India B2B Software Products Industry Clocks Solid Growth from 2014 to 2015

India’s B2B software product industry has grown nicely since we published the first edition of this index in November 2014 – the top 30 companies are valued at $10.25 billion (₹65,500 crores) and employ over 21,000 people.  The index has grown 20% in USD terms and 28% in INR terms from October 30, 2014 to June 30, 2015.

There has been an acceleration since 2010 in the pace of creation of B2B companies.  Vertically-focused offerings in retail, travel, financial services, media have reached scale and we are likely to see some larger exits in terms of IPOs or M&A over the next couple of years. In parallel, we are seeing horizontal offerings targeting global markets emerge and start to breakout of India into the US and other global markets – we are starting to see not only India-based venture funds backing these companies but also Silicon Valley funds coming in once there is initial customer adoption in the US.

A new set of founders are coming into the B2B software products ecosystem. These include an increasing proportion who have worked at consumer and B2B startups that have scaled in India and who have identified problems that they can solve with software automation.  We are also seeing continued venture creation from founding teams that have backgrounds from established enterprise software companies and some from IT services companies.

In terms of target markets, fast-growth Indian companies (in sectors such as organized retail, organized healthcare services and technology startups in product commerce and services commerce i.e. online-to-offline) are starting to purchase software from Indian B2B software product startups and have globally-aligned requirements, helping these startups get closer to product-market fit before or in parallel to starting to sell globally. We are also seeing many startups go global from day-one through a desk-selling model, as evidenced by many of the companies in the index. And finally, several startups have moved founders to the US and are succeeding in direct selling models there.

Some of the numbers: 80% of companies have global customer bases, while the rest are India-focused.  67% of companies are domiciled in India, with the rest principally in Singapore and the US.  Bangalore and NCR account for half the companies’ principal city of operations with Chennai and Pune as key secondary hubs – there is a trend to newer companies starting up in Bangalore, Chennai and Pune and away from NCR.  Average enterprise value per employee is climbing toward Silicon Valley levels – the index currently nets out to $480k per employee.

The top 30 companies in alphabetical order are:

Here’s the report in its entirety:

Thanks to all the volunteers at iSPIRT who worked on this project as well as Professor Sharique Hasan of Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford University; Professor Rishi Krishnan of IIM-Indore; as well as Signal Hill for providing public market valuation comparables and Rakesh Mondal  for designing the document..

We will publish an updated iSPIxB2B index every year starting with the next one in June 2016 – please do click here to submit names of companies you think should make this list.

The Kayako culture – Startup lessons in building organisational values

How leaving our values unclear started breaking our culture at Kayako, how we fixed it and what we learned.

In the early days, a startup’s values and culture — the essence — is very much a reflection of the founding team. These values don’t need to be documented, they usually just are.

As new people join the team, the essence will transfer by osmosis. It’s in the air. The essence will be picked up through the sheer amount of time a small team will spend working on tough things together, and will evolve as new people contribute their own ideas and styles.

As the team grows larger and as things move faster, you can no longer rely on your values being passively picked up by others.

In this post we’ll talk about:

  • The problems we faced not capturing our values sooner.
  • What makes great company values great.
  • Our first attempt at capturing values using a “Mars Group” (fail!).
  • Our second attempt at capturing values (success?).
  • How we are applying and scaling our values today.

“We were late capturing our company values and the cracks started to show”

At Kayako, there’s now 145 of us. Three offices. A large remote team. Distilling our essence and finding a way to articulate it is something we should have done a long time ago.

We started to feel the pain of not distilling our essence into a clear and repeatable format in various ways, including:

  • Inconsistencies in style and attitudes between teams. With the absence of a clear and constant articulation of our core values, teams would incubate their own traits, which would trump the company’s.
  • Speaking a different language. With these inconsistencies, we realised friction emerging in how we communicated with each other, whether that’s how feedback was given or how feedback was taken.
  • Other people hiring the wrong kind of people. Without a crystal clear definition of what our values were, we were not equipping people to be able to hire consistently for values across the company.
  • Recognitions and rewards started turning opaque. Without a crystal clear definition of what our values were, it became less clear why certain people were being recognised, rewarded or promoted.

At this stage, these issues were starting to impact our performance.

But if we left it unchecked? Our work would become less fun and less meaningful. We wouldn’t be able to attract and retain great people. We wouldn’t be able to build a great company.

We needed to get everyone back to our roots and capture the core essence of what made Kayako, Kayako. ASAP.

