Building A Global Indian Software Product Company
Date: Friday , April 29, 2011
In classic Bob Dylan style - “The Times They Are A-Changing”! Numerous product conclaves, forums and discussions on how to create a global and scalable software product company from India are all signals of that.
I would say that the journey has only just started. There have been talks about a mindset change, about the challenges in creating products because of the service industry’s domination in Indian IT, etc. But during the last seven years I have spent building a global software product company from India, I would point out that being focused on the market and building world class Sales, Marketing and Product Management teams is where a large amount of focus should be. But more often than not, these areas do not receive the required attention. Having a strong customer and market facing organization has helped us break the barrier of moving from being a small Indian start-up to a successful, fast-growth and profitable global organization with mature products and satisfied customers. Perhaps, it helped that I was not a software engineer and started this company from the ‘business side’.
I would like to share what I think are some tips and common mistakes to avoid while building the required sales and marketing infrastructure to take your organization global.
Tip #1: Know your market and customers
I know we have hundreds of thousands of tech workers, and perhaps in India we understand technology better. However, if you are not developing a core technology, technology might not be the most important thing for the customer.
Early on in the life cycle of Eka, we invested time and money in sharpening the value proposition for the market with the help of the industry, and we learnt industry-speak. This helped us immensely in our market success as we built the company.
Tip #2: Know your competition
You need to understand your competition in every way possible – product, technology, pricing, strengths and weaknesses, and more. You need to understand their products feature by feature: what their products do, how well they meet customer requirements, what their weaknesses are and so on. Thanks to subscription licensing and software as a service (SaaS) models, where often trials are offered for free, you can do this much more cost effectively.
Research competitor forums. Understand their value proposition and product strategy. Look at blogs that are talking about your product and the competition’s. Look at a variety of them, and try to understand how they are perceived. Talk to customers, prospects, partners, the media – anyone who knows the market. In many cases, all of this can be done by simply sitting in front of a computer.
Tip #3: Invest in Sales early on
I have seen many cases where the mindset is to invest in sales at a later stage while building the company. Teams often wait for the product to be ready before investing in sales.
When we raised our first capital, a significant portion of it went into sales. What needs to be understood is that sales during the initial period of a company involves the market. You do not have to wait for the product to be fully ready to begin selling it – this is a classic trap. A lot of times customers are willing to buy your product earlier on, often at a discount, provided they believe in the value proposition and the team. This helps improve the product, brings market focus and gets the momentum going.
Tip #4: Mature your value
It takes time to properly understand your market and customers, and often in early years the value proposition can be hazy. But, with time, and with the proper investment in ‘hearing’ customers and monitoring competition, your value proposition will get more and more focused. With relevant inputs from the market, companies in the early years should not shy away from questioning previously held assumptions, and from going back to the drawing board if required.
Tip #5: Leverage the channel
There are a range of channel partners who know how to sell your product - you only need to find them and reach out to them. Look at adjacent/ complementary solutions and approach their channels. Quite often you can even find how they rate partners on their web sites. Pick low-hanging opportunities even though they are in smaller markets, while being cautious about the amount of time you spend with them and keeping an eye on the bigger picture. Large partnerships take time to break in to and mature.
For instance, at Eka before we strike partnerships with the bigger players, we picked smaller companies as partners who provided us with some initial sales impetus.
Culture & beyond
While focusing on Sales and Marketing, do not forget that building a product company out of India is also about building a global culture. In a product environment, we need to learn how to cope with failures, and more often than not, the market picture is hazy at the start. An innovative mindset and a culture for discipline needs to set in early. With a product company, it takes time to see results.
To conclude: each company and opportunity is unique, and there is no exact mantra or formula that is applicable across the board. The above are some useful ideas and experiences. Welcome to innovation, to the global Indian software product company - the excitement of the journey has only just begun!
The author is CEO & Founder, Eka Software Solutions