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Your startup will need solid sales management expertise to scale. Very rarely do founders have prior experience of scaling and managing a large sales operation. You will probably need to hire a VP of sales to scale -- the question is, when?  Any mistake is very expensive. Too late and you miss out on the all the growth, with resultant opportunities to raise capital (at a higher valuation), and you might even concede market lead to a faster competitor. Hire too early, and not only do you have an expensive resource draining precious early-stage capital, but we have seen numerous stories of rock star sales professionals failing in a startup (more on this later), especially when hired too early. Stakes are high. So how do you decide the right time to bring in a VP of Sales?

 


Well, to start, definitely not in the beginning. When your product or service is in a nascent stage, founders need to sell. The best definition of sales I have come across is: “transference of feeling from the salesperson to the prospect”. To transfer the right feeling (confidence in your product), you need to first have the feeling. Who except the founders has the feeling in the beginning?  By definition, nobody except the founders can sell in the beginning. Only you understand the intricacies of the product enough to adapt your pitch on the fly. Only you can make a promise which the product might not deliver today, but can with a quick adaptation.

 

Most importantly, in the beginning, before you have a credible, validated product with referenceable clients, you have to sell yourself, your own credibility -- which no hired professional can do for you. If as a founder you are unable or unwilling to sell -- you are not ready to be an entrepreneur.

 

So have to sell the first few customers. Reach out to your personal network and start from there. Tell a story. Create a pitch and keep refining it (often on the fly as you are listening to your customer), till it works reliably and repeatably. When you find a story that works repeatedly across customers, develop it to a level where others in your team can deliver it and add reference points (such as customer validation, and ideally, customer success stories) that create credibility.  This becomes your sales proposition.

 

Until you create a sales proposition, you can’t think of hiring a VP of sales. The sales proposition ought to have been proven at least at a small scale. This proven pitch should have already gotten you your first few customers. You need to have figured out how you handle the objections. Understand (to some degree) what profile of customer will buy your product. Know why and how you’re winning or losing.

 

Once you do all that, a VP of sales knows better than you how to scale up. He or she will create and professionalize the sales management and process. They will refine the pitch, build a pipeline, organization and process, and scale up a rate you were unlikely to achieve on your own. But he or she cannot get you your first few customers. That’s something only you can do.

 

When it comes to hiring, don’t just fall for the shiny resume. In my experience, the best indicator of success for a VP of sales (or for any hire, for that matter), is their attitude towards the company and the job. They have to respect the company and the opportunity, and look forward to the challenge. Remember that sales is a transference of feeling. If the candidate does not respect the company, they cannot sell effectively and will fail, and even their prior contacts will not convert. Always hire character and attitude, superior attitude will always trump superior skills.

 

While you are waiting for the right person, you can start with hiring a sales manager and sales support team. A founder should manage sales till a good candidate can be found. Develop the team, take help from advisors on sales management, and continue to scale. This reduces your risk of hiring the wrong person at a huge salary and regretting it later.

 

Lastly, seek help. Seek referrals, a referred candidate is far more likely to succeed than a headhunted candidate. If this is your first time hiring someone for an executive position, get help from advisors and mentors. Salesmen are supposed to be good at selling and that includes selling themselves. So, be wary. Take your time. Do not compromise on character and attitude and you will generally build a strong company.

As NASSCOM 10,000 start-ups presents the second edition of India Fintech Day (#FintechIn5), the themes for this year's event clearly highlight that Fintech is no more a new phenomenon. In fact, we are no longer just talking about digital payments, which was every coffee table's discussion last year, particularly after demonetization. We are now in the new era of technological disruption, which even goes beyond SMAC (social, mobile, analytics, cloud) to spread out to artificial intelligence, blockchain, regtech, alternate lending and a lot more. Do attend the event, but if you are not able to, download this 4-pager document on Fintech Landscape as covered in NASSCOM Strategic Review FY 2017, to get the key highlights. 

 

(P.S - this is part of a paid report, and we are giving out for free, don't miss it)

 

Also, don't forget to follow #FintechIn5 on twitter for event updates and insights!

There are a lot of innovation driven early stage entrepreneurs who want to leverage technology to solve a problem and build a revenue generating business out of it. However, building a business is no child’s play - there’s the need of deploying a lot of resources of various sorts.

 

Step in incubators and accelerators !

 

Every entrepreneur will find themselves grappling with many different programs available today.

 

Why choose this, and why not choose that ?

 

Here's an attempt to break it down.

Let’s try to understand the basic differences between a startup incubator & a startup accelerator

startup accelerator is a fast track program lasting 4-6 months, at the maximum and is for the startups who are looking to find a platform that enables rapid growth in terms of customer acquisition, product refinement to target a greater audience, or expansion, whether global or pan India.

Some of the Accelerator programs in India are Jaarvis AcceleratorGHV AcceleratorGSF Accelerator10000 Startups etc

 

startup incubator, on the other hand, has programs longer than 4-6 months, closer to the range of 8-12 months, attempting to handhold the startups which are still working on the ideal product, apart from market validation at scale

Some of the Incubation programs in India are thinQbateESpark ViridianAxilor Ventures, Bennett Hatchery etc

Instead of focussing on the “Why” let’s first focus on the “How” i.e How to enroll for the startup incubators?

Most startup incubators & accelerators have their application form on the Website itself, linked to an “Apply / Apply Now” button on the homepage. Some of them host their applications on other portals like F6SGustLetsVenture etc and one has to do a free registration on the portal first and then fill up the forms, as requested.

 

The application form asks the questions about

  • the Problem,
  • the unique solution,
  • ‘why would people pay for the solution’ aka the Value Proposition,
  • ‘how will you make money’ aka the Revenue Model,
  • the Technology Stack,
  • the Team,
  • Validation from the target group (people who will use the product/service the startup is working upon) / pilots if it’s a B2B model / paid or free users if it’s a B2C model, and
  • Entry Barrier i.e ‘what prevents any other team of entrepreneurs from doing the same thing as you are’ etc.

