Announcing the third batch of 15 companies selected for @InTech50 2016

Last week, we announced the second batch of winners of InTech50 2016. It’s been a hectic month for all the stakeholders.

Happy to announce the third and final batch of 15 companies that are selected for InTech50 2016:

  1. Aujas: Security Analytics and Visualization Platform
  1. Canvazify: Canvazify is a visual collaboration tool for team brainstorming and planning. Its a pinterest of team ideas. Canvazify helps you organize and discuss ideas, derive meaningful insights and plan activities
  1. FarEye: FarEye, is a Mobile Workforce Management Platform. It is a customizable Enterprise Mobility Platform., that automates processes and field workforce thus., helping the enterprises in delighting their customers
  1. Germinait Solutions Private Limited: Germin8 Social Intelligence is a product suite that enables brands to get valuable insights from consumers in social media about the products, campaigns, content and customer service.
  1. Happay (VA Tech Ventures): Happay is a first of its kind, VISA card driven, expense management solution that streamlines a company’s expense workflow from purchase-to-accounting and enables real-time visibility and control over business spending.
  1. Indix Internet India Private Limited: Indix offers a variety of products including a Product API, Reports App, and machine learning services using proprietary data science algorithms. Leading brands and retailers use Indix products to boost productivity, drive innovation, and accelerate growth.
  1. Innotion Technologies Pvt Ltd: Protean is a Business Process Management & Field Service Management Platform, which helps the organizations in automating the backend Processes & Field activities.
  1. Lucep: Lucep is a sales acceleration solution for B2B businesses. Using a website widget and our mobile app, Lucep connects leads generated from your site directly with your team in under 60 seconds.
  1. NavStik Autonomous Systems Pvt. Ltd: FlytPOD is the next-generation flight-computer for commercial drones. FlytOS is its operating system that empowers developers build variety of commercial applications for drones. Together they offer a platform for drone-makers to build next-gen drone applications.
  1. Nowfloats: The NowFloats platform helps large enterprises by getting their local channel online in a relevant, meaningful, frictionless manner. Think how to get all of your retail stores, your insurance agents, your branches, etc all being highly discovered by local consumers via latest, frequently updated content by your extended teams.
  1. Propalms Technologies Pvt Ltd: Propalms TSE: Delivers Microsoft Windows client applications from datacenter over browser to users using presentation virtualization technology.
  1. SayPay Technologies: SayPay Authenticator combines voice recognition and speech recognition seamlessly into one single step. By simply speaking the SayPay “crypto-token” into their mobile banking app, users identify the transaction, authenticate themselves, and lock their biometric signature to each authentication.
  1. Tydy: Tydy is an Automated Employee Onboarding & Engagement Platform. Tydy combines automated workflows, pre-defined content modules and engagement hooks resulting in a personalized & amazing onboarding experience.
  1. Vidooly: Vidooly is an SaaS based video analytics and marketing suite that provides actionable insights to content creators, MCNs and brands enabling them to optimize their videos on YouTube and increase the organic reach, build an audience base and take data driven decisions to create content.
  1. Xtreme Media Pvt. Ltd: XM DSS is a Cloud based digital signage solution, it enables brands to centrally control & manage digital screens located anywhere in the world on a single click.

Congratulations again to all the above winners !!

You can see the first batch of winners here.

We will keep you updated on all the action, during and after the event. Keep watching this space.

Guest Post by Arvind Kochar, Terrene Global Leadership Network

Brace up all Product Entrepreneurs; InTech50 is back…

InTech50, iSPIRT ’s flagship event is back. The first two editions have been very successful and InTech50 has become the ‘must-go-to’ platform for enterprise CXO’s and product entrepreneurs. Over the past two years, we have hosted CXO’s and business leaders from global companies like AllState, Citibank, HCC Insurance, Standard Chartered, Colgate Palmolive, Time, AirTel, Yes Bank, Exide Life, Mother Diary and the likes. Here are some quick high points from the last two years of InTech50:

  • 18 enterprise deals that got originated and closed from conversations at InTech50
  • 42 enterprise PoC’s offered to InTech50 companies
  • 120+ innovation leaders (read: buyers & influencers) exposed to Indian product entrepreneurs

We have already managed to showcase over a 100 companies, and we have made 50 global investors and CIO’s travel to India to interact and associate with these companies, and happily so.

Here are a few portfolio companies from our past events – Capillary, Uniken, Seclore, Freshdesk, Reverie, Sapience, NowFloats, ToneTag to name a few.

Just to share the impact that we have created, and how these 50 companies have benefitted from this initiative, hear hear what some of them had to say –

“Intech50 is a phenomenal event. It is probably the highest RoI initiative we have ever participated in. With 50+ Global CIOs turning up, it is a great platform to validate your product. Met some of the largest enterprises, found use cases we weren’t aware of and closed marquee deals. Highly recommended!” Yamini Bhat,

“Intech50 was extremely useful in 3 ways. First, making a presentation of just 5 minutes to an extremely discerning audience helped us make our value proposition very crisp. Second, demoing our product to several heads of technology helped validate our product and use cases, and resulted in actual business deals getting signed. And most importantly, we were able to bag a large client with whom we’ve been able to co-create 2 completely new products. I wholeheartedly and highly recommend Intech50 to all B2B startups who have demonstrable products that are ready for large enterprises” – Ranjit Nair, Germin8

“Being a part of InTech50 2015 was a great opportunity for ToneTag. It was exhilarating when ToneTag was selected in the first batch as one of the top 10 products. The event gave us the exposure, guidance and support we needed. InTech50 enabled us to pitch our product to a global panel of curators and the media coverage we received was also been beneficiary to the company. Since winning InTech50, ToneTag has been expanding rapidly. We acquired many leads through the event that led us to PoC’s and commercial deals in the making. The resources we received through InTech50 have been invaluable as it has helped us build exciting partnerships with many in India and around the world” – Kumar Abhishek, ToneTag

If you are a product entrepreneur and your product is solving a problem for the enterprise CXO, InTech50 is your chance to showcase your product to the who’s who in the enterprise buyer community.

Apply before Feb 22nd 2016 and experience a bigger and better InTech50 in 2016.

To know more, click here.

