8 tech products from India for the World

India has come a long way since its Independence on 15th August, 1947. One industry that has really shined for India is IT/ITES and that really have put India in a global map. The major contribution has come in the form of Software services with names such as Infosys, TCS, Wipro & HCL being the torch bearers. However, be it due to lack of media attention or for the lack of sheer scale, India is still not looked upon as a Product Nation that has created a global consumer or enterprise facing product such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and other such marquee names. It is a bit ironical that all these big giants have a size-able number of Indian minds working for them!

So, on the eve of Independence Day of India, let’s give a shout out to few products which are slowly and steadily helping India to become a Product Nation and inspiring many Indian entrepreneurs to dream big for the World!


Capillary Tech — Any retailer in the world if looking for a customer engagement solution, then Capillary probably will be there in the list of evaluation. That is the brand it has able to create for itself in quick time. It has shown that an industry specific solution can be also scaled up big time!

Crowdfire — It is a social media management app for Instagram and Twitter. Earlier know us ‘just unfollow’, it has really shown that to get users, the focus should be on user need and not on complex problems.

Finacle — Infosys should always be proud of on the success of Finacle. This has helped them take multiple risks in product and platforms space. Finacle has always kept itself up to date owing to change in banking customers’ behavior. The fact that banks are using it in more than 94 countries speaks a lot of its universal applicability. Finacle has shown that despite the parent company being service oriented, products can be created if given independence in execution!

Freshdesk — It started in an industry which already had multiple matured players in the market. But focus on UX, price points and its target customer needs, it has nailed the customer support space. And with its recent hiring, it has shown the importance of right leadership.

Tally — It is almost a synonym for accounting software. And probably the first global product out of India. Again have shown to focus on user problems than anything else.

Web Engage — It has redefined the way how products should engage with customers. Again it operates in a highly competitive space but with its focus on innovative features, has shown how a product should be scaled up.

Wingify — Just look at their main page and you will fell in love with its mission statement. Overlaps with the web engage space to some extent but the mission statement itself separates them out.

Zoho — The perfect example of how to run a product business. In the age where founders chase funding, Zoho has remain bootstrapped and keeps churning out a productivity product for a business problem.

These products inspires us at UX Hack on a daily basis to have the right intent and build for the World!

Guest Post by Nishith Gupta, Founder, UXHack.co

Product Teardown at the “SaaS”y Day at Chennai: Chapter 2 on SaaSx3

The sea breeze was cool. And the SaaSy people went cool as well. Kiruba unleashed some tricks for networking that had the participants engaging in banter, fun and games on the lawn. It also wore off the participants from postprandial somnolence (carb coma) after lunch. The SaaSy bus by then had arrived from Bengaluru, and the participant number swelled to 150 or so.

Using your product as a marketing tool

Pallav Nadhani set the theme for #OneThing discussion involving of Siddharth of Practo, Nemesh of Appointy, and Ankit of AdPushup. He cited examples of MailChimp, which sends annual reports about the number of mails sent through its service, and Rancore, a research organisation that sent reports about Share Point, a Microsoft product for developers. He said that research reports set benchmarks for what works. He spoke of referral marketing and commission paid on referrals to existing customers as strategies to acquire customers without much of a marketing spend. Avlesh of WebEngage said that marketing does not exist in silos away the product. He spoke of incorporating the marketing element inside the product itself.

webengageOne strategy is using the “powered by *product logo*” inside the product to attract more prospects. This was especially used in a novel way. WebEngage chose a customer (of course, after a due diligence) to sell its low-priced product in an unpresent geography. Then the logo was added in the product to attract more customers in the region. The customer acquisition cost is reduced as a result. Nemesh of Appointy (which helps businesses to schedule appointments) has 118,000 customers, all of them acquired at zero cost of marketing. This was done through backlinks (two lines of codes in the product), which would indirectly show up in the Google search when someone searched for a tool for appointments. Ankit spoke of four strategies to customer acquisition without much marketing spend.

The VC speak

Mohan from Norwest said the SaaS multiples have compressed in the United States – it’s five times the revenue now rather than the 10x number that was the norm until sometime ago. He also said that SaaS companies have a history of not making a profit but was confident that it is possible to build a profitable SaaS company in India, which is capital-efficient.

Tarun of Matrix Partners clarified that now the focus has shifted to profitability of SaaS companies rather than growth. He said that growth expectations are tempered according to existing market conditions. Now, liquid capital is not available easily. He agreed that there was a time when growth was the focus when the capital was easily available. Now that capital has shrunk, it’s difficult to have a growth at the cost of profit strategy but the one focused on profits is the best.

