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2014

Everyone starts their research with the World Wide Web these days. It is the first stop to find out more about an organization or person, service or product. Thus it is important for small businesses to create an online presence to promote themselves, and then use their site and social media pages to build site traffic. There are a number of ways to go about this. The most important element is SEO (Search Engine Optimization), getting traffic from free and organic listings on search engines like Google and Yahoo. SEO plays an important role in generating leads, as most of the clicks in search results go to the top 3 websites. So getting your company's name and address up in the rankings is vital. To achieve this, one should focus on long tail keywords while doing the keyword research, as it is difficult to compete with big players for generic keywords.

Create accounts in Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. These will give you insights on your website traffic and also the way search engines look at your website, allowing you to tailor your site to go higher in the SEO rankings. Companies should also monitor their analytics regularly. Take frequent looks at the traffic sources, keywords and rankings. Monitoring regularly provide you great insights and gives you opportunity to tweak your strategy. Take the time to build organic links. Link building is a long process and requires patience to see results. But it is best to take the time for this; do not go for any black hat (unethical) techniques for SEO as search engines take a dim view of websites that engage in such practices.

Think Smart
Digital marketing does not have to cost a fortune. The point of leveraging the web for your business is to make the most of the free properties of the internet. You don't have to throw money into search engine marketing for your company. Rather, have a clear objective and know what you want to get out of the exercise. If you know the platform you want to use for your advertising, you can create the perfect content and make use of the right tools. There are many tools which make things easy for you, make use of them. Take advantage of online tools to increase your success. Some great tools that can help you and make digital marketing easier include Hoot Suite, Google Keyword Tool and XML Sitemap generator. Google+ has come a long way, and having a customized URL for your company page legitimizes it and makes it easier to find. It also allows those following your company page to share it, boosting your site traffic.

It is also essential to understand the other players out there, just like with any marketing venture. Know you competitors; analyze their strengths and weaknesses, track their online campaigns and strategies. This is a great way to generate ideas and also to evaluate your own ideas and performance. Similarly, establish and maintain a connect with customers. Interact with them online and take the time to respond to their queries and complaints - in the online sphere, it is very important to show responsiveness, and not ignore or bury negative feedback from customers.

Customers are increasingly turning to mobile phones for information, so make sure that your website is mobile optimized, so they get the best possible experience even when they access your site on their phones or tablet.

Be Social
There are myriad choices in the social media sphere today. Should you jump on the wand wagon and sign up for everything? A company blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram...the choices are plentiful. Time and effort has to be spent on cultivating each page, and it can quickly get overwhelming. The best thing is to choose your channel depending on your target segment and planned digital marketing outcomes. Pick what will suit your needs and then make sure to post regularly.

Content always lies at the center of online marketing. Focus on great content; build relevant and original content which is of interest to your audience and which people will share. Get your employees to participate in your social media updates. Employees are the first brand ambassadors and often the most enthusiastic. 

Thus, engaging in digital marketing practices like leveraging social media and web tools to optimize and increase traffic to your site is not an expensive or very time consuming exercise. As long as you have a plan and focus, you can utilize the tools available to enhance your company's online presence.

It has been a big year for uTrade Solutions, with the future looking just as bright. The company has recently been chosen for a coveted global mentoring programme, an honour that followed within months of being chosen as one of India's start-ups to watch. A Chandigarh based software firm that operates on a B2B model, uTrade provides open source trading technologies to capital markets firms.

The company's go-to-market model encompasses an open source trading platform as well as a customizable enterprise product. "Open source has its strengths once the user community is built, until then, most institutional financial firms prefer to have a proprietary licensed product that has been customized to suit their particular needs", points out company founder Kunal Nandwani. uTrade's solutions include  multi-asset trading platforms, algo systems, risk management systems, pre and post trade analytics and data analytics products.

