DNA Of Scale
Knowledge, research data, and qualified opinions
Building a Repeatable Sales Model
Around six months ago, I was talking to the Founder of a leading deep tech company. He lamented that he was spending nearly 80% of …
Navigating the VC-Founder dynamic
A great VC will do so much more than write a cheque. As a founder, you want a VC with a high degree of empathy …
Forget TAM/SAM/SOM. ‘SLM’ is the path to global leadership for early stage start-ups!
At our fund for seed stage B2B Tech startups, the Annual Recurring Revenues (ARRs) are typically 100k USD onwards. But in every deck that we …
Arriving at a custom-fit marketing strategy for your niche B2B product | Portfolio in Focus: The Mogi story
The founder of Mogi I/O set out to launch a short-format video app — “a bit like TikTok, with a twist”. In the process, they …
SaaS Product Positioning: How to differentiate in a Competitive Market
Positioning your business’s core value proposition is the foundation on which all good startups are built. Through my own experience of co-founding Clarice, a software …
Nuances of Scaling B2B Startups Globally (Part 2)
Shreyas Nair, the Chief Strategy Officer at Scale It Right and the second speaker at the November edition of GTMDialogues, learned about the SaaS market …
Thoughts from our Partner's
Sometime back, an entrepreneur I knew well asked me for a long appointment. He had jumped head-first into entrepreneurship after a successful corporate stint. He wanted to discuss at length how his venture was going.
It turned out that the venture wasn’t doing too well. The things he had planned elaborately weren’t panning out. The revenues were lower, the costs were higher, and everything was delayed. The romanticism of entrepreneurship was wearing out when confronted with the realities of business and indeed family life.
The entrepreneur was probably expecting some suggestions to turn around things. Instead, I gave him the Greg Louganis’ story.
Greg Louganis was a champion diver from the USA, a gold medallist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. But just watch what happened at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.
Every start-up takes off with a beautiful plan, just as Greg did, and then soon enough, disaster strikes. All Greg was thinking after hitting his head on the springboard was “Let’s get out of this alive!”
As a start-up, if you survive the first hit on the head — which happens much more commonly than in diving competitions — you have a very good chance of making it big.
Ending the story on a positive note, Greg did go on to win the Gold Medal in the Seoul Olympics and become the most successful diver ever. And more importantly, my friend (all due credit to his Greg-like tenacity) has grown his venture nicely and is now enjoying his entrepreneurial journey.
It may seem like a tough time to be a tech entrepreneur or even a tech professional. The recession in the US is just starting and has many in the Indian tech startup space (rightly) worried.
But I remain very optimistic about the long term prospects of India's SaaS startup space, for some very good reasons:
1. Tech will continue to remain the dominant disruptor of our lives. The Covid-related tech boom might have slowed down, but tech-induced disruptions will continue to take place. Each new one stands on the shoulder of the earlier ones, causing exponential change.
Mobile, Cloud, AI/ML, Blockchain, Quantum Computing, the list goes on. These technologies will continue to be adapted globally and will drive growth, independent of the market corrections that will take place from time to time.
2. SaaS is the prominent mechanism for deploying these new technologies. Across industry verticals, customers have seen tremendous value in the ‘pay-as-you-go’ SaaS model.
Other things that work in its favour — continuous improvements rather than big-bang changes, the option to adopt new features and even stop use as and when needed; and finally, setting up infrastructure as and when required.
3. Over the last few decades, India has steadily built a reputation for being tech savvy. It manifested first as the hugely successful services industry. Organisations here mainly built bespoke solutions for customers in the West.
Then the B2C startups made a big splash by meeting the needs of billions in India. And now, B2B SaaS startups have also come to the party. Unlike B2C, the B2B products have a global opportunity as the use-cases remain the same in India and outside. So, the prime strategy for B2B products is to build and validate them at a low cost in India then sell and deploy them anywhere in the world.
These are my interpretations of historical trends in the SaaS industry. But there are exciting developments we are seeing first-hand in India's SaaS space at present. But that’s for next time!
