Why the Internet won’t remain neutral forever

netneutralityThe telecom companies don’t want a neutral Internet. They built the pipes and hooked them up to your phones. They also sell you broadband fiber at Rs 800-Rs2000 per month. And they hate to see you spending more time on messenger and chat apps which are getting better by the day. Unlike Gtalk and those of its ilk, today’s apps are on phones, untethered from the computer and therefore as personal as it gets. Their quality? Almost as good as a voice call. And that’s where the trouble lies.

And therefore why should they remain a silent observer to their voice and sms revenue being eaten away by Jan Koum’s Whatsapp, Larry Page’s Hangout or Skype which was built in Estonia. Apple’s Facetime is probalby the best of the lot but platform restricted hence does not create as much noise (hint: @Apple … please release #Facetime for Android and join this war!)

Dave Mcclure’s recent defense of the valuation of Unicorns reinforces the case for modern Internet businesses that are poised to disrupt the Fortune 500s. The prospect of the large telcos being uprooted by these Internet businesses is very very real and has not been more threatening than it is now. Because the telcos have now started to either resist the enemy or have started sleeping with it. Either way, they cannot ignore the enemy.

But we do need the Airtel’s and Vodafone’s to own those pipes that will carry those meek software signals. We can’t disrupt those pipes if we want our software to disrupt the world. Those who own the pipes will keep inventing new experiments aimed at spoiling the party. Someday, one of these experiments will succeed. Whether it’s Airtel’s net neutrality gambit, or the recent Airtel One which for now allows free trials, or the Airtel Zero which allows Startups to pay for giving free access to their users. Once public memory has receded and Airtel Zero gains acceptance, they may get emboldened and even sign on a free Facebook and free Youtube. Time will tell. It’s just another way of having differential tariffs without charging the user upfont.

If Airtel had succeeded in differential pricing for Whatsapp like services, you and I would be paying for that usage. Fortunately for consumers, that move got scuttled. In its Airtel Zero play, the content providers are paying Airtel to allow we the junta to use it gratis. Ultimately in both these experiments Airtel is the one that wins, with someone putting cash in the bank. If differential pricing does come in some day, no prizes for guessing whether Hike messenger would be subject to similar restrictions, and certainly none for guessing the fate of Jio Chat if Airtel had their way. This really brings me back to my hypothesis that in this case Airtel (and its counterparts) will have their cake and eat it too. Eventually. Unless another Startup chooses to become a data-only Telco with a eat-as-much-as-you-can data pack.

Lets look at another scenario where email transforms and becomes as good as chat. What would be the difference between instant messaging (as in real time chat), vs a scenario where everyone is on gmail and messages are delivered instantly to each person on the Gmail network. Google could actually do that since then it doesn’t need to depend on asynchronous smtp protocols for Gmail-to-Gmail delivery.

If Google were to try this, the day would not be far off when they would re-invent Gmail (since Gtalk is dead) to be more spontaneous, more Whatsapp like and less of a pre-planned hideout like Hangouts. You must have guessed by now where this argument is leading to. If you and I were to end up paying for Whatsapp and Skype chat, we may soon end up paying for Gmail. Sure, the telcos only want to charge for voice usage on these networks for now. That’s how it usually starts and then you start expanding your argument to ring-fence more and more unsuspecting folks into the playing field which you own and where you make the rules.

This hypothesis, by the way, is not just about cost. It’s as much about content. If you are forced to play in someone else’s playing field, not only do you have to pay the rates they charge, you are also restricted to playing (or watching) the games they want you to. Free services given on preferential basis (e.g., free Facebook but no free Google) will eventually thrust the Facebook world view on you. One that is not unbiased, not empirical and certainly not a view that’s shared by all. Imagine being left out of access to unbiased news, grassroots journalism, views of specific political parties and certain critics of those who control this free service.

I don’t really fancy letting these seeds to be sown today and neither should you. Else, my dear friend… the Internet won’t remain neutral forever.

P.S. — edited on 13/Apr… if you want to really make a difference, voice your opinion on the savetheinternet site — click here.

3 ways in which Brand Positioning influences us silently

MANHATTAN (3)I’ve usually been averse to buying premium branded apparel. For the simple reason that I could always find equally good clothing which isn’t necessarily a Lacoste or a Tommy, and which is as elegant and durable as that venerable brand.

Garments is a very competitive industry. You are spoilt for choice and there are more brands to choose from for every category than the number of hours in a day. Which is probably the reason you can get a good deal if you shop around enough. In a market where product differentiation is reduced to sticking a label on the shirt, it becomes very easy to ignore the pull of a brand and look for value instead.

#1 Discoverability

My bias towards ignoring a brand took a hit when I went shopping for a set of tyres. Now this is an industry with less than 10 brands. And they are not bought based on the label stuck on them. It was difficult to believe that the Continental, Bridgestone and Yokohoma brands (I left out Michelin on purpose), were slowly but surely getting an edge in the replacement market over time tested Indian brands. The first battle they’ve won over others, is the sheer reach. They are present overwhelmingly in front of you, wherever you go. Most purchase decisions are made by engaging with brands that are easily discoverable. It is only a handful of customers that does serious market research in the quest of finding every product they can lay their hands on before choosing amongst them.