Some of them also ask the applicants to list out what they think are the three to five business metrics/KPIs” which are crucial to the startup’s success for the next few months. It is also advised to keep handy a brief presentation having less than 8-10 slides mentioning all the details along with the financials (which can be a simple spreadsheet depicting the revenue, expenses, projections, fund utilization etc.)

 

How most startup incubators/accelerators select the startups

  • Team: The team should ideally be cross-functional, having the desired execution capabilities, a clear understanding of their business model and the flexibility to pivot. Well balanced teams consist of different Co-Founders leading different aspects of the business say Product, Technology, Business Development, Sales, Operations & Finance etc with each Co-Founder sometimes also handling multiple domains.
  • Sector: Each incubator/accelerator has some specific sectors in which they think they can add value, though some of them are sector agnostic as well. It is very important for the entrepreneurs to understand this fact as it helps them determine the long term capability of the startup enabler as well.
  • Stage: We define the stage of a startup either by the maturity of its product, whether it is at ideation, developmental or deployment phase or in terms of revenue as Pre-Revenue, Early Revenue, Steady Revenue & Growth. Most startup incubators accept the startups who are at the Prototype / Minimum Viable Product (MVP) stage and rather give the Ideation stage startups a miss.

Post submitting the application form, the incubator team/selection committee evaluates it, followed by a round of discussions with the entrepreneurs to understand things to a greater depth. If convinced, the incubator then presents a TermSheet to the entrepreneurs, which is essentially a document containing Terms & Conditions with respect to the Investment & Incubation Services. Please note that the Term sheet is a non-binding agreement, and a comprehensive Due Diligence process follows which ensures that all the Legal, Financial & Company Secretarial compliances, as well as certain business hygiene practices, before signing of the legal definitive agreements. Once the definitive agreements are through, the startup is legally onboarded as an incubatee.

Now let’s focus on the ‘Why’ or rather the ‘What’ i.e What the need of a startup incubator/accelerator is, also enabling the startups to judge the right fit between themselves and the incubator/accelerator

  • Mentoring: The most important aspect of business incubation is the one-to-one access to the domain experts, Mentors, Technologists, Growth Hackers, Industry Veterans, who not only help the entrepreneurs on various aspects including but not limited to product, marketing, team building, fundraising etc but also enable them to understand 'what not to do’ to be a successful venture.
  • Capital: There are certain incubators that invest upon the onboarding of the startups, there are some that invest at the graduation while there are some who don’t make any direct capital investments at all and rather believe that the incubation support is necessary enough to enable the entrepreneurs to raise funds at the right time from the right set of investors.
  • In-house Team: Equipped with an in house team, a good incubator, works closely with the incubatees as an extended arm to their own team mostly on a shared allocation basis. It is always prudent to get introduced to this Team because they are the people with whom a startup will be spending their most time mostly and they are the people who will enable the startup to succeed
  • Business Opportunities: The network effect which an incubator introduces enables potential business opportunities for the startups. The startups should do an initial research concerning the quality of the network that the incubator brings in.
  • Infrastructure: Access to office space is the most common & tangible aspect of all Incubation / Acceleration programs, the suitability of the space to the entrepreneurial team in terms of the design, aesthetics, functionality, ambience and flexibility in working hours as well as the reachability for potential clients and investors is an important for the startups to consider.
  • Service Partners: Collaboration is Key. Most good incubators have an affiliation with various Service Providers to meet the needs of the incubatees in the leanest manner. Some of these service partners may include Legal, Financial, HR, Cloud deployment, Travel, Product Development tools, CRM, F&B, Events & Logistics etc. Typical examples being IBM GEPAWSTracxnLetsVentureF6SFlock etc.

In conclusion, most of the Startup Incubators and Accelerators are doing their best to encourage early stage startups by providing them the resources to succeed. However, it is also imperative for the startups to realize that which startup enabler is the best fit for them as it is for the startup enablers to understand that not every startup is a “me too”.

Fundraising is one of the hardest jobs a founder will have. An average VC invests in one out of a thousand proposals they receive. You could spend months of time and effort and still have a very low probability of success.

 

I always advise founders to not chase capital unless it is essential to their success. In the early stages, capital is rarely the critical success factor. Time spent on customers and product is usually far more productive. Revenues is a much cheaper and faster source of capital, and more importantly, provides real validation and momentum. You should defer fundraising till you are ready to scale a validated proposition. Very few business models are critically dependent upon capital. Unless your model is (one of the rare ones) critically dependent on capital, your time is much better spent building the venture.

 

For fundraising success, credibility is more important than the idea. An investor will not hand over a large sum of money for just the promise of a possible return in the future, unless they trust you. They have to trust your integrity, competence and commitment. Demonstrate these qualities before and during the cycle.

 

Whenever you are ready to raise funds, avoid these common mistakes founders make in fundraising and pitching:

 

  1. Underestimating time & effort
    The cycle of fundraising demands your time and a lot of effort. It is is very tempting to start if you get a mail from a fund or see a event which promises to connect you to investors. Realize that to take the process to completion will require months of near full-time effort. Many times, the founders underestimate this and get stuck in the whole process. The venture suffers as a result. You should plan upfront for the time fundraising will require, and it’s better for one of the founders to be dedicated to fundraising and out of daily operations for the cycle.

  2. Drawing out the fundraising cycle
    A long drawn fundraising cycle is very taxing on the entrepreneur and the venture. Further, a long fundraising cycle creates a negative impression in the market, as investors assume that the company is unable to raise funding and is therefore flawed. Whenever to choose to engage with investors, run a well-planned and finite campaign. Identify all potential investors you want to reach, find a reference, connect and follow-up, and give yourself a defined timeline to close the process (either way), else you risk getting stuck in perpetual fundraising. Get advice on the process.

