Why #SaaSx4 Product Teardown is for all SaaS startups

Whether you’re an early stage, late stage or VC funded startup (pun intended). There is one thing all of us struggle with always and that is ‘Growth’. So, how to keep this repeatable in constantly changing market dynamics?

Acommunity is a great place to learn, unlearn and grow at the pace you never imagined. For SaaS startups in India(bravery award goes to you), SaaSx is a community built by thought leaders for other builders to nail this process in and out. #SaaSx4 was a tech event that provided SaaS founders the opportunity to network and share product insights with other SaaS founders.

How we got into #SaaSx4 Product Teardown..

Widely is an early stage SaaS startup, we’re right now hustling, learning and trying to respond to the amazing traction we’re receiving. While all this was happening, we got a call from Prasanna K to attend SaaSx, that was the first time we heard about Product Teardown and horror stories around it. Imagine your product being grilled down to levels in front of the whole community.

It did seem scary, but we said YES!

Because very often when something scares you, it’s the very thing worth doing.

So, what were our asks?

Initially they were simple, to validate our thought process, marketing channels, and product roadmap, but subsequent calls and discussions with Avlesh Singh, CEO, WebEngage, Bharath Balasubramanian, Director of Design, Freshdesk, and Shekhar Kirani, Accel Partners, made us realize it is an opportunity to deep dive and their critical remarks made us rethink over pricing to customer onboarding.

#SaaSx4 Event Day: The D-Day

This was my first SaaSx & by the end of the day, I was left amused and happy to become part of the SaaSx community. It is by SaaS founders for SaaS founders, hence, the learning becomes easier & straight cut out for us.

UnConference, Product teardown & Fireside chats, also in between meeting Investors (trust me that was not the driving force for anyone joining in there), the energy was to learn and grasp as much as possible. When you hear guys like Girish, Sudhir, & Avlesh talking about their mistakes, you feel confident within.

There comes the Scary Product Teardown

So, how it began?

I was called on the stage, Bharath, Avlesh and Shekhar ready with their inputs. The hall was full of awesome SaaS founders, including those of India’s best SaaS companies, interacting constantly over the good and bad parts of products(Imagine receiving suggestions from the experienced).

Widely Product Introduction
  • Introduction: I went up and gave some context to the audience

Widely helps online businesses to acquire new mobile users, increase conversions and grow user retention with nothing but their existing website by upgrading it into a progressive web app in minutes. Introducing native mobile app features into a website, the plug and play setup with the analytics based dashboard to trigger and customize a Progressive Web App (Mobile Web App).

  • Product teardown segments & Widely’s State

Product teardown was segmented into three sections primarily, Finding Customers, Keeping Customers & What is my market.

  1. Widely’s primary traction channels are SEM and SEO,
  2. Also, our customer segment is a marketer or a product manager.
  3. For us to convert a website visitor into a customer is a simple 2 step process, a signup and then 15 minutes plug & play integration into their website.
Widely Setup Flow

These details were used in teardown, and so teardown was designed in a way to be helpful for others struggling in the similar space.

  • The Teardown began

As an early stage startup with a goal to reach the global audience, we’ve identified search and ads as great ways to go ahead. So, exactly this was the first step, Widely’s SEM at one side works great, SEO is where our keywords don’t match. That was eye opening to me as sometimes while building and selling the product we tend to forget most basic things.

Then came product landing, with few ifs and buts, here we saw our moments of wows & learning, in the form of better representation.

Product Landing Page

Bharath pointed out key areas we need to improve upon during Sign up too, although this is something we’re constantly working upon and rigorously followed making website our best marketing person, but exactly the point, improvements to become sticky for the set of next 100 customers should be the focus.

The Wow Moment

The final step to Setup!

So, out of all signups we get every day there are many who don’t integrate (A huge loss to our marketing efforts), there could be many reasons, we’re constantly using visualizations and website conversion optimization tools to see where our funnel breaks and fix those parts immediately. For us to come at something which we saw next would have taken some next 100 signups we believe,

Current State of Setup Flow using Widely
The whole process

The next step of teardown focused on our claim of no coding required, though that is not required but looking at the setup it feels a coder is required, and for us targeting product managers this doesn’t look related at all.

Suggestions by Bharath for the setup screen

Sign Up After Landing
Easy UX

The designs in themselves speak louder than words and hence, something we loved instantly, apart from great design and user experience inputs. We got great insights from,

Girish — Website landing page heading should initially focus on technicalities, then functionalities and later on the larger message when the brand is big enough.

Ex: Coca-Cola — open happiness.

Ex: We say ‘Upgrade into a Progressive Web App’, this is good for us initially as an early stage startup, segmented only for the crowd who knows.

Shekhar — Asking telephone numbers from our initial customers is a great way to increase conversions rapidly, our signup should have that one field.

The last but not the least, Product Positioning and Market

All the above insights make no sense when we don’t know our market. I did talk about the positioning of early stage startups and how we did it for widely.

As there is this increasing need of brands to be accessible by all mobile users, we get queries from enterprises, brands, services/agencies related to our solution, we’ve been on and off on where to focus and what we should leave. This also made us change our pricing many times.

The last part of teardown was a relief when the founders sitting there, Shekhar & Avlesh made us believe you don’t need to stay at one, until you get where the best market is. All this made sense, as then we could generate higher revenue by understanding our value add to the users.

At the same time, we received Girish’s point of view on growing freemium way and onboard as many users as we can,

So here is the beauty of SaaSx, you get everything, now it is going to be a tough fight within the team to choose a way.

Key takeaways..

An enthralling experience in Widely’s product journey, SaaSx, and product teardown happened to be extremely helpful. In my opinion, teardown is a great way to eliminate blockers and move faster against competition and changing market.

I’d like to end by a note I sent out to Avlesh, Shekhar, Bharat & Avinash.

Thank you note SaaSx

Definitely I’m in awe and I’d like to mention Product Teardown of Omnify & Product Teardown of 99Tests, these were our fellow product teardown startups, they have explained the process extensively to explore further. Hope it helps more SaaS startups growing and hustling.

