were 52 founders with us, from all over India, and a few from outside as well.
Before we get into the details, a larger question must be addressed again, largely because it keeps getting brought up. This time, I’m trying to use a different approach to explain this. Bear with me.
WHY IS iSPIRT DOING THIS ‘MOVIE’ CALLED PNGROWTH?
iSPIRT’s mission is to make India a ProductNation. We have many initiatives like Playbook Roundtables, PNcamp, etc which are focussed around building products and helping companies achieve good scale. Although there are many accelerators in our country, very few offer value to the founders/companies. Keeping this in mind, iSPIRT wanted to do something unique and create a platform which would help companies think about growth in an effective manner. More importantly, we want to make ongoing mentorship accessible to the founders.
The goal was to create 8-10 companies every year which would eventually go on to become $10mn revenue companies in the next 3 years.
WHO ARE THE DIRECTORS OF THE MOVIE?
These are the co-chairs.
The first edition of PNgrowth had just finished and I was looking for someone to be the architect for the second edition. I met Shankar Maruwada for lunch at Muffets & Tuffets and was having a completely different conversation. But, as we touched upon the PNgrowth topic, Shankar had lots of suggestions on how we could do this better. I immediately requested him to help in designing the program and helping me organise it better.. He accepted graciously, and was keen to help.
My next request was to get Pallav Nadhani involved again. There is a reason for this. Pallav, in many ways, was the person who forced us to think around Category Leadership. The first meeting took place at Pallav’s place which went on till 2:30 am.
By then, I had had several interactions with Aneesh Reddy, and the early playbook roundtables on Product Management had been done by him. I reached out to him and he was very keen to be part of the program and help us.
With Shankar, Pallav and Aneesh on-board, the pillars of the event were erected.
WHERE DID I FIND THE STAR CAST FOR THE MOVIE?
These, of course, were the facilitators.
Around 4-6 months in advance, we started working on the content for the event. Various topics were discussed. One thing was clear to me: Every founder had immense passion and commitment to add value to a certain topic. The format we had in mind was to make very interactive session. All of us had had enough of the ‘sage on stage’ approach. The founders were to lead sessions and work along with the participating entrepreneurs to help them extract maximum benefit.
Many discussions later, Pallav & Shankar actually started with using the frameworks & mindflips and were later joined by Girish & Aneesh. Manav & Shekhar also used the same in their session.
It was great to see that all the facilitators did an outstanding job of delivery of the frameworks and ensured that they shared real life stories and lots of data and numbers from their companies. What was more important was that they made sure they spent time with all the attendees and ensured they received personalised attention. They were able to build a personal connect and trust within the startup community by sharing internal information even though they didn’t have to, thereby making the discussion even more credible.
WHO CAME TO WATCH THE MOVIE?
Oh, that. We had huge demand for tickets from the audience, the founders of India’s growing startup community.
HOW DID WE THEN SELECT WHO ACTUALLY GOT TO SEE THE MOVIE?
This time, right from Day 1, we only wanted to get select founders to be part of PNgrowth.
To begin this selection process, we laid out which stage of startups would benefit from PNgrowth. We then went on and created a list of founders and reached out to them. Apart from this, we reached out to folks from within the eco-system and got them to recommend companies to us.
Each company was recommended by atleast 2-3 founders from the PNgrowth curation team. We did zero marketing for PNgrowth except for a video, which we used to communicate to potential participants. We received overwhelming response for the event thus putting me in a fix at several situations where I had to inform founders that they have been rejected for a program/event. It was difficult, but in the interest of the event, it had to be done.
We finally had 54 founders who confirmed their participation, out of which 52 showed up for the bootcamp. These companies were divided into groups of 6 based on the type of customer/geography they were catering to.
WHERE DID WE HIRE THE SUPPORTING ACTORS?
These were the mentors, and we were able to get around 14 founders as mentors and were simply amazed by their commitment for the two and a half days of the event. Mentors were involved in all facets of the event – from intense board room discussions to the dance floor. Let me go little more deeper on the role that they played. In every session, the founders got access to few frameworks, mindflips which they had to fill and discuss with their peers + mentors. Lot of learnings were shared by mentors and it became very valuable to the founders. Very few of them tweeted from the program as everyone was busy interacting, engaging, absorbing content, but here is one of the tweets which acknowledges the mentors.
WHAT ABOUT THE CREW?
Getting to them, the volunteers.
In my work, I get to interact with many volunteers in many initiatives, but this time the commitment and the passion with which the volunteers worked was unimaginable. Folks would go to sleep at 5am and be ready next day at 8am. They would ensure that mentors/founders have had breakfast, etc and would go an extra mile to take care that founders are focussed on their work and don’t get distracted.
Volunteers also interacted with the founders to understand if the pace/level of the sessions suited them. Lot of planning was done in advance that each and every person who is part of PNgrowth goes back with a WOW experience. I still wonder where they get so much of inspiration from.
I don’t know if i would ever be able to do something like that. Hats off to all the volunteers who put together an awesome experience for the PNgrowth family.
SO, WHAT WAS THE MOVIE ALL ABOUT, THEN?
The Founders started with a cricket match between the cohorts itself.
Sharad Sharma, our guiding light, kick started the event with his words of wisdom for all the founders.
And then it began with Pallav’s session on Who are you? As founders, entrepreneurs have to pitch or sell their ideas constantly, so as to inspire the listener to believe in their dream to either fund the idea, join the team, tie up with the startup, or write about the startup. Is there a method to this? Can this be an acquired skill?
In this session, founders learnt and practiced a simple framework that enables them to improve their ability to pitch their ideas in the shortest time, to the desired target audience – VCs, journalists, co-founders, customers, business partners, and employees.
The next session was focussed on how to maximise the value of your product. If you as a founder were to increase the perceived value of your offering (Increase average MRR by 1.5X and/or reduce churn to 0.5X),how would your economics change? How would it change your CAC, margins? What would you as a founder then do differently with your product strategy, go to market strategy (positioning, marketing, channel, pricing), team/organization structure, to increase pricing by 1.5X, in the scenarios below as relevant to you. This was followed by an interactive session with the mentors.
This was end of Day 1 and then we had networking dinner, drinks, some dance and lots of conversations led by Vinod & Ashish.
The second day was a more power packed with two sessions. To their credit, the founders were highly engrossed in their sessions, sans their mobile phones and laptops which helped in making these sessions successful.
During the first half, Girish and Aneesh engaged in an extremely fruitful session on product-market how to scale 10X with emphasis on how to establish your sales funnel and building a repeatable sales cycle. This session covered on selling processes from SMBs (by Girish) and enterprises (by Aneesh). They also shed some light on how pricing, positioning and selling varies from one geography to another.