Tearing down the product

Frictionless sign-up, a clutter-free website and a shortest path to functional wow! are some of the elements of the SaaS product that is self-serving and sold to remote customers. Three products were at the receiving end … er … learning end from Suresh Sambandam of KissFlow, Bharat, head of UX at Freshdesk, and Shekar Kirani of Accel. While Suresh focused on the sign-up aspects, Bharat gave feedback on design whereas Shekar pinpointed the market focus. Zipboard, Hummingbill and Canvas Flip were the three products that were reviewed on stage.

product etear down

This was easily the most popular segment of the day. There was laughter, there were learnings, there were moments of revelation, and on top of it, the three products wouldn’t have received such an honest feedback elsewhere. Shekar’s advice was worth a weight in gold especially for Zipboard and CanvasFlip. He was laser sharp in identifying the right customer segment and market and the entrepreneurs in the audience were overawed by his clarity.

The audience felt that Product Teardown deserves to be expanded in future editions of SaaSx. Peer feedback is valuable and helps to refine the product to make it efficient to acquire more customers.

The grand finale of the day was Girish making a fantastic presentation on his journey – from $1 million to $5 million. At each stage in the presentation, he called in the team members who worked on identifying a specific problem and explained what worked and what didn’t. What came through was the endeavour that propelled everyone at Freshdesk to work towards a common goal. What made these young guys work like men (and women) possessed is the specialty of the Freshdesk culture. Not much detail can be revealed, as we have to respect the fact that Freshdesk is a funded company. But what Girish said at cocktail was taut: “When I am on stage, if some guy thinks if he can do it, I can also do it, I am happy about it” It is suffice to say those who were at the hall were pumped with inspiration by Girish to think big and if you need that, you have to make it to SaaSx. See you there!

Product Market Fit – Pre Event playbook by @Avlesh @WebEngage & Arvind Kumar, @attunetech

The morning of the SaaSx2 event saw a great pre-event playbook at the Attune Tech’s Office.

Playbook by Avlesh

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?

Sean Ellis answers this beautifully, in his blog.

“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.

Guest Post contributed by Anusha Murthy, ChargeBee

Why WebEngage’s CEO @avlesh wishes #PNgrowth existed a few years ago?

WebEngage is probably the most important product startup from India’s business capital Mumbai – it builds customer engagement tools for SaaS businesses, is very popular and successful, and is used by thousands of businesses worldwide. Avlesh is one of the original hustlers of the Indian ecosystem, and he has built a world class product company in a matter of just four years.

When we talked to Avlesh about #PNgrowth, he was very excited, and stressed the importance of peer to peer learning in an ecosystem like ours which still hasn’t got as much attention as it should have. As he stresses, it would be very helpful for people if they don’t make mistakes in the first place, rather than learn after making a few. #PNgrowth would have helped him and WebEngage if such an initiative exited when they were starting out, he said.

Avlesh says that #PNgrowth can help entrepreneurs share different ideas of growth among them, and in doing so, share stories of how they scaled, the challenges they faced, and how they got to where they are.

#PNgrowth, 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.

You can learn more and apply for the program here.

8 Powerful Things I learned about “Positioning your Startup” at the iSPIRT #PlaybookRT

As a founder or technologist mired in the day-to-day tasks of product building, it’s easy to get drawn into thinking of your product as a collection of features. But do customers also see our products as a stack of features? Or do they see products as a sum of the solutions that they offer? How do we best translate our offerings into a simple and sticky pitch that piques our customers’ curiosity and gets them to purchase/sign-up?

To find a thinking toolkit to these type of questions, I attended the iSPIRT Round Table on Startup Positioning at the WebEngage  office in Mumbai this Saturday along with the founders and product leaders of 14 other unique startups.

2014-12-06 16.57.35Over six intellectually stimulating hours, all of us had our product pitches brutally critiqued by everybody else under the guiding presence of Shankar Maruwada, an ex-P&G marketing wiz and the man who got millions of Indians to sign-up for the Aadhar card.

Here are the Top 8 things I took away from the #PlaybookRT.

