From manifesto to budget to delivery

The 2014 election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) outlined how innovation, research and technology can transform India into a superpower by empowering, connecting and binding all stakeholders.

The decisive mandate given to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, in the general election marked a paradigm shift in the Indian political landscape; the people of India reposed their complete faith in Prime Minister Modi and his team.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley and his team must be complimented for taking forward the visionary BJP manifesto and turning it into actionable budget proposals, and also for setting the direction towards building a “Digital India” where innovation, research and technology will play a major role.

Rural broadband and e-highways

A pan-India programme called “Digital India” has been proposed in the 2014 budget to bridge the divide between digital “haves” and “have-nots”. This would ensure broadband connectivity at the village level, improved access to services through information technology (IT)-enabled platforms, greater transparency in government processes, consumption of local content and a host of other services. The railway budget proposed providing Wi-Fi connectivity at train stations, on premium trains and “Office on Wheels”.

An ambitious plan to integrate all government departments through an e-platform will create a business- and investor-friendly ecosystem in India, by making all business- and investment-related clearances and compliances available on a single 24×7 portal, with an integrated payment gateway.

An ecosystem for innovation: from ‘Sell in India’ to ‘Made in India’

India, since the beginning of civilization, has been a leader in science and technology. Lack of a favourable ecosystem for spurring innovation, however, has dented its position post-independence.

Today, India produces only around 2% of IT products that it consumes. This is having an adverse impact on its economy. The need of the hour is to make India an innovation-driven manufacturing hub from a consumption market, by creating an enabling ecosystem for nurturing product start-ups. Entrepreneurship needs to become part of the national culture instead of being the success story of a few.

The new government has recognized the need to create an ecosystem for fundamental research and innovation for India to become a global manufacturing giant with specific programmes for small entrepreneurs, start-up villages and incubation centres. The nationwide district-level incubation and accelerator programme can promote frugal innovation ground-up.

Special focus on software product industry

IT services will remain important for economic growth, but India needs new growth drivers as well. Global Indians educated in Indian universities, in Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management have used foreign soil to make inventions and innovations that have benefited the world.

With the right impetus, it is quite possible to create the next Google, Facebook, WhatsApp out of India. The budget makes a big start by launching a fund for promoting product-led start-ups, a much desired innovation in the thinking of the government.

E-Healthcare and e-Education

Much of real India, Bharat, still lives in villages. Unfortunately, the past government’s average spending on healthcare and education was just 1% and 3%, respectively, of gross domestic product. As a result, basic health and education infrastructure is in bad shape.

The budget does a great job in recognizing the enormous opportunity that lies in improving healthcare and basic education access by using IT. Use of telemedicine, virtual classrooms, open online courses and e-education can be the kick-starter to achieve size and scale to improve the primary healthcare network and basic education standards.

Content localization and digitization

India has more Internet users than English language speakers; as a result, regional language keyboards are vital for deeper Internet penetration. Local language content needs to get digitized. China has already successfully developed and standardized local language keyboards.

Government can help by providing the standard templates for every language that can then be commercialized by using the public-private partnership model.

Now it’s time to deliver.

Technology, needless to say, will play an important role in effective delivery of services, monitoring performance, managing projects and improving governance.

An Integrated Office of Innovation and Technology to achieve the same, and for problem solving, sharing applications and knowledge management will be the key to rapid results, given that most departments work in their own silos. Tracking and managing the projects assume significance because India has been busy spending money in buying technology that it has not used effectively or in some cases not even reached implementation stage. Sharing knowledge and best practices across departments need to be driven by this Office of Technology.

India needs interventions across sectors to become a global knowledge hub by 2022. The Prime Minister is a very technology-savvy leader and the country looks forward to his leadership to drive this next phase of revolution in innovation and technology with a renewed vision and vigour.

This article first appeared in LiveMint

‘India Innovates, India Leads’: Indian Talent + Information Technology = India2022

The success of India in future is intrinsically linked to its ability to keep pace with technology. The world has seen an unprecedented change in technology landscape in the last decade and innovation has become more important than ever before. Technology can help build a digital India- a knowledge-based society and economy- by empowering, connecting and binding all parts of India.


For India to become a global knowledge hub by 2022- the Diamond Jubilee of our Independence- Innovation, Research and Technology will have to play a major role of being the driver, engine of growth and shining light of Brand India. Innovation and Technology will have to be the enabler for empowerment, equity and efficiency by joining people with governments, bringing them closer to knowledge and bridging the gap between demand and supply. Despite India having become the software services capital of the world, the benefits of Technology have not percolated down. The lack of a proactive political vision in not appreciating the full potential of technology in the last decade is primarily responsible for restricting the spread of Information Technology domestically.