Small Businesses Ascending the Digital Path

# DigitalDesh spanned across 22 cities in 30 days to discover The Internet of Inside India.

Amritsar to Kanyakumari

An endeavor to study the behavioral patterns of entrepreneurs across different regions. To understand their digital business routines, their perceptions, the challenges and their desire to venture into new terrain. An important part of the activity was also to encourage & spread awareness to build a strong digital footprint online.

The journey of #DigitalDesh began from Amritsar and it was only apt that it got its initiation by meeting Jagdeep whose infectious energy highlighted the passion of a business savvy person. A lively man, who was excited to show his smartphone and share his social networking habits that he indulged in to do business with his customers.

Infact Whatsapp was largely used as a business tool because of its ease of use and the popularity by the word of mouth. The cool quotient too.

Local business owners found it easy to share pictures with their IMG_1512customers, samples of new designs by textile owners to or be it the owner in Amritsar who sells religious items to his customers in foreign. A shop keeper who sells cosmetics to the local college students used it to share the new goods/purses that were sold in his showroom.

The most interesting use I found of it was when the fisheries in Karwar used it to overcome language barriers and sharing the pics of fishes which is known by different names in different parts of India and across the world. Although the order was still placed on phone, the pictures were shared over whatsapp.

More savvy business owners have started using facebook pages but it was limited in numbers and even few that were looking to go the app route.

Yes many of the business owners are learning different ways of transactions, although not many of them are familiar with payment gateways, they do use online banking systems and learning to use payment wallets. Education on these will be helpful.

Email Ids – were largely used to place orders and when outlets/franchises are using to interact with their head-office. Although these are not professional ids, most of the time the personal id served both the professional and personal use. Website were still being designed by a trusted source and were given the impression that it takes a really long time to do so. Many were surprised to know about certain tools that would help them set it up in a matter of few minutes.

And yes smartphones do rule in tier 2 & tier 3 cities of India 🙂

One of the key things that I learnt as part of this drive is the need for education on the availability of tools.. lots more to be done in this area. Best part they are hungry to learn and the willingness to grow.

Chief Economic Advisor is Infected Positively by the Irrational Exuberance of Indian Product Startups.

Mr. Arvind Subramanian, Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of INDIA, has been named as one of the world’s top 100 global thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine. After stepping into the shoes of Dr. Raghuram Rajan as Chief Economic Advisor, he is also a widely cited expert on the changing Balance of Global Economic power, as it pertains to INDIA & China. He is also the author of “INDIA’s TURN: Understanding the Economic Transformation“. Mr. Arvind specially travelled to Bangalore to interact with software product industry and discuss policy with the the policy team of iSPIRT Think tank.

In the 4 hour meeting, the energy that emerging companies brought out with each presentation was amplified as the discussion progressed. In the end, I must admit that there was a euphoric feeling that this movement of creating public goods with the Social Commons model is really on-to-something BIG!

Not all elements of the session can be reproduced here, but this article is an effort to provide you the important highlights.

2015-05-28 17.36.55What was so Infectious? Its the Mirror Neurons, Stupid! 

In the first session, as it has become customary, about 8 carefully curated product startups which started in INDIA, with audacious aspirations, and which have already made significant GLOBAL impact while still retaining their Indian-ness, presented their stories. Almost every story was about Product Entrepreneur’s who dared to dream BIG, not just from themselves but for leap-frogging INDIA and the world. The Goal set out for the session was to show-case the behind-the-scenes transformation that is taking place in the software Product Industry landscape.

The Irrational choices of many Entrepreneurs were show-cased in their business avatars, as NowFloats, Uniken, Tally, Forus Health, Team Indus, FreeCharge, SnapBizz & Ezetap. While the strategy choices seemed Irrational, the success these business are having today, and the impact they can have tomorrow to reclaim India’s glory was self-evident. The outcome of the session was remarkably different from the goal the session set-out to achieve. What became apparent as the session progressed was the infectious effect it was having on each participant in the room. It was as if the Mirror Neurons from these passionate Entrepreneurs was affecting not just the minds, but it was affecting our Inner Spirit. The Infectious nature of the session’s outcome in many ways mirrored the outcome of these businesses.

2015-05-28 17.37.06What is the Cure? More Infection. Make India Go Cashless.

In a thoughtful next session the discussion moved toward more earthy and material realization of how Technology & Infectious energy of the startups can be leveraged to leapfrog INDIA. This discussion was about how to make India Go Cashless in 4 years. The benefits of going cashless are many. It can expand micro-credit to small businesses in a big way, for even street-hawkers (Thelewalas) to be able to digitally get credit and also seamlessly receive money from customers. Sanjay Jain (iSPIRT Open API Expert Team member, former Chief Product Officer of Aadhaar) and Abhishek (iSPIRT Colunteer, CEO Eko) presented a comprehensive approach and suggested a new Program, Jan Samridhi, for the Government. This builds on the Open API work that iSPIRT has already done (in eSign, UPI and GTSN) and proposed specific and inter-related policy and regulatory changes. The only real way of achieving this is to have more agencies in the Government, the Regulatory institutions and people to participate. So in effect, the cure really is to infect more people with the Spirit of Social Commons. The discussion clearly bridged some the intellectual distance between Delhi and Bangalore.

Advice from the Chief Economic Advisor

Mr Arvind, in his own-words was blown-away with the enthusiastic zeal and business performance of the Product Startup Ecosystem. He however was also clearly in his elements as he carefully constructed the broader picture by taking the various elements from the Individual presentations. Some of his suggestions and advice to the Startup community were as follows.

  • How soon can we marry the Private Entrepreneurial zeal & Public Goods created by such movements?
  • Can we use and leverage the existing products automating, say, Govt Fair Price shops?
  • While mildly chiding Product Entrepreneurs to dream even bigger by including Government, he asked if we can help realize other broader over-reaching goals like Government Technology Platforms for Expenditure tracking?

He even offered to visit Bangalore and participate 2-3 times a month in various such initiatives to enable routine conversations with Policy Makers and Entrepreneurs.

2015-05-28 18.27.33Conclusion

The entire program was highly Interactive, Infectious & Confidence building. It gave a sense that may-be within 4 years we can Make India go cashless. It also re-affirmed the new Paradigm of creating Public Goods with a Social Commons approach (Open source approach). It is important to co-create a digital INDIA, not just with the Entrepreneurial zeal, but by getting Government and Institutional bodies involved as well. These Infectious power-packed dialogs that iSPIRT is fostering will help us rewrite the script of our Nation, and will help us reclaim its lost Glory. We will become a Product Nation soon, it seems inevitable. Be a part of it now. Go ahead, spread the INFECTION, not just the word.

