Will india make it – 2016? Big strides in software products

We need products, not services, to be global leaders, and the good news is Druva, Freshdesk, Capillary, Rategain, Savari and Julia are all either global leaders or the primary challengers in their respective categories.

For some months now, electronics has edged out gold, machinery and pearls to become India’s second-largest category of imports (after oil). Our aerospace and defence imports are also growing. We love buying all kinds of gizmos, big and small, from the West. Because of this, aerospace, defence and electronics imports are ticking time-bombs. Electronics alone will become double our oil imports in five years. The big policy question is whether we can develop viable domestic product companies in these sectors without resorting to protectionism. The short answer is: Yes!

The reason for this optimism is software products. In this area, we are holding our own. India’s software product industry is growing at a healthy clip. iSPIRT’s iSPIX (Indian Software Product Industry Index) grew by 26.6% on an annualised basis in 2015. And 80% of this growth has come from companies focussed on global markets. This is fuelled by companies like Druva, Freshdesk, Capillary and Rategain. Each one of them is either a global leader or the primary challenger in its respective category. There is also a long list of promising companies who are replicating the success in newer categories. Team Indus is attacking aerospace. Forus Health is changing preventative blindness testing across the world. Julia, an open-source language out of Bangalore and MIT, is reshaping how IOT will happen. Savari is already a top-3 player worldwide in self-driving cars. All these are new names for most people. In the glare of the Bollywood-ish publicity of our e-commerce companies, we are missing the real revolution.

Yes, like any nascent revolution, this is fragile. In fact, we recently dodged a bullet. In the run-up to prime minister Narendra Modi’s recent US trip, the Indian Patent Office hurriedly issued guidelines on computer-related inventions. Undoubtedly, they were made under pressure from some American MNCs, without realising that they were a death knell for the domestic software product industry. Luckily, good sense prevailed and 115 days later, on December 14, these guidelines were rescinded.

This near-death experience has had a positive fallout. It precipitated a coming together of minds within the government on having a proper policy for software products. As a result, a National Policy for Software Products is on the cards and should be out in a couple of months. It represents a new paradigm of policy making. For starters, it has no sops! Instead, it takes an integrative view of changes that are needed to create an enabling environment. It eliminates FERA-era norms that prevent Indian product companies from going global. It introduces missing concepts in our policy lexicon. For instance, our tax code doesn’t even have a definition for digital goods, and this, as you can imagine, results in misery for software product companies. It also tackles our archaic R&D credit system that harks back to the pre-liberalisation era and favours only large profitable companies. It is a bold policy effort that eschews tax-breaks, big budget outlays and protectionism for creating a modern policy environment for our software product companies.

Indian software products matter. This sector is the opening batsman for a new innings for India. If it runs up a good score, as it is likely it will, it will set the stage for aerospace,defence and electronics products. If India remains bereft of SPADE (i.e. Software Products, Aerospace, Defence and Electronics) product companies, it won’t be a sustainable economy in the future. Keep in mind that Microsoft generates more profit than the profits of the top-20 pure-play global IT services firms. Boeing and Airbus alone generate almost as much profit as all global airlines put together. Cisco’s profits are more than those of all European mobile operators. And Pfizer’s profits, even before its recent acquisition of Allergen, are more than the profits of top 100 hospitals in US. The value nowadays lies in products, not services.

We know how to build the world’s best hospital, airline or IT services company. But no matter how well-run Indigo Airlines is, it will not become a Embraer or Boeing. Similarly, a Narayana Hrudayalaya hospital will never bring a drug to market like a Pfizer does. Airtel or Verizon will never build a router like Cisco and Juniper do. And TCS will never be a Microsoft. Acknowledging this plain reality is the first step that we must take. Building a world-class product company needs a different mindset. You have to go all-in and bet-the-company on a market or technology shift that is underway. This mindset is new to us in India. We must nurture it so that it becomes a new strength for the country.