#2 Value proposition (what can I do for you)

What each brand told me was a story. Continental said its new technology, Bridgestone said wide acceptance / long term player, and Yokohoma claimed high performance. In this milieu, I could barely hear what Apollo / MRF / Ceat were trying to say. I came away with the distinct impression that they have confined themselves to being manufacturers of OEM supplies and Truck tyres! Both of these segments do not require them to position their brand to the consumer.

I made my choice, and it was on the basis of brand positioning. No prizes for guessing which way I leaned.

#3 Believability

It’s easy to promise the moon and every seller would like to believe their brand is God. In the courtroom of the consumer however, decisions are swift and ex-party. Which means, you do not get a second chance to be heard. This is where believability or trustworthiness comes in. In my case, it was the dealer who swore by the product I bought. Do we convey trust either directly or through media or through our sales touchpoints? If not, then you are seriously under exploiting your brand’s potential.

Indian Software

This is precisely the problem that plagues software from India. To this day, we are immersed into selling our products by feature and rarely take an emotional position in the consumer’s mind. A brand connects with the buyer at an emotional level. If we want to be world class, saying how good we are will not help. How we can transform the life of the buyer, is what matters. And that is where branding and positioning comes in.

Emportant HR Software

I then thought about what we stand for as a brand. Emportant has a deeply committed team, founders with deep roots in product software and the HR software industry and yes, we’re also new-age and high-tech. So what do we stand for? Our effort will be do bring forth our Brand value to you in the coming months. Brand should also be a truthful reflection of the company ethos. We’d like to be perceived as trustworthy, caring and progressive. We’d like to be quoted as being versatile and easy to adopt. You can help us in this journey. Just write back and tell us what you think about Emportant and be part of shaping our story (click here to share comments). Because we believe that in our story, the best is yet to be told.

Global Lean Sales – Selling your software online to global markets, without field-force #PlaybookRT

Last week I was going through the startup class videos and one particular statement by Sam Altman stuck with me. He said “All successful founders are fanatics”. And YCombinator has seen a whole bunch of them. The way he puts it is very awesome, let me reproduce the statement here:

“The word fanatical comes up again and again when you listen to successful founders talk about how they think about their product. Founders talk about being fanatical in how they care about the quality of the small details. Fanatical in getting the copy that they use to explain the product just right. and fanatical in the way that they think about customer support. In fact, one thing that correlates with success among the YC companies is the founders that hook up Pagerduty to their ticketing system, so that even if the user emails in the middle of the night when the founder’s asleep, they still get a response within an hour.Companies actually do this in the early days. Their founders feel physical pain when the product sucks and they want to wake up and fix it. They don’t ship crap, and if they do, they fix it very very quickly. And it definitely takes some level of fanaticism to build great products.”

Read the full talk here (later)

2014-10-18 15.23.57

This statement came alive for me yesterday when I met Pallav Nadhani, the founder of FusionCharts. As he walked us through how he built his company and sharing his experiences and wonderful insights in building his company, his fanaticism was apparent. I am sure everyone who was there, wanted some of it to rub on to them. Even though it was a “RoundTable”, I think Pallav had more experience than a lot of us and pretty much carried the group. He shared some very cool insights, with real life examples and actionable suggestions.

There were 11 of us, all selling business-to-business (B2B) products in the range of $1000 – $75,000, some online, some offline, most on a subscription model, some early stage, a few past the validation stage. Almost half of the founders depended on high touch sales and half had products that were Do-it-yourself. Here is a summary of the meetup:

Pallav’s Story

Pallav shared his story on how he started the company when he was 16, to get some pocket money. He made a charting widget for himself and then wrote an article about it, which became popular. Then one thing led to another and he now runs a company that publishes 90+ types of charts has 23,000 customers and 70 people. Some of the things that he focused from very early on was:

  1. Reduce all friction for the user who is evaluating the product.
  2. He promised his users that they would get their money back if they could not build the first chart in 15 minutes. That helped him simplify the on-boarding process and make it very easy for his users.
  3. He was a one person company for a long time and handled everything from developing the product, documenting it to doing customer support.


Pallav’s father is an author of 15 books on accounting and that gave him a strong foundation to document his product very well. This was particularly important since his target audience was developers who needed good documentation to use the product.

  1. Pallav himself wrote 3000 to 4000 pages of documentation and still reviews every word that is added by his team.
  2. Documenting the product gave him key insights as a user and helped him refine and debug the product.
  3. Every time someone asks a question. His team is forced to answer using a public document. This made sure that the same question did not get asked again and also created a good knowledge base for his product.
  4. He learned from his father on how to structure documentation (with headings, sub-headings etc) so that the reader can quickly find out the relevant sections to read.

There is another interesting anecdote. jQuery was a late entrant to javascript libraries and according to its creator John Resig, it was because it was the first one that was properly documented.

Marketing and First Impressions

Pallav’s hypothesis is that all sales / conversions are driven by “Fear” or “Greed” and products must highlight these in their marketing copy, specially the headling. He even asked all of us the rephrase the core message of our product to appeal to one of these emotions. I had strong reservations on whether this was correct and if this lead too to much focus on top of the sales funnel (new visitors). Either way, the group seemed convinced. While I thought it went went with Pallav’s aggressive and “switched-on” approach, I have my doubts if it works for all kinds of products. Products have the personalities of their founders embedded in them, and I feel its best to stick with the approach that goes best with the philosophy of the product and the creator.

Pallav also referred Kevin Hale’s analogy of building a customer relationship like a marriage and how the first visit of a customer on the website is like dating. For more on this, I would recommend Kevin Hale’s enlightening talks on the matter (later!).

