16-Mar AI/ML & Data Readiness Teardown Roundtable

iSPIRT is announcing the first AI Teardown roundtables. The focus of this first teardown RT will be an honest review of the data readiness for your machine learning strategy.

The AI Teardown Agenda

Of the many problems startups on the AI/ML journey face one of the most critical is with their data readiness.

Most startups on the AI journey struggle to get sufficient data to build effective ML models. Further, data privacy has increased the complexity of sharing data, which now resides in distant silos. While internal proprietary data is a rich source of patterns, often times it is incomplete.

This teardown roundtable will primarily focus on helping founders resolve many of the queries like:

  • Do I have the right data?
  • How can I source/collect more data to get completeness?
  • How to clean & prepare data for training?
  • How much data do I really need?
  • Are we using the right model/algorithm?
  • Do I have a virtuous cycle of data in my product?

If you are a B2B SaaS startup in the early phases of building an AI-enabled product value then this playbookRT will be a great opportunity to get critical feedback and resolve many queries from our Mavens and fellow peers.

Click to Register for the AI Teardown PlaybooksRT. (limited invites)

Our Mavens

 

 

 

 

 

Ramesh Loganathan IIIT Hyderabad

Puneet Jindal Eduwaive

 

This is a product startup founder/CXO (+1) invite-only events. Venue details will be sent along with the confirmation of your registration.

RoundTables are facilitated by an iSPIRT maven who is an accomplished practitioner of that Round-Table theme. All iSPIRT playbooks are Pro-bono, Closed room, Founder (+1), invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend the sessions completely and to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

9-Mar AI/ML & Data Readiness Teardown Roundtable

iSPIRT is announcing the first AI Teardown roundtables. The focus of this first teardown RT will be an honest review of the data readiness for your machine learning strategy.

The AI Teardown Agenda

Of the many problems startups on the AI/ML journey face one of the most critical is with their data readiness.

Most startups on the AI journey struggle to get sufficient data to build effective ML models. Further, data privacy has increased the complexity of sharing data, which now resides in distant silos. While internal proprietary data is a rich source of patterns, often times it is incomplete.

This teardown roundtable will primarily focus on helping founders resolve many of the queries like:

  • Do I have the right data?
  • How can I source/collect more data to get completeness?
  • How to clean & prepare data for training?
  • How much data do I really need?
  • Are we using the right model/algorithm?
  • Do I have a virtuous cycle of data in my product?

If you are a B2B SaaS startup in the early phases of building an AI-enabled product value then this playbookRT will be a great opportunity to get critical feedback and resolve many queries from our Mavens and fellow peers.

Click to Register for the AI Teardown PlaybooksRT. (limited invites)

Our Mavens

 

 

 

 

 

Adarsh Natarajan Aindra

Shrikanth Jagannathan PipeCandy

Puneet Jindal Eduwaive

 

This is a product startup founder/CXO (+1) invite-only events. Venue details will be sent along with the confirmation of your registration.

RoundTables are facilitated by an iSPIRT maven who is an accomplished practitioner of that Round-Table theme. All iSPIRT playbooks are Pro-bono, Closed room, Founder (+1), invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend the sessions completely and to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

1-Mar Drones & the Digital Sky PlaybookRT for Bharat Entrepreneurs

The govt recently launched Digital Sky – an enabling platform for Drones. With the new regulations, who will be the winners and who will lose? What is the best long-term winning play for your startup? Join other companies and the iSPIRT team behind Digital Sky in our playbook roundtable to know more.

Click to Register for the DigitalSky playbookRT. (limited invites)

Our Maven

Tanuj Bhojwani

iSPIRT Foundation

 

 

 

This is a product startup founder/CXO (+1) invite-only events. Venue details will be sent along with the confirmation of your registration.

RoundTables are facilitated by an iSPIRT maven who is an accomplished practitioner of that Round-Table theme. All iSPIRT playbooks are Pro-bono, Closed room, Founder (+1), invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend the sessions completely and to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

A Platform is in the Eye of the Beholder

The distinction between whether you are building a platform or a product should be made primarily to align your internal stakeholders to a particular strategic direction, as we learned in the recent iSPIRT round table.

[This is a guest post By Ben Merton]

“So are we a platform, or are we a product?” I said last month to my co-founder, Lakshman, as we put the finishing touches to our new website.

We’d been discussing the same question for about a year. The subject now bore all the characteristics of something unpleasant that refuses to flush.

However, the pressure had mounted. We now had to commit something to the menu bar.

“I think we’re a product.”

“But we want to be a platform.”

“Okay, let’s put platform then…But isn’t it a little pretentious to claim you’re a platform when you’re not?”

