It’s time to write a new chapter
They say that you can learn a lot about a person by observing their behavior in a group setting.
Let’s take the example of a group photo snapped at the end of an event.
Some people gravitate right to the center — people who are boisterous, gregarious, and spotlight-friendly.
Others move to the edges — people who are happy to stand in the shade, introverts, shrinking violets.
Where do I stand, you ask?
Can you spot me?
I love standing as one in the crowd, neither in the center nor at the edges, but somewhere in between — seamlessly weaving myself into the fabric of the community bridging the literal and metaphorical gap between the extroverts in the center and the introverts at the edges.
This is probably why I turned out to be a community builder. Where I can immerse myself, bridge personalities, and build relationships between people of various dispositions.
It is against this backdrop that I would like to announce that I am going back to my roots — taking up a full-time role as CEO at SaaSBoomi, to build and support our wonderful SaaS community.
While I am both nervous and excited about the prospect of going back to community building full-time, I would be remiss if I didn’t share my experiences thus far and explain why I took this decision.
The Product Nation Dream
15 years back, I had a ringside view at NASSCOM’s India Leadership Forum, where Dr. Abdul Kalam spoke passionately about the need for India to go beyond software services and build software products, presciently noting that the true value of our nation’s tech talent could only be captured if we moved up the value chain.
At that time, India was at best seen as an outsourcing hub for services for the west and there was no culture or ambition to build products. Dr. Kalam’s impassioned speech sparked a fire in my own heart — the dream to see India as a “Product Nation”. Other early stalwarts such as Mr. Anil Bakht, CEO of Eastern Software Systems & Sharad Sharma, Founder at iSPIRT helped me to channel my energy and work towards converting this dream to reality, through seminal initiatives such as the NASSCOM Product Conclave.
iSPIRT was Chapter Two of this journey. As our tech ecosystem evolved, the number of ambitious startup founders grew in lockstep; a new generation of dreamers who were ready to take on the world with products built in India.
Personally, it was gratifying to get involved in several catalyzing efforts that strove to weave together this loose band of startup founders into a cohesive community. Early leaders selflessly adopted a “pay it forward” philosophy and shared their lessons and experiences openly and transparently in the role of mentors and volunteers.
And eventually, with SaaSBoomi, these efforts coalesced from an as-needed set of serendipitous activities to a regimented and structured community platform. It also seemed to become much easier to get more founders involved in the mission as the sense of “tribe and community” took root. One of the biggest joys of building India as a ProductNation is that I get to work with many smart founders who give their time and energy, pay it forward, and help other founders.
Over the past decade, our ecosystem of SaaS founders and operators has grown several times — from humble beginnings, we have now become a global force.
And mirroring the Indian SaaS ecosystem, I, too, went through an evolving journey in my own career, replete with transitions.
The Circuitous Path
I moved from a community role to a corporate role and subsequently from a corporate job to venture capital. Each of these moves was an orbital shift — both in terms of the job challenges as well as the impact.
I made the shift from community to VC when I joined Accel as a Community Platform Evangelist. The intent was to replicate and transfer my experiences around building communities.
My time at Accel was rewarding in all kinds of ways.
It gave me a front-row seat in the venture capital ecosystem. I learned about how VCs operate, and how they manage their time and focus. I also developed a deeper understanding of founders and their ambitions and struggles.
And later when Girish and Manav started Together Fund and invited me to join them, I thought that this would afford me a bigger platform to build a community within and around a VC firm. The fact that I could do this with friends was a nice bonus.
I learned a lot from my time at Together and Accel. The experience also made me greatly appreciate the complex world of VCs.
But I also realized that a partner in a VC firm has limited bandwidth. However well-intentioned, their ambition is always to close the next deal. Even though they spend a lot of time helping portfolio companies, a founder can’t really have a chat with his investor about how to find the right apartment in the US or how to motivate employees during a difficult period. These are minutiae that a VC often doesn’t have time for.
And even amidst all this, the clearest moments of joy in my professional life were when I met founders and listened to them as they spoke about their dreams and aspirations, shared their stories, and narrated their hard-earned life lessons without fear of being judged.
That is when I was struck by the epiphany of what I needed to do next.
Coming Back to My Purpose
Someone once told me that you can spend your entire life looking for your purpose and the day you find it, even if it is the last day of your life, you’ve done something meaningful.
By that measure, I have been far luckier than I probably deserve.
I might have gone from community to corporate to investor roles but my true calling never moved — my heart always knew that my life’s purpose was to build communities.
That moment reminded me of a song I heard in my youth by Lucky Ali. “Anjani raahon mein tu kya dhoondhta phire, door jisko samjha woh toh paas hai tere.” (What have you been looking for in unknown places, what you desired has always been around).
What I had been looking for was to return home — to return to SaaSBoomi.
As SaaSBoomi makes an orbital jump to the next phase of evolution, I am delighted and humbled to come home as the CEO and founding volunteer of our tribe. In addition to an excellent team of fellow volunteers, we are fortunate enough to have many of the best SaaS leaders in India as part of the SaaSBoomi board, and several more taking ownership of one or more initiatives in our vast platform.
Here are a few initiatives that are at the top of my list at the moment:
- Create playbooks to help hybrid startups which currently offer services and products, become pure-play product companies.
- Scale our cross-border GTM initiatives for startups
- Build our mentor network
- Build a platform for aspiring founders
- Build communities around dev tools and infrastructure
- Build a membership program that allows more companies to become part of the network
- Go beyond the metros to give flight to hidden and unheralded talent in emerging cities
- Work towards building the bootstrapped ecosystem
- Build a strong network of founders for companies who have crossed $10M ARR and are aiming to join the $100M club
- Build a sister platform called “Jagah” focused on founders’ well-being
I am filled with excitement and optimism as I look at our ecosystem and future plans. This piece captures my emotion perfectly. I am “compelled to make things better, whomever, wherever, however — to make the hard, cage-rattling changes.”
Today is the first day of a new chapter and the start of another joyful stretch of my journey as I look forward to bridging more gaps and building more bonds in our community, working hand-in-hand with my parachute packers 🙂
It’s just amazing that there are so many founders who have taken the plunge to help other founders and also become part of the SaaSBoomi mission. What started as a small dream is now a nationwide movement — relentless and unstoppable.
At SaaSBoomi, we’ve been trying to inspire founders to innovate by growing their ideas in cohesion, without the boundaries of portfolios or competitors. If we want India to realize its potential as a Product Nation, we’ll have to find ways to work together instead of against each other in a blood sport.
This is what I want to build.
And this is what I want to spend the next decade of my life doing.