Learnings from iSPIRT Product Roundtable: Building a supercharged team in Silicon Valley

How should Indian entrepreneurs think about hiring and scaling teams in Silicon Valley? What are the thorniest hiring challenges? Who should the first hires be? How can founders scale culture globally?

To focus on this topic, iSPIRT  organized its 2nd Bay Area playbook roundtable– “Building a supercharged team in Silicon Valley”. It was moderated by Jaspreet Singh, Founder and CEO of Druva, a leading platform startup that operates across the Bay Area and Pune. Other participants included the founders of RecruiterBox, StrikeDeck, Supply.AI, 42Gears and ShieldSquare.

This blog shares themes that emerged from a discussion focused on Leadership, Hiring, and Growth.

Playbook with JaspreetHiring for wartime is different than for peacetime  

Borrowing from Ben Horowitz’s “peacetime versus wartime CEOs” concept, the group discussed how startup hiring is more like wartime whereas many well-meaning management principles are derived from peacetime environments, where certain scale and stability are assumed. Key ideas discussed included:

  1. In early stages, you just need 10X type talent i.e. women and men who can scale 10X on any problem thrown at them, and those who are 10X aligned with the founder’s vision
  2. Hire those who understand the “truth you know”, are deeply curious and aligned to your mission.
  3. This often means talking to 3-5 candidates to find the right portfolio of skills that works for you
  4. Using a sporting analogy, hire athletes who can scale as player-coaches, versus people coaches
  5. Stress test in interviews with questions as “if you fail in 90 days, where will you fail”?
  6. Recruiting is exactly like sales and founders should use all channels at their disposal including networks, investors/advisors, and personal meetings with talent in critical areas

Leadership and culture strengthen from hard Socratic questions

All the founders in the roundtable observed that scaling personally is the starting point to becoming a great leader and building strong leadership. Key ideas were discussed around how founders can scale.

  1. How do you know that you’re a good leader? One answer proposed was “when teams consistently come to you for advice” and you can see the advice worked.
  2. Startup founders need to balance “dictate” and “debate” – two default modes most founders fall within. Build leadership teams that counter and balance their default modes.
  3. As startups scale, founders should scale by metaphorically poking holes (asking the right business, product, or people questions) versus having a tendency to own every key decision
  4. If a founder really wants to go deep into a functional area (e.g. Product or Marketing) when they already have VPs, it helps to explain why the Founder wishes to own a function, take permission and build the personal trust to go back if things don’t work as planned.
  5. In the era of Slack and smart collaboration tools, having a large span of control, e.g. 7-10 direct reports should not be a problem for most startup founders as they scale employees to >100

Rapid global scaling needs clear processes and a robust culture

When startups rapidly scale across the US and India simultaneously, it can sometimes lead to parallel sub-cultures. The group discussed some best practices that help founders scale truly global companies:

  1. Approaches such as Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are really helpful to institute discipline early on in a startup. Other processes can include having a dedicated person (e.g. Chief of Staff) to just own India-US communication.
  2. Teaching employees to self-evaluate themselves towards personal progress goals is more helpful than traditional performance management practices
  3. On prioritization, there’s a temptation for founders to take on simple tasks they know well, e.g. writing messaging copy. It helps to instead focus on difficult tasks (e.g. Quote to Cash or Demand Generation) that are critical to scaling
  4. Within a culture of transparency & trust, it is still crucial for founders to trust but verify, because the bar of product or company quality ultimately starts and ends there
  5. While founders offer feedback to employees, the shit sandwich (nice things + criticism + nice things) is far less helpful than being curious and just asking lots of specific question
  6. Team and culture “pull” is like product momentum, if you don’t see it or feel it, it means you probably don’t have the right team in place yet. Teams need to really bond with each other across borders and it is critical for the US team to visit the India team (more than just India teams coming to US).

