iSPIRT works to transform India into a hub for new generation software products, by addressing crucial government policy, creating market catalysts and grow the maturity of product entrepreneurs. Welcome to the Official Insights!
iSPIRT brings #PNCamp3 to Hyderabad for the first time. There are clearly established trends that successful SaaS startups have started to emerge from India on the global front – with products that are world class and leaders in their categories. These are very early stages of a transition from a IT services world to a SaaS software economy.
#PNCamp for the first time in Hyderabad is a bootcamp never before presented to entrepreneurs in the region. It is a roll-up your sleeves kind of format wherein you will get to see real examples of companies which are analyzed. Very precise feedback on how to make adjustments to the company’s approach towards success are presented to the audience. This is all a part of the product teardown process – where other successful entrepreneurs help do such analysis for participating companies. Rather than hear boring talks – the format will be centered around addressing the issues that participants raise as key concerns.
There are three sessions where startups will present and get feedback.
Product teardown: In this section, select startups will provide a quick walkthrough of their product website. As each startup will get limited time to present, key is to stay focused on most critical or concerning area of your product. Experts and fellow participants will provide feedback on core functionality, usefulness, right fit of the product, visual and experiential aspect of the product. In the past, such product tear down has help entrepreneurs get amazing inputs in matter of minutes. Moreover it has opened up doors for more insightful beta users from the cohart. Product teardown session focuses on product flow, functionality, identifying specific KPIs and using analytics to derive insights, and immediate critical aspect that might be hindering product traction or stickiness. Founders will get actionable inputs that can be applied next day and see improvements. If you are interested to seek feedback, please apply here.
Idea to Launch (Unconference): The pre-launch phase is a very important phase in the development of your SaaS business and success in this phase can often accelerate growth once you launch to the public. Smart founders use this phase to understand as much as they can about who their ideal customers are, what their needs are and how much they would be willing to pay to get their problem solved. This session is in place to precisely discuss about this particular phase of your business.
Founders can learn from each other’s experiences in informal conversations on how to go about launching a product. Learn from the founders of Chargebee, Kissflow, Zenoti and many other SaaS founders on how they went about their product launch. From market sizing, validation, identifying lead generation channels to feature prioritization, learn it all from real stories
“What makes a good pitch deck”: One of the most important(if not the most important) resource your startup should spend time on is the pitch deck. Your pitch deck is the window to your startup. The way your pitch deck is structured can make or break your fund raising plans.
What should you include in your pitch deck? Should it be too long? Or too short?
How can you estimate the market size?
What are the key metrics investors look for in a pitch deck?
All these questions and more will be answered in this session. In this session we will do a pitch teardown of two selected startups. Investors from LetsVenture and successful startup founders who have raised money will analyze the pitches and suggest what works and what does not. They will give you pointers on how to calculate the key metrics and how to continue tracking them.
This session is a must for startups who are looking to fund raise.
The entire bootcamp comes together due to the energy infused by Founders who purely volunteer their time towards the cause of helping companies succeed. Successful entrepreneurs like Suresh of KiSSFLOW, Krish from ChargeBee participate in these forums purely with the desire to see a vibrant ecosystem of SaaS companies.
Look forward to seeing you all for what will be the most hands-on bootcamp ever made available to entrepreneurs in Hyderabad.
This is a MUST attend camp for any early stage product startup. Do not miss this unique opportunity to catch the brains of experts and fellow participants through product feedbacks and interactions. So, if you are an early stage startup looking to take your startup to next orbit, then register yourself right away at www.pncamp.in Lets build great product nation, one product at a time! See you at PNCamp.
Guest Post by Sudheer(Zenoti), Chaitanya(Ozonetel) & Laxman(AppVirality)
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 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.
WHY IS iSPIRT DOING THIS ‘MOVIE’ CALLED PNGROWTH?
iSPIRT’s mission is to make India a ProductNation. We have many initiatives like Playbook Roundtables, PNcamp, 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.
The goal was to create 8-10 companies every year which would eventually go on to become $10mn revenue companies in the next 3 years.
WHO ARE THE DIRECTORS OF THE MOVIE?
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.
My 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.
WHERE DID I FIND THE STAR CAST FOR THE MOVIE?
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 & Aneesh. Manav & Shekhar also used the same in their session.
It 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.
WHO CAME TO WATCH THE MOVIE?
Oh, that. We had huge demand for tickets from the audience, the founders of India’s growing startup community.
HOW DID WE THEN SELECT WHO ACTUALLY GOT TO SEE THE MOVIE?
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.
WHERE DID WE HIRE THE SUPPORTING ACTORS?
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.
WHAT ABOUT THE CREW?
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.
I 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.
SO, WHAT WAS THE MOVIE ALL ABOUT, THEN?
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.
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.
The 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.
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 🙂
After 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.
“Are you an accounting company or a finance company?”
The question was addressed to Baskar Ganapathy, co-founder and product head of Numberz. It’s an early stage fintech startup with a software product to help small businesses manage their invoices and cash flow.
What makes it different is an add-on feature that lets businesses get a credit line and working capital loans. Baskar explained that managing accounts gave Numberz the credit profile of a business, which made it easier to provide loans.
What’s more, businesses can not only get loans for themselves through Numberz, but prompt their clients to use it too. It has a GetFinance button to send with an invoice to clients who may need loans to pay their dues.
The problem arises in pitching the product. Accounting tools are many, but a financing avenue through an accounting software product is unusual. Shouldn’t this be the highlight instead of an add-on? Hence the question to Baskar on how he was positioning the startup.
The question came from Suresh Sambandam, founder and CEO of Kissflow, one of India’s SaaS success stories from Chennai. It provides workflow automation software on the cloud to over 10,000 companies around the world. Suresh knows a thing or two about being razor-focused in pitching a software product.
Don’t tell me anything more about your product other than how it is going to solve the client’s problem.
