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51 minutes | 2 days ago
Ankit Oberoi’s journey from $1m ARR to $10m and beyond
Sometime during the year 2017, Ankit Oberoi, the founder of AdPushup, was staring at a potential failure. With $1 million in ARR after a journey of three years since he started, Ankit was struggling to find the growth levers for AdPushup, which had a 25-members team back then. “We lost about half the team, we were at a low point, and it was a do or die. There’s something we haven’t shared publicly ever, is that we were almost ready to go for an acqui-hire,” Ankit tells me in this podcast. "We were on a ventilator, not just a startup valley of death."Over the next two years, Ankit hustled through the market to achieve $10 Million ARR in recovering from that stage. This didn't just mean survival, but the experience helped AdPushup create a blueprint for creating a scalable enterprise model.How did he do it?It all started with the simple idea of giving it “one last push” as Ankit recalls, this time, moving the entire company towards the enterprise market opportunity. The product changed too, from being SMB-focused to more mid-market customer segments and large enterprises. AdPushup’s journey from $1 million in ARR to $10 million gross revenues happened in 12-13 months after this pivot. Listen to this podcast with Ankit Oberoi of AdPushup to learn from his playbook of $1 million to $10 million in ARR, and what it takes to create a product, sales, and organizational building blocks for the journey through crises and beyond.
43 minutes | 16 days ago
Ketan Kapoor of Mettl on connecting the dots looking backwards
Hindsight isn’t just a luxury, as many believe. For founders, hindsight or the ability to look back at the events and learn from them with blunt honesty, is priceless. Just ask the second-time founders such as Ketan Kapoor, the co-founder of Mettl, who sold his startup to Mercer after a long, slow burn. Mettl is a SaaS platform for online assessment. “If I start something again, I will not raise money for the first three years, not because I can afford it, but because I can run it that way,” Ketan tells me in this conversation. “The more you can push it out (the funding), the more you can set up a business, which looks solid and sustainable.”There’s too much focus on the ongoing entrepreneurial journeys. Don’t get me wrong. It’s absolutely needed to keep bringing learnings from the journey as it evolves. What needs to be unlocked more is a goldmine of candid insights from founders after they have completed their entrepreneurial journeys. “There are moments in every entrepreneur’s journey when you just want to be alone and want to cry, and not share anything with even your family or co-founders.”This quote from Steve Jobs captures the amazing power of hindsight well:“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”Listen to this conversation with Ketan Kapoor of Mettl to learn from his entrepreneurial journey that offers honest insights about building, failing and finding an exit for founders, employees and investors. Ketan is now preparing to become an entrepreneur again, and is looking to apply all the learnings from the Mettl journey.
42 minutes | a month ago
Mission Coimbatore: Two SaaS founders want “Kovai” to be the next SaaS hub
What’s the first thought that gets triggered when you hear a mention of Coimbatore? For me, it’s always been the city’s entrepreneurial spirit. Much before startups became a cool word to go around, Coimbatore’s entrepreneurs have been busy creating enterprises, failing, learning and growing. It’s called “the Manchester of South India” for a solid reason. So it was a delight to record this conversation with Ganesh Shankar, CEO of RFPIO and Saravana Kumar, co-founder of Kovai.co--the two entrepreneurs who hail from Coimbatore, and who are now working relentlessly to make the city a next-generation SaaS hub. What’s even more heartening is to learn how India SaaS pioneer Zoho and poster child Freshworks are inspiring this new wave. “The confidence that they gave us (Zoho and Freshworks) is amazing because even we now have 15 of the Fortune 500 companies as customers. Both Zoho and Freshworks have delivered quality products globally from India, and that’s the key motivation,” Ganesh tells me in this podcast. For a long time, Zoho remained an inspiration for a generation of SaaS startups founded by its former employees. Then came Freshworks; a complete breakaway from the Zoho’s bootstrapped model, fast-growing and nourishing an amazing product-design culture. And while both Zoho and Freshworks continue to be the role models for most SaaS companies, it’s amazing to watch the rise of another generation led by the likes of Postman and Browserstack. “What Freshworks has done to Chennai is what we want to do to Coimbatore because that spot is still available,” Saravana tells me in this podcast. Kovai.co now has its own campus in Coimbatore, built with an investment of over $1 million. Chargebee, co-founded by Krish Subramanian, is another inspiration for startups such as Kovai.co“They are coming in and proving that you can build world-class products and scale,” adds Saravana. Startups such as Kovai.co, which is at almost $10 million ARR, and RFPIO that counts Zoom, Microsoft and Adobe among its customers, are beginning to democratise the India SaaS story by looking beyond the traditional IT hubs of Chennai and Bengaluru. Listen to this podcast to learn from the entrepreneurial journeys of RFPIO and Kovai.co, and how the startups’ founders, Ganesh and Saravana, are on a mission to make Coimbatore the next SaaS hub.