Eventually, we agreed to a feeble compromise: we were building a platform, made up of products.

Job done.

At least, that is, until #SaaSBoomi in Chennai last month.

Manav Garg, who has considerably more experience than both me and Lakshman at building platforms, put up the following slide:

Product = Solving a specific problem or use case

Platform = Solving multiple problems on a common infrastructure

“Here we go again”, I could hear Lakshman say to himself after I Whatsapped him the image.

“That’s his definition. It doesn’t have to be ours,” he replied tersely, “What does he mean by ‘use case’, anyway?”

“I don’t know.”

I’m in awe of the entrepreneurs who seem to bypass these semantic quandaries.

You know, the ones who say stuff like “Stop thinking so much. Just sell stuff. Make customers happy.”

For me, these are the type of questions I need to chew over for hours in bed at night.

I was therefore excited to be invited to the iSPIRT round table at EGL last week, where the topic of discussion was “Transform B2B SaaS with #PlatformThinking”. The roundtable was facilitated by iSPIRT mavens Avlesh SinghShivku Ganesan & Sampad Swain.

It takes a lot to get 20 tech founders & their leaders to travel after work from all over the city to sit in a room for three hours with no alcohol.  Fortunately, the organisers had promised a lot.  The topic description was:  

“Enable a suite of products, high interoperability, and seamless data flow for customers. This peer-learning playbookRT will help product to platform thinkers develop an effective journey through this transformation” was the topic description.”

The meeting was governed by Chatham House rules, meaning we can’t discuss the name or affiliation of those involved.

However, along with our founder mavens of large, well-known Indian technology businesses, there were 15 or so less illustrious but equally enthusiastic founders (& their +1s), including myself.

The discussions started with an overview of the experiences and lessons that had been learned by some of those who had successfully built a platform.

“We define a use case as a configuration of APIs…” the founder of a cloud communication platform started. This was going to be interesting.

“Why did you define it that way?” I asked.

“Based on observations of our business.”

I began to understand that the term ‘use case’ was being used differently by platform and product companies.  

“A use case of a platform is usually tangential but complementary to the core business. A use case for a product is something that just solves a problem,” someone clarified, guaranteeing me a slightly more restful night.

As the discussions continued, it also became clear that there were a large number of possible markers that distinguish a platform from a product, but there was no agreement on the exact composition.

To resolve the impasse, we listed out the names of well-known technology companies to build a consensus on whether they were a platform or a product.

Suffice to say, we failed to reach any consensus.  The conversation went something like this:

“Stripe?”

“Platform.”

“Product.”

“A suite of products.”

“AirBNB?”

“A marketplace.”

“A marketplace built on a platform.”

Etc etc

Even companies that initially appeared to be dyed-in-the-wool platforms like Segment and Zapier eventually had someone or the other questioning the underlying assumptions.

“Why can’t they be products?” murmured voices of dissent at the back of the room.

This was going nowhere. A few people sought solace from the cashew nuts that had been placed on conference table in front of us.

“Does the customer care whether you’re a product or a platform?” someone said.

Finally, something everyone could agree on. The customer doesn’t care.  Your product or platform just needs to solve a problem for them.

“Then why does any of this matter at all?” became the obvious next question.

“I found it mattered hugely in setting the direction of the company, especially for the engineering and design teams,” the Co-Founder of a large payment gateway said.

“And investors?”

“Yes, of course. And investors. However, I think the biggest impact that our decision to build a platform had on my business was in the design more than anything else,” he explained, “For the engineering team, it was just a question of ‘we need this to integrate with this’. But the UX/UI and the…language… needed to be thought about very carefully because of this decision.”

“So, in effect, the platform/product debate is primarily a proxy for the cultural direction of the company?”

“Exactly.”

Logically, therefore, the only way you can really understand whether a company is a platform or a product is to have an insight into the direction its management wishes to take it.

A company might appear to be a product from the outside but, since it intends to evolve into a platform, it needs to start aligning its internal stakeholders to this evolution much earlier.

“So, a startup like mine should call itself a platform even if we are years away from actually being one?” I asked cautiously after I had enough time to process these insights.

“Yes,” was the resounding, satisfying response that virtually guaranteed me a full night’s sleep.

“And when should the actual transition from product to platform happen?”

“Well, Jason Lemkin says it should happen only when your ARR reaches USD 15m-20m, but that’s just another of those rules that doesn’t apply in India,” the co-founder of a marketing automation software said.

“The important thing is that this transition – when it does happen – is very hard for businesses,” he continued, “There is a lot of risk, but it opens up new revenue streams, helps you scale and build a moat.  We hugely benefited from our decision to become a platform, but it was tough.”

