2017 iSPIRT Annual Letter

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Problem solvers, responsible builders of companies, communities and ecosystems are the foundation for progress and growth of any nation. What drives all of them is a sense of challenge, ownership of problems, allegiance to autonomy, demonstration of personal accountability and the thrill of finding a solution. This energy is fueling a growing product movement in India. iSPIRT is proud to be part of this movement.

Every movement sees itself as a moral enterprise. Our moral imperative is to help lift India out of poverty over the next 20 years (see 2016 Annual Letter). Technology platforms are powering this ambition. These technology platforms have a significant role to play in driving innovation everywhere. Where India stands apart is that it has carefully thought about digital colonization and has boldly decided that its core technology platforms will be public goods.

Since our public technology platforms are open-access, we expect both Indian and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to participate in building solutions for India’s hard problems. Thus, Indian entrepreneurs will compete with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs not just in the US market, but in the Indian market as well. This inevitable competition will play out in the context of the maturity of the two ecosystems. Hence, unless we develop the Indian technology ecosystem rapidly, our Indian entrepreneurs will not succeed. iSPIRT brings an intensity to building our technology ecosystem that an entrepreneur displays for building her startup.

Four years on, there has been good progress but there is much more to do. We believe that Silicon Valley does an admirable job of innovating for the first billion. India has the potential to innovate for the next six billion.

Indian Regulators: Let start-up founders and investors worry about Silicon Valley; you try and deliver Delaware. Please.

Indian regulators have, in recent times, been talking a lot about creating a conducive environment for businesses, specifically startups, given the recent exodus of some renowned startups to foreign shores to take advantage of friendlier business policies and regulations.

In order to create a thriving ecosystem, they are taking inspiration from places like Silicon Valley, considered globally to be the Mecca of technology entrepreneurship. I am often asked by budding Indian entrepreneurs and even the successful ones –will Indian regulators be able to give the Indian startups an ecosystem similar to what Silicon Valley has provided?

My answer to this oft-asked question is – Why just look at Silicon Valley when there’s so much more that the Delaware framework can teach us? And trust me, they often get confused.

It is Delaware where most businesses are registered in the US and not Silicon Valley. Reason: the flexible governance framework that allows for ease of doing business, which is all the more crucial for startups.

The first and foremost reason behind this is that the Delaware General Corporation Law, by design, is a simple yet dynamic one. Although it was written in the last decade of the 19th century, it has been constantly fine-tuned since then to suit the ever-changing business environment. Moreover, it has managed to strike the perfect balance by treating both, regulators and business entities at par, with no bias towards either, which is rare to see in other countries. Even the statute permits companies and their shareholders to work with maximum flexibility to ensure they work smoothly.

Then there’s the Delaware legislature that not only gives high priority to corporation law but also has a good expertise over these matters. The state legislature also has an understanding with the bar and it is clear that when proposing corporate legislation, the bar will deal candidly on any matter that involves Corporation Law.

Lawyers too, swear by their courts. The Court of Chancery has developed an exemplary expertise over matters related to Corporation Law. Not only do you see some of the best lawyers practicing in Delaware, you will be pleasantly surprised to see how familiar the judges are with complex business transactions and the kind of insights they have about the inner workings of corporations. Since the court has already dealt with cases that cover almost all aspects of businesses, it more or less has answers to most questions that haunt businesses. This offers them a greater sense of security.

Another feather in the cap is the ultra-modern, user-friendly and absolutely pro-business Delaware Secretary of State Office, which facilitates businesses in the true sense rather than following a bureaucratic approach.

It is difficult to find any other ecosystem that has so much to offer to startups or even half of what Delaware offers. The kind of philosophy, processes and above all, mindset to run businesses there is enviable for even Silicon Valley. If a similar framework can be replicated in India, there will be no looking back for the dreamers in India who are trying to take baby steps in the world of business.

What are your thoughts?

Guest Post contributed by Ravi Kiran.