Values for your values: What makes great company values great

We’ve all seen company values before. Some we respect (Moz, TAGFEE). Some revolutionize something (Zappos). Some are so empty you can only laugh (guess which company’s values included the word Integrity?).

But what makes some company values effective, and others not? Why do some company values turn into a religion, but some end up as little more than wall decoration?

We spent some time researching and talking through this question with others. We found that some of the best and most effective company values had the following traits:

1: Values should be memorable and concise. If your values aren’t memorable or concise, they’re already handicapped. Values should be easy to communicate, easy to remember and will then be easy to incubate.

2: Values should be what you do, not just what you say they are. It doesn’t matter what you write down — the only values truth is in what you do, day in and day out. Not just what sounds cool or what looks good on the wall. We really like Netflix’s definition of what makes a true company value:

Actual company values, as opposed to nice sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted or let go.

Values should be lived and breathed in the literal sense.

3: Values set expectations. Values make clear who will get hired, and for what. They make clear who will get rewarded and promoted, and why. Values are like APIs for people and culture, and in that sense make communication easier. They ensure compatibility and fit, set clear expectations of each other and remain consistent as you scale.

Values are like APIs for people and culture. They ensure compatibility and fit, set clear expectations of one another and remain consistent as you scale.

4: Values should be weaponizable. As we grow, there will be various demons any startup will face: glut, inertia and complacency. Our values should arm everyone with the weapons to fight these culture-rotting forces before they set in.

We picked up a nice anecdote from the book How Google Works about how Google’s weaponizable values are used on the ground:

[Eric Schmidt] was in an executive meeting in which they were debating the merits of a change to the advertising system, one that had the potential to be quite lucrative for the company. One of the engineering leads pounded the table and said, “We can’t do that, it would be evil.” The room suddenly went got quiet; it was like a poker game in an old Western. […] A long, sometimes contentious discussion followed and ultimately the change did not go through.

We found that some of the best company values were great levellers in this respect. Google’s “Don’t be evil” value is felt deeply by its employees, who use it to check their moral compass when making decisions, and who are empowered to call others out — no matter what their pay grade (prepare to be called out using your own values.)

Values should act as a touchstone that helps everyone keep a check on whether they are doing the right thing the right way. As Rand Fishkin from Moz puts it, “[our values are] an architecture for decision making.”

Without getting too tactical at this stage, another thing we noticed was that the best weaponizable values were written in a way that they could slot into day to day vocabulary, like in the Google anecdote above, or like our favorite example from the Atlassian values:

Don’t #@!% the Customer.

This ability to use the values verbatim increased the likelihood that they would feature on the ground, in conversations and in slide decks.

5: Values should be strong as hell. Startups grow, and hopefully grow fast. New people will join with their own quirks and cultural backgrounds. New stakeholders with their own agendas will be added. New customers will be won, bringing new demands. New priorities will be loaded onto the company’s agenda.

These are really powerful forces. Without a strong set of values to build your company culture on, these competing forces will start to chip at your company culture.

Startups will go really tough times — it’s almost a statistical certainty. When reading Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things, it seemed like Ben’s startups had it tougher than most. But it was their strong cultural foundations and value system that saved them (and boy, did those folks’ values have to be strong.)

What makes values strong? We generally found this links back to 1: Values are what you do, not just what you say they are. Strong values come through in the company culture built on top of them. Values are strengthened by how much trust and confidence the team has in those values. Without trust or confidence, values are empty words.

6: Values should (mainly) be motivational. Great company values motivate people to go beyond, to step outside of a comfort zone and to accomplish something different, just as much as they prevent something or head off a bad force. Together, all of a company’s values differentiate you from another company.

There isn’t much point in documenting the kind of things good people will default to doing anyway. However, there are some exceptions: Google didn’t really think anyone would be evil, but acknowledged the forces of running a huge business and maximizing profit may start to compromise instinctive good values, so while “Don’t be evil” mat not necessarily be motivational, it was there to head off potentially distracting forces in the future.

Capturing our values: Attempt one

We followed a commonly held ‘best practice’ for our first attempt: form a “Mars group” and get together in room (in retrospect, we don’t feel this practice is best — read on).

With a few founding members and a new senior hire, we kicked off an exercise to paint a picture of where we would like to be in the next 1–5 years.

To capture our company values, we then asked ourselves this: What kind of traits will get us there, and what kind of traits would hold us back?

Or in other words, what does a high performance culture look like to Kayako?