Some other interesting points that were discussed were:

  1. Classify your traffic into different personas. For Fusion Chart, it is the Developer, Product Manager and Designer.
  2. Deeply understand each persona. Appreciate that they are overloaded with information and identify openings in their daily routines where you can reach them.
  3. For security startups, a weekly roundup of major reported breaches worked well when sent at 8.30 in the morning.
  4. Online marketing has evolved from “carpet bombing” to “sniper”. Audience have to be segmented and messages have to be finely targeted.
  5. It is important to reach the users main Inbox and not the promotions box. So keep the mail personal and do not add an unsubscribe link.
  6. Pallav showed how he used WebEngage for conducting surveys on their visitors and how he tested his hypothesis. For example, his survey would ask if a visitor intends to pay for the product on offer or select an open source alternative. Based on the feedback, Pallav said he would change the marketing copy.
  7. He also used VWO for A/B testing and showed us an example on which one of “HTML5 Charting” or “Javascript Charting” resonated more for the user.
  8. Asking feedback from customers who had evaluated a product was also important. A simple email with the subject “5 minutes of your time for 5 questions” gives Pallav great customer insight.
  9. He said he tests all kinds of hypotheses and keeps experimenting on the message. Examples:
    1. Do users like a simple or complex layout
    2. How many fields should a form have
    3. What colour a button should have

The attendees at PlaybookRTContent Marketing

We spent a whole bunch of time discussing and sharing great insights on Content Marketing. Sahil Parikh of BrightPod.com shared his experiences in content marketing. He has built a product for the marketing community and started a blog with the purpose of reaching out to this community. It took him six months of building the blog before he saw some returns. He has hired two content writers and produces 3 to 4 blog posts a week. He shared that aggressive content marketing teams target producing one post a day. He also reached out to Indian authors on popular blogs like ZDNet and TheNextWeb and pitched the Indian product angle that got him attention. Sandeep Todi of Emportant.com shared that he bumped into a content writer for SiteHR, a popular HR portal and is how working with her to build content for his product.

Content marketing seemed like a favorite of strategy of a Lean Sales team but again it boils down to execution. It is very hard to product high quality content and as more and more people start getting good at it, the bar keeps on increasing.

Some content ideas / anecdotes shared were:

  1. Interview / Talk Show Series: Publish interviews with customers and thought leaders in the domain
  2. Use big brands in your blog posts. Examples from Fusion Charts:
    1. How Unilever / Walmart / P&G uses data visualization
  3. Act on industry events:
    1. Security Breaches
    2. Flipkart Billion Day flop
    3. Home Depot breach
  4. “News Jacking” – Connect popular news items to your product.
    1. GangamStyle in numbers
    2. Infographics on FIFA World Cup
    3. 10 infographics on Fitness Apps
  5. Put customer logos on your site, content unless the customer objects. Don’t mention it in your contract or it will trigger a red flag.
  6. Allow your site content to be reproduced.
  7. Curate, collate good content from other site and credit the original author.
  8. Get quotes from industry influencers, the will also ReTweet your content.
  9. Speed is of essence. Create great content quicly (yeah right!).
  10. Publish whitepapers. They are popular with higher management.

Sales Funnel

Pallav walked us through the various parts of the sales funnel.

[From his slides]

  1. Awareness (ads, blog, event, word-of-mouth…)
  2. Initial Visit
    1. Different channels / different ROI
    2. Best channels = low cost, high ROI
  3. Engagement
    1. Trial, case study, whitepaper, anything that could give you email AND other information
  4. Nurturing
    1. Mix of product, marketing and sales
    2. Sales job: get the customer on the call and do aggressive follow up
  5. Closing
    1. Handover from sales to client success.
    2. Repeat business through subscriptions, up-sells or cross-sells.


There was a very heated discussion on pricing. Pallav was of the mainstream industry opinion that price is a reflection of value. The higher the price, the better the quality of customers and revenue. There was a discussion on discounts and how in high touch sales, discounts are a bane. Here Pallav shared that adding artificial constraints to negotiate. For example, you can extend the support by 3 months instead of giving a discount, or increase the number of servers etc.

Open Source

There was some resistance and suspicion from the group in discussing this and understandably so because of the nature of the software products business that depends on Intellectual Property Rights. We did touch upon this briefly and why based on our (ERPNext) experience we see open source as a great way to not only reach out a new generation of users but also believe in an alternative way of doing business.

2014-10-18 15.24.15Conclusion

It was great to learn from Pallav, and we thank him for sharing so many suggestions and learnings. Also a big thanks to him for openly sharing specific insights and walking us through an A/B test or testing an hypothesis. This is also a great initiative by Avinash Raghava and iSPIRT, the think-tank/lobby group for Software Products to bring together entrepreneurs so that they can share tips and build networks. It would have been a bit better if there was more unstructured time so that there would be better interaction between the group, to build deeper relationships between the founders. Also a big thank you to FreeCharge.in for hosting the event and providing lunch.

Finally what really matters is execution. For me the biggest takeaway was that the product is a reflection of the creator / founder and it was important that the founders are obsessed with each detail of the product and its quality and also work with the energy that is required to do so much work. For that it is important that they see success early on as Pallav did and the once they are on to something they make sure that they do not lose it.

Specifically, for me it reminded me that its time to go back to fixing the documentation!