It’s unlikely that we completely resolved the product vs platform debate for all founders. However, I feel that all of us came away from that meeting with a deeper insight into the subject.

Ultimately, whether you’re building a product or a platform will depend on your perspective. Most companies lie somewhere in between.

Where does your company lie on this sliding scale? And if that makes you a platform vs. a product, does it make any difference to the way you think?

We want to thank Techstars India for hosting the first of the roundtables on this critical topic.

Ben Merton

Ben is a Co-Founder of Unifize, a B2B SaaS company that builds a communication platform for manufacturing and engineering teams. He is also a contributor for various publications on business, technology and entrepreneurship, including the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and Business Standard. You can follow him on LinkedIn here, and Twitter here.

© Ben Merton 2018

Featured Image: Source: https://filosofiadavidadiaria.blogspot.com/2018/01/o-principio-mistico-da-verdadeira-causa.html

31-Jan Transforming to Platform Products B2B SaaS PlaybookRT

Traditionally, how many Indian SAAS companies have managed to become platforms so far? Very few.

Customers needs are changing as they seek more flexibility to use their data to solve a wide range of business problems. They prefer a suite of tools instead of buying multiple single point products. For SaaS startups, the way to compete with larger incumbents like a salesforce is not by doing another better CRM product, but by being a better AI-enabled platform which is based on interoperability across a gamut of systems.

Startups building platforms to enable collaboration with partners and solving a comprehensive customer problem will disrupt those building piecemeal products. This playbook will help product to platform thinkers develop an effective journey through this transformation.

If you are a SaaS startup that is ready to embark or already started on the platform approach, this playbookRT will be a great forum for sharing & learning from our Mavens and peers on the challenges and focus areas.

Click to Register for the Platform Products PlaybooksRT. (limited invites)

Our Mavens

Avlesh Singh, Founder WebEngage

There’s been a significant difference in the way we build our product now. We have unlocked a lot of value by converting ourselves into a platform from being a tool.

 

 

Shivku Ganesan, Founder Exotel

The platform approach allows us to differentiate use cases from products.

 

 

This is a product startup founder/CXO (+1) invite-only events. Venue details will be sent along with the confirmation of your registration.

RoundTables are facilitated by an iSPIRT maven who is an accomplished practitioner of that Round-Table theme. All iSPIRT playbooks are Pro-bono, Closed room, Founder (+1), invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend the sessions completely and to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

17-Dec Developing Strategic Partnerships for B2B SaaS PlaybookRT

How is developing partnerships different from selling to customers? What are the Dos & Dont’s? What can you expect on this journey? Get inspired by direct insights from CloudCherry’s experience on building partnerships with companies like Microsoft, Cisco, Nielsen, Salesforce and more. Interact with founders on this critical aspect of building partnerships for growth & scale. The partnerships playbook will help clarify these and other deeper questions on building Deep Strategic Partnerships.

We are building a new cohort of 20 startups for our Potential Strategic Partnerships program. If you are interested to be part of the cohort this playbookRT is a requirement.

Click to Register for the Strategic Partnerships Playbooks Track. (limited invites)

Our Maven

 

Vinod Muthukrishnan

Founder CloudCherry

 

 

This is a product startup founder/CXO (+1) invite-only events. Venue details will be sent along with the confirmation of your registration.

RoundTables are facilitated by an iSPIRT maven who is an accomplished practitioner of that Round-Table theme. All iSPIRT playbooks are Pro-bono, Closed room, Founder (+1), invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend the sessions completely and to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

8-Dec Digital Lending PlaybookRT for Bharat Entrepreneurs

With the maturity and large-scale adoption of digital payments & UPI, GST,  and an upcoming public credit registry, there is a unique opportunity to re-imagine credit products for Bharat MSMEs like never before. The digitization is set to generate significant value, moving from the traditional asset-based lending to flow based lending. Join us for an interactive roundtable on what is required for this transformation?

Click to Register for the Digital Lending playbookRT. (limited invites)

Our Maven

Praveen Hari

iSPIRT Foundation

 

 

This is a product startup founder/CXO (+1) invite-only events. Venue details will be sent along with the confirmation of your registration.

RoundTables are facilitated by an iSPIRT maven who is an accomplished practitioner of that Round-Table theme. All iSPIRT playbooks are Pro-bono, Closed room, Founder (+1), invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend the sessions completely and to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

4-Dec Drones & the Digital Sky PlaybookRT for Bharat Entrepreneurs

The govt is soon to launch Digital Sky – an enabling platform for Drones. With the new regulations, who will be the winners and who will lose? What is the best long-term winning play for your startup? Join other companies and the iSPIRT team behind Digital Sky in our playbook roundtable to know more.

