On India’s software product ecosystem: In conversation with MR Rangaswami

NASSCOM Product Conclave (NPC) is the flagship event that NASSCOM holds for the Indian software product ecosystem, where members and other stakeholders interact and network over the three days. The annual event in Bangalore this year was organised between October 29th and 31st. In a conversation with MR Rangaswami, co-host of NPC, we discussed the software product ecosystem in India and what he sees the role of NPC to be. MR is the Managing Director of Sand Hill Group in the Silicon Valley, and has actively been championing the cause of the product companies in India through his involvement with NASSCOM.

What do you think the direction is that the software product ecosystem in India is headed?

MR: The Indian software industry is close to the tipping point. It takes time to get entrepreneurs, incubators, angel investors and VCs aligned. And you also need accountants, attorneys and real estate professionals to assist in the growth of the industry. At the last NPC I was gratified to see and meet hundreds of founders who were enthusiastic, passionate and committed to their vision. The ecosystem has arrived and I believe we’re moving in the right direction.

What do you see as the current dynamics of the industry?

MR: The confluence of cloud, mobile, social and big data is providing amazing opportunities for entrepreneurs in the software product space. The cost of developing products has come down dramatically and at the same time the entire global market is yours for the taking. And therein lies the challenge – how does a company get above the noise to attract funding and customers? You have well-funded global competitors, so you have to realize that focus is key and you really need a unique selling proposition to be heard and noticed.

Has the ecosystem evolved?

MR: Ten years ago there were hardly any angels and VCs to provide funding. If you look back to 2004, maybe only a dozen companies got VC funding that year. What a difference a decade makes! Today, good Indian companies are getting sizable funding and great valuations. But we have not had any big exits yet, something I think will happen in the next few years.

What, if any, are the funding issues you’ve come across?

MR: In terms of funding, I believe that the onus is on the entrepreneur to tell a great story. In today’s market we see too many copycat deals and too many solutions looking for problems to solve. Entrepreneurs need to move beyond selling their technical prowess and show their potential business acumen, in order to attract funding.

What do you think prevents Indian products from scaling and becoming global?

MR: Indian software products are no different from any other product anywhere. Entrepreneurs need prior experience or they need board members or a mentor who can help and guide them. Understanding a global enterprise customer is no different than getting to know an Indian one. One has to understand their problems/pain points and sell the business benefits of the solution. If you have a consumer product you have to learn the cultural nuances of each market. So what are the issues with being able to scale? You can hire execs who have done this before. It is often done by trial and error – you will make mistakes but if you have earned the trust of your customers they will be willing to stay with you while you work out the kinks. 

Could you talk about your involvement with NPC? How long have you been involved, in what capacities, and what do you see as the future of NPC and its role in the product ecosystem?

MR: I am a Silicon Valley veteran of 30 years and I have always wanted to give back to my homeland. The question was how. I had been helping NASSCOM bring global CIOs to the annual leadership forum in Mumbai for as few years but my desire was to bring a Silicon Valley like ecosystem to India and NPC seemed like the logical way. I have been volunteering now for 6 years and I bring a group of US based CEOs, VCs and other executives to the event. Many of them have been first time visitors and they have had great experiences during their time at NPC and in India.

I have also met hundreds of Indian entrepreneurs over the course of my involvement and learned a lot as well. I look forward to meeting a lot of the friends I have made along the way and am so happy when they share their successes and their challenges. NPC has evolved and matured, much like many of the entrepreneurs who come to it.

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