InTech50: an outside-in perspective

After a gap of 10 years, I recently returned to Bangalore to attend InTech50. The excitement started from the get go when I was flown from Delhi to Bangalore by an all-female Indigo cockpit – itself a reflection of our fast changing times.

Variration Banner 1.0-01The age of tech startups in India has dawned. With 3500+ registered startups & counting, India is well poised to become the second largest startup hub in the world (after the US) by the end of this decade. The quality of product design & engineering has also increased since entrepreneurship has become a career of choice. Top notch talent including IIT engineers and IIM MBAs are no longer flocking to high paying corporate jobs. A significant number are taking the leap to build new technology products. At the same time a broader ecosystem of venture capitalists and corporate partners have emerged, supported by institutions like NASSCOM and iSPIRT – which have tirelessly worked to galvanize stakeholders and unlock the value chain. None of this “software product industry architecture” visibly existed when I last left India 8 years ago!

InTech50 was a great example of how far we’ve come. 50 exciting B2B startups were showcased across key enterprise spaces – big data analytics, security & infrastructure, enterprise mobility & collaboration, compliance & HR management, and industry specific solutions in finance, manufacturing, retail and health. Across the board, the teams were impressive, in that the founders reflected original thinking & IP, and made their pitches with both passion and data. A few were established companies like Qubole, FreshDesk and Druva; others were earlier in their journeys. Some of my favorites were: Reverie, a “language gateway” that helps businesses localize their products across linguistic contexts; Vymo a simplified Saleforce-like tool for mobile foot force effectiveness; Clary5, a cross-product and cross-channel enterprise fraud management platform targeting financial institutions; low overhead & easy-to-use enterprise content & collaboration tools like Tydy and FrameBench; and hyperlocal retail analytics software like Nifty Window and NowFloats that bring online-grade data capabilities to offline retailers

InTech50-FinalistsThe event saw active participation from industry CIOs – both global and domestic – who provided rich and relevant perspectives to startups. We heard from the media, hardware & software technology, telecom, general & speciality insurance, and banking sectors. The program sparked rich interactions that highlighted core industry needs & product gaps, provided feedback to early stage concepts, and introduced prospective customers and operational partners to startups much in need of them.

Two interesting models of deeper corporate engagement with startups were explored. First, the role of corporates as enterprise startup customers. Here, given reputational risks involved, CIOs are more likely to test new products internally or with non-core services before extending them to customer facing or core operations. Not surprisingly, data security was highlighted as a dominant theme as many corporates – particularly the financial sector – continue to face fraud and data leakage risks. In addition, mobility, cloud-based digitization, large data analytics, & cognitive intelligence were areas championed by the industry representatives. Second, with traditional services companies, including Telcos and ITeS, moving away from time based billing models and rolling out hybrid product-service offerings, they are looking for startups as partners who may help them plug key portfolio gaps. This requires considerable thought around a joint go-to-market strategy leveraging both parties’ expertise to drive customer acquisition.

A third interesting perspective was offered by the son how certain software apps – notably Slack with its transparent, multi-channel collaboration functionality – when adopted in a corporate setting had potential to become a powerful cultural transformation catalyst. Slack has changed my world as well – exposing the massive inefficiencies of email as a collaboration tool – so I can completely relate.

With India as a major R&D hub (as well as a destination market) for US tech companies, the right skills and context will continue to infuse into the ecosystem and power India’s potential as a product nation. iSPIRT’s goal with InTech50 is to drive M&As from the current rate of one-per-quarter to one-per-month by the end of the year. The ecosystem is ripe for this. New & creative corporate relationships are needed to build trust and awareness. This is a must for corporates to stay relevant and innovative, whereas access to corporate customers, expertise and funding can help accelerate startups. This will in turn require numerous actors to join forces and build collaboration platforms that further strengthen the digital product ecosystem.

Guest post by Badal Malick – Co-founder of Nirvana Labs, a digital platform to drive global startup-corporate partnerships

Announcing the 5th and final batch of 10 companies @InTech50 2015

Happy to announce the final and last batch of finalists (out of a total of 50) of InTech50 2015, a flagship event of iSPIRT and Terenne Global.

Congratulations to them all!

The firstsecond, third and fourth batch of finalists has already been announced in our previous blogs.

Here is the final list –

  • Crayon –  MAYA is a personal concierge, powered by Crayon’s SimplerChoices™ platform. SimplerChoices™ maps affinities based on taste (from review sites, social networks), influence (from social networks), context (from public data, location-based data), and behavior (from internal enterprise data) to build a massive cross-category taste graph.
  • Datonis – Altizon helps the industrial world create smart, connected products within a very short span of time and with minimum investment in infrastructure. Altizon’s flagship product the Datonis™ platform is offered in PaaS and on-premise models and is built to handle a Billion events a day from a million devices.
  • Druva in Sync – Druva’s inSync endpoint data protection and governance suite UNIQUELY integrates secure, scalable, high-performance endpoint backup, file sync across all user endpoints, remote file access, data loss prevention, IT-managed file sharing, and governance – including eDiscovery enablement – in a single platform.
  • Nifty Window – Nifty Window is a hyper-local marketing based new customer acquisition platform that helps offline brands and businesses attract consumers online. The platform uses content marketing and distribution to help brick & mortar businesses drive in-store sales across search, social media and mobile channels.
  • Nowfloats – NowFloats enables local businesses to get online, generate relevant content, and be highly discovered for online users to consumer this information in a meaningful way.Using the NowFloats platform, any enterprise whose channel is a small business, can bring the entire local channel online and drive local consumers towards that business.
  • RateGain – RevGain is an ultra sophisticated price recommendation engine for hotels. It continuously tracks over 11 big-data, environmental factors such as market supply, competitor prices, inventory levels and more to tell hotels how much they should price their rooms at.
  • RippleHire – RippleHire is a technology product that gamifies employee referrals and enables social recruiting. By empowering the best way you hire (Employee Referrals), we reduce your hiring costs & efforts. Game mechanics make the process fun, engaging and drives great results.
  • RobusTest – RobusTest is providing SAAS based Automation Solution for Web/Native/Hybrid applications. Its does not require any pre-configuration or setup. User can automate any mobile application from their browser without any scripting/coding knowledge.RobusTest also provides detailed Automation Test reports (including CPU, Memory, network and battery usage).
  • Vymo – Our vision is to help sales teams make a Million Smarter Decisions every minute. Our marquee product is a mobile first Lead Management System. Our operational analytics help in better lead prioritisation, smarter allocation, better pitches, quicker conversions and higher frontline productivity.
  • Zing HR – ZingHR is an End-to-End INTEGRATED Hire-to-Retire Management Cloud platform. You name any process, right from the time a potential talent is called for an interview, through the employee’s entire lifecycle with the organisation, till the employee moves on. Talent Acquisition, eRecruitment, Onboarding, Leave, Time & Attendance, Claims, Payroll, Compliance, Performance Management…more.