Your working space inside another startup in Silicon Valley. #AtithiValley

A few decades back, when the technology boom in India was starting and our now ubiquitous technical talent was finding its footing, there remained a huge gulf between the India & the US in terms of exposure and application of new technologies. Which is why a lot of pioneers and early tech visionaries, wanting to be in on the action, decided to take the trip to the Valley itself.

That was a difficult time, as networks weren’t well established, access to companies and face-time with people was limited.

Now isn’t like then.

The rise of the Indian contingent in the Valley has meant that it is far more easier to travel to the US, and perhaps even start operating from there. Moreover, hungry and promising startups can travel to the Valley when they want to, absorb the culture, ask the questions they want answers for, network for funding and come back to get stuff done. This has been happening increasingly in the last few years and slowly positive results are coming out of it. Hobnobbing with product guys, resonating ideas with consumers, strategies for go-to-market, sales execution from professional who have done it many times over, accelerates the time to market.

We at iSPIRT have been thinking about this for some time now; the Valley has a lot to offer to the Indian ecosystem, and we need to use all that it has to offer.

iSPIRT is pleased to announce the Atithi Valley program, a first-of-its-kind initiative that will enable Indian startups to travel to the Valley and call another company’s space as your office for 2-3 months, using their facilities, bumping into creationists and maybe getting mentored. 10 companies have signed up for the program and we have access to around 20+ spaces in Silicon Valley, from San Francisco to San Jose.

If you are a startup and are planning to travel to the Valley in the next few months, please sign up using this form and get one of the iSPIRT Founder Product Circle donors or Fellows to recommend you. We will help you find a space in the Valley, opening up a new vista of knowledge and opportunity.


Move vs Hire – establishing a beachhead in the US

I have written many posts on what it takes to enter the US market. Most of my past posts have been around sales and marketing. However, there is a much more fundamental, one might say visceral, approach to entering a new market. How committed are you to it? As the famous anecdote goes of the hen laying an egg (the hen is involved) vs the chicken that gets cooked (the chicken is committed). Does the commitment involve time and resources spent in building an overseas organization by remote control i.e. while the founders remain in India or does it involve at least one of the founders moving to the US?

This is a tricky one and a dilemma that many startups deal with. On the one hand, we live in a highly connected world where it should be theoretically possible to build organizations remotely. On the other hand, one really does not get a good flavor for a market unless one is immersed in it. So what is the right model?

In my experience I have see three different models in place. Two work and one mre often that not, doesn’t. The one that is a waste of time and money, in my opinion, is one where the founder travels frequently to the US to try and make a sale and build an organization. I have found that this model takes an immense toll on the individual without actually achieving much since the commitment to the US market is lacking

The two models that seem to work reasonably well are ones in which either one of the founders moves to the US and builds an organization or the founders make a key first hire in the US and get that individual to build out a US organization.

So with that said, should one of the founders be US Employee #1? The answer is a qualified yes. However, there are clearly some things companies should think about before having one of the key executives move.

Known quantities – There is tremendous comfort in knowing who you are working with. If your first hire in the US is somebody you have worked with in the past, then the case for one of the founders moving to establish a beachhead is somewhat diminished.

Established support eco-system – If there is an existing eco-system of individuals in the US that the company has worked with in the past, it is a huge benefit and could outweigh the costs – both in terms of resources and time, of a founder moving to the US. The eco-system can be leveraged for initial growth.

High-touch vs low-touch business – Whatsapp made major inroads into geographies outside of the US and India even though they were not physically present in most of the geographies. If your product is high-touch, complex, high-dollar and requires evangelizing, you need a strong champion in the US – a founder moving to the US is usually a good bet. If not, think hard about it. Can you do it more smartly, remotely?

Business Objectives – This is critical. A company really needs to look at the short-term goals and figure out what is the most effective way of getting to them. If, for instance, a short-term goal includes raising a large sum of money from a Silicon Valley VC, well then one of the founders better high tail it over to the Bay Area sharpish.