44 minutes | a month ago
Inside Innovaccer’s journey to $100 million ARR; bold pivots and relentless learning
Abhinav Shashank pitched a 400-pages report as a trainee inside a Fortune 500 company and managed to get $20 million funding for the same, much before he actually became an entrepreneur. After getting his idea approved, Abhinav worked on building the product in Bangalore, scoped out manufacturing in Shanghai apart from spending time in Dallas, U.S., giving him an overall experience in building a truly global product. “By the time I left, it was already a $40 million revenue business,” Abhinav tells me in this podcast. Is there a path to doing this on my own, he remembers asking himself around that time. For Abhinav, it was almost like doing a startup again, this time, however, without the protection of a Fortune 500 company. Clearly, there is a lot of value in being entrepreneurial, which is mostly underrated. An IIT Kharagpur alumni, Abhinav and his batchmates earlier planned to build “a Kharagpur Consulting Group”, on the lines of the famous consulting firm, Boston Consulting Group, he recollects jokingly. On a more serious note, Abhinav started looking at the world of big data, which is mostly unstructured, and how to make sense of it for customers. “How do you manage this explosion of information for innovation?”The early prototype for Innovaccer was aimed at helping academic institutions such as Harvard make sense of information. But when he met Rajan Anandan of Sequoia, thanks to the connection made by Aneesh Reddy of Capillary, the first pivot happened.“Why don’t you build this for the enterprise?”Since then, Innovacer has been growing its revenues at over 100% annually and is set to cross the $100 million ARR mark by sometime next year. The big opportunity has been to tap into the U.S. healthcare market, which is almost like the fifth largest economy in the world, according to him. And the quality of healthcare data continues to be patchy. “The person you’re trusting with your life knows less about you than your retailer does.”Before Innovaccer made its second pivot to focus entirely on the healthcare market, the startup was already doing $4 million in ARR. “We decided to shut down the existing $4 million business, right after the $12 million fundraise from Westbridge,” he recalls. That happened at the first board meeting with Innovaccer’s new investors. There are broader entrepreneurial lessons too.“As an entrepreneur, most of your days have their lows. There are only a few of those elusive high points that you are living for that carry you through all the lows,” he says. Listen to this podcast with Abhinav of Innovaccer to learn more about managing bold pivots, almost like changing the engines of a plane while still in the flight, and staying bluntly honest to create a $100 million ARR business.
64 minutes | 2 months ago
A masterclass in bootstrapping, learning and staying happy with Kumar Vembu
Pankaj MishraKumar Vembu’s journey with Zoho during its early foundational years and later building his own startup, GoFrugal, offers some deep insight into India SaaS’ building blocks. Kumar's ability to spot and mentor talent such as Girish Mathrubootham, who is now the founder of Freshworks, India’s most valuable SaaS company, offers lessons in grooming leaders. In this episode of SaaSBOOMi podcast, I am thrilled to share this masterclass with Kumar in bootstrapping, spotting talent and matching them with their true purpose, and lessons from three different entrepreneurial journeys--Zoho, GoFrugal and Freshworks. “I used to be a very mischievous and a happy-go-lucky kid. Whenever teachers tried to be strict with me, I became more unmanageable. But whenever a teacher trusted me, I became easy to manage,” Kumar recalls.“One of the early lessons for me was when you respect and trust people, you get their cooperation, much better than using brute force.” Over the years, Kumar has watched three different entrepreneurial journeys, starting with his own startup focused on the India market, Zoho before that, and Freshworks’ Girish. You can also watch this video interview I had done with Kumar explaining “the Zoho way and the Freshworks way.” So what does he think about these different models and what can we learn from each of them?“Whether to bootstrap or take funding should not be the first question. Building the product, achieving product-market fit and growing the business are more important questions at the start,” he tells me in this podcast.
