India’s new Software Products Policy marks a Watershed Moment in its Economic History – Can the nation make it count?

India is on the glide path of emerging as one of the economic powerhouses of the world – its economy is ranked sixth in size globally (and slated to climb to second by 2030); it has the fastest growing annual GDP growth rate amongst (major) countries; the country ranked in the world’s top 10 destinations for FDI in 2017-18. With a population of 1.3 billion and a large middle class of ~300 million+, it is one of the most attractive markets globally. Specifically in the digital economy – India has a huge $ 167 billion-sized IT industry; it boasts of a 55% market share in global IT services & outsourcing; 1140 global corporations run their tech R&D centres in India. In the tech startup space, India has attracted Private Equity (PE) & Venture Capital (VC) investments of $33 billion in 2018, and it has over a dozen unicorns (startups with over $1 billion valuations).

These data-points are truly impressive and would make any country proud, but they belie one of the glaring historical paradoxes of the Indian economic story – the sheer absence of world-beating products from India. Ask Indians to name three truly world class, globally loved Indian products or brands – chances are they’ll struggle to name even one. Check out the Global Innovation Index 2018 from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) – India doesn’t figure in the top 50 countries. Or the Interbrand 2018 Top 100 Global Brands Ranking – there’s no Indian name on that list. Leave aside brick & mortar industries, the Indian IT & Digital sector doesn’t fare any better on this count. IT services, which forms its lion’s share comprises largely of low end, commoditized services or cost arbitrage based outsourcing contracts. Most of the new age tech unicorns in India are based on ideas and business models that are copied from foreign innovators (with some local tweaks) – their outsized valuations are a result of them being the gatekeepers to the large Indian market, rather than from having created path-breaking products from first principles. So the overall trend is that India has a large domestic market, and it is a big supplier of technical brain power on the world stage, but when it comes to building innovative products, we come to a total cropper. This is best reflected in the Infosys Co-Founder, Narayan Murthy’s candid quote – “There has not been a single invention from India in the last 60 years that became a household name globally, nor any idea that led to the earth-shaking invention to delight global citizens”.



The launch of the National Software Products Policy (#NSPS):

It is in this light that the recently rolled out National Software Products Policy (#NSPS) by the Ministry of Electronics & IT (MeitY), Government of India marks a watershed moment. For the very first time, India has officially recognised the fact that software products (as a category) are distinct from software services and need separate treatment. So dominated was the Indian tech sector by outsourcing & IT services, that “products” never got the attention they deserve – as a result, that industry never blossomed and was relegated to a tertiary role. Remember that quote – “What can’t be measured, can’t be improved; And what can’t be defined, can’t be measured”. The software policy is in many ways a recognition of this gaping chasm and marks the state’s stated intent to correct the same by defining, measuring and improving the product ecosystem. Its rollout is the culmination of a long period of public discussions and deliberations where the government engaged with industry stakeholders, Indian companies, multinationals, startups, trade bodies etc to forge it out.

#NSPS will bring into focus the needs of the software product industry and become a catalyst in the formulation of projects, initiatives, policy measures etc aimed at Indian product companies. One of its starting points is the creation of a national products registry that’s based on a schematic classification system. Other early initiatives that will help in operationalizing the policy – setting up of a Software Products Mission at MeitY, dedicated incubators & accelerators for product startups, development of product-focused industrial clusters, preferential procurement by the government from product companies, programs for upskilling and talent development etc.

The Indian IT / Software Industry Landscape:

To understand the product ecosystem, one needs to explore the $ 167 billion-sized Indian IT / Software sector into its constituent buckets. The broad operative segments that emerge are –

1) IT Services & ITES: This is by far the largest bucket and dominates everything else. Think large, mid & small sized services companies throughout the country servicing both domestic & foreign markets. e.g. TCS, Infosys, Mindtree, IBM, Accenture, GE etc
2) Multinationals / Global Development Centers: These are foreign software companies serving Indian markets and/or using India as a global R&D development centre. e.g. Microsoft, Google, Netapps, McAfee, etc
3) Domestic Product Companies: This is a relatively small segment of Indian software product companies selling in domestic or overseas markets e.g. Quickheal, Tally etc.
4) Startups – E-commerce / Transactional services: This is the large, fast-growing segment of startups into direct (or aggregated) transactional businesses like e-commerce, local commerce, grocery shopping, food delivery, ride sharing, travel etc. e.g. BigBasket, Flipkart, Amazon, Grofers, Milkbasket, Swiggy, Dunzo, Uber, Ola, Yulu, Ixigo, MMT etc. You could also include the payment & fintech companies in this bucket – e.g. Paytm, Mobikwik, PhonePe, PolicyBazaar, Bankbazaar etc. This segment has absorbed the maximum PE & VC investments and is poised to become bigger with time.
5) Product Startups – Enterprise / CoreTech / Hardware: This is comprised of companies like InMobi, Zoho, Wingify, Freshdesk, Chargebee, Capillary, electric vehicle startups, drone startups etc. They could be serving Indian or foreign B2B markets.
6) Product Startups – Consumer Internet: This segment is composed of media/news companies, content companies, social & professional networking, entertainment, gaming etc. e.g. Dailyhunt, Inshorts, Sharechat, Gaana, Spotify, YouTube, video/photo sharing apps, Dream11 etc.

(N.B. Off course, this segmentation schema is not water-tight and there could be other ways to slice and/or label it)

Why India lags behind in Software Products?

The global software products industry has a size of $ 413 billion, and it is dominated by US & European companies. India’s share in that pie is minuscule – it is a net importer of $ 7 billion worth software products (India exports software products worth $ 2.3 billion, while it imports $ 10 billion)“Software is eating the world” – entire industry segments are being re-imagined and transformed using the latest developments in cloud computing, artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning etc. In this scenario, it is worth understanding why India seems to have missed the software products bus. The reasons are multifarious, cutting across cultural, economic, market, behavioural and societal factors –

a) The cultural aversion to Risk, Ambiguity & Failure: Indian society has traditionally valued conformity and prepares people not to fail. Our family and educational environments are geared for teaching us to eschew risk-taking and avoid ambiguity. But building products is all about managing risk and failure. When you take a product to market from scratch, you take on multiple types of risk – market risk, execution risk, product risk. For many people in India, this is in stark contrast to their social/attitudinal skills and expectancies they have built up over a lifetime.

b) “Arbitrage” offers the Path of Least Resistance: If you pour water down a heap of freshly dug mud, it will find the path of least resistance and flow along it. Human behaviour is similar – it is conditioned to look for the path of least resistance. And “arbitrage” offers that least resistance path in the IT industry – be it cost arbitrage, labour arbitrage, geographical arbitrage, concept arbitrage et al. The IT services industry leverages the cost arbitrage model via cheaper labour costs. Many of the transactional e-commerce startups in India have used geographical arbitrage to their advantage – once a successful product or model is created in another market, they bring it to India to capitalize on a local first mover advantage, build a large valuation and become the gatekeeper to the market before the (original) foreign innovators arrive in India many years later! But arbitrage means, that while you are taking on market & execution risk, you are not assuming the product risk. These dynamics played out at scale over the years has meant it is easier for a wannabe entrepreneur in India to go the arbitrage way and quickly build out a business using a readymade template than go down the software products path, which has a much longer gestation & higher risks associated with it.

IMHO, this “arbitrage” factor represents the single biggest reason why India has seen a virtual explosion in e-commerce startups, at the expense of product startups. Look around the startup ecosystem and you’ll see all kinds of transactional businesses involving activities like buying, selling, trading etc. Why… this almost reminds of that famous 17th-century quote by Napolean when he described Britain as a “nation of shopkeepers”🙂

c) Tech isn’t enough – you need design, marketing skills: To build great software products, you not only need strong technical abilities but also good design, marketing & branding skills to carve out a compelling product offering. Ask any startup in India – one of their most common problems is the inability to hire good designers and UX professionals. This puts Indian companies at a comparative disadvantage – even if they have the engineers to build the technology, their inability to translate that technology into an appealing user experience often means the difference between success and failure.

d) Lack of “patient” venture capital: This is a complaint you hear often from Indian product startups – the lack of venture capital that’s willing to be patient over the longer gestation cycles software products demand. While there is some truth to it, the more likely explanation is that software product companies present a “chicken & egg problem” for Indian startup investors. Investors are driven by financial returns – if they see returns from product companies, they’ll bet their monies on them. It just so happens, that Indian investors haven’t yet seen venture sized returns from software product companies. Hopefully, this dynamics will even out as the ecosystem grows.

e) Inadequate Domestic Market Potential:
 Many software products are monetized via subscription models, where the market’s ability (and propensity) to explicitly pay for the service is critical for success. Sometimes (SAAS/enterprise) companies try their model in India, only to discover there just aren’t enough paying customers. These startups may then be left with no choice but to either target foreign markets, or in extreme cases just move abroad for business continuity. Thus it has become imperative for the Indian domestic market to grow in size and scale to ensure the viability of product startups.

Platform companies from India are a non-starter: One aspect that needs calling out specifically is the sheer absence of any platform companies from India. Platforms are the next evolutionary step for scaled software product companies – if you get to the stage, where other industry stakeholders start building on top of the plumbing you’ve provided (thereby becoming totally dependent on you), that’s an immensely powerful position to be in e.g. AWS, Android, iOS etc. This factor assumes even greater importance given upcoming trends in AI, machine learning, deep learning, automation, robotics – the companies which emerge as platform providers may offer strategic advantages to the country of their origin. As depicted by the graphic below, India is as yet a non-starter on this count. This is deeply worrying – imagine a scenario 10-15 yrs out, when Indian software companies start dominating the domestic markets and also are a force to reckon with globally, but it’s all built on intellectual property (IP) & platforms created & owned by foreign companies!!

Some Suggested Action Areas for the National Software Policy:

MeitY in consultation with industry stakeholders is likely to create an implementation roadmap for #NSPS. Here are some specific action points I’d like to call out for inclusion in that roadmap:

Domestic Market Development: As explained earlier, the Indian domestic market needs curated development to reach a potential that makes product startups viable without having to depend on overseas markets. This calls for a series of steps, such as policy support from sectoral regulators, funding support via special go-to-market focused venture capital funds etc. The government could also help by announcing a preferential procurement policy from domestic software product companies. The Government e Marketplace (GeM) can help in institutionalizing these procurement norms.