Apart from this, Suresh also gave his insights on selling global products out of India.
The complete session went on till almost tea break after which the candidates came back in for the third and final session by Shekhar and Manav.
This session was meant to give a befitting end to the two rigorous days of activity.
While Manav spoke about how to choose your niche category and expand to other similar industries and geographies, Shekhar’s session was centred around what a VC looks for a in a startup. In the session,
Shekhar did a Q&A round with Nags and Girish on what it takes to build a successful organisation.
He also delved a bit deeper on aspects like how to choose the right market and how to intelligently figure a way out of a market and move into one that is expanding by extracting maximum business value.
Here Raghu also added his thoughts on what it takes to raise venture capital and how one should structure an organisation for a CEO to utilise his time in the most efficient manner.
Though the mentors tried to cover as much ground as possible over the two days, they took questions from audiences on anything they still might have a doubt about.
After this was a complete group photograph since some of the mentors had to leave that night. The energy of the picture speaks for itself. Before calling it a day, the founders were given tasks/homework for them to present on the final day.
The third day, we had some inspirational stories from Sanjay Anandaram(Seedfund), Mohit Dubey (CarWale), Phanindra Sama(RedBus), Raghunandan G(TaxiForSure), Sanjay Deshpande(FortyTwo Labs). We had actually planned for only Sanjay to talk about “entrepreneurial mindset” and then we thought about inviting all of the above folks to share their energy.
Something which we had planned for 20-30 minutes went on for around 90 mins and it was an absolute pleasure to hear some of the learnings/failures from all these founders. Below is the NPS score of 89 for PNgrowth 🙂
After this, all founders were made to do this exercise on “Getting to 3X Growth in 12 Months”. All mentors with their cohorts spent time with the founders and helped them on what they should be thinking about this. Six Founders got an opportunity to share with the whole group.
Finally Shankar invited all volunteers to share few words on why they volunteered for PNgrowth. With it, a spectacular three days came to end, with some photographs and a lot of hugs, cheers, and greetings.
For me, it was a great feeling to see all of this happen, and at this scale. This probably capped off the year of 2016 for me and iSPIRT as a year in which we were actually able to make the ecosystem function as a cohesive, united entity. Lots of work is ahead of us, but as I write this, I acknowledge a task well begun.
Many thanks to Sairam for editing & Shruti for filling the blanks.
Marketing for beginners
The morning of the SaaSx3, saw a round table by Pallav Nadhani, CEO of Fusion Charts.
And I was one of the few lucky people who managed to find a seat at this already cramped round table.
Pallav, kick-started the session with a question:
Who are you & what will the world miss if your company dies in 10 years?
The question (although slightly morbid) did its trick.
It gave us an idea of what we had in store for the rest of the RT and beautifully set the context for what we could expect. And what we had to do if we had to market a product.
Interspersed with quirky humour, anecdotes, and important questions to ponder, the session was definitely interesting and novel.
Here are some key takeaways:
Aligning Product with Marketing
We usually talk about our product, our goal as a company. But Pallav stressed on the importance of flipping the question and address the problems of the customer.
It’s only when marketing defines product, will the product shape into an answer for the customer’s problems. And you’ll be building something that customers will get value out of.
He asked us to put a “why” to the problem that we were trying to solve for our customers.
An example he cited from some big companies that asked this question:
“Why shouldn’t you have access to your files, whenever/wherever you want?” was Dropbox’s question before they started building their product. Similarly, ask yourself that “why” to the problem you’re trying to solve.
Quoting Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on the Golden circle, Pallav went on to discuss the important questions of the purpose, the process and the result
– Who to reach
– When to reach
– How to reach
Who to reach?
Identify the three personas you have to sell to: Influencer, buyer and user
Depending on the nature of your product, decide who has to be engaged to ensure you’re able to sell to them.
Figure out “Why” should that person use your product? Everybody has a different reason, but what’s that persona’s reason?
If you’re asking somebody to switch from an existing product to a new one, how seamless is migrating? If it’s a new product, how will you sell him the need?
Tip: Ensure you’re asking the same “why” as your customers. Pallav cited an example here. Every time there’s a new download, they send an email to the customer asking the purpose behind the download. This way, they made sure that they were delivering on what customers expect from them.
When to reach?
Collect as much information on your customer (in a non-stalky way, of course!). The information should include the information that they consume on a daily basis, and how do they consume it. And how do you make sure you are in those media, so as to make an impression?
A classic example of this that he quoted was the billboards. He asked us to recollect some of the latest billboards, and then tried to delve into the reason behind it. We discovered that we see the billboards that we choose to see. If you’re hungry, you remember a restaurant’s board, or a car if you’re looking to buy one etc.
Tip: Make sure you actively hit customers that are seeking for your product. Identify where your customers would be, and then hang around to make an impression.
How to reach?
We discussed various ways of doing the actual marketing here.
One of the classic marketing strategies is The Sniper Approach vs Carpet Bombing approach to marketing.
Swearing by the sniper approach to marketing, Pallav said that, rather than trying a wide casting net approach with different experiments, try a laser-focused activity with precision, to ensure you nail the sell!
And the only way to do this would be to, Know your user, see if you understand a DILO (Day In the Life Of) your customer (creepy, but highly insightful) and see how you can fit into the picture.
Also, can you partner with someone to push your product? Or can you poach any partners of your competitors?
Tip: Unless you discover who you are, and why you exist, nothing can help you explain it to your customers.
Here’s a quick summary of all the major points:
Find that key problem that you’re trying to address and make it your goal.
Identify your ideal user & study the various personas.
Now ensure you “marry” the your goals to the user’s needs.
Work towards creating an experience, so your prospects take action.
Collect as much information as possible on your customer, so you know when and how to hit them with your product.
I took SaaSy bus to attend SaaSx3, a fun journey networking and ice break session among SaaS founder The sessions were on common challenges from funding to hiring right resources and also instant mini FinTech RoundTable (picture below).
The venue was at Chennai (Mahabalipuram) well described by above tweet and event started with afternoon session by Pallav Nadhani of FusionCharts on Referral Marketing. The discussion started emphasizing needs of marketing starts before existence of the product and continues with product and marketing should not be looked in silos away from the product. One question for SaaS founders is whether their startups are geared to leverage product features to perform self-marketing of the product The session brought some real examples of SaaS firms who have already done this successfully.
The impact of using “Powered by Logo” inside your product features on B2B2C websites that are focused on end user was highlighted and is more effective to target customers from new geographies where your product has not been adopted and are in early stages of entering new geography.