31 minutes | 3 months ago
Aditya Rao of Kaapi on making peace with $1000 MRR
What if the real key to a richer and more fulfilling career was not to create and scale a new start-up, but rather, to be able to work for yourself, determine your own hours, and become a (highly profitable) and sustainable company of one? Suppose the better—and smarter—solution is simply to remain small? via Company of One”Pankaj MishraSounds quite a playbook, doesn't it? Amid all the talks of finding a product-market fit, growth hacking revenues from $0 to $1 million, $10 million and beyond, a rare breed of entrepreneurs are finding a path to inner peace. Aditya has spent the past decade working across fast-growing startups, being an entrepreneur himself and failing too. He is now applying all the lessons and realisations he has gathered over the years to redefine his life and work. I was amazed to read his blog “Our Hardcore Year - getting to 1000$ MRR” for its blunt honesty and refreshing insights. In this podcast, Aditya shares why it makes sense to get off the funding and growth treadmill and find a way to staying sane apart from a sustainable livelihood. After raising around $5 million, kind of failing later with his startup, Aditya started realising he wasn’t enjoying it much. Entrepreneurship had started feeling like a burden for him. “I was 4 years into it and really burnt out. I just couldn’t carry on….it kind of started feeling that I was doing it just for the sake of it. Because I was supposed to be an entrepreneur and keep going….I just couldn’t do it.”Listen to this podcast to learn from Aditya’s playbook of the path to $1000 MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue), and also, why it makes sense to stay small and stay sane.
66 minutes | 4 months ago
Sakshi and Ashish Tulsian share their playbook for surviving the pandemic with hope and compassion
By Pankaj Mishra"These are not days for unbridled optimism, but this is the perfect time to allow hope to arise in our spirits.” Donald T IannoneEntrepreneurial optimism can be dangerous and suicidal. Overconfidence and confirmation biases can blind founders from getting a realistic assessment of any situation. But the undying sense of chasing the glimmer can also be inspiring, and perhaps the single biggest source of strength for surviving an existential crisis like the ongoing pandemic. When the first wave of Covid pandemic hit India in early March this year, Sakshi and Ashish Tulsian, the husband-wife duo and founders of POSist, thought things would return to normal soon. They announced work-from-home starting 14th March thinking it would last for a week at the most. Sakshi still remembers different signals leading up to the deadlock, starting February this year, all in the hindsight though. “I remember we were doing a deal in Indonesia during January/February, which was the single biggest contract for us and it was going well. We signed the contract .End of february is when we started experiencing delays in getting the money. Similarly, we started seeing delays in closing the deals in the Middle East,” she tells me in this podcast. Looking back, from the end of February to the first two weeks of March, many deals POSist sales team was working on for the past two quarters did not close. “On March 3, we witnessed the second signal when an annual event we have been participating in for the past six years in Delhi with hectic schedules, appeared to be going empty. We used to collect around 250 leads daily over the past few years, and this year we were barely managing around 22 leads on a daily basis.”We receive money everyday. Revenues hit our bank account everyday. Our forecast to reality differential isn’t very high, normally. I remember the March 18 announcement of “Janata Curfew.” And we saw revenue zero from that day till April 15. Ashish also remembers a call from Aneesh Reddy, the founder CEO of Capillary and a fellow SaaS entrepreneur, around that time.“How’s it going?” Aneesh asked. “How bad do you think this is going to be?”“Probably a quarter?” Ashish remembers telling Aneesh“And Aneesh was like, dude, you need help.”“You will not have time to react if you don’t overreact now,” Aneesh told him. “Start planning for zero revenues.” Since then, Sakshi and Ashish braced themselves for the worst. POSist used to do around Rs. 40 crore worth of billing daily before the pandemic hit. “By April, we were looking at less than a crore everyday,” says Ashish. “We can’t thank him (Aneesh) enough for this,” says Sakshi. Since then, Sakshi and Ashish had to lay off their staff, cut all expenses, and live with zero revenues. Listen to this podcast to learn more about how the POSist founders regained growth, tapped markets, changed their revenue mix and of course, also hired back the staff they had to let go.
51 minutes | 4 months ago
When to hire your first VP of sales?