Entering a new market is not for the faint-hearted. It takes time, patience and commitment and there is no guarantee of success. However, you can improve your odds being smart about it. So as to whether or not a founder should move to the US – I’d say “Probably, but it depends”.  So what IS the right model for you?

Agree. Disagree. Or have another viewpoint. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Action Plan for increasing M&A opportunities for Indian product startups

Indian product companies punch below their weight. Despite huge innovation and rising entrepreneurship, most Indian product companies are invisible on the global map. The reasons are many, but a big one is the lack of meaningful exits for companies that actually create value in their product markets. This paper focuses on a plan to address this gap.

The iSPIRT position paper of March 2013 identified several issues that need to be addressed to improve M&A activity in the US-India corridor. While discussions with the Product Nation community members strengthened the propositions made, we needed to get a buyer’s perspective before formulating an action plan. This led to an Executive Brainstorming Session with several prolific technology leaders and acquirers from Silicon Valley.

The brainstorming session at Palo Alto, CA on May 21, 2013 had broad participation from across the tech industry and was attended by M&A professionals and senior executives from Autodesk, Cadence, IBM, Intel, NTT Docomo, Facebook, Paypal/Ebay, VMware, and Walmart Labs. The iSPIRT team also had a private meeting with the head of M&A at Oracle. Representatives from Cisco and BMC could not be present due to last-minute issues.

On May 22, the iSPIRT team met with the CEOs of about 20 Indian startups, most with some presence in Silicon Valley to gain better access to their markets and customers. This meeting further stressed the need for improving M&A exits for startups, particularly for those that lack strong US VC backing. There was unanimous agreement within this CEO group that improving company readiness, visibility and access to potential acquirers would go a long way in planning successful exits. Inputs from this meeting have been included below.

iSPIRT M&A Connect Action Plan 2013 Version 2

M&A is critical for the Product Startup ecosystem in India

Small $20-30m M&A transactions are the lifeblood of Silicon Valley. Over 400 such transactions happened last year. Israeli companies accounted for over 20% of these transactions. India had only a couple of transactions to speak of. This has to change of Indian has to become a Product Nation. 

iSPIRT is focusing on this issue through its soon-to-be-announced M&A Connect Program. The M&A Connect Program team – led by Jay Pullur and Sanjay Shah – was in Silicon Valley last week for listening meetings with various stakeholders. As a part of this exercise they hosted a long brainstorming session with more than a dozen M&A heads of serial acquirers ranging from Facebook to Vmware.

One other listening meeting was with about 20 Indian product entrepreneurs camped in the Valley. I was privileged to attend this meeting. It was a delightful 3.5 hours discussion. There were three set of issues that were discussed. One set of issues related to improving discovery of Indian startups. It turns out that addressing this is not as simple as doing a SV delegation or getting TechCrunch coverage. More than that is needed. The second set of issues related to the regulatory friction of doing small M&A deals in India. The third set of issues were about improving the readiness and preparedness of product entrepreneurs.

There was active participation by all the attendees. These included:

  • Indus Kaitan,Bitzer Mobile
  • Suresh Sambandam,OrangeScape
  • Manjunath M Gowda, i7 Networks
  • Asif Ali, Reduce Data
  • Vamshi Mokshagund, Credii
  • Rohit Nadhani, Cloud Magic
  • Madhur Khandelwal, ShoppingWish –
  • Kumar Rangarajan & Satyam Kundula, LittleEye Labs
  • Deobrat Singh, Gazemetrix
  • Rajan Arora, SchoolAdmissions
  • Bharath Mundiapudi, Orzota
  • Annkur P Agarwal, PriceBaba
  • Srikanth N, Arktan
  • Jay Pullur and Vijay Sundaram, Pramati (they hosted the meeting) 


I was most impressed by the dedication and passion of the iSPIRT team driving this effort. Their selfless commitment to making a difference was heartwarming. I could sense that most of us attendees felt the same way. The self-help community that iSPIRT is creating is truly inclusive and impactful. 

If you are product startup interested in exploring a possible M&A exit in the future do watch for more details about the M&A Connect Program. Try and become part of this. Given what I heard in the meeting, I’m sure that this new Program be game changing for the ecosystem.  