Click to Register for the DigitalSky playbookRT. (limited invites)

Our Maven

Tanuj Bhojwani

iSPIRT Foundation

 

 

 

This is a product startup founder/CXO (+1) invite-only events. Venue details will be sent along with the confirmation of your registration.

RoundTables are facilitated by an iSPIRT maven who is an accomplished practitioner of that Round-Table theme. All iSPIRT playbooks are Pro-bono, Closed room, Founder (+1), invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend the sessions completely and to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

24-Nov Deep Strategic Partnerships PlaybookRT In Bangalore

Strategic Partnerships is one of the 3 shifts for SaaS, and Vijay Rayapati provided very grounded insights on partnership building at SaaSx5. One of the takeaways was that pitching to a strategic partner is very different than pitching to an investor or even to a customer.

The partnership mindset is different from sales, says Abhishek. Come, join us to learn ‘How do you change your perspective from acquiring customers to cultivating partners? Why partnerships are critical? What are the tangible and intangible outcomes?’ The partnerships playbook will help clarify these and other deeper questions on building Deep Strategic Partnerships.

We are building a new cohort of 20 startups for our Potential Strategic Partnerships program. If you are interested to be part of the cohort this playbookRT is a requirement.

Click to Register for the Strategic Partnerships Playbooks Track. (limited invites)

Our Maven

 

Abhishek Kumar

Founder ToneTag

 

 

This is a product startup founder/CXO (+1) invite-only events. Venue details will be sent along with the confirmation of your registration.

RoundTables are facilitated by an iSPIRT maven who is an accomplished practitioner of that Round-Table theme. All iSPIRT playbooks are pro-bonoclosed roomfounder-level (+1), invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend the sessions completely and to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

27-Oct MiniRoundTable on WhyAI for B2B SaaS

The MiniRT Agenda

  • Seeding & creating an active discussion on Why AI/ML? What is the higher order value being created?
  • How to identify the value & opportunities to leverage AI?
  • How to get started with an AI playground (if not already running)?
  • How to think of data needs for AI/ML investments,
  • How to address the impact on Product & Business…

This is part of our AI/ML roundtables for B2B SaaS. Insights from these sessions are meant to help refine our approach & readiness to leverage AI/ML for building higher order value products. And in doing so building a vibrant community focused around navigating this shift.

Click to Register for the AI/ML Playbooks Track. (limited invites)

Our Mavens

Adarsh Natarajan

Founder & CEO AIndra

 

Notes

This is a product startup founder/CXO (+1) invite-only events. Venue details will be sent along with the confirmation of your registration.

RoundTables are facilitated by an iSPIRT maven who is an accomplished practitioner of that Round-Table theme. All iSPIRT playbooks are pro-bono, closed roomfounder-level (+1), invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend the sessions completely and to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

18-Oct MiniRoundtable on AI/ML Tools & ML/DL challenges

The MiniRT Agenda

  • The current state of AI/ML tools & frameworks.
  • Share & discuss ML & Deep Learning challenges in your products.

Insights from these sessions are meant to help refine our approach & readiness to leverage AI/ML for building higher order value products. And in doing so building a vibrant community focused around navigating this shift.

Click to Register for the AI/ML Playbooks Track. (limited invites)

Our Maven: Viral Shah
Co-creator of Julia Language,
Co-founder Julia Computing

Notes

This is a product startup founder/CXO (+1) invite-only events. Data scientist leads in a product startup are also welcome to register. On confirmation, the venue details will be sent along with the confirmation of your registration.

RoundTables are facilitated by an iSPIRT maven who is an accomplished practitioner of that Round-Table theme. All iSPIRT playbooks are pro-bono, closed roomfounder-level (+1), invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend the sessions completely and to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

6-Oct MiniRoundTable on WhyAI for B2B SaaS

The MiniRT Agenda

  • Seeding & creating an active discussion on Why AI/ML? What is the higher order value being created?
  • How to identify the value & opportunities to leverage AI?
  • How to get started with an AI playground (if not already running)?
  • How to think of data needs for AI/ML investments,
  • How to address the impact on Product & Business…

Insights from these sessions are meant to help refine our approach & readiness to leverage AI/ML for building higher order value products. And in doing so building a vibrant community focused around navigating this shift.

Click to Register for the AI/ML Playbooks Track.

Notes

This is a product startup founder/CXO (+1) invite-only events. Venue details will be sent along with the confirmation of your registration.

RoundTables are facilitated by an iSPIRT maven who is an accomplished practitioner of that Round-Table theme. All iSPIRT playbooks are pro-bono, closed roomfounder-level (+1), invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend the sessions completely and to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

AI/ML is not Sexy

One would think that the new sexy in the startup capital of the world is self-driving cars, AI/ML… I got news for you! AI/ML (esp. Machine Learning) is not listed in Gartner’s hype cycle for 2018.