We ended up with a long list of opposites: the positive traits that would help us fulfil our vision and achieve a high performance culture, as well as the antonym of those traits — the things that would hold us back.

Our thinking was that we would assess this world of traits, and draw from it a set of values to reinforce the good traits and prevent us from straying into bad ones (good traits -> ??? -> profit!).

To make sure we were being representative of the whole company, we invited a cross-section of the team (~20 people in total) to prioritize the all the traits that they felt were either most true to us today or most needed.

Surely, this would give us a fully representative true essence of Kayako today, the essence that differentiates us?

Not even close.

Acumen, ownership, embracing change, curiosity, clarity, transparency, courage and passion.

Meh. Shrug.

We couldn’t disagree with these values. They’re generally true, they’re generally positive. But they didn’t hit any of the things we had identified as what makes great company values great. They didn’t resonate. They didn’t connect. They didn’t wake us up.

We managed to create a set of flat, lifeless and generic values. But how, with so much of us put into the process?

We identified three missteps:

  • The death-by committee approach. Great company values need raw passion, focus and emotion. By its nature, a committee compromises on all of these things. It turns out the “Mars Group” approach didn’t work.
  • Focused too much on our current problems and not on our ambitions. We were too busy firefighting to really see past problems and see what could be. As a result, we were all focused on the negative things — things that needed to fixed, right now. We compromised on ambition and as a result, they weren’t motivational.
  • We got too wrapped up in arguing what we were true to today, and what we weren’t true to. We spent a lot of time debating whether we could include values we weren’t particularly true to. We weren’t 100% transparent, so could we really make “transparency” one of our values?We realised it doesn’t matter, and in fact the values should guide everyone to be the kind of company you want to build, not just how things are today.

These were obvious missteps in hindsight — we had set ourselves up for failure. Time to rethink.

Capturing our values: Attempt two

This time, we did the opposite of a committee approach. We gave one person ownership of capturing our values. This was a leadership problem and needed leadership, not a committee.

Rather than getting everything on the wall — every possible positive value we currently do or would like to exhibit and narrowing things down from there — we took the time to sit back and really observe. Observe how we worked. How we problem solved. How we faced difficult situations. How we interacted with each other. What was there when things really worked out OK.

These are the questions we looked to answer, thinking that the answers would themselves capture our values:

  1. Why do people stay with Kayako and refer their friends to us?
  2. What are the traits and values we have been looking for — even if we weren’t actively aware of it — in people when hiring?
  3. When things haven’t worked out, why and what were the traits and values that were missing?
  4. When we’ve promoted people, why those people over others?
  5. When we really nailed something, what kind of values and traits were coming through?
  6. What kind of company do we want to be in the future?

We came up with lots of answers. Whatever came to mind when specifically answering these questions (ideally with plenty of colorful adjectives), we jotted down in a Hackpad.

We ❤ Hackpad. We haven’t found a better tool for thrashing something out and iterating on raw content

This process took about three weeks; enough time for enough scenarios and milestones to come up and go by, enough time to reflect and unpick things. I’m sure that if we were a smaller team, we could have accomplished this much more quickly.

These answers became our working collateral. The full universe of traits, behaviours and adjectives which we would now funnel and distil into our core values.

We iterated on these answers, reducing the various phrases into better, more concise phrases. With each iteration, we kept asking why: why did this trait come up? Why was it so material to success and tried to dig deep into the root.

Chris Moody blogged some key questions to ask when deciding whether avalue is worth capturing (or if it is more apart of your company’s vibe):

– Is this aspect of the company important to our long-term success?
– Does this aspect need to be maintained forever and is it sustainable?
– Does this aspect apply to all areas of the company and to all employees?
– Will establishing this aspect help us make important decisions in the future?

If the answer to yes is all of the above, you might have yourself a new value. If not, you’ve probably just observed a vibe in your company.

This process needs one person — ideally a founder, someone with your company’s core values in their gut — to be an all-absorbing sponge, and to take time out alone to reflect and apply a bit of creativity.

This really is a process of staring at a bunch of phrases and adjectives for a while, until a lightbulb lights up.

We distilled this language down into what became two of our values: Make it happen and Go big or go home.

We continued to iterate, simplify and refine the language we captured in our Hackpad. Shuffling things around, bucketing different phrases and traits together, etc.

We invited some select people to comment directly on the Hackpad with their interpretation of them after reading these early drafts. This was a very different approach to what we tried originally — we were getting feedback, but we were not forming committee. We continued this process until we got a consistent interpretation, which matched our original aim with the values.

