As per the GDP report 2023, India is the 5th largest economy. Despite a literacy rate of 77.70% (7+ years of age with capability to read and write), the country still exhibits a mature tech ecosystem. As per Nasscom, India’s IT industry contributes around 8% in 2017-18 and is expected to increase to 10% by 2025. When the digital India initiative took over and the internet became a norm, India witnessed a rise in startups. However, Covid directed this flow of startups more towards SaaS-based services. The logic was simple, if the customer can’t reach the business then the business has to reach the customer (from a product & services perspective).
The economic survey report 2022-2023 clearly states despite an increase of startups from 452 (2016) to 84,012 (2022), challenges still exist. Challenges such as funding problems, lack of infra, etc. However, there is a different perspective on the flip side. The majority of these startups have first-time founders. They have the zeal and passion to create a successful startup. However, they lack the necessary guidance. Keeping this in mind, the initiative of SaaSBOOMi was set in motion. SaaSBOOMi is a community of founders and product builders that have a vision of making India the world’s biggest SaaS ecosystem.
In today’s exclusive interview, we’ll be having a conversation with Mr. Mrigank Tripathi. Mrigank is one of the founders of SaaSBOOMi GrowthX or SGX. He is a strategy consultant turned digital entrepreneur turned growth leader. He has a background in startup sales and operations entrepreneurship. Adding to it, he is also the chief growth officer (CGO) at PeopleStrong. Aside from his professional qualification, he’s an advanced PADI-certified scuba diver who also loves to trek, swim, and play squash.
In this interview, Mrigank will be throwing light on his journey and various other aspects such as SaaS entrepreneurship, growth marketing, strategy consulting, etc. He will be sharing his perspective on being one of the founders of SaaSBOOMi and CGO at PeopleStrong (one of Asia’s largest HR tech companies).
Therefore, let’s start this interview…
A.1 SaaSBOOMi for me is a founder-led community. It is an initiative of ex-entrepreneurs and current founders who are helping groom the next generation of founders to bring the value curve up. I’ve been involved on the growth side of things.
We held a one-day boot camp for growth during COVID which was in 2020. It was a very intensive hands-on tactical camp explaining what to do and what not to do. After its success, we devised a four-month intensive program where two founders per startup became the mentors.
We sat together and it was like a colleague of yours who was at the same level, however, with slightly more experience to guide you. We went through everything. From the ideal customer profile to value prop canvas to the outbound and inbound motion, we covered the whole nine yards. We tailored the boot camp for every single startup. Also, that was the beauty of it. You have two mentors for four weeks and that was the crux of SGX (SaaSBOOMi Growthx).
I was one of the founding members of this initiative and right now, we are in the fourth cohort of this initiative. Also for the future, we hope to carry it forward for many more years to come.
A.2 SaaSBOOMi is a pro bono initiative. It’s voluntary and I am not getting paid for anything. Our hope is to turn India into the SaaS capital of the world. This is why we are all involved including many other voluntary founders who are lending their time to build out the SaaS ecosystem here in India.
My day job is that of a growth lead at PeopleStrong. I lead overall growth for them which includes discovering new geographies, new products, new markets, new approaches, marketing, sales, etc.
A.3 We are in the enterprise HR tech space that requires a fairly detailed approach. It’s not like an SMB (Small and Medium Sized Business) sale where you put the SDR (Sales Development Representative), and somebody calls out and gets a lead or somebody gets a demo, and the deal flows. It is much more elaborate. For instance, how do you figure out the target segment in the Middle East? It’s a new requirement, new geography, and a new landscape.
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So, we go there, figure it out, and set up a team. We figure out what marketing activities we should be doing. All those elements are a part of my job. India is a part of my gamut and it is the largest territory for me from PeopleStrong’s perspective. We might be one of the few companies that have generated that kind of revenue from India for enterprise SaaS. So at PeopleStrong, I make sure that all the pieces stick together. From figuring out what is the right messaging, to the right channel, to the right product, to the right customer, we sort of help stretch everything together to bring everything in the same bucket.
A.4 In India most companies operate in the enterprise space. Here most enterprises have some level of technology experience. However in the Middle East for some reason, they’ve not experienced even the first level of technology. In fact, they are far behind in terms of technology. They have experienced part of technology but I’ve never experienced the full-blown spectrum. Therefore, the requirements are different. I think the most important point is to understand the ideal customer profile. The requirements of a small to medium segment in India will dramatically differ. The situation is alike in the UAE as well. Therefore, it becomes important to understand the pain point for the customer and whether your product addresses that or not.