Accelerating Traction
Started in 2011, the company is the brainchild of Kunal Nandwani, Founder and CEO, who wanted to bring "trading technologies to the masses". He envisioned that trading technology and the use of software would see strong growth in coming years, and while the competition was fierce, especially in the international scenario, his idea was to build in India, a developing market, and his home country, first. Nandwani founded the firm along with Mayank Mathur, Harwinder Sidhu and Ashish Grover. The four founders bring a mix of software knowledge paired with investment banking and software expertise, garnered while working at various well known firms.

Going where no Indian firm has gone before
Nandwani, who worked in  London for five years before he came back to India to start uTrade, has recently found himself back in the European capital where he is currently representing uTrade at the FinTech Innovation Lab, the 12 week financial technology accelerator program run collaboratively by Accenture and London's top financial institutions. Of the seven start-ups chosen to participate in this year's Lab, uTrade is the only company from India.

During the programme, participants are mentored by senior industry leaders from the financial services space, venture capitalists and angel investors. Participants are given the opportunity to develop and present their offerings to Tier1 Investment banks, and connect with potential investors and customers from top institutions. This honour follows on the heels of uTrade's inclusion in NASSCOM's Emerge 50 list 2013, which showcases the hottest start-ups in the Indian software market.

uTrade is also one of the companies being mentored under the Orbit Shift Program by NASSCOM, an initiative that gives entrepreneurs the tools to make sweeping changes to take their organization to the next level, through focused workshops and goal setting sessions. "Being recognized by and involved in NASSCOM's initiatives has helped put uTrade on the map in the Indian landscape," says Nandwani.

Getting on the Map
uTrade's client base is India-centric, with 75% of its business coming from brokers and financial institutions within the country. The company has over 35 employees and more than 15 clients in India, including the BSE and international clients in London including Marex Spectron (global commodities broker) and GMEX (fixed income exchange). The company has also picked up a few clients in Singapore, Dubai and London, and has plans for a London office later this year.

The bottom-line is that uTrade has grown very quickly in a span of just a few years, with revenue growth achieved at over 400% in this year. When the company began, their competition included big names and numbers; companies that were in the one hundred million to half a billion market cap. Today, a few of those companies no longer exist, whereas uTrade has succeeded and stayed on, gaining a reputation and rewards along the way. The secret behind the company's success? "A combination of hard work and luck," says Nandwani.

He also points to adaptability as a key differentiator. "We came into the market with certain notions, but markets move faster than you can imagine and we had to think to the future while keeping short term goals in mind; we've adapted a lot, and are good at it. But it is important not just to adapt for short term gains but instead keeping a long term strategy in mind. After all, long term is comprised of various short terms together" It is this combination of adaptability, diversification and focus that Nandwani believes are key to uTrade's winning formula.

Choosing to bootstrap a business can mean walking down a lonely road - you are investing your own money, with little or no outside funding, where growth and precious capital are both dependent on customer revenues. Some see this as a brave step, others perceive it as risky - but when getting initial investment for a business is as difficult as it is in India, bootstrapping may be your only ticket into entrepreneurship.

Some companies however have created a virtue out of necessity - for them, a bootstrapped strategy has delivered the goods, perhaps even better than if they were generously funded at start-up stage.

While bootstrapping doesn't work for every company, it is a proven strategy for companies that either can't or don't want to look for VC or angel funding.

Bootstrapping all the way

Some of these companies that started out with a bootstrapped strategy continue to be funded out of internal accruals a decade or more down the line. Stellar examples include RateGain which provides hospitality and travel technology solutions to global players and Zoho Corporation, best known for its Zoho Suite. A common theme among bootstrappers is the determination to stay independent and not take up investment or acquisition offers. For some entrepreneurs, it is about wanting to make the decisions and not be answerable to an outside financier, while others might have products that aren't "exciting" or with potential revenue streams large enough to attract VC interest.