We continued this process until the values clicked with all of us.

Here is what we came up with.

The Kayako Values

For each value, we chose not just a short memorable sentence or word, but also language describing how those values might be played out in real life.

We were inspired to use this ‘real life’ documentation of values style by the beautifully simple Buffer culture deck and the “ISM”s. We felt it was important to provide real, concrete examples like this so that these values would be delivered clearly and with our ambiguity, across languages and functions.

Check them out on Slideshare:

Launching our company values

The first thing we did was prepare a slide deck, and not just because that is what the cool kids do. We needed to deliver these to the company and they needed to be delivered to everyone who joined Kayako.

It is critical to have editorial control over how the values were documented, paced and presented (to an extent). There needs to be a sense of occasion to them, if we are in agreement that the values are one of the most important institutions in your company.

The next thing we did was dedicate a company all-hands to these values.

Kayako All Hands
145 people. More than 10 locations.

Step by step, we took the company through the mental journey we had been through to capture these. The observations that we made, the lightbulbs that went off, the ideas we threw away and the ideas that made it in, and why.

We took everyone through how we were already demonstrating these values today, and where we had work to do.

For us, the process was just as important as the output. We wanted to take everyone on the same journey (just with a few shortcuts which we discovered along the way).

Results so far? It is too early to tell. We know that everyone is excited, we are on the same page and that’s enough to get going with.

Scaling culture with our values

We don’t anticipate the fundamentals of our values changing much over time, but we are not freezing them.

There’s a reason why we put a v1.1 at the end of “Kayako Values” (probably the same reason why Buffer has a v0.4). We may iterate on the language over time, but what we are really eager to do is capture what we learn as we reach new levels of growth.

For us at Kayako, there is catch-up and a bit of a course correction to do. We can’t sprinkle values like pixie dust and say job done. The job has just started. As a founding team, we are going to put a lot of effort into coaching others about these values: getting them in to every day vocabulary, getting them into our goal setting and feedback processes. Bringing everyone back onto the same page, and ensuring our values are being consistently lived and breathed.

We would like to start capturing more of the Kayako culture and Eau de Kayako in a similar way to how Netflix did with their culture deck and how Valve did with their handbook. We think these make magical and tangible on-boarding tools.

We’ll also be looking at how we can incorporate values into our recognitions system. 7geese, a goals and feedback management tool, has an interesting take on recognition-via-values.

We are also exploring ways of really weaving in these values to our everyday surroundings. We really like the idea of creating some artwork to capture some of the values, like Facebook does. We don’t want to spoil them, though. There is a fine line between powerful and cheesy.

The most important thing we have to do, though, will be letting our values dictate how we we hire, promote and let go. There is no better communication or embedding of values — everything else discussed in this section is just micro-optimization by comparison.

Key takeaways

  1. Do this sooner rather than later. You don’t have one shot at this, so create your Values 0.1 sooner rather than later. Leave it too late and people will start to fall off the same page. It is critical you hire with aligned values at all stages. The longer you leave it, the easier it is to defer, smaller issues like the odd ‘wrong hire’ will start to compound and ultimately, the harder it is to revisit.
  2. Too many cooks spoil the broth. This will vary from team to team. It seems obvious in hindsight, but for us, trying to approach our values by committee was a terrible idea. It took that collective thinking and discussion process and then time and a single owner to flesh them out creatively.
  3. Follow up and give your values some meat. Earlier, we identified that great values are what you do, not just what you say they are. Values and leadership in general won’t work if people don’t believe. The only way people will believe in our values is if we live and breath them: hire by our values, let go by our values and reward by our values. Anything else is a bullet in the head for your values.
  4. Get wordsmithing help. This is a skill that is difficult to master — if you can, get the help of an expert when it comes to the final stages of refining the language in your values.
  5. Get someone to own it. Give this to the person who believes in this the most and will find the time to make it happen. It really does need creative alone time to get it right.
  6. It doesn’t matter if you are not 100% true to your values today. Your values should be ambitious. They have to paint the picture of the kind of company you want to be in the future, just as much as how things are today. Of course, don’t call a value a value if you can’t back it up at all (see #3).
  7. Don’t muddle your values and your vibe. Chris Moody already put this brilliantly. Unfortunately we came across Chris’ post after we made the misstep of capturing too many things as values (and we struggled to narrow them down).

Resources that helped us

We cannot give enough credit to the following companies, authors and speakers that inspired us with their own cultures, values and advice.

This post was originally posted Medium. Follow the Life at Kayako series to learn more about working at Kayako, our values and our culture.