Next Phase of Innovation and Technology Revolution in India

India has a long history of Cultural Innovation driven by necessities. It’s time that we take our Innovations globally and solve societal problems. It is in this context that India must embark upon next phase of Innovation and Technology revolution with renewed vigour. It would be unwise to be satisfied with successes in instalments and not tap the vast potential of Indian Talent. The success and Brand established by the Indian Software Services Industry needs to be leveraged with next wave of “Made In India” Technology, Products and Innovations.

That the BJP has seized upon this opportunity and responded to the aspirations of the country is evident in its Manifesto 2014 that has laid unprecedented emphasis on Innovation and Technology and its cross sector potential.

E-Governance

E-Governance is easy, efficient and empowered Governance and has to become the backbone of Good Governance paradigm. A Digital India -where every household and every individual is digitally empowered – is key to the concept of new age, efficient & incorruptible governance.

This can be made possible by increasing the internet penetration and usage of broadband across the country. Deployment of broadband in every village would be a thrust area. Every district of the vastly diverse India having its own specialities must be digitally integrated by 2022.

Follow the Fiber Policy is another path-breaking proposal that can refurbish the digital outlook of the country. Smart Cities will be developed around Digital Highways. The example of the ‘E-Gram, Vishwa Gram’ scheme in Gujarat, that ensured significant empowerment of the rural population by bridging the Digital Divide between the rural and urban areas by providing e-services to all its villages, is worth emulating across the country. The scheme helped control corruption significantly since all transactions between government and citizens are computerised.

Innovation

Spurring innovation and research in India is essential in order to reduce dependence on foreign technology. Innovation is an evolving process and there cannot be a stationary blueprint for it. However, the basic pre-requisite for driving innovation is to have 1.2 billion Indians digitally connected through our own technologies and networks.

The BJP Manifesto talks about such path breaking innovations in governance as promotion of e-Bhasha (National Mission for the promotion of IT in Indian Languages), Content digitization of all archives and museums, financial inclusion and participative governance.

The idea of participative governance using social media as an enabler merits a special mention. Today, Social media has the potential to transform all interactions in the public mindscape. They are powerful catalysts that are changing the ways people use technology to interact with the world around them. India must include these interfaces in its governance models and take full advantage of it. Youth, the biggest driver and user of social media, ought to be involved in policy formulation & legislation.

In a country where nearly 70% of the population lives in villages, a significant segment of about 6,50,000 villages do not have a single bank branch, access to quality healthcare, and higher education, BJP has done well to recognise these handicaps and addressed them in its manifesto with the ideas such as National Rural Internet and Technology Mission for use in TeleMedicine, Mobile Healthcare, Massive Open Online Courses and setting up a National e-Library.

As a matter of fact; policy, institutions and market factors will determine the fate of India in coming years. The existing market factors are quite favourable but it now needs a set of ‘good policies’ & ‘good institutions’ under a visionary leadership for building an India of our dreams.

There is an inescapable clamour by the young and capable nation for a proactive and innovative policy framework that goes beyond being stuck in a reactionary mode. The nation is looking up to the new political dispensation that is likely to assume office after the general elections for providing such a visionary roadmap.

The Emergence of a Product Nation

In the last ten years, IBM, perhaps the world’s most iconic maker of the personal computer did two things that made people sit up and take notice. First, in 2004, it sold its PC division to China-based Lenovo Group in a deal valued at $1.75 billion. Then, around nine years later, it sold Daksh, its voice-based BPO to Synnex Corp. Both sales had one glaring similarity: They both involved flogging commoditized businesses with increasingly low margins and a questionable future.

growth_rateToday, both the computer hardware business as well as the voice-based BPO business is in peril. Computer sales have flattened while smartphones and tablets are experiencing scorching growth rates in excess of 150% in Asia. Meanwhile, the BPO business continues to face the twin challenge of rising costs in India and new, competitive destinations like the Philippines who continue to place more downward pressure on prices for voice services.

IBM’s experience is a crucial one to internalize, as the kind of upheaval that has taken place in the PC industry and the BPO one is going to inevitably rock the foundations of yet another which leverages cheaper labour as its core competitive advantage—namely, software services. The one harbinger of this change: The rise of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), also known as ‘the cloud’ that has revolutionized how we use software today.