A.5 We were on a zero-to-one journey. A zero-to-one journey is when we start out and get our first million or couple of million. PeopleStrong is on a journey of 10 to 100 so the scale is much more difficult. PeopleStrong is a much larger company even now. I think the beautiful part about PeopleStrong is that they have my way or the highway kind of approach. It's just that the leadership is never saying, do this or do that. When I came to the company, I was part of the executive team and today I’m of course very much a part of all key decisions in the company.
I myself learned what it takes to go from a zero to one, one to ten, ten to a hundred, and how the overall approach changes. What is important at what time? When is consensus important? When are executive decisions important? When is the right time to document? When is the right time to delegate? When is the right time to invest? And What are the signals?
I’ve understood all those things by myself. I do believe that I came from a more entrepreneurial background. Even the sales side of it and the growth side of it take a much more entrepreneurial role. We’d experiment a lot more and we thankfully sort of settled on the best route and the best approach for SaaSBOOMi.
I also learned quite a bit from SaaSBOOMi and implemented some on PeopleStrong. We’re in a good space and growing very well. I have a good team across the regions and we’re doing all right. One or a few things an inexperienced startup gets wrong about sales is that younger startups try to get everything right.
I would advise every single entrepreneur before your product is ready to speak to 100 potential customers. Talk to them about their problem and about solving that problem and how they would find the solution to this problem.
For instance, I’m selling software that works similarly to Zoom calls and it can record them. Present it to somebody who has this requirement and ask them where they would go, and what their decision will be. What is the decision that made them go to Zoom or Cisco? For instance, if I’m going to go to somebody else for the same solution because of security reasons or any other reason whatsoever, what are the reasons behind it? If they are going to Cisco then what are the requirements that made them go to the company? After that, tailor down your proposition and reach out to an entrepreneur who’s actually looking at a similar solution. That will be your target market.
After that, you ask questions like how are we going to reach those guys? how are you going to find such a solution? Who will you actually ask? Will it be Whatsapp, Google, or Youtube, or is it G2 that will help you get to the position where you need to be?
From there you will be able to sell more. This is the first part which is the ideal customer profile. The second correlated part of this is because I know so many people, I will be able to sell in the initial days. For instance, if someone belongs to the finance industry then he/she thinks that they will be able to make a 10 million dollar company out of it only because they know a lot of people.
Initial contacts will help you get to half or a million dollars. Beyond that, your contacts will stop. You need to have a system for that to build today. The system starts from the whole marketing side of it, in SaaS or in entrepreneurship. If you do not understand your customer and you do not know how to acquire your customer at a particular point in time, you will hit a roadblock. Therefore whatever the flywheel says, you need to have it because predictability isn’t the name of the game.
A.5 The question again goes back to your ideal customer profile. For instance, you should be able to literally meet somebody and shake hands with the person. As the first word or the first discussion, you should know whether this is your customer or not. Otherwise, the world has got eight billion people and it's not possible to reach out to everybody. Till the time, you don’t understand that or don’t understand your ideal customer, reach out to everybody.
I’ll give you an example. So in one of our SGX companies, there was a person who said look I help in financial companies do X. It was a good enough place to be. He knows that he wants to go to financial companies. So, we asked him what his total addressable market was. He said it was India, Southeast Asia, and America. We also asked how he is going to address this market with limited resources. He basically asked us to do the time for India, Southeast Asia, and America while America was the most important for him.
Further on, we asked him how will you reach the bank. How will you reach an insurance company? How will you reach a broker? How will you reach anybody else? He narrowed it down by saying, we’ll only reach NBFCs (Non-Banking Financial Companies). So, we asked him again, how you choose the best for your business and who will be willing to close with you. We literally narrowed it down to that level. Today that person has got an ideal customer profile. He can tell you if your revenue isn’t this much, you don’t have a CIO or an admin head, you’re not my ideal customer, and you will not buy from me. Also, I don’t want to sell you.
I always refer to a great friend and he was the founder of FusionCharts. His philosophy was simple. He doesn't want to sell to anyone. He would rather want people to come to his website and pay. His ideology was, “I don’t want to talk to anybody, I don’t want to hear anybody's pain”. This was his ideal customer profile.
His profile was if I need to talk to you or you need to talk to me then we’re not meant for each other. It simply means you are not comfortable giving me your money without talking to me and I don’t want to talk to you. He would not have been able to say that if only his friends were coming to the website.
The ideal customer flywheel is you’re sitting on a beach and 500 people come to your business or website out of which 100 converted. This is what we are trying to help companies with, via SGX.
A.6 There are a plethora of them out there. However, I think from a basic perspective. For a sales automation system or a marketing automation system, you need to have a SaaS ecosystem.
If not that at least, you need to have a database of your customers. You need to have a good landing page. In fact, HubSpot is a good mechanism for that pipeline. I’m not advertising for one or the majority of companies, we know they use HubSpot for whatever reason suitable for them. You know, when you reach some sort of product-market fit (the ones that are broad), it goes beyond 50 or 50,000. You can keep on optimizing it for something on your website. However, I don’t want to get into that.