The stakes are high, but there is reason to be optimistic. A few smart and light-touch policy moves (in the works) can make India a global software products powerhouse. It is the first step to becoming a product-nation!

By Sharad Sharma  and Vishnu Dusad, MD, Nucleus Software


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

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

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

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

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

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

The top 30 companies in alphabetical order are:

Here’s the report in its entirety:

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

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

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.

A startup going global has to be stronger, better, faster than others – Bhanu Chopra #ifnotnowthenwhen

Cue in to what Bhanu Chopra, Founder & CEO at RateGain, has to say about going global…

Why do you encourage Indian companies to go global?

Since the evolution of modern trade, commercial activities between countries and across the seas have been an integral part of our society. While earlier, it was all about access to spices, cotton and precious minerals, today it is primarily about getting a larger share of the pie.

India’s domestic market with a population of over 1.2 billion is huge and it draws many from outside the country to look for operations here. However, it is obvious that a large majority of the Indian population still continues to live on the fringes and the numbers can be misleading. Another way to look at it is that the world population, at about 7 billion, is any day a much larger market to operate in.


Being global also changes a company’s perspective. By being global you are exposed to the best in the business and often face stiff challenge from your competitors. Standards and quality controls in western countries are specific and stringent and by going global, Indian companies have to adhere to them. This in turn improves quality, ensures better controls and also translates to the adoption of best practices.

I would also encourage Indian companies to go global because it builds brand – both for the company and the country. Barring the Tata’s, there are a very few global brands that one can talk of from India. We have some great companies within the country that have the potential to operate in any part of the world. A company that can operate on a global scale and is successful at it, creates a lot of goodwill and brand name.

What kind of companies should think global?

There is no set criterion on what works globally and what does not. If the company solves a real pain point, the chances of it working across the globe are very high. A company on the other hand that provides a service or product in a significantly better way, also has a chance of doing well globally. To click on a better stage a company has to be stronger, better, faster than others.

India has a unique set of problems that need Indian solutions. Generally solutions and services from the western countries do not work here and this has led to a whole new generation of startups – especially in the sector of social enterprise and companies catering to the Bottom of Pyramid. Many problems that India face is similar and common to what many countries in the African continent and other developing countries face. There is now a steady stream of companies that look to tap these markets with their offerings. Going global does not mean only looking at the west – it can be countries in Africa, the Middle East or even South East Asia.

Does it help to relocate your operations to the UK or US?

Relocating your operation to the UK and the US can make sense as the ease of doing business is comparatively better in these countries. The US and the UK have also fared better when it comes to physical infrastructure and facilities. Other benefits that have arisen are primarily on account of the startup or angel tax in India. Startups, of late, have changed their domicile to offshore countries to ensure that they are not under the ambit of section 56(2)(viib) that was introduced in the year 2012. The other reason why startups would want to relocate to the US or UK is when they feel that the product or the service, especially in the technology domain, will be appreciated more outside India. Yet another reason some may want to relocate to the UK or the US is when these countries are the primary market.

Having said that, India still continues to be the land of opportunities. India may not fare well in ease of doing business, but its huge market is ready to reward any entrepreneur that has the grit and passion to carry on. India continues to have some of the best talent, especially in the technology segment, and an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is maturing fast.

What should startups and early-stage companies do to plan a global play?

The first step to being a global player is to have the right mindset. The entrepreneur should have a mindset that wants to go out and conquer the world. Other steps would include a careful diligence of the targeted market, finding the right team, getting to know the prevailing laws and capital required to go global.

Today, it is easier than ever before to go global primarily because of the support system that is available for startups. Accelerators, incubators, startup associations, angel investors, VCs, PEs, all contribute immensely to the support system. Over the past decade, the ecosystem has matured to nurture companies with global ambitions. For a startup, it helps to be an active part of this ecosystem. There are great mentors and professionals who already have the experience of operating in a global space and now devote a lot of time and effort in helping young companies with global ambitions. Associations like iSpirit, Nasscom and TiE have also contributed immensely in making a real difference. These associations provide intelligence, mentoring and have made vital connections to help startups operate globally. Initiatives like the Great Tech Rocketship, that looks to catapult a startup to the global stage, is yet another stellar effort from the ecosystem and the entrepreneurial community to push deserving startups into the global scene.