Creating Early Awareness (Catch ‘em young): Fed by constant news in media about IT services, ITES, BPOs, outsourcing etc the average person in India is likely to be aware of IT services, but not necessarily software products. Many people may have friends and family members who work at TCS, Infosys, Wipro, IBM etc, but the same can’t be said about product companies. Given this scenario, it is important to create early awareness about products in schools, colleges, universities across metros, Tier 1, Tier 2 & 3 towns. Some of the world’s biggest product innovators like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs started writing software before they had reached high school – so if we can catch people young, we actually get a much longer runway to get them initiated into the product ecosystem. If they learn about products after they’ve started working in the industry, or when planning a mid-career shift from services to products, it might be quite late.

Reducing entry barriers for starting Software Product Companies: As shared earlier, one of the big problems in the Indian software product space is that there just aren’t enough entrepreneurs starting up product businesses. E-commerce & transactional services actually absorb (or suck in) a lot of entrepreneurial talent by virtue of having lower barriers to entry. To make a serious dent in products, you need a much larger number of product companies started off the ground. This can happen only by systematically bringing down the entry barriers – driving awareness, providing funding support, providing market development support etc. Advocacy and evangelism by software product industry role models also can help develop confidence and conviction in people to think products instead of services or e-commerce.

Building domestic Software Product Companies atop public goods: Silicon Valley has shown how you can build successful commercial applications on top of public goods (e.g. Uber built on top of GPS, Google maps & mobiles). In a similar way, public goods in India like IndiaStack, or HealthStack can be the base (or the plumbing) over which commercial applications get built for mass scalability. The good news is this trend has already been kickstarted, though its still early days.

This blog was first published at Webyantra.com

SaaS founders discuss NPSP 2019 with MietY Officials in Chennai

Shri Rajiv Kumar Joint Secretary in-charge of National Policy on Software Products (NPSP 2019) and Senior Director Dr. A K Garg met 20 SaaS companies founders and leader in Chennai on 13th March 2019. At meeting it was discussed that NPSP announced by Government of India on 28th February will soon create a National Software Product Registry, where SaaS companies can register and have access to GEM portal. Also, the procurement process will be suitably amended to allow Govt. departments to procure and use SaaS products.  ‘National Software Product Mission (NSPM)’ envisaged in the policy will be setup at Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY).

 

 

Government has launched NPSP 2019 to focus on Software product ecosystem. iSPIRT has been advocating the cause of SaaS segment in Software products and its importance for India to remain a force to reckon with in Software in next 25 years.

The event was a golden opportunity for SaaS companies Founders and leaders, to provide feedback to and understand from the senior officials in Delhi, about the vision they have to make India a Software product power. Twenty SaaS companies represented in the event.

Speaking on behalf of SaaS founders, Suresh Sambandam, Founder and CEO of OrangeScape said,” Global landscape has changed very fast driven by new technology. We have a 2 trillion Dollar opportunity for SaaS industry. If we get our act right, India can aspire to remain in global game in Software Industry”.

The roundtable was organised by iSPIRT Foundation to facilitate officials to have direct interaction with SaaS industry and understand issues, problems and opportunities in SaaS industry, to enable Government to further carve out schemes/ programs under NPSP 2019 going further.

Obsessive Focus To Product Market Fit – Tricks of the Trade and 5 Case Studies

As we begin 2019, for many startups the big question is – have they reached Product-Market fit or what should they do to reach Product-Market Fit.

Market it is!

There are 3 important ingredients for making a product – the actual product, the people who build this product and the market for which the product is built. The point of getting the right intersection of the three with success gets you to product market fit.

Marc Andreessen, whom I consider as the Father of Product Market fit, describes Market as the most important of the above 3, and Product Market fit is more likely to be achieved when you have a market – “In a great market – a market with lots of real potential customers – the market pulls product out of the startup”.

So the most important thing in your journey is to identify what market you are addressing. Basically, it means customers – businesses or consumers – who are seeking a solution, a better solution or cheaper solution to a problem.

The market definition has to be very clear and focused – as that would drive the product directions and help you get to the product – market fit.

Here are some questions you can get answered to validate the existence of the market:

Why need? – why do the customers want to solve the particular problem – what’s the real need. Is the problem that you are solving is a painkiller, vitamin or vaccine?

Why buy? – are they ready to pay for it – many solutions are liked by customers, but they could back off if they have to pay for it. So value hypothesis of this would help. Also if you are not expecting the users to pay for it, who will pay for it e.g. ads pay for social media users

Why now? – is this the right time for the product – timing is very important as customers have many solutions and many problems, and they care to address only some problems that have higher priority for them to solve – so timing is an important element to understand if there is a market that exists.

It’s happening vs not happening

How do you know if your product has hit the product market fit? Here are some nice indications

Isn’t Happening It’s Happening
Not getting any customers Customers are buying your product – at least few in B2B and many in B2C
The problem you are solving is not a high priority for your customers Usage is growing
Word of mouth is not happening You have to hire sales and support people
Customer feel your product price is not giving them enough value You are called out by the press, analyst – get good social media mentions
Press reviews are not happening, no tweets or mentions Customers send feedback and complaints – issues

Obsessive focus for Product-Market Fit

For any entrepreneur or product leader, there should be an obsessive focus to get to product market fit. The below is a Create > Prove > Iterate process that can help you to get to product market fit. Also, it’s not going to happen very fast, it needs perseverance and constant focus to move the needle – it’s a long-term journey.

During the process, you may have to do any of the following change to get to the product market fit

  • Rewrite your PRODUCT
  • GO AFTER a Different MARKET
  • REPLACE your PEOPLE or Hire SPECIALIST
  • IMPROVE THE USABILITY
  • CHANGE THE TECH ARCHITECTURE
  • UPDATE YOUR Deployment MODEL
  • Revisit PRICING STRATEGY
  • Fix Quality issues or Customer grievances

5 Takeaway case studies of Successful Product-Market Fit

I wanted to lay out few examples, all Indian, on things that will help you validate your market hypothesis as well as give some references on some generic areas that have worked. I am picking three examples in software tech and two non-software to broaden the horizon of how we should think product-market fit.

Transformation of Existing Product: Royal Enfield – You may notice in the Indian roads a lot more Royal Enfield Bullets plying which was not a case for many years when the 100cc bikes became the hot thing. This is a huge success story when it comes to finding the right Product Market Fit. Royal Enfield was in a do or die situation in the early 2000s – the discussion was around whether to sell off or shut down and its next-gen leader Siddhartha Lal stood up and asked for the last chance to revive. Here are the things they did to reach product-market fit – and the success is big case study now

  • Leisure Segment – The bike had its reputation, a cult following, an instantly recognisable build, and aspirational value. So it was given not to go to the commuter segment
  • Innovate with new tech but still keep the old charm that customers loved. They changed the engine which had 30 % fewer parts, and 30% better power, plus fuel efficient
  • Fix the quality process and problem – formed a field quality rapid action force to bridge the gap between customer expectations and the reality
  • Sales Experience had to be improved – new company-owned showrooms were launched and dealer network was expanded
  • Get the best talent – the company hired top talent – a new CEO who had enormous experience in transformation and revival, with auto experience

So as you can see over the years, there were very visible actions taken and we know how Royal Enfield is such a huge success. You can read the full case study here

Clear Definition of Market and Problem Statement: Career360 – When I was doing some innovation projects to leverage big data a few years back on EduCareer, I bumped into this startup that I thought had a very clear differentiation of their market and huge potential in India which has a huge number of young students – seeking to know what, where, why and how they should study something in order for them to reach their dreams.

The problem that they laid out to solve, is a huge one – as every student and parents of the student have this as their top priority – which validates the market need.

The objective as laid out by their founder Peri Maheshwar really makes the problem statement very clear – “

– To ensure that every student makes an informed career choice.

– To force institutions to greater transparency with their data and achievements

– To create an Information eco system suited for the 98% Indians than the 2% most meritorious one’s.

For us, a career is a life. A student isn’t any other customer. He is a life. He needs to be protected.”

As the market is clear and exists, once the focused founder is on a mission to build a product for this market (Student), they were naturally able to get there. Offcourse their journey has been with a lot of hard work, innovations – it’s been great to observe from what they have started out with to how they have really transformed their product and tools to address the market. With a high school going daughter, we have been personally benefitted by them, so are the millions of students/parents in India. The best part of their offering is that they are multi-platform – Careers360’s has been reaching out to students through multiple platforms viz. print, web, mobile and TV. So it’s a case of great omnichannel experience for the student through traditional and tech channels.

Career360 is a clear example of how Marc A says “In a great market – a market with lots of real potential customers – the market pulls the product out of the startup”.

Leverage similar idea to validate market: SeekSherpa – I met this startup in one of the Google Launchpad events, and I straightaway was blown away with the idea. I have been personally tracking the travel industry very closely and how tech is helping this further. In that Airbnb, story is amazing, as it really was a huge vaccine product to address a market that existed for the “tired of hotels”travellers. SeekSherpa was a great offshoot of Airbnb type idea – in the same industry but for a different product offering. SeekSherpa connect “real” local tour guides and Sherpa’s for the “tired of regular guides” travellers.

So with the market validation, obviously the offering/product has to be compelling – and I saw their Lazor focus on great UX being a killer differentiator initially, and the ability to connect the local guides to travellers as a way to get to product-market fit. Its been a fantastic journey by Dhruv and Sukhmani who founders of this great startup, they have also addressed different channels that appeals to connect the traveller with the sherpa.  And once again, the most important thing here is that the market existed, very well validated with a similar idea which makes it easy to explain, and it’s a problem better addressed by tech.

 

Expanding product capabilities to reach market: Schoolpad – I met with this startup through iSpirit, and what really caught my attention was the way the founder Abhiraj Malhotra explained to me how he transformed his product features to make it a viable option for Schools to buy it. Schoolpad started off with a USP of improving the Parent – Teacher collaboration. Soon they realized that while this is a great capability, it cannot on its own sell. So they expanded the product to include the core School management features. So essentially it became a solid School ERP with the differentiator of the collaboration feature which was the original capability. This has helped them reach a great market – as Schools are now willing to embrace this solution.

A great story of innovating and expanding the product to get to the market – and therefore reach product-market fit.

Price point to reach market: Xiaomi Mi – Apple products are aspirational, but many cannot afford it or they don’t see the value. So customers are always looking for alternatives that are cheaper and provides near equal features. This is where a company like Xiaomi comes in, where they really penetrated into the mobile market with a great product at a very affordable price, as that then opens up a huge market.

In order to do that, they had to initially sell through only online channels – Mi sold only through Flipkart initially. Also, they couldn’t spend a lot on marketing, so they leveraged the flash sale idea to promote their products. Over the years, as others started copying their model, they have now gone into the physical store – to sell through new channels. They also make a lot of the parts locally to get a cost advantage. Finally, now they are looking to penetrate rural markets as their phones are affordable.