  1. First, make sure you are positioning to the right customer—A startup can have multiple “customers”. The customer who will purchase and implement your product may not be the same as the one who will use it. Which one of them do you pitch to? Example—should RippleHire (an employee referral hiring tool that uses gamification) position itself to a company’s Chief Recruitment Officer who will deploy the product in his company, or to the company’s employees who will be the actual end users critical to the product’s actual usage?
  2. Then, know your customers well—What 3-4 specific things do you know about your customer, which you can use to create a pitch? This resonated very well with me. Having interviewed a bunch of Instamojo’s customers in the past few days and quizzed them about the outcomes they were trying to achieve by using Instamojo, I had learned that “non tech-savviness” was a common characteristic among most of them. This insight suggested to me that Instamojo’s positioning should embed the fact that it requires “Zero IT Knowledge”.
  3. Find out the customer benefits that your product delivers and communicate them—Beware of confusing features with customer benefits! Features define the tasks that a product completes. Benefits capture the outcomes that customers achieve as a result of using the features.
  4. If your product provides multiple benefits, prioritise them in decreasing order of importance and then communicate just the one or two most essential ones in your positioning. Communicating too many benefits at the same time could make for a confusing message and take the focus away from your product’s superpowers.
  5. Beware of the “Curse of Knowledge”—As product leaders, we are prone to become so close to the body of knowledge surrounding the product and internalise so many assumptions that we forget what it is like being the user. Positioning the product correctly requires us to place ourselves outside the realm of features, technologies, implementations and industry terminology and speak in the language of customer’s problems and our solutions to them. Example—product leaders of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software may forget that many in their target customer base may not even know what ERP stands for, though the same customers may still be facing the problems that ERP software aims to solve.
  6. Use the power of analogies—Often, a complex concept can be explained simply using the construct “We are the X of Y”. Example—“Foodpanda is the Uber of Food Delivery.” or “Wishberry is the Kickstarter of India”. While such a construct may not always fully convey the idea, it catches you the customer’s attention enough for you to then elaborate further on how your product’s benefits make the analogy valid.
  7. Use the power of stories—A powerful customer story can illustrate your product’s benefits and allow the target of your positioning to visualise herself in the story. Example— Apartmentadda helped an amnesiac senior citizen find his way home. His apartment complex’s security guard pinged all its residents on SMS about the lost gentleman using ApartmentAdda. Among those who received the SMS was the old man’s son, who promptly arranged for his pickup.”
  8. Use numbers for a strong impact—What numbers can you say about your product that will help your prospective customers visualise its impact on their lives? Numbers can be about the number of customers whose lives you have changed, the number of steps (hopefully very few) it takes to get started with your product, the number of transactions your product did in the last X hours, the number of hours of customer work your product will end up saving, etc.

Guest Post by Apoorv Pandit, Sr. Product Manager, Instamojo



Indian Mid-market SaaS companies: Forging a new path to disruption

SaaS has changed the competitive dynamics for Indian enterprise software product firms, putting them on a level playing field with their western counterparts. It has opened up new market segments, notably the small and medium sized enterprise market, whose requirements are different from those of large global 2000 businesses. These customers demand products that are less complex, plug-and-play and come at a lower price tag. This has pushed product companies catering to this segment towards a light-touch, virtually enabled model, dramatically reducing the need for close customer engagement, large field sales force, and elaborate implementation – all of which traditionally put Indian companies at a disadvantage.

Leveraging this wave, a new generation of Indian software product firms such as FreshDesk, FusionCharts, KissFlow, WebEngage, RecruiterBox and others have started to emerge. This has created an important disruptive force in the mid-sized enterprise market. What is also interesting is that, in their pursuit for a light-touch model, these companies have evolved a unique strategy to define the product, market/sell the product and engage with customers. This iSPIRT report discusses the three core tenets of their strategy – Digital immersion, Desk marketing/selling and Cloud-based customer engagement.

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

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

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

Read the full talk here (later)

2014-10-18 15.23.57

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

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

Pallav’s Story

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

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


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

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

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

Marketing and First Impressions

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

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

Some other interesting points that were discussed were:

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

The attendees at PlaybookRTContent Marketing

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

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

Some content ideas / anecdotes shared were:

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

Sales Funnel

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

[From his slides]

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


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

Open Source

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

2014-10-18 15.24.15Conclusion

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

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

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

Notes from the iSPIRT Playbook Roundtable – Nuances of Customer Acquisition #PlaybookRT

Saturday, June 16 was the day, the iSPIRT Playbook Roundtable finally arrived in Mumbai. The topic for the Roundtable was Nuances of Customer Acquisition. 

The Roundtable was hosted at the office of WebEngage by their CEO Avlesh Singh and saw participation from CEOs of around 14 startups from in and around Mumbai.

10488869_10153099109185639_609878204_nThe event went on for around 6 hours but given the variety of issues discussed each issue could be touched upon briefly. Since this was the initial event of this kind in Mumbai, a lot of participants were meeting each other for the first time. Some time therefore had to be spent in understanding each other’s businesses, back-stories and some of the special challenges they faced.

In terms of business stage, this was a very diverse group ranging from companies signing up their initial customers to those on their way to scaling up from a well established customer base. The challenges each one faced and techniques they employed were understandably different.

Some of the hot issues that got debated were effective usage of content marketing and social media for customer acquisition, working with resellers and using out of the box ideas to increase brand awareness.