There will be no greater joy for us than to see our finalists leverage the associations they’ve built and emerge as truly global companies over the next few years, further validating the credibility of India as a ‘product nation’. That is exactly what we had set out to achieve in the first place.

Looking forward to meeting the ‘Fanastic Fifty’ at InTech50 in Bangalore.

How We Got The IT Minister Excited About Indian Product Startups & Made Him Our Spokesperson #UnleashTheEnergy

A behind the scenes account of how a showcase of 11 disruptive startups was put together in just 100 hours!

If you’re reading this, I’m sure  you are a part of the Indian product startup community in one way or the other. And unless you were living under a rock (which is fine, if you were busy hacking away or traveling to sell your product), you wouldn’t have missed that our Hon. IT Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad was in Bangalore on Tuesday meeting with the product startup community. iSPIRT hosted  the “Conclave for India as Product Nation #1″, an open dialogue between the Product industry and the IT Minister.

What made it all the more special was that the he was the first IT Minister to meet with startups and also that he first met with the startups first before meeting officials from his ministry! The Minister met with the industry leaders, gave a patient hearing to the needs of the product startups and also saw presentations from 11 disruptive startups.

And here’s what the minister had to say after meeting with the startups!

So how did we pull this off? And what if I told you that it was all put together in 100 hours. We ourselves cannot quite understand how everything fell into place! But as Sharad often says, when a bunch of passionate volunteers come together towards a common cause, magic just happens. At iSPIRT, we take our volunteering quite seriously. No wonder then, that we actually have open sourced our volunteer model through a whitepaper to help other communities benefit from it!


A text message from Rajan on Saturday morning got me involved. Could we get on a call, he asked. There’s an iSPIRT event scheduled on Tuesday and some help was needed. We spoke and I got to know that there’s an interaction with the IT Minister scheduled on the coming Tuesday. As part of the interaction, we needed to put together a showcase of disruptive product startups to help the Minister get a sense of the kind of impactful work being done and the opportunities ahead. There was list of companies drawn from across various segments and stages, with whom we’d need to connect and get their availability for the event on Tuesday. Tapping into our network of volunteers (many of whom are themselves startup founders and industry leaders), we gathered the contact details of these companies and started reaching out to the companies. These were companies spread across the country and we checked with their founders if they’d be available to present. Based on the availability of teams and the some intense discussion and debate among the Program Managers for the showcase, a short list of the companies presenting on stage was drawn up. The thought process behind the selection of companies was to give the Minister a good view of the breadth (sectors where product startups are making an impact), the depth (companies that have achieved global market/tech leadership) and how far they can grow with sound support from the ecosystem, which includes the government as well. We were immensely privileged to have Mr. Mohandas Pai spare his valuable time for multiple meetings through the whole process and share his inputs on what kind of stories would make the maximum impact.

Product Leaders with the IT MinisterArriving at the shortlist was surely a good beginning. They say well begun is half done. But the tougher half lay ahead! We were already at Monday morning, and within the next 24 hours we had prep up the presenters. Each of the companies were to have a short, crisp presentation with the key points to be covered in under 4 minutes! Shekhar went about this with the precision of a toolmaker, thoroughness of a scientist and the strictness of a school teacher! From putting together notes on what points to cover, iterating multiple times with the presenting companies on their presentations over a sleepless night, to conducting the actual showcase in front of the minister, Shekhar was always on.

(That’s me on the left  trying to get the slides up!)

The event received some very good coverage in the media. Below are some links:

Here’s hoping that achchhe din are indeed ahead for the Indian software product industry!

Stories of small business owners who are paying for software in India

I used to come across a lot of people in India saying SME’s adopting software will always be DIM (Do-it-for-me) but then I thought hard about existing software users in India. Why would they use software day-in & day-out when they are not tech-savvy.

That itch got me to work with my friend Tejaswi Raghurama to dig into stories of small business owners who are paying for software in India and are using it themselves.

Some of their stories are truly inspirational and shed light on how you, the average Indian, who runs a business (and I am one of the tribe, too!) must go ahead and take the plunge to try a software for yourself. You will be surprised at how little help you’ll need from others.

Software for India Part 1 from ProductNation on Vimeo.

Let me explain what I mean with an example. I am a non-tech guy (I can’t code!) in a technology company. Whenever I wanted to run experiments on our website, I was heavily dependent on these 2 people (Kailash Shivku ) and I was sick of it! So, one fine day, I mustered up courage to try “Visual Website Optimizer ” to do some A/B testing. After spending the whole day interacting with their support team via email, I successfully pulled off a split testing on the website.

Till then, I felt like an over dependent bugger who couldn’t do anything to save his own life. There was a smile on my face walking home that evening. I felt free, I felt liberated and I today, a lot of technology & software drives my thinking and working style.

If I, a business owner who doesn’t have any knowledge of technology, am able to use it effectively to make independent business decisions, I have no doubt that every single business owner can. Make technology your best friend. It makes you independent, saves you time and helps you stay smart.

And guess what – team members, and employees should not be threatened by adoption of new technology – listen to what some of these folks had to say about using software to get work done everyday.

Share these stories with your friends and colleagues and get them to try a new software today, they won’t repent it, we promise!

Software for India Part 2 from ProductNation on Vimeo.

*A special thanks to Tejaswi for making the video, and @Practo @Nowfloats who’s teams helped us talk to their customers.

Want to get our attention? Talk to the founders of our portfolio companies! – Blume Ventures #ThinkInvestor

ThinkInvestor is iSPIRT and ProductNation’s new initiative to serve as a catalyst between Venture Capital firms, Angels, Angel Networks and Entrepreneurs. It is to go beyond brochure ware and dig deeper into the whole life cycle of a typical investment; from introductions, funding, styles of on-going engagement, to exits. And in the process, capture their views on global and local trends, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in India.