Much like India churned out world-class software services firms in the 1990s and 2000s, it is already proving to be a major generator of globally competitive SaaS companies across all spheres—in the enterprise space, the B2C arena as well as those targeting SMBs. These are companies with small teams and unique products sold under their own brand—strikingly dissimilar from their IT services predecessors that have dominated the technology space so far.

In other words, these are companies that have climbed up the value chain where their core offerings are not so easily disrupted by a cheaper wage rate. Here, the elegance of the product, the stability and novelty of its solution and, most importantly, the unvarnished benefit that allows the customer to become infinitely more efficient for as little a cost as possible through enterprise software is what is making this revolution a reality. And India, with its legions of technology graduates, a vibrant app developer community and a coterie of battle-hardened entrepreneurs is pushing the envelope even further. Suddenly, a 40-member team can churn out a platform or a service that can compete on the global stage with the likes of an Oracle or an IBM.

This is a brave new world for buying and selling things. For one thing, the internet has become a dominant channel used to either sell products or attract and engage new customers. This means that marketers need to widen their net through plug-and-play IT solutions that are at their fingertips rather than waiting for their IT department to weigh in. They now have to deal with new ways of managing customer relationships, orchestrating cross channel marketing, and implementing digital advertising

Then, there is the aspect of nimbleness. Winners and losers today are determined by solutions that have as quick a time to market as possible, with unlimited scalability and access to reports on the mobile. Enabling this imperative are sophisticated tools to mine and analyze volumes of data arising from these activities to improve decision-making. Therefore, embedding technology in every business process is more than just an effort to stay competitive—it’s a basic survival ploy that allows for faster turnaround, better customer service and improved monitoring of the health of the organization.

pay_asTill now, though, being able to do all of this meant heavy in-house customization and up-front capex spends. The ‘pay as you’ go and ‘rent versus buy’ approach of SaaS has upended that reliance on customization, making even the most complex operations available on the net and easily integrated with other tools and apps for a fraction of the price. A company can now also try as many tools as possible rather than be handcuffed to a single one.

In a product revolution sweeping the country unlike no other, the makers of many of the world’s most innovative products are right here in India. Whether it is the collaboration space, enterprise applications or business intelligence in the cloud, for the first time in India’s history, software products are being made for the global audience and widely appreciated and used by global consumers.

Here’s a snapshot at some of the players who are leading this charge:

 

Lets Not Lose the Reason and Season for Products

One of the long running debates in the Indian technology entrepreneurial world is whether India will ever engender global product companies or will it be destined to be a purveyor of services and a consumer of products and solutions that are imagined, created and marketed by others. As in most things, and especially true for India, there has to be a reason and there has to be a season for anything to occur. So what has occurred? What’s the reason? What’s the season?

What has occurred and is occurring with increasing velocity is:

  • Services companies are passé.  Almost all companies being created today are products or solutions (ie services around a core product offering)
  • These companies are largely to be found in the telecom/mobile domains utilising SaaS/cloud based delivery. This isn’t surprising since telecom/mobile are global scale, scope and market opportunities in India; SaaS/Cloud based companies can inexpensively cater to the world leveraging expensive and complex infrastructure built by others.
  • Talent from global tech companies or even from overseas is coming together to capitalise on these opportunities.

While these are heartening developments, what is more interesting is the opportunity ahead-  across each and every sector of the economy.

What’s the reason though for all this?

Increasing competition, awareness, technology adoption, and the like are beginning to convince more and more companies, across the board, of the importance of investing in technology to drive efficiency, productivity, quality and indeed competitiveness. Technology for all practical purposes today is all software: from vehicles to logistics to hotel, bus and airline reservations to rocket launches to banking to fraud detection to communication to education to anything-else-you-can-imagine! India is beginning to realise that it can be a market on a global scale for solutions as each of these sector s is plagued by colossal global sized problems.

Why is the season right?

Without the right season, no fruit would ever ripen. The season, in this case, is the environment:  enormous numbers of youngsters – aspirational, aware, impatient, confident, unafraid, educated, driven, the growing presence of avenues for these youngsters and their supporters, backers, service providers – investors, mentors, partners of all kinds– to experiment.

The collision of the reason with the season is accelerating this process at an increasing pace.