Anshuli Gupta, Co-Founder @WidelyHQ, My twitter handle @anshulix

Behind the scenes of $2 billion Indian startup movie #PNgrowth

Last month, for the first time, I witnessed something really special. Even for someone like me, whose very job and calling is to evangelise this nascent software ecosystem of ours, this was something extraordinary.

I’ve been doing this a while, and what happened last month was one of the best feelings I’ve had in this journey.

This is what happened: Some of the leading B2B enterprise startups in the country, including FreshdeskEka SoftwareCapillaryZenotiFusionChartsKiSSFlow, etc all got together under a single roof.

This is what they got together for: To help 52 other, smaller B2B startups in achieving scale, like they have.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the founders of these companies are some of the most important product leaders we have.

In the first session itself, Shekar Kirani pointed out that a platform like this will not be easily available, and the assembled startups needed to leverage the best from the network and from the folks who had arrived with the the express intention of helping them. And the product leaders who also made an important point – that they did not want the new age startups to go through the same grind, or make the same mistakes they had made in their years of scaling.

I was amazed. It is almost never that you see such accomplished professionals come together towards helping and nurturing young startups from their own learnings.

And what was this? What was happening?

This was the 2nd edition of #PNgrowth.

The first one had been in Jan 2016 at the Infosys Campus in Mysore where we had assembled around 186 founders to help companies think about Category Leadership. It went really, really well, but the feedback was that that perhaps keeping it focussed for fewer founders would help the cause better.

Many heated discussions were conducted over breakfast, lunch, dinner, and beer (especially beer) on the program for the 2nd edition and on how we can add value to the content.

These conversations were typically 4-6 hours long, which meant that the entire program/content took us over 200 hours with 12 founders brainstorming for the past 3-4 months.

It really did take us that long.

And those deep discussions based on the 1st edition’s feedback was what the program for November was based on.

And now that #PNgrowth 2016 is over, I decided to take a look back and share some of the learnings in organising this, and on how we pulled this together. 

This year, the program was designed to help companies chase ‘Good Scale’, that is, to achieve high growth without compromising on quality. There were 52 founders with us, from all over India, and a few from outside as well.

Before we get into the details, a larger question must be addressed again, largely because it keeps getting brought up. This time, I’m trying to use a different approach to explain this. Bear with me.


iSPIRT’s mission is to make India a ProductNation. We have many initiatives like Playbook RoundtablesPNcamp, etc which are focussed around building products and helping companies achieve good scale. Although there are many accelerators in our country, very few offer value to the founders/companies. Keeping this in mind, iSPIRT wanted to do something unique and create a platform which would help companies think about growth in an effective manner. More importantly, we want to make ongoing mentorship accessible to the founders.

_mg_0662The goal was to create 8-10 companies every year which would eventually go on to become $10mn revenue companies in the next 3 years.


These are the co-chairs.

The first edition of PNgrowth had just finished and I was looking for someone to be the architect for the second edition. I met Shankar Maruwada for lunch at Muffets & Tuffets and was having a completely different  conversation. But, as we touched upon the PNgrowth topic, Shankar had lots of suggestions on how we could do this better. I immediately requested him to help in designing the program and helping me organise it better.. He accepted graciously, and was keen to help.

_a5a7389My next request was to get Pallav Nadhani involved again. There is a reason for this. Pallav, in many ways, was the person who forced us to think around Category Leadership. The first meeting took place at Pallav’s place which went on till 2:30 am.

By then, I had had several interactions with Aneesh Reddy, and the early playbook roundtables on Product Management had been done by him. I reached out to him and he was very keen to be part of the program and help us.

With Shankar, Pallav and Aneesh on-board, the pillars of the event were erected.


These, of course, were the facilitators.

Around 4-6 months in advance, we started working on the content for the event. Various topics were discussed. One thing was clear to me: Every founder had immense passion and commitment to add value to a certain topic. The format we had in mind was to make very interactive session. All of us had had enough of the ‘sage on stage’ approach. The founders were to lead sessions and work along with the participating entrepreneurs to help them extract maximum benefit.

Many discussions later, Pallav & Shankar actually started with using the frameworks & mindflips and were later joined by Girish & AneeshManav & Shekhar also used the same in their session. 

_mg_7722It was great to see that all the facilitators did an outstanding job of delivery of the frameworks and ensured that they shared real life stories and lots of data and numbers from their companies. What was more important was that they made sure they spent time with all the attendees and ensured they received personalised attention. They were able to build a personal connect and trust within the startup community by sharing internal information even though they didn’t have to, thereby making the discussion even more credible.


Oh, that. We had huge demand for tickets from the audience, the founders of India’s growing startup community.


This time, right from Day 1, we only wanted to get select founders to be part of PNgrowth.

To begin this selection process, we laid out which stage of startups would benefit from PNgrowth. We then went on and created a list of founders and reached out to them. Apart from this, we reached out to folks from within the eco-system and got them to recommend companies to us.

Each company was recommended by atleast 2-3 founders from the PNgrowth curation team. We did zero marketing for PNgrowth except for a video, which we used to communicate to potential participants. We received overwhelming response for the event thus putting me in a fix at several situations where I had to inform founders that they have been rejected for a program/event. It was difficult, but in the interest of the event, it had to be done.

We finally had 54 founders who confirmed their participation, out of which 52 showed up for the bootcamp. These companies were divided into groups of 6 based on the type of customer/geography they were catering to.


These were the mentors, and we were able to get around 14 founders as mentors and were simply amazed by their commitment for the two and a half days of the event. Mentors were involved in all facets of the event – from intense board room discussions to the dance floor. Let me go little more deeper on the role that they played. In every session, the founders got access to few frameworks, mindflips which they had to fill and discuss with their peers + mentors. Lot of learnings were shared by mentors and it became very valuable to the founders. Very few of them tweeted from the program as everyone was busy interacting, engaging, absorbing content, but here is one of the tweets which acknowledges the mentors.