  3. Cold-calling investors
    Usually, founders are not linked with investors which is why they resort to cold-calling. This is a bad idea because you’re very unlikely to get anywhere this way. Investors rarely look at a proposal that has not come via a trusted reference. Fundraising is all about credibility. You have to build your credibility and network to reach out to them.

  4. Overcomplicating your pitch
    If you have not captured the investor’s interest within the first few minutes, they are likely to lose interest. What sells is a succinct story. An investor makes up their mind in the first few minutes of your pitch. The rest is just validation. So, keep it simple and compelling.

  5. Not being able to tell your story
    If you follow the templates and try to put in everything that you might think should be there in the pitch, you will probably end up losing the investors. They invest in future potential, a big idea, which can only be communicated by a story. Be a storyteller. Be engaging.

  6. No bottom-up sales projection
    A bottom-up sales projection puts your targets into context. This is something that every investor looks forward to, in a pitch. Saying things like “if we capture even 1% of this market” is the sign of an amateur.

  7. No customer validation
    If you’re launching a product or a service, you must have a clear understanding of the people who would want to use it. Customer validation verifies that the problem your product or service plans to solve actually exists and customers are willing to pay for it. The most successful entrepreneurs have talked to a lot of customers and tried to understand their unmet needs.

  8. Chasing competitors and awards
    Your startup is attempting to solve a problem for customers. . You will win or lose on the opinion of the customer, not on the opinion of competition judges. No serious investors gives much credence to most startup awards. Competitions are fun, you can even learn by participating occasionally, but remember that any time spent on chasing an award is spent away from your customer and product. Choose wisely..

  9. Obsessing over valuation
    The three most important factors in fundraising are: timing, quality of the investor, and the terms (other than valuation). Valuation is a distinct fourth. These other three factors will make much more of a difference to your journey and outcome than valuation. While valuation has to be reasonable, don’t obsess over valuation. In fact, raising money at too high a valuation is often harmful later as it increases your chances of a down round..

  10. Asking the investor to commit First
    Several entrepreneurs believe they have a wonderful plan, a team ready to quit their jobs and start, everything ready, just waiting for an investor to commit funds for them to start. They will be waiting a long time. An investor will back a committed team, ideally with momentum on their side. . Only when you start, get customer validation and start building a business would an investor be interested in you.

Digital Marketing Strategy For Global Product Startups

 

A Product, no matter how good, will succeed without great marketing. Great product companies like Druva, Freshdesk and Zoho have also been great at marketing. This post will leverage my experience of growing a $1,000,000 business with $1 investment and highlight global online marketing strategies that work effectively within the budget constraints of early stage startups. We will focus on the following stages of the buying cycle:

 

  • Awareness (Not Relevant)
  • Consideration (Focus)
  • Decision (Focus)

 

At consideration stage customer is looking for the right solution and company, 72% of the customers start their search in Google. There are 2 ways to be visible on google;  SEO and Adwords. Its inbound way of generating leads which is your 1st option, and 2nd is hunting where you can select your prospects which is not the case in latter. So let's start looking at the 2 options in detail below:

 

Inbound Lead Generation

 

The first step is searching for the right keywords, you can start with Google Keyword Planner. We can use tools like Spyfu and Semrush to look for competitors keywords and Google Trends tool which gives you keywords which are rising or are in top searches, with regions where you should target specifically.

 

Take the final keyword list and design the campaign using one keyword per Adgroup strategy with 3 variations modified broad, phrase and exact type. Using this strategy you will see 3X savings from the day 1 of your campaign. Also keep landing pages relevant for each adgroup to ensure higher quality score which ensures minimum spent. You can use Unbounce to design your landing pages, also use tracking URL’s and hidden fields in the form to capture important information like keywords etc. relevant for your business. Before launching the campaign add negative keywords to respective Adgroups and campaigns to ensure maximum ROI.  Keep optimising the campaigns by regularly adding negative keywords and making single keyword adgroups from search terms that have shown conversions. For large campaigns use tools like wordstream to automate the process.

 

Simultaneously design the remarketing campaigns for Google Display and Facebook-Youtube Video for brand recall as it affects overall conversions and its 22% cheaper that the average cost per click. Now after 3-6 months of concrete data from adwords you will exactly know which keywords are giving you business conversions. You can use those keywords to optimize your landing pages to rank in the search engines organically.

 

Outbound Lead Generation  

 

Firstly we need to nail down our customer personas, which means defining the demographics of our target audience specifically:

 

  • Industry
  • Geography

  • Company Headcount
  • Function
  • Seniority Level

 

We’ll need to 2 tools to start the process of making database Linkedin Sales Navigator & any email finder tool that works for you. Once the database is made, please verify the emails through tools like leadwash or use this method from Hubspot. Design the 4 set of emails including an intro mail describing your services with USP’s, and then 3 follow up emails.

 

You will need 2 more tools namely Gmail Account for Business or Personal & Gmass for drip emails. Connect your Gmail account with Gmass and upload your mails with unsubscribe option. Schedule it over the period of 20 days following 3-12-5 rule or whatever works. As per our experience you should see 1-3% response rate depending on your quality of database and industry.

 

With these 2 techniques of lead generation Inbound Marketing and Hunting you will be able to grow your business with minimum investment. If you aggressively implement these techniques you will definitely see staggering success in your business. Please feel free to get in touch for any queries and share your experience with us Broadcast2World.

As a startup needing growth capital, it's important to know that all capital is not created equal. The kind of capital you're raising often dictates what you use it for.

During my 10+ years in venture capital and angel investing (at Canaan Partners from 2005, and as a founding member of the Indian Angel Network), I've spoken to scores of founders looking to raise equity to fund their businesses. Especially in the B2B space, with long payment cycles, this would often be to help manage working capital as the company scales.