What are some of the watch-outs for companies going global?

One of the biggest watch-outs for a company going global is to do their homework well. It is never easy operating on foreign soils and one must be very sure of the laws and rules of the land. Often getting a good consultant, a great legal firm and a savvy banker on board irons out the process. One must also set aside adequate capital to fund the expansion. Operating in a new market and getting a foothold is almost equivalent to starting from scratch and often takes a considerable amount of capex. It always helps to get local talent on board so that the company has a better understanding of the intricacies involved.

Even a great product takes time to make a mark and penetrate a global market. An entrepreneur needs patience and must be prepared for the long haul. The most important aspect of a company aspiring to go global is to find its first customer. If you can locate your customer before you make the journey across borders, it would go a long way to instill confidence. Whenever I have expanded to a new country, I have always enjoyed the experience. It is a lot of hard work no doubt, but in the end, it’s all about getting to visit a new place, getting to know a new culture and a new way of life. Going global has the potential to make you rich – both economically and experientially.

Why does the future belong to product startups in India

I predict starting 2016, we will hear $3-4 billion product companies coming out of India every year.

NEW PRODUCT (2)The startup ecosystem has come a long way in the country, especially in the last decade or so. People often ask me at various forums and events as to where I see the startup ecosystem heading in the coming years. While it may be difficult to predict precisely, there are perceptible changes.

While the turn of the century was about the rise of the Indian services and outsourcing industry, I believe today it’s about the product companies. The rise of the product startups in the country has been due to numerous reasons, but the stellar growth has only made things exciting.

One of the reasons for the mushrooming of product companies is due to people returning from overseas after they have sensed an opportunity. They want to build a product that addresses the market opportunity. When I returned from the US, I saw some clear patterns and opportunities that I could work on. While one choice was to work with existing companies in the travel and tourism space, the other was to create a brand. I chose to go with the former.

The second clear reason is that people no longer want to do back office work for the world. For example, a lot of companies in the space of analytic work around identifying patterns and ideas for companies that outsource work to them. You will see a lot of individuals from these companies building a product start-up around same principles.

This is the natural progression and evolution of an industry. Outsourcing gained prominence because of cost arbitrage and then the IT companies started getting innovative to increase their share of the pie. They started advising various companies on how they should re-engineer their business processes and additional things they could do.

Phase 1 was about moving cost offshore and labour arbitrage while Phase 2 was making it efficient and optimising it. Indian outsourcing companies started evolving their services by providing additional services and at the same time automating it and making it non-linear to people.

The natural progression after that is if employee of these IT companies were advising clients on how to make their business processes better and how to “go to market” more efficiently, what prevents them from going to market on their own? You will see a lot of companies that are an offshoot of big IT establishments. You see individuals go out and address markets problems and opportunities rather than work for someone else.

Carpe Diem

Moreover, the services company has allowed people with similar ambitions to come together and seize the moment. Services companies have become the place where co-founders have met and most of the time the early hires in a startup are from these services companies. When there was a lot of movements around outsourced product management where companies outsourced their engineering work to India, it was obvious that employees from these services companies would get together and start a product company of their own.

The overall IT industry has evolved and the entrepreneurial ecosystem has been built to some extent and has gained velocity. According to Grant Thornton India, PE investments in India amounted to $1.7 billion last month, taking the overall PE deal tally to $10.2 billion in the first 10 months of this year. Spread across 500 PE deals, investments are up 18 per cent in value terms and 37 per cent in terms of number of deals in 2013. The entire investment community, access to capital and breadth of funds have increased quite dramatically.