Book references

Some book references were invoked during the roundtable. Here’s a list of the books mentioned

Good to Great, Jim Collins

The Art of Management, Peter Drucker

Zero to One, Peter Thiel

Only the Paranoid Survive, Andy Grove

The Hard think about Hard Things, Ben Horowitz

Learnings from “Running Inside Sales for US, from India” – iSPIRT Playbook Roundtable

It is an exciting phase for the Indian SaaS eco-system. There are a lot of companies from India trying to build products for the global market. Some of them have been able to scale to tens of thousands of customers and millions of dollars in revenue. Many others are just getting started or want to step up their game. In both cases, there are trying to figure things out, sort of solving a jigsaw puzzle. Sales is a big part of the puzzle. There are many questions to be answered – how to generate leads, how to sell, whom to sell, how to hire for sales etc.

To get answers to some of these questions and more, iSPIRT organized a playbook roundtable – “Running Inside Sales for US, from India”. It was moderated by Suresh Sambandam, CEO, KiSSFLOW and I was fortunate to be part of it.

Running Inside Sales for US, from India

This blog aims to highlight some of the key learnings from the discussion.

Product-Market fit

This may sound cliched but getting Product-Market fit right is critical before you begin your sales process. Without getting this right you are just shooting in the dark.

Branding and positioning needs to be aligned to what the customer thinks/needs. Customers won’t be thinking the way we are – brand needs to solve that. One way to achieve this is to start by having your product / company name synonymous with what your potential customer is looking for. There are plenty of examples out there – Recruiterbox – Recruitment software, Freshdesk & Zendesk – Help desk software, SalesForce & InsideSalesBox – Sales/CRM software, KiSSFLOW – Workflow management software.

Marketing / Demand generation

Most early stages startups work on an inbound lead generation model. This means, getting SEO right and having a website that looks great & conveys the right message to your prospect is a no-brainer.

One point that came up during the discussion about SEO was content marketing. Invest in building great content for your users and they can prove to be a good source of inbound leads. Also important to remember is the role of distribution of content. No point in having great content if it doesn’t reach the right audience.

Interestingly, Quora was mentioned a good source of leads if answers point to content you have generated.

Other lead generation strategies that were discussed

  • Adwords : important to make a list of primary and secondary keywords and bid for them so that you end up in the first page of search
  • Listing on business app marketplaces – Google Apps, Capterra
  • Outbound lead generation : Some tools to get a database of companies – Discovery.org, DataGuru, Datanyze, Rainking. Use tools like Sendee or Amazon SES for outbound email campaigns to get better open, response rates.
  • Doing Paid webinars at domain specific sites : need significant effort and money.
  • Analyst relations : KiSSFLOW has used Capterra, G2CrowdSource, Gartner and Forrester, TrustRadius. Getting listed is not difficult. Improving ratings needs time and effort

Inside Sales Team Roles

Sales team structure

Before setting up the sales team, it is essential for the founders to map the entire sales process. This sets the tone for the sales team to follow.

Suresh raised an important question – Is your product complex enough to necessitate two roles – SDR & AE.

Sales Development Rep (SDR)

  • Should be good with talking and selling and need to do the bulk of talking and writing to customers
  • Generally have about 300-400 leads to work on and set demos for AEs .
  • Incentives – At KiSSFLOW, it is composite – based on email opens (they have some metrics), completed demos and a small portion of booked revenue.
  • Qualify leads based on multiple factors including no of active sessions, user-base, profile of signed up user etc.

Account Executive (AE)

  • Typical AEs are prior pre-sales guys with ~4 years of experience
  • Have very good product knowledge
  • Important metric for AEs is “Time to first WOW / Magic moment”
  • They typically floor the customer during the demo by spontaneously configuring everything needed during the session itself.
  • Should be able to figure out whether a discount would help close the deal.
  • Generate leads on their own other than leads from SDRs


An interesting suggestion that came up was hiring AIESEC students for sales roles. These students would be foreign nationals visiting India on an exchange programme and are generally available to work for about 6-12 months and would be a good fit.

Some of the companies mentioned, they have a intensive training program to train SDR’s.