 

 

But it's important to realize - venture equity is often the most expensive source of capital there is. With the kinds of IRRs that venture funds target, your investments of equity capital need to generate very high returns, and deploying equity in working capital creates a drag on those returns. Further, very few startups actually land up raising venture capital to scale their businesses.

 

Debt, on the other hand, is far more suited to low-risk investment areas like working capital.

Traditionally, it is not an easy task to raise debts for startups. As amateur companies without extensive track records, with asset-light businesses that do not allow for collateralized loans, it’s difficult to convince traditional banks / NBFCs to lend to you.

But that’s changing now.

 

Thankfully, there's now an option - pure-play working capital financing.

One such example is Indifi, an SMB lending platform, that is offering working capital financing to B2B startups.

 

So how do we get around the low vintage and time to profitability?

We’ve structured our solution to finance you against your receivables from regular / reputed corporate buyers. This is how we mitigate the risks that traditional financiers see - by taking into account your buyers' profiles, and the strength of your relationships with them.

 

Whether you’re a bootstrapped startup looking to grow steadily, or a seed / Series A stage startup with strong growth potential - if you have strong B2B customer relationships, you can now access debt financing with ease.


How does it work?                    

Much simpler than raising equity capital! All you have to do is share your history of business with regular reputed B2B customers you are interested to avail working capital against. We use that to assign a credit line, which can then be drawn in the name of future invoices to those customers. We advance you a large part of money due on those invoices, and then recover the money when the customer pays you. Voila!

 

 

So save your equity for the right investments – to power 10x growth initiatives. And use debt instead, for incremental opportunities and working capital.

 

Article contributed by:

Alok Mittal, CEO, Indifi

Write to invoicefin@indifi.comto learn more about how we can help.

 

1956 witnessed the coining of the term AI, by American computer scientist John McCarthy. This umbrella term today encompasses things right from robotic process automation to actual robotics. Of late, it has gained importance due to big data and the increase in size, speed and data that businesses collect. AI can perform various tasks more efficiently, from identifying patterns in data to speech recognition to problem-solving, thus, helping businesses gain more insight.


Apala Lahiri Chavan, President, Human Factors International –MIDAAAS shared insights on Artificial Intelligence, how AI has become the current talking point of technology. “Artificial Intelligence at the very minimum can help in the ability to work with big data because AI works best with as much data as possible that could be provided to the AI systems. This enables the system to come up with intelligent and meaningful insights, thus, adding value with its suggestions or solutions. Unlike the human brain that has its limits, AI looks out for maximum possibilities by connecting millions of dots, so to speak,” she says.


Having become an essential part of technology today, the core challenge of AI includes programming computers for traits such as knowledge, reasoning, problem-solving, learning, perception, planning and the ability to manipulate and move objects. Machines can act and react like humans only when they have been fed with a good amount of information.

 

 

Some of the questions that we put forth to Apala Lahiri on AI and here’s what she had to say:

Can AI help user experience in products?

Data forms the core for AI systems, so if it has a lot of ofdata about users of a particular product, then it can arrive at a conclusion regarding patterns of usage, where is the customer population, where would the user stick on regarding product usage and where the challenges are. Moreover, arriving at answers to these questions is quite challenging if conventional analysis systems were to be used. On the other hand, with an AI system, businesses would know how a particular product is being used, know about customers coming in, how the product features  are being used in a short span of time, and hence, be able to act quickly upon an experience that seems to be broken whilst investigating deeper. These are the areas where AI can help user experience in products. Of course, the ethics of collecting and acting on user data is a larger question that is being debated upon even as we speak!

Can AI also provide predictive insights of products?


If there are two different ideas, an AI system can look into the given data about the target segment of customers. Given the type of customers, the AI would look into the kind of preferences, work, and behaviour with all its crunched data.

Technology is surpassing all means and moving towards development of such powerful systems. When it comes to AI, a lot is being witnessed in terms of its development. It is not just the development of intelligence that is being worked upon but how almost the entire human brain could be mimicked. Even developers cannot predict how an AI system would work and at times are surprised at how the system moves forward.

 

 

The role of AI in the India:

AI is a luxury, and the possibilities it has in solving problems in India is immense. Even though India seems to have progressed, it still has an enormous illiteracy rate. 50% of rural women who work as domestic help or at construction sites are illiterate, and herein begins marginalisation of such a large section of our population. They are not self-sufficient, they cannot run micro enterprises, nor can they grow in their jobs. Hence, AI systems can play a huge role if it can impart basic life skills or functional literacy i.e. how to read, write and learn a bit of English, understand rights or understand financial issues. This would help them navigate through life with dignity and prosperity.


Can AI help bring those at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid higher?


Yes, AI can undoubtedly do that. Especially in most Asian and African countries, there exists hierarchies in society, be it in income or education, irrespective of the rural-urban divide. Those at the bottom of that hierarchy tend to feel intimidated and judged by those above. Therefore, AI systems could help people at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid to interact and learn in a much easier way as it can be non-judgemental and completely neutral. This is hugely liberating, especially in countries like India where the illiteracy and poverty rate is quite high.


Verticals and domains AI can be put to use:


AI can play a huge role in health care where diagnosis could be made fast and cheap, without having any actual doctors; which is quite a significant application in countries like India. AI could also be handy in crop guidance or crop management. Billions of data points of farmland images can be looked upon, and within few second an analysis could be made as to whether the area is suitable for crop planting or not, how much water is needed, what kind of crops would be right and then the information can be used to advise the farmer. Hence, AI is quite impactful for applications of this nature.

AI provides scalability for solving such large problems; otherwise, human beings would have to be deployed all the time.

 

 

Any product that is leveraging AI to eradicate problems from the society?