ThinkInvestor-BlumeVBlume Ventures is an early-stage seed & pre-series A venture fund based out of Mumbai, India. They provide seed funding in the range of $50K – $300K to early-stage tech-focused and tech-enabled ventures. They are proponents of a collaborative approach and like to co-invest with like-minded angels and seed funds. They then provide follow-on investments to stellar portfolio companies, ranging from $500K – $1.5 million.

ProductNation sat down with Karthik Reddy, Managing Partner, Blume Ventures for this interview. Here ‘s what we heard:

What made you focus on early stage investing in India? And your observations of this market?

Karthik Reddy - Blume VenturesAdoption of innovative technologies has always been a challenge in India. Early on we realized that growth has to come from other global markets like the US or Europe. We also realized that there was a huge gap in the venture market in India for investments between $150K and $3M. Our intention in our first fund was to bridge these gaps. They proved to be larger than what we thought initially. The venture market at the top of the funnel (late stage) was very wide, the middle had also widened but the lower end offered opportunities for us. But this market has its own problems – bridging the gap between this level of funding and the next stage. Series A funding of companies has been a continuing problem but we have found ways to bridge these gaps. However, with our next fund to be raised next year, we plan to stick to the same strategy, but with a larger fund.

What has been the effect of exits like redBus.In on the Indian ecosystem? Do you think that this improves the outlook for more early stage investing?

Yes. Exits like are good for various things in the Indian ecosystem. If not for the individual exit, more examples like redBus are needed sorely. Typically, companies like those take around 8 years to enter, and exit. The public markets are not good options as yet for exits. We do not as yet have a culture of acquisitions within India. Indian companies don’t do them. Companies like Naukri should really consider acquisitions and grow inorganically. Large companies in the US are beginning to take notice of possible acquisitions in India and have started doing some cross-border transactions.  This kind of ecosystem did not exist but things are beginning to change. We still have a huge need for innovative ideas. Ideas that can get built into $40M to $50M companies and get exits are key to putting the ecosystem into higher gear.

How does an entrepreneur get your attention? What kinds of start-ups interest you? How does an entrepreneur get in touch with you?

We are driven by themes. We are not reactive investors. We are interested in Smartphone/Mobile plays and are not interested in web applications. If we see a plan first addressing a web version of an application we are not interested, but those that go straight to a mobile app will get our attention. Our themes are chosen so that they can grow fast and get to a Series A comfortably. The entrepreneur needs to think like a VC and ensure that whatever they are working on is capable of such growth. Founders of our portfolio companies know our themes best. Get in touch with them, see if there is a mapping between what you do, and what we are interested in. Get one of the founders to introduce you to us after this initial filtering. This way, you won’t waste your time and you will get our attention! We do get cold referrals that go through our associates and it will be a long winded process. If you come through the founders of our portfolio companies it will be faster and it can also make sure that there is a mapping between what you are thinking and what our investment themes are. We get 60 to 70% of the introductions like this, with 125+ founders in our portfolio network.

Let’s say there is a mapping between a start-up company and your VC firm. What happens next? What are your typical due diligence efforts? How long does it take for an investment?

We are primarily looking for leadership in these companies that can survive the long haul of entrepreneurship. Can they survive the first year of marriage, primarily between the co-founders? Do they have 2 to 3 layers of leadership in the start-up, not just a single layer with the co-founders! And are the co-founders super-compatible with each other? We have seen too many founder breakups! We are not looking for problem solvers – people who solve a problem with a technical solution. We are looking for business builders. Can they build a business around it? They are not the same! In 1 or 2 meetings (in 2 or 3 weeks) you can get an idea of whether we want to proceed ahead with due diligence or let you know that the fit between our themes and your business is not there. If you can find co-investors on your own is a positive thing in your favor. The ability to excite other investors is key to us. The ability to line up other clients or customers during this period is important to us. We look for some red flags during the due diligence period – like being very casual about relationships or client opportunities. The fastest investments have been made in 4 to 5 months from introductions. The slowest ones have taken 12 to 18 months. The latter ones are usually because of syndicated investments.

Let’s say a start-up gets funded by you. How hands-on or hands-off are you with your portfolio company? What’s your style of engagement with a portfolio company?

Portfolio companies should consider us a Super-Concierge on Demand. They should be comfortable with knowing exactly when we are needed and come to us. In the early stages they come to us with quite a few problems for advice and guidance. Luckily our founder network usually has many of the answers.  We have a Google group for our portfolio company, sort of a private Quora. This helps solve 70 to 80% of the problems our start-ups face. Someone has come across most of the problems any new portfolio company is facing.  Typically these will be questions like whether to incorporate in the US or not. We are more like a platform than a VC firm in that sense, an 18-24 month accelerator program. We are as hands-on or hands-off with companies as needed. We do take a board seat as a seed investor and invariably meet with each portfolio company in person, at least every couple of months.

Let’s talk about going beyond the early stage funding and getting to the next level of funding and growth.

Series A funding  is becoming more difficult with the bar being set higher and higher. There are only 10 to 12 active Series A investors in India doing 1 or 2 investments a year. With such a thin ecosystem for Series A investing, pitching the wrong partner may mean not getting funded. The other problem is making these businesses 10X propositions for Series A (they are not interested in 5X business plans)  that require these companies to become $200M companies. We do bridge rounds that can get start-ups to get the growth necessary to qualify for a Series A funding. We are planning to raise a larger fund next time so that we can make these kinds of deeper investments.

Do you think it is possible to build a $200M company focused on the Indian market?

Yes. There are some promising areas in India that has that potential – travel or taxi services. Technology solutions like Knowlarity, NowFloats, and Exotel have that potential. The Enterprise market in India is too slow but the SME market in India has the potential to build some $200M companies. That market will also explode only when the smartphone/mobile market in India leapfrogs. The SaaS market, especially when built for a global market could grow a few $200M companies.  We are optimistic overall and feel that lots of opportunities are yet to come.

Now, let’s talk about Exits. What do you see coming in this area?