ProductNation and SandHill team up to bring industry best practices to the Software Product Industry

ProductNation, a portal dedicated to the cause of the Indian software product industry and Sandhill, a portal that offers business strategy for the software, cloud and mobile ecosystem have tied-up to share industry best practices with companies that are emerging and growing in India. This is an important development in the Indian software product landscape as it brings to the table pragmatic views from Silicon Valley and from India, which has grown to be recognized globally for its software prowess.

ProductNation was launched earlier this year in India to be the one stop resource for companies who need solutions and advice even as they conceptualize, incubate and grow their businesses. The portal is run by industry veterans who act as catalysts to bring in content from around the world and real life examples of companies who are in the software product space. The portal is run in a democratic fashion and anyone who has material to contribute from various domains is encouraged to participate.

Sandhill is run by industry leader M.R. Rangaswami from Silicon Valley, the hotbed of the software industry. Over the years, Sandhill has grown with the software industry and today is an important destination for the newer technologies and developments that must be understood by entrepreneurs who run or are contemplating to run their own enterprises.

Given that more than 400 companies start their businesses each year in India in the software product industry, it is important that an ecosystem support this endeavour to ensure that companies make a success of themselves and provide value to their customers. Today, it is estimated by Zinnov that there are more than 3,400 software product companies in the country alone with 51% located in Bangalore and the National Capital Region (NCR) around Delhi.

ProductNation encourages entrepreneurs, venture capitals, angel investors, advisors and the ecosystem in general to contribute their thoughts for the benefit of this nascent industry which has the potential to accelerate even further in the coming years.


Differentiate or Die – learning’s from the NPC -12 session

Coming back to busy corporate life after NPC (NASSCOM Product Conclave – 2012) is like starting the second innings 🙂 I thoroughly enjoyed being a core volunteer managing 140+ speakers, and the speaker lounge itself on the day of the event. Not just that but was also managing, choreographing and moderating the session “Differentiate or Die – there is a brutal market outside” with the speakers being Rajesh Setty and Bob Wright both from silicon valley and are champions in their own way in the field of marketing and has been delivering guest lectures and speeches on this topic for a long time, and many companies across the world are thoroughly benefited by them. It was time at NPC for Indian product startups to be benefitted by them.

As much as I enjoyed being a moderator, creator and actually a spectator of his event, would like to bring the summary and core points to those who could not attend the event.  It was a 90 minute event with Raj going first on the stage and man he will tickle your funny bone but make no mistake, he will drive the point firm and hard and this is what I can summarize form his session:

“Being part of crowd is cheap; being different is premium and just be different even if you are addressing a small segment” was his clear message. His idea was very clearly driven that if you have the will you can differentiate and still stand out in the crowd and best is he took an example of overcrowded and saturated market of cars to drive his point. He showed that even today and even in that “overcrowded-saturated-done & dusted” market people are finding ways to differentiate and thrive and survive and more important with profits. Take this: buy a car and there are 100s of brands and each one has a different story to tell – one is on safety, one is on family, one is on fast, one is luxury – all done and now you want to enter and how will you do? The common attribute among all is “owning the car”. Let’s change that to “renting the car” and then came a bunch of companies who do it, better, faster, quicker service, cheaper etc. and started another industry around this saturated car industry. Now what – further saturated and cannot go further – say most people but comes smart entrepreneurs who say the common attribute for all is “renting from airport” and lets change it to “renting from home or anywhere” and a new rental company comes up and again created a niche for itself!! Ok that’s it and you cannot do anything further on this market – come-on there should be a limit on a saturated market. So we all l thought but someone came out with a nice idea about renting cars in the locality of those which are sitting idle and why not rent it in the community and there starts another industry which says “why rent from a company” attribute – amazing isn’t it. If that is not enough another company comes and says “rent and drive” when you can “rent with a driver” and if that is not enough, there comes another company which says ride along so that we can zip faster on the “car-pool” lane. Isn’t it amazing on how an over saturated legacy industry can be even now differentiated!! And we complain how crowded the technology market is and we cannot differentiate at all – I think this should be an inspiring as well as an awakening story for all of us who complain about saturation in the technology market!!!