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hype-Cycle-General.png

This was corroborated on my recent trip to the valley and the US east coast, where I met several investors, founders, corp dev and other partners of the startup community. It was evident that the AI/ML hype which peaked in 2016 & 2017 is no longer considered a buzzword. It is assumed to be table stakes. What you do with AI/ML is something everyone is willing to listen to. Using AI/ML to solve a high-value B2B SaaS problem is Sexy! (Gartner trends for 2018).

As the hype with AI/ML settles down, B2B startups across the globe are discovering the realities of working the AI/ML shifts for SaaS. Many AI tools & frameworks in the tech stack are still evolving and early pioneers are discovering constraints in the stack and creatively building workarounds as they build their products.

Many entrepreneurs are watching from the sidelines the unfolding of the AI/ML hype, wondering on many valid questions like these (and more):

Q: Do I have to stop what we are building and jump onto the AI bandwagon? No.
Q: Are the AI/ML resources mature & stable to build better value products? No, they are still evolving.
Q: Do I need expensive investments in constrained resources? No, not until you have a high-value problem to solve.

B2B SaaS startups go through 2 key struggles. How to find market-fit and survive? And how to stay relevant and grow. And if you don’t evolve or reinvent as the market factors change, there are high chances for an upstart to come by and disrupt you. The iSPIRT entrepreneur playbooks look to help entrepreneurs get clarity on such queries and more. Our goal is to help our startups navigate such market shifts, stay relevant and grow. Our mini roundtables Playing with AI/ML are focused on WhyAI for SaaS discussions in multiple cities. If you or a startup you know may benefit do register

The MiniRT Agenda

Seeding & creating an active discussion on Why AI/ML? What is the higher order value being created? How to identify the value & opportunities to leverage AI? How to get started with an AI playground (if not already running)? How to think of data needs for AI/ML investments, How to address the impact on Product & Business… Insights from these sessions are meant to help refine our approach & readiness to leverage AI/ML for building higher order value products. And in doing so building a vibrant community focused around navigating this shift.

Upcoming PlaybookRTs on AI/ML

6-Oct (Chennai) 10 am – 1 pm – MiniRoundTable on WhyAI for B2B SaaS – Shrikanth Jagannathan, PipeCandy Inc
18-Oct (Bangalore) 6 pm – 8 pm MiniRoundTable with Dr Viral Shah on AI/ML Tools & discuss your ML/DeepLearning challenges
27-Oct (Delhi/Gurgaon) 2 pm – 6 pmMiniRoundTable on WhyAI for B2B SaaS, Adarsh Natarajan, CEO & Founder – Aindra Systems
TBD (Bangalore)MiniRoundTable on WhyAI for B2B SaaS, (based on registered interest)
TBD (Mumbai)MiniRoundTable on WhyAI for B2B SaaS, (based on registered interest)

The AI+SaaS game has just begun and it is the right time for our hungry entrepreneurs to Aspire for the Gold, on a reasonable level playing field.

Click to Register for the AI/ML Playbooks Track.

Please note: All iSPIRT playbooks are pro-bono, closed room, founder-level, invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend all sessions completely and to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hype-Cycle-General.png

Interesting Reads

The slow, light touch of AI in Indian Saas

SaaSy bear SaaSy bear what do you see?

Shifts for SaaS - SaaSy Bear

I see 3 shifts critical for me!

Taking a line from the popular Brown Bear children’s book, I believe that our SaaS startups have a real opportunity to leverage some leading shifts in the global SaaS evolution. While there are many areas of change – and none less worthy than the other – I am highlighting 3 shifts for SaaS (tl;dr) which our entrepreneurs can actually work with and help change their orbit:

  • Market shifts with AI/ML for SaaS to build meaningful product & business differentiation,
  • Platform Products shift to transform into a multi-product success strategy,
  • Leveraging Partnerships for strategic growth and value co-creation.

Some background

I joined iSPIRT with a goal to help our community build great global products. I believed (and still do) that many entrepreneurs struggle with the basics of identifying a strong value proposition and build a well thought out product. They need strong support from the community to develop a solid product mindset & culture. My intent was to activate a product thinkers community and program leveraging our lean forward playbooks model.

I had several conversations with community members & mavens on playbooks outcomes and iterating our playbook roundtables for better product thinking. I realized that driving basic product thinking principles required very frequent and deeper engagement with startups. But our playbooks approach model – working in a distributed volunteer/maven driven model – is not set up to activate such an outcome. Through our playbooks model, our mavens had helped startups assimilate best practices on topics like Desk Sales & Marketing, something that was not well understood some years back. This was not a basic topic. The power of our playbook RTs was in bringing the spotlight on gaps & challenges that were underserved but yet highly impactful.