Getting to them, the volunteers.

In my work, I get to interact with many volunteers in many initiatives, but this time the commitment and the passion with which the volunteers worked was unimaginable. Folks would go to sleep at 5am and be ready next day at 8am. They would ensure that mentors/founders have had breakfast, etc and would go an extra mile to take care that founders are focussed on their work and don’t get distracted.

Volunteers also interacted with the founders to understand if the pace/level of the sessions suited them. Lot of planning was done in advance that each and every person who is part of PNgrowth goes back with a WOW experience. I still wonder where they get so much of inspiration from.

_mg_8120I don’t know if i would ever be able to do something like that. Hats off to all the volunteers who put together an awesome experience for the PNgrowth family.


Day 1

The Founders started with a cricket match between the cohorts itself. 

Sharad Sharma, our guiding light, kick started the event with his words of wisdom for all the founders.

And then it began with Pallav’s session on Who are you? As founders, entrepreneurs have to pitch or sell their ideas constantly, so as to inspire the listener to believe in their dream to either fund the idea, join the team, tie up with the startup, or write about the startup. Is there a method to this? Can this be an acquired skill? 

In this session, founders learnt and practiced a simple framework that enables them to improve their ability to pitch their ideas in the shortest time, to the desired target audience – VCs, journalists, co-founders, customers, business partners, and employees.

The next session was focussed on how to maximise the value of your product. If you as a founder were to increase the perceived value of your offering (Increase average MRR by 1.5X and/or reduce churn to 0.5X),how would your economics change? How would it change your CAC, margins? What would you as a founder then do differently with your product strategy, go to market strategy (positioning, marketing, channel, pricing), team/organization structure, to increase pricing by 1.5X, in the scenarios below as relevant to you. This was followed by an interactive session with the mentors. 

This was end of Day 1 and then we had networking dinner, drinks, some dance and lots of conversations led by Vinod & Ashish.

Day 2

The second day was a more power packed with two sessions. To their credit, the founders were highly engrossed in their sessions, sans their mobile phones and laptops which helped in making these sessions successful.

During the first half, Girish and Aneesh engaged in an extremely fruitful session on product-market how to scale 10X with emphasis on how to establish your sales funnel and building a repeatable sales cycle. This session covered on selling processes from SMBs (by Girish) and enterprises (by Aneesh). They also shed some light on how pricing, positioning and selling varies from one geography to another.

Apart from this, Suresh also gave his insights on selling global products out of India.

_mg_7993The complete session went on till almost tea break after which the candidates came back in for the third and final session by Shekhar and Manav.

This session was meant to give a befitting end to the two rigorous days of activity.

While Manav spoke about how to choose your niche category and expand to other similar industries and geographies, Shekhar’s session was centred around what a VC looks for a in a startup. In the session,

Shekhar did a Q&A round with Nags and Girish on what it takes to build a successful organisation.

He also delved a bit deeper on aspects like how to choose the right market and how to intelligently figure a way out of a market and move into one that is expanding by extracting maximum business value.

Here Raghu also added his thoughts on what it takes to raise venture capital and how one should structure an organisation for a CEO to utilise his time in the most efficient manner.

Though the mentors tried to cover as much ground as possible over the two days, they took questions from audiences on anything they still might have a doubt about.

After this was a complete group photograph since some of the mentors had to leave that night. The energy of the picture speaks for itself. Before calling it a day, the founders were given tasks/homework for them to present on the final day.

Day 3

The third day, we had some inspirational stories from Sanjay Anandaram(Seedfund), Mohit Dubey (CarWale),  Phanindra Sama(RedBus), Raghunandan G(TaxiForSure), Sanjay Deshpande(FortyTwo Labs). We had actually planned for only Sanjay to talk about “entrepreneurial mindset” and then we thought about inviting all of the above folks to share their energy.

Something which we had planned for 20-30 minutes went on for around 90 mins and it was an absolute pleasure to hear some of the learnings/failures from all these founders. Below is the NPS score of 89 for PNgrowth 🙂 

nps-score-pngrowthAfter this, all founders were made to do this exercise on “Getting to 3X Growth in 12 Months”. All mentors with their cohorts spent time with the founders and helped them on what they should be thinking about this. Six Founders got an opportunity to share with the whole group.

Finally Shankar invited all volunteers to share few words on why they volunteered for PNgrowth. With it, a spectacular three days came to end, with some photographs and a lot of hugs, cheers, and greetings.

For me, it was a great feeling to see all of this happen, and at this scale. This probably capped off the year of 2016 for me and iSPIRT as a year in which we were actually able to make the ecosystem function as a cohesive, united entity. Lots of work is ahead of us, but as I write this, I acknowledge a task well begun.


Many thanks to Sairam for editing & Shruti for filling the blanks.

#SaaSx3 has made a huge difference for Syscon.

Step-by-step secrets of deciphering the digital world.

We are an ERP product company. Our ERP solution, Syscon Cronus is targeted for manufacturing industries. We have all along for the last 20 years were been following traditional marketing route, out-bound. Though being an IT company, may be due to my manufacturing background and our Customers are from the same segment, we never put our stake in digital marketing. We always believed in Outbound rather than Inbound marketing.

SaaS x3 has completely changed my perspective. It was such a power packed digital Sales event. But the real beauty was the way it was structured. Every step was explained in detail that a dummy like was able to understand and implement it.

I really would thank the great guys like Girish, Suresh Sambandam, Pallav Nadhani & Shekhar Kirani who had taken their time-out and make it a point to hand-hold the eco system. Also wish to put my learning as a gesture to them, though many of this information will be available in a much better way in public domain.

Basics of Digital Marketing

Google Adwords:


  • It is all google Adwords, Analytics.
  • If google does not have a category for your business better do not waste your time (or) you can still run your business a life style one.
  • Having identified your business category, Google might provide its key words suggestion. Make sure that you pick the generic ones.
  • Also spend time in identifying your own key words. After the key words are just the way you think that your customers are searching for your product or service.
  • It may not be wise to use the competitors name / brand as your key words. It may fetch more as impressions and clicks but may not conversions.
  • Make sure that you remove the negative key words at least once a week.
  • You have to spend money on Adwords and but decide how much is feasible for you.