Raj concluded with his Mantras which I feel are very critical and we should follow religiously which I list below:

(Really) Decide to be different

Don’t forget to create meaning – empathize with the people and their problems

Most important, tell a good story

More important than that, live up to the story (otherwise 1,2 & 3 has no meaning and will hit you on the face)

And he ended up with a famous Buddhist Quote

“When deciding among opportunities choose the most difficult path” – So true!!

What an amazing presentation it was!!

Then Bob followed with his presentation and was another amazing one straight to the point.  He is an expert in positioning which is nothing but differentiation and how you drive that differentiation into the minds of the prospect so that it is “positioned” well in that whatever mm by whatever mm size the brain is. Actually my theory is just create the best product and it will sell automatically with no gtm, positioning, marketing, branding, advertising, etc. etc. as long as  they are selected by a set of machines and not humans but as long as humans make the choice, make sure you do all these right!!!! 🙂

He quoted Al Ries “Positioning in the mind of the prospect. It’s how you differentiate your solution in their mind. It cuts through the clutter. It focuses on the perceptions of the prospect”. According to Bob you should position customer centric and around his problem and what you are trying to solve and not product centric.  The 7 gems he stated which I repeat here are:

Fortune 500 or SMB is not a market

Who is your “Mary”? (Manju: Find that right person to who you like to sell and write down his characteristics – not all are same and you need to know the position and characteristics of the person you likely to sell)

Own a problem (Manju: try stating the problem you own in less than 140 characters – give it a shot – if you can’t I say you are suffering from Laser Focus 🙂 )

Have a point of view

Take a corner of the room (Manju: assume room is the market you are jumping into and don’t try to be everywhere in the room)

Communicate with Stories (this story should answer why your company, how are you different and how will be life be better with your product)

No geek-speak  (Manju: please don’t do this like talking on how many layers in TCP/IP and how you get through that network stack and how that packet flows and how IPSEC works and why the IPS and the IDS works the way it works etc etc – please address what problem you are solving for him)

He ended his wonderful speech with a proposed 10-slide solution, which are

  • Slide 1: Big results from customers like you
  • Slide 2: recent market dynamics: your world has changed
  • Slide 3: Causing a big problem
  • Slide4: …And you may lose your job
  • Slide 5: Traditional approaches no longer work
  • Slide 6: what you need to fix the problem
  • Slide 7:The Answer: Our Company
  • Slide 8: 3-4 reasons why customers like to choose us
  • Slide 9: Cleaned up problem: How your life will be different
  • Slide 10: Call to Action

I am just curious, how many slides talk about your technology? Almost None. Now have a look into your deck and see how different it is from the above. Call to action????

Next, I will come out exclusively for “ProductNation” on not just differentiation but how to find one 🙂 🙂 Watch out this space!!!!

SaaS and Silicon Valley are Game-Changers in India

A revolution is taking place in India’s businesses, which is transforming India at large. It began with mobile phones. Although there were telephones in India prior to mobile phones, they never took off in a big way. But mobile phones are so inexpensive and provide such great benefits that now everybody has a phone. The software-as-a-service model is a similar phenomenon in that SaaS fills a void that could not be filled in any other way. SaaS is an inexpensive way for India’s businesses to have good-quality software that makes their businesses much more efficient and effective.

SaaS will be even more of a game-changer in India than it has been in the United States. It’s not just because of the pricing model; it’s also because the time is right. SaaS products are proliferating at the same time as ubiquitous mobile devices and the flood of Big Data are causing companies to look for new business solutions. As businesses embrace SaaS for their critical business functions, they get more velocity in their business, which makes them more competitive in their markets.