As a product person, I played with how to position our playbooks for our entrepreneur program. I believe our playbooks have always been graduate-level programs and our entrepreneurs are students with an active interest to go deep with these playbooks, build on their basic undergraduate entrepreneurship knowledge, and reach higher levels of growth.

The product thinking and other entrepreneurial skills are still extremely relevant, and I am comforted by the fact that there are many community partners from accelerators like Upekkha to conclaves like NPC and event-workshop formats like ProductGeeks which are investing efforts to build solid product thinking & growth skills.

As the SaaS eco-system evolves, and as previous graduate topics like desk sales & marketing are better understood, we need to build new graduate-level programs which address critical & impactful market gaps but are underserved. We need to help startups with meaningful & rapid orbit shifts over the next 2-3 years.

Discovering 3 Shifts for SaaS

Having come to this understanding I began to explore where our playbooks could continue to be a vibrant graduate-level program and replicate our success from the earlier playbooks. Similar to an entrepreneur’s journey, these three shifts became transparent through the many interactions and explorations of SaaS entrepreneurs.

Market Shift with AI/ML for SaaS

There is no doubt that AI is a tectonic shift. The convergence of big data availability, maturity of algorithms, and affordable cloud AI/ML platforms, has made it easy for SaaS startups to leverage AI/ML. During a chance roundtable learning session on Julia with Dr. Viral Shah & Prof Alan Edelman, it was clear that many entrepreneurs – head down into their growth challenges – were not aware of the realities behind the AI hype. Some thought AI/ML should be explored by their tech team, others felt it required a lot of effort & resources. The real challenge, however, is to discover & develop a significantly higher order AI-enabled value to customers than was feasible 2 years ago. While AI is a technology-driven shift, the implications for finding the right product value and business model are even greater.

As I explored the AI trend I saw a pattern of “gold rush” – build a small feature with rudimentary AI, market your product as an AI product… – making early claims with small changes which do not move the needle. It became clear that a step-by-step pragmatic thinking by our SaaS startups was required to build an AI-based leapfrog value proposition. This could help bring our startups to be at “par” and potentially even leap ahead of our global brethren. Here was an opportunity to create a level playing field, to compete with global players and incumbents alike.

To validate my observations, I did quick small research on SaaS companies outside of India on their approach with AI. I found quite a few startups where AI was already being leveraged intrinsically and others who were still trying to make sense. Investments varied from blogging about the AI trend, branding one as a thought leader, to actually building and delivering a strongly differentiated product proposition. E.g.:

There are no successes, yet! Our startups like Eka, Wingify, FreshWorks, WebEngage… have all been experimenting with AI/ML, stumbling and picking themselves up to build & deliver a higher level of value. Some others are setting up an internal playground to explore & experiment. And many others are waiting on the shore unsure of how to board the AI ship.

How do we enable our companies to create new AI playgrounds to analyze, surface, validate and develop higher order customer values & efficiencies? To chart a fruitful journey with AI/ML there are many challenges that need to be solved. And doing it as a group running together has a better chance of success.

The AI+SaaS game has just begun and it is the right time for our hungry entrepreneurs to Aspire for the Gold on a reasonable level playing field.

Shift to Platform Products

As market needs change, the product needs a transform. As new target segments get added different/new product assumptions come into play. In both these scenarios existing products begin to age rapidly and it becomes important for startups to re-invent their product offerings. To deal with such changes startups must experiment and iterate with agility. They require support from a base “internal” platform to allow them to transform from a single product success strategy to scaling with multiple products strategy.

This “internal” base platform – an infrastructure & layout of technology components to interconnect data & horizontal functional layers – would help to build & support multiple business specific problem-solution products (vertical logics). The products created on such a platform provide both independent as well as a combined value proposition for the customers.

Many startups (Zendesk, Freshdesk, Eka, WebEngage…) have undertaken the painful approach of factoring an internal platform to transform their strategy & opportunity. Zoho has been constantly reinventing itself and launching new products on a common platform, some of which are upending incumbent rivals in a very short period of time. WebEngage transformed itself from a “tool” into an open platform product.

“As the dependency on our software grew, customers needed more flexibility to be able to use their data to solve a wide range of business problems…significant difference in the way we build products now. We have unlocked a lot of value by converting ourselves into an open platform and enabling customer data to flow seamlessly across many products.” – Avlesh Singh, WebEngage

The effort to build an internal platform appropriately architected to support growing business needs (many yet unknown) is non-trivial and requires a platform thinking mindset for increased business development. It must be architected to allow rapid co-creation of new & unique product values in collaboration with external or market platforms. This can help the startup be a formidable player in the growing “platform economy”.