Nemesh of appointy stressed importance of backlinks (two lines of codes in the product), that became part of Google search when someone searched for a tool for appointments. Other suggestions include:
Sell lower price plan without option to “White label” product offering. After product is adopted, the lowest price plan can be offered as “Free forever plan” without white label option.
Find a WordPress plugin that is active and popular. Buy plugin and add one line in this plugin and publish the plugin.
#OneThing session happened where SaaS founders were asked to share a set of one things that creates significant transformation in their startups.
We did not predict, we performed action
Upgrade Field on Sales approach to Customer Success approach
“Support and train customers for first 45 days increased NPS score” – Think of it as customer Success Channel that is needed in scaling stage.
Keep high touch with customer and experiment how to maintain high touch with customers being online and not on-site. Leverage and experiment with cloud telephony, gamification and customer management.
Product Tear Down session where SaaS founders offered their product to be teared down by expert SaaS founder and audience. The experience SaaS founders published guideline template based on which they will provide feedback to brave startup like Zipboard and CanvasFlip and here are comments that apply to lot of startups found here too.
You first need to go deep focusing on the right customer segment before going broad.
While building a branded website, remember that website home page needs to convey emotional, functional and technical aspirations to connect with your audience. One good example is slack website, it is inspirational.
While displaying metrics of your product on the website, show metrics that creates positive impression in mind of prospects. Small number may not create right impression.
Remove small irritants. Devil is in details.
Does your product features pass Tooth Brush test? Ask, ‘Is this something people use once or twice a day and does it solve a problem?’
No right or wrong strategies, only shades of right while building startups.
People who teared down choose right words to share comments to the founder who offered his product for tear down, also adding kind words “Do not become defensive. Their inputs are to improve not to criticize”. SaaS founder in the audience really liked the positive impact of product Tear Down session and followed with asks to #ispirit to have more startups in Product Tear Down sessions and suggestion for virtual Product Tear Down session.
There was another #OneThing session focused on what is one thing that in last 12 months worked well for SaaS startup with Aditya Sangi of Hotelogix , moderated by Prasanna
Alliance building approach steps – find complimentary product. Check whether your product adds to their value offering and whether other product have efficient reach to your customer target and whether joint offering creates value for your customer base.
Do not keep building a lot of non-core features in to your product and make the world as your competition and end up with no partners.
Am I building the product right or am I building the right product, both are different, very important to understand by @skirani#SaaSx3
One attraction in SaaSx#n is story style presentation by Girish of #freshdesk, who genuinely shares learnings from his journey. This time the story had movie effect and learnings from the movie are
Everything need not be data driven. You can do things that people would notice and they will notice when things are on high quality bar.
Do what is right for customers first. Help sales team to develop focus on customer success by incentivizing to help customers first.
Started with sales team of young minds fresh from college and they started with focus on number of agents sold rather than revenue of agents sold. Once they were more customer focused and time arrived to scale, a change was implemented in discussion with sales team to change their focus to revenue earned per sales team member.
The importance of alignment between marketing and sales using instances from freshdesk journey.
Hired fresher’s following hack “Hire them for attitude and you can get them skills”. I liked the fact that the hack was implemented in sales and marketing function and not only in engineering.
Similar to other startups, freshdesk also got junks as prospects. They pruned not only junk and also channels where hunk data originated from. More junk arrival from channel lead to removing channel, leading to arrive at list of channels that worked for them.
Girish once again demonstrated that he was a hardcore Rajnikanth fan in real life too by creating a real movie style experiences bringing young talent who accompanied him at the start of #freshdesk journey in sales and marketing on to the stage. He created right impression that success is attributed to team’s effort rather than individual effort. Consider to be special in the days of “Winner takes it all”
Girish complete the movie with some thought provoking questions “Are SaaS founders aiming high?”, “Do you want to be happy with small year on year growth?”
The April sun wasn’t evident at the beach side locale, near the historic town of Mamallapuram, which hold relics of exceptional beauty on its rocks sculpted under the patronage of the Pallava kings. Had it been the early part of last century, in all probability, we could have reached this place in passenger boats sailing through the Buckingham Canal, now condemned to history. It was using this canal route that the national poet Subramanya Bharatiar escaped to Pondicherry to prevent an imminent arrest by the British to endow us with memorable literary gifts in Tamil.
By favourable alignment of choicest factors, Chennai is home to successful SaaS enterprises. To say SaaS is the preserve of Chennai is surely an overstatement. To put it in perspective, it is a worldwide phenomenon and Chennai has made a mark in India. Undoubtedly, the success of Girish Mathrubootham (Freshdesk) has a lot to do with Chennai hailed as the SaaS capital of India, with Suresh Sambandam (KissFlow), Sanjay Parthasarathy (Indix), Krish Subramanian (Chargebee) and Lux (Unmetric) in the elite SaaS league giving an aura to Chennai, not to forget that it was Zoho that made it to the big SaaS league, taking on Salesforce, from Chennai.
Guys if you’re a SaaS company, don’t make the mistake I did i.e missing first two SaaSx and RT’s that iSpirit… https://t.co/lshTmtaLta
At SaaSx3 it was a day filled with peer-to-peer learning, some fun, and a super-duper end. Playbook roundtables, One Thing Series, Product Teardown, and a presentation of “superscaling” (my term!) by Girish as the grand finale completed the agenda. Pallav Nadhani of Fusion Charts and Krish Subramanian of Chargebee (in partnership with Suresh Sambandam of KissFlow) engaged select SaaS startups on a roundtable each. iSPIRT’s agenda of peer-to-peer learning and networking, with the intention of forming a vibrant community of product entrepreneurs, took the form of playbook roundtables where the successful entrepreneurs share the secret of their product success with the product startups. The focus of both the roundtables, where I spent some time in each, was on the product. While Krish focused on taking the product from 0 to $1 million, Pallav chose the marketing as a tool for product’s success.
Find out why the customer chooses your product
Krish spent a considerable time in explaining the key to product success – understanding the persona of the buyer. “Product-market fit is constantly evolving,” he said. The process doesn’t stop with customer acquisition and onboarding but continues with retention of the customer, on what is now called the customer success. Acquiring the customer is a tedious process for which several methods and processes come in handy. The important take-away from this session was understanding the customer’s intent to buy the product. Krish liberally quoted from Chargebee’s experience to explain his perspective – their assumption of why the customer bought Chargebee flipped on its head when they saw the real data on why they did. How to find out? It is best to ask – first through a non-intrusive e-mail followed up by conversations and further e-mail exchanges.