Important learning – many make the mistake of making quick decisions when it comes to pricing, and not giving it enough thought. Needs to be very simple, but also needs to be constantly worked and improved.

Tools & Resources

Some of the marketing & sales – tools & resources used by the participant companies

  • LeadSquared : Generate landing pages easily for campaigns
  • Sendee / Amazon SES : For email campaigns
  • Discovery.org, DataGuru, Datanyze, Rainking : Lead database
  • FullStory : Recorded video of user actions/activities. Alternative tool, MouseFlow.
  • Moz : to check SEO ranking
  • Pipedrive, SalesForce : CRM
  • Wappalyzer, BuiltWith – technologies used on website – useful for competitor analysis
  • Guide to marketing & selling in SaaS – A Jump Start Guide To Desk Marketing and Selling For SaaS – thanks iSPIRT for this.

Closing thoughts

It was really a insightful and informative session and a great starting point in Sales for many of us.

Thanks to

  • Amarpreet Kalkat, Frrole & Avinash Raghava, iSPIRT for organizing this round table
  • Suresh Sambandam, CEO, KiSSFLOW for moderating the session
  • Other startup founders for sharing your insights
  • And finally, Sumanth, CEO, Deck App for hosting us and for the sumptuous pizzas, tea and biscuits.
Guest Post by Gautham Sheshadhari, RecruiterBox

Founders don’t scale

As founders, many of us had to learn skills that don’t come naturally. Some responsibilities are better handled by your co-founders and other team members. You may be an amazing engineer, but a weak product manager. You may be a great product manager, but terrible at sales.

And then there’s the universal challenge that every founder has to deal with – hiring.

Founders have an internal compass of identifying people in their own area of strength. But we generally cannot replicate that compass to other roles,which require different strengths. Moreover, most of us make the mistake of mirror hiring i.e. hiring people like ourselves, or of not defining a common evaluation process across all interviewers.

With growing teams, it can become messier and messier as founders discontinue their involvement in the hiring of certain roles. As a founder, you inform three crucial elements of the hiring process: (1) how you pitch the company; (2) how you screen beyond paper qualifications; and (3) how you evaluate against what the role and company require. You might be doing these three things well today, but the point is that you need to depend on others on your team to do these well, too. Hence you need to define a process around hiring. Founders don’t scale, processes do.

Over the last year, we defined a process that we employ across all our roles. And we have put it all down in a book so that it can help other founders and teams.

Here is the free ebook – recruiterbox.com/prepare. Hope it helps you!

Foundations: How starting a #Startup is really like… #Recruiterbox

linenStarting a startup is an exciting and also a challenging journey, right from putting together the Founding team, building a great product, persisting during times of roadblock, engaging the users, thinking long-term and so on. To help the fellow entrepreneurs, we have been speaking to recent entrepreneurs about their startup-journey, growth path and their learnings. In this series, we spoke to Raj Sheth, CEO & Co-Founder at RecruiterBox, about his motivation, decision to startup and his experience so far.

“Recruiterbox provides a one-stop portal to track applicants in one place with its online recruiting and resume management software, applicant tracking systems, Careers site management and Collaborative Recruitment”

What is your background, how did you decide to startup?

To give a background, I did my Bachelors from Babson college, US –  the place had a very entrepreneurial culture and the first startup I tried was a food-delivery startup in my college. After my college, I was working with EMC US for 3 years when I started realizing that I’m getting used to this habit of monthly paycheck. I wanted to solve a problem with a good product. Yes, startup isn’t easy, you aren’t going to make money in initial months – yet we decided to take this journey. Recruiterbox is my 3rd startup.

Could you tell us about the Co-founders and team?

Girish Redekar and Raguveer Kancherla are the two other Co-founders who have been instrumental in building the RecruiterBox product. Both are from IIT Madras and they were working with ZS Associates before they went on to work with HSBC and GE Genpact respectively.

Could you tell us about your Product, and how you chose this problem to solve?