To read more on their story, look for their original china story and then the India story.

So again here, the market is the winner – the market here is affordable smartphones, which was not addressed by Apple.

Products do not have to be original, you can always build products to address market based on Price.

In summary, getting to a product market fit is a journey, it may take time, but most important is to identify and get the market definition right, and channel your resources to build the product to address that market.

Happy New Year 2019!

It takes time to build something successful!

Since SaaSx second edition, I have never missed a single edition of SaaSx. The 5th edition – SaaSx was recently held on the 7th of July, and the learnings and experiences were much different from the previous three that I had attended.

One primary topic this year was bootstrapping, and none other than Sridhar Vembu, the CEO and Founder of Zoho, was presenting. The session was extremely relevant and impactful, more so for us because we too are a bootstrapped organisation. Every two months of our 4.5 year-long bootstrapped journey, we have questioned ourselves on whether we have even got it right! If we should go ahead and raise funds. Sridhar’s session genuinely helped us know and understand our answers.

However, as I delved deeper, I realised that the bigger picture that Sridhar was making us aware of was the entrepreneurial journey of self-discovery. His session was an earnest attempt to promote deep thinking and self-reflection amongst all of us. He questioned basic assumptions and systematically dismantled the traditional notions around entrepreneurship. Using Zoho as an example, he showed how thinking from first principles helped them become successful as a global SaaS leader.


What is it that drives an entrepreneur? Is it the pursuit of materialistic goals or the passion to achieve a bigger purpose? The first step is to have this clarity in mind, as this can be critical in defining the direction your business would take. Through these questions, Sridhar showed that business decisions are not just driven by external factors but by internal as well.

For example, why should you chase high growth numbers? As per him, the first step to bootstrapping is survival. The top 5 goals for any startup should be Survive, Survive, Survive, Survive, Survive. Survival is enough. Keep your costs low and make sure all your bills are paid on time.  Cut your burn rate to the lowest. Zoho created 3 lines of business. The current SaaS software is their 3rd. They created these lines during their journey of survival and making ends meet.


Why go after a hot segment (with immense competition) instead of a niche one?  If it’s hot, avoid it i.e. if a market segment is hot or expected to be hot, it will be heavily funded. It will most likely be difficult to compete as a bootstrapped organisation and is henceforth avoidable. Zoho released Zoho docs in 2007, but soon as he realized that Google and Microsoft had entered the space, he reoriented the vision of Zoho to stay focused on business productivity applications. Zoho docs continues to add value to Zoho One, but the prime focus is on Applications from HR, Finance, Support, Sales & Marketing and Project Management.  Bootstrapping works best if you find a niche, but not so small that it hardly exists. You will hardly have cut throat competition in the niche market and will be able to compete even without heavy funding.

Most SaaS companies raise funds for customer acquisition. Even as a bootstrapped company customer acquisition is important. As you don’t have the money, you will need to optimise your marketing spend. Try and find a cheaper channel first and use these as your primary channel of acquisition. Once you have revenue from the these channels, you can start investing in the more expensive one. By this time you will also have data on your life time value and will be able to take better decisions.

Similarly, why base yourself out of a tier 1 city instead of tier 2 cities (with talent abound)? You don’t need to be in a Bangalore, Pune, or a Mumbai to build a successful product. According to Sridhar, if he wanted to start again, he would go to a smaller city like Raipur. Being in an expensive location will ends up burning your ‘meager monies’ faster. This doesn’t mean that being in the top IT cities of India is bad for your business, but if your team is located in one of the smaller cities, do not worry. You can still make it your competitive advantage.

Self-discipline is of utmost importance for a bootstrapped company. In fact, to bootstrap successfully, you need to ensure self-discipline in spends, team management, customer follow-ups, etc. While bootstrapping can demand frugality and self-discipline, the supply of money from your VC has the potential to destroy the most staunchly disciplined entrepreneurs as well. Watch out!

And last but not the least – It takes time to build something successful. It took Zoho 20 years to make it look like an overnight success.

This blog is authored by Ankit Dudhwewala, Founder – CallHippo, AppItSimple Infotek, Software Suggest. Thanks to Anukriti Chaudhari and Ritika Singh from iSPIRT to craft the article.

First AI/ML Playbook Roundtable – Playing With the New Electricity

This is a Guest post by Krupesh Bhat (LegalDesk) and Ujjwal Trivedi (Artoo).

AI is seen as the new electricity that will power the future. How do we make the best of the opportunity that advancements in AI technology brings about? With this thought in mind iSPIRT conducted a symposium roundtable at the Accel Partners premises in Bengaluru on March 10th. Accel’s Sattva room was a comfortable space for 20+ participants from 11 startups. There were deep discussions and a lot of learning happened through subject matter experts as well as peers discussion. Here’s a quick collection of some pearls, that some of us could pick, from the ocean of the deep discussions that happened there.

Products that do not use AI will die soon. Products that use AI without natural intelligence (read common sense) will die sooner.

– Manish Singhal, Pi Ventures

Starting with that pretext, it isn’t hard to gather that AI is not just a promising technology, it is going to be an integral part of our lives in near future. So, what does it mean for existing products? Should everyone start focusing on how they can use AI? Are you an AI-first company? If not, do you need to be one? After all, it does not make sense to build the tech just because it appears to be the next cool thing to do. If you are building AI, can you tell your value proposition without mentioning the word AI or ML? have you figured out your data strategy? Is the need driven by the market or the product?

Before we seek answers we must clarify that there are two types of products/startups in the AI world:

First, an AI-first startup – a startup which cannot exist without AI. Their solution and business model is completely dependent on use of Artificial intelligence (or Machine Learning at least). Some examples of such startups in local ecosystem are Artifacia and Locus.sh.

Second, AI-enabled startup – startups with existing products or new products which can leverage AI to enhance their offering by a significant amount (5x/10x anyone?). Manish has a very nifty way of showing the AI maturity of such companies.

The session was facilitated by several AI experts including Manish Singhal of pi Ventures, Nishith Rastogi of Locus.sh, Shrikanth Jagannathan of PipeCandy, Deepak Vincchi of Julia Computing.

Maturity Levels of AI Startups

After a brief introduction by Chintan to set the direction and general agenda for the afternoon, Manish took over and talked about the various stages of AI based companies. Based on his interactions with many startups in the space, he said there are roughly four growth stages where different companies fall into:

Level 1No Data, No AI: An entity that solves a business problem and is yet to collect sufficient data to build a sustainable AI business. The AI idea will die down if the company fails to move to state 2 quickly. Business may be capturing data but not storing it.
Level 2Dark data, No AI: The company holds data but is yet to build solid AI/ML capabilities to become an AI company. There is a huge upside for such companies but the data strategy needs to be developed and AI capabilities are not mature enough to be considered as an AI/ML company.
Level 3Higher automation driven by data and AI: These are the companies that have built AI to make sense out of data and provide valuable insights into the data using AI/ML, possibly with some kind of human assistance.
Level 4Fully autonomous AI companies: These are the companies at the matured stage where they possess AI products that can run autonomously with no human intervention.

Manish also noted that most companies they meet as a VC are in level 1 and 2, while the ideal level would be 3 and 4. He noted that AI comprises of three important components: Data, Algorithm & the Rest of the System that includes UI, API & other software to support the entire system. While it is important to work on all three components, oftentimes, the data part doesn’t get enough importance.

Do You Really Need Artificial Intelligence?

A whole bunch of solutions are smart because they are able to provide additional value based on past data. These are not AI solutions. They are merely rule based insights. Nishith from Locus added that there is nothing really wrong with rule based systems and in a lot of cases AI is actually an overkill. However, there are two cases where it seems apt for startups to look at AI for their predicament:

  1. Data is incomplete: An example of this is Locus who gets limited mapping for gps coordinates and addresses.
  2. Data is changing constantly: A typical case was of ShieldSquare where bots are continuously evolving and improving and the system deployed to identify them also needs to learn new patterns and evolve with them.

It is important to have clarity on your AI model especially when you communicate with your internal teams. Figure out what is the core component of your product – AI, ML, Deep Learning or Computer Vision.

What’s Driving Your AI Approach?

There are two major driving forces that can help one in deciding whether to AI or not to AI.

  1. PUSH: The internal force when decision can largely be taken if your business is sitting on a lot of useful data, may be as a side effect of your key proposition.
  2. PULL: The external market driven force where clients expect or ask for it e.g chatbots. We are already observing that AI can be a great pricing mechanism.

However, take great caution when using Customer data or Derived data, it depends on legal agreement with clients and can get you into legal troubles if it violates any terms.

Is Your Data Acquisition Strategy in Place?

Anyone interested in AI should have a data acquisition strategy in place. Here are a few points that can help you get one in place:

    • What data do you collect, How do you validate it, Clean it and store it for further analysis?
    • Surveys and chatbots can provide a steady stream of data if built correctly
    • Think of data as a separate entity (has its own lifecycle), it may help to think of it as a currency and plan how you would earn, store and utilise it
    • Capturing location, user interaction data can be insightful. This may include the interactions user has committed and the ones they have not committed (deleted/skipped/hidden)
    • It makes sense to invest time, resources and people to gather data properly
    • Have a unified warehouse (can start with economical options like Google Analytics and AWS)

It is also important to give some thoughts on how you are using aggregate data across the platform. In case, if your AI model uses a combination of customer specific data and the sanitised aggregate data available in the platform (“Derived Work”), then you should make sure that you have the permission to use such data. Without such clarity, you may run into legal issues.

Deepak Vincchi explained how Julia Computing is emerging as the programming language of choice for data scientists. The platform can process 1.3 million threads in parallel and is used by large organizations to crunch data problems.

In all this was an extremely engaging 3 hours without break. Guiding the session with real examples by Nishith, Shrikanth and also shared learnings from Navneet and others really helped bring to life Why AI and How AI. This symposium is part of an AI playbooks track was aimed at kickstarting cohorts of startups ready to jump with AI and help them get traction with AI, more will emerge on this shortly.

10 startups attended this mini-roundtable session – Acebot, Artifacia, Artoo, FusionCharts, InstaSafe, Klove, LegalDesk, Rocketium, Rubique, ShieldSquare.

Thanks to volunteers Rinka Singh and Adam Walker for their notes from the session and Ankit Singh (Mypoolin/Wibmo) for helping coordinate the blog post & note

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

Featured photo by Matan Segev from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/action-android-device-electronics-595804/

Is your SaaS product ready for GDPR?

