Venture capital funding is at an all-time high in India.
In 2017, Indian companies received VC/private equity funding to the tune of $17.6 billion, with Japan’s Softbank investing nearly a quarter of that amount in Flipkart, Paytm, and OYO. It would appear as if nearly every tech-based startup is backed by VC funds these days and if you want to make it to the big leagues, you need VC money, period.
But a closer look reveals that this claim is not quite true. Bootstrapping may not only be a viable alternative to VC funding, but it might also actually be your ticket to startup success.
Consider Sridhar Vembu’s Zoho, which lies comfortably in the multi-billion dollar valuation field, while being guarded assiduously from external funding for nearly two decades now. Similarly, Paras Chopra’s Wingify, which has an ARR of $18 million, was bootstrapped.
One could go on. The list of companies that were built from the ground up, without being funded by VCs, is quite a long one. If you do decide to go through it, a common pattern emerges: a majority of these businesses are B2B SaaS (Software as a Service) ones. – Read More
Voice as a medium is growing exponentially with the presence of voice assistants such as Alexa, Google Home and now, Facebook Portal.
The demand for voice content, both in audio and video formats has been booming in the past 5 years, especially in video webinars, interviews and online training courses. Even podcasts, a relatively new medium, produce 4 lakh hours of episodes every month.
This demand is expected to exponentially rise in the next 5 years and to meet this demand, a number of startups are relying on developments in artificial intelligence and speech algorithms. Let us take a look at five brands that are redefining the voice industry in across the globe.
Storyline: Storyline makes it easy for anyone to create skills/ apps for Alexa without learning how to code. It features a simple, drag and drop interface that non-technical people can use to create voice-based games, trivia or briefings like daily News. It is the most popular Skills creator platform and powers more than 6% of skills available on Alexa.
LyreBird: Named after the bird that can mimic human voice, Lyrebird is a Canadian company that does speech synthesis, essentially converting text into human-sounding sound. LyreBird allows you to create entire sentences or conversations in a new voice. It is what we call TTS (Text to Speech). While there are obvious ways this can be misused, LyreBird claims to have security features built in so that only authorized sounds can be changed. – Read More
A ways back on SaaStr, we wrote a classic post, Beware of the Confidence of High Win Rates.
It’s something I see again and again, especially below $2m in ARR or so. A start-up says they have a lot of problems, but winning deals isn’t one of them. That they win every deal they are in. Well, of course these early stage start-ups win all these deals. Because they are only invited to just a very small percentage of the dances.
So ultimately, it’s healthy and positive to see win rates decline after $1m-$2m. That means your mini-brand is coming into its own, prospects are starting to hear about you, and that marketing, one way or another, is starting to work. You are getting into more deals that you aren’t ready for. That’s OK. You’ll learn from the ones you lose, and that gives you a roadmap to grow and improve.
If you don’t track your loss rate, even as your win rate goes down, you can lull yourself into a sort of false sense of “we’re doing great. we’re doing as well as we can”. Imagine you are at $3m ARR, growing 100%, burning little, with a 60 NPS. You can kind of get … slightly complacent. Things are going well. But imagine your loss rate is 60% (you’re in a competitive space). What would happen if you closed just a handful more deals, and drove the loss rate down? You’d go from amazing growth, to outlier growth. But if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it. – Read more
It’s perfectly viable to approach API development using either in-house or SaaS-provided tooling, but each path has its place. Learn how to choose between these two methods.
Solve one of their top pain points, for real — that no other vendor is solving.
If you haven’t sold to the F500 / Global 2000 before, you’ll be somewhat surprised to learn that between the CIO’s office and functional heads, at most huge companies, there is a clear goal to bring in a handful of new “innovative vendors” into the company each year.
In fact, almost all the best run large enterprises know they have to seek out new gems in software to help their businesses run faster and better. Otherwise, their stack and approach will ossify. So they have budgets and often even innovation departments to work with emerging vendors.
But here’s the thing — they can only process so many each year. Each new vendor means a lot of business process change, even for a small deployment.
So that means big enterprises often only being in 1 new vendor per year per department, and maybe another handful at the CIO level. More than that is too many and too much to process. – Read More
In 2011, the famous investor Marc Andreessen wrote an essay titled “Why Software is Eating the World.”
Seven years later, SaaS is a billion-dollar industry.
But to lead the pack in SaaS, founders and startup teams should master sales. So, I spoke with five founders on how to sell a SaaS product based on their experience over the years.
1. Growth hack using Quora and SEMrush
With over 12,000 users, Funnel CRM is a sales tool helping businesses, agencies, and freelancers.
According to the company’s CEO Muhammad Gohar Shafique, Quora is one of the most useful resources to understand customer pain points.