The subject of realistic venture exits is the one that somewhat dictates what the focus of a start-up should have been. Hoping to get acquired by a company in India is somewhat unrealistic. However, there are a number of companies in the US that have started coming to India to acquire Indian companies and grow inorganically. Autodesk is hiring a person in India to look for such companies, They have done a number of acquisitions already. Unfortunately, the Indian arms of Google and Yahoo are not empowered to make acquisitions.There are some companies like WebEngage and OrangeScape that are focused on foreign markets that could make good acquisition targets for companies outside India.

What about some parting advice for entrepreneurs?

Go outside India for markets. You cannot grow fast enough to raise funding and grow focusing on Indian markets currently. This is true especially if you are a technology play. Someone in Silicon Valley could start 2 years later than a company in India and beat them to it if a company is growing only in India. Grow fast and get acquired!


Design in Indian Startups

A brief look at the state of the Indian startup ecosystem from the lens of design and how well it is understood or misunderstood. How the next generation of the technology startups are battling the design challenge in a globally connected ecosystem for the right consumer audience.

According to Dave McClure the founding team of a startup should include the holy trinity of a hacker, hustler and a designer. In simple terms a dream team comprising of members responsible for the technology, business/marketing and the design. Dave is no stranger to entrepreneurship or India, and as the founding partner at 500Startups (internet startup seed fund and incubator program based in Mountain View, CA) each of their accelerator programs have seen interest and presence from a number of Indian startups.

“Holy trinity of hacker, hustler and a designer”

This then begets the question of what exactly is an “Indian startup”? Unlike Israel a nation known both for its military prowess and high-technology startups along with the fact that it has the highest per-capita VC investment in the world. Startups in India like the nation itself conform to no unifying sector or theme. On one hand we have Delhi based Langhar helping connect foodies with authentic home cooked local cuisines on the other we see SarkariExam a portal dedicated to helping people find government jobs. Even after applying the filter of technology and technology enabled startups with their constantly blurring boundaries in the internet & mobile space, the bandwidth of the spectrum is still large.

If one goes by the estimates of AngelList, a platform dedicated towards the startups and the investors; there are 1500+ startups in India. This by no mean implies that all of them would be independently successful or have a profitable exit. Many of them would eventually shut shop and might not even exist the next summer. Despite this uncertainty and the increasing belief of Indian founders in their idea have led to a rising entrepreneurial activity. Catering to everybody from the hyper local audiences to products specifically built for the customers abroad. Helping us establish the fact that there is no single way to explain or define as to what constitutes an Indian startup. If question of the Indian-ness wasn’t tough enough the attention to design has increased the complexity of the understanding manifold. Invariantly a handful of startups like Cleartrip (travel), Zomato (food), Paytm (payment) and Hike (messaging) have become the poster boys for the best designed products being built in and in certain cases for India. This then progresses us to our next challenge of “What is design in the context of the startups and what is the role of the designer?”

Depending upon who do you ask, one is bound to get various forms and interpretation of what constitutes design? Making it easy to complicate things for the humble hackers and the hustlers trying to fathom as to why their designer is unable to deliver in the face of the challenge for their startup. Going over from formal the definitions provided in academic institutions of design being ‘a noun and a verb’ to the one followed by design practitioners whereby they try to highlight the difference between “art and design”. One thing that emerges is that, design has been and will always remain at its core a form of problem solving.

“Design has been and will always remain at its core a form of problem solving”

Had things been as black and white as they seem we wouldn’t have startups explaining their design strategy in terms of the visual design. Or in the case they understand the value of design keep looking for that one mythical designer who could solve all their problems. With the ever changing relationship and interaction of humans with technology; and it’s constantly evolving nature the boundaries of what explicitly is the job of a designer or the hacker is quickly overlapping.

Take the case of Rasagy Sharma who after finishing his undergraduate degree in computer science & engineering joined a Bangalore based startup as their UX Designer. One of the first ‘design’ hires in the team comprising of hackers, leading him to explain his role to the people around him. If the challenge of understanding what exactly entails in these new design roles wasn’t tricky enough, Rasagy highlights the emerging debate of ‘Should designers code?’ “The answers vary from the extremes of ‘Designers can code and should code’ to ‘Designer cannot code and is not expected to code’ with a comfortable middle ground emerging in the form of ‘Designer can code but is not expected to code’ ” says Rasagy.

“Designer can code but is not expected to code”

But if there is no one designer who can solve all of the problems of the startups which range from visual design & interaction design to in certain cases industrial design; and finding the talent is tough. Then shouldn’t we see the limited resources of the startups being spent on the function (technology) than form (design and by extension user experience)? One of the most interesting theme to emerge while talking to a number startups as a part of the research was their unanimous agreement in pushing design forward for their product. Neeraj Sabharwal who heads the design at the Hyderabad based NowFloats quotes Tom Peters when he says “The dumbest mistake is viewing design as something you do at the end of the process to ‘tidy up’ the mess, as opposed to understanding it’s a ‘day one’ issue and part of everything.” Even in the case where the technical founders thought of design as nothing more than a marketing gimmick they did approve of increasing the resources dedicated to certain design activities by either hiring talent or outsourcing the process. And putting the bill under what they felt was the ‘cost of customer acquisition’.

The cost of starting an internet business is decreasing by the year and in no other period of history have we seen more entrepreneurial activity than the present. Faced with the simple market forces of consumer choice, a positive user experiences is a simple measure of how efficiently the technology works to help the user achieve his goals. In a somewhat surprising trend that in hindsight makes perfect sense, some of the best designed startups being built in the country include a designer as a part of the founding or the founders atleast have the design aesthetics in place to drive things forward.

Eventifier is being built in the southern city of Chennai at The Startup Center. Eventifier helps keep all the social media chatter around an event including the conversation, photos, videos, presentation decks in a single place. They are one of the few startups using the hacker, hustler and the designer approach since the day they began. Mohammed Saud holds the mantle of the Chief Design Officer and one would give weight to his belief when he says “Being equally proficient in all facets of design even when their underlying principle might be the same is difficult.” His solution is the one that is increasingly becoming common, become proficient in one form of design yet understands the other well enough to guide somebody with your vision. A similar ideology was put forth by Arun Jay, who amongst a number of other claims holds the post of the principle designer at SlideShare and the senior UX designer at LinkedIn. By academic training Arun began as a communication designer but his experience with film making, photography and web based technologies makes him the ideal choice for the unicorn designers so many startups look for.