All three of us have worked in large companies, and what we have seen largely is the compliance kind of products in use with little flexibility for end users. For hiring, we saw it to be based on emails, with big file attachments and separate XL tracking. In contrast, products like LinkedIn provides an easy way to share profiles through their online network portal. We wanted to build a product which would help recruiters to easily track applicants, manage resumes and the entire process seamlessly.

Tell us about the initial version of the product and its growth henceforth.

Initial experience I’d say was exciting, painful and challenging. We explained to an initial set of customers – they were happy with product – but the challenging part was scaling from say 10 to 100 customers. We incorporated RecruiterBox in US, and we had our initial customers in India as well, we used PayPal to accept payments. We had challenges in our initial product e.g. in billing, before we reached a stable product.

The co-founders had a very clear roadmap for the product – they took customer inputs and at the same time, clearly prioritized the right set of things to be added to the product in the given time. Also we interacted with head of recruiting in major companies, to gather their inputs and make the product better.

How important is Tech in RecruiterBox, and how did you go about acquiring tech-talent?

Technology is more important than anything else in our product Startup. Customers pay for a good product, so it all comes to better product right? in terms of how easy it is to understand the product, how usable, how robust, how secure. It should stay up all the time, should have useful functionalities and so on.

Having said that, acquiring tech-talent is one of the difficult things. You need people who can build better tech product, more so than as a service. There is a lot of time spent on hiring tech-talent, grooming them and getting them on board and this is one challenge faced by most product companies out here.

What has been the biggest challenge in this startup journey so far?

In the first year or even then, growth is the biggest challenge. Product is something in your control, you know what you have built, and what you are going to do further with customer inputs. But sales growth is a challenging one to crack. And we do many things like getting organic traffic from Google, email-marketing, Adwords, online-advertising, paid-Ads etc. And today we appear right at the top in Google organic search results, when you search for the keywords ‘recruiting software’ – this shows the quality of our product.

Ours is a B2B product and we get a big proportion of traffic from Google. For easy onboarding of our B2B customers, we offer online sign-up and free trial. And most customers eventually choose to buy our Product by paying online even without any intervention from our Sales team. We reach out to all customers signing-up and help them through screen-share, video-chats etc. Now with more advanced features being rolled-out, we look to expand with dedicated Sales-team to provide initial hand-holding.

What are your views on the startup ecosystem in India, and what would you advise the aspiring entrepreneurs?

Speaking of networks and VCs, I’d say there is a much better ecosystem now in India, than say 4 years ago. There are active networks, one just has to reach out to right people. Also Bangalore and Silicon Valley are quite well connected in terms of networking – you have to reach out.

Speaking of funding ecosystem, there is a lot of action these days in India as well as here in US. I’d advise aspiring entrepreneurs to focus on building the right Product in initial days rather than spending time on valuations. People wouldn’t easily invest in just an idea right? Learn to code, focus on building a Product which would address the problem out there, and things would slowly fall in place.

Indian Mid-market SaaS companies: Forging a new path to disruption

SaaS has changed the competitive dynamics for Indian enterprise software product firms, putting them on a level playing field with their western counterparts. It has opened up new market segments, notably the small and medium sized enterprise market, whose requirements are different from those of large global 2000 businesses. These customers demand products that are less complex, plug-and-play and come at a lower price tag. This has pushed product companies catering to this segment towards a light-touch, virtually enabled model, dramatically reducing the need for close customer engagement, large field sales force, and elaborate implementation – all of which traditionally put Indian companies at a disadvantage.

Leveraging this wave, a new generation of Indian software product firms such as FreshDesk, FusionCharts, KissFlow, WebEngage, RecruiterBox and others have started to emerge. This has created an important disruptive force in the mid-sized enterprise market. What is also interesting is that, in their pursuit for a light-touch model, these companies have evolved a unique strategy to define the product, market/sell the product and engage with customers. This iSPIRT report discusses the three core tenets of their strategy – Digital immersion, Desk marketing/selling and Cloud-based customer engagement.