Results: In last 2 months we have generated close to 25 inbound enquiries and closed 4 orders



  • The first day after completing the above the bounce rate of my website was 99.9%. I never scored good marks in my education and I was happy to see that at least my website was doing better.
  • Later I came to know that it is real bad news for the bounce rate being high.
  • What is bounce rate? Bounce rate is an indicator that shows as to how long the visitor spent time on your site.
  • We then spent time in fine tuning the site performance of home page and other page information.
  • We have recruited a full time digital marketing guy who worked on SEO. After 2 months you know now the bounce rate is between 2 – 6%
  • Most important learning was, Call for Action (CFA). When a visitor comes to your site what you want them to do. So the first image in your site has to tell what you do and now what you want them to do. If this is not addresses well traffic will not lead to conversion.

Results: The bounce rate has reduced from 99% to 5 % which has resulted in 70% increase in organic traffic.

Content on Social media


  • It is important that you need to write original interesting content about your product and business.
  • Earlier I use to write articles in Linkedin. But I never thought that it was to be connected to my site. Now I post 3/4 of the article and for balance article it is linked to our site.
  • Presence in Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin is important.
  • We have been making at least 2 posts per week.

Results: This has created traffic from social media 40%.

Make the Customer as your marketing engine.


Pallav’s presentation was so impressive. Soon after the event, we have implemented one small thing. In all outbound documents like Invoice, Purchase order, Offer etc., we have just added in the right bottom “Powered by Syscon Cronus” This was delivered with our latest patch.

Result: We have already received 4 enquiries through this.

The product tear down session by Suresh Sambandam was too good and very detail in highlighting the missing parts of our website from the visitor / prospective client perspective.

But the $1 million to $5 million was an ultimate-one by Girish – Freshdesk. In today’s dirty world, no one wish to give out so much of critical business information. I could also see the openness of the Investor – Shekhar Kirani, Accel Partners.

After this SaaS X3, our business dynamics has completely changed. All of us have developed detail eyes in the company. With so much of activity even our development and testing teams have become more agile. Every time when we make a new version release, there will be at least 1 or 2 critical bugs and 5 -6 non-critical bugs. But surprisingly, this time there were no bugs. Our team has become more conscious.

I wish to thank each and every one behind SaaSX, especially to Girish Mathrubootham, Suresh Sambandam, Pallav Nadhani & Shekhar Kirani for their self-less efforts in creating strong SaaS eco system.

Good karma by iSPIRT

Contributed By S.Vijay Venkatesh – CEO, Syscon Solutions Private limited, Hyderabad

A 3-Stage Power Booster for Your SaaS Rocket

When a capsule is launched into space, the initial rocket gets it off the ground. However, that rocket can only get it so high. Eventually it runs out of fuel and the structure needs to drop off. At that time, a second rocket booster ignites and continues to propel the capsule into space.

In the world of startups, getting your company into orbit usually takes a few power boosters to get there. Your initial boost may get you off the ground, but it’s not enough to get into space. Even if you are at a later stage, if you don’t have the right final rocket, you can still crash to the ground before you reach orbit.

iSPIRT offers several activities to help SaaS founders and companies right when they need it. Each of these sessions acts like a multiple-stage power booster to give your company the lift exactly when you need it.

Most SaaS companies need these three rocket boosters to achieve orbit:

  • Stage 1: Product Tear Down
  • Stage 2: Getting to $100K MRR (i.e. approx $1M ARR )
  • Stage 3: Hyper Growth – Firing all cylinders

In the product tear down session, founders get critical feedback. This is not for the weak hearted.😜

Stage 1: Product Tear Down

In this session, we help validate

  1. The core problem you are addressing
  2. Your differentiated solution to that problem
  3. How customers might discover you
  4. The consistency of your website and overall offering (audience, problem, position, price, credibility, etc.)
  5. Freemium vs free trial, simplicity to signup, signup friction
  6. The ‘shortest path to WOW’ that is appropriate for your product

The product tear down session is run by Shekhar Kirani, Venture Partner from Accel Partners, Suresh Sambandam, CEO of KiSSFLOW, and Bharath Balasubramanian, UX Architect from FreshDesk.

Here’s a bit about each of these sessions. While the principles will apply to any business, it applies much more aptly to SaaS software companies

Stage 2: Getting to $100K MRR

Your Stage 1 rocket should be enough to get you off the ground and achieve a good height with your initial set of customers. Now you have a working hypothesis that puts you in pursuit of the right product-market fit.

Your Stage 2 session kicks in when you’ve found the product-market fit to systematically grow the business. For companies at this stage, we moderate Playbook Roundtable sessions. This slide deck should give you a broad idea of what we discuss with the playbook participants.

Stage 3: Hyper Growth – Firing All Cylinders

Companies that have crossed $1M ARR are selected to attend this session. A typical SaaS company doesn’t have enough resources to pursue a lot of initiatives. Often there is a big disconnect between what founders want to pursue in S&M viz-a-viz what they should focus on to get to the first $1M as quick as possible. Therefore, Stage 2 centers around a focused set of must-do initiatives, rather than spray-and-pray on many initiatives. You might notice that many topics in Sales & Marketing are missing or discouraged in the slide deck. That is by design.

Stage 3 is extremely important because even though you’ve cleared thousands of miles, you still aren’t in orbit yet and need the final power booster to get there. For Stage 3, we bring you none other than the SaaS Superstar, Girish, Founder & CEO of FreshDesk, to share how to take your $1M SaaS company into a $5m enterprise.

If your SaaS startup is sitting on the ground or about to make a nose dive, don’t miss out in getting these booster shots to launch yourself into a grand orbit.