Local products — made by local Indian software companies that understand the local business needs — are a key factor in the growing use of SaaS solutions. Improvement of Internet services in India has also contributed to SaaS adoption. A third factor is the fear that not using SaaS solutions will cause a company to be an outlier. This was not the case a couple of years ago. So it’s a tipping point-phenomenon coupled with more availability of local products at a very attractive price point.

A major transition is underway in the technology stack. In the life cycle of the software industry, new solutions typically come from startups and small companies as opposed to large companies. We see this happening again today in India where the small, nimble startups are shifting their business to create SaaS solutions. Even so, some startups are dramatically more successful than others, due in large part to two enablers.

Read the Complete article at Sandhill.com

What is that we have to build?

Every now and then, we hear people arguing about building “Microsoft” and “Google” of India. Companies like Microsoft, Google have built up incredible technologies and their contributions in improving our life is significant. When started, they started with big vision, a tough and relevant problem to solve, and brilliant team behind the vision. While I cannot look into minds of founders of those companies and say what they were thinking, the problems they chose to solve had enormous relevance and potential at their time and place.

When some people talk of building product companies, they want to build another “Facebook”, another “Google”, etc. And some people want to build “Valley” here in Bangalore or Hyderabad. If all we’re doing is trying to build another “Google”, replicate ecosystem of “Silicon Valley” here in an Indian city, sorry people. Your attempts are futile. Suppose we go to Kashmir, and like apples very much there. We come back to Karnataka, want to grow apples. Can we grow apples here? No. Climate, and soil conditions in Karnataka is different from that of Kashmir. If we are still trying to grow apples in Karnataka, we’re just wasting our time and effort. But Karnataka grows sandalwood. This is a tree that grows here very well. And we can grow best Sandalwood in the world.

Don’t mistake the analogy here. I’m in no way suggesting that Indians can’t build a technological giant such as Google or Facebook. What I mean is, we should not build product companies for the sake of it. If you can solve a problem really well without building a product, and build a great business out of it, that should be the way. When we’re building a company or building ecosystems, we’ve to encourage startups to be best in what they are building or doing. It doesn’t really matter after a point if you are building a product or offering a service, what matters is quality of your work. It should solve real problems of the people. In doing so, it only makes sense to utilize existing ingredients of ecosystem to the fullest.

What we should aim at is building a culture of solving problems and solving efficiently. To solve a big tough problem, if we’ve have to build a product for that, we’ll build a product. If we’ve to invent, we’ll invent. If we have to offer an innovative service, we’ll do that. Once we start solving big problems, once we start setting standards of excellence in everything we do, may be we’ll realize product companies are by-products.

Guest Post Contributed by Mahesha Hiremath, Boson Research

How Silicon Valley’s Community Gives Back

Editor’s note: “Silicon Valley is a unique, vibrant intermingling of different ideas and cultures resulting in innovation coming from all parts of the world,” says Raju Reddy, executive vice president of global services at Hitachi Consulting. And it was the ideal location for the recent Sevathon 2012, the annual walkathon that brought together more than 60 Bay area profit organizations to raise funds for nonprofit orgs. In this interview, Raju shares insights about the Indian technology community in both the valley and in India and how U.S. technology companies can get involved in “giving back” and helping others.

SandHill.com: My Internet search reveals that you’ve been very involved in helping young entrepreneurs for many years.

Raju Reddy: Professionally, for me, mentoring others is very important. Like other entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, I’ve been a big beneficiary of people giving back. Many entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley kind of take it for granted, but we’re surrounded by such a wonderful infrastructure of people and organizations to help build a company. I have always really appreciated that and tried to work with other entrepreneurs and help them build companies.

I spent about 10 years in Intel before I started my own company, Sierra Atlantic, in 1993. We were venture funded by NEA, Walden and GE Capital, and I had some great board members and mentors. At the end of 2010 Hitachi bought my company. I also had been mentoring an entrepreneur in Toronto, and that startup was successfully acquired by Intel about the same time as the Sierra Atlantic acquisition. Currently I serve on the board of RedBus and GharPay, both in the consumer Internet space.

Read the complete post at Sandhill.com