But it wouldn’t be fun if there weren’t a few startups breaking the mould. HealthifyMe and NowFloats are two startups which were a part of the Microsoft Accelerator program in Bangalore. On one hand we have Neeraj Sabharwal from NowFloats with no formal training in the various disciplines of design yet relying on his industry experience and understanding of design thinking principles to lead the charge. On the other we have Tushar Vashisht co-founder of HealthifyMe attributing the fact that “Lack of a dedicated designer in the founding team even with the team valuing design, cost them precious resources in the decision making and product building exercise. With HealthifyMe treating the user experience as an integral part of the product building process getting Rohan Gupta as a designer onboard has positively affected our shipping time.”

But believing that a well-designed product is the end all in the product building exercise would be plain naïve. Design is one of the integral processes amongst the host of other responsibilities held by the hustlers and the hackers which make a product successful. Brij Vaghani is the founder of live traffic monitoring service, Traffline which currently operates in three metropolitan cities. His team is working in close association with a design studio for the soon to be launching next version of their product. “Even though we understood the value of design, the founding team relied upon our core strengths of technology in the early stages of the product. An approach which we feel might have had an impact on the metrics we use to track the product success but something that was within permissible levels”

Where are we headed? Great design and technology have always existed. The founders are still looking for that elusive designer who can handle all their design problems, but as unicorns go those beings are still rare to find. The consumer internet is nearly twenty years old, the smartphone nearly six and the tablet less than four. Yet the potential of the startups building upon and specifically for these platforms is seeing an exponential growth. We haven’t even begun scratching the surface of the potential and can’t predict the trajectory of the startup economy in India serving an internal audience of a billion plus people and catering to those abroad. But the fact remains that the designers seem to have finally found a voice and Indian startups are rearing for them to go.

Author’s Note: This article was written for a collaborative publication: Create Change for Kyoorius Designyatra 2013 produced by Kyoorius and British Council, India and is a part of British Council’s design writing programme.

The post has been slightly modified for the web by adding of the appropriate hyperlinks to the startups and the resources mentioned to aide the reader. You can download the PDF version of the print magazine in all its glory here. The article is on page sixty-nine.

Showcase of 8 Innovative companies for #IndiaInternetDay – A TiE event

It’s here! The India Internet Day(a TiE event) celebration is beginning, and you’re all a part of it. You may be an outelier, an insider, a veteran, an investor, a trend spotter, an experimentor or an industry driver, but this is your go-to event this year.

Why? We’re looking at the long-term horizon and paradigm shifts in the internet industry globally and translating that in the Indian context. We will debate and discuss strategic drivers of the industry and will attract the top players.

Eight Indian startups get their “4 minutes of fame” at the event – an unprecedented happening. No wonder that when we opened the call for applications, we received more than 55 of them.

The competition was tight, and the job of the jury was not easy. The jury – Rajiv Prakash(Next in Advisory Partners , Saumya Meattle (ModuleOne), Srikant Sastri (Vivaki), Vivek Agarwal (Liqvid eLearning) and Vimalendu Verma (Magic Software) – rated the startups on the following parameters: originality, impact, practicability and applicability of the Innovation. After a lot many conversations and debates, 8 companies were shortlisted.

The big question: Will you be there to see the innovations being put forward by these companies? Next year could well be your turn.

Bluegape helps brands in setting up fan merchandising stores. Fan merchandising is ignored by most brands in India and is also a unique way of promotion for brands.

Cite Communities is an open online community for management professionals and serves more than 28 lakh people worldwide. The community offers a free-to-use knowledgebase with a discussion forum. This is where professionals can share career-related queries, which are answered by experts and mentors. The trump card? Anonymity.

Dineout is a table reservation website that enables customers to book a table, online and on the phone, at their favourite restaurants in town. It provides fantastic discounts – something not on offer if customers go to a restaurant directly.

Huntshire helps solve the problem of finding the right talent in a given time frame. Right now, companies must post vacancies on job websites and wait for 30 days to get maximum applications. Post this, the candidates are screened. The entire process takes 30-45 days. Huntshire does all this in 3 days, eliminating the need for a two-step process.

PerfectMyEnglish is a Web and Mobile App enabling tangible improvements in English communication skills for students and professionals. They offer personalised mentorship, detailed analytics, spoken English skill remediation through VoIP services and end-to-end solutions, helping businesses and recruiters achieve key English training and assessment objectives.

NowFloats: With 850M mobile phones (over 90 per cent feature phones) and SMS being a pervasive technology, NowFloats enables creation and updating of websites through SMS for small and medium businesses in India. Smartphone owners can use mobile Apps.

MindHelix: Sentinel is the first app designed with women’s security in mind. The app can send instant alerts in case of any problems. A forced power-off of the phone or an improper exit of the application will trigger an alert to be sent. Prolonged signal loss will also cause a ‘fail safe’ alert SMS and email to be sent from the company’s server.

Mobile Harvest is a two-way oral and intuitive literacy neutral community and networking platform, much like an oral Wikipedia for our emerging billion. It attempts to bring the benefits of social media to people who are not comfortable with reading or writing. 

NowFloats – Getting small businesses online in 4 SMSes and 13 minutes!

NowFloats – Getting small businesses online in 4 SMSes and 13 minutes! 

I love clear mission statements, and NowFloats couldn’t be clearer:

9.6 million small and medium businesses need a website. Only 0.6 million have one. That’s 9 million tasks on our desk (and that’s just in India!)

I recently got a chance to catch up with Ronak and Jasminder (Jas), 2 of the cofounders of this exciting company called NowFloats that aims to bring SMBs online, without making them sweat over it (other 2 co-founders are Nitin Jain and Neeraj Sabharwal) . NowFloats is a team of 20 (4 founders, 4 tech, others in sales and support), based out of Hyderabad, though their customers are spread all over India. Overall, I was very excited by what I listened and saw, I sense that NowFloat holds immense possibilities for small businesses and has all the right ingredients to be successful in its mission.

The problem for small businesses

Given increasing reliance of users on search, it is becoming important for offline small businesses to have an online presence. An online presence needs to have discoverability (users know that you exist), engagement (users interact with you and like you), and conversion (users visit your offline business). However, when creating such an online presence, a small business has to grapple with 3 problems:

  1. Creating a website takes too much time and effort – even for tech-savvy type, which a small business owner is not.
  2. Updates require engaging website developer again – too much effort and dependency
  3. Online marketing is hard and expensive, and requires digital marketing expertise, not something a small business owner has

Standard option currently for a small business is to do nothing about online presence; very few businesses hire someone to create, maintain and market their site which is very expensive option without clear ROI.