A word to the wise is sufficient. Baskar and his co-founder at Numberz, Aditya Tulsian, both worked at Intuit earlier. They led campaigns for adoption of Intuit products like Quickbooks for accountants, and saw a gap in getting small businesses to use accounting software. So the Numberz cashflow management product was a natural extension of what they had done earlier. Now the interaction with Suresh gave them food for thought on positioning their unique financing product for small businesses.
The interaction happened at a bootcamp in Pune organized by non-profit think tank iSPIRT (Indian Software Product Industry Round-Table), whose mission is to transform India from a back office for software services to an innovation hub for software products.
This was the second in Pune aimed at helping early stage startups looking for product-market fit. ISPIRT holds a similar bootcamp for growth stage companies in Mysore. The bootcamps have a product teardown format for experts to coach startups.
Places like Pune and Mysore are emerging startup hubs which lack the abundance of role models and mentors in India’s Silicon Valley, Bangalore, or its SaaS capital, Chennai. Seasoned entrepreneurs and mentors from the bigger hubs of Delhi, Bangalore, and Chennai had day-long interactions with startups who had signed up for the bootcamp in Pune.
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
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.
This article can not be considered Legal advise, please consult a lawyer and/or accountant before incorporating.
The US has one of the most mature banking and financial systems in the world. Owing to this many internet businesses prefer to incorporate in the US. In India the reserve bank of India does not allow businesses to automatically charge user’s credit/debit card’s; explicit user consent is expected via a second factor authentication like an OTP or a password. This hampers the smooth functioning of subscription businesses that charge users every month.
However A US based company can store its user’s credit cards and charge them automatically in a recurring fashion seamlessly. For the convenience of auto-charging credit cards many ‘Subscription As A Service’ (SaaS) companies based out of India have their headquartered in the US.
Deducely being a SaaS product, we wanted the ability to charge our user’s cards every month automatically without asking them to input their card number every month. Since we operate from India our options were very limited
We had 3 options in hand, but we had apprehensions too:
Incorporate in a foreign country – Too costly, close to $2000
Use 2Checkout or FastSpring – About 10% to be paid as commissions
Use Paypal subscriptions – Developer un-friendly, average customer support
Enter The Atlas Program
Stripe atlas is a bento box for businesses to get up and running. Stripe Atlas grants the following for a flat fee of $500:
US company registration (A Delaware C corp).
Registering with the IRS for taxation purposes.
A Zero balance US bank account in Silicon valley bank.
Access to Legal and Tax consultation from PwC, Orrick and UpCounsel.
$15,000 in Amazon Web Services Credits.
A Stripe account ready to accept payments.
We were skeptical about this program, We even felt it was too good to be true but when we approached Avinash Raghava of iSPIRT and Suresh Sambandam of KiSSFLOW for expert opinion, we were advised to go ahead and incorporate via Stripe Atlas. It was totally worthwhile.
How to incorporate a Delaware C Corp in the USA through the Stripe Atlas program?
Step 1: Get an invite to the Atlas program
This is the most difficult part, as of now the stripe atlas program is invite only, you could try requesting an invite on the website or via their twitter account. Once you are successfully invited you’d get an email with a link that can be used to register an account at Stripe Atlas. Now You’d be required to create a new Stripe account.
Step 2: Enter detailed information about your business
Once you have signed up for the Stripe account you would be presented with the following overview screen :
When we click on get started we are presented with a screen that asks a few details about the product and the business:
Step 3: Enter how you’d like to structure your company
There are two ways to structure your company when your business is not physically present in the US. This is a very crucial decision and should be taken after thorough deliberation.
Setting up a US headquartered company with an Indian (or other non US country) subsidiary:Freshdesk’s model
We had not incorporated anywhere yet and we went ahead with Freshdesk’s model , so we were asked to enter our company’s desired name, while entering the desired name please ensure that the name is not registered by any other entity, a simple google search could help you out.
Although we could have entered our local non US address, we went ahead and purchased a physical address in the US through virtual post mail for $10/month; virtualpostmail.com scan the physical mail that we get and email it to us. We received our ETPS(Electronic tax payment system) credentials through our physical address. Though the US address wouldn’t be of any other use in the immediate future, we wanted Deducely to be global and hence we invested in a US physical address.
We got a US phone number for free through Google Voice and entered that as our phone number, to get a Google voice number you need to know someone with a US phone number from a major carrier like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile or Sprint. Once the google voice setup is done you will be able to make and receive calls from your US google voice number through the Hangouts dialer app . You could enter your local number here as well.
If you choose to set up a US subsidiary with a Non US company as the parent you would be asked to present the Non US company’s tax ID and registration certificate. Please consult your local lawyer and accountant for any regulatory compliances that need to be met.
Step 4: Enter the details about the people in the company
In this page you’d be prompted to enter the personal details of all the people who would have more than 25% stakes in the company. Please have a scanned copy of your passport or any other government issued IDs.
Now, in the same page, you will also be asked to select the company’s president, secretary, incorporator and directors.
Step 5: Enter the bank account administrator details and pay:
Getting a US bank account is the most difficult part for any non US entrepreneur , You either have to be physically present in the US or know someone in the US who could introduce you to the bank. These banks tend to have high maintenance fees and high minimum balances associated with them. However stripe atlas has partnered with Silicon Valley Bank(SVB). SVB provides a zero balance account with no maintenance fee for 2 years. In the following screen you will get an option to select the administrator for the SVB account
Step 6: Enter your credit/debit card details:
You will be presented with a stripe checkout popup where you can enter your card details. You will we charged $500 USD only after the successful incorporation of your company. After the payment you’d get a prompt saying that your incorporation would be complete in one week.
Since Deducely was one of the initial pilot companies to be incorporated via the Stripe Atlas program we did not have to spend a dime to get up and running with a US company and bank account! Thanks a tonne Patrick, we owe you one!
Step 7: The application review process:
I am not sure if this is step would be applicable for everyone. A couple of days after we had submitted our application we received an email from stripe requesting us to furnish details like our estimated timeline, screenshots, Terms of service etc… and we showed them our screenshots and git account; after a few anxious days our application was accepted. I feel this is necessary steps to prevent abuse of this program.