What is GDPR you ask? and Why should you care?

Some of you may know about the upcoming rollout in EU of the General Data Protection Regulation. GDPR is a regulation that requires businesses to protect the personal data and privacy of EU citizens for transactions that occur within EU member states. GDPR implementation date is 25 May 2018, but do not get complacent by the date, it requires reasonable effort and time for companies to become ready & compliant. And there are significant penalties for not being compliant.

If you are operating in the EU or if any of your customers are operating in the EU, GDPR applies to you.

Who?

  • Customers in EU – YES
  • Employees in EU – YES
  • Vendors or partners in EU – YES

GDPR Workshop / Webinar

iSPIRT and Microsoft are conducting a GDPR workshop for founders to demystify the GDPR and help understand the steps required towards compliance. This will be a mix of in-person and webinar session (choose when you register).

The session will cover among many topics, clarity on the impact of GDPR, application to organizations in India, additional responsibility about controls, notifications and data governance for managing and tracking personal data, and how organizations need to start thinking about GDPR compliance. There will be presentations by both Legal teams from Microsoft India and the CTO of Microsoft Accelerator.

Apply here using the Registration Form

Date & time: 16-Nov, 3-5pm

In-person Venue: Microsoft Accelerator – JNR City Centre, IBIS Hotel Annexe ,Raja Ram Mohan Roy Road, Bangalore.

Webinar: Link will be sent to those who choose to attend the webinar.

Session Scope:

  • GDPR & Data Privacy, and its growing importance
  • A Risk assessment Checklist – Go to https://www.gdprbenchmark.com/ to access a quick, online self-evaluation tool available at no cost to help your organization review its overall level of readiness to comply with the GDPR
  • Data Privacy Business Scenarios – Technical Demos

Registration

If you are keen to attend the workshop please apply using the Registration Form. Since seats are limited for both in-person and webinar, please register ahead of time. We will confirm with an invite subject to availability. There is no cost to attend. We start sharp at 3 pm.

Strongly recommend going through the Risk Assessment Benchmark Evaluation.

The checklist will help you prep for the workshop and get the most out of it.

Some sources for pre-reading:

What is the GDPR, its requirements and deadlines? – CSO Online

GDPR in the age of SaaS: One SaaS vendor’s journey to compliance …

If You Use SaaS Products, You Need To Prepare For GDPR. Here’s How

Are you ready for the GDPR? A quick, no-cost, readiness self-evaluation tool.

The Global Impact of GDPR on SaaS Providers – Spanning Backup

Home Page of EU GDPR

Coming soon – 2017 SaaS Survey

BTW did you know the new SaaS survey is coming? We are excited to announce that we would be launching the third edition (2017) of the India SaaS Survey in a week from now. This survey is an annual exercise conducted jointly by SignalHill and iSPIRT to gather valuable data for drawing insights which help various stakeholders in the ecosystem understand this space better.

Please click on the following link to access last year’s survey results

Please stay tuned to this space. We will be providing a link to this year’s survey very soon in an upcoming blog post.

Product Teardown Roundtables are coming to your city.

Read more details on the teardown sessions, and preview the teardown format. If interested please apply here (Limited Seats).

SaaS: Where are you in this 2×2?

Some SaaS ventures lead to category leadership while some lead to imaginary frozen quadrants. Here’s a little 2X2 to assess where you are in your journey to SaaS nirvana. When amazing products are sold in amazing ways, it produces the almost mystical flywheel effect.

Let’s dissect this.

Red: Weak Product and a Weak/Average Sales Team

This is a highly incremental quadrant where a single provider may be serving the exact needs of a handful of customers. It’s an equilibrium that doesn’t last too long. I’ll leave this quadrant at that.

This is a highly incremental quadrant where a single provider may be serving the exact needs of a handful of customers. It’s an equilibrium that doesn’t last too long. I’ll leave this quadrant at that.

Blue: Weak Product and a Strong Sales Team

When people say “that company is sales driven” this is what they are referring to. Founders of companies in this quadrant have a knack of story-telling and projecting a product market fit before a product is actually ready. What happens next is catastrophic. Sales drives the company’s culture, narrative and product building. Both product and engineering go into a wild-balancing act of fixing the problems while trying to add features in a near random fashion.

It is unsustainable. It bloats customer service and support and pre-sales. Lack of a strong product causes politicking and confusion and populism in every department, which leads to relationship-driven rather than value-proposition driven outcomes. Unless a startup iterates on product rapidly or brings in a disciplined and creative leader, there’s a significant risk of revenues plateauing at $5m-$10m mark.

So why is it blue? Because it is fairly cushioned for a while though sales > everything is bad karma.

Yellow: Strong Product and a Weak/Average Sales Team

This quadrant probably causes hackers amongst us the most heartburn. A lot of strong products start with nobody focused on sales. They continue to write amazing code, design amazing screens, and setup amazing data pipelines, but they just don’t know how to position, craft a story people remember, distinguish themselves from 99 other guys who may have had the same idea. Many product founders suck at sales and often hires the first person who blinks.

Even for successful startups, this can be a transient stage, but successful founders realize their mistakes and then quickly hire a sales leader and move to the next quadrant. The good news if you’re yellow is that just like in real life, you can cross the traffic light before too much damage happens.

Green: Strong Product and Strong Sales Team

This is jazz improvisation zone. You can have a strong product and sales culture. It all starts with respect for both and it certainly involves finding the right talent that can craft what really works uniquely for you.

That’s why very few founders get there. A scalable sales model is crucial. A product alone can take you so far. For every Dheeraj Pandey ringing the IPO bell, there’s a Sudheesh Nair driving the quota home. For every Jyoti Bansal getting acquired at $3.7bn, there’s a Dali Rajic digging into sales capacity, and for every Jason Lemkin, there’s a Brendon Cassidy. When phenomenal founders and product builders pair up with their sales counterparts, that accomplish that sight to behold – a startup on a flywheel across the sky.

In each of these cases, the sales counterparts were able to hit their targets, because of a product which was able to either create demand or was superior to incumbents. If there was a product market fit, based on the narrative, the product scaled to bring in a perpetual stream of renewals and sources of new revenue.

Hopping in the 2×2

I hope you’ve found your color by this point. So how do we transition from a shitty part of the quadrant to an awesome one?

If you are Blue or Yellow, scale to Green quick. Here are some things that increase your chances in a hop

  • Listen to early feedback from customers and employees and suppliers. Setup key feedback loops
  • Iterate the product every week, every day, every hour. Continuous Beta. A living element.
  • Once you cross $10 million, press the gas pedal. Go. Go. Go.

Good luck and let me know if you think of additional colors.

Thanks to Leena for flywheeling this post! Reproduced from Indus Khaitan’s blog

National Software Policy 2.0 needed

national-software-policy-2-needed

A recent article by Andy Mukherjee, predicting the end of India’s IT industry has caused lot of commotion. Though, the ‘end’ is an exaggeration, the warning of the ground slipping is not new. The declining growth is owing to the rapid transformation in technology and Software Industry itself, globally.

The first Software policy of 1986, resulted into Software Technology Park (STP) scheme in 1991. Undoubtedly, the policy was highly successful with IT industry today accounting more than 9 % of GDP.

Despite diminishing growth, even after 25 years, old Software policy (1.0) of 1986 still prevails, with focus on IT services. A reworked IT policy 2012, is generic, remained redundant with no meaningful churn out for new age Industry.

Failure to capitalize on the capability built in last quarter century can have serious consequences. The onus lies with Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY). However, MeitY seems to be missing on following four issues.

One, Software is core, not IT enabled Services (ITeS). Two, not able to gauge the shift in fundamental industry structure globally from ‘services’ to ‘products’ and also ‘cloud’ based products. Three, not able to appreciate ‘national competitive advantage’ has moved up the maturity curve to ‘Innovation stage’. Four, a phlegmatic approach resisting shifting gears swiftly.

To address these strategic paradigm shifts, a Software 2.0 policy is needed with ‘product’ as focal to it. We are at least 5 years late in our action here. Let us delve here into the four issues and related actionable.

Software is the focal sector in IT

It is important to understand here, that the genesis of today’s IT Industry was ‘Software’. The empirical evidence highlights real horse power coming from Software. IT enabled services (ITeS) is a derivative or related sector that grew through a ‘pull through’ effect of various related determinants (R. Heeks 2006). This is true even when we cut through the industry’s maturity stages. The ‘core’ has to be energised for new paradigm.

Product focus (new paradigm)

The big sector level transformative shift is ‘Standardised Product’ taking the center stage. This cuts across the ready Software packages (small, modular or enterprise grade), SaaS, PaaS and mobile apps.

The only subtle difference which remains is, whether a ‘product’ is sold to the end-user as ‘goods’ or a ‘product’ is hosted by SaaS or PaaS producer to provision the ‘productised service’. Even IT services business now hinges at standardised ‘products’ for revenues.

Shifting National Competitive advantage

For about a decade no one believed that Software policy 1.0 could make India a super star in Software sector. It is only after about a decade, researchers recognized that India, a developing country could become a follower nation in Software sector. This was in sharp contrast to other 2 rising countries in same period of late 1980s i.e. Israel and Ireland, who were ascribed as Industrialized nation by world bank even in that period among the 3Is.

Usually academic researchers have not been very successful in predicting or prescribing favourable industrial policy for a country. But, they have played an important role when we apply an established research for analysing a sector’s performance and understanding the needed strategic shift.

Also, the classical economics models of ‘comparative advantage’ do not fit well for a sector like Software which is replete with advanced factor conditions.

The most comprehensive model to deep delve into this search is Michael Porter’s theory of competitive advantage (The Competitive Advantage of Nations, 1990). It goes beyond the macroeconomic theories on competitiveness and also incorporates the aspects of business and industry with advanced factors such as technology & innovation. The “diamond” model is based on four main determinant categories viz. factor conditions, demand conditions, Related and Supporting Industries and Firm Strategy, Structure, and Rivalry. It also incorporates and interlinks two extra parameters of a) chance and b) Government policy. For India both these played a vital role.

full-diamond2

Porter’s Diamond Model. Source: The Competitive Advantage of Nations, 1990, Michael Porter’s (Kindle book, position 3060)

The national competitive advantage is based on the advanced level interplay of these determinants in the above diamond, network.

The model may lack in taking into account the new emerging factors of cloud and mobility computing. Yet, it offers a comprehensive and advanced postulation that can help understand the sectoral impacts.

