Category Archives: product

Inadequate liquidity for Indian Startups

Recently was having a conversation with a Private Equity friend and was trying to explain the challenge that has captured my imagination and full attention, ie exits for software product startups in India. He felt that the data about the exit structural deficit that I was trying to point out felt too bearish to be true. My counter argument was that my intent is not to sound bearish but instead be a realist, after all acknowledgement of a problem is first step to solving one.  Post that conversation I thought should put this data out publicly so that through crowdsourcing can at the very least improve my understanding if it is off by wide margins.

India VC vs Exits 


India Software Products VC  (in $m)

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016*
$801.00 $1,021.00 $4,883.00 $6,526.00 $2,419.00 $15,650.00
147 123 173 330 223 996

India Software Product M&A  (in $m)

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016*
$205.00 $308.00 $799.00 $1,350.00 $1,339.00 $4,001.00
43 39 59 137 113 391

Source iSPIRT M&A Report https://www.slideshare.net/ProductNation/india-technology-product-ma-industry-monitor-an-ispirt-signalhill-report?ref=http://startupbridgeindia.com/

Israel Software Product VC  (in $m)

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016*
$1,878.00 $2,404.00 $3,422.00 $4,307.00 $4,775.00 $16,786.00
567 667 684 706 659 3283

Israel Software Product M&A (in $m)

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016*
$8,149.00 $3,704.00 $4,493.00 $6,462.00 $6,782.00 $29,590.00
74 81 109 98 86 448

Source IVC Report, http://www.ivc-online.com/Portals/0/RC/Survey/IVC_Q4-16%20Capital%20Raising_Survey-Final.pdf

Above data indicates that Israel was able to generate 1.8X of the money that went in while in India in the same period only 0.2X. The right comparison is exits from 2012-2016 with VC investments from 2005-2009, iSPIRT report does that comparison but results are even less encouraging.

Exits follow a power law, however in India it seems like a power law’s power law.

Not only is the volume of exit is challenge but also the structure, any ecosystem exits follow a typical power law. For every $1 bn exit, there are ten $100m deal, for every $100m there are hundred $10m deals.

Top 7 deals in India account for ~$2.5b of the $4b in exit. About 250 of 391 deals total a deal volume of $97m which means the size of an acqui hire i.e in long tail is about 0.5m, which is inadequate even for an angel investor. Lack of many $10-100m deal means there is a missing middle of the long tail.

Source iSPIRT M&A Report https://www.slideshare.net/ProductNation/india-technology-product-ma-industry-monitor-an-ispirt-signalhill-report?ref=http://startupbridgeindia.com/

 

 

CBInsights like market map for India

If CBInsights were to do a market map of software product startups in India it will look something like below.  For Indian startups that map should be done based on broad markets available to an Indian founder and not slicing of sectors that CBInsights normally does due to nascent nature of these markets.

Startups targeting different markets

and their market cap 

Data not exhaustive, it is from a very informal analysis of roughly 700 product startups that iSPIRT has interacted with in last few years through various initiatives. 

Strategic insights they yield

Consumer startups have had high volatility in their valuation, a variance of over 50% which is reflection of the fact that value expectation has gone out of sync of reality of market growth.  Further growth can come only when firms go beyond the 36m “India 1” city dwellers that they currently have but key question is do they have the right unit cost structure to address for next 100m “India 2” users. So one implication is to think idea ground up for 100m “India 2” users that have Rs 2-5 lakh/pa income.

Because of Cloud and Saas the paradigm of software purchase has shifted from “selling” to “assisted buying”. This opens opportunities for startups outside valley to compete in the global Saas market, the comparative advantage for India is that its cost structure of both engineering and sales help startups from here reach profitability sooner,  it also helps enable to create low end disruptor markets that a SV startup cannot even begin to play at.

When presenting, Trailer, Movie and then the making of it

I asked my manager on what are things that I could do to be a better a product person. Her tip which took 2 minutes to implement when I started putting in practice had profound impact on me. Since then I have shared it with scores of entrepreneurs and some reported a had 100X return for them too.

We engage in conversation with folks that have scarce attention span, the more senior in a decision making capacity somebody is the more scarce their attention is. In meetings when asked to explain something i.e a new product feature, a business plan, a startup idea we are in so much in love with what we do that we start with telling the birth story of how we started and from there describe a journey line of how it reached till current stage.