The appeal of being a part of a product company is far cooler and hipper, rather than being a part of an IT services firm. For an aspiring entrepreneur, the IT services story has been beaten to death. No one wants to start another company in the outsourcing space and given the number of successful product companies like Druva, InMobi and Zoho, people now have role models. As entrepreneurs see billion dollar companies are now possible in the product space, it serves as fuel to the entrepreneurial fire. An aspiring entrepreneur wants to build a product company that will address a global market need.

Role of Industry Bodies

Industry bodies are also playing their part. Bodies like Nasscom have a separate Product Council and Product Conclave, which brings together a good collection of product companies in the form of peer-to-peer learning and experiences. Another body that is doing a good job is iSPIRT that has some big initiatives. It puts a big focus on the M&A connects where they look to enable big US tech companies to connect to a lot of Indian start-ups. Hence, we have seen a bunch of startups like Little Eye Labs and few others being acquired.

iSPIRT is providing a platform that enables big tech companies to acqui-hire, which essentially is acquiring a startup to get access to their talent. This helps both sides – buyers that know they can do a deal in India and integrate startups effectively and for the startup a viable exit route even if it’s not in a revenue generating state. It is also extremely focused on peer-to-peer learning of product companies. From newsletters from founders and experts to roundtable interactions, the body looks to bring curated number of entrepreneurs to come and share experience of selling globally.

Nothing succeeds better than success and the early successes of various product companies have set the stage as role models. Once the momentum builds it breaks the inertia in the system. I predict starting 2016, we will hear $3-4 billion product companies coming out of India every year. In that sense, 2015 will play an important role in ironing out structural issues in the system and ensuring the ease of doing business is improved.


The future is here: Indian product companies are potential global giants

Every year I speak at a dozen events – both within the country and outside. These events range from ones around entrepreneurship and startups to ones purely around technology. There is, however, one common thread at all these events. At home, I meet many young product companies that now operate on a global scale and overseas I increasingly bump into entrepreneurs who have set up a product company with a global footprint.

It will not be an exaggeration if I say the era of dominance by Indian companies has started and we will see young, smart, technology enabled product companies use their imagination and information to operate on a global scale.

What has changed over the years – the biggest factor is the Indian entrepreneur’s ability to think big. About 5-10 years ago an Indian entrepreneur would want to create a niche business that would create a good amount of wealth for himself. An Indian entrepreneur now thinks differently where he wants to create a big billion dollar business that straddles continents. They want to create a dominant business and dominate globally. A startup today does not aim to be a $100 million business, but dream to reach a billion dollars.

And is it easier to do so? Theoretically the answer would be a big yes. It is easier to start a company, especially in the technology domain, and have operations across the world. Many are now starting with the world in mind and in fact during their initial days India may not be the launch market for them. There are examples of many startups that prefer to start in the US and then look to spread operations here.

The reason behind this can be attributed to a phenomenon that started about a decade or two ago. The business process outsourcing (BPO) and the services industries like Infosys and Wipro led to a lot of food for thought over the years. Enterprising individuals were not content with being mere back office providers. As global systems and processes became pervasive at work places, many stated seeing clear opportunities that could be addressed. These individuals were some of the early pioneers of Indian product companies operating and addressing global needs. Starting product companies and not services suddenly became the vogue as factors like labour arbitrage took on a new meaning. Today it is a question of skill arbitrage where product companies are developing technology that are world class and price competitive.

The second reason behind the increasing appetite to operate on a global scale is because of professionals returning home from an overseas stint. When I started Rate Gain after returning from the US, I could see some clear business opportunities. While I was unsure if it would work out, I knew serving the world from India was possible. For entrepreneurs like me and many others, the fear and apprehension of dealing overseas do not exist. There is a strut in our step and a confidence that we are second to none.

A large part of this is also due to the successes of Indians abroad. From the investing companies to top executives at some of the largest MNCs, Indians are now where it matters. A large Indian investing community abroad and forums like The Indus Entrepreneur (TiE) and Indian Angel Network (IAN) have helped tremendously by opening doors.

