AI/ML Shift for SaaS Companies: Insights from SaaSx Fifth Edition

Early stage SaaS startups typically struggle with one of two things. When you are just starting out, the first struggle is all about mere survival. Will we find customers willing to use and pay for our product ? Good teams typically manage to find ways to negotiate that first challenge. The playbook has been sufficiently commoditized that if you execute well enough, you can actually succeed in getting those early customers. Its a challenge for sure, but is getting easier and cheaper to overcome — which takes me to the second challenge. Once you survive that initial phase, how do you continue to stay relevant and grow? For if you don’t grow, you’ve only prolonged the inevitable and will likely get disrupted into irrelevance by the next upstart that comes along. When you play in a commodity market, that’s the sad reality.

If you find yourself gaining customer adoption, you can be fairly certain that competition isn’t far behind. Unless you find a way to establish sustainable differentiation while you have that head start, you will ultimately die. And that differentiation now increasingly comes down to the value of the data flowing through your platform and how you are able to leverage it better than your competition. In other words, if you are not thinking about constantly learning from the data that you are gathering and enabling implicit intelligence via your products, the odds of survival are going to be stacked against you. Given the significance this topic carries for us at Swym, I was really excited to have the chance to sit in on Ashwini Asokan and Anand Chandrasekaran’s session on AI/ML for SaaS at SaaSx5. And they most certainly didn’t disappoint. With a lucidly laid out argument, their talk served as a strong wake-up call for the SaaS founders in the room that weren’t sufficiently worrying about this topic.

SaaS growth is slowing

Ashwini started out by underscoring the fact that SaaS growth was slowing in general. There’s no denying that most solutions are rapidly becoming commoditized — building a good product has gotten fairly prescriptive, costs have come down and barriers to customer adoption are a lot lower than they used to be. That inevitably leads to markets getting very crowded, making survival increasingly difficult. If you don’t stand out in very defensible ways, you will perish. To make matters worse, AI is slowly but surely causing entire categories of work to disappear — Customer Support, SDRs, Financial/Market Analysts, to name just a few examples. If those workers were your market and you were helping them be more efficient, you are in trouble because your market is disappearing with them. You better be evolving from being software that’s serving those people that in turn serve a function, to actually serving the function itself. Of course you do this with human assistance, but in a progressively intelligent fashion that makes you indispensable.

Embrace the platform mindset

In order to stay relevant, you really need to create a viable roadmap for yourself to graduate from being a simple feature that’s part of a larger platform (No one likes being told they are nothing but a feature, but this really is where most early stage SaaS products sit today) to becoming the platform itself over time. It can most certainly be done because the opportunity exists, and the access you have to your data and how you are able to leverage it is likely to be the most effective weapon to get you there. Think really hard about new use cases you can light up, automations you can now enable, important solutions that hitherto weren’t possible or practical — enabling those capabilities is what will give you stickiness. And you can in turn leverage that stickiness to allow others to build on the data platform you’ve created to expand your moat. Easier said than done of course, but it is the only path to staying relevant. Alexa, Salesforce, Adobe, Hubspot, and most recently Stripe with their just announced app store, all come to mind as stellar examples of execution on this strategy.

How should I be thinking about Data Science?

Anand followed that up with some really good advice on how to go about this, especially touching on what not to do, and it was clearly resonating with the audience. For instance, when he highlighted the fact that most AI initiatives that start with “Here’s the data I have…what can I do with it?” are doomed from the get go, a lot of heads in the room were nodding in agreement — seemed like a pretty common trap that folks had fallen into. Instead, his advice was to identify the end goal that mattered first, with the caution that this could be deceptively challenging. Once that goal is well understood, then focus on the data you have and the gaps that exist — and your challenge basically boils down to filling those gaps and cleansing/validating your data. Those are your most critical, time-consuming steps in the process for once you get the data quality you want, it becomes much simpler to build and iterate your model around that and figure out how to engineer this into a repeatable part of your workflow. The sub par data quality is one of the most common causes for AI projects “failing” and no amount of modeling proficiency will save you from bad data or a poorly understood problem statement.