The whole point of the discussion hovered around the 10% conversion rate – of prospects into buyers. But Suresh clarified that it is a benchmark for large enterprises, but the real numbers that convert is the key rather than the percentage if the customers are SMBs.
Krish said that the choice between free trial vs freemium is loaded in favour of freemium. But what usually happens is that the free trial users pump up the numbers (the customer count) but largely the free trial customers don’t turn buyers. The truth is freemium works well but free trial also works. The real answer is it all depends on the product. What also works is adding a “powered by *product logo*.” This has worked WebEngage and Freshdesk. WebEngage had a “powered by *logo*” on its product design (for a cheaper priced version) so that it gets more prospects into the funnel. If the customer is not paying, at least he can be used as a channel for prospecting. Freshdesk used the “powered by *logo*” on all its customer support e-mails (which is actually generated by Freshdesk) sent by the free user in its forever free product.
Another important aspect touched upon was making the pricing transparent and known, especially if the target customers are SMBs in the case of self-servicing SaaS products. If the customer base is large enterprises, the price conversation can happen offline and it is not necessary to provide price information on the website.
Constantly evaluate your customers and look for influencers
When I entered the conversation, Pallav was focusing on why, how and what of the product. He defined customer cohorts as influencers, buyers and users. Pallav’s proposition was a lot deeper – a good product markets itself. But you also ask deeper questions – even the reason why you (your product) exist to answer the other defining aspects of why the product sells (Pallav’s recommendation: view Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle video on why, how, what). The why exists converts simply into what problem is the product solving. But identifying the customer is a continuous evaluation process. Only if you know why you exist can you target the most appropriate buyers for your product so that your solution is aligned to their needs. For targeting customers at the right time, you must understand the customer behaviour a bit deeply. Pallav gave examples of how customer habits can be known from data. His marketing pitch was a bit philosophical quoting Seth Godin, who said, “The valuable forms of marketing are consumed voluntarily” (read Three Changes of Marketing). The network effect is powerful, as Avilesh Singh of WebEngage explained using his product marketing strategy. He said how changing his focus from marketing execs to developers as customers reaped rich dividends.
FusionCharts is one of India’s oldest product companies, and easily one of the first to get on the SaaS wave to world recognition. This makes Pallav Nadhani’s company one of the first few in India to actually face the problems that are now ruining the sleep of the nation’s new product company CEOs. As Pallav himself says, building the product and validating is one thing, and scaling it completely another. The challenges are different and tougher, as are the decisions you need to take.
In answering the question as to what would have helped him and his company at the stage when they were reaching the point when they needed to scale, Pallav says what we’ve heard from so many people in the last year or so – that there was no one to guide him and the organisation at that time. Simply put, no one he knew had done this before, and there was no one to go to for advice.
In this short video from us at PNgrowth, Pallav talks about all of this, and how much organisations need this kind of help at that stage, thus making the case for why we are trying to put together PNgrowth, a platform to bring together India’s early stage software product companies. In collaboration with Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, iSPIRT’s #PNgrowth initiative aims to get the people who want to learn, and the people they need to ask in a room, and give them the perfect space to learn and grow.
In this video, Pallav Nadhani talks about FusionCharts’ journey, why he’s part of this initiative, and why he believes that PNgrowth could help product companies take their game to the next level.
It’s Independence Day today, and the last year has been one of the most exciting years in India’s product ecosystem. Just last week, the news that Sundar Pichai has taken over as the CEO of Google has been another shot in the arm for Indian techies. If ever it was the time for Indian product companies to raise the battle cry to take on the world, it is now.
In conversations with other people in the ecosystem over the last month, there has been a realisation about the need to create what we call category leaders in the product space.
In India right now, we do not have #1 in any large category. Freshdesk (#2 in category), VWO (#2 in category), FusionCharts (#2 in category), are all virtual market leaders but these are our own unicorns.
And this in turn begs the question – do we take a route of supporting only large leaders, or multiple contenders, at which we already have the above companies killing it?
In this discussion, overwhelming support was for more number of companies; we simply need more entrepreneurs, and MORE IMPORTANTLY more product people.
These new companies we want to see don’t need to become category leaders, but category winners. And this would mean a whole new approach to building a company.
We have reimagine our team/culture, process and product to have a shot at being a category winner.
For team/culture, we need a hiring model that is tied to results from the beginning. Hiring great, not just good, talent in the early days requires hunting people down across the world, and creating a culture that scales.
For process, it starts with eschewing chewing-gum culture and thinking about solving all problems with technology in the way that allows Uber to operate with higher customer satisfaction despite having a fraction of the employees that other companies have.
Metaphorically, it is about having German Product Management, American Marketing and Russian Programmers.
For product, it comes to recreating the category, and sometimes creating a new one. And it’s also definitely about scientific and yet disruptive pricing.
Why all this on a national holiday, you might think? When else, then? Today, when we are watching the Independence Day parade in New Delhi, some of us weight think as to what significance our careers have over, say perhaps an Army jaw an who guards our borders? Isn’t his the more important job for the nation?
It certainly is, but we mustn’t forget that in our own way, our work is also aimed at making a stronger country. When we start building world class products the world uses, we are raising the bar for achievement as well. Our may not be to do and die, but maybe our role, in this quest to build India as a Product Nation, is simply to inspire the next generation.
I am bootstrapping AeroLeads and InBoundio, 2 product based startups and strongly feels before raising money, everyone should bootstrap as you want to learn how to manage resources and money before you actually raise money to have more resources.
Here is what I can suggest from my learning, experience and what I have seen from other bootstrapped startups
1. Start from your own home – some of India’s biggest product startups started from founders bedroom (directi, fusioncharts). Working from your own house gives you huge advantage of working distraction free and without thinking about growth, expenses and profit. Once you takes an office, have few people around you and with hundreds of thing to worry about, you will not be able to think freely and do things fast. Starting from home often gives you extreme leverage to try all what you can and want to.
2. Do as much as you can including coding, sales and marketing – Every successful product startup founder I have met, there was this pattern. They understand technology stack as well as how to get users and customers. Before building a team and raising money, they completed the full cycle of product development and sales.
They know because they did initial programming, user onboarding, marketing, selling and support, something which is very important. I strongly feels even if you are not a great developer (I am also not a really good developer and often copy/paste code) still learn and understand the technology stack as it will help you a lot to make the right decisions. Similarly, understanding sales and marketing is equally important too. If you are bootstrapping, make sure the core team of co-founders do all this by themselves. It doesn’t matter how small and trivial the task is, do it once and then you can delegate to others.