NowFloats solves this problem for small business in an easy-to-use manner at an extremely affordable pricing.

NowFloats Promise

NowFloats promises to allow a business owner to create a website in 4 messages and in less than 13 minutes – send the name and address of your business, website name you desire, and your website is ready to use! If you wish to update the site (messages on message board or updating any of the original details you provided while creating the site), it is as simple as sending another message.

It may look like a simple and easy website to create, but it packs a lot of punch:

  1. Site and every message are geo-tagged, which means local searches will show up your website and deep-link to your message.
  2. Your website and each message is search engine optimized
  3. Each update is a page so it can be shared by your customers on social networks, which again has endless social, search and business possibilities.
  4. Visitors can subscribe to get all subsequent updates, or leave message for you to follow up with them 

NowFloats – The Product

Design: NowFloats is a very well-designed product. Their company website as well as the customer sites are beautiful in their minimalist and pleasing design.

Technology: They have a scalable architecture, built using Microsoft technologies. They have 4 patents filed and 2-3 are on the way. They offer subdomains under in addition to allowing customers to use their own domain names if they wish – like Body Granite Gym and The Courtyard & Cafe Courtyard do.

Analytics: They care deeply about analytics that customers get about their online visitors. Businesses get weekly information about how their site is doing (# of page views in a week). On their product roadmap, they have features to provide details like which messages got max view, keywords which generated maximum views, etc., goal being to show what type of content is attracting maximum traffic.

Pricing: Pricing Plans (5K to 12.5K a year) are very competitive, given that even hosting a site costs 3-5K a year.  NowFloats is still reviewing pricing strategies based on market feedback so expect this to change soon.

Test-driving NowFloats

As I took the service for test-drive, here are my impressions:

  1. It is very easy to set this up indeed. I was up and running with in less than 10 minutes.
  2. As soon as the site was created, I got a call from their customer service. They wanted to confirm my identity and walk me through the next steps, including collecting payments.
  3. I realized I picked a wrong name for my business, so I wanted to change. A call to customer support informed me that they will have to do the change for me, though an app is coming which will allow self-service. Later I found it was only partially true, the name (and many other details of the business) can be updated through SMS messages even now. I promptly used the service.
  4. I wanted to update the site using my laptop, but changes can only be done using SMS, upcoming app, or customer support. I find this a little annoying.
  5. I tried to get creative and sent an html fragment as an SMS message, which created a broken message on the site. Given that I can’t update it online; this requires me to call customer support. Later I was told how to do this, and also given the current target audience, this is not an often used feature.

Customer Acquisition

Clearly small businesses see value in NowFloats offering. In a short span, they have 1600+ customers live, including customers like Hazzel Ice Cream Cafe and Dr. Chandrika’s Kerala Ayurveda . I was fascinated by the variety of customers they have attracted, including my favorite restaurant in Hyderabad, a Nokia Priority franchisee, and even a personal branding site. These sites are discoverable (through geo-tagging, auto-generated tags and other SEO techniques, sites and messages come up in ahead in all search results) and drive engagement (users subscribe to the messages, businesses get notified when someone subscribes or shows an interest). Conversion (people visiting the business) is hard to track and NowFloats team is working on some solutions that will allow such tracking.

NowFloats has multiple approaches and channels to acquire customers:

  1. Geography: Started out with targeting Hyderabad businesses. Currently they are focused on Bangalore businesses. The goal is to have pan-India sales presence soon through partnerships and other means and continue to expand city by city.
  2. Catagory: One of the innovative ways they target a particular category is to target the franchise business owners of a particular brand. For example, they have brought many Nokia Priority franchisee owners online, same with Printo. Given the huge number of franchisees in India, this seems to be a winning sales strategy.
  3. Partnerships: They have a shop-in-a-shop model with Printo. Since Printo serves much of the same customer segment as NowFloats but with a complimentary service, this is a great move to gain customers.  They are exploring similar partnerships with complimentary service providers.

Couple of other things I would like them to focus on:

  1. Online Presence: I can’t discover NowFloats online. Google search for getting my business online didn’t say anything about them in first 3-4 pages. I think they need to make their discoverability better as they go forward.
  2. Social: Small businesses thrive on communities and loyal customers who like the service they get. One of the best ways to reach small businesses is to tap into this community and loyal customer base, through social or other platforms. I would love to introduce NowFloats to the small shops I visit near me, but there is no good way for me to do so.

Competition and Differentiation

When I researched around, surprisingly, there aren’t many cost effective ways for small businesses to create online presence. India Get Online program from Google aims to get Indian businesses online and are a viable option for a small business. However, I think NowFloats offers a more targeted and sustainable product, that can potentially complement the Google offering.

Google’s strategy is to get a basic site up for you so that you are visible in local searches, to stay visible. NowFloats focuses on getting a site for you and market it online for you, thus helping you stay focused on what you do best – run your business.

What Future holds for NowFloats

I see NowFloats extending itself in 3 areas:

  1. Richer Eco-system: NowFloats plays in the local search space through their mobile app. A successful ‘NowFloats for business’ means rich data about local businesses available for their app to make use of. Controlling the supply of rich data from small, local businesses has lots of grand possibilities.
  2. Richer Revenue Models: Currently, there revenue is subscription-based, and it may be hard to show how an investment of 12500/- per year translates into increased traffic (and revenue) in their offline business. Their goal is to evolve newer revenue models that can directly tie NowFloats revenue with SMBs revenue, thereby creating a symbiotic and sticky relationships.
  3. Richer engagement with businesses – Businesses need many services as soon as they realize the potential of an online presence. Selling online, driving deals, building software solutions for their businesses, etc. all can be offered once the business is on-boarded.

Power of an idea lies in simplicity and pervasiveness. After I talked to NowFloats team, I have been observing small shops around me in a new light. If the great little corner shop selling briefs could be easily discoverable, If my favorite restaurant in Greater Noida could be more engaging, if the grocery shop in my apartment complex had an easier way to let me know of his deals, I am sure these businesses would benefit immensely. And it is so simple for them to do so now – by using NowFloats. Nowfloats is a very powerful idea whose time has come – may all the power be with small businesses and NowFloats!