Whenever Shafique maps out a new content strategy, he usually goes through Quora to find the problems that his prospective buyers are asking. From there, he thinks of solutions to the problem and answers them on the site.
The opportunity is simple: getting traffic to your content by commenting on questions that your content actually answers.
Here’s the hack they use:
- Step 1: Log in to SEMrush and do a search on Quora.
- Step 2: Navigate to the “Organic Research” tab under “Domain Analytics.” You’ll now have a list of top-ranking questions on Quora.
- Step 3: Run a search for a keyword related to your content (e.g. “SaaS”).
- Step 4: Sort the results in descending order by search volume.
Another simple hack is paying attention to customer support. “We provide 24-hour support and trained our support team to respond to messages within two minutes,” says Shafique. This approach led to a 43 percent increase in leads.
The company also makes it a rule that engineers and founders have to spend at least six hours per week as a support agent. “Why?” Shafique asks. “To understand customer pain points and then iterate the product faster to stay relevant and avoid being just another bloated SaaS product.”
2. Onboard the biggest players in the industry
Y Combinator-backed Cashfree is a technology platform digitizing both inward and outward bulk payments for 3,000+ merchants and brands.
A strategy that worked well for them, according to its co-founder Akash Sinha, is signing up the largest businesses in a given sector. “We spend most of our energy in getting the largest player, and once they come onboard, the rest of the players follow,” he says.
It’s also important to talk with the right decision makers. If your product is helping businesses improve their customer experience, for example, then talk with a product or marketing head. Scheduling meetings with department heads is way more helpful.
But the downsides of this strategy is that it requires patience. Since bigger clients take longer to make decisions, your overall momentum may take a hit.
Sinha’s advice is to chase both bigger and smaller prospects at any point in time. While it’s alright to focus on the larger companies, don’t ignore the smaller clients completely.
3. Don’t focus just on your product
SendX is a remarketing and retargeting SaaS solution that uses email, browser push notifications, and social media ads to drive more revenues.
Its founder Varun Jain shares their sales strategy: Before a product demo, the team researches about the prospect by looking at their latest news or events and their sessions on SendX. This allows them to understand the prospect’s background.
The team then does the demo, focusing on the prospect’s specific problem. They will typically only talk about SendX’s capabilities 10 to 20 percent of the time. – Read more
The investment market is becoming increasingly automated, forcing the leading Wall Street firms to come up with out-of-the-box ways to differentiate.
Taking a page from the software as a service market, JPMorgan Chase has started licensing its trading software to third parties outside of the company. It’s not a new strategy–BlackRock began licensing its risk analytics program Aladdin in the late 1990’s–but it is one that is growing as the industry gets much more competitive and technology plays a bigger role in investing. One only has to look at the advent of robo advisors as one example of how technology can disrupt a traditional market.
JPMorgan Already Has 208 Clients Licensing Its Platform
Dubbed Investment Analytics Platform, JPMorgan’s head of global custody and fund services Teresa Heitsenrether told CNBC in a recent interview that the bank has already signed on 208 large investors and has an additional 42 customers in the pipeline. Those contracts are expected to be inked by the end of this year. The trading program, which is known as Athena after the Greek goddess of wisdom internally, provides investors with the ability to test and run analytics on their own investment strategies. While these type of programs are commonplace in large investment firms, pensions, endowments, and insurance companies don’t have the budgets to spend a ton on technology. After all, they are tasked with investing but also doing it at a low cost. That’s the market JPMorgan is eyeing with the platform. Heitsenrether told CNBC that the bank views the custody business as a growth one and by offering unique services it thinks it can get more of that business. JPMorgan credited its custody business with the company’s ability to generate $3.9 billion in revenue in 2017, which marked a 9% increase year-over-year. Revenue in the business has increased by 11% so far in 2018, according to CNBC figures. While JPMorgan is starting with its trading program, the executive said it could launch other offerings such as risk management for banks, noted CNBC.
Technology Makes Custody Services Cheaper
The move on the part of JPMorgan Chase comes at a time when the financial services industry is embracing technology to automate processes and procedures that have long been the domain of the Wall Street banks. Thanks to technology, custody services are becoming cheaper to offer and as a result, the big banks are focusing on those products and services that rivals can’t easily imitate. They are aiming to become one-stop shops to serve all of a client’s financial needs.
The launch of the trading platform places JPMorgan Chase at odds with MSCI and Bloomberg, two players in the industry that licenses platforms to manage trading and risk among other things. While the New York bank wouldn’t say how much revenue it expects to make from the offering, it is being viewed more as a tool to lure more custody business its way. It’s Chief Executive Jamie Dimon, said in the 2017 annual report that its market share in custody stands at 8% but that he thinks it can “grow significantly” by adding bankers, building better technology and developing more products. “In this business, while you make large initial investments in order to grow when you gain clients, they usually stick with you for a long time,” he wrote at the time.