Pallav Nadhani @FusionCharts on Bootstrapping your Startup the right way, all the way #BootUpINDIA

Success is often measured by how much limelight you managed to get. Real success however, belongs to those who dig in and chart the fabled hockey stick growth path. Companies like Fusioncharts, Rategain and Wingify are but a few examples of globe scale bootstrapped Startups from India. Does Bootstrapping happen out of accident or by choice? Is it a long term bet or a compulsion? What are the other myths behind Bootstrapped vs Funded startups?

Pallav shares the secret sauce of successful Bootstrapping in this heart-to-heart chat with Sandeep Todi, iSPIRT volunteer and himself a bootstrapped entrepreneur. Listen to him talk about the challenges he faced and how iSPIRT #BootUpINDIA will help you as a Bootstrapped startup. You can view the video and post a question to Pallav right here.

The ‘Desi’-fication of Indian startups

Desification is an invented acronym of course. It doesn’t exist in the dictionary. Or in lexicon. Nevertheless, it most aptly describes the phenomenon of a technology companies culturally adapting to the local mindset. In this case, local as in ‘Desi’, derived from the word ‘Desh’ which literally means Nation.

It’s not uncommon for successful Silicon Valley startup ideas to be replicated in India. They even meet a similar level of success in the local economy. And thus you had all the travel sites after the success of Expedia. You also got the payment gateways, the online ticket booking sites, the Classifieds, “Yet Another Craigslist” sites, feeble attempts at INdianized Webmail (in.com anyone?), and more. Everyone and his uncle just wanted to take a slice of American Pizza, add some Indian toppings, ‘rename’ it Indian Pizza and serve it hot and fresh!

For the technologically well heeled, they got sites to help manage and boost your Twitter followers, Whatsapp wannabes and many such.

The one thing they all used effectively is the artificial trade barriers that prevent a global business from setting foot in India. Travel is inherently local and the Indian travel trade makes it difficult for a foreign company with overseas offices, to sell tickets for domestic travel. Hence the emergence of strong Travel plays. Ditto for E-commerce, which requires you to have a local warehouse and local billing to avoid forex fees and customs duties. You think Classified are any different? Not really, because you need to soak in every inch of the local culture to really understand what kind of Classified categories work, and how people advertise and consume Classified ads.

Take Quikr. Their latest punchline is squarely aimed at the Desi speaking millions (… “No fikar, Bech Quikr”, loosely translated as No worries, Sell faster). Completely Hindi punchline, delivered with unfailing regularity over every TV and Radio.

Or take OLX. “Photo khench, Olx pe Bech” (approximates to Click a photo and sell on Olx instantly). It often takes a humorous dig at attempts to sell absurd things. The hint is that almost anything can be sold. These hints are very very Indian, and you wouldn’t understand if you didn’t dig the local culture.

These success aren’t born out of nowhere. They are the result of innumerable iterations. If you’re like me, you’d have seen many an avatar of online commerce in India and how their positioning has changed over time. If there is some startup that is trying to sell to an Indian audience without tickling the local funny bone, they probably aren’t selling that well. This has been true for B2C businesses so far. It’s a different world in B2B from where I come. However, I suspect this frontier won’t be a distant one for them for very long!

The awesome #PNCamp volunteer team

Putting up #PNCamp has not been easy. And the task is only half-done. Volunteering is like an open-source movement. You learn a lot, give back, and lean upon all your co-volunteers to make things happen. There is no institution behind it, no big brother, no event manager, no marketing agency. Just volunteer passion.

It’s the same energy that put up India’s defining product events in the past.

So who are these folks? Lets get behind the scenes…

The Chief Directors… we call them Program Curators

Bala Parthasarthy is program curator and is putting together awesome sessions for Scale Hacking. He is also allowed some free time to run his own venture ! We promise him a lot more free time after PNCamp is over.

Pallav Nadhani is a scale hacking legend and he is program curator for the Discovery Hacking track. His quick fire responses and ability to dissect any situation is only one of his amazing traits. He’s walked the Discovery Hacking trail and has a story or two for you.

Chief Cheerleaders

Our Volunteer efforts would not be complete without the active support of our Product ecosystem stalwarts. Folks like Vijay AnandRashmi RanjanKesavaDoraiArpit and many of you who have readily helped to reach out.

The Chief Camper

Sharad Sharma, the person who started it all. He has the most amazing vision for Indian software products, and carries this mission with zeal. He unashamedly says he can’t do it alone, so he turbo charges unsuspecting folks like me and we end up being volunteers. Willing volunteers. We get so badly infected by the Sharad virus that we start encouraging others to become volunteers.

The Chief Choreographer

The one man army who’s known as M Thiyagarajan during the day and Chhota Rajan by night. Ok, that’s stretching it but Rajan is one person who’s easily our one man army. Rajan leads the design of the PNCamp. Rajan’s ability to design a program, think objectively and pull resources to make it happen, is unparalleled.

The Chief Distributor

That’s me, Sandeep Todi, reaching out to all you folks with the audience curation team comprising Aditya, Harrshada, Nakul, Sai, Seema and Vijay.  I’m a very responsible person. So for anything that’s going wrong, you can hold me responsible. I enjoy putting fresh ideas and trying the unknown stuff and thinking on my feet. Sometimes these fresh ideas are purely experimental. Sometimes they’re not even half baked. So things go wrong and I look for the villain in our movie so I can blame it on somebody. Trouble is, there’s no villain, only heroes 🙂

The Chief Everything

That’s Avinash Raghava, who is one of guys most well versed with the Indian product ecosystem. Always willing to help, create connects and push for doing things that have never been done before, like the hugely popular Product Nation Round Tables. You name any one part of doing PNCamp that he hasn’t helped with, and I’ll buy you a beer.