Much work is going on and more so in academic research institutions and of course, initiatives like IBM’s Watson. There are lots of programs where AI systems are being analysed, and experiments are being run in India and other African and Asian countries to scale the problem of literacy. Instead of human teachers, pure artificial intelligence is being put to use. Large corporates are trying to apply AI in different areas such as agriculture and medicine.


The challenge is that unless we develop the capability locally to develop and deploy AI systems, it is going to be expensive. Therefore, non-profit organisations of computer scientists, AI developers, roboticist, are taking up the initiative to train local people and build their skills. In India, these kinds of programs have not started yet, but it would be helpful even if readymade systems were used in agriculture, medicine, healthcare, education.


However, since AI system is a virtual entity with which people have to interact, the question arises as to whether people are comfortable in a culture like this and is it beneficial.


“We should all collaborate to see with our different skills and perspective how can we make them contextual. Moreover, if we all collaborate, then maybe instead of repeating the same thing, we can contribute to what each other is doing, and the result is going to be so much more impactful,”
says Apala.


The positives and negatives of AI:


The ability to come up with intelligent and meaningful insights quickly based on a lot of data and information; this is a value add as it also enables us to quickly determines possible suggestions or solutions for a certain problem. The AI system can look at ways to find a solution by looking at a maximum number of possibilities, unlike the human brain that is limited. This is a very positive thing as it is hugely beneficially in so many ways. The negatives, on the other hand, include human biases that developers or designers could carry when developing an artificial intelligence system. AI is nothing but algorithms, and if the algorithms are biased, then this is where the fear of mishaps come from.


Is there a way to curb these biases?


There needs to be an agreement across entities, whether corporate, governments or other institutions across the world to always follow some basic principles. Some fundamental human values and ethical guidelines need to be embedded in the AI systems as a non-negotiable, no matter what the problem is and how it is crunching the data and coming up with solutions.

 

About Apala

Apala Lahiri Chavan is President of Human Factors International (Middle East, Asia, Africa and Australia). Her passion is to envision how user experience can be inclusive, democratic and a change agent. She is also fascinated by changes in user experience across time and space. Apala is an award-winning designer (International Audi Design Award 1996). She co-edited the book Innovative Solutions: What Designers Need to Know for Today’s Emerging Markets and her TEDx talk is Three Laws of User Experience. Follow her @FuturistApala

It is estimated that founders can end up spending more than 50% of their time raising funds for their venture. While the amount of time spent on this activity may be debatable and vary based on multiple factors including the credibility / track-record of the founder, investment climate, industry sector, etc., what is undisputed is the fact that fund raising is a major focus area AND a huge drain on founders’ time. Unfortunately, it is also one activity that cannot be delegated to anyone lse.

 

In my case, at every stage of all my ventures’ growth and development, I’ve had to spend huge amounts of time focussing on fund raising.

 

So, given how critical this activity is, founders will be well advised to ask themselves the following questions,BEFORE they plunge headlong into raising funds,

 

 

  1. “Do I really need external funding”?  Very often, people can build businesses without

Institutional capital (venture capital, or, even early-stage angel funding). A business can be built, out of cash flows of the business, customer advances, entrepreneur’s own savings, loans from friends and family or other softer resources. There are a lot of businesses such as professional services firms that break even quickly, which can be boot strapped without external funding.

 

Founders, therefore, need to ask themselves what funds are really required till they reach profitability and whether there is an absolute imperative to seek outside funding or if the amount is something that they can mobilise internally

 

  1. “Is it Risk capital or just Working capital that I need”? Typically, working capital refers to capital you need to deploy for a period of time,which is likely to be returned to the business; E.g., for buying an inventory of goods that you will end up selling at a profit for which money will flow back into the business. For this, you need to invest an initial amount that can be recovered later. Working capital could also go towards salaries etc., that you need to pay initially but can be recovered from the services provided by your employees. On the other hand, risk capital is different and would go towards R&Dand product development costs, branding, marketing, etc. In this case, the results of undertaking these activities are unknown, and things may or may not work out; nevertheless, you need these elements in order to build out the business but the entire capital invested is “at risk.”

 

Potential funders for both the types of capital listed above are different. Working capital typically comes from banks, NBFCs(non-banking financial institutions) or sources that don’t expect safety of the principal to be compromised and seek some collaterals or guarantee in return for lending the funds. They are mostly willing to fund over the short-term and expect moderate returns.

 

Risk capital,however, is for “risk investors” who would expect a stake or piece of your company. They understand the high risk, expect multi-bagger returns or compensation for the risk. These include angel investors, VC (venture capital) firms, etc.

 

  1. ”When should I raise to raise Venture Capital or equity funding”?This can be particularly tricky. When you raise external funding too early in the game, you may end up with a low valuation, and you dilute your stake disproportionately. However, choosing to raise funds too late and you don’t have enough fuel (cash) to experiment and try out various things, take risks and play aggressively for a win.

 

In my opinion, if you are clear about needing VC funding then the earlier, the better. Dilution (of his / her stake) never affected any entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are passionate people who want to see their dreams and passion change into reality. For this, they need all the help they can get given the low odds of success (Less than 5 % of startups actually last / succeed). No company ever shuts down because the founder diluted too much; rather, companies have to shutter because the last Rs10,000 to pay the bills is no longer there.

 

But, some experts think differently. They advocate that you should develop the business to a certain stage so that you are clear about how much money is required, for what purpose this will be used, and can show some market traction before raising funds - at which point the valuation will be better, and dilution of stake will be lower. As I said before, the timing issue is a tricky one to resolve.