Baby steps to an Indian Microsoft

A country well known for its software services now has an opportunity to build world-beating software products.

At a recent corporate awards ceremony, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) was crowned as the company of the year. Piyush Goyal, the Minister of State for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy hurriedly stepped up to the lectern after the award was given. He told the assembled glitterati that TCS had promised to give the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) a modern, nay, world-class hospital management system by March 31. In the tentative clapping that ensued I heard a big snort from my right. The scepticism of the gentleman sitting next to me was rooted in the belief gaining ground that bespoke software systems were outdated and presented a sub-optimal choice.

The predicament of enterprise technology clients stuck with archaic bespoke software systems is no longer common. Bespoke software systems fell out of favour 20 years ago. Firms switched en masse to on-premise enterprise software products. They were cheaper, easier to upgrade, and yet extensively tailored to their needs. This shift in the late 1990s created two sets of players: product vendors like SAP, and implementation consultants like IBM Global Services and Accenture. Soon, Indian IT services players like TCS, Infosys and Cognizant muscled into the game and grabbed considerable market share.

Lost in this success story is the narrative about Indian enterprise software product vendors. For instance, iFlex built a great enterprise software product for banks, which Oracle snapped up for a billion dollars in 2005. Kochi-based IBS is a leading product vendor for airports and airlines, and is now big enough for an IPO next year. PARAS, a hospital management product from Bangalore, is grabbing the industry limelight by winning global deals involving hundreds of hospitals.

If the Indian IT industry has benefited from the shift away from bespoke systems, why did AIIMS miss the bus? In general, why has our public sector been so slow to buy enterprise products? Government officials are not to blame for this. Unfortunately, our IT services firms became protectors of status quo in the government sector. While it helped them milk their fading bespoke systems for longer, it also created crumbling government systems and robbed the nascent product industry of a big market. Luckily, the new government has started fixing the issue.

The Growing Shism

Another breed of enterprise product vendors is emerging. Companies like Workday and Salesforce personify this new wave. They offer on-demand products. These require less customizations and work on cloud-based data centres. So, as Workday says on its website, they are a “fraction of the cost of upgrading from their incumbent vendors”. Naturally, customers love these new-generation products. They are called Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products. And they are growing like wildfire.

A schism has opened up in the Indian IT industry over SaaS products. The implementation consultants don’t like them, as they need only minor adjustments. They look at them with a jaundiced eye of a traditional bespoke darzi [tailor] looking at readymade clothes. Going from stitching custom pants to doing length adjustments for readymade ones is a gloomy shift for IT services providers. But it’s a boon for our software product start-ups.

In fact, Indian SaaS product start-ups are on a roll. They are even getting begrudging respect from Silicon Valley. When ZenDesk, the SaaS market leader in customer service desk management products, did its roaring IPO earlier this year, it listed six key competitors in its SEC [US Securities and Exchange Commission] filing. Four of these – Kayako, Freshdesk, Supportbee and Tenmiles – are Indian! Indian SaaS product players are becoming global category leaders. Zoho, for instance, sells a CRM (customer relationship management) product at $12 per salesperson per month and is the market leader in this mid-market segment. It is flanked by Salesforce in the enterprise segment (at $60 per salesperson per month) and a raft of players, mostly Indian, in the SMB segment (at $3 to $4 per salesperson per month).

This availability of, say, CRM software product at every price point is a big new story in the IT industry. Unlike cars or smartphones, we have never had different software products to cater to every price segment. SaaS has changed this. As a result, everybody can now afford a software product. Hopefully, this time, government policy will build on this new generation and not let incumbents hold things back.

My Cup Runneth Over 

Two other pockets of explosive growth are exciting. One is the much-discussed rise of the digital consumer in India. This has led to the birth of Flipkart, Ola Cabs, Stayzilla, Newshunt and others. The other pocket is less sexy but it’s even bigger. It has to do with software infrastructure.

Old software infrastructure is being replaced at a pace previously unseen and is creating lots of product opportunities. Data explosion is driving endpoint data protection and governance products. Video explosion is driving dynamic ad insertion products. E-commerce growth is driving a new generation of search infrastructure products. Corporate mobile use is driving new agentless Bring-your own-Device security products. Social media is driving real-time social media analytics products. Now here is the punch line: in each of these categories, the emerging global leader is an Indian company! This is an unbelievably powerful development. For instance, Druva, a Pune-based start-up, is the global market leader in endpoint data protection and governance and is set to do an initial public offering in the US in 18 to 24 months.