But before we all start hyperventilating, it is useful to remember that India, despite being the world’s largest producer of milk and in spite of being a milk surplus country, isn’t known around the world for its milk products! There’s a lesson in there somewhere right?  And as a country, we’re known to grab defeat from the jaws of victory with unfailing regularity and precision.  Some important points to keep in mind:

  • Most of the young product companies, especially those that have the connections, are either considering or already have set themselves up as overseas entities. Why? To escape from the mind-numbing red-tape, to enjoy operating freedom, for reasons of branding, protection of intellectual property, to get the benefit of taxation, investments and exits.  Is this desirable? If not, shouldn’t there be policy mechanisms to ensure that the reasons for seeking overseas domicile are minimised? When all countries are laying out red-carpets for companies to come to their shores, why are we intent on driving away those we have?
  • Local branding and awareness generation: Are there sufficient role models for Indian customers? Is it a matter of pride for the country if a world class “Made in India” product is used? What can and should be done to make this happen? Examples from what Taiwan and Korea did are relevant here. Remember, branding isn’t advertising. It is the delivery of a promise, consistently.
  • Industries that are global scale in India eg  defence or where India offers unique challenges eg retail and distribution? Co-option of stakeholders to build world class solutions in these areas is a possibility.
  • India, one would imagine, is ripe territory for the creation of unique voice based products and solutions, given the illiteracy, proliferation of languages and accents. Yet there’re no solutions here. Education – quality video over low bandwidth lines – can be a gamechanger. What about offering cloud based mobile apps for managing businesses for the large number of SMBs?

There are obviously opportunities and possibilities. But without the coming together of like-minded people driven by the desire to effect change across industry clusters via policy, awareness generation, branding, crafting solutions to solve Indian problems, the season to ripen fruits will pass.

This is a season where the coming together of young people, using technology, knowledge, research, engagement, drive and passion, are driving large changes in the way democracy and politics are practised for the better in the Indian nation. Surely, building a product nation is far simpler? Are we all up to it?

PromptCloud is a powerful cloud-computing DaaS (Data as a Service) engine involved in ‘Big’ data acquisition

PromptCloud is a powerful cloud-computing DaaS (Data as a Service) engine involved in ‘Big’ data acquisition. PromptCloud crawls data that’s spread all across the web and converts it into meaningful insights. It was founded by Prashant Kumar. Before starting PromptCloud in late 2009, Prashant was at Yahoo! with their data team working on Yahoo! Frontpage which was one of its hottest products back then. He was mostly involved in data crunching using big data technologies that were still evolving. Prashant graduated with a B.Tech-M.Tech dual degree in CS from IIT Kanpur in 2007. He was later joined by Arpan Jha in 2012, who is a Carnegie Mellon alumnus and took over the Products & Market Strategy function. Prior to joining PromptCloud, Arpan has worked as a Consultant with KPMG & Deloitte.

Introduction

Let’s consider a scenario: say pn.ispirt.in decides to launch a section on the website where they rank all “Made in India” products based on popularity, usage, quality, and some other criteria. One approach is for them to go out and subscribe to the news feed of all important news sites all over the world and try to track all the news and events about all ‘Made in India’ products. This data can then be used to rank them. Given that data about popularity, usage and quality can be generated all over the web (a product review here, a customer complaint there, a Facebook mention, a tweet, a youtube video gone viral, a buyer praising the product on his blog, you get the idea), such a list of websites will be incomplete at best, and the volume of data will be too much to handle for the ProductNation editors.

Enter PromptCloud. PromptCloud offers its Data-as-a-Service for clients like ProductNation who need large volume of data from all over the web for further analysis (this is just one of the use cases, PromptCloud offer many more services). Continuing with the same example, ProductNation and PromptCloud work through following steps:

  1. ProductNation provides 2 pieces of information to PromptCloud: a list of websites they are interested in, and a list of keywords they are interested in
  2. They will also mention how frequent they want the data to be crawled which is dependent on ProductNation’s estimate of how fast their data is likely to change. If they need fresh data (say every few minutes), they purchase PromptCloud’s ‘Low-latency Crawl’ service
  3. PromptCloud will crawl all the data, matching keywords to find relevant content, and then convert it into structured data (XML, CSV, XLS, etc.) for ProductNation’s consumption
  4. ProductNation can do 2 things with the data
    1. It can fetch all the data through API calls and download them into its own servers for further processing. This will be done at a regular schedule, agreed with PromptCloud
    2. ProductNation may not want (or may not have capability) to host all this data. So they buy PromptCloud’s Hosted Indexing Service and they can now let their editors search this index and only fetch relevant content.
    3. When ProductNation gets the data, they are also provided a relevance score for each data item (as judged by PromptCloud’s algorithm) so that they can optimize their analysis efforts and keep their results very relevant.