Richard Heeks (2006), using this model concluded the competitiveness of Software sector of India. So also Bhattacharjee and Chakraborty (2015), further building on Heeks study. Richard Heeks (2006) says, “full diamond is not (yet) in place”. Whereas Bhattacharjee and Chakraborty (2015), recognize the full diamond in place. (Please see reference below at bottom)

Going beyond famous diamond model, the stages of development as postulated by Porter are more relevant to understand our readiness for ‘product’ stage.  The stages in order are ‘factor driven’, ‘investment driven’ and ‘innovation driven’ (the last wealth creation points decline). R. Heeks (2006) finds ‘Investment driven’ stage in 2006. Bhattacharjee and Chakraborty finds ‘innovation’ having swept in the period 2012-2015.

stages-of-development-from-kindlebook-location9634

Stages of development. Source: The Competitive Advantage of Nations, 1990, Michael Porter’s from kindle book location 9634

“Govt. helping improve the quality of domestic demand and encouraging local startups” is representative of ‘innovation’ stage, says Heeks (2006).  One can easily map here, the conditions arising to launch of StartupIndia policy 2015 and other accompanying developments.

Yet another symptom of ‘innovation driven’ stage is the domestic demand conditions undergoing a rapid change. ‘Digital India’, GST and UPI are not only concurrent, country scale demand generation programs, but also innovation boosters in domestic industry.

Porters, argues for a proactive role for cluster in National competitive advantage. The clusters enable innovation and speed productivity growth. The Silicon Valley and Israel’s Silicon Wadi are clusters that contribute to regional growth as well as making them as global brand.  India has a distributed cluster model spread across various Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Delhi NCR and Chennai being prominent.

India has enriched these clusters in the investment phase recognized by both the referred researches above.

In India, a mass of new age Software product startups has emerged touching wide array of industries. Advanced and specialized factor resources are emanating from the Software product development happening in the captive offshore center, R&D centers of MNCs or by outsourced product development (OPD) vendors, across all major IT cluster in country.

India therefore is poised for a phase 2 of Software Industry this time with product focus.

Emerging SaaS segment has global reach

SaaS can be the next game changer for India. The national competitive advantage can be capitalized for creating a SaaS industry, and puts India in first three slot on global map.

Many Software as a Service (SaaS) companies like Zoho, Freshdesk are already global market place names, pitching for leadership in their own segments. It proves the power of SaaS to give edge in exports.

Out of more than 200 SaaS companies, number of them have incorporated outside, owing to the friction in doing global business from India. Software 1.0 policy doesn’t care for their issues. This loss can be plugged with Software 2.0.

Swift action needed by Government

India’s IT sector is strong enough to face changing technology challenges. It needs a ‘product nation’ based proactive strategy, that deals with ‘product ecosystem’ development, R&D, domestic demand boosters, frictionless trade and tax regime.

MeitY should rise to the occasion and announce a macro level policy framework, without wasting further time. Action plans (schemes, programs, incentives and institutional setups) can follow on need basis and in phased manner. This is how it happened in Software 1.0 policy as well. A new institutional setup is required. ‘National Software Product Mission’ should be setup urgently to cater to emerging Software product industry.

‘Software product power’ is cardinal to retaining global Software ‘power’ tag. Globally Software product market is estimated to be $1.2 trillion by 2025. India needs to target for 10-15 % of this.  At home front, India needs to create ~3.5 million new jobs by 2025. Choices are limited.

iSPIRT has been working with MeitY for last 2 years to persuade them for taking a stand for a national level product industry while the service industry keeps growing. A nine point strategy draft is under consideration. But it has taken lot of time. In hardware product space, we have National Electronic Policy 2012. A National Policy on Software Product will replenish the industrial policy basket of MeitY and usher in growth in new areas of both domestic and international trade.

“Mere incremental progress is not enough. A metamorphosis is needed. That is why my vision for India is rapid transformation, not gradual evolution”, said Prime Minister at NITI Aayog recently.

We hope the announcement of the long pending ‘National Policy on Software Product’ (NPSP) will soon be forthcoming. Only then will PM’s dream of rapid transformation, become a reality to catalyze an “Indian Software 2.0 industry”.

Main References used

1. Research article “Using Competitive Advantage Theory to Analyze IT Sectors in Developing Countries: A Software Industry Case Analysis”. By Richard Heeks, Development Informatics Group Institute for Development Policy and Management School of Environment and Development University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom. http://itidjournal.org/itid/article/viewFile/228/98

2. Research paper, “Investigating India’s competitive edge in the IT-ITeS sector”. By Sankalpa Bhattacharjee and Debkumar Chakrabarti (Peer-review under responsibility of Indian Institute of Management Bangalore). http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S097038961500004X

3. The Competitive Advantage of Nations, by Michael E. Porter’s Free Press edition 1990

Recurring Billing for SaaS. Is it available in India?

Recurring Billing  – demystified for SaaS companies

Abstract

For any SaaS Startup with India market focus, the biggest bottleneck today is recurring billing. It is not available as an open, over the counter service from payment gateways. Most startups have to work around to solve this problem. The workaround may be using an expensive international payment gateway or it may be incorporating a subsidiary in foreign geography. Many startups also move all out of India, if they can afford to do so. In the process India loses some good SaaS companies.

Reading into details, recurring billing is not banned by RBI in India. But, banks and payments gateways do not have the offering available over the counter. Complying with two factor authentication (2FA) and the associated risk of chargebacks are the reasons behind. The payment industry experts say, banks offer it but needs to cover their risk for chargeback scenarios. So, one has to negotiate with banks and therefore large players are able to avail these services.

To bridge the gap startups like Razorpay are building the aggregator payment platform that that can work between the SaaS startups and the Banks to offer recurring billing.

Since, it is not smooth enough, recurring billing is an area, which requires policy maker’s attention. To realize the full potential of a single unified market under GST,  the ‘Digital India’ requires a more open, clearly defined and an enabling policy and procedure on digital payments, at par with developed countries.

This article is based on a deep dive into the problem of recurring billing, with experts from payment solution companies Krish Subramanian, Co-founder, Chargebee (Subscription Billing & Recurring Payments Software) and Kiran Jain of Razorpay (a payment gateway aggregator).

Embedded below is a hangout video with these two experts. You may like to watch the video and/or read the blog piece below (which is built on the conversation in the video).

Some terms used in online payment industry

Recurring billing

It is a subscription driven model of charging or collecting payment from customer. Both the frequency interval of charging and amount charged are fixed to qualify for recurring billing. Software as a Service (SaaS) companies are the biggest users of this service.

Merchant: A person or business who want to sell goods or services.

Acquiring Bank: It is the Merchant’s Bank

Card holder: The buyer who owns and uses a credit/debit/prepaid card etc. to buy goods and services

Issuing Bank: It is the Cardholder’s Bank. An issuing bank issues credit cards to consumers.

SaaS industry and status of recurring billing?

SaaS startups offer products or productized services in a subscription model that runs in a per user/seat at a fixed frequency say per month. In SaaS industry, the recurring billing is often at a low cost transactions e.g. $10 to $50 per user per month.

In developed countries like USA online payment gateways and payment aggregator offer these services. A startup in India can sign for the service from these international payment gateways (like 2Checkout and PayPal) sitting in India. This  can be done with minimum paperwork and absolutely no hassles. But, the cost is almost double the cost of payment gateway services in India. The down sides are payments may not be real time. Also, currency conversion cost twice. Once, when the Indian customer pay in foreign exchange and again when the international payment gateway pays to the Indian merchant.

Problem is the Indian payment gateways do not provide the recurring billing option as seamlessly as foreign payment gateways. Hence, the need to go to foreign gateway, when an Indian SaaS company wants to sell to Indian customers.

Krish of Chargebee adds, “for SaaS companies a non-negotiable aspect to provide frictionless experience to customers is the ability to collect payments on month on month basis”. (please see the video)

Statutory position of recurring billing in India

If one reads through the RBI’s circulars on two factor authentication (2FA), there is no mention of recurring billing. The RBI’s communication vide RBI/2011-12/145 DPSS.PD.CO. No.223/02.14.003 / 2011-2012 August 04, 2011 covering card not present (CNP) transactions which includes online transactions as also the IVR transactions states following two conditions:

Based on the feedback from the stakeholders and keeping in view the interest of card holders the following directions are issued:

(i) It is mandatory to put in place additional factor of authentication for all CNP transactions indicated in para 4 of our directions dated December 31, 2010 with effect from May 01, 2012.

(ii) In case of customer complaint regarding issues, if any, arising out of transactions effected without the additional factor of authentication after the stipulated date, the issuer bank shall reimburse the loss to the customer further without demur.

For an avid policy interpreter this means 2FA is the requirement for every transaction. It is not a straight forward clear position.

Kiran Jain of Razorpay, reads in to the sentence of same communication, where it says, “The matter was discussed in a meeting of banks with the Reserve Bank of India on June 22, 2011 wherein it was emphasized by the Reserve Bank that while it was not advocating any specific solution in this regard,”. Kiran says, “From RBI perspective there is no restriction in India”. According to him recurring billing is allowed under RBI guidelines provided in first transaction 2FA is followed and there is no restriction even by banks. (please see the video)

If recurring billing is allowed why is it not available openly?

Banks have a risk in complying with the mandatory charge back, in case when customer files a complaint. The issuing banks are supposed to refund to customer in case complaint from the customer. Normally the risk is never transferred to the acquiring bank.

Kiran in the conversation talks about the lack of understanding on risk involved, by merchants in India. Banks needs to cover their risk through transaction fee. Merchants in India don’t want to pay high transaction fees, that can cover the risk involved in charge backs.

Banks are not willing to underwrite the risk for small players. This is why there are no readymade recurring solutions available in Indian online payments.

How can this risk problem be solved?

Kiran says, “the alternative is to create a partner in between the banks and the ecosystem of SaaS companies, who is willing to underwrite the risks”.  Razorpay is one such player, who is attempting to solve this problem.

Why can’t a Startup go to Bank directly? What is the way out?

The problem in recurring billing is not only the payment gateway but also the management of the subscriptions. Baking systems are all legacy systems. They are not able to handle the dynamic situations. For example, if a customer lost the card, the new card information should be updated in time. Such gaps are filled by the layer created by third party Payment Gateway solutions.

Also, this further requires some subscription management systems in an online system. Krish calls this “billing intelligence”. This can either be provided by ready made solutions like Chargebee or can also be built in-house.

Startups can solve this puzzle by availing solutions offered by companies like Razorpay and Chargebee. Razorpay reduces the complexities of recurring billing on banking side. Similarly, Companies like Chargebee reduce the complexity of “billing or invoicing intelligence”.