Get on the train, but don’t lose sight of what got you here

I’m really glad to have had the benefit of listening to their talk in person, and now that I’ve let the arguments sink in over the past couple of weeks, a few truths have become indisputably clear in my head. The AI shift is not one you can ignore as a SaaS founder. If you don’t get on the train, you’ll likely end up under it. And no, getting on the train doesn’t mean simply attaching a “.ai” to your domain name and claiming success. It really comes down to internalizing your vision for why you exist, identifying in very clear terms how your roadmap to making that vision a reality will need to evolve given the AI shift. How do you see your problem space changing in the the next 2–5 years thanks to AI, and what does that mean for you? And given your existing strengths, what can you do to make the most of that shift?

Its important to remember that a lot of the fundamentals of a good SaaS story still don’t change. For instance, a sound distribution strategy is still very much necessary, for without sustainable access to customers, the rest of it is moot. Likewise, you want to be able to protect the access you have to your most valuable asset, your data) and lower the barriers enough for adjacent players to be able to work seamlessly with your offering. All those advantages you have still very much matter. Really, the biggest mental shift you need to make is thinking very deliberately about how the world around you is changing because of AI, and how you leverage those strengths so you continue to have proprietary access to the data you need and become an integral part of that change.

The article is authored by our volunteer Arvind Krishnan, CEO & Founder – Swym Technologies.

Clearing the confusion on – SOFTEX form filing need

There are instances, when Software exporting companies operating outside an export oriented scheme (STP, SEZ, EOU etc.) are advised, that there is no need for them to file SOFTEX forms. The young entrepreneurs in Startups, obviously get confused on this. In some cases, companies stopped getting SOFTEX certification done, after complying in past when they moved out of STP/SEZ schemes, owing to this advice.

There are always two parts to deal with regulatory compliance. One, the policy aspect and second, the procedural aspect. There is lot of material available on internet, on the procedural (process) part of filing SOFTEX form. And perhaps none, that explains the policy aspect.

This article is meant to clear the confusion on SOFTEX form among the Software product community by explaining the policy aspect of SOFTEX and background process, in the realm of foreign trade regulations.

Why and how SOFTEX form came in to existence?

In general exports means sending ‘goods and service’ to clients in foreign country (outside territorial borders of India) for purpose of sale. Physical goods are exported through a physical port of shipping (a sea port, airport or foreign post office) monitored by Central customs department.

When physical goods leave borders, from any port of shipment, the exporter is required to declared value of goods. In India, this was done through a form called GR form (PP form in case of exports by post office) for non-EDI ports and SDF for EDI ports, along with invoice and other supporting documents. Recently, as part of simplification of process, the GR and PP form have been substituted by a new form called ‘EDF’ (export declaration form) and SDF has been merged with shipping bill. Please see RBI circulars. RBI/2013-14/254 A.P. (DIR Series) Circular No.43 September 13, 2013) and RBI//2014-15/599, A.P. (DIR Series) Circular No.101, May 14, 2015.

This value declared is required to be accepted and certified by the customs office, at the port of shipment. This is called “valuation of export”. Once the valuation of export is complete, the value is accepted both by RBI and its authorised dealer (the exporter’s bank). RBI then monitors, the remittance of an equivalent value in exporter’s bank account.

A ‘Software’ exported on a media (CD/DVD, magnetic tapes etc.) has to pass through these steps, as it is exported physically through a port of shipment, as physical goods.

In early 1990s, when Software Technology Park (STP) scheme came in to existence, the need to export Software through data communication links emerged. Customs department had difficulty in managing this, as nothing physical was visible in a Software transmitted, as well as did not have human resources and knowhow to deal with exports through telecom links.

DeitY (then Department of Electronics) enabled an innovation in government policy and could get RBI to announce SOFTEX form as an alternative to the GR/PP forms, to suit the export of Software, through data communication links.

STPI being the administrative authority of STP scheme, became the designated authority for “Software export valuation” and certification of SOFTEX form, in place of Customs. As on date the jurisdictional STPI Directors and SEZ Commissioners are the designated authority for SOFTEX valuation.

The purpose, policy and process of SOFTEX form is same as in GR/PP (or new EDF) form.

The only policy point difference between GR/PP or EDF form and SOFTEX form is that GR/PP forms are submitted and valued, simultaneous to the exports actually happening from port of shipment. Whereas, SOFTEX form is a post-facto approval, after the actual export of Software has actually taken place.

An important policy aspect to understand here is that before the SOFTEX form was launched the Software was put at par with ‘goods’ in the foreign trade policy, as policy makers could not conceive a trade in anything that is not ‘goods’. Even today, a services export in non-IT sector does not need any declaration or export valuation. Therefore, Software (IT and ITeS) was given a special status in international trade equivalent to ‘goods’.