Oh, we also do a big gala event called SaaSx once in 6 months in Chennai, where we bring together all the SaaS founders in one place. The last three editions (SaaSx1, SaaSx2, and SaaSx3) have been blockbuster hits. And if you are in Bangalore, you can join the big crowd attending the SaaSx sessions on ‘SaaSy Bus’.

If you are a member of a SaaS founding team, you should definitely join the SaaS Insider Group and be up to date with SaaS news in the country and across the globe. Last but not the least, Avinash Raghava, Fellow at iSPIRT is the common thread among all these orchestrated activities for SaaS from iSPIRT. He is passionate about helping SaaS founders and none of this would be possible without him.

P.S. iSPIRT harnessed the collective knowledge of SaaS founders into a structured document called the Jump Start Guide for Desk Marketing and Selling. Check this out without fail.

My typical meeting with founders…

My job is to meet as many founders as possible to see whether their startup matches our mandate to invest. Any meeting of startups, where, there was no pre-qualification (say at an event or a conference or at a friend’s place etc), most of these meetings go this way:

Founder: I am the founder of the startup …. I started this journey… My cofounders are ….. We want to build a large company to do ….
Who is your customer?
Founder: My product has extraordinary features, it can do magic… Customers login through … If you click this menu we see these features….. Great product… Our UX is awesome….. iOS, Android, Our CTO is from …. Built-for-scale……We have been working for 18 months…. Just now launched…. We need money to scale sales….
But, who is your customer?
Hmm, anyone with a PC or Phone. It is very easy. They just have to download our app, press this button and they start discovering these features…. We can be a large company if we get funding….

We would have spent 15 min or so in discussion. Founders think why am I asking such a simple question instead of asking about their architecture, technology, scale of their work and in general their might in technology.

I think as human beings, we tend to do what we know best. Since most of the startups in India are started by engineers they start doing what they know best – write code. I usually close such meetings with some philosophical statement – “Please don’t do what you know. Focus your energy on things you don’t know about making your startup successful…” Some of them understand it, but, ignore as this is hard thing to do for all of us.

Post such meetings, I get into my eco-system mode and call my friends at iSPIRT and discuss “what can we do? We are not doing enough. We are trying to help those who have already have an idea of the game. But, more folks are getting into the system without understanding even the basic rules of the game, ….”. We discuss and typically console ourselves saying “new founders will figure out over time by seeing other successful founders. We as volunteers have limited bandwidth. Let us focus our energy on those for whom we can materially help. Can we think of a program for some of our companies that are starting to scale….”

I get convinced until I go to one more conference and meet few more founders. Again, I call my friends at iSPIRT. Applying my own philosophy, I need to work on things that I don’t know – “how to educate at scale the first-time founders?”.


iSPIRT Meeting at PMO – Stay in India Checklist

An important policy agenda for iSPIRT is to reverse the exodus of technology startups. About 75% of the funded technology startups are redomiciling outside India due to regulatory irritants.

iSPIRT has a Policy Expert Team – called Stay-and-List-in-India – working only on this area since December 2014. This is the policy team that worked closely with SEBI on the “startup bourse” that was notified earlier this year. Mr. Mohandas Pai has been an important guide and mentor to this team.

The Stay-and-List-in-India Policy Expert Team has developed a Stay-in-India checklist. This has 36 items that need to be addressed by Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, RBI and DIPP.

After PM Modi’s Silicon Valley visit, Mr. Amitabh Kant, Secretary DIPP, has been pushing hard to make progress on the Stay-in-India checklist. Towards this end, he had organized a cross-ministerial meeting with iSPIRT that was chaired by Mr. Nripendra Misra, Principal Secretary – PMO. The meeting was attended by Secretaries including Mr Madhav Lal, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises; Mr Ashok Lavasa, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change; Dr. Hasmukh Adhia, Department of Revenue, Mr Shaktikanta Das Department of Economic Affairs, both from Ministry of Finance; Mr. Tapan Ray, Ministry of Corporate Affairs; Mr Ashutosh Sharma, Department of Science & Technology and Mr Krishnaswamy Vijayraghavan, Department of Biotechnology both from Ministry of Science & Technology.

Others present included, Mr Shatrughna Singh, Additional Secretary, DIPP; Ms Snehlata Shrivastava, Additional Secretary, Department of Financial Services, Dr. Renu Swarup, Sr. Advisor, Department of Biotechnology, Mr U S Paliwal, Executive Director, Reserve Bank of India, Mr Hemang Jani, OSD to PM and Operations Officer from the World Bank.


There were three parts in the meeting. The first part was a showcase of 6 technology startups. This was curated, as usual, by Shekhar Kirani, Fellow, iSPIRT (Accel Partners) and Avinash Raghava. The purpose of this session was to highlight that tech startups are key to transforming India at large. They are setup by entrepreneurs from middle class backgrounds who parley their skills into sweat equity to build valuable businesses. The showcased companies included CRMNext, Foradian Technologies, Eko India Financial Services, Snapdeal, Uniken, ForusHealth and Team Indus. They all made carefully prepared 3 min presentations and answered questions.

The Stay-in-India Checklist was discussed in the second part of the meeting. Sanjay Khan (Khaitan Associates) of the Policy Expert Team made the presentation. This was a technical discussion on specific issues. At times, it was very detailed.

In particular, Mr. Shaktikanta Das, Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance and Mr. Amitabh Kant, Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) were very proactive in taking suggestions. Mr. Kant did say that they are trying to create a single window to deal with startups.

In the third part of the meeting, there was short discussion about teaching entrepreneurship as a minor in engineering education. This was led by Sanjay Vijaykumar of Startup Village. His talk was very passionate and impactful.

It was cleart that all the officials were determined to make quick progress and were truly concerned by the exodus of tech startups from India. We all ended the meeting with a group photo. One of the senior officials remarked that this moment is important to capture so that we can look back and remember where it all started!