Leveraging Potential Strategic Partnerships

A strategic partner offers 2 benefits for startups. First is the obvious ability to supercharge the startup’s GTM strategy with effective distribution & scale. How does one make a strategic partnership? Pitching to a strategic partner is very different from pitching to a customer or investor. PSPs look for something that is working and where they can insert themselves and make the unit economics even better. 

“I thought I knew my pitch and had the details at my fingertips. But then I started getting really valuable, thought-out feedback…I had to focus on pitching to partners, not customers.” – Pallav Nadhani, FusionCharts

The second leverage with a partner is the ability to innovate in the overlap of the partner’s products & offerings and the startup’s product values. A good partner is always looking for startups which can co-create a unique value proposition and impact an extremely large customer base.

“…we still have only three four percent market share when it comes to customers. So if we have to participate we have to recognize that we are not gonna be able to do it alone we’re going to have to have a strategy to reach out to the entire marketplace and have a proposition for the entire marketplace…you need to (do it) through partnerships.” – Shikha Sharma, MD Axis Bank

Both these partnership intents if nurtured well can bring deep meaningful relationship which can further transcend scale into a more permanent model (investment, M&A…).

Working with the 3 Shifts of SaaS

While each shift is independent in its own importance, they are also inter-related. E.g. an internal platform can allow a startup to co-create with a partner more effectively. Partners are always interested in differentiated leading-edge values such as what is possible with leveraging AI/ML. Magic is created when a startup leverages an internal platform, to co-create a strong AI-enabled value, in the overlap & gap with potential strategic partners.

And that’s what I see

I see a vibrant eco-system of SaaS startups in India working on creating leading global products. Vibrancy built on top of the basic product thinking skills and catapulted into a new orbit by navigating the 3 shifts.

“Reading market shifts isn’t easy. Neither is making mindset shifts. Startups are made or unmade on their bets on market/mindset shifts. Like stock market bubbles, shifts are fully clear only in hindsight. At iSPIRT, we are working to help entrepreneurs navigate the many overlapping yet critical shifts.” – Sharad Sharma, iSPIRT

Through our roundtables, we have selected six startups as the first running group cohort for our AI/ML for SaaS playbooks (Acebot, Artoo, FusionCharts, InstaSafe, LegalDesk & SignEasy).

If you are hungry and ready to explore these uncharted shifts, we are bringing these new playbooks tracks for you.

Please let us know your interest by filling out this form.

Also, if you are interested in volunteering for our playbook tracks, we can really use your support! There is a lot to be done to structure and build the playbook tracks and the upcoming SaaSx5 for these shifts for SaaS. Please use the same form to indicate your support.

Ending this note with a sense of beginning, I believe that our startups have a real opportunity to lead instead of fast-follow, create originals instead of clones. They need help to do this as a running group instead of a solo contestant. It is with this mission – bring our startups at par on the global arena – that I am excited to support the ProductNation.

I would like to acknowledge critical insights from Avlesh Singh (WebEngage), Manav Garg (Eka), Shekhar Kirani (Accel Partners), Sharad Sharma (iSPIRT). Also am thankful for the support from our mavens, volunteers & founders who helped with my research, set up the roundtables, and draft my perspective with active conversations on this topic: Ankit Singh (Wibmo/MyPoolin), Anukriti Chaudhari (iSPIRT), Arvi Krishnaswamy (GetCloudCherry), Ganesh Suryanarayanan (Tata GTIO), Deepa Bachu (Pensaar), Deepak Vincchi (JuliaComputing), Karthik KS (iSPIRT), Manish Singhal (Pi Ventures), Nishith Rastogi (Locus.sh), Pallav Nadhani (FusionCharts), Praveen Hari (iSPIRT), Rakesh Mondal (RakeshMondal.in), Ravindra Krishnappa (Acebot.ai), Sandeep Todi (Remitr), Shrikanth Jangannathan (PipeCandy), Sunil Rao (Lightspeed), Tathagat Varma (ChinaSoft), Titash Neogi (Seivelogic), and many other volunteers & founders.

All images are credited to Rakesh Mondal 

Are you ready to Jump with AI/ML? [Updated Session Dates]

[Update 6-Apr] New April Session Dates – Symposium RT is being scheduled on Saturdays for Bangalore & Chennai (21st & 28th April). 

Playbooks for Electrifying SaaS and more.

This is what we call the fourth industrial revolution…And companies are really transforming and bringing all these new technologies to connect with their customers in new ways.
Dreamforce 2017 Keynotes, Marc Benioff.

