Here's a strategy that has produced results for at least one start-up: put your business users first, and concentrate on fulfilling their needs, rather than focusing on the product and then selling around it, as most big companies do. Creating a niche as a customer focused company can help a start-up differentiate itself when competing with big name players - as Hyderabad based ProGen Business Solutions that plays in the Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics space, found out to its advantage.
In fact the company's Founder & CEO, Rahul Sharma, sees it as their one true strength. "We were in a space where we would be challenging the biggies, and knowing how high the competition would be, we spent the initial 3-4 years developing our platform and focusing on pure play R&D, and made the business user our focus" he recalls. The trend in software development in India is to concentrate on a particular vertical, rather than have an all-encompassing platform that can work for any vertical, and to be technology driven rather than business user focused, and this is the gap that ProGenlooked to fill. The vision was to create a tool that would cater not only to large companies in the B2B enterprise space, but also to mid-market organisations looking to meet their data analysis requirements across the globe.
Data Driven Model
The company's flagship offering, ‘pi' is a BI & Analytics platform catering to the decision making and data discovery needs of all kinds of business users. "Data is the common factor amongst all the verticals we are in, and till date we have not focused on creating a vertical specific BI strategy" says Sharma. A product or vertical specific BI offering can be built on top of ‘pi', a pure technology platform that provides the foundation for an enterprise's BI needs, whatever their KPIs. Regardless of the vertical, ‘pi' serves as a standard platform that can be easily customized to address reporting and analysis needs.
Spreading its wings
The company today has around 15 customers spread over 4 countries, across industry verticals. From the time ProGen came into existence in 2009, to finally getting their platform out in 2012, to a place today where they are looking to expand abroad, it has been a tough journey. After all, customers tend to go with known brands, and breaking into a enterprise application sector with a lesser known brand is no easy task. BI and Analytics is a big market with big guns as competition - finding a USP is as important as having a good product.
Being an expert from the BI and ERP domain, and having other experienced people on-board, Sharma and his team had a lot of understanding in developing BI products, which they brought to the table for their new venture. Still, as a small Indian company, they often faced questions like ‘how are you different', and ‘why should we trust your product?' In the BI platform space, where you enter the DNA of a company, trustworthiness and accuracy are of extreme importance. Sharma points to the Indian customer as being more knowledgeable, taking the time to do extensive research before investing in a platform or product.
In fact, ProGen's very first customer was not from India, but rather from Australia, and today they count three companies in three Australian cities amongst their clientele. To break into the Indian market, they targeted tier-3 System Integration & IT Services companies as their partners in cities like Delhi and Mumbai. Today, almost 80% of their revenue is generated from Indian customers, and the remainder from international clients. The vision though is to increase the revenue base from international customers in the coming year.
The hard road to success
The company has been completely bootstrapped over the last 2 years, since the sales revenues started. Sharma points out that getting outside funding, and getting valuated for Intellectual Property for R&D efforts is still a difficult proposition in India. Tight budgets translate into lean marketing spends, but the company has attempted to leap frog this gap by leveraging social media including LinkedIn and industry associations like NASSCOM to secure business contacts. The strategy coupled with a strong product, seems to be working. "We have beaten almost all the big names in deals we've participated in," Sharma says proudly, pointing to getting seasoned after selling to different Indian customers over the last two years.
Partner networks are a must, according to Sharma, for success in B2B sales, though finding the right fit partner can be a challenge. Partners introduce the product and company to prospective customers, but at the end of the day, once the door has opened, it is the platform's capabilities and the presentation of proof of concept by ProGen's team, that wins them business. ProGen is all geared up and actively working with partners to develop packaged industry solutions for different industry verticals that can help the partners win more customers in identified verticals.
A small organization, ProGen currently has around 30 employees, 50% of whom are engaged in R&D efforts, 45% in customer engagement and the remaining 5% in sales. The company is now looking to increase its international presence, and is working towards gradual expansion in the Middle East, where they already have a couple of customers. The company's target for this financial year is to garner at least 40% of its revenues from international clients, especially from the Middle East, Africa and Australia markets, and increase this number is the coming years. Sharma wants to put ProGen on the map globally, and become a go-to player in the BI space, saying there are not more than 25 BI platform vendors worldwide in the area that ProGen operates in, when looking at the Gartner Magic Quadrant. His vision is to make ProGen the newest entrant on the Gartner Magic Quadrant BI Tool Vendors list.