Guest Post by Abhishek Sinha, CEO, Eko India Financial Services 

Are you in India/SaaS, and not at #SaaSx2? You missed transparent mind-blowing insights

SaaSx event is a meetup organized by a bunch of SaaS entrepreneurs for all SaaS entrepreneurs in India. SaaSx Chennai event enables SaaS start-up founders to learn and share tribal knowledge from SaaS (software-as-a-service) start-ups in various stages of the evolutionary ladder.  Every participant registered for the event and was vetted for fitness with theme of the event. (Do events really have qualifying criteria for participants beyond collecting money?)

A good number of us going from Bangalore to Chennai climbed SaaSy bus early in the morning. For everyone who climbed the bus, our learning started in SaSSy bus from Bangalore to Chennai. Entrepreneurs got comfortable with each other quickly and most seem to be in the mind-set described by Yamini “Running a company becomes a lonely job after a point. Super excited to meet other co-founders”.

After crossing to Tamil Nadu, we had breakfast and climbed back to bus. This followed with ice-breaker session where everyone self-introduced themselves and shared 2 things that worked for them and 2 things that did not work for them. Sharing brought the journey to end in Chennai. Some attended private roundtables, followed by lunch, SaaSX2 event started. FireSide Chat was kick-started with Aneesh Reddy of Capillary Technologies on ““The Nuances of Enterprise SaaS” by Ahi and Asha Satapathy.

  • Lonely initial start-up days when it was not cool to work on start-ups. That was okay and they got time to work focused.
  • Shared their approach to balance developing a product and customization needs of customers, how they make decision whether to do customization or not and when to actually execute customization.
  • Shared the challenge to collect money from customers after delivering service and the approach they took to streamline the same. For delays with large enterprise customers, one needs to evaluate whether it makes sense to follow with customer for smaller payments.
  • Shared being lucky not to take hard calls of firing people in India. He thinks firing makes it very difficult to hire senior people at some point of time.

Asha made Aneesh to share personal life tips by asking his advice to young entrepreneur’s to find life partner, which Aneesh coolly as “If you are entrepreneur or plan to be one, marry daughter of business man. She would be able to relate to you as she is already used to relate to her father”. The Next FireSide Chat was started by Sumanth Raghavendra with the man who has mapped SaaS growth from seed funding to Series B and beyond. Yes, Girish Mathrubootham. Earlier he welcomed us sharing his inspiration from thalaivar (leader) Rajinikanth, Tamil film actor. For me, Girish story is very similar to Rajinikanth movies, film world made real in software world.

Girish set context of his learnings and insights might contradict with Aneesh by sharing the difference between order ticket sizes in their individual business. Some of insights shared were

  • Focus should not be just about features in product, but any user must get value in 20 minutes without help from anyone.
  • B2B SaaS is never a winner takes it all market. There will always be a set of 2 to 3 credible players.
  • Decision to spend $40K money earned through Microsoft Hackathon to explore different marketing channels and evaluate their effectiveness. Required courage to spend on marketing against conventional wisdom of boot-strapped start-up booking the money for other purposes.
  • When customer land on the website, product experience starts right at that moment. The customer needs to like what he sees and when he signs, he needs to get value out of the website. If customer ends up saying atleast a vow, there is more probability that the customer might spend time in the next 30 days evaluating your products.

In between sessions, I loved the concepts of #onething at conference where entrepreneurs are asked to share one thing as response to a quick round of questions. Here are few fresh in my mind.

      • #onething “Simplify and communicate “helped team to scale was awesome #communication among team members. The context was the presence of start-up team across multiple geographies.
      • #onething “Should we change focus from Minimal-Viable-Product (MVP) to Billable-Viable-Product(BVP) ?” No money flowing is opinion but cash on table is fact. The Value of BVP: After 30 days of trial, will we get revenue on day 31?
      • Today internet earnings are migrating from advertising to commerce. With more commerce happening, product information is core to the future of brands and market.
      • Choice of Cloud in 2008 enabled us to establish India ecosystem for health management /diagnostics technology products and created a whole new SMB market of SaaS offerings.

Dorai moderated Unconference session. The session started with narrowing down to 3 topics based on audience preference of topics. It just happened that first topic “Inside Sales for SaaS products” took most of the time. It was nice to see exchange of folks with challenges asking questions and folks who cracked challenges sharing their insights. It was nice to see Suresh and Girish stepping up to share their inputs for most of the questions. May be this is exactly how real knowledge sharing should happen.

iSPIRT continues its focus to encourage learning and sharing among entrepreneurs as support for their journeys and here is second event in 2015 to demonstrate their commitment. Here are my thoughts after the event

  • Each questions of entrepreneur’s comes from real world challenges. The answers are not in text book and the answers have to come from real world experiences and are not available in textbooks or class rooms.
  • Learning from SaaS start-ups is tight connected with the context where SaaS start-up operates. Without context of the start-up, insights are of little or no help to entrepreneurs, as learning of SaaS start-up in first context contradicts with the learning of SaaS start-up in second context.
  • No one tried to create good impression. All were open to share their mistakes and what they learnt in the rough way. Indirectly saying that “Failure is first step towards success”.

Here are #bigMistake heard from Bangalore entrepreneurs in #SaaSyBus

  • Sold to friends & thought we were good, product ended up weak. Should’ve sold to toughest customers 1st to make prod strong
  • Hired for start-up experience and skills. Should have hired for attitude and culture fit.
  • Build the product along with sales. First few paying large customer got pissed off and jumped away.
  • Following templates for success does not work. Need to find your own path and your own means to succeed.
  • Took a lot of money from investors and became complacent. Will bootstrap next time.
  • Build a product for a market that was 2small. Now moved to a bigger market and trying hard.
  • Corporate experiences and start-up life are poled apart. Do not worry about other, competitors.
  • Being too passionate when things get hot. Need to step back and take a hard dispassionate look and face reality.
  • Trying to hardsell. Now we just do demos, show the value, if they see the value they will buy.
  • Selling operational cost efficiencies in a fast market does not work.
  • Customer say wants, not need. Product roadmap cannot be based on customer inputs, must come from deep within.
  • Delaying product launch to polish it. Need to launch fast and get market feedback and face reality.