Valuation of exports by Customs/STPI/SEZ is a crucial part of process

As described above, there are two policy aspects embedded here,

  1. Regulation of foreign remittances by RBI against export done by exporter (the origin of this procedure and policy behind lies in the name of GR form – “Guaranteed Remittance”) and
  2. Valuation of export done by Customs officials at port of shipment (by STPI/SEZ for SOFTEX)

The second part of the process is “valuation of exports”. Exporter declares the value of exports supported by relevant documents. The designated officer in customs/STPI/SEZ considers and certifies this value and has all right to reject the value declared or examine any declaration for overtly undervaluation or overvaluation. The process is very smooth and in more than 99.9999% cases the value is accepted and certified. Rejections are only subject to a real doubt, unlawful trade happening and exporter not able to justify genuine exports. The valuation is done under the Customs Valuation (Determination of Value of Export Goods) Rules. Since there is no separate rules defined for ‘Software’ and the export oriented units (STP, SEZ, FTZ, EPZ) operate under customs bond, the same rule applies to ‘Software’. In absence of a rule for non-EOU exporters the law would rely on same rule as well.

An export of goods and software without valuation is incomplete. RBI depends on designated officers for this valuation exercise as they are the ones who have delegated powers under the constitution to do so.

A form not certified by jurisdictional designated officer is incomplete, legally.

Who should not file EDF or SOFTEX?

An exporter of physical goods has no option other than filing EDF, as goods passes through the port of shipment managed by customs. Similarly, exporter registered under STP and SEZ has no option as the value to be accounted as exports by exporter is taken from the SOFTEX forms signed in name of the exporter.

Exporters of Software (both IT and ITeS companies) not registered in STP or SEZ (or other EOU schemes) scheme should also file SOFTEX, as per foreign trade policy.

Such exporters popularly called non-STP units can file for SOFTEX with jurisdictional STPI Director.

Only those exporters whose exports are not goods or Software can escape the filing of SOFTEX. The foreign remittances received as exports proceeds, without certification of EDF (replacement of GR/PP form) or SOFTEX form will fall in two categories, either a general service or an unlawful remittance.

Exports of services that do not fall under IT and ITeS category are exempted from filing the export declarations and certification required thereof.

What is covered under the term ‘Software’ in RBI circular

The RBI circulars on SOFTEX mentions exports of ‘Software’. It implies both IT and ITeS exports. The genesis lies in how foreign trade policy evolved, ever since STP scheme was added to the bandwagon of export oriented schemes.

‘IT’ covers both Software services and Software products (including SaaS). Software services is a whole lot of things from consulting to design, development, implementation, maintenance, re-engineering of Software or a Software product.

‘ITeS’ covers all those services that are delivered to clients across borders of India using an IT driven system and process over a telecom/internet link (include BPO, KPOs, Digitization, Call centers, Data processing etc.).

What happens if exporter does not file SOFTEX (or alternative EDF) form?

If SOFTEX (or EDF in case of physical exports) form is not filed, and exports proceed is realized, the remittance received is either treated as ‘general services’ or not as an export proceed or illegal.

For general services such as management consulting, technical services there is no declaration form.

Advice for Software product including SaaS companies

For Software exporting companies not operating under STP or SEZ, it is possible to bypass and get remittances without filing SOFTEX or EDF, under the guise of a ‘service’ export. There is no immediate threat of non-compliance, unlike the exporters in STP or SEZ.

However, not getting classified as ‘software’ can create problems in future. First problem created is your exports are not ‘Software exports’. The other problems can erupt from regulations in other areas of taxation etc. Complex Service tax rules can create problem. Any situation, where an exporter will need to prove and protect herself can end up in to a nightmare.

The important part here is the export valuation process by STPI, SEZ or Customs. Once EDF/SOFTEX form is certified, your export is also certifies as export of ‘Software’, under foreign trade policy.

For Software product companies including SaaS companies, is it advisable to mandatorily file SOFTEX form or and EDF form for Software product export in physical media, even when they are not part of STP, SEZ or similar schemes.

iSPIRT efforts in further liberalization of SOFTEX \EDF

Many argue, why this documentation. The need to declare export value, monitor foreign remittances, export valuation and balance of trade & payment accounting will not vanish for a nation state. There has to be some minimal documentation and process to fulfil all these needs.