The Chief Controller

Dilip T Ittyera, now in his firth startup and previously with a large IT firm, brings you all the goodies. If your Registration didn’t go smoothly, go ahead and blame him. If the arrangements at the venue aren’t up to snuff, you know whom to catch. Be forewarned, he’s one tough guy. If the PNCamp is happening, it’s because he and Avinash went all out to seek support of our sponsors.

The Chief Curators… these are the folks who’ve primarily been responsible for all the chaos. After all, you can’t make a movie without Chaos…

Meet Aditya Bhelande, our Editor. He does more than work on products. He helps people build products. Just as he’s helping to build PNCamp. He’s one of the rare breed who will do anything if he’s convinced about it, and sees it through. Most of us would falter half-way. Many of you will hear from him, the “hand-curtation” is really his editing magic.

Harrshada Deshpande is the Music Director and one of our newest volunteers. If there’s anything beautiful about our movie, its the music she’s produced. Have you seen our awesome website yet? There’s more… the kind of stuff you’re going to see in the coming weeks is entirely her creation. She works on US time, but out of Bangalore, and NOT for US customers. No kidding. Have a call with her at 9pm IST and she’ll come back with a complete set of ideas and mock ups by 9am next day. Awesome!

Nakul Saxena is the Actor-Director-Producer at large. A dependable all rounder, he can act, he can direct and he can even produce. He’s the kind of person who wants to transform from one role to another and does it so fluidly that we find him everywhere all at once!

Sairam is our Scriptwriter. He’s someone all of us turn to. His ability to put together thoughts and communication in a way that is meaningful, impactful and passion-full, is his own undoing. Because if you do something really well, you are destined to do more and more of it 🙂

Sameer Agarwal, the Stuntman. He’s the visionary and the guy who can hypnotize you even on the phone. His vision, design sense and whacky ideas are unmatched in the whole team. It’s what makes us tick. Sameer can jump better than Jeetu, talk better than Big B and dance better than Mithun. So what if these are heroes from the 90s?

Seema Joshi is our Chief Psychiatrist. She can fix all of us mad folks in one stroke. After an hour of meandering discussions, trust her to distil that into objectives and action points. We would be nowhere on a number of things were it not for her extreme clarity and focus on what we need delivered.

Vijay Sharma is Chief Marketeer. the powerhouse that’s probably the combined Klout of all of us. Actually, I’ve never met him but I promise I’ll be able to recognize him within 5 seconds. He’s one of the fastest on the ball and can turn any idea into a plan within that 5 seconds. That’s how I would recognize him!

Each of us has bitten off more than we can chew. Seriously. We’ve got day jobs and companies to run. That should not deter you from talking to us. Click on any of our Linkedin profiles or Twitter handles to reach out.


22nd #PlaybookRT – Solving a customer’s problem in a way your competitor is not doing, is the most memorable thing for your customer or partner.

The Pune Round Table on Lean Sales (26 Oct 2013) could not have had product leaders with personalities as different as Kailash Katkar @QuickHeal and Pallav Nadhani @FusionCharts. In this difference lay the magic. The magic at this Round Table was in full force. Thank you Kailash for hosting us all.

Round Tables are not about story telling. It’s about getting to know specific challenges of the group and correlating that with real experiences of other folks, especially the leaders who have experienced similar problems first hand. However, this Round Table would not be complete without some inspiration from the growth trajectory of Quickheal and Fusioncharts.

Entrepreneurial Discoveries:

Kailash Katkar, QuickHeal:

Kailash started off as a calculator repair engineer, and later was the only one in Pune who could fix broken ledger posting machines. The seeds of Quickheal were sown when they gave away virus prevention software for free. For him, the approach of always being close to the customer’s problem led to one solution (product) after another. Kailash was never a sales guy and when traditional channels refused to carry his ‘Indian’ product, he offered it to computer repair shops and the rest of his distribution story is history.

He realized that even an STD call to Pune was a large enough friction for channel partners to call them at Pune. Meeting with customers and partners helped establish local sales offices, a centralized helpdesk call center, even local feet on the street for support and much more.

Lesson#1: he always pushed his product as a service (we will clean it for you) and demonstrated value, rather than trying to push a box.

Lesson #2: always remained close to the customer, designed service organization around what customers wanted. Today, commands a price edge over security products from MNCs, and now selling in 50 countries.

Lesson #3: solving a customer’s problem in a way your competitor is not doing, is the most memorable thing for your customer or partner

Pallav Nadhani, Fusion Charts:

Pallav’s journey as told was equally mesmerizing. You had to see how starkly different his approach was from that of Kailash. He went for low touch sales, mass marketing, and the direct online route. This worked because his target was an educated customer and they used content marketing to the hilt.

Fusioncharts moved from a developer focus to a corporate IT department focus. This is the typical customer discovery process that any young startup goes through. Theirs is a classic tale of using LinkedIn, online forums, data visualization experts etc to talk about them and promote the brand.

So fierecely were they branding driven that they even changed the name of the product when doing a new major version. The Obama administration and many such examples did not just help them, they used it to their advantage, and relentlessly.