This is now having a cascading effect. For people with an entrepreneurial ambition, there are clear role models to follow. Companies like Druva, ours (Rate Gain), Zomato, InMobi are hugely successful and changing the status quo. The startup ecosystem in the country is maturing with a healthy mix of angel and venture investing and a good idea can now be converted into a sustainable company. The Indian market may be large and lucrative, but the opportunities multiply when operations are on a global scale.

The global outlook at an early stage works well for a startup. Not all would be successful and there is every likelihood that there will be more failures. However, the penchant to create multinationals is the first step to create billion dollar companies. In the years ahead as technology reduces the barrier to entry and democratizes opportunities, startups going global would be the new norm.

Bootstrapping – Boon or Bane for Product Startups #BootUpINDIA

On August 14th, 2014 iSPIRT, the industry enabler that is creating a vibrant eco-system for promoting, encouraging, supporting and enabling product companies out of India, organized a very useful online discussion on the concept of bootstrapping. Titled ‘Bootstrapping – Boon or Bane’, the discussion explored various facets of bootstrapping, including its relevance, benefits, limitations, and challenges.

Sharad Sharma, founder of iSPIRT kicked off the conversation with a very incisive observation that the startup community, largely driven by the media, tends to celebrate and showcase startups only when they receive angel or institutional funding. How true is that!!! There are a number of very successful and modestly successful startups, many of who are deserving of the praise and showcase, but they get reported about only when they close an investment round. (I am not sure if the media is to blame entirely. I suspect companies too reach out to media only after they have received an investment round, perhaps because they believe that funding makes the ‘story saleable’ for the media.).

Avinash Raghava, startup eco-system builder and the driving force behind iSpirit shared that over 65 of the 140+ companies they have profiled, were indeed bootstrapped. Of course, some of them may have tried to seek VC money and started to bootstrap if they were not successful in raising capital. However, that they have succeeded in being showcase-worthy by iSPIRT, is indeed commendable.

The panel explored whether bootstrapping & angel/VC funding are either-or strategies or is there merit in a hybrid model. While the panel agreed that building a business with customer’s money is nicer than building a business with VC money, Bhanu Chopra, founder of Rategain(who has built a globally successful company that was bootstrapped) and Sharad Sharma suggested that there are no set rules, and companies should evaluate their strategies depending on the merits of the options available. (It is relatively easier to bootstrap for companies that address enterprise customers than B2B companies.).

Ramesh Loganathan of Progress Software added that while startups have to evaluate what’s the right way for them to fund their venture, it’s not just about the money, but the mentoring and advisory that comes along with that money, that is more valuable at the early stages. First-time entrepreneurs who have no experience of building a business, or even a full product, can benefit enormously from the perspectives and learnings of more experienced individuals. Now, whether this advice is available with or without money is immaterial.

Bootstrapping is not equally relevant or appropriate for all concepts/products/services: In some cases, it maybe possible to build the foundation or a company through bootstrapping, but you may need external capital to grow. In some cases, it may be possible to grow at a healthy rate through bootstrapping, and internal accruals may enable the company to even grow at a healthy rate. However, Bhanu elaborated that at some stage, the company may need to explore inorganic growth and may have to seek external capital.

Shekhar Kirani of Accel Partners, who has a unique perspective as a member of two hugely successful bootstrapped ventures, and is now a part of the investor community, was of the view that since all ventures need capital, the entrepreneur has to make an assessment on whether the idea needs VC money or are the idea & market conditions more suitable for bootstrapping.

He further explained that companies like Facebook, Twitter, Quora, etc. could not have been built without VC money as these businesses needed to invest a lot to build scale so that monetization opportunities arise. He added the once there are others in the market offering similar benefits, it is almost always difficult to leapfrog without adequate capital, and in such situations, bootstrapping may not be the right approach.

VCs have a lot of respect for companies that are bootstrapped. Bootstrapping demonstrates the entrepreneur’s commitment and conviction, both critical parameters for investors. In fact, Shekhar shared that even in the US, Accel invests in a number of companies that have built a reasonably sized business through bootstrapping, and Accel was the first institutional investor for scaling up.