Step 9: Digitally sign the incorporation documents:
After the review process is done and dusted, all the associated people in step 4 would receive an email with a link to a Docusign document. You can read the documents and sign. We would be able to proceed to the next step only when all the associated people have completed signing the documents.
Step 10: The AWS activate account:
After signing all the documents you’d get an email with a link to activate your AWS goodies. You’d get:
$15,00 in AWS credits valid for 2 years.
Access to AWS web based training (worth $600).
Access to AWS business support (worth $5000).
Access to AWS solution architects.
Step 11: Receive your incorporation documents:
After you digitally sign all the incorporation documents , wait for around 5-7 days to get your Delaware C corp incorporation certificate and your Tax ID(Employer Identification Number) from the IRS.
Step 12: Opening the SVB account:
Since we had given a PO box address in the US we were asked to give the physical address where our business is present. We emailed this to SVB and after 1 week we were granted access to SVB online banking.
This is the end of the incorporation procedure, here a few things to be done next
1) Signing the stock plans: Stripe would email you a draft of a Stock agreements, get it signed by your board of directors. Stripe would also schedule a free 30 minute call with upcounsel – a law firm for clarifying any queries.
2) Sending funds to the SVB account: Ideally you can wire funds into your SVB account, but this is a tedious process involving a lot of waiting. We found square cash to be a convenient way to send cash into our SVB account. It takes 2 working days for the cash to show up in your bank account.
3) Getting a credit / debit card : You have funds in your SVB account and you want to pay for your hosting and other subscriptions, there are two options that I am aware of, the first method would be to apply get a business credit/debit card from SVB and get it delivered to your address. The second method is signing up at privacy.com. Privacy.com is a new age fin tech company that links with your bank account, through this service you can generate virtual VISA cards with fixed spending limits and close them whenever you want. We use privacy.com to generate virtual credit cards and track our spending. This service is free!
4) The Unofficial Stripe entrepreneurs Facebook group: If you are not based in the US and have a US based company , we have created an unofficial stripe atlas entrepreneurs group in Facebook . You are not alone here, if you run into any issues or need help you can ask other fellow atlas entrepreneurs for help.
Overall our experience with Stripe atlas was exemplary. Their support team always had our back; I’d like to give a huge shoutout to Anita from the Stripe atlas team, she was not only very knowledgeable but also very patient in replying to the barrage of queries that we raised every day! Ideally a service like this would cost you at least 800$ without the bank account and $15,000 in AWS credits. Stripe Atlas = A happy meal for company incorporation!
If you need any help or have any queries related to this post please reach out to me at aswin <at> deducely <dot> com
Inside Sales was presented as one of the strategic levers for SAAS companies selling to the US market at a recent Google Accel event. no wonder when
iSPIRT arranged for a round table on this topic there was a buzzing interest.
If you are not familiar with the round tables of iSPIRT check them out here. (Highly recommended)
Suresh of kissflow.com who has been successful in cracking the US market with his DIY Self-service workflow product conducted this round table.
What was interesting is when the group was setting an agenda. It sort of covered areas from the complete funnel from marketing to Sales. Here are the sections and key learnings that were discussed in each. End of the article we also have links to tools and resources that can help.
This is concerned with generating leads. These might be signups on your free-trial self-service product or request for demos. [Inbound]
These might also be leads that you have gathered by list building/event which you might be nurturing through email marketing or Inside Sales for outbound.
SEO is a must and early start helps
Start with a keyword list (Commercial intent) and then keep building backlinks and writing content. In Suresh’s words its do-able and needs discipline and not hacks. [In my own opinion we as Indian entrepreneurs have done a shoddy job in this area and need to learn this fast]
Keywords, which you cannot rank on, go with PPC. The typical signup costs discussed were between 50 USD – 200 USD per signup / MQL
Data for outbound prospecting is very important; Mass Emailing does work but it is super important to spend time on defining segment well and crafting messaging which is relevant.
[In my opinion one would actually have to go a step further with personalization if you are not a mass market solution and selling to mid-large markets]
Having a strong Web Engineering team which works on Google Analytics and conversion optimization is a must
You may be calling this team with different names. In theory the following are possible
Lead Development Rep – Qualify Inbound leads
Sales Development / Account Development – Generate Qualified meetings from outbound
Other names discussed were BDRs (Same as SDRs or some times channel)
Account Executive – Someone who closes
Product Specialist – Someone who knows product well and closes
Should you have a product specialist closing or Account executive?
Self-Serve product with low complexity AE (sometimes even an SDR) can close
If a product requires mapping use cases configurations (Like KissFlow) then Product specialist are in the best position to close
If you selling 50K + ACV then a field Sales or experienced AE in the US is recommended.
Where to Hire Inside Sales
There were different thoughts and opinions on what talent can fit into this role. Typically the options are
Someone who has been in a BPO
Fresh Graduate who wants to build a career in Sales
Experienced Lead Generation in IT Services / SaaS
It was recommended that if you are starting out get someone who is more experienced and can then train new members. Training was an important aspect of Inside Sales and once you have 2-3 members it’s best to invest into training.
One of the learning I have had is that the player coach model does not work. If you are getting someone to manage / coach a team do not have a individual quota for them.
At one point this became a discussion of Chennai vs RoW ☺
SDRs should be compensated and evaluated on meetings / opportunities passed and accepted.
AE should be compensated on MRR addition (and may be a bonus on long term contracts)
The starting costs of SDRs discussed varied from 4L – 8L [Inbound is far easier than outbound]
Inbound leads per Rep per month – 200 – 300 this is for ACV <10K kind of deals. Larger deals lesser leads
Outbound accounts per SDR per month – 200 – 300 and aim for 1-2 meetings per day
It is an exciting phase for the Indian SaaS eco-system. There are a lot of companies from India trying to build products for the global market. Some of them have been able to scale to tens of thousands of customers and millions of dollars in revenue. Many others are just getting started or want to step up their game. In both cases, there are trying to figure things out, sort of solving a jigsaw puzzle. Sales is a big part of the puzzle. There are many questions to be answered – how to generate leads, how to sell, whom to sell, how to hire for sales etc.