Guest Post by G. Srinivasan

Startup Founders: Give no room for confusion


As part of my job I meet a lot of startup founders. These Founders, despite numerous job options, have chosen entrepreneurship as the way forward. They are dead serious about their startups; highly passionate; and very hardworking.

What bothers me the most is that many of the Founders don’t critically think through what makes teams and companies fundable.

All founders must critically assess their team, as well as their idea, and bucket their startup into one of these two categories:

  • a) our startup is fundable or
  • b) our startup is not fundable today. Therefore, I need to get to profitability with minimal angel money.

A majority of startups that I meet, unfortunately haven’t done their homework to understand what type of companies get funded and whether their startup belongs to the category of fundable companies. Most of the Founders, for some reason, postpone understanding the rules of the funding world and spend way too much time trying to raise money, when the idea or team itself is not fundable.

Please note – not all teams and their ideas are fundable.

It doesn’t mean these startups have no future. A significant number of high-quality profitable companies are built with no money from VCs. These companies focus on revenues from day one and continuously iterate in making their products for revenue generation. By generating revenues and getting to profitability, these companies become self sufficient and they are not at the mercy of anyone. Many times, these companies raise growth capital when they want to scale as well, or for liquidity.

The worst thing for Founders is getting stuck in between the two options: they can’t raise money and they don’t have enough runway to get to profitability. Once they are stuck, it is not an easy escape, and this impact  can be detrimental to the startup ecosystem.

Founders, before time runs out, critically assess your team, idea, strategy and pick your path accordingly.

The purpose of this article is to get all entrepreneurs to take action of discovering their path. There is enough content on the web on what makes companies fundable or how one can build bootstrapped companies. The other way is to talk to those who have done it, but, get on this work sooner than later

If you are bootstrapping, you are not alone here – Sridhar Vembu(@svembu), @Zoho #BootUpINDIA

Sridhar Vembu is a simple person, and most of what he says are tweet sized bits of wisdom. He inspires you almost instantly when you start conversing with him.

That was the first impression when I spoke to him for the first time.

He wanted to get into action as fast as possible. Before we recorded this video I was trying to make him comfortable with what I am going to ask but then he almost immediately started talking about super-interesting things. It was fascinating to hear from him directly. I could almost feel the vibe even when it was virtual. Since I am also focusing on Indian SME and am bootstrapped, I loved this advice: “Go out and learn from the best of the best in the world and then apply them to the local context”. This very much resembles what I wanted to do and my thinking was validated.

We spoke about Zoho’s early days and his remarks will help any young entrepreneurs starting out now. When we start up, a lot of us don’t even know what is the destination and how to navigate the path and what we want to become. In such cases we need a little bit of time and freedom to figure out things along the way. Instead of being forced to adhere to fixed format, setups and rules, bootstrapping is an excellent choice. With bootstrapping there is no sandbox we have to look at.

When I asked him about his hardship to acquire his first 100 customers, he stressed that getting the 1st paying customer is particularly hard. I completely agree; its key to be able to sell to the 1st ever paying customer for any entrepreneur. And the focus here is to find the fit and area where the market leaders are unable to penetrate for some reason. So identifying what is the right place for the current time will become instrumental to get the first one, ten or hundred customers.

At this point I did not want to miss the opportunity to ask a question that I was mulling over for some time. In our first OEQ Hangout on bootstrapping, Shekhar Kirani had said it won’t be possible to build Zoho without funding in today’s times. I did not agree completely with Shekhar at that time. So I asked that question directly to Sridhar to hear his viewpoint. It appears that he somewhat agrees with Shekhar about Zoho. However he said it is possible to build a sizable company now and even after 50 years without external funding. Its just that the entrepreneur must look hard whether the opportunity exists in the current market situation.

So its fair to say that there is nothing wrong in either path. The founders need to evaluate current opportunities and choose the best path that they are comfortable with. Success or failure both can come regardless of the path you choose. So the real focus should be the business and the value the business is creating than the way they are funding their growth. The ecosystem must celebrate both pathways.

Finally, if you are bootstrapping, you are not alone here, this #BootUpINDIA program is for you, come and apply today.

How We Got The IT Minister Excited About Indian Product Startups & Made Him Our Spokesperson #UnleashTheEnergy

A behind the scenes account of how a showcase of 11 disruptive startups was put together in just 100 hours!

If you’re reading this, I’m sure  you are a part of the Indian product startup community in one way or the other. And unless you were living under a rock (which is fine, if you were busy hacking away or traveling to sell your product), you wouldn’t have missed that our Hon. IT Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad was in Bangalore on Tuesday meeting with the product startup community. iSPIRT hosted  the “Conclave for India as Product Nation #1″, an open dialogue between the Product industry and the IT Minister.

What made it all the more special was that the he was the first IT Minister to meet with startups and also that he first met with the startups first before meeting officials from his ministry! The Minister met with the industry leaders, gave a patient hearing to the needs of the product startups and also saw presentations from 11 disruptive startups.

And here’s what the minister had to say after meeting with the startups!

So how did we pull this off? And what if I told you that it was all put together in 100 hours. We ourselves cannot quite understand how everything fell into place! But as Sharad often says, when a bunch of passionate volunteers come together towards a common cause, magic just happens. At iSPIRT, we take our volunteering quite seriously. No wonder then, that we actually have open sourced our volunteer model through a whitepaper to help other communities benefit from it!


A text message from Rajan on Saturday morning got me involved. Could we get on a call, he asked. There’s an iSPIRT event scheduled on Tuesday and some help was needed. We spoke and I got to know that there’s an interaction with the IT Minister scheduled on the coming Tuesday. As part of the interaction, we needed to put together a showcase of disruptive product startups to help the Minister get a sense of the kind of impactful work being done and the opportunities ahead. There was list of companies drawn from across various segments and stages, with whom we’d need to connect and get their availability for the event on Tuesday. Tapping into our network of volunteers (many of whom are themselves startup founders and industry leaders), we gathered the contact details of these companies and started reaching out to the companies. These were companies spread across the country and we checked with their founders if they’d be available to present. Based on the availability of teams and the some intense discussion and debate among the Program Managers for the showcase, a short list of the companies presenting on stage was drawn up. The thought process behind the selection of companies was to give the Minister a good view of the breadth (sectors where product startups are making an impact), the depth (companies that have achieved global market/tech leadership) and how far they can grow with sound support from the ecosystem, which includes the government as well. We were immensely privileged to have Mr. Mohandas Pai spare his valuable time for multiple meetings through the whole process and share his inputs on what kind of stories would make the maximum impact.