SaaS #MadeinIndia Products – HR & Recruitment

This post and the one’s following this are attempts to improve the coverage and knowledge of Indian made Product companies who are solving issues with their SaaS type solutions. This is not a comprehensive list, and if there are some companies whom we have missed and should be in this list, please feel free to email us or drop in a comment and we will add it to the list, this hopefully will turn into a Crowd Sourced list of companies in the HR & Recruitment space.
Some of the HR & Recruitment based Products with a SaaS twist and the #madeinindia component in an alphabetical order:
1. Adrenalin – Adrenalin is a business-critical Human Resource Software. It provides critical tools such as HR software solution, payroll software solution, HRMS software solution, performance management system, attendance and training management software solutions.
2. Ascent Payroll – Employee Self service, Payroll Software.
3. Cynergis – HR Outsourcing, Payroll & HRMS software which has been around for over 10 years, and also has a major SaaS play involved.
4. Employwise – HR software for integrated employee life-cycle management delivered as SaaS.
5. Emportant – Emportant.com provides Internet based HR and Payroll Management software. Based on cloud technologies, it provides highly reliable and worry free software environment that you can just use without any other software management overheads.
6. EmpXtrack – EmpXtrack is a software product of Saigun Technologies Pvt. Ltd.. The company has been focused on HR solutions for the last 10 years and is a CMMI Level 3 company implementing best software development practices since inception.
7. Fluous – PowerApps – Adaptive HR Systems is the premier HRMS solution being by both large and growing organisations.
8. Greytip – Greytip Software is a leading HR & Payroll software solutions company. They offer a wide range of HR solutions (from on-boarding to exit) for customers big and small across industry verticals.
9. Hackerearth – Help you hire programmers for your companies.
10. HireCraft – Talent Management is a tool to help you manage all your employees and talent via this product suite by HireCraft.
11. Hire Rabbit – HireRabbit helps you design a beautiful career site on facebook, boost your referral recruitment, automate manual social recruiting activities, and provide metrics that matter!
12. HR Mantra – HR Mantra provides SaaS based Employee Self Service, HRIS, HR & Payroll Software on the Cloud.
13. Jombay – the smartest way to find jobs in India on the next generation job portal.
14. KServeHRMS is a flagship product with of Kallos. The HRMS product is known for its unique employee self service centric model for integrated HRMS software
15. MinervaHR Suite – A product from TenXLabs designed to house all information pertaining to every employee in an association from Recruitment to Retirals.
16. Mettl – Mettl is an online assessment and testing platform to measure, analyze and improve people skills. It is ideal for companies who want to run multi-competency assessments for their prospective hires or existing employees. We focus deeply on the science of assessments and combine it with advanced technology to deliver highly valid and reliable tests.
17. PeopleWorks –  A flexible, robust, customizable, and seamless cloud based solution for efficient management of the HR lifecycle of every employee in the organization.
18. Recruiterbox – Recruiterbox is the easiest way to receive and manage job applications to your company. It is more efficient than email and simpler than any other recruitment software. They are Bangalore based, but have been getting great traction outside and within India for their product.
19. Saral Paypack – Payroll Software for managing all your employees in one place, SaaS based web platform.
20. Shawman Software – From recruitment to retirement, the entire gamut of managing human capital is supported by HRMS.
21. SumHR – SumHR is a HRMS product, automating all HR requirements with a Free Employee & Leave Management system product integrated as well.
22. Synergita – Software for the people, performance management and continuous feedback.
23. Talentpool – Talentpool is a recruitment software for HR Departments of companies. It helps them streamline their recruitment processes, meet hiring targets and get instant reports to track performance.
24. Valuehire – A complete workflow automation solution for recruitment agencies and
companies of all sizes.
As mentioned, if (and we must have) we have missed out on some companies, either yours or another you know of, and would like it to be added to the list, please comment below here, or email us.
Our Goal is to create a great compilation of SaaS Product companies made out of India and hopefully get more businesses to try using these products as well compared to other counter-parts.
The next list of SaaS Product companies made from India, will have special focus on Social Media Tools. Watch out for that in a few days.