What more can be done on Policy side?

Krish feels, if we engage with banks and banks can build a system that can underwrite risk for small players and also make Bank realize how service providers can help mitigate risk, there can be a chain built to see a successful recurring billing system in India, easily available to SaaS startups.

Kiran’s view is, from policy perspective not much can be done as RBI does not mandate anything specific. It has do’s and don’t type of framework. His view is charge backs are like non-performing assets (NPAs). So, large merchants in India will still get recurring billing solutions from many payment gateway solutions easily and will also have in-house capability to build billing and invoicing platforms.

Looking further (iSPIRT’s Views)

If one researches hard there is possibility to find payment gateways offering recurring billing solutions in India. However, there are lots of questions asked and it is certainly not available as an across the counter service and definitely not to everyone.

Aggregator service like Razorpay have a chance to fill this gap and they will offer valuable service much needed by Startups. A combination of solution like Raozorpay + Chargebee could solve the problem for many startups.

RBI has not banned the recurring billing. On other hand it has also not put the record straight. Going further, there is a need that RBI and Government of India recognize the importance of recurring billing in a digital economy. Once the need is recognized, a layer of reform in policy framework by RBI should be added. Clear regulation that covers all stakeholders as well as encourages banks to offer recurring billing solutions, is needed. A digitally signed online agreement that is backed up by a 2F authentication in first transaction should be enough to cover the paper formalities required for a fixed amount, fixed tenure (frequency of payment) transactions. The buyer of service can revoke the online service agreement online any time. Customer’s risk is therefore limited up to the time he opts out of the service agreement.

RBI will not take actions that promote an Industry. It is Government of India, who should create an enabling policy for SaaS companies. Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEIT) can carve out a scheme that can mitigate risk of Bank, in turn helping SaaS industry. Such things should happen under the National policy on Software product being considered by MEIT.

The bottom line is that the Indian businesses must have access to multiple choices of service providers for availing recurring billing services at a low cost per transaction with a well laid out fraud protection and complaint redressal mechanism.

Both GOI and RBI needs to work together in direction of removing the bottlenecks. India is unveiling a unified digital market with GST coming in. Without seamless digital payments not only we will fall short in our dream of creating a globally competitive SaaS industry but also a fully buoyant ‘Digital India’.

Google Analytics For Particularly Curious SaaS People

You are what you measure.

This is especially true for SaaS businesses. Our goals and endeavors center on user growth, delivering consistent value, and profitability. This again depends on the efficiency with which customers can be earned, and nurtured.

All this begs a question: how do you know and measure the most crucial KPIs to achieve said goals?

Well, I know this is subjective. Because it depends on where you stand and where your focus lies at any given point in time.

That being said, Google Analytics comes in handy no matter where you are as a company. And that’s precisely what we’ve set out to explore with the help of Dave McClure’s AARRR framework in an in-depth slide deck.

If you are at the helm of a small to medium sized business, Google Analytics just works, as it is a free/standard analytics tool that is easy to configure and maintain.

Although, when I was introduced to Google Analytics, I found it to be quite irksome to grasp for the following reasons:

1) There is a lot of generic material about Google Analytics on the internet, and its scope of use for a SaaS application is difficult to pin down.

2) Lack of actionable resources (what I really required wasn’t just a frame to understand the tool, but real lessons that I could put to test at my end).

Hence, with that in mind, I’ve put together a deck with things that I’ve learned over the last few months, that’ll (hopefully) give beginners a broad perspective on the use of Google Analytics for a SaaS business, and at the same time provide some actionables to get started.

Now, let’s dive into the deck.

Guest Post by By Preethi Shreeya, ChargeBee

The iSPIRT Roundtable @Pune – 11 Startups share Metric Driven Growth Secrets

As a startup founder or growth marketer, you obsess over metrics: what is my lead-generation rate, how many customers did I win or lose, how is my monthly revenue growing, or how many customer referrals did I get? Analytics is critical for your business, without which you’re flying blind. However, data overload is real and you might not derive the right actionable insights.

To simplify metric-driven growth for product startups, iSPIRIT, on 18th June 2016, organised a half day roundtable of 11 product startups in Pune. The roundtable was moderated by Paras Chopra, Founder, Wingify and Sanket Nadhani, Growth Marketer, Wingify.

The discussion was structured in a way where attendees spoke about the 3 metrics that are most important to them, an “uncommon” metric that they track, and their expectations from the roundtable. The format was kept fluid with attendees pitching in with thoughts and interesting ideas. At the end of this, all of us saw an exciting video about using Lean Analytics for growing your business.

As a growth marketer, I found interesting growth tactics that these startups use and some insightful metrics that they track. I have structured these in Dave McClure’s famous AARRR pirate-metric framework for SaaS businesses.

 

111

 

Acquisition

Where do I get customers from?

Acquiring new customers is hard. Especially for newly born startups. The best way probably is to just throw mud everywhere and see where it sticks. Once you’ve identified a performing channel, or hopefully multiple channels, you build strategies around them to ramp up acquisition.

Invariably all the startups agree tracking the number of enquiries (opportunities) and their conversion rates across channels is crucial. Paras was of the opinion that keeping an eye on weekly trends on the performance of acquisition channels will help uncover tipping points of when the channel is about to take off or when it’s time to forget about a channel if it has not been performing for a while. To identify optimal acquisition channels, Sandeep Khode, WordsMaya, tells us to ask your customers where they came to know about you. Though it’s a manual process, it helps them to identify users’ exact search terms, which is very useful for keyword optimization. WordsMaya leverages Quora to acquire customers by answering questions or starting a topic.

Jayesh Kariya, VP Finance, TouchMagix, contributed an interesting idea that maintaining a trend of number of prospects lost every week is an eye opener. This lends the idea that your startup should improve its own performance week-on-week.

Landing pages and pricing pages plays an important part in customer acquisition. However, due to information overload, 55% percent of visitors spend fewer than 15 seconds on a new website. Optimizing landing page was a top priority for everyone. Paras told us that a landing page should tell a complete story; it should give all the information that the visitor wants in as few words as possible. Amit Mishra, CEO, InterviewMocha shared an excellent framework, HABITS, to design landing pages. He also says that inserting call to action buttons on your own blog posts gives a click-through rate of around 2%, effectively using your own website as an acquisition channel.

Habits_for_Conversion_Optimized_Landing_Pages

 

Activation

Oh! I got 1000 signups in a day but nobody used the product.

This sucks, right? To improve activation rates, answer this question: once someone signs up, how quickly can she actually use your product? In other words, how soon does she realise the product’s value proposition? If it’s not soon enough, the user goes away never to return.

The onboarding experience of a user should be smooth and, importantly, short. You should NOT ask a user to fill out a form with more than four fields. Some of the tactics and metrics that were discussed –

  • Keep the on-boarding experience short. Examining onboarding experiences of other companies will help you design your own.
  • Measure the ratio of number of users who sign-up to number of user who complete onboarding. Make sure that you measure every step if you have a multi-step onboarding process.

Retention

I signed up a 1000 users a month back. Today, only 10 of them are using my product.

Customer Retention is the real growth accelerator. The math is quite simple: 1 – 1 + 1 = 1. If you don’t retain customers, there’s no use acquiring them. Here’s a great infographic with helpful tips to boost customer retention and reduce churn.

Vrushali Babar, Founder, Meatroot, a B2C business, says that it’s crucial for her to retain her customers. She says that sentiment analysis of what her customers are saying online is indispensable. She currently does it manually on Twitter or Facebook but using a tool like Sentiment140 or BuzzLogix could be useful.

A useful exercise could be developing a dashboard that plots the engagement of users with your product on a daily basis. The philosophy is that a customer who is not engaged will leave. Such a dashboard will give you a snapshot of when engagement of a customer is on the decline so that you can take proactive action before the customer cancels. Another useful metric, for SaaS businesses, is to measure the number of sessions for a user during the trial phase. This will let you know which users are more likely to convert to a paid subscription.

To demonstrate how important is customer retention, Sagar Bedmutha, CEO, Optinno Mobitech takes this issue to an obsessive level. When a user submits a rating of less than 4 on their app on the Play Store, he tracks the user, fixes the bug, and sends a test app to the customer! He says, this personal touch often makes the user change her rating and helps Optinno maintain good ratings, the primary driver of app installs.

Paras contributed a great insight on how to properly measure churn rates. He says, that measuring the average churn rate doesn’t help uncover the reason for the churn. Instead, you should do a churn cohort analysis, that is, measure the churn rate segmented by customer cohorts. Examples of cohorts could be the number of months a customer used the product before leaving, the specific features churned customers use, etc.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 11.12.51 AM

 

Let’s say you have 100 customers and 5 of them leave in a given month. Your churn rate turns out to be 5%. However, the graph above makes it clear that the churn is much higher for customers who are less than 6 months old after which the churn is much lower. This points to a problem with activation: customers drop off when they are not fully activated.

Revenue

I have over a 1000 customers, but I am not making any money.

A bad problem to have! Businesses should make money from the customers they serve. This, seemingly obvious, fact sometimes slips away when you are working on many things. Measuring how much revenue you’re generating month-on-month (monthly recurring revenue) is indispensable.

Not only should you track revenue growth, you should work towards increasing it in ways other than signing up new customers. A great way to do that for SaaS businesses is upselling. Upselling lets you get more revenue from one customer and help you define and build the whole product. Kaushal Sanghavi, co-founder, BreathingRoom takes this a step further by saying that maintaining a predictable revenue stream is important. He is trying various techniques and says that incentivizing customers to pre-purchase, or buying in bulk for future use, is showing a lot of promise.

Amit seems to have perfected the art of upselling. He says not to wait to build out a feature before upselling to your customers. Sell as soon as you have an idea. Doing so will give you insights on which are the features customers really want and help you prioritize your product roadmap.

Referral

How I wish my customers referred more customers to me!

A working referral system is what differentiates SaaS companies. An amazing referral system, like that of Dropbox’s Refer-a-Friend, is probably the easiest thing that can bring exponential growth.

Building a working, and non-creepy, referral program for your startup is hard. From my experience, most experiments fail. But you can look at some successful referral implementations and learn from them.

Amit tells that monetarily incentivizing salespeople to follow up with their customers and ask them to write reviews on various web directories has worked well for him to acquire more customers. InterviewMocha, an online assessment software, stores email addresses of people that their system collects, follows them on LinkedIn, and when someone changes a job, reaches out to them to install InterviewMocha in their new companies. Though manual and time-taking, this method, I believe, justifies the ROI.