To get answers to some of these questions and more, iSPIRT organized a playbook roundtable – “Running Inside Sales for US, from India”. It was moderated by Suresh Sambandam, CEO, KiSSFLOW and I was fortunate to be part of it.
This blog aims to highlight some of the key learnings from the discussion.
This may sound cliched but getting Product-Market fit right is critical before you begin your sales process. Without getting this right you are just shooting in the dark.
Branding and positioning needs to be aligned to what the customer thinks/needs. Customers won’t be thinking the way we are – brand needs to solve that. One way to achieve this is to start by having your product / company name synonymous with what your potential customer is looking for. There are plenty of examples out there – Recruiterbox – Recruitment software, Freshdesk & Zendesk – Help desk software, SalesForce & InsideSalesBox – Sales/CRM software, KiSSFLOW – Workflow management software.
Marketing / Demand generation
Most early stages startups work on an inbound lead generation model. This means, getting SEO right and having a website that looks great & conveys the right message to your prospect is a no-brainer.
One point that came up during the discussion about SEO was content marketing. Invest in building great content for your users and they can prove to be a good source of inbound leads. Also important to remember is the role of distribution of content. No point in having great content if it doesn’t reach the right audience.
Interestingly, Quora was mentioned a good source of leads if answers point to content you have generated.
Other lead generation strategies that were discussed
Adwords : important to make a list of primary and secondary keywords and bid for them so that you end up in the first page of search
Listing on business app marketplaces – Google Apps, Capterra
Outbound lead generation : Some tools to get a database of companies – Discovery.org, DataGuru, Datanyze, Rainking. Use tools like Sendee or Amazon SES for outbound email campaigns to get better open, response rates.
Doing Paid webinars at domain specific sites : need significant effort and money.
Analyst relations : KiSSFLOW has used Capterra, G2CrowdSource, Gartner and Forrester, TrustRadius. Getting listed is not difficult. Improving ratings needs time and effort
Inside Sales Team Roles
Before setting up the sales team, it is essential for the founders to map the entire sales process. This sets the tone for the sales team to follow.
Suresh raised an important question – Is your product complex enough to necessitate two roles – SDR & AE.
Sales Development Rep (SDR)
Should be good with talking and selling and need to do the bulk of talking and writing to customers
Generally have about 300-400 leads to work on and set demos for AEs .
Incentives – At KiSSFLOW, it is composite – based on email opens (they have some metrics), completed demos and a small portion of booked revenue.
Qualify leads based on multiple factors including no of active sessions, user-base, profile of signed up user etc.
Account Executive (AE)
Typical AEs are prior pre-sales guys with ~4 years of experience
Have very good product knowledge
Important metric for AEs is “Time to first WOW / Magic moment”
They typically floor the customer during the demo by spontaneously configuring everything needed during the session itself.
Should be able to figure out whether a discount would help close the deal.
Generate leads on their own other than leads from SDRs
An interesting suggestion that came up was hiring AIESEC students for sales roles. These students would be foreign nationals visiting India on an exchange programme and are generally available to work for about 6-12 months and would be a good fit.
Some of the companies mentioned, they have a intensive training program to train SDR’s.
Important learning – many make the mistake of making quick decisions when it comes to pricing, and not giving it enough thought. Needs to be very simple, but also needs to be constantly worked and improved.
Tools & Resources
Some of the marketing & sales – tools & resources used by the participant companies
LeadSquared : Generate landing pages easily for campaigns
Sendee / Amazon SES : For email campaigns
Discovery.org, DataGuru, Datanyze, Rainking : Lead database
FullStory : Recorded video of user actions/activities. Alternative tool, MouseFlow.
Moz : to check SEO ranking
Pipedrive, SalesForce : CRM
Wappalyzer, BuiltWith – technologies used on website – useful for competitor analysis
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:
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.
The April sun wasn’t evident at the beach side locale, near the historic town of Mamallapuram, which hold relics of exceptional beauty on its rocks sculpted under the patronage of the Pallava kings. Had it been the early part of last century, in all probability, we could have reached this place in passenger boats sailing through the Buckingham Canal, now condemned to history. It was using this canal route that the national poet Subramanya Bharatiar escaped to Pondicherry to prevent an imminent arrest by the British to endow us with memorable literary gifts in Tamil.
By favourable alignment of choicest factors, Chennai is home to successful SaaS enterprises. To say SaaS is the preserve of Chennai is surely an overstatement. To put it in perspective, it is a worldwide phenomenon and Chennai has made a mark in India. Undoubtedly, the success of Girish Mathrubootham (Freshdesk) has a lot to do with Chennai hailed as the SaaS capital of India, with Suresh Sambandam (KissFlow), Sanjay Parthasarathy (Indix), Krish Subramanian (Chargebee) and Lux (Unmetric) in the elite SaaS league giving an aura to Chennai, not to forget that it was Zoho that made it to the big SaaS league, taking on Salesforce, from Chennai.
Guys if you’re a SaaS company, don’t make the mistake I did i.e missing first two SaaSx and RT’s that iSpirit… https://t.co/lshTmtaLta
At SaaSx3 it was a day filled with peer-to-peer learning, some fun, and a super-duper end. Playbook roundtables, One Thing Series, Product Teardown, and a presentation of “superscaling” (my term!) by Girish as the grand finale completed the agenda. Pallav Nadhani of Fusion Charts and Krish Subramanian of Chargebee (in partnership with Suresh Sambandam of KissFlow) engaged select SaaS startups on a roundtable each. iSPIRT’s agenda of peer-to-peer learning and networking, with the intention of forming a vibrant community of product entrepreneurs, took the form of playbook roundtables where the successful entrepreneurs share the secret of their product success with the product startups. The focus of both the roundtables, where I spent some time in each, was on the product. While Krish focused on taking the product from 0 to $1 million, Pallav chose the marketing as a tool for product’s success.
