At some point, Marc Andreessen basically said that “Software is eating the world�?, and I think it was true for a really long time. I think at this point platforms are growing hungrier. A lot of the companies that you would see succeeding in a big way, whether you think about Atlassian, Snowflake, Viva, Zoom, or Twilio for that matter, most of these companies are becoming inherently platforms. The massive successes in the next few years are going to be platforms. These are going to be large companies on which things are built in some way or frame that you can basically offer to a developer or someone who wants to build on top of your platform as a capability. In our case, it is basically the healthcare context, healthcare data, healthcare intelligence layers, all of these things. We have opened all of that as APIs. We have thousands of people developing on top of our platforms. Some of the internal, some of them at system integration companies, some of them as core developers. The experiences that we can deliver to our customers are so much more varied than what a point solution company would kind of freely go ahead and do. In the next few years, if you are attempting to really build out a company, think about how this looks from a platform-driven viewpoint. Even if you are approaching things like analytics and AI thematic, think of whether that is basically for an industry or for a horizontal or a vertical; think of this as can it be a platform of multiple things existing in some way or form in the future. Because if you really solve that problem in some way or form, you are going to be this massively successful horizontal or verticalized company. But if you are going to be a point solution in some of these things, it will be harder as you scale. You can still get initial traction, but it becomes harder as you scale. If you think of the Freshworks journey, they were Freshdesk, and then suddenly they became Freshworks, and that became a platform.
I’m very optimistic about the SaaS market in general, and I’m also extremely optimistic about India as a geographic market. At Postman, we have seen SaaS in India change over time. We now close inbound deals from India—in the past, that wasn’t really the case. Today, people just write to us and want a SaaS product and are willing to spend money on it. In India today, people are buying high-quality software, people are building high-quality software, and there is a sense of pride in building software, and all of these are great things.
I always caution people that the motivation to build a company in India should not be “I’m going to build a great Indian SaaS company.�? It’s crucial to understand that you are competing in a global market. Being in India does not make you special; you need to leverage the Indian talent pool available and leverage the VC interest that is in India, but you need to think and act as a global company in a global market.
When we started out, we accepted any and every type of subscription business to sign up and process their revenue through Chargebee. We wished to get the likes of BarkBox from the eCommerce space and the likes of Dropbox from SaaS. We catered to customers from these segments. We also had customers from the IoT space who combined SaaS with a one-time hardware component. Magazines subscriptions, telecom memberships, and marketplace businesses. You name it, we had it.
Eventually, it got to a point where we catered to all these businesses, but they did not find the depth in capabilities for their respective industries. So they’d migrate to specialists instead of staying with us. Ours was most suitably designed for SaaS businesses. Well into millions in ARR and product maturity, we went back to the drawing board. We did some customer development, the likes you’d do pre-PMF. We asked ourselves who it was we were selling to. We spoke with customers to draw out the value proposition canvas (where you map the value proposition with the customer profile).
And we found that we catered largely to SaaS businesses. Every business that came to us assumed their workflow was unique to them. This exercise gave us a good estimate of repeatable workflows that cropped up in the many conversations we had and who specifically we were selling to.
For any business starting up, I’d definitely recommend doing this customer development exercise early on so you can align the product road map in a much more optimized way.
We balance the technically hard problems that require long-term investment and problems that are easier to solve and have many people in that market. The question you should ask is: “Can you penetrate that market? What is your differentiation in that market?�? The differentiation is building a product well. The challenge, however, is to build a product as well as find the market because there will be 500 CRMs in the market. So we evaluate and then commit resources. At Zoho, when we commit to something after evaluation, we stick to it. We only exit under the condition that we don’t see any opportunity there. But if we continue to see a market or an opportunity, even if we have not cracked it, we stick to it. That’s something that we are good at doing. It’s evaluated in three years, and if we are not making money, we cancel it.
[Here, Girish speculates on how differently he would have done things were he to start again today] What will change is definitely making sure that I go into a big market. I did that back then, too, we went into a big market. What I would do now is focus on solving a new problem in a big market and validate that the
problem is real and it exists. If I start tomorrow, I will pick problems that I know are very real for companies, for example, having a unified view of the customer, issues that people are struggling with today at Salesforce, and other places. I did not start like that. I started by playing into my comfort zone by building a helpdesk and it ended up being a big market, but now I understand more the importance of the market.
You can broadly divide the market into three elements: the consumers, the enterprise, and what we call SMB. When you are in the consumer space, you throw money at marketing and consumers serve themselves. When you are in the enterprise space, you throw money at the sales engine because the enterprise wants that engagement-based purchase, they don’t just go and buy off the internet. You still need people to go there to make presentations and all of that. Peter Thiel [Thiel is a German-American entrepreneur and venture capitalist who has founded successful companies, including PayPal] called SMB the “dead-zone�? because SMB’s volume metrics are similar to the consumer but in terms of behavior, they are similar to the enterprise. No one can run a sales engine of that volumetric because it’s just not cash efficient, because sales engines are expensive. This is why enterprise products are expensive— because the cost of selling is higher than the cost of the technology. On the consumer side, you can make it as low as possible because you are getting high volumes, and you can make it a low-priced product, but the SMB is the dead zone. The reason I make that point is because the SMB expects you to engage, just like all enterprises expect engagement. No one runs a call centre for a consumer business; therefore, it becomes a problem of capacity. It does not matter what the nature of the software is, whether it’s a SaaS product or a device-oriented software; it is the nature of the market that requires that capacity.
- TURN USER DIFFICULTIES INTO OPPORTUNITIES
- OBSERVE THE MARKET AND PIVOT FOR GROWTH
- DESIGN PRODUCTS THAT WILL PROVE SUSTAINABLE IN THE FUTURE