Last time, I shared my thoughts on why I was very optimistic about India’s SaaS space. These were logical extensions of historical trends. Now, here are some thoughts based on what we are seeing first-hand in the market today:
1. The ‘virtuous cycle’ in Indian SaaS has begun. We are seeing founders who already have the experience of a couple of start-ups. So the quality of founders is getting better and improving exponentially. Three years back, six of the partners at Pentathlon came together to start the first fund out of Pune — because we had exits. Today, in Pune, there are easily 50 such founders with good exits. And this is the story all over India. And what do founders with exits do? They either start up again or they invest in other start-ups. Again, this number will grow exponentially in Pune and in India.
2. About 10-15 years back, the big thing was Indian CIOs ruling the roost in the global industries. Now, it's the Indian CEO who is being talked about, as many marquee global Tech corporations have Indian-origin CEOs.
What’s the next big thing? The coming decade is when Tech products being built in India today would start becoming global leaders. And B2B SaaS is where there is a real opportunity to build and validate products in India cost efficiently and then go global.
Early stage B2B SaaS in India thus provides a once-in-lifetime opportunity today. Even in the Bay Area, the home of Tech start-ups, I found that people were excited to hear about what is happening in India. We seem to be at the cusp of a big wave! I'll be writing more frequently about developments in Indian B2B SaaS. Meanwhile, I'd like to hear your thoughts on the prospects of Indian B2B SaaS companies!
Is this the right time to start?" This is the most common question I hear from people flirting with the idea of entrepreneurship. The short answer: If you need to keep asking, then "NO". The best entrepreneurs are probably the ones for whom the term optimism bias was first coined. They don't sweat the details. They are confident about figuring things out as they go along.
When a company succeeds, they are often called visionaries. Otherwise they are called dreamers. A lot of it is hindsight.
Just to be clear, VCs like optimism. When you work with early-stage start-ups (like Pentathlon's portfolio companies) there's very little data to make any reliable predictions. The founder's optimism and confidence is the only thing we have to go on. So optimistic entrepreneurs are great! That said, there's a time when optimism begins to enter the territory of overconfidence. This usually happens in the growth stage, when there's a little more data coming in and you choose to ignore it. Take start-ups with ambitious plans but a runway that's rapidly running out. Here, simply being optimistic isn't enough. You need a plan of action.
Here is what founders can do so their optimism remains their advantage, instead of working against them.
1. Set timelines and retrospectives: Adding timelines to your proposed plan of action will help you get more clarity about your progress. Breakdown the plan into monthly or quarterly chunks. This can help you course correct when necessary.
2. A critical outsider. 90% of start-ups fail — we hear this at every turn. But every entrepreneur thinks they are going to be part of the 10% that make it. The 'x' factor is their own hard work and ability. This is expected. But having a mentor or critical outsider pitching your own ideas back to you can have a sobering effect. Your task is to be as critical as possible and predict failures or challenges the plan might face.
Some final thoughts — asking entrepreneurs to stop being optimistic is to ask someone to stop being themselves. In every instance, perseverance and grit is what sets them apart. That said, aligning your optimism to practical realities doesn't mean you've given up. Sometimes, it's what marks the start-ups that make it from the ones who don't.
A wise person once told me: At the top of the heap in any field is an “artist” who finds creative solutions that are beyond the reach of mere technicians of that field! Indeed, such a leader ends up showing a completely new way to that field.
I was reminded of this when I recently met Atul Alurkar, a successful entrepreneur from Pune, who has built a formidable company in the Payroll space. And he did it completely bootstrapped! (Full disclosure: I am his happy customer!)
Last week, I discovered that he is an accomplished piano player as well! In fact, he was so interested in piano that a couple of years back he decided to pursue his artistic passion for piano, while still running his company!
(You can watch him play here: https://lnkd.in/dbDkA6h4)
But then something quite unexpected happened. He was not enjoying piano as much as he thought he would! He was playing beautiful music, but it wasn’t his creation. The joy that comes with creating something new was much more in solving customer’s problems and scaling his company!
It was a startling realisation that he would have never had if he had not tried out playing piano. The challenges of entrepreneurship get his creativity flowing. And that’s when he decided to return to building his company with renewed conviction and vigor.
So my advice? Be the artist in your business! You will be a really successful entrepreneur!