An accidental foray into the restaurant industry opened up the need for a global restaurant tech platform, which Sakshi Tulsian and her husband Ashish capitalized on to build Restroworks (previously POSist).
In this story of resilience and customer-centricity, we delve into the remarkable journey of how Sakshi turned down a huge funding round and built a 100% inbound strategy. We’ll also uncover some of the lessons she’s learned as a cofounder, the importance of seeking support, and what its like being In Her Shoes.
How did you transition from Product to Revenue? Could you share tips for someone looking to make this transition?
During the initial years of POSist, I was managing the product, operations, and HR. Sales had never been my forte. Then, in 2016, we decided to revamp our product completely to shift our focus to enterprise restaurant chains.
We were building an inside sales team and couldn’t get people to stay with the company. So, I delved into the details of how the team functions and started finding answers to questions I had about sales. This led me to build a new enterprise sales team and since then I have never looked back.
As individuals, we tend to create our own limitations and walls around ourselves. But as founders, we need to break them down. We’re selling ourselves out there, so why not sell our product?
How did you transition into the restaurant industry from a tech background? How did you overcome the challenges of selling to a non-tech market?
The restaurant industry happened by accident. We invested in a friend’s restaurant as a financial venture. That turned out to be a poor decision. Within the first three months, we realized several execution gaps and discrepancies in payments and vendor relationships.
We needed software that could send us real-time reports to monitor restaurant operations. We underwent nearly 10-15 product demos but couldn’t find a solution that met our needs. So, somewhat impulsively, we assigned two members of our tech team to start coding a basic point-of-sale product.
The first version of our product was released in just seven days and it evolved organically over the next eighteen months. We didn’t even realize when we started acquiring customers we hadn’t initially sought. We started enjoying the process and began exploring various aspects of restaurant management.
The first five years were quite challenging. We had no idea where to find restaurant owners. We tried out various offline marketing strategies, such as participating in exhibitions and trade shows in India for the first three years. But the level of control offered by our product appealed to restaurant owners and we slowly started building our customer base.
How did you build a 100% inbound pipeline?
In the last 10 years of our journey, POSist hasn’t spent a single penny on outbound marketing, AdWords, or any inorganic growth methods. This long-term strategy, despite its challenges, has paid off exceptionally well. This resulted in all our leads coming in through inbound methods, including enterprise accounts!
We developed a newsletter called “The Restaurant Times.” The approach was to build a community around restaurant owners to give back to the community.
We began a podcast channel in 2018, where we interviewed restaurant owners and industry consultants, making them the focal point. During the interviews, we soft-pitched our product, which resulted in successful conversions.
Another critical component of our inbound marketing playbook is participating in events. We follow a three-year plan, understanding that the returns in the first year are primarily for branding and positioning. By the third year, we typically see a 5x to 10x return on investment for events.
What was the initial reason you decided to run an inbound rather than outbound strategy?
We started our inbound marketing journey out of necessity. Our bootstrapped approach meant that we had to make the most out of the resources we had in hand. So we decided to invest in content and SEO for marketing.
This situation gave us the luxury of time. While there are moments when you need to move quickly, there are also times when it’s essential to slow down and build for the long term. We recognized that great businesses are not built overnight. It takes a decade or two to create something that truly endures.
We kickstarted things in the first year, focussing on content and SEO. By the second year, we started seeing an increase in leads, and by the third year, we had more business than we could handle through our inbound website contact forms.
What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned as a founder?
One of my biggest takeaways is the importance of resilience. Sometimes, you need to focus on survival rather than immediate growth. The ability to endure and persevere, even when it seems like growth has stalled, is a crucial skill. If your product offers real value, your customers are unlikely to abandon you.
The second thing is to treat your customers right. Authenticity and transparency are critical in customer interactions. Even when things go awry, honesty and open communication can help maintain strong relationships. In our case, these principles have resulted in virtually zero churn in our enterprise restaurant segment over the last five years.
Additionally, it’s essential to take care of yourself as a founder and extend the same care to your team. Your team’s well-being is your responsibility, and their support during tough times is invaluable. As founders, nurturing our team is as crucial as any other aspect of our work.
Was there a moment in your journey that you’d say defined you as a leader?
Saying no to a significant funding opportunity in 2014 was a pivotal moment in our journey and a decision that defined our path. We had initially raised an angel round and were approached by a venture capital firm with increasing funding offers.
However, as we delved deeper into discussions, we realized that the VC’s vision didn’t align with ours. It was a tough decision to say no to such a substantial funding opportunity, but it reinforced our commitment to our vision and values. We believed in building a sustainable business model where customers paid for the value they received.
In the long run, learning when to say no and maintaining clarity of purpose has been a defining characteristic of our journey as founders.Sakshi Tulsian, Co-founder of Restroworks (previously POSist).
A quick tangent to your personal side: what keeps you going, and what does your support system look like?
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have had a wonderful support system in my life. My parents have played a pivotal role in my journey. There is a conventional notion that young women should get married at the age of twenty-one without considering their own aspirations. However, my parents stood by me, ensuring that I could chase my career goals and become an independent woman. And I get similar unwavering support from my in-laws too.
Through my personal experiences, I’ve learned that asking for support is crucial, especially for women. It’s not uncommon for women to hesitate in seeking help. I’ve made the same mistake at times, thinking I needed to handle everything on my own. However, I’ve come to realize that it’s essential to reach out for assistance when needed.
And how do you keep your sanity and wellness in check?
There’s something I’ve held onto that keeps me grounded: finding beauty in the journey. I’ve always made it a point to take pauses along the way and continue having fun.
This is something both Ashish and I have consciously practiced over the years. We’ve relished the journey to the fullest. We’ve never cut ourselves off from our social circle, friends, and family. I find joy in being with the team, celebrating special moments, and going out together.