Content Marketing and Social Media

There seemed to be almost unanimous feedback that there is great potential in these techniques and there will be a lot of experimentation and learning required to figure out what would work best in an Indian scenario and for that particular product category. One size definitely does not fit all, however that should not discourage you from trying. Challenges in creating content for an international audience were also discussed. A participant pointed out that one Indian company was finding it more effective to get content written by its US based team.

Different Mantras For Different Markets

There was a discussion about different customer behaviours in different Indian cities. For one company inviting potential customers to educational seminars worked well in Bangalore but did not have the same results in Mumbai. Also they saw good demand from Kolkata. The CEO of another SaaS based startup reported excellent pick up from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. He mentioned that if he was to begin now, he would probably focus more on those cities than the major Indian metros.

Resellers and Customization Requests

In the B2B market, even when selling SaaS products, face-to-face meetings are still important when selling in India. Resellers can really help here by providing the requisite feet on the street and leveraging their existing client relationships. However it takes a lot of time and effort to find and educate resellers.

Requests from customers for product customization are pretty common in India. This may not always be a good thing for product companies. So companies are learning to tactfully deal with such requests without jeopardizing the deal itself. This is especially important when dealing with requests from customers contacted through resellers. One of the successful tacts in dealing with customisation requests was to quote a high price which either results in good revenue or ends up in dropping the request. Either way, customisation should always be merged into the product roadmap to avoid maintenance nightmares.

10473799_10153099108785639_379159022_nSales Bible

One of the cardinal principles in sales is to create a sales bible. Ensure that every person talks and positions the product the same way and you follow a well thought out strategy in terms of furthering the customer decision making process to your advantage. In the growth phase if this is not done, you end up having inconsistencies in your sales process which significantly reduces the chances of successful acquisition. Some high level aspects of creating your sales bible:

  • Identify what kind of collateral you need
  • Qualifying the customer
  • Sharing price at the right stage
  • Determining timeline and budget
  • Figure out whether they are buying based on need or want
  • Identify early on whether they are long tail prospects and how much human touch should be built into your sales cycle. Spend your time on long tail vs short tail judiciously based on the ticket size.
  • Have aggressive goals and set weekly sales targets for your team
  • Adhere to your sales bible and redraft it from time to time based on learnings so your process becomes better over time.

Ticket Size

Ticket size is extremely important part of customer acquisition. Your product may sell well to a Fortune 1000 company and you may make 1 sale a year. You can also position the same “product” but in a new avatar for a smaller ticket size and sell 100s every year. So traction in customer acquisition can have a major boost or roadblock depending upon how you decide your ideal target customer profile. One such customer decided to keep their ticket price to US$ 3k so as to avoid getting into budgetary approvals by the buyer organisation and got significant traction in spontaneous purchase decisions. Another participant had the reverse problem as they sell analytics tools and did not want to target SMEs who have relatively smaller spends on social media.

Other ideas

It is important to try different marketing ideas as it is difficult to judge what will click. One excellent example of an out of the box idea for brand awareness was www.chotuchaiwala.com. The company behind this saw great results from the campaign.

One of the most important lessons early on is identifying the right customer. In case of one company they started selling to graphic designers but after finding that they were not tech savvy, they shifted focus to ad agencies and found their product market fit. It also makes sense to piggy back on sales channels which are selling a complimentary product and who may be able to sell your product easily to the same target group.

Using APIs to extend your ecosystem is another effective strategy. Done well, you can then latch on to the traction in other products that you can integrate with, and therefore expand your leads inorganically.

10486350_10153099108485639_2090687747_nFree vs Paid

It is generally believed that SaaS companies offering a free plan for their products do not see many free to paid conversions. However some companies reported that the free plan allowed them to increase their brand awareness. For example if the free plan user’s web site featured the product brand, independent visitors to the web site get exposed to the brand and generate leads for selling the paid version. In effect, the free plan rarely works to convert to paid plans but serves well when used as an advertising medium. Some others used an incentive during the free trial period to sign up early and bypass the long evaluation cycle.

To sum it up, this was a very good and important beginning. And everyone is looking forward to more in-depth sessions in the coming months!

Guest Post by Shiraz Ahmed, Founder & CEO – ITAZ Technologies


Sales Wisdom from Million Dollar Product Companies

Why Buy Mine? This is the question I have kept asking myself ever since Pallav and Paras did their “Global Lean Sales” session at the #PNCamp in November. I used to send a long email before and often had to explain a lot to why we charge higher. Now I just use the below message and it does the job. There is nothing different from what we were doing earlier. But our message to our market is now very different and converts them into trusting buyers faster .

“Industry Leaders like Freshdesk ( Customer HelpDesk ), WebEngage ( On-site Customer Engagement), Flipkart’s Payzippy ( Online Payments) have chosen MyPromoVideos for their videos because we were able to consistently deliver “magic” to our client’s brands, not just videos.”