If Internet was small, say 1000 sites, this would be a trivial problem to solve – just get all the data and be done with it. Scale of Internet (and the rate at which data is growing) makes this a complex problem to solve. This is a technology problem which needs to solve 4 critical issues:

  1. Velocity: How fast and how quickly can data be fetched?
  2. Structure: How can the data be structured meaningfully when data on the web is largely unstructured?
  3. Volume: How much data can be stored and processed efficiently?
  4. Relevancy: How relevant the data is to the keywords supplied, and to the overall intent of this data crawl?

PromptCloud is a technology company which aims to address all these issues and offer services to businesses who need to analyze web data at scale.

The PromptCloud Service

Offerings

PromptCloud offers services built on top of their cloud-computing DaaS (Data as a Service) engine. They offer custom crawl services to their clients. Specifically, following offerings are available:

Their three primary offerings are:

  1. Site-specific crawl and extraction: Given a set of sites and fields to be extracted, their crawlers will fetch relevant data from the web, which then gets converted into structured data and delivered to the clients via API
  2. Low-latency Crawls: These are highly optimized crawls which can fetch data in intervals as low as 5-10 minutes
  3. Hosted Indexing: Structured data created from custom crawls is hosted and indexed and exposed to clients via query APIs.

PromptCloud Service Offerings

Features

They offer following features as part of their services:

  1. Deep data crawls- all past data on the site
  2. Structured data feeds are available to the clients daily/weekly/n times a day
  3. Ability to supply only incremental data
  4. Crawling data from AJAX/non-AJAX based sites
  5. Indexing of data as per requirements
  6. Custom Analytics

Their technology stack uses a lot of open source solutions right from Linux, Hadoop and NoSQL to various cloud and cluster management tools. These are augmented with custom components they have written to solve their unique challenges and serve their customer needs better. They serve data to their clients via API which can later be synced to their FTP, AWS S3, Google Drive or DropBox accounts.

Differentiators

Offering web-scale crawling services is a hot space and there are many competitors with similar services. When looking at their differentiators, 3 things stand out:

  1. Vertical-Agnostic: Their offerings are based on URLs and the keywords they use to filter the results of their crawl, so they are independent of verticals, and can cater to a large number of verticals. This also helps them quick turnaround on new features which then become available to all their clients.
  2. End-to-end Monitoring – Web sites regularly have dynamic content on their pages, and things can change pretty quickly. While most other providers offer a do-it-yourself solution (essentially making you solve this problem), PromptCloud monitors structure changes on the web and supports clients until data gets imported into their systems.
  3. Large-scale complex crawls – Managing large-scale crawls is one of PromptCloud’s USPs. AJAX elements on the web sites make the pages unique and dynamic. PromptCloud’s platform can crawl pages that use AJAX and interactions very well.

Market

Being a technology-centric company, CTO or Product guys on client side are the decision-makers and buyers for their product. Their adoption has been good so far, catering to clients in US, UK, Canada, Western Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong etc. Being a vertical agnostic solution, they have clients from all domains be it e-commerce, travel, market research or classifieds and across the globe. They are an early growth stage company and are growing at the rate of 4X in revenues each quarter, with healthy pipeline of clients.

Since they offer custom services, their pricing varies a lot – it could be anywhere from $200 to $10K a month for a given customer. Pricing depends on what types of services are being consumed, as well as on crawl frequency, data volume, value added services, etc. Users can control the price by setting limits to data that they fetch in a month. They also can do some sampling of data to get a sense of pricing run rate, before committing to the crawl.

Currently, most of their marketing and sales happen through referrals. As they go forward, brand-building is going to be key marketing strategy and they are investing in that right now.

They are looking to address a larger market and to expand their offerings across more and more geographies. Scale is the #1 imperative for them right now. The aim is to build a brand around their solution and increase the loyal customer base.

Future releases will focus on following themes:

  1. Make data richer by applying AI and Machine Learning
  2. Offer standardized data sets in some verticals

Competitive Landscape

Web Crawling services is a space that is hot and has many players. There is 80Legs (any guesses why they are called so?) which offers a programmable platform for custom data crawling, and there is Grepsr that offers its services to individuals, and there are a lot of them in between – Fetch, Mozenda, Spinn3r (blog, news and social media crawling), and of course an open source web crawler (Apache Nutch).