Bootstrapping forces you to focus on building a strong ‘business’: For, Ahimanikya of DocEngage, one of the benefits of bootstrapping is that you are forced to think of revenues from day one. He added that it has become fashionable for entrepreneurs to seek VC money to pay for their lifestyle or for their own salaries, and felt that this approach, which does not have an element of risk-taking by the entrepreneurs was damaging for the startup community.

Bhanu mentioned that bootstrapping allowed them to focus on building a fundamentally strong product with a strong customer value proposition. It also instilled very strong fiscal discipline within the company.

All panelists agreed that for bootstrapping to be successful, it was important for an entrepreneur to be adequately prepared to multi-task and to be a multi-skilled. Else it becomes very difficult to sustain a bootstrapped venture. Panelists also agreed that at some stage, if the company needs to change gears to scale up using VC funding, they need to be prepared for a fundamentally different way of growing the business. If they are not prepared, they may miss out on some large opportunities.

To summarize: It was, as Sharad Sharma put it, a very thoughtful discussion, do watch the video for mode details.

Profit from Price, Always – The Bootstrapped Story of RateGain

This is part of our “Podcast with a Product Entrepreneur” series. Do check out the 30 minute podcast!

His first fling with business was a video game exchange, while at school. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, the question was never about the “Why”; it was only about the “When”. A computer science and finance graduate, his stint with Deloitte saw him starting up with a technology consulting business that later led him to this technology product idea.

Meet Bhanu Chopra, the Founder and CEO of RateGain – a B2B price comparison SaaS product for the travel industry –  as he talks about starting up, go-to market strategies, the CNBC Award, challenges and some priceless advice for all software product entrepreneurs.

In business, Bhanu has demonstrated tremendous agility by making quick decisions. His initial idea of a price comparison website focused on the US market, quickly morphed into a B2B offering, given the challenge of marketing to US out of India. Then by licensing technology and acquiring a few beta customers, he not only validated the idea, quickly, but also generated revenues for reinvestment.

Bhanu advocates a Go-To market approach built on two parameters:-

  • Power of a Brand built on thought leadership, where Bhanu humbly accepts being “late in the game”
  • Sales Structure customized to the channel and prospective customer personas


[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/79810846″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]


Straddling across the hospitality value chain with RateGain, Bhanu sees tremendous opportunities for existing products as well as newer products on pricing optimization using Big Data and predictive analytics.

Also an angel investor, Bhanu recognizes the tremendous passion amongst product entrepreneurs but highlights the imperative to persevere and think about the global market. While the team is critical, he concedes that team building would always be a challenge for product companies in India, given the latency of IT services in influencing engineering talent.

We conclude the interview with Bhanu mentioning two of his favorite product companies – Google and ….. – an awesome data visualization company that is just about to IPO on NASDAQ. If you haven’t guessed the name, do listen to the podcast.

Learnings from the 2nd #PNMeetup – Selling your product Gangnam Style

#PNMeetup on Selling your product Gangnam Style was the topic at the recently concluded Meetup(Podcast link). We had over 45-50 people across products and the services who came out to gain an insight into the Enigma of Gangnam Style Sales, with their eyes wide open and all ears the speakers Mr. Sanjay Agarwala MD of Eastern Software, Ketan Kapoor Co-Founder and CEO  of Mettl and Vishal Jain Chief Product Officer of RateGain gave an eagles eye clarity of how one could reach the summit of the Gangnam Style Sales.

Sanjay set the tone of the session by sharing his experiences of Eastern Software system which he started in 1991 and where he saw an opportunity in the product space in 1997 and ventured therein. The company dived headlong into ERP where there was a huge demand in the small and midcap segment. The larger players were serviced by prominent players. They clearer pegged themselves below these big players. The positioning was very clear to all parties concerned form the beginning. Because of their positing they got Pvt Equity Investments which enabled them to concentrate on Product development and Market Development which helped them scale to 100 customers in 2 years and 800 customers by 2001-2002.

