Seven great startups huddled at the office of Accel Partners in Bangalore on Friday for the first UnCafe meetup. What were the talking about? Business. Why? Because if you are a startup looking to learn and want to cut down on the time and effort needed to solve problems others have already solved, the UnCafe is the place to be.
It was a closed meetup, so founders could share insights freely, and not worry about keeping secrets. Shekhar Kirani, who invested in Companies like FreshDesk and Mobstac for Accel Partners shared lots of practical tips with the entrepreneurs. We bring you some of the key takeaways.
Akshat Choudhary, Founder of BlogVault: He was one of the first people we featured on the Big Bang Geek series. He bootstrapped the startup which now has thousands of paying customers while working at Citrix.
Suresh Harikrishnan, Founder, NudgeSpot. His startup is looking to nudge online buyers who abandon their cart midway to not do that. It means more conversion for e-commerce companies.
Praveen Singh, Founder, 99Tests: The startup is into crowd sourced software testing. Its been around for two years, grown to a large community and is now working on channels & going after mainstream customers.
Prashant Kumar, Founder, PromptCloud: His startup is a Data as a Service Company which helps you crawl the web and extract big data.
Lalit Bhise, Founder, Mobisy Technologies: This startup has been around for 6 years but it recently launched Bizom, a mobile only cloud solution for enterprise business owners. It helps SMEs to automate their businesses.
Krish Subramanian, co-Founder, ChargeBee: ChargeBee is a subscription billion solution which recently raised $350,000 from angel investors. The company which Demoed at the fifth edition of UnPluggd is a SaaS solution for merchants.
Ravi Pratap & Sharat Potharaju of MobStac: The startup has made a platform which enables publishers to create and render their sites on the mobile. They raised funds from Accel Partners and Mumbai Angels in November 2011.
Shekhar Kirani of Accel Partners started with how to go about customer acquisition: People will always ask you if its pull or push. Push means that you have to educate the customer about a problem and create a market for yourself. You have to keep pushing and hope that eventually they will like it.
In a push based model, you need some form of physical sales force because if people are not looking for it, no matter how much you cry about it online no one will know that it exists. Investors generally prefer a pull based model. In a pull based model, people are looking for a solution which they aren’t able to pin point and then you turn up and say here is your solution. There is latent demand for these products.
8 things to keep in mind
Problem: You think its a problem. But you haven’t validated enough with customers. Keep asking who the ideal user of your product is.
Investor: Anytime the investor knows more about your business, chances of investment is very low. You should be such an expert that you should walk the subject in your sleep.
Discovery: Is the biggest challenge for any startup. Clever marketing can solve this for you.
Focus: In the beginning, focus on what you do not know. Most of the entrepreneurs focus on what they know, but it’s also important to focus on knowing what you don’t know (for e.g. sales, marketing, design etc).
Free Vs Paid: Cost of software has become so small that there are so many models to give it free, build traction and then perhaps think of monetising it.
Freemium: The person using your freemium product must be able to talk about it in a network of people which covers your marketing costs. Example: Dropbox. Aim for virality.
Customer segmentation: You have to put enough filters so we know exactly who your customers are. Discover your customer segment. Figure out who your customers are before you run out of money.
Don’t waste your money building a product you know how to build. Discover filters. More you know of your customers, more you know. building and selling has to be close enough. Sometimes, you will be surprised– a new set of customers will suddenly show up. That’s being lucky.
“Its like going to a war. VCs are going to give you money to buy ammo. Which team will you back? The one with more knowledge,” says Kirani.
Lalit of Mobisy has a simple formula. Its — One Large, Two Small. That is– you go after one large customer and two small customers every month. His business is high touch– meaning he has to meet the customers to close a deal. Lalit heavily leverages word of mouth and recommends easy sharability of his product. He seeks out influencers like Chartered Accountants, Lawyers and family friends to sell.
Do cold emails work?
Depends on how your e-mail is sent. Shekhar says that if you learn about your target and send him a personalised e-mail which talks less about your company and more about him, it is most likely to elicit a response. It has to have an element of truthfulness too, he says.
Mantra: Don’t talk about yourself. Talk about them.
Does it make sense to cold e-mail for a SaaS business to do it at scale? asks Akshat. Its probably a better idea to try marketing your product through content like guest articles on influential blogs and forums where your potential users are hanging out. Investing in content marketing has minimal downside, says Shekhar.
Learning from MobStac
Ravi & Sharath:
You tend to misread the customer very often. We did a survey before we began. We asked a lot of people who we thought would be customers if they’d want something like this. And they all said yes. We thought we’d hit right customer. We soon realised that enterprise is not as easy as it seems. Everyone wanted to go mobile but no one wanted to put in any money. Mobile was important but not all that important in India. The sales cycle was ridiculous. We had a product but not many people were ready to jump on and use it. We thought we will service the Indian market which is so big.
On cold e-mails: I would write 100 emails a day to bloggers and influencers to try out our product. All mails were personalised and we got reviews from a couple of people. We also got some spam notices so we were careful with e-mails. We still send out 100s of emails.
We then broke down marketing into experimental segments. Then we figured out that the only reason people will pay you a dollar, is if they make five. We hit a realisation that people will not pay us until the macro improves. In India, mobile advertising has not gone anywhere despite the rosy reports you see.
The company experimented with pricing models and insisted on Freemium during the initial days.
Why Freemium? If not, how will the product evolve?
The entrepreneurs also shared secrets on content marketing, finding channel partners, doing public relations, maximising discovery, preventing customers from dropping off, pricing and how to convert a sceptic into an evangeliser. Deeper and more focussed discussions on these topics will be taken up in subsequent UnCafe meetups.
Content marketing: Is it worth it, after all finding a good content talent (that understands my startup business and the domain is extremely difficult in India)?
Key takeaways :
- Inbound marketing drives a lot of freemium usage. The content should not be a self-plug, but takeaways for your audience.
- Lalit of Mobisy says “Think of it as free consulting to customers” :)
- Target segments and tag them in funnels.
- Don’t FAKE. Don’t position yourself as a GURU and talk basic stuff.
SAAS has to be a global play.
You need to get an online marketing guy, as not too many ppl get it in India. And online marketing is NOT SEO or Facebook marketing – it’s much deeper.
We wil soon announce the topic for next UnCafe meetup.