 

 

 

  1. What will be the source of funds?” (Angels / HNIs, Angel networks, Seed stage funds, Venture Capitalists, PE firms)

 

This should be determined by a few factors such as:

  • The quantum of the fund raise: Each class of investor has their sweet spot on how much they typically invest and should be approached accordingly based on the size of funds one is seeking.
  • Stage of the business: The clarity of business model, proof of concept, market validation is important and will decide whom to approach. VCs usually need a more mature set-up compared to a seed stage fund, which in turn would like to come in when there is some proof as compared to an angel or HNI who bets on an idea. Some exceptions to the rule may apply. For instance, some VCs have a start-up accelerator funds or pools. PE firms usually provide what is known as “growth-capital”. They will come in after the proof of concept has been validated and soundly established, when there is clear profitability or a path to profitability exists. PE firms provide give funds for growth, and not for proving the business model.

 

  1. How much funding should I raise?

 

Raising higher than normal funding may encourage profligate spending and excesses as we have seen during the boom days. However, having access to money rarely killed a company, but the lack of it (money) will certainly do. But how much to raise is determined by the amount that is needed to execute your plan and getting to the next milestone. The next milestone could be:reaching profitability, reaching enough scale to be able to attract the next round of funding for a much larger amount, developing the product fully so that you can deploy it in ‘live’ customer environments, or developing the business to a level where you will start generating revenues to sustain your monthly burn, etc.

 

It is important to raise as much funding as you can based on a) your need b) market appetite and b) your capability to attract investors. It’s better to have more rather than less funding.

 

K Ganesh, Serial Entrepreneur and Partner – GrowthStory.in 

As a product manager, it is very important to sift through the chaff to find the set of actionable metrics that help you make decisions, tter understand your users and market dynamics. Master Class for Product Managers by Vivek Raghavan, Group Product Manager for TurboTax at Intuit.

 

Key Takeaways from the session:

 

 

~50 techies and business executives attended the session by Mukund Venkatesh (GM India Operations, Global Analytics) and Vikash Kumar (Director, Risk / Analytics, Global Analytics). The Session discussed the challenges, experiences and specific examples associated with predicting risk in a digital consumer lending operation. Key takeaways:

 

When a company launches a product and someone purchases it, a relationship is formed between them. Due to this engagement that happens regularly, people, more precisely known as ‘customers’ are connected to the company. Undoubtedly the businesses solely depend on these customers as they become a very important part for the company’s existence. Any company’s success depends on their relationship duration with their customers; the longer the better and much desirable is a lifetime relation. This interpersonal relation between the customer and the business is the most important marketing strategy for a company. Through various channels, the company makes the engagement with the customers last long which also helps them be aware about the customer and their overall experience with products.


Why is Customer Engagement Needed?


Companies these days have increased their stability and growth through their customers. Through them businesses satisfy the engagement of the customer services that it provides. Engaging with customers through various methods is crucial yet difficult to understand. With priorities and wants that change every day, it is necessary for the company to stay in touch with customers. From the first step of the customer buying the product till the end result, the emphasis on the customer has to be well maintained.


Why it is important for a company to have a great customer engagement policy:

  • Loyalty
  • Excellent service
  • Trust
  • Strong customer relationship
  • Set behavioural triggers
  • Better communication
  • Customer specific needs
  • Future model planning
  • Enhanced customer experience


How does one understand what customers need?


Any business has to keep their primary focus on customer satisfaction andalso know and understand their needs. No business can survive long if it fails to engage its customers directly with the company. Customer needs is quite a point of focus as Apala Lahiri Chavan states, anything that is deisigned is based on some hypothesis about human behaviour. A company cannot have any other alternative apart from researching deeply about its customers. Doing a thorough research, knowing and understanding customer needs is quite crucial for a business’s survival.

An understanding of customers is rigorously data-driven for which the companies should be prepared much in advance. Also, valuable feedback and informationis what the company would require to maintain customer engagement and loyalty for years to come.

 


Given that there are so many channels for customer engagement, how does one decide which channels to use?


Customers these days prefer to stay in direct contact with the company; this makes it difficult for the company to choose channels and methods to keep the engagement ongoing for long. From acquiring feedback on the latest purchase and informing the customers about the new best products, the company has to first focuson understanding their customers. It’s as though where customers go companies follow. Apala says that in the customer ecosystem, the omni-channel strategy is the only way to maintain customerrelationship. Through this strategy, the company will be able to provide consistent experience across channels and will be able to race the strengths of each channel since each channel is relevant for solving a specific set of customer needs.

 


Certain points companies need to keep in mind while deciding the multi or omni-channel strategy:

  • To know from where the maximum number of customers are being engaged.
  • Understanding customer mental model, usage and preferences.
  • Tracking customer traffic on the various media channels.
  • Depending on the brand, product or service the business deals with.
  • Creatingan effective marketing strategy.


Is it necessary to model the future of customer experience and engagement?


With the internal and external changes that businesses exeprince every day, business models also shift and morph frequently. Technology brings much change to how customers interact with digital channels.Therefore, organisations should be prepared for changes that will help them keep pace with customer expectations and even perhaps be the pioneers to spot a trend and act on it early.


How can customer engagements strategies help in creating an easy buying experience?


There are various customer engagement strategies depending on the desired customer sector and the company itself. Since customers are no longer just using brick and mortar stores, online platforms have more advantage than offline stores. To create and attract more customers towards the product and service, the design of it should be the main focus of the company. Apala is of the opinion that using cognitive and behavioural psychology to deeply understand customer needs can be very effective. By using persuasion engineering, a company can design and deliver the most appropriate and delightful customer experience.

 


What should be an entrepreneur’s priority - to engage customers or create better product experience?


Behind every successful company is their customer whoenables the business to thrive. Customers know that there are many options outside but it is the company that keeps the customer engaged with its brand.Customer engagement is necessary for the company’s stability in the long run. It’s the company’s priority to create a product and service to engage customers with better product experience. It is a blend of art and science mentions Apala. Therefore, considering engagement as a priority, the company should focus on designing, engaging and thereby providing better experience with every product.