Final Words

There are a lot of metrics that you can track and you probably are. It’s easy to get lost. The video from Google Ventures that we saw makes a great statement: for a company of a type at any stage of the company, there is one metric that is the most important, which you can’t afford to not track.

As a founder, keep an eye on that one metric and just focus on growing that metric. Here’s a PDF of what that metric is.

At the end of the event, I caught hold of Sanket to pick his brain. One of the main questions I had was what does a founder do when he is just starting out and does not have too much data to derive insights from. Customer Interviews. When you’re small, you can afford to pay attention to each customer. In turn, those customers, often happy with the personal touch, will tell you what they want exactly and give you insights that no market research can.

Customer Interviews are tricky: if you don’t conduct them well, you won’t get the insights that you want. Or more dangerously, you will listen to what you want to listen and fail at validating your assumptions. Spend effort in creating good user interviews and refine over time.

I hope that this post gives you an overview of why metrics are important to grow your business, how to define appropriate business metrics, and learn how startups are already doing so.
About the author – Siddharth Saha – a Product Marketer with an interest in full stack marketing. Questions? Criticisms? Insights? Shoot him an email on [email protected]

 

The SaaS Juggernaut: Advantage India

An Indian software company serving majorly clients in the US or Europe is not an unusual thing anymore. However, if anybody were to guess the location of the India office, a company that counts amongst its clients about 100,000 small businesses globally, they would most probably chose Bangalore or Hyderabad. However, Appointy, which is an advanced web-based scheduling software tool and has around 90,000 salons, spas, and dance and yoga classes as its clients in 100 countries does it out of Bhopal. Similarly Kayako, which sells support software to over 30,000 clients including NASA, Peugeot, Sega found its roots in Jalandhar, which as per their own website is “one of the least likely places to establish a technology start-up”.

The emergence of these companies from relatively smaller towns, highlight India’s comparative advantage in terms of ability to build high quality companies in the domain of Software as a Service (SaaS). The inherent model of the SaaS business does not require proximity to the end user. In the simplest terms, it is a software that can be accessed through a web browser, by paying a subscription, either on a monthly or yearly basis. The software is hosted exclusively by the provider, as opposed to being downloaded upon purchase and subsequently hosted by the client. The customer gains by spending less upfront, not having to maintain hardware and not worrying about upgrades & data security. Driven by such factors, the SaaS model is growing exponentially and the global market for 2015 stood at USD 31 billion (NASSCOM). The growth is expected to continue at CAGR of 18% to reach a market size of USD 72 billion by 2020. Another study by Google and Accel Partners estimates the 2020 market to be USD 132 billion.

The Indian SaaS landscape is expected to evolve even faster. The FY16 market is estimated to be USD 407 million, a 34% growth over FY15. This figure is expected to triple by 2020 growing at a CAGR of 27%, 1.5 times the global growth rate. It is easy to see why India is going to be a hotbed of activity for SaaS companies. The cost of product developers is one of the biggest items in a SaaS company’s P&L Statement. A software developer in India costs 25% of what a similarly skilled one based in the US would cost. India has an estimated 36,000 product managers, 25,000 SaaS engineers and 100,000 other engineers with the skills for building a SaaS product. Another critical factor is the adoption of mobiles as the primary device for accessing data. India being a mobile-first nation is well placed to ride this shift as its young companies are more flexible and can focus on mobile platforms.

Buoyed by these advantages, companies have been sprouting in every segment of the sector. NASSCOM estimates that there are around 150 Indian companies offering SaaS solutions. 40% of these companies have been incorporated after 2010. Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Content Collaboration and Communication (CCC) and Enterprise Resource Planning are the hottest segments accounting for more than half the market in FY16.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 8.54.06 am

 

Growth in the domestic market is also expected to be a major boost factor for the Indian companies. A deeper dive into the key underlying sectors which are adopting SaaS brings even more attractive prospects to the fore. Healthcare, E-commerce, BFSI and education sectors have been the most targeted segments by emerging SaaS companies. Each of these sectors is expected to expand at a healthy pace in the near future riding on the overall economy’s consumption led growth. At 7.6%, India’s GDP growth rate for FY16 has been the highest in the last 5 years. Small and Medium sized businesses emerging in these sectors would be much more nimble and receptive of SaaS solutions to avoid upfront large capex on technology.

The investor community, financial and strategic, has also embraced the SaaS opportunity with both hands. A total of USD 650 million was invested in SaaS companies in India till 2014. The funding in 2014 is estimated to be between USD 170 million to USD 200 million. However, the funding skyrocketed in 2015 with USD 450 million in the first half of the year itself. Some of the most active investors who are backing SaaS companies India are as below.

  • Accel Partners (Freshdesk, Hotelogix, Mobstac, Mindtickle, Chargebee, Zettata,)
  • Blume Ventures (Zipdial, Hotelogix, Mettl, FrameBench, WebEngage, Mobstac)
  • Nexus Venture Partners (Druva, Indix, Unmetric, TargetingMantra, Genwi, Helpshift)
  • Norwest Venture Partners (BlueJeans, CRMnext, Act-On, Capillary Technolgies, Attune)
  • Sequoia Capital (Druva, Capillary Technologies, Knowlarity, Practo)

The investors will have their hands full the short to medium term as most of the companies move traverse from Series A to B to C and so on. With companies maturing and cash balances building up, the sector is also expected start throwing up M&A opportunities much faster than any other sector.

The SaaS story hasn’t quite meant curtains for the traditional software licensing business model yet. Currently, SaaS commands only about 9% of the over Indian software market which is estimated to be USD 3.1 billion. However, Indian SaaS companies have already been able to create a market perception of building great products at lower cost. Currently, a large number of Indian SaaS companies would lie in the revenue range of USD 1 to 2 million. However, there are enough cases of rapid scaling up companies (such as Freshdesk, Capillary Technologies and CRMNext) to help us believe that we will soon see companies with multiple billion dollars in revenue emerging from India.

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 8.57.35 amThis is a guest post by Arvind Yadav, Executive Team Member at Aurum Equity Partners LLP.

 

‘SaaS’ – indirect tax issues in India

It seems there is still time before the Software as a service (SaaS) blooms well in the Indian domestic market. The biggest friction points are relatively low acceptability of online model, lack of quality internet penetration in country side and the unsupportive policy framework e.g. recurring billing, expensive payment gateway solutions and confusing indirect taxation in India. Owing to these bottlenecks, many SaaS companies relocated outside India or open a branch or foreign subsidiary.

iSPIRT has been pursuing a stay-in-India check list with Govt. of India, with following three top taxation issues embedded in it:

  1. Removing confusion between ‘goods’ and ‘service’ tax on Software
  2. Not treating software sales as royalty income and do away with TDS on sale of software
  3. Start taxing online B2C sales by foreign companies

All three are relevant to the Software product Industry. However, the problem of ‘goods’ verses ‘service’ tax is intriguing to be solved and the subject of this article.

From tax perspective, many get carried away with the etymology of ‘Service’ in SaaS and believe service tax is the obvious classification. However, the classification under service alone, can’t be the most advantageous position for SaaS industry in a complex tax regime like India which is riddled with confusions.

This article attempts to explain this confusions of goods verses service tax effecting software product industry where SaaS is a special case in consideration.

Explaining the confusion between Goods V/s Service tax

The Indian tax system today classifies Software in following manner:

1. Treated as goods – has a tariff code associated (ITC HS Code)

  • Pre-packaged on media or paper license or PUK
  • Pre-packaged embedded with hardware

2. Treated a Service

  • Bespoke/Customized software development
  • Rest everything else that is not covered in a) above (SaaS falls here)

Those covered under a) above have a tariff code (ITC/HS Code) associated with them and hence fall under ‘goods’. The pre-packaged category (i.e. the Software products) have following tariff code assigned currently.

HS Code Item Description
4907 00 30 Documents of title conveying the right to use Information Technology software
4911 99 10 Hard copy (printed) of computer software (PUK Card)
8523 80 20 Information technology software on Media

Same pre-packaged software downloaded ‘online’ is covered under service tax and is not treated as ‘goods’. Further, the tax system does not understand other models of SaaS, PaaS etc. All other categories of Software i.e. other than mentioned in a) above are covered under service tax by default under a logic of exclusion (not having covered under the tariff code list).

There is no guarantee that if the Service tax is applied there will not be a goods tax applied. VAT is applied in many cases based on interpretation in a way leading to double taxation. Even large players like Microsoft are not able to circumvent the double taxation. Their SaaS based offering (office365 bundled with exchange and storage on cloud[1]) are taxed differently at different point of times. Sometimes just the service tax and at other times service tax + VAT. You can hear a large number of use cases like this.

According to tax authorities in central government, the problem is solved simply by making goods and service tax rate one. They have solved the riddle by bringing in a notification for paying only one of the two at a given time excise duty/CVD or Service tax. But they have no remedy on states charging VAT. Whenever it is considered that the transaction implies ‘Transfer of right to use goods’ for any purpose (whether or not for a specified period) for cash, deferred payment or other valuable consideration, it is deemed to be a sale under Article 366(29A) of the Constitution of India. As a result Software even when defined as a services gets caught in 29A of (366) and VAT is applied based on how local authorities interpret a transaction.

The root cause of this confusion is that the tax regime has not given place to ‘intangibles’ at par with tangibles. As far as the tangibles trade is concerned, intangibles are treated as ‘goods’ as defined in 366(12) of the Constitution and their sale is covered by sale of goods act 1930. All that is defined as goods cannot be service by definition.

Does GST solve the puzzle?

Some people argue that these ‘good’ v/s ‘services’ tax problems will all vanish when GST is rolled out, based on the argument and assumption that the rate of tax in GST will be one.

GST is a ‘supply’ and ‘destination’ based tax system replacing the concept of manufacturing with concept supply of goods and supply of services. GST will also amalgamate most indirect taxes in existence at center and state. Both Center and state will have power to tax under GST for both goods and services. At present states do not have power to tax services.

One tax rate may be a necessary condition for attaining the neutrality and level playing field but not the sufficient condition.