Find out why the customer chooses your product
Krish spent a considerable time in explaining the key to product success – understanding the persona of the buyer. “Product-market fit is constantly evolving,” he said. The process doesn’t stop with customer acquisition and onboarding but continues with retention of the customer, on what is now called the customer success. Acquiring the customer is a tedious process for which several methods and processes come in handy. The important take-away from this session was understanding the customer’s intent to buy the product. Krish liberally quoted from Chargebee’s experience to explain his perspective – their assumption of why the customer bought Chargebee flipped on its head when they saw the real data on why they did. How to find out? It is best to ask – first through a non-intrusive e-mail followed up by conversations and further e-mail exchanges.
The whole point of the discussion hovered around the 10% conversion rate – of prospects into buyers. But Suresh clarified that it is a benchmark for large enterprises, but the real numbers that convert is the key rather than the percentage if the customers are SMBs.
Krish said that the choice between free trial vs freemium is loaded in favour of freemium. But what usually happens is that the free trial users pump up the numbers (the customer count) but largely the free trial customers don’t turn buyers. The truth is freemium works well but free trial also works. The real answer is it all depends on the product. What also works is adding a “powered by *product logo*.” This has worked WebEngage and Freshdesk. WebEngage had a “powered by *logo*” on its product design (for a cheaper priced version) so that it gets more prospects into the funnel. If the customer is not paying, at least he can be used as a channel for prospecting. Freshdesk used the “powered by *logo*” on all its customer support e-mails (which is actually generated by Freshdesk) sent by the free user in its forever free product.
Another important aspect touched upon was making the pricing transparent and known, especially if the target customers are SMBs in the case of self-servicing SaaS products. If the customer base is large enterprises, the price conversation can happen offline and it is not necessary to provide price information on the website.
Constantly evaluate your customers and look for influencers
When I entered the conversation, Pallav was focusing on why, how and what of the product. He defined customer cohorts as influencers, buyers and users. Pallav’s proposition was a lot deeper – a good product markets itself. But you also ask deeper questions – even the reason why you (your product) exist to answer the other defining aspects of why the product sells (Pallav’s recommendation: view Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle video on why, how, what). The why exists converts simply into what problem is the product solving. But identifying the customer is a continuous evaluation process. Only if you know why you exist can you target the most appropriate buyers for your product so that your solution is aligned to their needs. For targeting customers at the right time, you must understand the customer behaviour a bit deeply. Pallav gave examples of how customer habits can be known from data. His marketing pitch was a bit philosophical quoting Seth Godin, who said, “The valuable forms of marketing are consumed voluntarily” (read Three Changes of Marketing). The network effect is powerful, as Avilesh Singh of WebEngage explained using his product marketing strategy. He said how changing his focus from marketing execs to developers as customers reaped rich dividends.
Avlesh from WebEngage, Arvind from Attune Tech. and Suresh from KiSSFLOW came together to host the session and anchor the round table.
With a casual round of introductions, Suresh kickstarted the entire roundtable discussion with a question:
Who is your ideal user?
Identifying the ideal user for your product is the key to your entire product. Is it a product for developers? Is it for CEOs? Is it for mobile users? Is it for users of spreadsheets?
Once you identify your user, identify the ‘buying title’ and the ‘influencing title’. The ‘buying title’ would be the shot-caller whereas the ‘influencing title’ would play a major role in influencing the shot-caller to buy your product.
Sometimes, if your on-boarding process is straightforward, you can sidestep your segment. Figure out what’s happening, is your product gaining traction, etc., And then iterate your product.
Aligning Metrics – The key
This is when Avlesh (Webengage) (he was lost in the land of Chennai, damn the cabbie) joined the discussion. He stated a very crucial point, that sometimes entrepreneurs forget during their journey of building their product.
“Try aligning your product to your users’ metrics” was a great insight from him.
If you’re launching a second product, run it by your current customers.
Try answering these questions:
What’s that one thing that your user can relate to? What does he/she get out of this? What are you improving for them?
These are very practical and a data-driven points to consider before taking that step forward towards your market fit.
Instant Gratification -Connecting the dots
Arvind, connected these points to the psychological concept of ‘Instant Gratification’. What pain point are you trying to address? What’s that ‘wow’ moment they get when they start using your product? Something as simple as what they do everyday and how you can help them do it differently. If users get an immediate result from your product, they would be hooked to it.
Stickiness. The sole determiner.
Suresh mentioned a very simple but powerful point to elucidate product market fit.
“People who like your product will help you in scaling your product. But people who love your product will be your early adopters. Will be your referrers. Will be your evangelists. And they will help you achieve your product’s market fit!”
He also spoke about how product fit is not necessarily a price fit but much more than that. If users love your product, they really wouldn’t mind shelling out some extra money to buy it.
If you had noticed, all these points have something to do with user engagement.
Users see. Users love. Users buy. Users stick on.
Product Market Fit: The process
Product Market Fit isn’t a destination you aim to reach, but it’s a continuous journey.
Here are a few pointers to follow before you set out to find your fit.
Understand your market.
Estimate the market size.
Don’t go after a broad range of things. You can’t be everything for everybody.
Identify your segment. Your niche. That sweet-spot!
Then, iterate your product. Strip/add features to suit the market.
Mohit from Jombay, who had some thoughtful points to add on to the entire discussion, mentioned about how it’s important to know what to focus on! Positioning your product is a prerequisite in obtaining a market fit.
Are we there yet?
When do you know your product has obtained a market fit? To understand the answer, ask this question. Are more strangers paying for your product? (not just your mom’s friends or cousin’s colleagues). Are you solving your users’ problem?