3. Find Free and Cheap Resources instead of Paying full – Before paying, I always try to find if can I get that for free. There are so many startup resources available that there are good chances you can get everything for free (at least for few months). For example, through TheMorpheus and f6s startup site, I got 12 months free rackspace hosting worth $1000 and oLark premium for 3 months.
Search for startup deals and offers in Google and you should be able to find plenty. Do search for coupons and discount too as most of the SaaS companies do extend trials through coupons. I had also hired a freelancer from philippines in 2013 for well below the market price and he helped me a lot in testing the product, so keep using freelancers too if you can get the work done fast and cheap.
4. Look for Free Marketing – Nothing will burn your finances faster then you starting to spend money on marketing when your product is not finished. This I learnt the hard way as i foolishly lost money on marketing when the product sucked and wasn’t even complete. Contrary, by luck I got covered at TheHindu newspaper which eventually got us lot of signups (the product eventually didn’t took off). It was a pretty good experience in importance of free marketing. Even right now, my post How I got 1100+ SaaS user is the most linked and talked about blog post which brings lot of traffic and has helped me to network with lot of startup people.
Last week I was going through the startup class videos and one particular statement by Sam Altman stuck with me. He said “All successful founders are fanatics”. And YCombinator has seen a whole bunch of them. The way he puts it is very awesome, let me reproduce the statement here:
“The word fanatical comes up again and again when you listen to successful founders talk about how they think about their product. Founders talk about being fanatical in how they care about the quality of the small details. Fanatical in getting the copy that they use to explain the product just right. and fanatical in the way that they think about customer support. In fact, one thing that correlates with success among the YC companies is the founders that hook up Pagerduty to their ticketing system, so that even if the user emails in the middle of the night when the founder’s asleep, they still get a response within an hour.Companies actually do this in the early days. Their founders feel physical pain when the product sucks and they want to wake up and fix it. They don’t ship crap, and if they do, they fix it very very quickly. And it definitely takes some level of fanaticism to build great products.”
This statement came alive for me yesterday when I met Pallav Nadhani, the founder of FusionCharts. As he walked us through how he built his company and sharing his experiences and wonderful insights in building his company, his fanaticism was apparent. I am sure everyone who was there, wanted some of it to rub on to them. Even though it was a “RoundTable”, I think Pallav had more experience than a lot of us and pretty much carried the group. He shared some very cool insights, with real life examples and actionable suggestions.
There were 11 of us, all selling business-to-business (B2B) products in the range of $1000 – $75,000, some online, some offline, most on a subscription model, some early stage, a few past the validation stage. Almost half of the founders depended on high touch sales and half had products that were Do-it-yourself. Here is a summary of the meetup:
Pallav shared his story on how he started the company when he was 16, to get some pocket money. He made a charting widget for himself and then wrote an article about it, which became popular. Then one thing led to another and he now runs a company that publishes 90+ types of charts has 23,000 customers and 70 people. Some of the things that he focused from very early on was:
Reduce all friction for the user who is evaluating the product.
He promised his users that they would get their money back if they could not build the first chart in 15 minutes. That helped him simplify the on-boarding process and make it very easy for his users.
He was a one person company for a long time and handled everything from developing the product, documenting it to doing customer support.
Pallav’s father is an author of 15 books on accounting and that gave him a strong foundation to document his product very well. This was particularly important since his target audience was developers who needed good documentation to use the product.
Pallav himself wrote 3000 to 4000 pages of documentation and still reviews every word that is added by his team.
Documenting the product gave him key insights as a user and helped him refine and debug the product.
Every time someone asks a question. His team is forced to answer using a public document. This made sure that the same question did not get asked again and also created a good knowledge base for his product.
He learned from his father on how to structure documentation (with headings, sub-headings etc) so that the reader can quickly find out the relevant sections to read.
Marketing and First Impressions
Pallav’s hypothesis is that all sales / conversions are driven by “Fear” or “Greed” and products must highlight these in their marketing copy, specially the headling. He even asked all of us the rephrase the core message of our product to appeal to one of these emotions. I had strong reservations on whether this was correct and if this lead too to much focus on top of the sales funnel (new visitors). Either way, the group seemed convinced. While I thought it went went with Pallav’s aggressive and “switched-on” approach, I have my doubts if it works for all kinds of products. Products have the personalities of their founders embedded in them, and I feel its best to stick with the approach that goes best with the philosophy of the product and the creator.
Pallav also referred Kevin Hale’s analogy of building a customer relationship like a marriage and how the first visit of a customer on the website is like dating. For more on this, I would recommend Kevin Hale’s enlightening talks on the matter (later!).
Some other interesting points that were discussed were:
Classify your traffic into different personas. For Fusion Chart, it is the Developer, Product Manager and Designer.
Deeply understand each persona. Appreciate that they are overloaded with information and identify openings in their daily routines where you can reach them.
For security startups, a weekly roundup of major reported breaches worked well when sent at 8.30 in the morning.
Online marketing has evolved from “carpet bombing” to “sniper”. Audience have to be segmented and messages have to be finely targeted.
It is important to reach the users main Inbox and not the promotions box. So keep the mail personal and do not add an unsubscribe link.
Pallav showed how he used WebEngage for conducting surveys on their visitors and how he tested his hypothesis. For example, his survey would ask if a visitor intends to pay for the product on offer or select an open source alternative. Based on the feedback, Pallav said he would change the marketing copy.
Asking feedback from customers who had evaluated a product was also important. A simple email with the subject “5 minutes of your time for 5 questions” gives Pallav great customer insight.
He said he tests all kinds of hypotheses and keeps experimenting on the message. Examples:
Do users like a simple or complex layout
How many fields should a form have
What colour a button should have
We spent a whole bunch of time discussing and sharing great insights on Content Marketing. Sahil Parikh of BrightPod.com shared his experiences in content marketing. He has built a product for the marketing community and started a blog with the purpose of reaching out to this community. It took him six months of building the blog before he saw some returns. He has hired two content writers and produces 3 to 4 blog posts a week. He shared that aggressive content marketing teams target producing one post a day. He also reached out to Indian authors on popular blogs like ZDNet and TheNextWeb and pitched the Indian product angle that got him attention. Sandeep Todi of Emportant.com shared that he bumped into a content writer for SiteHR, a popular HR portal and is how working with her to build content for his product.
Content marketing seemed like a favorite of strategy of a Lean Sales team but again it boils down to execution. It is very hard to product high quality content and as more and more people start getting good at it, the bar keeps on increasing.