Pankaj MishraIt’s amazing how just this one question can make or break a company. What makes it even more frustrating is that there’s already too much noise and clutter of answers on this question. From founders, investors, to startup mentors, media and so on, almost everyone has their perfect answer to this question. And still, many founders hire VP sales too early, or too late. A rare few, Google for instance, get it right. Many others including GitHub, which got acquired by Microsoft eventually, didn’t get it right. So how to separate noise from signals that matter?Enter Elad Gil, a serial entrepreneur and the author of “High Growth Handbook”, a book that combines practical insights from practitioners with some of the most visionary playbooks around the world. Over the years, Elad has been an entrepreneur, investor and advisor to companies such as Airbnb, Coinbase, Checkr, Gusto, Instacart, Pinterest, Square, Stripe, and many others. In this podcast, the first in a series of deep conversations with him on organisational building blocks, Elad offers practical insights into some of the most common mistakes founders make. When to hire your first vice president of sales, is among just one such existential questions. “Some companies hire a vice president of sales too early because they see that the market exists already. In other circumstances when there is uncertainty, you start doing founder-driven sales,” Elad says. “Many founders today, particularly product and technical founders, end up adding sales and a VP sales much too late in the life of a company.”“What you’re increasingly seeing is that people are getting “pre product market fit” advice to “post product market fit” their companies. If you go back 5 or 10 years, it was the opposite--people were given very bad advice. There was post product market fit advice to a company that just didn’t have any traction yet,” he adds. As you will discover after listening to this conversation with Elad, there’s so much to learn from the playbooks of Google, Stripe, Github and others. Elad also warns against learning from the playbooks without understanding the contextual setting for each of them. One size doesn’t fit all, indeed. So why do companies fail?“The number one reason companies fail is because of the “co-founder complex.”There’s always this advice that you need an equal co-founder. I think people need to divorce equality in terms of equity, from equality in terms of decision making,” Elad tells me in this podcast. “For late stage companies, the common mistakes are very different. Not building an executive team early enough, is the first such mistake. That’s why when you see second time founders start a company, among the first 15 people 3-4 of them are VPs and CXOs.”
54 minutes | 5 months ago
Startup is a rollercoaster ride; your team is the seatbelt
Pankaj MishraOver 30 million kids use SplashLearn to play games that help them learn math, practice better.Arpit Jain, Umang Jain, Joy Deep Nath, and Mayank Jain, the co-founders of SplashLearn, were batchmates at IIT Kharagpur.The biggest tipping point for SplashLearn was when it decided to shift from $10 as a lifetime fee for using the app, to $10 as a monthly fee."We were nervous," Arpit tells me in this podcast.Today, with over 100K+ paid members, SplashLearn has navigated that transition well.As Umang adds, listening to the users relentlessly and shaping the product with them has been the key. "You co-own the product with your users."SplashLearn's journey of building a product, acquiring the product-market fit, and transitioning to the SaaS model, offers deep insights about what works and what doesn't. Their early bet on iPad in 2010 as the learning device to be used by the schools, didn't work out well. But they transitioned away quickly and learned from things that didn't work out. "Startup is a rollercoaster ride, your team is the seatbelt," says Arpit. Listen to this podcast to learn about the edtech industry, product building blocks, and managing co-founder relationships.
47 minutes | 5 months ago
Icertis: the making of a SaaS unicorn
The first time I heard of Icertis was when it closed its billion dollar valuation funding round last year. I wasn't alone to discover Icertis back then. Many people in the ecosystem, including some of the top investors had the same question, what does Icertis do and why is it valued at over a billion dollars? In this episode of SaaSBOOMi podcast with its co-founder Monish Darda, we don't just answer the questions about what makes Icertis a unicorn, but also trace the journey from the early building blocks. As I discovered in this conversation, Icertis isn't just a SaaS unicorn. It's clearly among the companies out there who have the potential to go all the way to become what they call "BuiltToLast.""If you're building the company for the long term, you really have to think about your values....giving people a framework and giving yourselves a framework on how you behave," Monish tells me in this podcast. Monish and Samir Bodas, the co-founders of Icertis, applied all the learnings from their past failures to build a culture that lasts. "After every meeting, and during the meetings, we always ask ourselves, what if we walk out now."The culture of learning from failures is helping Icertis avoid existential failures in the future. During every company meeting, both Samir and Monish talk about their failures over the past six months. The story of Icertis reminds me of Ben Horowitz's famous book "The Hard Thing About Hard Things." Icertis' journey so far, and the potential ahead, underscores what it really takes to build a company that matters, not just for the next funding rounds, but a true "BuiltToLast."Please tune in to learn from Icertis' journey.