Product Leaders with the IT MinisterArriving at the shortlist was surely a good beginning. They say well begun is half done. But the tougher half lay ahead! We were already at Monday morning, and within the next 24 hours we had prep up the presenters. Each of the companies were to have a short, crisp presentation with the key points to be covered in under 4 minutes! Shekhar went about this with the precision of a toolmaker, thoroughness of a scientist and the strictness of a school teacher! From putting together notes on what points to cover, iterating multiple times with the presenting companies on their presentations over a sleepless night, to conducting the actual showcase in front of the minister, Shekhar was always on.

(That’s me on the left  trying to get the slides up!)

The event received some very good coverage in the media. Below are some links:

Here’s hoping that achchhe din are indeed ahead for the Indian software product industry!

What is win or loss means in the game of enterpreneurship

I have been interacting with various startup teams over the last several years, predominantly around ideation, product-market fit, funding, scaling, and strategy aspects of the companies. Before I was an investor, I spent a lot of time around product creation with two successful startups in the Silicon Valley and managing business in a large Internet company. In recent times, I have been spending a lot of time on the board of several Indian companies who are starting to scale.  Over many years of this engagement with startups, I have come to believe in few things, and one of it is what I call “Rules of the Game”. The sporting analogy is deliberate, as I use it throughout this article.

The Rules of the Game

In India, most of the founders get into their entrepreneurial journey with very little preparation and knowledge. In fact, it looks like most of them jump in based on how their friends have done or the founders in the company they work have done. Some of the serial entrepreneurs are starting to plunge in their second attempt, much more prepared and know a lot more about how the game of entrepreneurship is played. However, most of the entrepreneurs haven’t thought through the rules of this game, especially, the difference between a win, a draw and a loss in the game of entrepreneurship.

What is a win, draw and a loss?

Most of the entrepreneurs start their journey with an intention to solve a problem that they have identified is important and useful. If one has setup a small company with a tiny team, has solved the problem well and has great number of customers, and customers are paying, the game is already looking interesting for you. If you are making profits, and you are paying yourself a market salary, and you are self sufficient with enough room to grow, make no mistake about it, you are winning the game.

If you have raised money, built a great team, an outstanding product, a defensible growing business and you know how to take the company to profitability, and you are geared towards an exit or have already done, you are a role model.  This is definitely a BIG win.

On the other hand, you invested time and effort in building the product out, you made attempts to find product-market fit, you learnt how to market, sell, and support customers, hired few good team players, and overall you have done every thing possible. However, you come to know that the business model is not viable and you cannot service customers within the budget. After all fixes to business model, if things don’t change you may decide to shut down and look for your next gig. From my point of view this is definitely a “draw”. It is draw because in the process, you have learnt a lot of things around entrepreneurship; the rules of the game and you come out very strong in your next gig.

A loss is when you are caught in a rut. You have built some sort of a solution, you have few customers, but they are not very happy.  You are not able to scale the company as the product-market fit is not yet accomplished and at the same time you have just enough revenues to pay your bills and manage your employees.  You know at the bottom of your heart that you can continue the way it is for several years, but you don’t see a big change. This is a classic “loss”.

I’ve always believed that the loss is where you don’t want to be, because of the uncertainty about which direction you need to take. Conversely, a draw can be bounced back from. Everything you’ve learnt and gone through is invaluable. You’ll be a far better entrepreneur the next time around.

But is there a better way to learn, to get the experience of the win, draw, loss without actually playing the game? That would be brilliant, wouldn’t it?

Ideation vs. Execution

Of course there is a better way to learn. In fact, there are reams of startup literature out there; the best of them are free, actually, and your first step should be to read them and read up on your domain as much as you can. In fact, I have even counseled people to do nothing except read for a month before getting into the game. Read interviews of very successful entrepreneurs and grasp around “why” they were successful. What was the context under which these folks operated and how they tuned their operations to be successful against others is a great learning. This knowledge is out there. You just need to take it and apply to your world.

However, most of the time, reading and understanding isn’t going to be enough. Reading about it and executing it are two completely different things. This is where the value of the ecosystem and mentoring becomes very useful. A mentor can take all that knowledge you have imbibed and help you translate it into meaningful, decisive actions in your context. And again, the quality of such mentors matter. A mentor who makes a business out of ‘guiding’ startups is not a mentor. An excellent mentor is very articulate, keen observer, and some one who has gone through their own iterations of their idea, started a company, learnt every thing possible about their customers, and eventually was able to scale the company. Your best bet is to find such mentors and interacting with them is of significant help.

In a fledgling software product ecosystem like ours, finding enough successful mentors to support many of our startups is very tough. This is where, I see the value of efforts like the inaugural #PNCamp. Throwing in just-started practitioners with experienced practitioners and having them help each other is in my view, the best thing that can be done to push the ecosystem to accelerate faster. I am hoping that many other such practitioner lead hangouts happen in the country to boost our eco-system to next orbit.

Looking at the agenda and participants of #PNCamp, it looks like there will be an incredible amount of exchange of practical knowledge among attendees and also bit customized as each session being small (around 20 folks).

If you want to see an example of practitioner-lead-mentor, see the movie “Miracle” based on the real-story of US Olympic ice-hockey team winning against the invincible Russian team. The credit of the win goes to the player who turned coach; Herb Brooks who guides and empowers the team for a win that no one thought was possible.

All the best for the #PNCamp and thanks to Sairam for putting this together.