Some content ideas / anecdotes shared were:
Interview / Talk Show Series: Publish interviews with customers and thought leaders in the domain
Use big brands in your blog posts. Examples from Fusion Charts:
How Unilever / Walmart / P&G uses data visualization
Act on industry events:
Flipkart Billion Day flop
Home Depot breach
“News Jacking” – Connect popular news items to your product.
GangamStyle in numbers
Infographics on FIFA World Cup
10 infographics on Fitness Apps
Put customer logos on your site, content unless the customer objects. Don’t mention it in your contract or it will trigger a red flag.
Allow your site content to be reproduced.
Curate, collate good content from other site and credit the original author.
Get quotes from industry influencers, the will also ReTweet your content.
Speed is of essence. Create great content quicly (yeah right!).
Publish whitepapers. They are popular with higher management.
Pallav walked us through the various parts of the sales funnel.
[From his slides]
Awareness (ads, blog, event, word-of-mouth…)
Different channels / different ROI
Best channels = low cost, high ROI
Trial, case study, whitepaper, anything that could give you email AND other information
Mix of product, marketing and sales
Sales job: get the customer on the call and do aggressive follow up
Handover from sales to client success.
Repeat business through subscriptions, up-sells or cross-sells.
There was a very heated discussion on pricing. Pallav was of the mainstream industry opinion that price is a reflection of value. The higher the price, the better the quality of customers and revenue. There was a discussion on discounts and how in high touch sales, discounts are a bane. Here Pallav shared that adding artificial constraints to negotiate. For example, you can extend the support by 3 months instead of giving a discount, or increase the number of servers etc.
There was some resistance and suspicion from the group in discussing this and understandably so because of the nature of the software products business that depends on Intellectual Property Rights. We did touch upon this briefly and why based on our (ERPNext) experience we see open source as a great way to not only reach out a new generation of users but also believe in an alternative way of doing business.
It was great to learn from Pallav, and we thank him for sharing so many suggestions and learnings. Also a big thanks to him for openly sharing specific insights and walking us through an A/B test or testing an hypothesis. This is also a great initiative by Avinash Raghava and iSPIRT, the think-tank/lobby group for Software Products to bring together entrepreneurs so that they can share tips and build networks. It would have been a bit better if there was more unstructured time so that there would be better interaction between the group, to build deeper relationships between the founders. Also a big thank you to FreeCharge.in for hosting the event and providing lunch.
Finally what really matters is execution. For me the biggest takeaway was that the product is a reflection of the creator / founder and it was important that the founders are obsessed with each detail of the product and its quality and also work with the energy that is required to do so much work. For that it is important that they see success early on as Pallav did and the once they are on to something they make sure that they do not lose it.
Specifically, for me it reminded me that its time to go back to fixing the documentation!
A behind the scenes account of how a showcase of 11 disruptive startups was put together in just 100 hours!
If you’re reading this, I’m sure you are a part of the Indian product startup community in one way or the other. And unless you were living under a rock (which is fine, if you were busy hacking away or traveling to sell your product), you wouldn’t have missed that our Hon. IT Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad was in Bangalore on Tuesday meeting with the product startup community. iSPIRT hosted the “Conclave for India as Product Nation #1″, an open dialogue between the Product industry and the IT Minister.
What made it all the more special was that the he was the first IT Minister to meet with startups and also that he first met with the startups first before meeting officials from his ministry! The Minister met with the industry leaders, gave a patient hearing to the needs of the product startups and also saw presentations from 11 disruptive startups.
And here’s what the minister had to say after meeting with the startups!
Feeling proud of India’s #ITProduct entrepreneurs.I shall be your spokesperson and ambassador.Lets make the India into a #ITProduct nation
So how did we pull this off? And what if I told you that it was all put together in 100 hours. We ourselves cannot quite understand how everything fell into place! But as Sharad often says, when a bunch of passionate volunteers come together towards a common cause, magic just happens. At iSPIRT, we take our volunteering quite seriously. No wonder then, that we actually have open sourced our volunteer model through a whitepaper to help other communities benefit from it!
A text message from Rajan on Saturday morning got me involved. Could we get on a call, he asked. There’s an iSPIRT event scheduled on Tuesday and some help was needed. We spoke and I got to know that there’s an interaction with the IT Minister scheduled on the coming Tuesday. As part of the interaction, we needed to put together a showcase of disruptive product startups to help the Minister get a sense of the kind of impactful work being done and the opportunities ahead. There was list of companies drawn from across various segments and stages, with whom we’d need to connect and get their availability for the event on Tuesday. Tapping into our network of volunteers (many of whom are themselves startup founders and industry leaders), we gathered the contact details of these companies and started reaching out to the companies. These were companies spread across the country and we checked with their founders if they’d be available to present. Based on the availability of teams and the some intense discussion and debate among the Program Managers for the showcase, a short list of the companies presenting on stage was drawn up. The thought process behind the selection of companies was to give the Minister a good view of the breadth (sectors where product startups are making an impact), the depth (companies that have achieved global market/tech leadership) and how far they can grow with sound support from the ecosystem, which includes the government as well. We were immensely privileged to have Mr. Mohandas Pai spare his valuable time for multiple meetings through the whole process and share his inputs on what kind of stories would make the maximum impact.
Arriving at the shortlist was surely a good beginning. They say well begun is half done. But the tougher half lay ahead! We were already at Monday morning, and within the next 24 hours we had prep up the presenters. Each of the companies were to have a short, crisp presentation with the key points to be covered in under 4 minutes! Shekhar went about this with the precision of a toolmaker, thoroughness of a scientist and the strictness of a school teacher! From putting together notes on what points to cover, iterating multiple times with the presenting companies on their presentations over a sleepless night, to conducting the actual showcase in front of the minister, Shekhar was always on.
On 1st Feb 2014, we launched a new website for FusionCharts after 7 months of intense work. And two months after launch, now that we are done fixing all the bugs and optimizing the important touchpoints, I thought it might be a good idea to share everything that went into the new website – right from the objectives we set for ourselves to the tech and design choices we made to the SEO and analytics strategy we implemented.
I am going to set the context by interviewing myself after which we will jump right into the slideshow having the detailed process.
(Sanket – interviewer): 7 months for a new website, huh? Don’t you have better things to do?
(Sanket – guest): No.
(Sanket – interviewer): Why don’t you have better things to do?
(Sanket – guest): Because the website is our main shop, so it’s very very important for us.
Interviewer: Ha! So why did you need a new website in the first place?
Guest: Because I felt like it.
Interviewer: Being cocky is my job.
Well, we needed a new website because there were a lot of pain points we had with the previous one and also because we wanted to build for the future.
The previous website we had had started looking old, wasn’t particularly fast, could not be SEO-d properly because of architecture limitations, and had also gotten clumsy with all the additions we made to it over time.