Her tip was to invert the messaging architecture, i.e when there is limited attention span first describe the conclusion and then go down a pyramid of how it layered up. In other words first narrate your message as trailer and not as the making of the movie. It is only when folks get excited in a trailer will they decide to watch the movie and a very select few even care about the making of the movie.

Most folks, especially engineers instead start with explaining the making of the movie.

10 questions to survive a product tear down

Once someone  decides to become an entrepreneur, the idea that an entrepreneur ends up building is the nearest idea that he stumbles upon. It could be the flavor of the season that is getting funded or an observation that he has made or stems out of his recent past experience.
Thinking about choice of market well ahead of time which include the forces/tides at work, the size of the ocean where you are playing is first important thing to look at (strategic decisions) Thereafter taking decisions as an entrepreneur that are bounded within affordable loss are important guard rails to set in place. (entrepreneurial decision framework). After that product decisions comes next.
Questions for  Product Decisions 
Answering  following 10 questions help with product decisions making, one that can help survive any product tear down session(s)
  1. Who is the one user or customer ? also called the unit of one. Name him or her.
  2. What is the job that he is trying to do in his life in the context of the product idea ? Many times this job could be non functional such as an emotional or a social one
  3. What is the friction and the barriers in those jobs.
  4. How does the product in question help solve or address the friction ?
  5. How would this be framed in terms of benefit in customers life. i.e before and after the product, improvement in customers life.
  6. What is the measure of improvement in customers life also called as customer benefit metric.
  7. What emotions are triggered by the use of the product i.e how does the use of the product make the user feel.
  8. What are the magic moments, i.e in the journey of delivering the customer benefits what are the the unexpected delight that comes up.
  9. What is the shortest path to the first magic moment in the use of product and what are subsequent magic moments ?
  10. What aspects about the product will the user want to talk about. How easy is it to share that story

 

Fishermen dont get featured in Time Magazine

I get to meet and hangout with many product entrepreneurs in India across a wide variety of spectrum (wannabe, early stage all the way up to category leader). I have been one and have crossed a few early stages myself, based on my experience I see 3 type of founders

The Surfer, Voyager & Fisherman

The Surfer

Surfer

Surfer is someone who is riding a tide, has unique skills, most often flamboyant but certainly a great story teller. Some may call him lucky for the tide is responsible for his greatness and he may have been only there at the right place and time.

He however believes that he can read the wind & the wave and that he has his board in so much control that can swerve smoothly against the biggest tide.

Investors could be referred to as bystanders on the beach making bets on surf board, tide or surfer himself to win.

Press makes a celebrity of him for it becomes a sport worth paying attention to for the adrenaline kick that it can produce.

They however have the same fate that movie industry mete to its heros & heroines, i.e post their short lived hotness they are relegated to the archives of history.

Many yesteryear consumer internet and e-commerce stalwarts are good examples of this. We are yet to find our Rockstar/Shehenshah/Thalaiva heroes that are timeless in this category.

Voyager

Voyager  Voyager is like the columbus, an italian in spain, a master storyteller as well. He is going for the glory and riches but also believes and leverages his experience of past expedition by a previous voyager.

He sets sail to find India but discovers America. He also finds other backers to to chase the dream.

After the Surfers, Voyager becomes a great story to write about so they get their share of press as well.

Good examples are engineers, product managers from other successful big product companies like Yahoo, Veritas, Symantec, Google, Microsoft (MNCs) & Zoho, Tally (Indian Companies) etc.

Fisherman

FishermanHe is someone who also faces the vagaries of the sea but goes to catch fish. His work is not sexy and it may stink but feeds him and so many others. He may choose to fish where nobody is fishing or have to compete and jostle with other fishermen going after the same fish. His journey is a long one.

Story of a fisherman comes only when stories of other two types have been repeated to boredom. Many call this as the bootstrapped entrepreneur.

They are different but have few things in common. Each involves skills but given the odds has self doubt. Some play the game for 3-4 years, other spend decades.

Yet the

  • Surfer does not create the tide
  • Voyager can only envision his prized destination in a rear view mirror.
  • Fisher man does not create the fish.