NASSCOM got in touch with Apala Lahiri Chavan, President of Human Factors International (Middle East, Asia and Australia) to have a discussion on “effective customer engagement strategies” which “is the need of the day to build a sustainable business model.” An expert in the customer engagement sector who has a passion to study the changes of users across time, Apala shared her profound knowledge on the subject with NASSCOM.

Go-to-Market (GTM) strategy is the plan of an organization, utilizing all of their resources - internal and external, to deliver their unique value proposition to customers and achieve competitive advantage. With the end goal to enhance the overall customer experience.

 

Some of the questions that comes to our minds are:

  • How to derive a good GTM strategy for your products?
  • How have the successful marketers been able to achieve what is desired for growth of business?
  • What are prevailing practices that has helped new age entrepreneurs in achieving their business goals?
  • Where can we collaboratively pick up some of the best practitioners’ minds to drive our custom GTM strategies?
  • Ways to deal with challenges faced in implementing a strategies in place.

 

To address these, NASSCOM Product Council concluded a successful session with industry folks: Keynote by Mr Jagdish Mitra, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at TechMahindra followed by a panel discussion with three prominent industry leaders - Mr Mitra, Piyush Madan, Director and VP at Vinculum Solutions and Rajeev Saraf, CEP Lepton Software moderated by Sumeet Kapoor, Founder & CEO, EmployWise.

 

 

 

 

The views captured included not only GTM strategies but pricing best practices, brand building, hiring a good team and a lot more. The leaders shared their insights and experiences on what worked and did not work with them as they went about building their products/enterprises.

 

Mr Mitra in his keynote stressed that key to derive an effective and efficient GTM strategy for any business lies in answering five (5) VERY TOUGH but THE MOST IMPORTANT questions. Any founder/ entrepreneur/ marketer must find honest responses to these question with as much precision as possible backed by their learnings and experiences in their life and from the encounters with their prospective customers, in-depth market studies and secondary sources of professional research insights:

 

Some of the questions for which you must have an answer before you market your product are:

  1. Who is my customer and why s/he will buy my product?
  2. What value I am provider to my customer and how will it benefit her/him?
  3. Where can I find my right customer and what is the best way to reach her/him?
  4. Where do I want to be and how can I reach there?
  5. How can I keep my customer engaged and leverage that association to explore newer opportunities?

 

The follow up panel discussion brought out live-in learning from experiences of the leaders in their entrepreneurial journey.  Here are some of the key takeaways

  1. How to approach the GTM strategy and a GTM Plan: A marketer needs to take decisions around the markets to address (international v/s domestic, regions etc.), Market segments (industry verticals and size horizontals). These are the key elements of strategies that must have been deliberated or driven by where opportunities comes up. Research, anecdotal evidence, past personal experiences and mentor advice plays critical roles in making right decisions. There could be mistakes made, identify them at right time, most importantly accept and admit those. Do changed course and pivot strategy. Even if you have change the whole business model.
  2. Recognizing the Market Eco-system: Establishing credibility and getting the first few customers is the blood to the heart of your business to stay in market and grow. This repeats itself every time you enter a new markets (geography), verticals and horizontals. Right partnerships, association with influencers and the power of digital market in generating buzz becomes very important to achieve this.
  3. Evolving your GTM as you Growth: Founders are first salesman of the product. They have to go to market, meet prospects and close first few deals themselves. As business grow, they would require to build a full sales and marketing engine. What are the challenges? How do you know it’s time to transit from founders selling themselves to creating independent Marketing and Sales engine? ‘Independent’ is key word. Founders should chose a team that can sustain a successful GTM strategy, improvise it as and when time demands and uphold the changes that may be disrupting.
  4. Sustaining growth and holding fort: We will discuss how you handle competition especially from start-ups? "Understanding "Cooperation-Competition". Building a brand, engaging. It would be great to talk about getting the timing right on these decisions/actions and the role of funding (both or having/lack of it).

 

The panel was followed by a “un-conference” session wherein the delegates were asked to come up with 4 key areas that they wanted to have a more in-depth discussion on. They were then divided into four teams to discuss on their respective areas and finally present the key highlights of their discussion to the full group.  Here’s a synopsis of their discussions –

 

  1. Hiring – When should a start-up start hiring? 
  • Depends on the stage of the venture
  • First few customers should be engaged by the founders
  • Hire when you are out of capacity
  • Some hire seniors first, others build the teams ground up. Both strategies work.
  • Scope of each new hire/contract should be well defined before engaging

 

  1. Brand building – How to go about it? 
  • Segmentation key to effective brand building
  • Brand to key segments first before going broad
  • Identify effective branding options (events, conferences, meetings, channels, etc) for your segment and don’t try to focus on everything
  • “Bittu Tikki wala” was cited as an example where Bittu sells many food items but is known for his Tikkis; one should find their core focus areas and be known for that

 

  1. Product revamp – Should the GTM strategy change post major product revamps? 
  • Unless change in terms of focus to untapped market segments, larger GTM strategies don’t change due to a product revamp
  • When moving to a new segment, leverage what you have for other segments and build on top of it
  • Handholding existing customers key to successful product revamp
  • Use power users as allies for GTM for new segments

 

  1. Pricing strategy – How to price the product right? 
  • It’s key to identify the core value proposition for your offering
  • Pricing to channel partners should not only compensate for their efforts but also keep them excited for future prospects
  • Pricing to technology partners should account for the relative contribution from each partner
  • Don’t get excited by list price as the partners would sell at discounted rates
  • Typical monthly SaAS fee is Licence Cost/36 – Could be different in specific situations
  • White-labelling product could be a valid business strategy in specific cases; example of Foxconn – key strength in large operations capacity coupled with massive supply chain capabilities

 

*This blog is an outcome of the session on Strategisizing Go-to-Market on 21 Apr at Gurugram organized by NASSCOM Product Council.

