How We Built A Profitable SaaS Business For India

[Editorial notes : A very insightful piece by Lalit Bhise, founder of Bizom on selling SAAS to Indian SMEs and lessons learned.]

In this post, I am going to be extremely open about our business during our journey to become revenue positive in 3 years.

Objective is 2 fold

  1. I would like to bust the myth that SaaS products focussed on India Market do not work
  2. I hope this helps other entrepreneurs who are just starting on their cloud SaaS journey.

Summary / Intro

Bizom is “mobile first” commerce, collaboration and acceleration platform for FMCG sales teams and channels.We have proven record of increasing productivity by at least 70% for our customers. We are seed funded by Ojas Ventures. Following are some of the statistics about Bizom

Chart

Background (Why and What)

While brainstorming on Bizom in late 2011, early 2012 following were some of the guidelines we followed

  1. Being in India, we wanted to build something which made difference in average Indian’s life.
  2. We wanted to build a profitable company and we saw more value in enterprises in India.
  3. The product had to be “Mobile First” cause we strongly believed that India is the “Mobile First” country

The idea of Bizom was conceived by our advisor friend Ashwani Garg. We refined it further by meeting more than 100 potential customers. At the end of it, we realized that Indian and emerging market enterprises were looking at business process/workflow automation solution rather than another ERP and CRM.

They were looking at solutions which fit their needs and were ready to go live immediately rather than technologies which took months / years to implement! Bizom does exactly that.

Following are some of the things we realized customers love about Bizom

  1. “Paanchvi Paas” compatible Mobile application which can be used by anyone
  2. Feature completeness and configurability which allows us to go live in 2 days to 2 weeks flat!
  3. Apart from data analytics and dashboards, Bizom provides proactive Alerts!
  4. Apart from customer support, Bizom team provides proactive evangelization to end users
  5. The DNA of innovation which allows us to deliver applications such as gamification and 35hawk!

Enough about us, let’s get back to the story.

In 2012, all VCs told us to focus outside India especially for a Cloud SaaS business. We still followed our heart and built a profitable SaaS business for Indian market.

Disclaimer: Following are some of the things that worked for us, and some other things which did not work but it’s extremely subjective topic.

Phase I (Build)

Sell the PPT first

We made this call in early days. We had an experienced kickass dev team but we believed we lacked in business acumen. So we decided to test the waters first by sellng even before building. We made the product pitch for customers, created an MVP (minimum viable product or a prototype) and started selling. We did not take up building the main product till we had the lead ‘paying’ customer ! We acquired our first paid customer in August 2012 and 5 more in a short duration to be our lead customers for Bizom !

Product of love !

The product initially was built by a small team of 3 people. 1 for mobile, 1 for backend and 1 for testing. I wrote the first backend code (that explains the amount of rework we had to do at later stages ..:-) ). But all 3 of us were possessed to build something that could scale. Our focus on building something extremely easy to use yet scaleable and easily customizable came from those days. I think it matters a lot if a product manager can actually code a tech product himself in early days. It ensures that even when it scales, the base rules prevail.

We made sure everyone in the team visited customer operations in the field. Be it a coder, designer, tester or support executive.That explained the reason why most of us talk about field users and their problems before talking about top management concerns. We prescribe this “bottom up” way of automation to all our customers.

Another thing about Bizom is that we truly love our customers (it’s a cliche, I know). They gave us abundant feedback and we focussed on integrating that in the product quickly. This love was reciprocated by our customers who gave us great references and helped reduce our cost of sales!

Phase II (Consolidate)

Go small and deep rather than wide and shallow  

We raised seed money from Ojas in early 2013. During that time, we met a lot of investors. One of whom (Madhukar Sinha from Indian Quotient) suggested a go to market strategy which made a lot of sense. He suggested that we must take a micro segment of the market and acquire significant market share there rather than try and reach everywhere in the market and spread ourselves too thin in the process.

For the first year from launch we only focussed on the 5 lead customers and made Bizom into a feature complete yet easily configurable product. We also decided to initially focus on a small market segment of our total addressable market, we went after FMCG companies headquartered in Mumbai and Bangalore with turnover between 50 and 500 crore.This kind of focus helped us a lot in closing deals quickly. We quickly went from 5 to 50 customers by mid 2014.

Sell the demo

In this phase we sold the product / demo a lot. Since we did not have enough case studies, all we focussed on was how the product was differentiated. The selling involved deep functional knowledge of the product and passion for the product itself. It explains why our channel strategy did not work in this phase.

One of the great customer wins during this phase was Parle Agro, largest Indian beverages company. They showed great faith in the product demo and the passion of the team.

This win apart from giving us a great large customer, allowed us to understand the vertical, pain points and deployment complexities much much in detail.

What did not work

All our business plans always talked about focussing on channels. We looked at Tally, Salesforce and felt that only channel focussed approach works. What we realized in market was that without critical mass of 100+ customers, channels do not work / scale. Also building and maintaining channels needs investment both in cash and in time which a small seed funded startup can not afford most of the times. Today, our channel strategy works much better and faster since we are able to invest in channels.

Selling overseas. I feel we tried selling overseas prematurely in mid 2013. Apart from eating up some significant bandwidth of the team it gave us one great learning “grass is always greener on other side”. Now we realize that without physical presence or an exceptionally motivated channel, looking overseas is waste of time.

Phase III (Scale)

Sell the PPT again

Now that we have many many case studies, our sales focusses on value Bizom creates for existing customers. We educate the customers on how everyone in the industry is using Bizom. When someone requests a demo, we readily take them to see one of our existing customer implementations in market which apart from addressing their curiosity acts as a huge testimonial for the product !!

Focus on recurring revenue

For a SaaS company, recurring revenue is key hygiene factor. Towards end of 2014, we started focussing on being revenue positive and succeeded quickly thanks to our large customer base and untiring customer success management team. We turned revenue positive in Jan 2015 !! This also meant focussing on account management more than sales. We are proud to say that we have a much larger team of “farmers” compared to “hunters”.

Innovate, Pivot again and again

Bizom is now not just an automation or commerce platform for our customers, it has also become default communication platform for the sales teams and channels.We are leveraging the fact to bring in more social collaboration features in Bizom. We are also leveraging on the ecosystem of more than 1 million retailers we have built so far. Which means constantly tinkering with the product and positioning.

Now that we are revenue positive, focus is moving to break this orbit and reach 1 cr+ monthly recurring revenue. We are trying many exciting things on product, channels and markets. I will be back with you next year on how it all worked out .

If you are facing dilemma in focussing on Indian market or need any help with building customer base for your SaaS product, please feel free to reach out to me on lalit at mobisy dot com.

 [Notes from NextBigWhat : We invite insights from founders and productgeeks. Do connect with us (editorial@nextbigwhat.com) to share your insights with the audience]

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