These products vary along 2 dimensions (and hence they should be visualized in a 2×2 box)

  1. Horizontal (Platform) or Vertical (Business Solutions)
  2. Level of programming required to achieve business value

#1 is obvious, let’s talk about #2. Level of programming required to get value depends on the interface that is exposed by these services and who does it appeal to the most. Most of the consumers of data are business people; however, most of these offerings are technical enough that business teams need to work through their technical teams to get value (one reason why PromptCloud sells to Product guys rather than business guys). It is hard (though possible) to have a platform offering and still provide an interface consumable by business teams (because business value will be generated only when platform outcome is processed using vertical business rules which is hard to do without some amount of programming).

PromptCloud is a horizontal (platform) offering that requires a little programming to get it integrated with business flows of the client. For them, this positioning makes sense for 2 reasons:

  1. Revenue Spread: Horizontal increases addressable market because all verticals can be targeted. However, this also means that value provided per client is less and hence revenue per client is going to be less while number of clients might be large. At this stage of their company, this is a better revenue mix (since it exposes them to a large number of clients).
  2. Cost of Innovation: Vertical requires more business focus and hence innovations that are specific to a vertical may not be applicable to another vertical, while horizontal means every innovation benefits every customer. This makes innovating for every client a costly affair when focusing on a vertical.

However, it is important for them to make sure they are moving continuously along the spectrum of offering vertical solutions (without compromising on their innovation abilities) and offering business-consumable interfaces.

The Road Ahead

The road ahead for PromptCloud is tough but inspiring. They are in a space that will require much more services in future as data continues to proliferate, data-driven insights become the order of the day, and web data continues to become more unstructured. They have a good set of offering and a good list of clients to work with. However, they do face some challenges:

  1. They need to gain more visibility in existing and newer geographies; building their brand is going to be key.
  2. They need to add more products to their bouquet of offerings
  3. To maintain their technology edge, they need to continue to build the team even through the shortage of trained professionals in this area.

They also need to figure out where they want to put themselves on Horizontal-Vertical axis, we feel that they need to move towards offering vertical-focused solutions, in addition to maintaining a horizontal data platform. PromptCloud (and most of its competitors) offers a technology product to business teams to do their data analysis well (and hence business teams need to involve their technology teams to consume PromptCloud services). We feel that a way forward for PromptCloud will be to become a business product that the business people can consume directly and come to build critical business on. They platform approach (vertical-agnosticity) is a good foundation on which such a business product can be built.

They have the right trajectory of growth, and good momentum and team to continue to push and become a name to reckon with in this space.

Building for the world? Then take it to the world.

[This post is written for Indian startups. If you are not one, you will not find much value in it. But don’t take my word for it. Read through the post to know for yourself.]

I have been noticing an interesting trend in the Indian startup landscape over the last 12-15 months. Or something like that. Indians are building good solid products that they intend to take to the world, only to end up becoming world-famous in India. Indulge me, will you?

The Indian startup community has been shaping up pretty well over the last couple of years, and these folks are well connected to each other. Startup events, emails, Twitter, all of them put together keep the spirit going. Now when a startup gets to work on its next big idea, they go to this community for feedback and nice people that they are, they send in a lot of it. The team soaks in the best ideas, puts together a solid product and gets ready to launch to the world.

They send in a note to PluggdIn and YourStory who do a nice roundup on them, and ask the startup community to go spread the word for them. They are promised a t-shirt. And of course, these folks are happy to see the feedback they sent implemented in the product, so they go tell their first-degree LinkedIn connections about this new world-changing product.

The team sees a lot of “buzz” around the product and some customers start trickling in. These are early days, and it can only grow from there. Happy with the results, they go back to writing code. They have a whole list of features that people had asked for.

They implement one feature, two features, 17 features, and blog about all the awesome new stuff they have added in the product. They engage in conversations about their product philosophies with the startup community on Twitter who commend them for their passion.

Good things will happen soon.

But six months down the line, the trickle of customer continues to be a trickle. The “virality” the initial buzz promised is nowhere to be seen. The sales cycles for whatever customers are coming in is much longer than they expected.

They go back to the startup community to bounce off ideas. Over a beer, they conclude that customers are to be blamed. Companies want to be at the bleeding edge of technology but feel buying from a startup is risky. They still want their software to come from monstrous enterprises. So it’s a problem with the buyer’s mindset, not with the product itself. But soon they will realize that the enterprises are unable to keep up with the rapid strides in technology, and they will come knock startup doors.