There is no doubt that Artificial Intelligence (AI), is one of the recent “tectonic” market shifts, creating a change in landscape, market, and opportunity. AI and  Machine Learning (ML), now in its eternal spring, has a deep impact on SaaS evolution. While the incumbent companies like Salesforce, Zendesk, Workday, have all invested heavily in AI, also global challengers across many verticals from Sales, BPM, CRM… to Security are focused on building higher order efficiencies and automation through AI/ML.

Over the last few years, our Indian SaaS entrepreneurs trumped the global SaaS growth by leveraging mobile first as there was no baggage of desktop, reduced sales & onboarding cost by perfecting the art of Inside Sales & Inbound Marketing, and efficient after sales support & service by leveraging remote success representatives. Our SaaS Mavens helped disseminate these leverages by sharing the best practices & modeling internal flywheels & experimentations. Many SaaS entrepreneurs successfully assimilated and got a significant boost in their growth journey. These levers are now basic table stakes for most SaaS startups.

AI has no breakthrough success stories, but it is helping create a level playing field – especially for our Indian entrepreneurs – to compete with global players and incumbents alikeStartups willing to make the jump, adapt AI into their products & business models to create meaningful differentiation, will experience a strong wind in their sails to leapfrog over the players who don’t.

Our entrepreneurs have a rare opportunity to be early adopters & global trailblazers. 

To take advantage of this our entrepreneurs ask very valid questions.

Q. Why & How should we entrepreneurs navigate this AI market shift? 
Q. How should we, given that we are untrained in AI, grapple with the 360° impact of AI on product, business, and technology?
Q. What AI leverage can we develop without requiring expensive investments for constrained resources? 

How do we enable our companies to create new AI playgrounds to analyze, surface, validate and develop higher order customer values & efficiencies?

AI Playbooks

Since adapting to the AI “tectonic” shift requires a new paradigm of thinking, we have launched a multi-step playbooks track focused on Playing with AI/ML for Indian entrepreneurs. In line with iSPIRT’s mission, our playbooks purpose is to help market players navigate market shifts. The goal is to bring the practitioner knowledge from AI Mavens AI-first entrepreneurs who are further ahead in their AI journey – to the AI-hungry startups and help them perfect the model of working with AI, get traction towards a meaningful AI-enhanced value, and become trailblazers for the community. If you are an AI-hungry startup who has either taken the plunge with AI/ML but early in your journey, or are actively looking to leverage AI/ML for your current products, then following the stepped approach below may help:

Step 1 – Attend an AI/ML Symposium RT – Getting prepared with Why AI and How AI. In our first kickoff session on 10-Mar, we had great discussions on AI data maturity, what can drive your AI approach, and more with our AI Mavens and ten startups (read more).

Step 2 – A cohort of startups from step 1 will be taken through multiple AI/ML Playbook RT for How AI – deep dives on topics to help with structuring an internal AI playground, competency with data product management, product positioning & branding, business model shifts, and more.
These playbook RTs will help the startups carve out a lean playground for rapid experimentation and analysis, with a 3-4 person team of a data PM, & engineers. The team, actively lead by the founder, runs regular sprints (business/product/engineering sprints) of experimentation and validation, and have review touchpoints at intervals with AI-Mavens and the cohort as a running group.
There is also an optional Tech Training Lab to build internal ML competency with a multi-day workshop with Julia experts.

Four startups have been initially selected for the cohort for the step 2 AI playbook RTs (Acebot, FusionCharts, InstaSafe & LegalDesk).

SaaSx5 – June 2018

We are working to set up the 5th version of our marquee SaaSx to engage with the larger SaaS startup community. We will definitely focus on the impact of AI/ML on SaaS and have workshops based on our momentum of the playbooks track on various topics above. Date & details to be announced shortly.

The AI+SaaS game has just begun and it is the right time for our hungry entrepreneurs to Aspire for the Gold, on a reasonable level playing field.

Click to Nominate or Register a startup for the AI/ML Playbooks Track.

Dates & Venue

AI/ML Symposium RT #1 – 10th Mar (Sat) 2p – 5p Done (read more)
AI/ML Symposium RT #2 – 21st Apr (Sat) 11a – 2p @ Bangalore TBD
AI/ML Symposium RT #3– 28th Apr (Sat) 10a – 1p @ Chennai TBD

May the force be with you!

* All iSPIRT playbooks are pro-bono, closed room, founder-level, invite-only sessions. The only thing we require is a strong commitment to attend all sessions completely, to come prepared, to be open to learning & unlearning, and to share your context within a trusted environment. All key learnings are public goods & the sessions are governed by the Chatham House Rule.

Featured image modified from source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jedimentat/7557276684