Fusioncharts started giving away source code to build trust, and even contributed to open source. Yet they never played the ‘cheaper product’ game and even commanded price premiums. Of course, to do this you have to position the value of things like source code, support etc and do the ugly duckling design. More importantly, you need to keep experimenting with price to find the sweet spot.

Kailash & PallavLesson #1: Pricing is a competitive weapon. Higher price is not a disadvantage and don’t let sales people tell you that. (Compare with QuickHeal, today sells some versions at a higher price than MNC products).

Lesson #2: Consciously went after higher value customers (corporate IT) who could be relied upon for assured recurring revenue.

Lesson #3: If you price well you can share decent margins and build a good product. Use different prices for different markets if the situation demands, and always try to sell a customer the highest possible version they may need. There’s always scope to reduce the price paid by offering lesser.

Common threads:

Sell to retail or Enterprise:

  • Start selling to retail customers, gain credibility and then move to Enterprise.
  • Enterprise customers would have less churn and provide opportunities to cross-sell other products as well as to other teams in the same enterprise.
  • Many retail customers / channels eventually move to enterprise so you can sow the seeds for larger deals even when you work the retail market.
  • Create several SKUs, the idea being to let the customer find the price level / functionality level that works for them (I’m not paying extra for something I don’t need).
  • Create sales teams for each type of customer (Fusioncharts – for selling to Enterprise, selling to Developer. Similarly at Quickheal, separate teams sell to Enterprise, Retail and Online). This helps the team align to the sales process for that market and talk the language effectively. Quickheal has separate teams for renewals.
  • Created a sales bible (Fusioncharts) which was the rule book for all sales folks. This helped in establishing a credible sales process and limiting discounts to the extent allowed by company policy.


Branding and PR:

  • Always do your own PR. Keep it so simple that the common person (your mother?) can understand.
  • Your PR should either inspire people or make them angry (agitatated?). It’s no use otherwise.
  • Build relationships with the press, constantly pitch to them and help them with information in general. Ask them what they’re working on and if you can help. They’ll be happy to get any help and will remember when you need them.


Sales and Marketing:

  • Use automation tool for customer communication (Infusionsoft / Marketo / Salesforce)
  • Smaller channel partners are preferred (Quickheal) as they have personal relationships and quick on payments. Large partners usually try to dictate terms and tardy on payments. Fusioncharts has used a similar strategy of tying up with smaller channel partners in overseas countries.
  • Maintaining relationships with channel partners is extremely important as they carry a high emotional quotient. Wish them on the festivals which are important in their country. Talk to them, meet them.
  • If necessary, tweak your product or do something special for that market. This generates huge buy-in from the channel partner as they see your commitment.


Among other things, the specific issues got discussed around:

  • Closure strategies
  • Market awareness
  • New geographies
  • Building / ramping sales team
  • India as a market
  • Funnel management
  • DIY or DIFM
  • Customer Engagement
  • Influencer marketing
  • Building your Service Organisation
  • Leveraging customers
  • Positioning


Each of the above is probably a session in itself and the experience sharing was the easiest way to get insights into how these are situations and not problems.

Both Fusioncharts and Quickheal are hugely successful in their own areas, even though each have completely different markets and selling strategies. The amazing part was when :

–       Pallav remarked that he’s learnt a lot from Kailash’s method of being in touch with customers every single day and being out there in front of them.

–       Kailash appreciated the way Fusioncharts has leveraged content marketing and driving a successful marketing team through his vision

The other folks around this round table were Avinash Sethi (Sapience), Ulhas Ambergaonkar (Mauris), Vishwas Mahajan (TiE Pune), Anup Taparia (TouchMagix), Satish Kamat (JBT), Sandeep Todi {me} (Emportant HR) Varoon Rajani (Blazeclan), Dilip Ittyera (Aikon Labs), Sagar Apte (CarIQ), Aditya Bhelande (Yukta), Sagar Bedmutha (Optinno), Girish (Shunya), Arnab Chaurhuri (Xcess), Avinash Raghava (iSPIRT Product Nation), Sarang Lakare (IntouchApp), Ranjeet Nair (Germin8), Pallav (Fusioncharts), Kailash Katkar (Quickheal)

What to expect in the first #PNSummit – 4th & 5th December, Pune

The #PNSummit is going to be an event like none other. Volunteers who are from the Product community themselves, are putting it together and building it on the pillars of intensity, focus and exclusivity (only practicising product professionals attend the PNSummit).

Here’s a quick peek into what #PNSummit is all about

At present, most product companies in India are clustered around two specific life stages:

  • Getting their first 0-10 customers, OR
  • Going beyond their initial 50-100 customers (for B2C one could say 200,000 users). These are also called as being in the Happy Confused Stage (post product/market fit)

It is with these life stages in mind that these two themes have been designed:

Customer discovery hacking – curated by Pallav Nadhani (CEO of FusionCharts)

Customer growth hacking – curated by Bala Parthasarathy (Managing Partner, AngelPrime)

Each of these themes comes with a series of sessions where participants are grouped into circles based on their life stages and will be immersed in an experience of deep discussions, brainstorming and hands-on exercises.

Invited delegates will be grouped into circles based on their life stages and Broadly these circles are:

  • Circle 1  – In Discovery Hacking Stage.
  • Circle 2 –  Happy Confused Stage
  • Circle 3 –  In Discovery Hacking & Just crossed Happy Confused Stage


We’re putting together each circle with a lot of effort and each session will be facilitated by an expert in that area. The mode of discussion is expert-facilitated and not expert-advice and that is what will make the discovery process truthful and meaningful!