However, there is scope for further liberalization and need for an easy liberal regime for ‘ease of doing business’.

iSPIRT is aiming for a 100% “Digital” SOFTEX and EDF run under aegis of RBI, where the process can be executed and compliance completed even at single invoice level or a monthly consolidated statement level, based on various practical needs, with export declaration fully ‘dematerialised’.

This is much needed for a ‘digital economy’ and can be a boon for exporters especially in SaaS segment and startups, where orders and invoices are generated online. And online interface can be extended in to a fully ‘digital’ export declaration regime of RBI.

India to progress to a Product Nation, in a digital world, has to take some of these steps. Sooner the better.

SaaS India struggles with Inbound Lead Response

As Indian SAAS companies are aspiring to make a global footprint, the sales growth can make or break their goals. Companies who respond fastest as compared to competitors always have first mover advantage to close sales. According to the Harvard Business Review, companies that try to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving queries are nearly 7 times as likely to have meaningful conversations with key decision makers as firms that try to contact prospects even an hour later.

We surveyed 90 funded SAAS companies; the observations were quite shocking as far as their inbound lead response is concerned. Only 26% companies (24 out of 90) companies cared to respond to inbound leads. Given the kind of investment companies make in their digital marketing, money goes down the drain if the inbound leads are not tapped efficiently. Even if the leads are contacted, the time to respond makes all the difference.

Inbound Digital Marketing – A must for Generating Leads!

Organizations rely significantly on inbound digital marketing for their businesses. B2B companies invest from $25 to $500 for generating an inbound lead while B2C companies invest from $5 to $25 for the same. The money spent goes down the drain if inbound leads are not responded in an efficient way. The important questions for you to answer are – How many of your inbound leads are never contacted as they get lost during data transfer to sales team? How many inbound leads are loosely passed on to Sales reps to contact with incomplete or wrong information? How many of them are contacted when the prospect have lost interest in you or chosen a competitor?

The answers to these questions will define the ROI of your inbound marketing efforts. However, the good news is that if you are effective in inbound lead response management you are on the top of your business as chances are pegged on higher side in converting inbound sales leads rather than outbound leads for which investments are even on a much higher side.

Time is all what makes a difference!

We (Texo Team) conducted a research on funded B2B SAAS companies in India to analyse the inbound sales readiness. 90 SAAS companies were identified as funded. Web forms on the websites of the identified companies were filled and the responses were logged. We made an analysis on the data and have come out with an interesting insight on the current state of inbound sales processes in these companies or any other B2B company which may be used as a reference point for improvement through process, people and/ or technology.

We found that 8 companies choose to directly call the prospects and 4 companies choose to directly send personalized emails without sending an auto response. 4 companies sent personalized emails along with an auto response. Overall, only 26% companies (24 out of 90) responded to inbound leads out of which 67% (16) adopted calls as the mode of contact and 33% (8) used email as the mode of communication.

Only 4 out of 90 companies responded in less than 10 minutes. And only 7 companies responded in an hour. Click here to download TEXO SAAS Inbound Lead Response Report- 2015 for free and get deeper insights of the research report including the best SAAS companies in India who scored high in lead response research.

Way to Efficiently Manage your Inbound Leads

Inbound Leads are the prospects who have shown any kind of interest in your products/services by making a contact at any of the buyer stage. Marketers and sales reps have to align their engagement strategies with respect to the buyer stage. But what can they do about the 70% of the buyer’s journey that they’re missing out on? They are not able to correctly judge the prospect’s buying stage when they make a contact and hence not able to employ an effective engagement strategy.

And how can a tool like Sales Engagement Hub integrated with Marketing Automation Tools help marketers and sales reps keep pace with their buyers? The level of interest may vary depending on the buying stage the prospect is in, and hence different prospects need to be addressed differently. Factors to be considered for engaging with inbound leads are Response Time, Mode of Communication, Information to be shared, and Frequency of follow-ups and so on. A prospect in the consideration stage would prefer information about products, solutions, services, and case studies, and would need longer follow ups over email (preferably) or call. However, a prospect in the decision stage would be more interested in having information on solutions and pricing, and would need consistent follow-ups (shorter) over call (preferably) or email. Sales Engagement Hub integrated with marketing automation tools help the sales reps and marketers in effectively engaging with prospects.