Also, we wanted to have a responsive website given that 10% of our visitors are from mobiles and tablets (and will only increase in the future), move to the LAMP stack (from IIS6), integrate a CMS into the website, build measurability into everything we have on the website and most of all, have a great experience across all touchpoints which in turn would improve our conversion rates.
Interviewer: Still doesn’t sound like a lot. Why did it take 7 months?
Guest: Yeah 7 months is a long time but we really wanted to get our website right this time. It has over 400 pages of content (or 1400 if you were to count our complete demos section), so it was a massive project. We also redid all our demos, which are very comprehensive themselves. And the biggest reason why it took so long is because we did all of it in-house with a 4-person team – me, 1 designer, 1 front-end developer and 1 back-end developer (excluding the demos which had a separate team).
Interviewer: You talk a lot.
Guest: Didn’t you call me here for that?
Interviewer: What was the process like?
Guest: And then you say I talk a lot.
We started right from setting the objectives, putting together what success would look like in the end, define the journey users would have on the website, get the information architecture in place, write content, design, develop and launch it. And of course, there are things like choosing the server hardware, incorporating the SEO strategy and building analytics into every action we wanted to measure. I have detailed all these steps in the slideshow below.
And even after we launched it, we are constantly optimizing and improving the experience on the website by looking at the data coming in and the feedback from our users.
Interviewer: So you are still not done, huh?
Guest: You could say that.
Interviewer: Are you happy with the results? Did you achieve everything you set out to achieve?
Guest: Wish I could say that.
Interviewer: So you wasted your time?
Guest: No, never said that. I would say we have achieved 70% of our objectives and are still working on the others – constantly experimenting, optimizing, keeping what works, documenting what doesn’t.
Interviewer: Not too bad then?
Guest: Yeah, not bad at all.
Interviewer: One last question. Do you like interviewing yourself?
And now without further ado, here is the slideshow that captures everything that went into revamping our website. I hope you will find it helpful when you decide to revamp your own website, either entirely or in part.
And of course, if you have thoughts on what we could have done better, please let me know in the comments.
Why Buy Mine? This is the question I have kept asking myself ever since Pallav and Paras did their “Global Lean Sales” session at the #PNCamp in November. I used to send a long email before and often had to explain a lot to why we charge higher. Now I just use the below message and it does the job. There is nothing different from what we were doing earlier. But our message to our market is now very different and converts them into trusting buyers faster .
“Industry Leaders like Freshdesk ( Customer HelpDesk ), WebEngage ( On-site Customer Engagement), Flipkart’s Payzippy ( Online Payments) have chosen MyPromoVideos for their videos because we were able to consistently deliver “magic” to our client’s brands, not just videos.”
I was so much in love with two of their slides from their presentation that our team here decided to do a beautiful “Info-Graphic” around the same. If you are not satisfied with just 10% growth every month and want to grow exponentially on steroids, you need to build your sales team. This is the infographic to keep by your desktop.
Thanks to Pallav, Paras and the Product Nation for helping Entrepreneurs succeed.
When I started JamBuster with Suneeta in 2004, I wanted to build a technology management software products company in India. Little did I know, that we would be part of a three-wave phenomena in software industry in India.
The first wave of this is the software outsourcing, now a bit old story, but still the legend by itself. By different accounts, the outsourcing of software development by global multinational companies started in mid-1980s. This trend while definite was still very slow, but steady as seen by the fact that Infosys, the iconic harbinger started in 1981 had grown to only $20 MM by mid-1995 with about 900 people. The Y2K fears fueled an unprecedented growth, so much that by March 2000, the revenues grew to more than $200 MM – a ten-fold growth in 5 years. The exponential part of the S curve has just begin. By 2005, revenues grow from $200 MM to more than $2 B. The Infosys employee population grew from 20,000 in 2005 to more than 100,000 by 2010. The break necking growth created it challenges and by 2010, it was clear that the Software Industry has entered the final leg of the S curve, with growth tempering off.
By 2010, Indian software outsourcing pioneers of 1980s, Infosys, Wipro and TCShad become multi-billion dollar giants, each with more than $4Billion+ in annual revenues, 100,000+ employees and ADRs on global prestigious stock exchanges. The Indian Software Outsourcing Wave that started in an apartment in 1981, now has turned into a $100B+ IT outsourcing industry. The Indian Software Revolution, however, was just starting with the second wave.
The pioneering success of Citibank and GE in leveraging India for business process back office work, paved the path for global in-house (GIC) or captive India Software Centers. GE was one of the first multinational companies to outsource back-office work, data center and call center operations to a subsidiary in India, and its outsourcing operation, with a staff of 17,000 by 2004, is one of the largest set up in the country by a multinational company.
Next wave was just beginning to gather the steam- the multinationals opening their captive R&D centers for software and other expertise. By year 2000, thus global giants were starting not only to look at India for outsourcing, but also for permanent resources for in-house software development. Between 1995 to 2000, more than 50 companies had opened their dedicated software development center in India. More than 500 companies had opened captive software offshore development centers in India by 2005.
According to NASSCOM, by 2012, 750+ Indian Captives of multi-nationals had reached annual revenues of USD 13.9 Billion. With more than 450,000 employees, it is now 21% of IT export revenues and 1% of India’s total GDP in FY 2012. Of the 750+ captives, about 28% of them have multiple locations in India. NASSCOM reports that by category, 50% are Engineering R&D, 40% hybrid, 5% BPO and about 5% IT. What is staggering that in last two years about 200+ Engineering R&D captives.
What started as maintenance or testing jobs, Y2K fear, had permanently opened India as a key resource destination for multi nations. The focus to use these resources to get better value means that with over 700 software captives that employ 400,000 employees, India houses critical technology hubs for some of the largest corporations in the world.
These centers have evolved into doing more IP-driven work, including product architecture and complete design, apart from fully owning the product or product line. Their contributions to global parent is getting recognized from a recent trend. Global in-house centers (GICs) or captive units in India of major multinational companies such as Target, Bank of America and HSBC are starting to shift lower-end services such as application maintenance and testing to vendors, and are focusing on more complex product development projects, according to industry experts.
It is therefore not a surprise that by 2010, next wave was starting to gather steam. Having tried outsourcing and built software captives, true software techno-entrepreneurs were starting to look at a new challenge. This time, it was nothing less than the holy-grail of any company calling itself a technology company – the product R&D.