It’s only a matter of months, they all agree.

Drawing comfort from the collective grief and the solution in sight, they go back to work on the killer social integration feature they have been planning for long.

Social integration done, 47 other features done but 12 months down the line, the customer story is still the same. A trickle. They write a big long rant about how the world has to become accepting of startups because it is the small companies that move the human race forward. They elaborate on their point with blasts from the past and heart-touching anecdotes. They see a lot of buzz around this post. 92 likes, 45 tweets, 23 comments.

Ego massaged, they go back to…you see the cycle? And then there comes a point in time when the startup finally asks — how is it that I am able to create all this buzz but the customer graph refuses to budge?

Time for my rant.

You made a product for the whole wide world, and you took it to the whole wide….country. Your early people were all from India. And so were the people they spread the word to. The coverage you got and the rants you wrote reached the same set of people, again. So essentially all buzz you thought you created reached a small set of startup folks in India.

So what’s the solution? Go out, get covered in the TechCrunchs and Mashables of the world? If you have a good product in a sexy market, why not?

But not every product is meant to be TechCrunch’d, and not every product has to be. First, there are other sites like The Next WebGigaOm and PandoDaily that people keep forgetting about. Second, getting your product covered is not the only way to make two-hour Internet glory. Guest posts are an awesome way to get the word out as well. A lot of these sites look for guest posts during the weekend, when news is going slow and their staff is taking it easy. So put in some more work on the wonderful industry pieces you have been writing and reaching a total of 235 people, and pitch it to these guys instead.

Or what about the lessons you learnt from your entrepreneurship journey that you talk about on your blog? The mistakes you made, the lessons you learnt, the things you did differently, the rants. Why not pitch that to an entrepreneurship-focused blog like OnStartups or A Smart Bear?

How about the core philosophies you built your product on? Why not bring them out on A List ApartSixRevisions or Sitepoint?

Get yourself invited on a webinar in your niche that isn’t geographically challenged.

Get into one of those Twitter conversations that you usually have with heavy-hitters from the Valley instead. Mark SusterDave McClure, the list is endless.

Get into a heated exchange with one of your American competitors.

And if you don’t have time for any of these, just go buy some ads. PPC ads, newsletter sponsorships, display ad units.

If you are building a product for the world, take it to the world.
This article was originally published on Sanket Nadhani’s blog Poke and Bite

Building a great product takes time and happens over a number of years…

Getting patented has immense aspirational value for product developers, but it is a long drawn process and takes normally anything between 5-8 years. Our story this time is about how a bunch of very intelligent individuals, who got together to build a product and have it patented within two years.  If it is aspirational to have a patent against one’s name, it is certainly inspirational, the time frame in which it was achieved.

We got talking to Anand, who is based out of Bangalore, and was only 15-days old at Vigyanlabs  handling the marketing activities there. The passion with which he spoke, belied his short stint and seemed as if he had spent his entire lifetime in the organisation. Shortly thereafter, we were joined by Srini & Vatsa, the founders of Vigyanlabs. Hugely experienced, cumulatively they both have 50 + years (Vatsa 30 + & Srini more than 20) of building products and software architecture in very large organisations like HP, IBM & Hughes Network Systems.  Both had held senior positions in HP, where Vatsa was the Chief architect, and with Srini later, went on to hold Senior Technical Positons at Dell-Perot, just before starting Vigyanlabs. Vatsa had also worked in Processor Systems India, where he did some very innovative and cutting-edge work. These would prove to be building blocks, someday. A very potent combination indeed, which helped file 9 Patents. Slowly but surely the spirit of building an Indian product was taking shape.

Early days:

After  calling it quits with their present employers, the duo spent two weeks in just defining Vision & Mission of the company that they would build, and establishing short-term & long-term goals. This brainstorming session helped them in creating the DNA : It was going to be an innovative Science & Technology Organisation; it would focus on green technology and social responsibility to be a key driver. All this would be achieved by harnessing the power of teamwork. The customer and his needs would be primary to all business concerns. A deep-dive helped identify the three major problems that the world was facing: Food, Environment & Energy. The seeds were sown – it would be a Science & Technology company where IT would play a vital role.

Vigyanlabs would primarily focus on : Consulting, Architecture & Design and aim to solve problems related to food, environment & energy.   The name itself was very Indian and spoke of the future, The “Science” of it, being right here. Vigyan.