“I’ve tried to make the concept less abstract by offering a specific metric for determining product/market fit. I ask existing users of a product how they would feel if they could no longer use the product. In my experience, achieving product/market fit requires at least 40% of users saying they would be “very disappointed” without your product. Admittedly this threshold is a bit arbitrary, but I defined it after comparing results across nearly 100 startups. Those that struggle for traction are always under 40%, while most that gain strong traction exceed 40%.”
Some quick points to sum up my takeaways from the session:
Product market Fit isn’t a destination, it’s a journey.
Understand your market.
Know your customers.
It’s not about the product. It’s about how you position it.
Keep your product sticky.
Align your products to your users’ metrics.
Avlesh’s sense of humor, Arvind’s sarcasm and Suresh’s guffaws helped maintain a lively atmosphere for the discussion 🙂 It was a great session overall with some brilliant takeaways from all of them.
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.
#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.
Orangescape is one of India’s first true product companies. KissFlow, their workflow automation software for small and medium sized businesses was one of the first successful products made out of India. This makes Suresh Sambandam, the CEO of OrangeScape, a visionary who saw what was coming long before any of us even had an idea about it. As Suresh himself says, it was a slog for him and the core team for the first year or so, working more than 18 hour days and trying to get things right and providing as quick customer service as possible. He was constantly learning because his team had to do everything themselves. When asked what would have helped him most when he and his team were trying to get to crtitical mass, he is prompt in his reply – peer advice. If he had known that someone had already tried what he was doing, maybe he would have discarded the plans that were not working quickly, in order to focus on the things that actually were. In this short video from #PNgrowth, Suresh talks about his product, its awesome launch, and its struggle to go from recognised, profitable product to something more, something special, something customers want to use.
This is where #PNgrowth comes in, he says, a platform to bring together India’s early stage software product companies. In collaboration with Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, iSPIRT’s #PNgrowth initiative aims to get the people who want to learn, and the people they need to ask in a room, and give them the perfect space to learn and grow.
Some of the key topics that Suresh would be sharing insights are:
Getting the Basics Right
B2B SaaS Customer Acquisition Model
Role of Product
Freemium vs Free Trial
Positioning (3 types)
Junk In – Junk Out (Top of the funnel)
Inbound vs Out Bound
Re-targeting and Re-marketing
Channels to Ignore
Engagement Tools & Tracking
Fix the product
Founding Team Commitments during early days
Opening the Communication Channel
Region Mapping, Sales Agent, Multiple Shifts, Time Zones, etc
Unified view for Sales Team
Support Driven Selling
Post Sales Customer interviews
Infrastructure and Others
Recurring Billing, Payment Gateway choices
Product Feedback Loop
Continuous Content Marketing Loop
To apply for this PlaybookRT please fill up the online application and we will get back to you. The session is open to the company’s Founding Team, CEOs and/or head of Sales. Applications are due by the 22nd July 2015. The goal is to have at most 12 companies so as to make the interaction effective. If there are other interested attendees, we will arrange subsequent RoundTable. This PlaybookRT is FREE and there are no charges.
Brief profile of Suresh is:
Suresh Sambandam is the Founder and CEO of OrangeScape, that specializes in building technology platform software. OrangeScape offers two platforms – Visual PaaS – a cloud application development platform for Large Enterprises and KiSSFLOW a workflow-as-a-Service platform for SMBs. OrangeScape has marque enterprise customers include the likes of Unilever, Citibank, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and its KiSSFLOW is #1 in the workflow / SaaS BPM space with 9000+ customers across 108 countries with a truly global footprint.
Pune… the city of life. It’s a place you can easily fall in love with. Fun loving yet grounded folks who talk sense. Light drizzle, clean roads and a young city full of aspiring students who want to change the world. So when Product Nation announced it Playtable in Pune I latched on to the opportunity. Avinash and his iSPIRT team have been doing some wonderful work over the years in leading the way for SaaS startups. The topic itself was close to my heart ” Nuts and bolts of selling to US market for B2B SaaS companies” and when you have the ‘Google of B2B SaaS marketing’ Suresh Sambandam conducting it, you don’t want to let it go. Google coz if you have a query he has the right answer. Over the years Suresh has done some real hardwork in taking Kissflow to 10000+ customers and he has fixed all those nuances of SaaS selling by getting into depth of it.
So on a pleasant Saturday morning , 30th May to be precise, we a bunch of 15 entrepreneurs and few aspiring ones gathered to know how to make it BIG by earning in dollars. United States is by far the biggest market for SaaS companies and if you get it right there you will make it BIG one day.
We started with basic introductions and brief product details. It’s really heartening to see how enterprising the current generation is. We guys today are proud to be entrepreneurs or employees of startups. It shows you can take risks, think outside the box and are not satisfied with status quo. I can surely see that the next gen of aspiring entrepreneurs will come from those who work with startups. And why not. If you can make a startup successful, you surely can build one for yourself.
Our workshop focused on B2B SaaS startups. How can you sell your B2B product to US customers sitting out of India? Yes, selling to them without even meeting them.
B2B selling has traditionally been about relationships, face to face meetings, getting to know your customers, value selling and all. But, cloud computing has totally disrupted the market. In fact it has expanded the IT market globally. Today millions of SMB and mid market clients can afford to automate their marketing, sales, operations etc using cloud solutions on SaaS model. And if your product can add value to their business they care a damn as to where you are based. I think we should thank the first generation B2B SaaS Startups like Zoho, Freshdesk, Kissflow, Druva etc who have built the trust and confidence in US customers that world class solutions can be delivered from India. We the 2nd generation now need to ensure that put our best foot forward in terms of quality of product and support when we reach out to them.
The views I’m sharing are a glimpse of insights given by Suresh and interactions during the round table . In between you’ll see important tips from suresh which I’m calling it KiSSTiP 🙂
To understand the process best we looked at it in a logical flow.