If you are a product company then you are at some point in the spectrum of  discovery hacking -> product/market fit -> successful product business and are you are pushing yourself to move the next stage.

Reach out to any of the delegate experience volunteers of #PNSummit, Sandeep TodiSameer AgarwalDilip IttyeraSeema JoshiVijay SharmaAvinash Raghava,  Aditya Bhelande  & Sairam K to find the right inner circle for you. We’re keen to invite as many companies as we can accommodate, and the quicker we hear from you, the better we can make your experience.


“For a product business the product roadmap, customer segmentation and a delightful user experience are extremely crucial.”

Started in 2011 with only three employees, Emportant has grown to serve thousands of users with their cloud based end-to-end HR and Payroll products. Co-Founder and CEO, Emportant, Sandeep Todi says his company is focused to appeal to firms that would identify with its motto, ’Employees are Important’.  In an interview with ProductNation, he says his biggest learning is you must always take good care of your customers even as you keep expanding.

How would you describe the shifting paradigm from Outsourcing software to Software as a Service?

Software as a Service (SaaS) allows you to try business class software with ease and without being tied down with painful and expensive procurement and deployment cycles. With no upfront investment, it’s easy to try and buy SaaS products. In that sense, a SaaS network of products mimic the behavior of a ‘technology grid’ that you can tap into. In contrast, building custom software is like installing a captive power generation unit at prohibitive cost that is hardly justified when the grid is at your doorstep.

Companies have also realized that SaaS is not just amortizing costs over several years, but a new way of thinking. You are not selling a box, rather a product that’s constantly on the move. SaaS products see anything around 4-12 releases a year, are built on rapid release cycles. Moreover, customer feedback is acknowledged and incorporated in these rapid release iterations, something which is impossible in outsourced software or licensed software. The customer is therefore always on the latest release and does not suffer from “version fatigue”. Businesses are realizing this by adopting SaaS products with very little risk, tasting success and then quickly going on to embrace this new pedagogy.

In what way does this new model benefit users in terms of effectiveness, cost and support?

This SaaS apps-grid or ecosystem of apps that can co-exist with each other, is becoming more powerful by the day. No outsourced software is able to deliver this as elegantly and as cost effectively as SaaS product delivered over the cloud.

SaaS software is able to deliver benefits rapidly through new releases and eliminates risk of obsolescence. FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) has been used by traditional software vendors, scaring users about impending obsolescence. Having left with little choice, customers had to regardless opt for expensive upgrades and consulting efforts. A transparent SaaS business always keeps users on the latest version and ensures that this version works 100% with all customer environments. This dramatically lowers the cost of maintaining the product because you are no longer dealing with different versions that must be supported for different customers.

Tell us the story about your recently launched web based HRMS and Payroll software, Emportant? How did it happen?

We are in the HR software business for nine years now. Having sold our product PowerApps to several mid-to-large enterprises, we delivered mission critical and high performance HR/Payroll software to customers like Bank of Baroda, Ford, TI Group, ITC, L&T, GTL etc. In 2009, we wanted to adopt cloud computing in a big way and struggled for two years. It was then that we decided to carve out a separate company and a separate product for the cloud – this was the genesis of the birth of Emportant in 2011.

In creating Emportant we initially feared it would cannibalize our own product PowerApps. Thankfully, that did not happen and now both products have a good market presence of their own in two different customer segments.

Emportant.com drives every HR process with the Employee at the center. Every HR / Manager / Employee interaction can be initiated by the Employee and is available on a self-serve platform.

How easy or difficult is it to market a software product in India?

The going was pretty tough in 2011 as cloud was not very well accepted back then. Now it’s different, as CIOs are less wary about the cloud and more concerned about the stability of the vendor, maturity of the cloud product, etc.

Custom software is still viewed as a viable alternative primarily due to the inexpensive cost of hiring programmers. Moreover for a product sold to mid-market and large businesses, you have to traditionally sell one-to-one, engage in multiple meetings and convince customers about the solution fitment without landing into the trap of customization.

What are the factors that make a successful software product and the challenges faced in taking it to the market?

For a product business the product roadmap, customer segmentation and a delightful user experience are extremely crucial.

We have focused on how HR can be employee friendly and have a focus on achieving business results using software tools. The product’s benefits must be easily understood and should quickly demonstrate value. We have successfully kept bringing original thought and real customer feedback into our product, coming out with unique and uncomplicated ways of solving business problems.

Emportant drives HR administration in real time and moves away from the concept of HR software being only a system of record. This model of ours has led to a success rate of > 80% in converting prospects to customers.

We are now looking at stepping up our efforts on social media and on overseas customer acquisitions. Establishing credibility amongst large customers continues to pose interesting challenges and working with business partners means we have to convince them about long term value vs upfront margins.

What is the future of software products vis-a-vis services?

Software products and services will always have their own separate customer segments. I don’t think software products can solve every business problem out there and services have an important part to play. Customers are beginning to realize that service consumption burdens them with unreasonable costs of operation and in an increasingly competitive world they would rather adopt a product if one exists which can meet their requirements. The benefits of products to the customer in terms of cost, sustainability and continuous improvement are already well established.