I was so much in love with two of their slides from their presentation that our team here decided to do a beautiful “Info-Graphic” around the same. If you are not satisfied with just 10% growth every month and want to grow exponentially on steroids, you need to build your sales team. This is the infographic to keep by your desktop.

Sales Evolution - Wingify and FusionCharts (1)Thanks to Pallav, Paras and the Product Nation for helping Entrepreneurs succeed.

Guest Post by Gopal Krishnan, MyPromoVideos. Gopal is the Co-Founder of www.MyPromoVideos.com and takes care of Sales and Marketing. He builds trust with his Sales Systems and brings in the customers

for MyPromoVideos

Scale Hacking at #PNCamp: What To Expect on Day 2 (Dec 5)

It’s a conference….it’s a summit….it’s a camp! Being a startup ourselves, we constantly listen to  our customers (who are startups as well!) and try and come up with initiatives that solve their problems and address their pain points.

In that regard, the genesis and the program design of the ProductNation Camp has come from what we’ve been hearing from you – the Indian product startup community. Sandeep has very nicely elucidated the need for a Product Bootcamp for Product entrepreneurs and laid out the broad agenda of the #PNCamp.

#PNCamp is expected to be a very intense, highly curated and focused two-day event with two tracks – Discovery Hacking (on Dec 4) and Scale Hacking (on Dec 5). For a product entrepreneur, getting the first set of customers is mighty important from multiple perspectives – validating the need for the product in the market, generating the first rupees (or dollars!) in revenue  and grow the startup from a buzz in the head to a live organism. While 2013 is expected to end with a Dhoom for Bollywood fans, it’s the same for product entrepreneurs attending #PNCamp. Rather than an ending, we hope it’ll be a new beginning for them to grow their startups to greater heights in the coming year. One of the producers of the product startup community’s Dhoom, Sai unveiled the first look of #PNCamp and gave us a glimpse of what’s in store for attendees of the Discovery Hacking track on Day 1.

It is said that well begun is half done. Let’s stay the tough part, that of beginning well has been taken care of and you are now staring at the tougher part – of growing your startup across multiple dimensions. That is when the startup is in the happy-confused state and there are a lot of questions on your mind.  Sales cures most ills, but how do you sell? This will be the primary thrust of the morning sessions which is mandatory. Here, we will have separate tracks for those who are selling to a global audience and those who are selling domestically. The challenges, hiring, operations, etc are completely different. In the afternoon, we have various exciting sessions on how to understand and communicate with customers and how to pick the right product direction when you have scarce resources to spread amongst several promising ones. Choice in an uncertain world is not easy and while we promise no silver bullets for your problems, we do promise to ignite enough fire in the belly (and in the heads!) for you to go back and navigate your way into scaling your startup. We also have specific “Oh, Oh, How do I do that?” sessions on specific topisc you’ve always wanted to know..

So specifically, what do we have to offer to you on the Scale Hacking Day:

We will have around 75 chosen participants for the Scale Hacking Day divided into cohorts of 15-20 people each. There are mandatory sessions which all participants will attend and then the cohorts will attend the optional sessions depending on the stage of the company and their interest.

The Mandatory Sessions

Great Indian Street Fight or Selling In India”

No wonder most of the selling in India happens through ‘feet on street’. And when you’re out there on the streets, it’s always a fight. Fight against time to sign-up customers, fight against a thousand other things to get the customers’ attention, fight for receiving payments on time and just fight for survival!

You have probably got your first set of customers, but you want to scale now. What are the different ways to do that? Does the Channel Partner route work and what are the pros and cons of taking that approach? How do you reach out to your next set of potential customers in an effective manner? Should you now start considering mainstream media for advertising or scale up your digital marketing efforts? More importantly, how do you plan for scale and put together the right team to execute your plans? How to hire the right people and fire the ones that don’t work out well?

Dhiraj Kacker, who has built Cavera into the leading destination for customized printed merchandize and an e-commerce solutions provider for photographers, will facilitate this session. Dhiraj along with Canvera’s Co-Founder Peeyush was recognized as amongst the top-10 Most Influential People in Photography in India by Asian Photography magazine. So he surely knows what clicks with his customers!

“Dancing with Elephant/Winging in the new flat world or Selling to Global Customers”

If IT services companies made the world flat, Saas product companies have made it even flatter!

While Zoho remains the pioneer, we have seen many SaaS companies FreshDesk, WebEngage, Wingify, Capillary Technologies, ChargeBee among others whose products are proudly Indian and that are selling to customers from across the globe. What does it take to build a global SaaS company out of India? More importantly, what does it take to sell to customers you haven’t met or even spoken to? How do you price your product so that customers from across geographies can buy it? How do you take care of the differences in the customers expectations, time zones, languages, even customs and culture across different regions? After all, every product has a personality. What about providing support to global customers?

