Welcome to the SaaSBOOMi podcast!
It’s a great pleasure to have you tuned in, and I am really thrilled to be the host of this podcast.
SaaSBOOMi is today among the world’s fastest-growing and the most valuable communities of SaaS companies, with around 700 companies. Indian SaaS companies have a collective $1.5bn in annual revenues.
And as you will discover in this journey of conversations, there are some unique playbooks to learn from, insights to gain from and failures to get inspired from.
Over the next episodes, I will be bringing deep conversations with product builders, founders, investors, technologists, designers and people shaping India’s SaaS ecosystem. We will also be bringing some of the global names as our guests going forward.
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”
Sounds 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.
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 Iannone
Entrepreneurial 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.
When to hire your first VP of sales?
It’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.”
Startup is a rollercoaster ride; your team is the seatbelt
Over 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.
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.
Rushabh Mehta of ERPNext on how he's building a community, not just a company
Great 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 Spreadsheets
Performance and Compensation
Towards Collective Decision Making: From a team without managers to a team with collective leadership