Building Marketing & Sales Engine for Your Global B2B SaaS Product

Recently, India has seen many success stories of product startups in the SaaS category, which are building products for the global market. Here is what we did –

Suresh Sambandam, Founder and CEO of OrangeScape (the company behind KissFlow), in collaboration with the iSPIRT team, conducted the 49th #PlayBookRT on building SaaS products for the world. Sokrati (Pune) played a gracious host for this event, and saw around 14 product entrepreneurs from different cities.

Avinash Raghava introduced Suresh and the RT was kicked off with a round of introduction from all the participants.

Suresh laid out the purpose of the round table and defined the scope. This PlayBookRT was for the B2B SaaS startups with a product that has a global audience. These companies have achieved a product-market fit with a MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) in the range of $1K to $5K. These companies are looking to move the needle to $50K-$100K MRR. Essentially, early startups that are looking to grow at least 110x.

B2B customers need to be segmented with certain metrics. For KissFlow, the number of employees was a key metric to identify customer segments. The segments were –

  • SOHO (<10 employees),
  • Very Small Business (10-50),
  • SMB (50-500),
  • Mid-Market (500-5000) and
  • Enterprises (5000+)

Depending on your product, you may segment the customers by their revenues.

It is unlikely that your product will work across all segments as it is. The sweet spot for KissFlow is the SMB and Mid Market, as the value proposition is stronger for these customers. You have to pick your own sweet spot.

There was some discussion on why Enterprise segment is different from the others. There were multiple views on that. It was discussed that the marketing and sales processes are different for large customers. Their buying process is different too. They want “vendors” to come to them. Often, the product itself doesn’t work. Example – for KissFlow, Enterprise’s would need integration with their existing systems like SAP or Oracle. The SMB or Mid-Market customers do not have such requirements. For enterprises, you may have to package your product as a custom solution. Instead of the entire company, you may find it easier to get your product rolled out in a specific department.

The Mid-Market segment opens a big opportunity in US market. Typically, in the US, $5,000 is the approval limit in this segment. Most of the SaaS products fit in this limit. That makes decision making easier and fast. These companies are willing to spend money on products that help them compete with big guys.

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The discussion then moved on to the core elements of a successful SaaS business.

The role of the product in SaaS is very high. For enterprise products, the product comes at the end of the sales cycle. For SaaS products, the opposite is true. So, your product has to solve a problem.

While product is at the core of your business, marketing comes before the product. Your marketing communication needs to match the product promise.

Before accelerating your marketing, you need to decide on the product positioning. Your product is either a category creator, or provides a novel approach to an existing and well-understood category, or low cost alternative. Often, most of the SaaS businesses will fall in the second or third category. It’s also possible that product positioning could be mix of last two categories. The category creator products are hardest to pull off. The low-cost alternative need not be a low-priced alternative. Being in India, we can enjoy the advantage of low cost structures. Some companies do pass on the cost benefits to the customer via low price. While offering a low price option, it is important to ensure that you are not perceived as a low-quality option.

The next topic of discussion was offering a Freemium product vs Free trial. Often, for SaaS, this choice does not depend on the cost. The general consensus seemed to emerge that a free trial is the best option. Even if it doesn’t cost you much to offer part of the product for free, the effort to convert that free user to being a ‘paid’ user is high. Plus, when the user is ready to pay for the product, the user still may go out to look for other options. There are “free” products that make you pay with say a link to their website. This is not really free as your customers are paying with a different currency.

Like all discussions, this one too took a detour and we discussed about sales for the global customer base. To serve the US market, you need to have a night shift. For KissFlow, the newly signed up customer receives two emails – one automated and one personal email. The automated email is to schedule a demo of the product. KISSFlow has reduced the friction to sign up dramatically. You sign up with just an email. They have a team to find out information about that person based on the email address. All the new leads get assigned to the sales team automatically based on timezones and available bandwidth with the sales team. Each sales person handles about 200 leads per month with an annual contract value of less than $5,000.

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The next topic of discuss was pricing. People visit the homepage and then the ‘pricing’ page. They are qualifying themselves by looking at pricing. There are various ways to price your product. For the well-established category, competition will be a huge influencer in your pricing. You can also price your product based on value offered, though, you need to clearly demonstrate the value of the product. For KissFlow, the anchor was Google Apps. At the start, they focused on a niche of companies who have adopted Google Apps, which costs $5 per user per month. So, they picked the price of $3 per month.

