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Your journey into the US market starts here

In the winter of 2016, I decided to take a long flight. I could only check in two bags and one just had to be my cricket kit. With some amusement, I noted that all it took was one suitcase to pack the rest of my earthly possessions. I landed in the US, just the morning before the StartupBridge event. There was no time for second thoughts. From the airport, I went to the house I had rented, dropped off my bags, and raced to the venue to practice my pitch.  

The event was a whirlwind of activities, where founders showcased their products to Bay area execs and networked with a few other India-based companies. It was loud and friendly. When the event ended, I drove my rental car home. 

Once home, the noise faded. The quiet took over. A pit started to form in my stomach. The house felt large and I kept feeling smaller and smaller. I had landed in the US with a dream, 10 months left on a visa, no credit score, and one customer in Arizona. My inbox was filled with emails from CloudCherry’s (my startup) India operations but I knew when I would wake up the following day, there would be nothing for me to do. I had no US business. I had no team or friends (maybe one couple in the Bay area) or mentors to lean on. And in two weeks, my family was to land in the US. I had given myself no wiggle room. I had to make it. 

We all gamble in and with our lives. It’s a gamble to follow your convictions even if it takes you out of your comfort zone and sometimes these gambles pay off. Oftentimes they don’t. I took a gamble by coming to the US. But what I did should not be a gamble anymore. It should be less about the founder’s hustle and more about science. Many founders from India are making this journey to the US. There is a large market in the US that is waiting to be addressed and Indian SaaS startups are uniquely positioned to capture this market. And these founders need not make my mistakes, of which I made many.

They need to know that there is a family that awaits them. 

Soft landing

When I was in the US, I relied on the kindness of strangers. My one friend in the Bay Area had introduced me to a couple of his friends. Prasad, someone I had met once before, co-signed my car lease and took me home for many a meal. Years later he said, “it was a $30,000 call option I took on you.” His friend Vineet, took me shopping and always called me over for dinner. I had been to the Bay Area about four times before this trip and I didn’t know what to expect. 

Thankfully, my background in the merchant navy had prepared me just a little for ocean voyages with rough weather. I leveraged every connection I had, I spoke to people and asked for introductions, and I urged them to talk to their friends about CloudCherry. I shopped CloudCherry’s products for everyone I could. I even went to our biggest competitor and ran a demo of our product and how (I believed) it could do what they could not. I wanted people to know I exist. My prospects, my potential investors, my community, and even my competitors needed to know that CloudCherry had a product that was going to make the world a more delightful place. 

I believe in serendipity. But I also believe that you can make serendipity happen. There is a direct correlation between network density and serendipity. Let’s say you wanted to meet Tom Cruise. You could bump into him at a coffee shop. But the chances of that happening in Bangalore or Delhi are lower than of it happening in LA. It’s the same with meeting customers and investors. Your strategy can’t be built for serendipity but you can plan for it. And that’s what I did. I camped outside offices, hung out at coffee shops near where my universe of people could be and tried to maximize my chances of meeting more people. Cisco had invested in us by then so I marked my calendar to be there every two weeks; no matter what. 

But it took a few hard lessons to get to this place. It took me a year to build even the ground floor of a network and connections. I would argue, that it has been over six years that I have been strengthening that network and it’s still not as strong as I would want it to be. 

What I wanted when I was at home, the first night, jetlagged, lonely, and afraid, was a mentor, a friend, someone who was probably six months or a year ahead of me on the path. Someone I could call and say, ‘Hey buddy, what do I do now?’ 

I don’t think founders need to feel what I felt at that moment. The US now has a deep network of Indian founders based in the US. The diaspora is also very well connected to the new startup ecosystem. It’s all about reaching out to them. And you can. 

Hundreds of founders are planning to come to San Francisco to attend SaaStr. And my suggestion is to make a plan to stick around for two weeks longer. SaaSBOOMi is preparing a roadshow and a couple of brilliant events for you.  

If you’re not planning to come for the SaaStr event, my suggestion is to put this event on your calendar anyway. We all have come to the US when a prospect said they may be interested in your product. Here, we’re promising a sure thing. 

It’s not a once-and-done event. It’s not just a place where you learn and share stories. It is a place where you meet people, swap stories, and create bonds. It is also a place where you meet potential mentors. Mentors who will help you with everything from where to live, and how to get your driver’s license, to helping you raise capital, meeting the right Corp Dev executives in companies, and where to get the best food. And I know that you can’t get all of this in a few hours. Real life is different. What we, at SaaSBOOMi, are also doing is creating a platform, where you can reach out to your mentors and ask them for help when needed. 

The event

So what can you expect over the two weeks between Sept 15th to the 30th?

  • A cocktail mixer of founders, investors, ecosystem enablers, and tech executives
  • A roadshow of Bay Area startups founded in India where you learn from those who have done this before
  • Deep dive round tables on every topic related to moving your operations to the US
  • Launch of our first ever online mentorship platform
  • Connects with Bay Area tech execs, Corp Dev leaders, investors, and more 
  • Our first SaaSBOOMi annual event where we bring it all home

A few days ago, I was hosting a panel at the Montgomery summit and two of the Unicorn founders on that panel (Rohit of Darwinbox and Rajoshi of Hasura) reminisced that I had invited them over for drinks and dinner when they were first scoping out the US market. Correlation is not causation but there seems to be a relationship between coming home for dinner and the elusive billion-dollar valuation.

 I want to extend this invitation to every one of you. It won’t always be at my place (though there may be an after-party), but our event will feel like home. A place where you can be yourself. Come home, sit down with us, and let’s build your destiny together.

Please fill out this form if you would like to be part of the US trip from 15-30th September in the Bay area.

Let’s build SaaSBOOMi US together. 

About the author

Vinod Muthukrishnan

EVP, Uniphore
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