FY2017 has not been as fast paced as FY2016 for the ecommerce segment but it has been a year of great resilience, market expansion, tough competition, and heightened interest from global players. Flipkart expanded its reach via acquisition, Snapdeal rebranded and Amazon continued with its efforts on market expansion with new programs and initiatives. Growth in tier II and III cities have been remarkable too. 

 

However, the major trend is brick and mortar stores moving towards digitization. While online players like Nykaa, Voylla, Lenskart and Zivame continued to expand operations through their brick and mortar stores, offline players such as Future Group, Mahindra Retail, Reliance Group, etc. have started showing interest in an online presence. Next few years should further blur the line between online to offline and offline to online platforms. 

 

Another trend has been the  rise of niche ecommerce segments, such as the following: 

Top technology themes that became significant in 2016

 

 

Factors that are driving segment in India are:

 

Stay tuned for more insights on the ecommerce segment in India. Check itsr2017 for blogs and datapoints from our recent report. You can also download the chapter on Ecommerce section here

This post is based on the NASSCOM session on “Platforms and Harnessing their Power as Digital Deepens”, organised in association with Sonata Software at Hotel Leela Palace, Bengaluru on 8 March 2017. 

 

A daily digital interaction is the power that digital tools and digital platforms offer when used properly and every business and company is relevant to it. A successful digital play often demands the existence of a vibrant platform which can bring suppliers and consumers together. Today, a large number of the world’s most valuable companies by market capitalization are platform companies, including Apple, Amazon, Alibaba and Facebook. NASSCOM in association with Sonata Software organized an interesting conversation on 8th March 2017 at Hotel Leela Palace which featured keynote addresses by prominent technologists and a deep-dive panel discussion by industry experts on the theme of ‘Platform and Harnessing its power as digital deepens’. The conversation opened with Srikar Reddy, MD & CEO Sonata Software, setting the context on How businesses and Technology has evolved for platform players, how Tech vendors are going the platform way and  how platform models are impacting tech and IT landscape. The conversation had short keynotes from Anshu Gupta- Paypal, Pratap TP – Qikcilwer, Sonia Parendekar – Urban Ladder, Vishnu Prasad Hegde – SAP Labs and Gurubala- Microsoft. The conversation ended with an interesting discussion on what could be the degree of readiness among enterprises and their ITeS partners if they choose to move on to a more platform based approach. This conversation was led by Ed Nair- Cybermedia with eminent panelist of Ankur Dang of GE Digital, Omprakash Subbarao of Sonata Software and Tilak Doddapaneni of Tesco.

 

Nowadays many businesses depend on a platform model. But would enterprises move into a complete platform model? The discussion mainly focused around -What gives platform-based business models competitive advantages over traditional business models and on how a company’s  technology has aligned to business their needs. The session focused on discussing on flexibility and scale of platform models and the challenges an organization faces while implementing a model of the scale. Platforms leverages the power of network effect there by unleashing the potential of growth in both width and depth.

 

 

Defining Platforms and Outlining Their Potential for Disruption for Business and IT.

Speaker: Srikar Reddy - MD &CEO, Sonata Software

 

 

Technology Vendors Implementing& Supporting Platform-based Software Solution.
Speakers:
Vishnu Prasad Hedge - Head HANA Platform - SAP
Mandar Kulkarni - Director Cloud & Data Centre Programs, Microsoft

 

 

Business and Technology Platform Players.
What gives platform-based business models competitive advantages over traditional business models?
- How is your technology aligned to business needs? How are systems architected, built and operated for flexibility and scale in platforms?
- What challenges (skills/processes/infra) are faced in implementing a model like this in your organization?
Learn the business and technology paradigms underpinning emerging platform based business leaders.

Speakers:
Anshu Gupta - Head Partner Platform, PayPal
Sonia Parandekar-Director, Engineering Urban Ladder
Pratap T.P - Cofounder & Director, Qwikcilver

 

 

Enterprises: - how are Platform Models Impacting the Enterprise business and Tech Landscape.
Speakers:
Ed Nair - Group Editor ICT Business, Cybermedia
Ankur Dang - Sr. Director Software Engineering, GE Digital
Omprakash Subbarao - Head Strategy & Digital, Sonata Software
Tilak Doddapaneni - Head Online Products, Tesco India.

Design thinking has picked up pace and has become the most critical element pertaining to the functioning of any startup. Putting consumer need on a higher pedestal is the key to mastering the art of being a design thinker. You heard it right; I did use the word ‘art’ while talking about a capitalistic entity. The process of creating a product has changed its course to putting human experience at the helm of it. While we talk about being an efficient and innovative designer, the most important quality to imbibe is figuring out what consumers need. Prototyping of products extensively based on meeting the human needs of an end user is design thinking.

 

 

So, how do we master the art of being a designer? And the answer is; we master this art by bringing in psychological and social attributes of our target consumer base. Essentially this is to be executed in two phases:

 

Opportunity Phase

The phase focuses on finding out the areas within the social framework where a new product will bring a change.

Solution Phase

This aspect comes into action when we start zeroing in on the nature of the product which will cater to that need.

 

Here are the following pointers to master the art of designing:

  • Initiation of product development as an end user process rather than an organizational procedure.
  • Gathering human experience.
  • Prototyping ideas based on human needs.
  • Gauging real life scenario functionality of the ideas through prototypes.
  • Synergizing psychological compatibility with consumers.
  • Giving technology it's deserved importance while embracing design as the superlative.
  • Anticipation of human needs when they have not surfaced yet.

 

 

Following flow of steps should conclusively summarize the process of mastering the art of designing; though this is not the end, this is just a preface for more literature to come on this.

 

 

HUMAN NEED  PROTOTYPING  OPERATION

 

 This article has been authored by Blogbeats