Daring to Dream

Behind this optimistic turn of events is a new type of a technology entrepreneur. He (and, sadly, its mostly he so far) is unshackled from the restrictive dream of being the world’s back office. He doesn’t think in terms of labour arbitrage. He is a missionary, a creator and disruptor of status quo. And he has a blazing desire to change the world.

Team Indus embodies this spirit. This team is a motley group of passionate technologists that aims to land a robotic craft on the Moon by December 2015. This is literally a moon shot. Not altogether surprising to many of us, this team has emerged as one of the top three teams in the prestigious Google Lunar X-prize!

There are other moon shots in the works. Some are pivotal to developing our defence, aerospace and electronics industries. Others are about building highly affordable software products that will bring competitiveness to small businesses, teaching effectiveness to schools, productivity to health-care centres and new skills to farmers. Let’s not blow this chance. Let’s give these efforts the policy oxygen they deserve.

The country that gave zero, calculus, yoga and chess to the world is dreaming again. It wants to retake its rightful place in the world. It’s not satisfied being a back office for everybody. It dreams of powering the future with its ideas and inventions. It dreams of being a product nation!

This article was first published in Business Today

Some People Hate Self-Checkout

There’s a myth out there that helpdesk companies like to perpetuate about customer service automation — that it will save you time, that all your competitors are doing it, and you need to have it too so you can go work on more important things.

Except this it isn’t true.

As our friends at Buffer like to say about social media automation, “It’s not a rotisserie oven. Please don’t set it and forget it.” The same goes for customer service automation.

All awesome technology requires equally awesome people and processes to build it into a meaningful competitive advantage.

Automation is the technology component of the wonderfully productive golden triangle of people, process and technology. Each requires the other two to make a tangible impact on business.

people process technology

Take people and process out of the equation, and it looks a lot like the modern-day self-checkout.

48% of people don’t love self-checkout

The Mindy Project, a FOX sitcom, captures at least half of humanity’s sentiments about the self-checkout.

Mindy’s childhood love has just come back from a long stint in the army, miles away from any supermarket innovation.

Things have changed. There is now self-checkout.


Yea, if the future is a fiery dystopia. She puts it in the bag like the machine says.


The machine totally melts down.


It’s like automation gone rogue: the machine is going nuts, there’s no store associate around to help. They don’t even end up getting what they came for – they bail without that shampoo.








Useless, right? You might as well bark over the intercom:

“Good afternoon customer, we are replacing the privilege of human contact at the checkout counter with robots. You will now interact with a robot that you’ve never been trained to use. We will task a single associate to supervise the whole self checkout section, so if you run into a problem while checking out during rush hour, you’re on your own. Good luck thumbing through our massive directory of fruit and vegetable codes to find ‘heirloom tomatoes’. You would think it’s under H, but it’s actually under T. Thanks for shopping with us today.”

Some people don’t like self-checkout.

Check out the line at Whole Foods

Only 52% of consumers prefer self checkout. This automation innovation is by no means a runaway success.

Another 48% are opting for the human checkout experience probably for the same reasons as tech writer Farhad Manjoo:

The human doesn’t expect me to remember or look up codes for produce, she bags my groceries, and unlike the machine, she isn’t on hair-trigger alert for any sign that I might be trying to steal toilet paper.

Best of all, the human does all the work while I’m allowed to stand there and stupidly stare at my phone, which is my natural state of being. (WSJ)

Look at how differently Whole Foods manages its checkout lines at some of its busy urban locations.

whole foods self checkout

Customers stand in one long line and walk to their color-coded counters when it’s their turn.

This is a great example of how automation can be used to assist — not replace — human employees. 

The benefits are worth it. Customers enjoy the personal attention of a store associate and more importantly, they don’t have to work the register to be able to walk out with your groceries. Oh, and how about those nice last- minute impulse buys?

whole foods self checkout

Stick to your (automation) principles

There’s a general principle that successful customer-centric businesses tend to follow. We call it The Automation Principle.

kayako automation principle

Here’s where that comes from: some businesses believe that automation exists to free up their time. But better businesses use automation to reinvest their new free time in better human-to-human service.

Automation should support your support. If you’re automating any personal interactions, you’re doing it wrong.

With that in mind, here are little “human hacks” that are total winners:

Automation is your little helper

Follow up on a ticket

The scene: You’ve provided a fix to your customer’s problem. Now it’s up to them to implement the fix.

What to automate: Schedule a follow up date.