The Product first – In SaaS marketing you need to have a good working product. Unlike face to face selling where you can do with ppt selling and bit of account mapping, SaaS needs the working product first. In fact you can use your product as a marketing tool building in features to engage, upsell and cross sell. The important point is how do you position your product amongst three below :
Novel Approach to an existing well understood category
Low cost alternative
The group agreed that a combination of 2 and 3 would be ideal to reach the right set of customers. Being a category creator – someone who creates a new market needs a lot of investment and F2F interaction. But low cost should not be confused with cheap. We need to build solutions with world class quality at minimal cost thereby passing the benefits to the customers. That creates high value product for them.
Next comes the market definition. Suresh shared the segmentation based on number of employees into SOHO(1-10), VSMB(10-50),SMB(50-500),mid market (500-5000) and enterprise (5000+). The sweet spot for SaaS marketing lies in the SMB and mid market space. In terms of who decides on buying your product, in SMB whosoever may be evaluating, the founder or owner will somewhere get involved before the purchase. As we move towards mid market and then enterprise customers, the line of business (LOB) guys have a larger influence apart from IT team who might get involved. Also which geography to target and what languages to support. US and English are big enough to start and one should look at other countries probably in growth phase.
SaaS startups should focus on ONE Country, ONE language first to ensure they remain focused.
Now that you know what your product market fit, how do you reach out to the US clients and get them to buy your product ? The process of customer acquisition was simplified by Suresh in four steps
While the nitty gritty may vary by the type of solution, the role of marketing is to get people to sign up for a trial or free account. Unlike B2C , in B2B the customer has to see the product demo. This is where the product team steps in to ensure the solution and get the customer engaged and use your product during trial period. If the customer is not using your product during trial, he probably won’t buy it. Once the product team ensures a good product experience, the sales team steps in to ensure conversion. Sales team can dived into ‘hunters’ – ones who get the customers and ‘farmers’ ones who nurture the relationship to upsell and cross sell. The customer success team ensures that the customers realise value from your solution. The metrics and handover points for each team needs to be meticulously set and communicated.
The support queries from customers during early days of engagement should come to sales team and not support team as it is an opportunity for you to grow the relationship. But seller should get the issue fixed first and then engage further.
We discussed the marketing process in detail including SEO and Adwords, social media, content marketing, blogging. The importance of google and the traffic it generates is immense so SEO and Adwords are an important piece but the two need different specialised roles. The role of marketing is to get enough leads digitally. These can be through organic search- Google, Yahoo, Bing etc). While google still dominates the majority of the US market, those targeting elderly citizens might want to reach out via Bing as they still have a lot of elderly crowd there. SEO requires identifying your keywords as per the target geography and product. It needs meticulous tracking of keyword ranking every 2 weeks. Fact is if you are not on FIRST page of google, its not worth.
Till you get enough of organic crowd in, AdWords can fill in. Adwords is all about number crunching and reaching to an optimum cost per lead. Ashish and his Sokrati team shared their insights on managing adwords as that’s their area of specialisation and promised to conduct a detailed session later some time. Suresh shared insights into digital ROI metrics for AdWords. On an average you can get a signup for $10-$25 for search ads and $2-$10 for display ads. However the conversion seems better for search ads as these are real customers searching for specific requirements whereas in display ads are shown on sites which might have these customers as one of their target audience.
We discussed social media marketing – LinkedIn and Twitter and content marketing (blogging, case study creation etc) in detail. The group shared its experiences on getting leads from Quora and forum discussions. The internet now days is getting really crowded so you need to figure out which group is giving you the returns rather than spraying your messages across all over. Content marketing can be a differentiator in this crowded digital world- the quality not the quantity matters there. Suresh shared how his team publish two customer experience blogs every week where they share live feedbacks from actual customers. Retargeting helps you bring the same vistors back to your site and improve the ROI on your existing marketing spends. While content creation is important, content publishing is as much an important task. We discussed tools like Outbrain and Taboola for content distribution. Talking of tools, the groups discussed a host of SaaS tools that can be used by startups to more efficient like Pipedrive, ChargeBee, Intercom, Mixpanel, Google Analytics etc.
Suresh shared his 10-80-10 principle for creating quality content. If total expected time for writing a piece of content is 100, spend 10 on briefing the content writer in the beginning, let them write for next 80- spend 10 on final review. The fact is the best content writers wont be able to understand your solution and market to the extent you do. So a 10 % briefing time can save them a lot effort and set them in the right direction.
We discussed the important aspect of pricing which also brought us to the discussion on Freemium Vs Free Trial. Majority of the group went in favour of Free trial over Freemium as they felt that the customers didn’t see value in fremium. While there is no thumb rule for this, solutions where SaaS products can get self signup can still look at Freemium to upgrade them later. On pricing, different team members shared their views on their basis of pricing. Some did it bottoms up on cost plus model where as others looked at the competitive pricing.
Pricing is an important aspect so ensure you keep taking feedback from your early customers and incorporate that feedback.
Finally, the most important aspect of execution is measuring the key metrics. As your team grows you need to push a dashboard of metrics which alert you on any activites that are going offtrack or to scale up things. Conversion Ratio, Conversion through Paid vs Organic, Organic Traffic by Source, Signup Trend Paid vs Organic vs Source,Paid traffic by Source, CPS for Paid and Overall, A-ARPA trend 12 months, etc are some of the important metrics.
All in all, I must say, it was one the most informative and engaging workshops I ever attended. It was a crash of 2 years of learning compiled into a 8 hour workshop. What if we were to pay for this workshop ? How much would we be willing to pay? Marketing strategy workshop $300, Leadership training $1000
Product Nation RT on Selling SaaS product to US – Priceless !
Kudos to Avinash for oranising, Sokrati team for being a great host and Suresh for conducting the round table. At 49 not out, half century is round the corner for Product Nation round tables and I’m sure in for a long innings. As long as they bat with us, we are sure to win in the end !
Recently, India has seen many success stories of product startups in the SaaS category, which are building products for the global market. Here is what we did –
Suresh Sambandam, Founder and CEO of OrangeScape (the company behind KissFlow), in collaboration with the iSPIRT team, conducted the 49th#PlayBookRT on building SaaS products for the world. Sokrati (Pune) played a gracious host for this event, and saw around 14 product entrepreneurs from different cities.