Quick Heal was essentially a customer focused PC maintenance services company, when its owner Kailash Katkar realized that the customer PCs needed more maintenance due to growing spread of viruses from internet. Quick Heal’s story could have been legendary just on how Kailash saw an opportunity for an Indian made anti-virus software, given the high cost of imported Symantec and Nortonofferings at that time, and that his brother Sanjay developed not only the initial versions of their anti-virus but also the innovation that followed, and it became a huge success. But it is their decision to go head-to-head with global giants, get them to reduce price in India and then Quick Heal to start moving on to their global competitors’ backyard, is what seals its leadership place in this third wave of Indian Software Revolution.
Tally has grown from an accounting package for SME’s to a complete business software for all types and sizes of businesses. Today, the company providing innovative and easy to use business solutions to more than 20,00,000 businesses across 94 countries. Pallav Nadhani’sFusionCharts is a story still in making in that the wonder kid’s charts for grown-ups continues to grow their share of the market segment worldwide. These early examples demonstrate that Indian Software Product makers are capable to build some of the most technically complex software for local customers and then take them global.
With the experience of outsourcing, knowledge from the captives, Indian Software Industry is getting its the third wind, propelling it into this third wave – Indian Software Product Companies with product R&D done in their backyard. If Bill’s Microsoft was disruptive to brick and mortar global giants, Kailash’s Quick Heal and Bharat’s Tally are providing a preview of how Indian Software Product wave is about to disrupt the world again. Get ready for the software products and productized services from India.
Pallav Nadhani, CEO and Co-founder of FusionCharts, was just 17 when he started the data visualization product company in 2002. The company today is one of India’s most successful product stories and happens to be one of the first Indian start-ups to have caught the eye of the Obama administration. FusionCharts has a user base of 450,000 across 118 countries, and the company celebrates its 10th year of existence on October 22, 2012. In the second half of a two-part interview with pn.ispirt.in, Pallav Nadhani tells us about keeping a product relevant in the constantly evolving market, how he communicates with team members and what it’s like to work with teams from two very different cities in the country!
How do you manage to keep your product relevant in the market? How do you keep yourself in the game even after going through the process of scaling and maturing? Usually after this it’s a case of either re-birth or death, right?
For us a couple of things work well : there are nearly half a million developers out there who use our product, so we get more feedback than we can sometimes handle and implement. This is huge repository for us to understand where the market is going. There are some developers out there saying in a few months or few years we see ourselves using the product this way so we require this functionality. So there’s a lot of consolidated information that we get from both our existing clients and prospects, and we add some amount of research and gut-feel to this so that we can improve the different versions.
If you had to pick three functions in the company which are critical for a product company like yours, which ones would you choose?
I’d choose engineering and marketing together first. In our case, marketing and engineering go together because the value proposition and positioning done by the marketing team is done in consultation with the engineering division. Similarly, right from day one of product development, marketing defines the product features such as labels so there is a lot of interaction. I would choose the support function next, because ours is a B2B product so implementation does require some amount of support.
What are some of the tools and techniques that you use internally to keep communication alive? What are some the things that you do keep communication going right from the top to the most junior most employee?
The advantage we have is that we are a really small company — we have a team size of about 60 people. So anything that’s happening gets communicated within the team quite easily. The next advantage that we have is that most of the team is based in Kolkata, and I like to say that the Kolkata team is more like family because of the inherent nature of the city! In terms of messaging, We’ve divided teams into functions so if a team needs to know something, we tell the team head and the trickle down effect just ensures the right communication. All the heads are supposed to involve their team members, and this is relatively easy because there are only four to five members per team. Then we have layers of communication protocols built over this, so engineering has its own system which is visible to everybody within the team. For cross-company communication its either face-to-face or I send out an e-mail — since this is quite rare (like once in three months), people do read them. I also ensure that I ask a question or engage the reader somehow so that I know who is involved. We also use Yammer, the enterprise social network. Another thing we do is celebrate birthdays, so this becomes a one or two hour event which does involve some discussion.
How do you manage the culture difference between Bangalore and Kolkata? Both the cities and their people are very different — Bangalore is more fast paced and Kolkata is not like that.
Like I mentioned, I tend to say Bangalore is the team, Kolkata is family! There are some inherent challenges : when we brought in some senior management in Kolkata there were some issues as most people were used reporting to me and suddenly it wasn’t the case anymore. Now the senior management is trying to put in more systems and processes so that that Kolkata team can work more professionally! There was some resistance, of course, but once they were able to see the value of the changes then things changed. Now there is data to react to, and today they are able to pin-point where things went wrong and fix it. Overall, I’ve not had any major problems. Initially, for the first six months I had to go to Kolkata once every week to act as a mediator. Now I go once in six months so I guess that really shows how far we’ve come!
So FusionCharts has now matured and you’ve been in the business ten years — what are the nuggets of information you’d give product company entrepreneurs out there?
There is nothing thats right or wrong. It depends on the context of the product your are building. A few things that you need to get right are even if you are a developer, you need to focus on packaging your product. Packaging and marketing has an important role to play as no product can really be sold on it’s own — there are only exceptional cases like popular apps which get downloaded millions of times. Team building is another important thing — once your product starts getting traction, your company will get split across so many different functions that you will require help with this. You’d like to believe that you can solve every problem, but it’s not very scalable. Specifically in India, an entrepreneur requires a lot of focus. If there’s a new product idea every week and there’s no focus on one thing, it can disastrous. For the last ten years, we’ve just focussed on data visualization — despite the audience we have and despite our capabilities, we’ve not ventured into other areas because we know that this particular category has a lot of scope and if we branch out into too many other things we won’t be very good at any one thing.
What is the leadership style that you employ? What do people typically have to say about your leadership style?
I would say mine is more of a laissez-faire style of leadership. It’s very different from the concept that people are not trustworthy. I prefer not micro-manage — I believe in giving people work and a broad outline and let them go about it. At the end of it I’ll tell them how I feel about what they’ve done.
Pallav Nadhani’s list of Top 10 mistakes entrepreneurs make
Not delegating early and enough for the fear of things not getting done correctly
Hiring senior people who don’t fit and have different expectations and lesser hunger
Not setting culture right – focus is more oriented towards result, than behavior. Also setting unreasonable deadlines which set the wrong culture.
Using the same team to deliver multiple products – bandwidth bottleneck
Not establishing clear communication channels and ownership between teams when moving from generic team members to specialists.
Not getting enough exposure locally for hiring — like the first 4-5 years I lived a cocooned life in Kolkata.
Not bringing in a sales team early — they bring in more deals to close and also free up your time
Losing focus in between — too many products and extensions
Not saying ‘no’ enough to many employee and customer requests
Building custom additions for a few customer along with the main product — upgrade issues.