JPMorgan isn’t alone in licensing out its software to outside parties. In the fall of 2016, Goldman Sachs began licensing its Securities Database software program otherwise known as SecDB, that helped its bankers make money off of ideally timed trades and avoided losses by making costly mistakes. It is reportedly able to calculate 23 billion prices covering nearly three million positions each day. The platform is credited with the investment banking weathering the Great Recession better than its peers. Goldman had long resisted licensing the platform but did an about-face after the recession when new regulation blunted the edge it had over rivals. It now uses the platform to lure more business its way. It’s something JPMorgan and undoubtedly other big investment banks are looking to do more of. – Read more
Aside from “innovation,” few buzzwords carry as little real meaning in Silicon Valley and the broader tech sector than “culture.”
While countless startups and established companies alike have seized upon the idea of corporate culture as a vehicle of employee attraction and a way to differentiate themselves in crowded markets, culture remains one of the most crucial aspects of your organization.
So how do you cultivate and maintain a strong, ethical corporate culture when you’re trying to scale?
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at what companies actually mean when they talk about culture, as well as ways to foster your corporate culture as a direct reflection of your company’s brand values.
First, let’s talk about what culture really means.
Healthy, Productive Cultures Don’t Just Happen
Perhaps the most important thing to realize about culture—at least as it pertains to companies and brands—is that, even if you do nothing, a culture will emerge across your organization. Once we understand this, it becomes easier to see that culture is a result of actions, decisions, and direct actions.
Put another way, strong corporate cultures don’t just “happen.” We have to make them happen.
This is surprisingly difficult even in the early stages of small companies. Think about it for a second. If workplace culture is an extension of a company’s brand values, who decides what those values are? Once that’s been figured out, how do you actually disseminate these ideas and values across your organization?
You could be forgiven for thinking that the CEO or founders are responsible for identifying and shaping a company’s values as well as ensuring that every employee understands these principles. The problem with this approach is that it’s up to a single individual to arbitrarily decide what the entire company’s values are and adopt a top-down approach to implementing those values. This is fine if your company aspires to be the personal fiefdom of a control-freak CEO, but for companies that want to cultivate and nurture genuinely meaningful corporate cultures, it’s completely, wildly unrealistic.
What We Really Mean When We Talk About ‘Culture’
One way to think about culture is to see it as “our way of life.” As you can probably imagine, this covers virtually every single aspect of a company and its operations, from large, intangible brand values to how your customer support teams answer the phone or respond to email.
Culture encompasses big and small things, such as:
- The products we build and how we ship them
- The way we communicate internally and externally
- The messages we choose not to send—and why
- The incentives we use to motivate our staff
- The behaviors we exhibit every day
- The boundaries that, if crossed, have meaningful consequences
- The speed at which serious problems are escalated to someone who can solve them
- The speed at which those problems are acted upon
- The way we dress and the symbols we display
- The ways in which we celebrate victories
- The things that make us proud, and the things that bring us shame
- The things that upset us, and the things that bring us joy
- The things we do to grow as individuals and as teams
- The way we perceive ourselves and our role in a company
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the things that fall under the umbrella of corporate culture. It is, however, a way to start thinking beyond Casual Fridays and ping-pong tables as being representative of the cultures we create.
Our companies—and our people—deserve better.
Action + Communication = Values
One of the major challenges to establishing and maintaining a strong, cohesive corporate culture is the fact that many companies rely on at least partially distributed teams. It’s hard enough to foster and cultivate an inclusive culture at a growing company without tossing remote workers and asynchronous communication into the mix. – Read more
Seva, a New York City startup, that wants to help customers find content wherever it lives across SaaS products, announced a $2.4 million seed round today.
Avalon Ventures led the round with participation from Studio VC and Datadog founder and CEO Olivier Pomel.
Company founder and CEO Sanjay Jain says that he started this company because he felt the frustration personally of having to hunt across different cloud services to find the information he was looking for. When he began researching the idea for the company, he found others who also complained about this fragmentation.
“Our fundamental vision is to change the way that knowledge workers acquire the information they need to do their jobs from one where they have to spend a ton of time actually seeking it out to one where the Seva platform can prescribe the right information at the right time when and where the knowledge worker actually needs it, regardless of where it lives.”
Seva, which is currently in Beta, certainly isn’t the first company to try to solve this issue. Jain believes that with a modern application of AI and machine learning and single sign-on, Seva can provide a much more user-centric approach than past solutions simply because the technology wasn’t there yet.
The way they do this is by looking across the different information types. Today they support a range of products including Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive,, Box, Dropbox, Slack and JIRA, Confluence. Jain says they will be adding additional services over time. – read more