Sridhar Vembu, Zoho's co-founder, for instance, did not find merit in seeking out a VC partner. He points out that venture capitalists are focused solely on the bottom-line and taking the investee company public compared to the differently incentivized entrepreneur who puts his own money in the business and is focused on growth and development. "Raising venture capital is only the beginning of the game. You still have to build the business that makes money," says Vembu, who has since done just that, and even turned down a funding term sheet in 2000, by which time the same VCs who would not fund Zoho in the 1990s, were asking to do just that. Says Bhanu Chopra (CEO, RateGain), "the VC and institutional capital market in India was not mature as it is today and the idea of getting VC funding really was not an option for me a decade ago." This market constraint eventually became the cornerstone of RateGain's growth strategy.

India - an ideal market

India is seen as a great market for an entrepreneur with a bootstrapping-based plan. In fact, both Chopra and Vembu quit lucrative jobs abroad to come back to India and begin their ventures. Why is India so suitable for bootstrapping? Sramana Mitra, founder of 1M/1M, a global virtual accelerator, author of ‘Bootstrapping: Weapon of Mass Reconstruction' and a strong proponent of bootstrapping, says that most software/internet startups "can and need to be bootstrapped." She points out that bootstrapping in India is easier, "because of the lower cost-structure, and also the scrappy, frugal mentality of the culture."

This is reflected in the story of RateGain's early days. Chopra recalls that they worked hard to keep costs down - "Initially we did not hire any sales guys, I was going out and selling." RateGain had its start working out of an apartment space belonging to Chopra's father, which he got to use rent free. "We started off small - with about twenty workstations. Bit by bit we furnished it as needed - not in one shot. Eventually we had about 55 people there." The founder of web analytics and optimization tools start-up Wingify, Paras Chopra has a similar story to tell. When he set up Wingify, the company had a Spartan infrastructure - Chopra started out using his laptop and just purchased a $20 web server space and the Wingify domain. In this frugal phase, founders wear many hats - RateGain's Bhanu Chopra recalls how he multitasked playing multiple roles, including that of salesman and product developer.

De-risking the boot-strap

One way to de-risk a bootstrapping exercise is by engaging in a flanking services strategy, though this is seen as a controversial approach, with detractors saying it leads to loss of focus and delay in getting the product to market. However, Mitra's take is this: "distraction is much better than demise. Flanking services is an option to survive the seed capital gap that exists in the startup industry."  Several start-ups have taken the less risky services path to establish a base revenue line, and later productized their offering.

Accelerating Success

The payback of bootstrapping includes faster progress, accelerated product development, market leadership and better profit margins, according to companies that have bootstrapped their way to success.  What is critically important is being extremely product focused and customer centric - a quality product that is refined along the way and a loyal customer base are essential. "Once you get paying customers when you're bootstrapping, you have to constantly keep in mind that it's the customers who are paying you money. We were lucky - we got a dozen paying customers in our first year" says Bhanu Chopra. Like Vembu, who worked exclusively on getting his idea to market, he too gave his all towards developing the right product, which he sees as a plus.

Strategic partnerships are also vital for success. "One of the other things that happened to us that really helped was the strategic alliances with value added resellers who could bundle our products with their offerings to the same market. That gave us a great impetus and drive in moving things forward," says Chopra. RateGain also used a flanking strategy early on, looking at players in the travel and hospitality industry who could help them with market entry. Now, the company focuses on its own direct brand and adding more products. 

Changing for growth

Adaptability and the ability to pivot also help. Chopra's original idea was to launch a consumer facing price comparison site for a U.S audience. He quickly realized the kind of institutional funding such a venture would require, but he was still determined to build a product that leveraged his core idea. "I pivoted and instead made it a B2B price comparison technology that I could license to businesses for their use." Being bootstrapped meant he could adapt his idea quickly, without layers of decision makers. Vembu cites agility and productivity as well, adding that a willingness to experiment has also helped in Zoho's success.

For entrepreneurs like Chopra and Vembu, bootstrapping offered them the option to develop a product they believed in, and build a business their way. The phenomenal success of both Zoho Corporation and RateGain are testament to the success that a bootstrapping strategy can deliver.

Anyone received any feedback on their Product Excellence Matrix application which closed end Jan?

I sent  a query but got no response.

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