Avinash Raghava introduced Suresh and the RT was kicked off with a round of introduction from all the participants.
Suresh laid out the purpose of the round table and defined the scope. This PlayBookRT was for the B2B SaaS startups with a product that has a global audience. These companies have achieved a product-market fit with a MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) in the range of $1K to $5K. These companies are looking to move the needle to $50K-$100K MRR. Essentially, early startups that are looking to grow at least 110x.
B2B customers need to be segmented with certain metrics. For KissFlow, the number of employees was a key metric to identify customer segments. The segments were –
SOHO (<10 employees),
Very Small Business (10-50),
Mid-Market (500-5000) and
Depending on your product, you may segment the customers by their revenues.
It is unlikely that your product will work across all segments as it is. The sweet spot for KissFlow is the SMB and Mid Market, as the value proposition is stronger for these customers. You have to pick your own sweet spot.
There was some discussion on why Enterprise segment is different from the others. There were multiple views on that. It was discussed that the marketing and sales processes are different for large customers. Their buying process is different too. They want “vendors” to come to them. Often, the product itself doesn’t work. Example – for KissFlow, Enterprise’s would need integration with their existing systems like SAP or Oracle. The SMB or Mid-Market customers do not have such requirements. For enterprises, you may have to package your product as a custom solution. Instead of the entire company, you may find it easier to get your product rolled out in a specific department.
The Mid-Market segment opens a big opportunity in US market. Typically, in the US, $5,000 is the approval limit in this segment. Most of the SaaS products fit in this limit. That makes decision making easier and fast. These companies are willing to spend money on products that help them compete with big guys.
The discussion then moved on to the core elements of a successful SaaS business.
The role of the product in SaaS is very high. For enterprise products, the product comes at the end of the sales cycle. For SaaS products, the opposite is true. So, your product has to solve a problem.
While product is at the core of your business, marketing comes before the product. Your marketing communication needs to match the product promise.
Before accelerating your marketing, you need to decide on the product positioning. Your product is either a category creator, or provides a novel approach to an existing and well-understood category, or low cost alternative. Often, most of the SaaS businesses will fall in the second or third category. It’s also possible that product positioning could be mix of last two categories. The category creator products are hardest to pull off. The low-cost alternative need not be a low-priced alternative. Being in India, we can enjoy the advantage of low cost structures. Some companies do pass on the cost benefits to the customer via low price. While offering a low price option, it is important to ensure that you are not perceived as a low-quality option.
The next topic of discussion was offering a Freemium product vs Free trial. Often, for SaaS, this choice does not depend on the cost. The general consensus seemed to emerge that a free trial is the best option. Even if it doesn’t cost you much to offer part of the product for free, the effort to convert that free user to being a ‘paid’ user is high. Plus, when the user is ready to pay for the product, the user still may go out to look for other options. There are “free” products that make you pay with say a link to their website. This is not really free as your customers are paying with a different currency.
Like all discussions, this one too took a detour and we discussed about sales for the global customer base. To serve the US market, you need to have a night shift. For KissFlow, the newly signed up customer receives two emails – one automated and one personal email. The automated email is to schedule a demo of the product. KISSFlow has reduced the friction to sign up dramatically. You sign up with just an email. They have a team to find out information about that person based on the email address. All the new leads get assigned to the sales team automatically based on timezones and available bandwidth with the sales team. Each sales person handles about 200 leads per month with an annual contract value of less than $5,000.
The next topic of discuss was pricing. People visit the homepage and then the ‘pricing’ page. They are qualifying themselves by looking at pricing. There are various ways to price your product. For the well-established category, competition will be a huge influencer in your pricing. You can also price your product based on value offered, though, you need to clearly demonstrate the value of the product. For KissFlow, the anchor was Google Apps. At the start, they focused on a niche of companies who have adopted Google Apps, which costs $5 per user per month. So, they picked the price of $3 per month.
For SaaS companies, raising the prices is usually not a problem. You can grandfather your existing customers who will continue to enjoy the same price, but the newer customers will pay a higher price. The real problem is lowering the prices, as it upsets existing customers. If your customers are not complaining about the prices, you are leaving money on the table and you should raise the price.
You should make users pay every month irrespective of their usage. You shouldn’t have to sell your product every month to the customers. That’s why your customers need to keep paying every month. Setting the expectations also ensures that customers are not thinking about pricing often.
Marketing was the next topic of discussion. Your website is a core marketing asset. You should avoid outsourcing the site development and have an in-house team for updating and maintaining the website.
Your home page should have a crisp headline with some value proposition. Jargon should be avoided. Make it easy for customers to understand and take a decision about your product. You should create a “customers” page for social proof. Highlight your major customers on this page. If you are running a blog, it will have visitors who are not aware about your product. You should create ads for your own product and run them on your blog.
You can use SEO and AdWords to bring the organic and paid traffic. SEO needs a lot of time to ramp up. So, start early with a dedicated team, even if it is a one-person team. AdWords needs a specialist to handle the paid traffic. Here, you can define your key metrics like costs per sign up. AdWords can deliver a sign up at $10-$25 for search and $2-$10 for display ads. These are only sign ups and not conversions. You need to measure conversion to paid subscription. That would be your true cost of customer acquisition.
You need to have a responsive site as mobile traffic is growing. Even though most business users will sign up for your product with a desktop, they might discover your product on the mobile (maybe while reading a blog). They need to have a good experience when they are on mobile.
You can run re-marketing ads. This will provide you multiple opportunities to reach out to the user. Test out different messaging in the re-targeting. You can do smarter remarketing by finding the users’ point of interaction. For paid ads, start with only the US and then keep adding more countries depending on the quality of the traffic. There was a brief discussion on content marketing, focused on the disciplined approach to creating valuable content that will start delivering results over a period of time.
This was an excellent round table that covered most of the aspects of building SaaS products for the global market.
Contributed by Shashikant Kore, Co-founder of Karooya.