Ideation:

After much study and prior experience, the team soon identified a “hole” in the market and a plausible approach to address the same. Efficient power management was still not very popular in India. The existing solutions were not upto the mark and this was evident, the way laptops consumed power. The battery would get heated and run out sooner than desired, putting user at a disadvantage. The higher income group consumed a lot of power through a freakish number of gadgets and electronic devices. The wastage was huge and put immense pressure on the environment as a whole.  This was early 2009, and out of an Incubation Centre in Mysore, was born the idea which took shape and one day be the product IPMPlus.

The concept that was used to build this product had widespread usage and would be extended to other industries as well. In the US markets, patents were filed for something similar, but not so India. It was built around power consumption and its optimization in laptops – all this without causing any obstruction in the normal flow of work.  Intelligent Power Management Plus was about maintaining user experience.   

The Passion:

For Srini and Vatsa, it was always about building an Indian product which aimed at fulfilling the vision and mission of the company. They found obvious role models in the likes of Ratan Tata and Sir M. Visvesvaraya, who is also a Bharat Ratna awardee – the doyens of innovative thinking in this country.  

Wow Moments:

The Beta version itself helped a customer save 40% on energy cost and the need to come out with a marketable version was even more palpable. Within two years of filing for patents, the founders  got it done, a record of some sorts, which normally takes anything upto 5 years or even more.

Marketing Outreach & Strategy:

The stretch has been to create a global footprint and get the product onto the AppStores so it can be used with Android, Apple and Windows applications. The other initiative, is integrating with device OEMs and capture a major chunk of the market.  On the Enterprise segment, tablets and servers opened a whole new world of opportunity. Just to give an example of how big the problem really is, the amount of power consumption in large organisations is enough to even run a small town, cited in a recent NYT article. Large businesses have 50 – 100 data centres and do not have many tools which harness power optimisation.

Key Learning:

Building a great product takes time and happens over a number of years. The gestation period is long and during this time patience and sustainability is what really matters. Unlike the Valley, the market in India is not so matured and there is an initial resistance to try out Indian products. Somehow product developers should aim to break that.  Finally good products come through good people – who are technically sound, who you can trust and who have the business acumen too.

Towards a glorious product nation!

The biggest success of the IT industry in the country has also been its biggest challenge. The phenomenal rise of the Software services industry led by global leaders like TCS Cognizant, Infosys and Wipro and smaller firms like HCL, Mindtree, Zensar and Hexaware in hot pursuit has put India in pole position in the global IT services industry. Driven by NASSCOM with visionary leadership and full support from industry stalwarts, the services industry really gathered momentum towards the end of the last century and has never looked back since.

However many other industry segments have struggled to emerge from the shadow of the spectacularly successful services sector. Business Process Outsourcing looked like a rising star for some time followed by Engineering Services, Media and Animation and other sub-sectors but could not match the rise or the stature of IT Services. The Products industry too has had many good starts, but in a manner similar to India’s cricket openers these days, have spluttered too fast and too frequently. Barring a few successes like i-Flex, Tally and some products that germinated within the comfort of a services company, the product story from India has just not done justice to the energy enthusiasm and incredible talent that lies in this country.

There are many green shoots emerging in the hitherto parched product landscape that give us all hope that the story is destined to change and move towards a happy ending with a more focused approach to developing a new eco-system for the product industry. In the last few years, outstanding leadership of the product forum in NASSCOM and the very successful product conferences in Bengaluru have demonstrated the high energy that flows through the veins of the product entrepreneurs today. The opportunities too abound with the ubiquitous spread of the internet and cloud computing enabling “made in India” products to quickly expand their availability globally and Software as a Service enabling new methods of consumption and commercial relationships.

However mere enthusiasm does not create a product nation and there needs to be concerted efforts to build a sustained focus on the products industry. There is a need to work with this fledgling sector from the early stages of creating programs in Universities to build a product mindset to developing incubation centres and a more vibrant angel network that will enable thousands of start-ups to bloom. Since significant Government and corporate support for Indian products will also be needed akin to the support given in China to the local industry, serious efforts will be needed to educate the bureaucracy in Delhi on the very specific needs of the product companies so that enabling policies and programs are created and funded by Government.

The opportunity for the products industry to be a hundred billion dollars strong by the time India turns seventy-five in 2022 is very real but we will need to bring all the players together and build a strong platform to propel the industry into the stratosphere of global success!