Following are some reasons why even one rate GST is insufficient to solve the problem:

  1. GST bill does not take cognizance of the root cause of absent definition of a ‘digital good’ i.e. including ‘intangibles’ at par with tangibles
  2. The value chain of use and consumption of ‘goods’ and ‘services’ are quite different and hence will pose challenge in practice
  3. The tax structuring is not done exclusively for the either software or the digital business. Also, Tax departments are prone to provide differential rates for new industry structures and business models for social needs under pressure of lobbying and differential tax rate may emerge for some segments of the Software Industry segments. The needs to tax new sectors of business and new models of business all arise in bits and pieces and then rules are overplayed above the basic tax structure, thus causing the confusion.
  4. GST legislation is not clear on tax credit system in its completeness e.g. the inclusion of zero-rated supplies
  5. The Clause (29A) of Article 366 has not been deleted in the proposed constitutional amendment and would need to be deleted as this would be redundant under the new concept where sales and deemed sales will be replaced by concept of supply or it may give rise to misuse under some pretext.
  6. Any new statute has to be tested on ground it takes few years to evolve and align with ground reality. GST will be no exceptions.

GST bill has yet to be passed. After the GST bills is passed the rules will be framed under CBEC and it is expected that CBEC to be in its comfort zone will like to use existing frameworks and for Software product industry adoption of existing framework will not be helpful and it is imperative on us to suggest to government remedy for these long existing problems.

Proposed Solution – the need to define “Digital Goods” and “Digital Service”

To remove the root cause of the problem, a clear distinction between a “product” and “service” or “digital goods” and “digital service” is needed.

In the previous blog ‘SaaS’ – the product advantage and need we have argued that the product side in SaaS cannot be ignored. Even the service component in SaaS is about using this digital (intangible) product. Let us understand the product/goods properties that are commercially viable and legally tenable.

iSPIRT has been pursuing application of a frame work “COG-TRIP Test” that can be used to define Software Products as distinct from Software services. A SaaS product can be mapped to the complete COG-TRIP test. Given below is the framework of COG-TRIP.
1. Countability – no of licenses/users/subscribers
2. Ownership and Intellectual Property Rights
3. Qualification as an Intangible Good
4. Tradability: The Software Products (Goods) can be sold through different delivery modes.
5. Right of service/Right of Use
6. Identifiability
7. Production/Development Cost: All software production costs are capitalized and subsequently reported at the lower of unamortized cost or net realizable value

In the legal framework the above definition of “Product” has to be mapped to “Goods” as defined in 366(12) of the Constitution and hence there is need for the definition of “Digital Goods” at par with constitutional provision of “Goods” in article 366(12) which further is related to the Sale of Goods Act 1930. This will also cover the article 366(29A) aspects.

Gradually the world is also moving toward the above proposed scheme of overlaying the existing structure with a clear definition of ‘digital goods’ and ‘digital services’. US has a “digital goods and services fairness act” pending to be passed by congress. Australia has come up with a new digital GST.

The clear definition of ‘digital goods’ and ‘digital services’ definition not only provide the ease of doing business but also the level playing field against the foreign companies under new emerging business models every day.

Concluding notes – Looking for a long term solution

In a previous blog on ‘SaaS’ – the product advantage and need we have made a case for SaaS industry to be a formidable part of the Indian Software product industry (iSPI). For SaaS Industry, the advantage is in favour of getting defined under product (digital goods) category as an industry. This also infers that SaaS itself is a “Product” that provides a services to businesses or consumers who may actually fall in any industry verticals.

The tax is applicable on a transaction and does not get defined based on sector or industry. Once SaaS is recognized as Product (intangible goods) the next issue to be solved is asking for one single clear tax on a transaction be it “goods” or “services” based on the transaction.

Hence three basic requirements for SaaS segment to get a boost are:

  1. SaaS is identified as a product or digital good
  2. There is clear definition of digital goods v/s digital services in tax regime
  3. There is one single and clear tax on one transaction

Tax and trade are much related in promotion of an industry and we hope these concerns will be addressed by Indian government in near future. SaaS can become a segment that can bring India pride and has possibility of emergence of next google from India.


Footnotes

[1] Consider a real life used case. I am running an office365 email service, procured through an Indian partner of Microsoft and I pay service tax on the subscription. I went ahead and placed order for a new office365 (same service) for a different domain directly from Microsoft online, the invoice charges me 14.5% service tax as well as 5% VAT. I tried to get a quote from other partner of Microsoft and again I get a quotation for 14.5% service tax and 5% VAT. In the first case I am buying from a partner of Microsoft who is a hosting provider. In second case the partner is a usual Microsoft partner selling their products or services.

Now consider buying office365 (office 2016 1 year subscription) for desk top licenses and there is CVD + VAT, even when it is a mix of offering both Product and Service for online storage and fully installed office pack.

The above used case mentioned above is of the office365 business essential plan has all the components built in the exchange online, access to MS Office products online only, online storage etc. It actually carries the many examples of the MS Office 2016 offered as SaaS model, Exchange offered as an email service and Storage offered as a service.

Disclaimer: The above example is based on real life personal experience of the writer and has nothing to do with iSPIRT.

BPO Talent To Be Groomed For Inside Sales In SaaS India

With ongoing expeditious advancements in communication, social media, cloud, mobility and related technologies – sales is on a continuous path for digital transformation. This is going to place inside sales teams at a strategic position in sales and marketing process, in terms of significance. A shift is being observed from field sales model to inside sales model which is attracting field sales guys towards inside sales jobs. Therefore, the Inside Sales industry is moving towards a revolution worldwide.

Inside Sales Teams to Play a Greater Role in Sales

Inside sales is quite strategic to India’s GDP growth. Indian BPO industry alone contributes 1% of India’s GDP where professionals are majorly involved in B2C processes including inside sales. IT/ITES and software companies have been early adopters of Inside Sales process for B2B leads generation. With digital sales transformation happening for the digitally dependent buyers, the inside sales teams are going to play a greater role in sales process, as more tasks of the marketing and field sales teams have come under the scope of Inside Sales teams.

SaaS India – Early Adopters of Inside Sales Technology

SaaS, Technology and Professional Services companies in the western world are the first ones to acknowledge a digitally connected buyer by adopting Inside Sales Technology. The traditional businesses like manufacturing companies in US are exploring how Inside Sales tech may add value to their sales process.

However, in the Indian market, mainly SaaS industry is at the forefront on trying their hands on advanced Inside Sales Technology for accelerated sales. The others in the technology industry are going to follow this trend in near future in India. Traditional industries are going to take some time to change their sales processes as their buyers are slowly becoming internet savvy for business purchases.

Inside Sales to Play Significant Role in SaaS India

As per Google Accel SaaS Report 2016 – SaaS India is expected to grow to $50 billion in next 10 years while Indian SMB SaaS is expected to rise from current $600 million to $10 billion in the said period.

SaaS_projection.png

Source: Google Accel Report – SaaS India, Global SMB Market, $50B in 2025

SaaS industry has a strong need for inside sales professionals. As per the report, strong workforce in the BPO sector gives access to talent pool of around 6,20,000 Inside Sales professionals, out of which 1,20,000 are inside sales ready and 5,00,000 are skill ready.

Workforce-1.png

Source: Google Accel Report – SaaS India, Global SMB Market, $50B in 2025

I personally believe that 6,20,000 from the BPO sector, who are assessed as ready for SaaS as per report, need to be groomed for making them sales skill ready as only telecalling skills don’t make a professional acceptable for Sales Development Rep’s role in SaaS Sales.

Inside Sales Talent – A Key Challenge for SaaS India  

SDRs are expected to understand the Sales Processes. They should have the knack of using Inside Sales Tools like Social Media, Email, Phone, CRM and other smart selling tools. The working environment of B2B Inside Sales teams is significantly different from BPO scenario, where the reps are much more controlled, the jobs are temporary, the performance metrics are more around calls numbers and talk time, the customer engagements are very short lived, and end consumers are served with products & services.

This vast difference would require a complete psychological shift in the skills of a BPO professional who aspires to work in the SaaS sales space. They would need to be trained on Inside Sales function from scratch to be helpful, empathetic, B2B marketing and sales process oriented, B2B product/services domain expert, and digital sales intensive to successfully become an SDR. SDR will progress to become an account executive with quota around end closures and finally managing SDRs.

Aspirants looking to fill Inside Sales Talent Gap

There is a need to align the professionals by training for B2B Inside Sales function to serve the evolving SaaS industry in India.

I am associated with AA-ISP, American Association of Inside Sales Professionals as the President for India Chapter. The mission of AA-ISP is to advance the profession of Inside Sales. AA-ISP Gurgaon and Noida Chapter is supported by Inside Sales Box to create an ecosystem for Inside Sales professionals for businesses.

If you are a BPO/ Inside Sales/ Marketing and Sales professional or a Technology Entrepreneur, who is aspiring to stay abreast with best IS practices, discover digital sales tools & technologies, and explore jobs and business opportunities locally and globally – I welcome you to be a part of AA-ISP India.

Open Source and SAAS

While open source software is a fairly well understood in concept, I am always surprised how little it is understood in practice. At a round table of young product companies last month, there were a lot of raised eyebrows and questions when I explained our open source way of working.

Jordan Hubbard, co-creator of FreeBSD and open source veteran, spoke on this topic at this year’s ERPNext Conference, and he basically said this, open source business is all about people. Since the product is free, you sell services around the product, which is your people. This is mostly true for the very large majority of businesses that have mushroomed around open source projects, providing installation, hosting, customization, maintenance and other services around the product.

But there is now a new variable in the equation, SAAS (or Software-as-a-Service). It has been already accepted that SAAS is the way software is sold today. Listed companies like SalesForce, Xero, Zendesk, Workday, NetSuite, Hubspot, Shopify are testimony to the success of SAAS products and the billions of dollars that get spent on SAAS products each year. What does the future hold?

As on-premise is slowly moving into SAAS, I believe that SAAS itself will move into open source. Since the unevenly spread future is already here, there are companies already successfully doing open source + SAAS like WordPress, Ghost CMS, Magento, ERPNext (disclaimer: that’s us).

Open source + SAAS makes a great combination.

Benefits to the user:

  1. Open source products allow virtually unlimited possibilities to deeply integrate the product.
  2. There is a lot more risk in a closed platform, like price increase and slow pace of development.
  3. There is no vendor lock-in
  4. Free!

Benefits to the publisher:

  1. Not everyone wants to host their own infrastructure, this opens up opportunity to build a SAAS platform
  2. Provides word-of-mouth marketing
  3. Vibrant community attracts more users
  4. Community contributes by providing feedback, support, features, fixes, integration, testing, documentation
  5. A lot more incentive to write good code and documentation
  6. Much easier to find and on-board new developers to your team

Going open source is not easy. Business are built on the premise of transactions, and in open source, you have to be very open to giving and communicating without expecting immediate results. But once you cross a certain threshold, community participation can be extremely rewarding.

I am not advocating you open source your product today, but as Wikipedia has shown us, its only a matter of time before someone builds a mature open source product that might replace you.

Then there is no going back.