The human hack: Write a unique and personal message to ask if they resolved the problem or need extra help.

If several members of the team were involved with solving an issue, the initial point of contact should schedule a follow up to check in: “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Build your knowledge base engine

The scene: You’ve been answering or resolving the same issues over and over again.

What to automate: Run a report linking tags + priority level to see which inquiries are the most frequent and pressing.

The human part: Now that you know what’s tripping up our customers most often, prioritize those help articles first.

Celebrate customer milestones

The scene: Your customer has just been through a milestone with your product: it could be their first 10 followers, completing a level, referring you to a friend, or trying a new feature.

What to automate: Set up an email trigger to notify you of the customer’s milestone.

The human part: Sure, send a personal email, but could you work on something bigger? Invent a way to take the relationship offline.


Creative Market, a marketplace for designers, is seriously raising the bar. Every time a seller makes their first sale, it triggers an email. Then someone on the team sends across handwritten card along with a dollar bill. How’s that for inspiring?

The Takeaway

It takes time to find the right balance between automation and human-to-human engagement.

But you’ll find that if you’re doing it right, your customer service team will be busier than ever: upping their game, building new ways to engage your customers and the new face of your company. Like an unstoppable machine.

When in doubt, be human.

This post was originally published by Kayako at

Jalandhar School Kid drops University builds a Global Software Product Company

NASA.GE. Disney. A global software product – Kayako. Jalandhar – a growing city in Punjab,India. And a school kid who opted out of University. Sounds like the script of the next “The Social Network” hollywood movie. The truth – the movie might have to wait. Because this success story from India’s hinterland is only getting started.

And yes the school kid who was only seventeen in 2001 at the time of launching this enterprise helpdesk product is still leading from the front as the Founder and CEO.

ProductNation is excited to bring to you this riveting story through a heart-to-heart talk with Mr Varun Shoor. A lunch interview was quickly planned and Varun suggested “Punjabi By Nature” at Cyber City Gurgaon.

On interview day, we met at Varun’s swanky 16th floor office at Cyber City Gurgaon that houses the product engineering team. RFID check-ins, Apple Machines, top of the line interiors, extensive use of glass and a panoramic view of Gurgaon would be some add-ons if you consider employment opportunities here. After exchanging pleasantries and a quick discussion on the quirky weather, we did a quick jaunt across the road to the “Punjabi By Nature” restaurant.

Raghav Arora – Varun’s schoolmate and core member of the Management team also joined in. A quick scan of the Menu slate (yes, it is a wooden slate) and we were sorted with our orders. It was time. 1-2-3 Action!

ProductNation: So Varun, we are eager to listen to your story.
Varun Shoor: Right from childhood, I was a geeky kid. None of my sister’s electronic dogs survived the second day. My dad felt that if I went to a hostel, some sense would dawn on me.

At the hostel, I saw computers for the first time. 286, DOS, monochromatic display and there I learnt the programming language LOGO where in you draw shapes by issuing commands. That was fascinating. The first four years in hostel, I used to hungrily look forward to the Computer Class each day and excelled with 90% marks.

After I came back from hostel I asked dad for a computer. This was 1996. Fortunately, my dad could afford one. It was a Packard Bell 286 with Windows 3.1.

Back then there was no internet in Jalandhar, only in Delhi and metros. Luckily there was a cyber café in Jalandhar which used to dial out to Delhi. I used it to look up the latest apps, download them. Fascinating it was, especially the noise of dial up and Rs 15 per minute internet charge.

We all burst into a nostalgic laughter. If you are wondering why, then your association with the Internet is at best recent.

ProductNation: Please continue
Varun Shoor:  Sabeer Bhatia then had sold off Hotmail. That was when I decided to start a web design firm – Cyfox Graphics – using Dad’s card to buy a domain name – domains were US $ 100 then and web hosting. But as I devoted more time to computers, academics went down and long distance STD call bills were going up. One day, an internet bill of Rs Rs 60,000 greeted my family. Promptly, Dad took away the credit card. That dream was over.

Studies was tough. In Class VIII, I was conditionally promoted. And in class IX, I was kicked out as I had just 39%. From the beginning though I was not good in studies, I was a bookworm. I always knew more than the teachers. But, I was never good in cramming for the exams.

Parallely, I did couple of websites and a solution called Shoutbox service that provided chat rooms on websites where visitors could enter. This became popular but I could not pay for the server. Then I came up with a service called Deskpost that was like hotscripts, a script directory.

