My new engagement with founders, as a community builder

In my dozen-plus years as a journalist, there is nothing I enjoyed more than meeting founders. What is so special about them? Aren’t there so many wonderful people out there whose stories are as fascinating or more? Of course! And I have enjoyed meeting many and telling their stories. 

But founders hold a special place for me. Here are people who stumbled upon a problem or had an idea to improve something, gave it their all, and managed to infuse their passion enough into others to have them join in to change the world or at least tiny pieces of it for the better. 

How do they do that? What makes them different from so many others around? What are they running on? Where does their courage to take risks come from? I am endlessly fascinated by it all. When I’ve picked their brains as a journalist, I haven’t just been out to get a story for my readers, but I have also been living vicariously lives so full – ups, downs, highs, lows, ripples – never still water. 

I have always considered myself incredibly lucky to have found so much joy at work. To make a living out of something you love is happiness. Since 2013, I have focussed exclusively on covering startups – mostly in India, but I also got a real taste of the startup ecosystems across Asia during my four-year-stint with Singapore-headquartered Tech in Asia. From meeting Jack Ma’s pet goat at one of his homes in China 🙂 to interviewing diverse founders across Asia, I had many remarkable experiences. 

One of my fondest memories is traveling with a busload of 40 SaaS entrepreneurs from Bangalore to Chennai in 2015 to attend a unique event called SaaSx. 

Indian media hadn’t yet caught on to the SaaS wave back then, and I was the only journalist on board. The founders opened up about their challenges in a way that’s only possible in what’s perceived to be a safe environment. For me, this was education. Apart from the founders, iSPIRT co-founder and one of the early evangelists of India’s software product ecosystem, Sharad Sharma, who was also on the bus, gave me a perspective on how and why SaaS was gathering momentum in India “like a flywheel”.

One of the enabling factors in the flywheel speeding up became apparent to me at SaaSx. As a journalist I had attended many conferences, including Tech in Asia’s own very large ones in Singapore, Tokyo, and Jakarta, but SaaSx had an ambience that stood out. Around 120 founders big and small rubbed shoulders with one another sharing experiences from their startup journeys that went far beyond the banal. 

Not surprisingly, the star turn came from Girish Mathrubootham of Freshworks with his bravura storytelling. But again, it was different from what you would get from Girish at any other event. Here he was in his element, engaging with the audience of fellow SaaS founders, taking cheeky questions, and opening up his playbook for others to learn from. 

Other top SaaS founders like Suresh Sambandam of Kissflow, Krish Subramanian of Chargebee, and Manav Garg of Eka have been unsparing in giving their time and insights at multiple SaaS events without fanfare. Founders who attended such events have told me how listening to these masters talk about their modus operandi gave them flashes of understanding that would have taken them years to get otherwise.

People talk about ‘Pay it forward’ but rarely does it go beyond lip service. Here it’s real and that is the strength of Indian SaaS – the large, well-knit, and well-organized community that has grown around it, involving Indian founders as well as the diaspora, supported wholeheartedly by successful founders and VCs investing in this space. 

I’ve had a ringside view of other communities that have emerged, thanks to the selfless efforts of believers in the India story. But none can match India’s SaaS community in scale, effectiveness, and a collegiate sense of camaraderie, nurtured initially by iSPIRT until its agenda changed to focus on India’s digital infrastructure, and then SaaSBOOMi, which has grown the community to over 1500 members. 

I’ve had many openhearted interactions with the driver of SaaSBOOMi, Avinash Raghava, over the years from his iSPIRT days to Accel and SaaSBOOMi. He had invited me to take a seat on that SaaSy bus back in 2015. And in early June this year, he roped me in to volunteer with SaaSBOOMi’s first Badminton League in Bangalore. I didn’t know what to expect, but I should have known. The large turnout of founders who registered to play, the palpable excitement, and the serious competitiveness was typical of SaaSBOOMi which had just created a new setting for bonding and peer-to-peer networking. 

I feel privileged to join SaaSBOOMi now to lead initiatives and events. This will be on paper my first non-journalistic assignment. But I wore several hats at Tech in Asia, one of whose missions was to connect multiple startup ecosystems across Asia. A standout moment was bringing the Tech in Asia conference to Bangalore in 2016 with 1200+ attendees. I enjoyed being a ‘connector’ then, and I’m excited about my role now as a community builder.

SaaSBOOMi has taken significant strides since its inception four years ago, driven by the trust that it has got from SaaS founders and other stakeholders. I aim to build on that and then keep raising the bar. 

From my journalistic perspective, I see three areas of action:

  1. Playbooks, roundtables, 200+ events, SaaSBOOMi does a lot in a packed calendar. Nuggets of learning from these are captured in blog posts and videos, but inevitably many nuggets will slip through the cracks. A systematic process of capturing and organizing key learnings will create an invaluable knowledge repository for founders. SaaSBOOMi has the wherewithal to be a think-tank as well as a community.
  2. Mentorship, awards, and even a badminton league, SaaSBOOMi has adopted different formats to help founders learn and grow, and network. My first task will be to reach out to founders in the community to understand how these can be more useful to them and what new formats can be tried for learning, knowledge-sharing, and multiplying India’s SaaS success stories. We also need to explore how SaaSBOOMi can bring value to leaders other than founders in startups and involve them more in the community.
  3. The world over there is a great gender imbalance in startup communities. One of my priorities will be to figure out ways to bring women leaders to the fore, who can be an inspiration to others, and provide them with extra support.

SaaSBOOMi is built on the backs of 75+ volunteers who make the magic happen in the background. The volunteers in turn get a precious insider’s perspective on the inner workings of the SaaS industry and opportunities to connect deeply with successful founders. In my chats with founders and others, I will always be on the lookout for great volunteers and how their interests can be aligned with those of SaaSBOOMi.

There’s so much to be done that I’m rubbing my hands in anticipation. I look forward to reconnecting with Chennai, India’s SaaS epicenter, where I began my career as a trainee sub-editor at The Hindu long ago. And I’m equally excited about visiting other emerging SaaS hubs and meeting the growing band of SaaSBOOMi volunteers. Let’s all take that bus ride again, metaphorically speaking.

About the author

Malavika Velayanikal

Senior Director - Volunteer Community & Content Strategy, SaaSBoomi
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