Look at Dropbox’s recently announced Datastore API. They have just commoditized the offline storage market for independent app makers. In fact, storage is now being turned from a service into a product as will be any service which can be wrapped into a standardized and repeatable delivery.

What learning would you like to share with other product companies?

Every launch of a new version is a learning experience for us. We are faced with the challenge of what to build in the next version, how does it affect pricing and how does it affect our current customers. What we’ve learnt is that you must always take good care of your current customers even as you keep expanding. To ensure this, we reward existing customers with new features for free whenever we release new versions and keep them protected on price changes perpetually.

What role do you foresee ProductNation to play in nurturing the growth of software products?

The biggest obstacle to exponential growth of Indian products is the lack of access to experts in marketing, product growth and cutting edge technology. Too many companies face mortality because of an idea or execution gone wrong.

ProductNation will hopefully help overcome these hurdles quickly and open up the opportunity for Indian products to be recognized globally.

6th iSPIRT Playbook RoundTable: Challenges in building a global software product company from India

In the continuing series of Round Tables product veterans Samir Palnitkar, ShopSocially and Jatin Parekh, AirTight Networks took the participants through a journey of discovery about why they want to go global and taking a critical look at the challenges they must overcome.

It takes a guy like Samir to lay the foundation for such a Round Table, having stoked the discussion with his experience and adding fuel by way of eliciting ideas and experiences of others. There’s no quick formula but the session did throw up some easy mantras to achieve those Global ambitions…

Some interesting takeaways from this session :


–       Hiring for overseas is always a challenge and you can’t be careful enough

–       Get a co-founder with a sufficiently high stake in the game, and one who is ready to adapt to the call of the hour.

–       If you know the person from earlier, nothing like it

–       Stay away from expensive consultants and retainers. Find someone who will take less cash (and therefore has had a prior successful exit / financially secure)

–       Write down the issues, objectives, compensation, way things are done, who does what, 5 year vision, etc. These discussions need to happen 

Experiences of those present:

–       One of the RT participant founders even camped in the US for 3 months to find the right guy, interviewing over 15 persons identified through various contacts. They evaluated trust, skill and cultural fit before deciding.

–       Most people do not want to be the lone member of startup in the US because all decision making would happen in India. One of them had a member already selling remotely so were thinking of moving that person to US.

–       If there are 3-4 co founders, there is enough mental bandwidth to get one person to US for 6 months to set things up.

–       Get partners to sell for you, they front end and sift thru the leads. May be encourage one of the partners to join you, as did one entrepreneur who had a good partner in E&Y front ending and finally robbed E&Y to get his co-founder !

–       In a nutshell, don’t compromise on this first hire. 


–       Start selling globally only if you can fund the sales cost for at least a year

–       It’s ok to do some services revenue to generate some cash. But this is also the biggest pitfall, if you end up doing too much customization that cripples you later. 

Key considerations:

–       You have to learn how to sell if you don’t already. Thumb rule is – if you can’t sell your product, nobody can.

–       You should have a sufficient funnel and regular flow of enquiry / conversion / sales and cash flows. Ok that’s a lot to ask but then that’s what it needs !

–       Prepare the Sales play book. A new person cannot invent the playbook to sell in US for you. 


–       Do you want to keep Product Management close to the customer or close to the R&D team?

–       Typical challenges in this are the ability to be aligned. Clear internal communication is crucial in motivating the team for the higher purpose

–       Delivery teams are usually in India, however you need to deal with the challenges of motivating team from a distance and account for cultural differences

The practical Product Manager:

–       Understanding the higher purpose and communicating it again and again is very important. If engineers are in the same office as sales guys then its easy, motivation happens. But if teams are physically separated then you have to build the channel to keep that communication going.

–       Communicate back to sales what problems engineering is facing.

–       Product Manager must have a regular travel plan and must meet customers if working at a distance from the market. This is crucial to get the alignment early on.

–       The PM cannot be note taker, taking customer requirements and giving it back verbatim to engineering to build. He must understand, negotiate and make intelligent distinction between features and requirements.

–       Priorities should be clearly published in writing.

–       Engineers should have the freedom to think and push back on features, but within boundaries. That’s when they can understand the purpose vs just coding.

–       Engineers must have first hand communication with customers, go for customer meetings, handle support calls etc.

–       When hiring engineers, set the expectation upfront that you have to do everything, and even learn outside your core competence. A Startup cannot afford to have people rigid within their own area. 


–       The biggest conundrum is in expectation mismatch, US teams being very “look” orinted and India teams being “fact” oriented

–       Interpretation of specs is usually different for each team, and quality of collateral needs to be extremely high to appeal to a US audience

–       The simple approach is to keep everything that requires a “handshake”, in the US and to teach India teams to be perfectionists.

–       If you need to get copywriting, don’t even think of getting it done in India. The lingo, the flow has to be completely American – leave that to an American.

–       Use a professional UX design shop if you need to

–       Use professional agencies for PR, like PRWEB, etc. 


–       Necessarily should be close to the customer. If the product requires a handshake, then you definitely need a US team member.

–       At the very least you need someone to stay up at night and receive calls

–       Prospecting via Linkedin, using polls and doing cold calling from India are usually successful approaches 

Sales and Marketing in the US is a big discussion in itself. A lot was left to be discussed, perhaps deserving an entire session devoted to selling in the US market. Another day, another Round Table then. 

ProductNation is the Go-To destination for many a successful software product. There are several amongst us who have tasted success in the global market. Do share your experience right here.