Samir Palnitkar (ShopSocially, AirTight Networks) & Girish Mathrubootham (FreshDesk, Zoho) will facilitate this session. You wouldn’t want to miss this session unless you want to see your dollar dreams go sour!

The Optional Sessions

“Customers Buy Features, Not Benefits or How To Think Customer First?”

Here’s a quick question – which is the Indian brand that has grown the fastest in recent times and its identity (hint, hint!) transcends all barriers of language, region and religion? What’s more, it is very much an Indian tech startup! Yes, you guessed it right. It is Aadhar. Meet Shankar Maruwada, who gave the Aadhar its brand name and developed its identity and made it into the household brand it is today. Get to know how to place yourself inside the customers’ heads, try and understand what factors play in their decision-making and how you can approach your customers better by anticipating what’s possibly on their minds.

If you want to get a sense of what’s in store for you, watch this video


Well, you wouldn’t want to be that fish which can’t understand how people live without water!

“How to get featured in TechCrunch, spending $0”

It’s true that media coverage alone isn’t the true barometer of success of a startup. But hey, when has positive media attention, especially from a top global publication like TechCrunch hurt any startup? That is of course, assuming that the product is a good one!

For a lot of product entrepreneurs, getting featured on TechCrunch is a dream and considered as a good means to be visible in front of a lot of people – customers, investors, partners among others. So what does it take to get featured in TechCrunch? Considering they’d be getting hundreds of requests each day, do the writers and editors there even read such emails? Do you need to hire a high-profile PR agency and spend a lot of money?  Or should you just build something meaningful and the coverage will happen by itself?

Valorie Wagoner, Founder of ZipDial, has done that and been there (on TechCrunch). ZipDial is one of the fastest growing global startups emerging from India and Valerie will share her experiences of getting covered in global tech blogs and tell you how your startup can also get featured with no money spent!

“Positioning for Getting Acquired”

So you think acquisition only when you have reached a certain level and scale of business? Well, that’s what a lot of entrepreneurs in Bangalore thought before they attended this round table. How do you know if the time is ripe for your company getting acquired? How do you choose between multiple suitors you may have? What are some of the key things one should keep in mind so that all the stakeholders have a favourable outcome? While an acquisition is a regular business transaction in the US, do we Indians get (needlessly?) emotional about it?

Jay Pullur, Founder and CEO of Pramati Technologies and Sanat Rao, Director, Corporate Business Development (Emerging Markets) at Intel will facilitate this session. iSPIRT has a very active M&A initiative with Jay and Sanat actively leading the M&A Connect. You’d surely not want to miss this opportunity to understand how you can set yourself up for a nice acquisition.

“The Forum or Where You Can Bring Out Your Worst Fears!”

Every CEO needs somewhere to turn for the insight and perspective only trusted peers can provide. When such peers meet together in a setting where there is an atmosphere of confidentiality, respect and trust, it can become a supreme sounding board. We will call such a setting a “Forum”. Such a forum can become most valued asset for the members, because the maxim holds true: it can be lonely at the top, but it doesn’t have to be.

At #PNCamp, we want to experiment, for the first time, with building such a Forum by forming a small group of peers who meet regularly to exchange ideas, thoughts and experiences on the issues that matter most to them. During the first meeting at the PNCamp, this group will be taught effective forum techniques, a set of protocols and a shared language that creates immediate and meaningful connections among members.

We expect that once created, the Forum group will periodically meet either in person or online with the following agenda:

1- Update each other by looking back since the last meeting and looking forward

2- Identify, discuss and park business issues that are typically Important but not Urgent

3- Make presentations around these issues and get non-judgmental feedback from the fellow members

I’ll end this post with a quote from the very inspirational movie, The Shawshank Redemption.

Dear Red, If you’re reading this, you’ve gotten out. And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further. You remember the name of the town, don’t you?

Of course, you remember the name of the town. It’s Pune and we look forward to see you in Pune on Dec 4 and Dec 5 for #PNCamp.

PS. After all this if you haven’t still applied for #PNCamp yet, we’re afraid you may be a little late. Apply Now here!


How educational content and live demos got 7,000 websites using WebEngage in 15 months

I believe one of the best ways to learn marketing and business in general is to learn from other people’s successes. And in a bid to do that, I am going to bring to you interviews of Indian startups that have taken their products to the world. We will talk about how they got the initial buzz going, where they got their first set of customers from, how did they scale that up, what marketing metrics they measured, the mediums they used, the stories they went to press with, the biggest mistakes they made, how they handled criticism and more.