Since I was into web hosting, I used to be active on a web hosting forum called Web Hosting Talk. I saw people buying a service called Wonderdesk at US $2000. I made something similar called Active Support and wanted to try selling it.

For that I needed three things – domain, hosting and credit card processing. So I went to dad and no guesses for what he told me. So here I am, with a product but no resources.

So I went into IRC chat rooms asking for a domain I could use. I was banned but I kept trying with proxys. Finally one guy reverts saying he has two domain names – and You know what happened next.

Then I needed hosting. My friend in Jalandhar agreed on the condition that I would pay him in six months.

Last was a credit card processing tool. I wanted Tool Check Out. It is still very popular. It came for US $ 50. Where do I get US $ 50? I go back to the chat rooms announcing that I will give a US $ 2000 product for US $ 50. And I didn’t need the money, just the Tool Check Out account. So again banned, kicked out of forums.

Then a guy who runs a hosting company becomes interested and transfers the Tool Check Out account to my name. Then I create a website and launch the product. Version 1 comes into picture.

Money accumulates to US $2000 which is the minimum withdrawal threshold for Tool CheckOut. I wire that money to a friend’s account and ask him to ship a Compaq Laptop to me. I tell my dad that I have bought a laptop and it would reach in a week’s time.

A week, no laptop. Two weeks, no laptop. Three weeks, no laptop. Every day I am asking about the laptop parcel and dad was pretty irritated. On a positive note, the money started accumulating again. I tell my dad, I have US $2000 and please give me your bank details and I will wire it. Reluctantly lest I hack his account, he gave me the bank details.

So I take the details and tell mom and dad that by next Thursday they would see a wire transfer of US $2000. Thursday is here, but no money. Friday, no money. And I am pestering them every hour if there is any credit. They were sick by then.

Come Monday. Since I used to work in the night, I was sleeping when my Mom jolts me out of my slumber in the afternoon. She says – “paise aa gaye, paise aa gaye, tu jhooth nahin bol raha tha” (The money is here, money is here, you were not lying). And I say – “I was always telling the truth. You never believed me”.

The very next day, the Laptop arrives. And that was how the company began. No money, no nothing and we started this company. Closer to Class XII, I told my father that I did not want to go to college and wanted to do Kayako for life. My Dad having heard about Sabeer Bhatia stories encouraged me to go ahead.
And we started Kayako in November 2001.

By that time, the Raan and the Tikkis had soaked the story enough to be guided to their rightful destination. The Raan was sliced just right to whet our appetite even further. Yeah, it is highly recommended.

ProductNation: Very interesting. When you were setting up Kayako, companies like Infosys, Wipro were playing the IT services card. Did you ever contemplate that?
Varun Shoor: I am an introvert who was forced to become an extrovert. And I did not have it in me to meet clients, convince people, sell something. So services were out of the question. Secondly, I was enjoying what I was doing.

The Raan was just awesome. There was no need to outdo it. So, the simple fare of yellow dal and makhni murg with Naan that followed was just right.

ProductNation: Nowadays, IT entrepreneurs in India are focused more on products and not services. What would be your message to them?
Varun Shoor: First, do not chase money. If you do, you will lose focus. Second, your product has to have a VOW factor. It has to be awesome, period.
Third, start building around things that actually generate sales – a good website and a strong trust factor. How do you do that? Testimonials, client portfolio, live chat, updated news feed, active social media accounts, phone number on the site answered and engaging plus trusting website copy. Last, Think global, thing Big. Then your standards go up and your market has no limitations. And this also cushions you against business cycles.

Product Nation: Where do you want to see Kayako in next 3 – 5 years? How do you want to position Kayako?
Varun Shoor: Honestly, we are going with the flow. We are trying to be better than yesterday. Where this takes us, we have no idea. On positioning, we are focused completely on the product. On what really matters. Making sure each of our customers is happy. We are passionate about support and helpdesk. And we want to continue with our sharp focus on that.

It was time to focus on the desserts now. So it was a sinful hot chocolate fudge for Varun and Gulab Jamuns – the size of golf balls – for Raghav and us. A quick check out and we were out into the hustle bustle of Cyber City Gurgaon.

We then ask Varun – “What is the next opportunity you would like to pursue?” Without batting an eye lid, he responds – “A Five Star hotel”. And adds. “I like change and I am fascinated by architecture. And if I find something interesting in IT, I could take that up as well.”

And as we prepare to bid good bye, he says, “We are planning a strong initiative that we intend to go live in March next year. So watch out”.

Good Luck, Kayako!