Many first time entrepreneurs are confused on what persona they would like to choose or what choices are even available to them. As the startup ecosystem ebbs through greed and fear the god that founder look up to changes, in times of boom the surfer is the god, in times of gloom fisherman is the god. Also when one type is treated god the other type is berated.

Wish there was more understanding amongst them and about them to reduce the pain they go through. For contribution they do to society through society they all deserve salute.

Market Maps – Thinking market instead of an idea

Starting point of a startup is an idea and it goes through a journey of product releases and pivots to reach its product market fit and further scale. Source of this idea is a brainstorming session or hot flavor of the season (foodTech, fintech etc) or even comes from past work experience of the founder, in rare some cases it is rooted in an unsolved customer pain point.

For Indian software product startups regardless of the origin of the idea when looked at through the lens of market segments a pattern seems to emerge that is too hard to ignore.

Market Map

A 2 X 3 matrix

Market map

Parsing the market  map

  1. Before 2009  India consumer  was not a major open digital market. There were few online ticketing sites, many attempts in the e-commerce space that  did not fan out big,  telecom VAS a closed market which also existed only because of regulation gap around strong consumer privacy laws .  However in 2009 something happened along with the birth of Flipkart where consumers changed behavior, i.e started believing that they could trust making transactions online and swiped their cards. It would be hard to attribute a causal reason of whether it was ‘Cash on Delivery’, critical mass of people on internet or myriad of other reasons. It is suffice to say that market behavior changed since then. Today there are countless new ideas being tried out because this market has opened up.
  2. India SMB market on the other hand is yet to witness its Flipkart moment.  I have been a close observer on two industry (read multiple organizations collaborating efforts) attempts to wrench open this and closely involved in my last role in leading multiple experiment in creating this market. While I am very bullish about this market but the fact of the matter is that this market is yet to open up. Just like how consumers shifted mindset about transacting online, small business need to change their buying ‘tailored shirt’ mindset to buying ‘branded shirt’ mindset for this market to explode.  Open API based GST system in India may cause to be a major reason of change here.
  3. If India consumer has already exploded and India SMB is around the corner, it would not be completely wrong to say that India Enterprise is yet to germinate. There are handful few startups that have been able to sell to Indian CIO however those are exceptions than the rule.
  4. In the global consumer market there is hardly any precedence of a startup from India building a global force i.e. equivalent to a Facebook or Snapchat. Not that this may not happen, it is just that it is not happened so far because it is very hard to understand global culture nuance when based in India alone and when there are gaps in the kind of risk capital that is available to try out radical business models. There are handful instances where this is being attempted such as Zomato, Hike but the jury is still out.
  5. Indian startups are rocking the global SMB market, strategic inflection point that has made this possible is small business are searching for solution to their problems online. When solution is possible to be delivered online through Saas, the purchase consideration is based on the experience of solution (try and buy) and not based on the trusting the salesman who delivers the CD.  Given this dynamic it does not matter if the solution was built in Alabama or Alwarpet in Chennai. Comparative cost advantage of doing desk based selling from India makes it possible for price points unimaginable in other parts of the world and which in turn opens many low end markets that have been earlier priced out.  Companies that are trend setter here are Zoho, Freshdesk, Wingify, KissFlow, Kayako, ChargeBee, Hotelogix and many others.
  6. There is also good precedence of traction for the global Enterprise with more than handful examples. The pattern here has been to prove product with pilot customers in India and scale it faster with global markets. This involves migration of feet on street sales team globally, iflex has been the Zoho equivalent grand daddy to set the precedence here but recent examples are Druva, Eka and newer folks like Innovaccer, Unbxd are following suit.

There are startup ideas that are tech components and may sell into a value chain into one of these market and not directly, for example a developer toolchain. The effect of traction in the market has same implication for them.

The above map is not going to be static map and is bound to change. Certainly past is not an indicator of future however history of technology has taught that path dependency plays a huge role in shaping of markets. Thus realization of this map has allowed few startups have change their gear in reaching product – market fit or scale.  Also this map helps understand that playbook for winning a market is a different than a playbook for creating a market.

 

 

To quote Marc Andreessen

When a great team meets a lousy market, market wins.
When a lousy team meets a great market, market wins.
When a great team meets a great market, something special happens.

What are the market maps that you are seeing ?