Here I am in conversation with Avlesh Singh, co-founder and CEO of Webklipper, the company behind WebEngage. WebEngage is a powerful customer engagement suite for your website that lets you collect feedback, gather customer insights and ultimately drive sales and conversions. They have gone from nothing to 7,000 customers (both free and paid) in less than 15 months and have done it all with a very lean team. Let’s get started.

What does WebEngage do? How does it help websites engage their visitors better?
Avlesh: WebEngage is an in-site marketing toolkit for online businesses. We help companies improves sales/conversions and help them collect awesome insights from their customers. All in real-time.

Using our Notifications, companies run targeted promotions by offering discounts and value adds to people “most likely” to purchase. Surveys on the other hand help customers collect insights to measure customer satisfaction and do lead generation on their site. And our Feedback product is the world’s simplest customer support tool that gets you up and running with a no-frills support channel on your website in less than a minute.

So who do you pitch your products to in a company? Marketing?
Our primary audience is Marketing and Product Management. They see the most value in this tool.

What’s your pitch to them?
Simple. In this order:

  1. Ever walked into an offline store? How often did the salesmen try to educate you or nudge you into buying something? We let you do something similar; ah, for your online store!
  2. Not sold yet? Okay, your marketers can run in-site campaigns without changing any code on the site; without seeking any developer or IT help. Oh yes. This is true. And these are truly rich messages with dynamic targeting capabilities. Care about user insights on your product or catalog? Care about user feedback?
  3. Not sold yet? Okay, see who uses our products. Also see some live demos on these sites.
  4. Not sold yet? Okay, take a live demo.
  5. Not sold yet? Here’s the website and our blog. Look forward to work with you. Bye.

Let’s back up a bit here. Tell me how you got the initial buzz going for your product? What part of it were you able to convert to real paying customers? Where did you get your first customer (or first set of customers) from?
We were in private beta for 5 months. Forget paying customers, we had a tough time finding the bigger guys to use our product. We focused a lot on education through content on our website and blog, answered direct question on Quora etc. Our live demo feature went viral and a lot of developers came out of curiosity to the site to find out how that thing worked. Here’s a sample of how curious developers got :-)

From free to paid, it was a three month journey. We went live in Oct 2011 and it took as good 2 months to get our first set of paying customers. We reached out to our beta users announcing the paid plans and features that would come along with it. Some tried out but never paid; a few took the big leap of faith and became our first set of paid customers – Art.com, Park-n-Fly, MobileDevelopmentIntelligence, Cleartrip, Justeat, Makemytrip etc to name a few.

75% of our customer base (free and paid) is outside India. That is how it was to begin with, too. With most Indian customers, early on, we had to go for F2F demos and explain the product in-depth for them to take the plunge.

Did the marketing start as you were developing the product or only after it?
It almost went hand-in-hand. So far, we have only done content marketing. And we have been done a fair job. Our plan is to do 100x better with content.

Did you have a marketing plan in place? Did you have numbers, like say, I would be able to get 100 signups if I do this and this and this? How much of that worked out?
No, we never had that. And it’s difficult for our category because customers are not “looking” for a push messaging tool on Google. We are trying to “create” a market and content is the only predictable way to go about it. This is definitely not true for customer support tools as they can direct their marketing spends on Google because too many people look for such tools everyday.

Also I see you have a Powered by WebEngage link in your surveys and feedback? Is that like a major marketing channel for you? What kind of traffic and conversions does it bring in?
It is the biggest source of inbound leads for us. Over 40% of our sign-ups happen from those logos in the three products. It is also a blessing in disguise because over a period of time we have started commanding huge premium from our enterprise customers who would otherwise want to get rid of those logos on their sites. We end up losing a lot of visibility but then get paid well for it too.

What other marketing channels have you used? What has been the most effective for you? How do you go about figuring which marketing channel will work for you?
We tried display ads. We tried paid app directory listings. We tried outsourced sales and marketing arms in the US. None of these worked very well from customer acquisition viewpoint. Content continues to rule our marketing plans. We are spending a lot of time and money now on building great quality content – videos, how-tos, galleries, use-cases etc. In the next month or two, you’ll see a lot of stuff on this front. We plan to do display advertising too, but with some corrections by incorporating learnings from our previous experiences.

As WebEngage grew, how have you scaled up your marketing?
In our case, we focused a lot on support. We used to (and still do) take calls at 2 in the night, pretty much everyday. We have managed to do this with great success. Happy customers are the best marketers. We got a lot of referrals from them. Most of our marketing efforts are around content creation. And so far, we have managed to do it in-house. We haven’t spent too many ad dollars.