31 minutes | 6 months ago
Rushabh Mehta of ERPNext on how he's building a community, not just a company
Pankaj MishraGreat ecosystems are built on building blocks that are diverse and bring different communities and ideologies together. Homogenous building blocks create commoditised environments with absolutely short-lived differentiation and a common race to the bottom.India's SaaS ecosystem brings enough diversity in terms of business models and products, even ideologies, to keep storytellers like me excited and interested in people who make it.Rushabh Mehta, this week's guest on the SaaSBOOMi podcast, underscores the diversity in India SaaS as I mentioned above. In a world focused on B2BSaaS products joining the battle of the proprietary platforms, ERPNext, offers one of the world's only open source ERP.It's a path not many have taken because it's not financially rewarding and bootstrapping isn't a choice--there's no other way.Rushabh and his company Frappe Technologies have some amazing insights about building a company based on the First Principles.Listen to this podcast to learn from ERPNext and Rushabh's journey how to build a community and not just a company. And doing all that based on the First Principles that include no sales targets or incentives, and a truly non-hierarchical organization.The following blogs make for deep, additional read on what makes Frappe an amazing culture that's #BuiltToLast A 40 Person Company That Runs Without SpreadsheetsPerformance and CompensationTowards Collective Decision Making: From a team without managers to a team with collective leadership
49 minutes | 6 months ago
Wingify founders on a decade of bootstrapping, surviving profitably and staying together
Wingify founders on a decade of bootstrapping, surviving profitably and staying together Pankaj Mishra What makes a company great? What does it take to build companies that outlive "startup valleys of death"? In this episode of SaaSBOOMi podcast, Paras Chopra and Sparsh Gupta share candid lessons on not just survival but building a culture that lasts, profitably. "We've been lucky to share a substantial part of our value system, together. There are fundamental values that we both agree together, and that helps us have a lot of disagreements. But because we share the value system, we know whatever disagreements we're having are towards the same end goal," Paras says in this podcast. "I actively look forward to Sparsh's disagreement rather than just agreement, to ensure that I am not stuck in some cognitive bias in my own ego." "In the last ten years, I and paras have had disagreements when we entered into a room, but every single time when we went out of the room, we both believed that our individual ideas got groomed, became better," Sparsh adds in this podcast.
40 minutes | 6 months ago
Prakulpa Sankar Shares Lessons in Building Atlan
A lot of spotlight continues to be on India SaaS companies such as Zoho and Freshworks, and rightfully so. But that’s not what’s shaping the future of India’s multi-billion SaaS industry alone. It’s the startups such as Atlan, and its young founders like Prukalpa Sankar who are creating the building blocks of a massive industry, learning from the playbooks of their larger peers, and applying their own lessons from the journey. Tune in to this podcast to learn how Prakulpa and her founding team applied lessons from their earlier startup in building Atlan, their journey from $0 to $1 million, and so on.
50 minutes | 7 months ago
Building a Culture that Lasts - Suresh Sambandam, CEO & Founder of Kissflow
Suresh Sambandam, the CEO and founder of Kissflow, is a quintessential entrepreneur. And that's not just because he can hustle his way out of any crisis, but more because of the way he applies all his learnings egolessly in moving his startup forward. Suresh talks about "the HP Way" he discovered while working at Hewlett Packard early in his career, and the way the company puts trust in its people. "Trust isn't just about honesty or competency. It's a two-sided coin; you need to have competence and character. You won't trust anyone who doesn't have competency. You can't trust a doctor who is not a good doctor. " In this podcast conversation, Suresh also opens up about two of the toughest challenges he faced in his career--the 2008 financial crisis, and losing his cofounder during 2013, which triggered a deep introspection and challenged his beliefs, moulded him forward. Suresh recommends several books, including "the Fifth Discipline", which is about building a learning organisation. Please tune in to this episode of the SaaSBOOMi podcast to learn how Suresh is applying best practices from across the world in building a learning organisation that survives the test of crises.
30 minutes | 8 months ago
Show your vulnerabilities; everyone is in the same boat - Manav Garg - CEO, Eka Software, SaaSBOOMi Podcast Episode 1.
In our maiden episode of the SaaSBOOMi podcast, we bring you a deep conversation with Manav Garg, the founder of Eka. “What we are facing today is unprecedented. The degree of unexpectedness is massive. Now, it’s no more about a business--it’s about human lives, human existence and the human way of life going forward,” Manav tells me in this podcast. “I would advise taking care of physical and mental health as top of the agenda. Second is to ensure that your employees aren’t stressed because they help us build long term companies. And the third thing is to keep a tab on the cash flow on a daily basis.”Earlier this month, Manav also asked India’s SaaS ecosystem to “Brace for impact, huddle and let’s build great Global SaaS companies, together.” Please do read the blog to understand how Manav and other leaders in India’s SaaS ecosystem are preparing to navigate the pandemic as a community. “If you show your vulnerabilities, other people also talk about their problems. And then you find out, everybody is in the same boat with some degrees of differences. If you know everyone is in the same boat, it will make you feel better.”So how will this pandemic affect India’s SaaS industry?“I think SaaS waves will accelerate going forward, of course not in the industries that are deeply impacted. After every crisis, the automation increases because you want to have self-reliant systems and lower your costs,” he says. “The question you should ask is--is your business relevant anymore? If you are in an industry, which is not going to come back (for a long time) such as travel, then there’s no point wasting your time,” Manav says. “There’s going to be a shift from mad growth at all costs, to sustainable and profitable growth. Sustainability and longevity of the company will have a far greater role to play than anything else,” Manav adds.
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