They looked for newer markets outside and concentrated on newer markets. Africa was a huge virgin market, every body was skeptical but it was an immense market waiting to be tapped. They tweaked their sales model from a direct Sales(applicable in India) to partnering with the local companies(In Africa), they believe when you partner with anyone the relationship has to be a win-win. The partners should benefit first and then you. That builds trust which is further solidified when you match your own money with the amount the partner spent, sending clear signals to all. Since the partner operates in the market and is now highly motivated he is able to better understand the changing environment and this helps in better customer deliver.

 Sanjay’s  Gangnam style  for Eastern Software

1) Positing of product to be very clear – To Market, To Employees and To Self

2) Concentrate on Product Development

3) Build the Market.

3) Focus on New regions and localize regularly

4) Most importantly Build Trust and Partner well.

5) Customer Deliver the Key

6) Understand Markets well.

Listen to the Podcast here.

The baton now passed from to Sanjay to Ketan CEO Mettl. Ketan gives a very good insight into Mettl and sets the stage.

Ketan believes that business is like a marathon but one must run it like a sprint. Therefore must Start selling Early- even before the product comes out enabling you to get the information to all. Prioritize – Initially launch the product on what you feel–then tweak it to evolve the actual needs. Use Analytics to identify differentiators and then set benchmarks. Focus on Closures but budget for long sales cycles – have enough gas in the fuel tank. Always treat your feedback seriously this helps you to better customer delivery.

Build your brand well – Build Trust – Hire the Best – Hire slow. Clearly specify the product mix therefore maintain the Brand.

Interestingly Ketan remarked that Introverts can be better sellers than extroverts- Why? Well the key is to establish strong personal connects, be clear and not over-commit. Qualities where Introverts can be better sellers.

Ketan’s  Gangnam style  for Mettl.

1) Start Selling Early

2) Prioritize and Launch Fast

3) Build Differentiators

4) Course correction based on Feedback

5) Have the Bear Fat to sustain theWinter.

6) Most importantly Build Trust.

Listen to the audio podcast here of Ketan’s talk.

Ketan gave a wonderful insight of his company and then Vishal of Rategain share his story.

Vishal says that before they launched their products they started writing articles on the subject/space of their product and this helped them to get the first order by engaging their customers and peaking their interest. This helped them to partner with their biggest competitor and thus tap their(competitor’s) home market – Spain first. Vishal believes the speed to market is very essential to launch your products fast. When you sometimes target the weakness of your competition new opportunities open up. They were able to get 300 hotels to sign up in a just a matter of 3 month. This helped them to partner the competition to market their products. This also had a problem, the local hotels did not know RateGain but knew their competitor. Team Rate Gain then made a real effort to delink themselves and market the product directly this ensured that their Brand was known. They invested in it to Build the Brand.

Since they have operated in various developed markets some things which work for them are Webinar sales – where they invite their prospective clients to join in and make their own mind. From Customers becoming advocates for them on Linkedin to localizing their business to peer marketing, all have worked to create huge amount of word of mouth and Brand Awareness which have all helped in Sales.

Vishal’s Gangnam style for RateGain

1) Write articles on the Space of the product

2) Partner with Locals or Competition

3) Prioritize and Launch Fast

4) Build the Brand

5) Focus on New regions and localize regularly

6) Use Linkedin, Twitter and Webinars to reach out

7) Partner Well

8) All Chain Stakeholders need to be targeted.

Listen to the Podcast here.

The Various inputs helped in gaining a wonderful insight into how a company could go Gangnam. Hope I have been able to capture every bit of information hear, an hope if you have attended the sessions you will be able to add your takeaways too.

The Wonderful insight shared will certainly help all the entrepreneurs out there and for this Avinash deserves huge credit in ensuring that latest trends are captured. Also Rajat for very aptly naming the theme Gangnam style.

Listen to the Podcast here.

Look forward to seeing you all at the next edition in Feb….

Guest post by Nakul Saxena, NITEE