For SaaS companies, raising the prices is usually not a problem. You can grandfather your existing customers who will continue to enjoy the same price, but the newer customers will pay a higher price. The real problem is lowering the prices, as it upsets existing customers. If your customers are not complaining about the prices, you are leaving money on the table and you should raise the price.

You should make users pay every month irrespective of their usage. You shouldn’t have to sell your product every month to the customers. That’s why your customers need to keep paying every month. Setting the expectations also ensures that customers are not thinking about pricing often.

Marketing was the next topic of discussion. Your website is a core marketing asset. You should avoid outsourcing the site development and have an in-house team for updating and maintaining the website.

Your home page should have a crisp headline with some value proposition. Jargon should be avoided. Make it easy for customers to understand and take a decision about your product. You should create a “customers” page for social proof. Highlight your major customers on this page. If you are running a blog, it will have visitors who are not aware about your product. You should create ads for your own product and run them on your blog.

You can use SEO and AdWords to bring the organic and paid traffic. SEO needs a lot of time to ramp up. So, start early with a dedicated team, even if it is a one-person team. AdWords needs a specialist to handle the paid traffic. Here, you can define your key metrics like costs per sign up. AdWords can deliver a sign up at $10-$25 for search and $2-$10 for display ads. These are only sign ups and not conversions. You need to measure conversion to paid subscription. That would be your true cost of customer acquisition.

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You need to have a responsive site as mobile traffic is growing. Even though most business users will sign up for your product with a desktop, they might discover your product on the mobile (maybe while reading a blog). They need to have a good experience when they are on mobile.

You can run re-marketing ads. This will provide you multiple opportunities to reach out to the user. Test out different messaging in the re-targeting. You can do smarter remarketing by finding the users’ point of interaction. For paid ads, start with only the US and then keep adding more countries depending on the quality of the traffic. There was a brief discussion on content marketing, focused on the disciplined approach to creating valuable content that will start delivering results over a period of time.

This was an excellent round table that covered most of the aspects of building SaaS products for the global market.

Contributed by Shashikant Kore, Co-founder of Karooya.

Starting with an SMB focus vs. enterprise for SaaS companies. Which is better?

branches&creatures (1)In the initial days of your SaaS startup, when you are doing user development, you may find that your product will help both SMB (Small Medium Business) users as well at Enterpriseusers.

There’s a tendency to then focus more on the “customer” development than the user. Assuming you have spent enough time on the user, there is a serious possibility of getting distracted from your mission by doing “both” at the same time.

Here is a dichotomy for entrepreneurs – Knowing that the milestone of Monthly Recurring Revenue (sans Churn) is the most important metric for SaaS companies, many entrepreneurs try to take the “relatively” easy route to try and get more larger enterprise deals for their product, if that’s what they know.

I have found that most entrepreneurs with an enterprise background end up finding 5-10 early customers who are willing to pay for a good product, but in the bargain they end up flexing their enterprise sales” muscle instead of building the “SMB marketing” muscle.

There is nothing wrong with choosing either market, but there is a big enough difference between both.

The enterprise SaaS market will end up with longer sales cycles (even if you know the decision makers), larger deals and request for integration with many existing tools and processes.

The SMB SaaS market will end up with smaller individual sales, an inbound marketing driven “self service” approach to vending and a extreme focus on seamless “on boarding” of users (sans training).

Many entrepreneurs also convince themselves that they can do both at the same time.

Which cannot be farther from the truth.

So, the question I usually get asked is “Which one do investors prefer“?

The answer is either one, since investors care about quality and quantity of revenue, but above all they also care about empirical evidence that they money they invest in will generate the consistency in the business for the chosen model.

Inconsistencies kill fund raising cycles.

So, if you chose to say you will build an enterprise sales model, you need to show your financial, product, hiring and operational model to support that type of business.

If, however you say your company will build a try and buy model for SMB sales online, with minimal or zero human touch from your side, driven by digital marketing, you need to show evidence that you can do that over a 3-6 month (or more) period.

I have seen many entrepreneurs confuse any revenue with good revenue. Consistency matters.

You have to show investors that you have done what you want to do.

Empirical evidence trumps theories.

So, my suggestion is to pick a model, stick to it for some time, before you decide to pivot if that does not work for you. Before you raise money, showing that the model you are choosing is one you have relevant expertise and knowledge in running is going to be critical.