How do you measure the success of your marketing? Compare them to historical data, industry benchmarks or…? And by marketing I don’t just mean paid campaigns, even a new website, new onboarding emails or anything on those lines.
We measure it based on conversions. Be it paid marketing or content, we have always believed in creating a workflow to measure and track conversions. Free tier sign-ups through paid marketing don’t work for us. That’s the reason we don’t spend ad-dollars. Content gives us a low cost channel of customer acquisition which we can further up-sell/cross-sell to. That’s one area we are trying to improve upon.

For our website, blog, video etc, we measure the success by amount of time spent on each of these. Customers on an average spend over 7 minutes on the site. It used to be less than a minute 6 months ago. In any SaaS business, customers want to read a lot and be sure that they want to pay before choosing to do so. Content helps in decision-making.

How do you keep a visitor engaged right from the first time he hits your website to him becoming a customer? How does your tool itself help with this?
We eat our own dog food. Spend a minute on our pricing page and you’ll come to know :-) . Take a look here – http://blog.webengage.com/2012/11/24/how-we-eat-our-own-dog-food-at-webengage/
Plus our live demo feature keeps users busy and educates them very well on what we do; it generates a lot of leads for us too.

What are the top 2-3 insights you got using WebEngage that you wouldn’t have got otherwise?
Here, in this order:

  1. The amount of time and effort needed to sell a $100/month product is the same as $1000/month product. I’d rather channelize my efforts into finding high ticket size deals than smaller ones; I used to think otherwise until an year ago.
  2. There is no better marketing tool than a bunch of happy customers. Some of our biggest enterprise deals have been through warm intros by such customers. How did we keep them happy? Beautiful product and proactive support; I undervalued the importance of latter until an year ago.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you have made on the marketing side of things?
We “outsourced” our sales/marketing to a sales-on-demand team in the US. I won’t name them. We spent crazy money in “retainer” fees and had 0 conversions by the end of pilot. Their so called “smart team” had no clue of what we were building, even towards the end of the pilot.

What marketing numbers do you measure? How often?
Money spent. Number of conversions – free and paid. Every month.

Let’s talk pricing. How did you get to the $15-$99/month model you have? Is that the price you started off with as well?
Mostly by talking to customers on how much are they willing to pay. Yes, this is our original pricing. But, we have made a lot of tweaks to the features being offered in each of these plans.

What tools and systems do you use?
Our own for tool for in-site marketing. And Adwords. Nothing major apart from that.

Your new website is a massive improvement over the old one. How has it increased your conversions? What objectives did you have in mind going into the new website?
Oh yes. We had only one objective, have people spend more time on the site and “see” what we do. Everywhere you go to, there are links to see our products in action. That was the only way to educate people on what we do. Take a look at this page – webengage.com/how-it-works

What advice do you have for startups planning to do an overhaul of their website?
Only one – decide what you want from it. Sign-ups, Conversions, Branding, Education … You can’t design a site to do all of the above. That’s the area we generally go wrong. Designing it with one objective always helps.

What kind of community do you have around your products?
None, yet. We want to build one.

What about partnerships and integrations?
We have focused a lot on integrations. Take a look here – webengage.com/integrate-with/your-website. This has worked out very well, because all of a sudden, customers start discovering you on new platforms. They would have otherwise not even known about us. We continue to focus on this. Second, we are building robust API’s with a larger goal of involving developers in building some intriguing applications on top of WebEngage. First cut here – docs.webengage.com

We have just started exploring partnership opportunities. Too early to comment.

What about your personal brand? How have you used that to increase the visibility of your products?
Yes, I am a classified spammer in the virtual and real world who leaves no stone unturned when it comes to promoting my product. Too bad, I know.

What do you think is an ideal marketing team for a tech startup?
I keep saying this – initial selling and marketing has to be done in-house and preferably by the founders themselves. If you, as a founder, cannot sell your product, no sales guy can. It is that simple. But its tough to understand as well, because I see most founders in tech companies get uncomfortable upon hearing this.

With 6700+ customers, you have been very successful in taking your products to the world. What advice do you have for other Indian startups who are looking to take their products to the world at large?
See, how fast things are changing. That number is now 7100+, both free and paid :-)

Here, in this order:

  1. Build a good product. Great brands were not built by advertising or marketing.
  2. Make sure there’s zero human touch in the product. Customers outside India don’t like getting stuck in a workflow that needs human intervention.
  3. Selling and marketing is a D-I-Y job until you reach significant scale.
  4. Network with right people. Don’t shy away from seeking help or intros.
  5. Have a good website. There’s no alternative.

Educational content and live demos definitely go a long way with marketing a product that customers are not looking for. Thanks Avlesh for the great insights.

Dear readers, if you have any follow up questions for Avlesh, please leave them in the comments below. He’s a busy man but I will get him to answer them :)

This article was originally published on Sanket Nadhani’s blog Poke and Bite