A.7 Strategy consulting is quite similar to a lot of people looking at your watch and telling you the time. It is very different so it's like in my mind, if anyone wants to crack a problem in a structured manner, consulting can help you. If it's a large company and they have a profitability problem. Strategy consulting will do all the tough work to tell you about A, B, and C. You will be able to become more profitable.
When I was a strategy consultant, I was primarily helping in the telecom space. I was helping large telecom operators in the Middle East to merge with other companies to become more profitable, thereby, reducing their costs. I would help them set up their sales ecosystem and all sorts of things. However, the problem could be that I am incompetent right now, and I want to become the number one internet operator so how do I do that? Well, there are steps to it. A strategy consultant can actually help you do that quickly and thoroughly.
It’s not that hiring a strategy consultant is mandatory. Anyone can do that, however, they can not be as good so they end up charging a bomb. I think it’s very well worth it for the companies who want to get the best businesses out there and deliver them.
What I was doing in strategy consulting was consulting the way you sell in strategy. It was very different from what we do in the internet space. It was more sales. It is a need because you want to reach the other person across Google to understand that they actually have this problem. To help them understand that if they solve this problem what difference it might make?
Right now, the minute you are able to do that then everything will boil down to the cost-benefit analysis. For instance, I am going to make 10 million dollars if I solve this problem. This is the broader approach that you need to take in strategy consulting from a sales perspective. I would thoroughly recommend strategy consulting for anybody and everybody who can potentially take benefit from it. However, it is a tough place to get to but a brilliant learning ground for anybody, especially entrepreneurs. You really understand the nuts and bolts to solve a problem as an entrepreneur considering you are getting problems every single day.
A.8 The pandemic has been good for the companies which were in the SaaS space. They were sitting on the fence. They were talking about the on-premise and on-cloud space. Now, they have realized that there’s no way you can remain on-premise. They had to move to the club because if there’s nobody in the office then what are they going to do?
I remember, there was a company. They were a client of ours. They could not be on-premise but they had to run their entire company’s performance cycle in March. Now, how are they going to do that? Therefore, they asked us to move everything onto the cloud. We did that and they became our customers.
Right now, the overall ecosystem is definitely changing and people are becoming more adept at the whole cloud ecosystem. I think there will still be some companies who say no to migrating to a private cloud. However, that is a minority and a lot of change has been happening and I think it will continue.
A.9 Well, if they are entering into a new market or just starting out then my recommendation is to look at the total addressable market. How large is the market and is it sustainable? For example, there was a wave during the pandemic where people wanted to have a lot more interactions with each other using video. They wanted to have social interactions.
If you recall, there’s a company called Airmeet. I think they did a brilliant job. They launched a conference system. When you could hold events and what they offered was breakout areas. They would provide small Zoom rooms wherein four people could go in and block a seat. It was a great innovation. Right now, they've grown and are on a completely different trajectory. However, what they did was relevant at that time.
In today’s time, you can ask what is relevant today. What are the pain points of the customer? Is that pain deep enough? Is it lasting enough pain? Can you make a big impact on it? If the answer to each of these questions is positive then go ahead.
A.10 If you have something which is level one. For example, I am in the HR tech space. I know Mrigank doesn’t mark his attendance and that’s a data point. For that, I have to think of using this data in conjunction with let's say two million other people and predict whether Megan will mark attendance tomorrow. It’s a possibility but you have to use those tools as you can do a lot more with them.
What will happen is that you will start using this data for your context and embedding it into the overall system. You might think about how we can utilize this better. I also think interfaces that are much more clickable today will become chat rooms all thanks to tools like ChatGPT.
A.11 Right now, you can ask everything from a chat room. The data can come right at you with full written content. You can definitely look into your database and be able to contextualize it to figure out whether or not you can utilize the data.
A.12 Firstly, start now. Second, if you haven’t started to focus on growth more than sales then don’t think of them as two separate elements. If you have growth marketing in place in your SaaS startup then you will most likely end up with short-term revenue. If you want long-term growth, focus on both SaaS marketing and growth marketing.
A.13 In my opinion, if you can get by without fundraising then get by without it. One should build a product, understand the basics, get customers, be cash flow positive, and be income positive. Once that is achieved, a lot of companies will be interested in funding you as everybody likes a healthy bid.
If you need to go out and raise funds then fine, however, today is not the best time to do it. I would even sort of go back, let’s say two years. It may be a worse time to do it because you’ve got overvalued and every company that got overvalued then is undervalued now.
They are all facing the same problem. Whoever raised capital in their A days is now raising the next round because everything today is on a down round. I think, as entrepreneurs and especially first-timers, we pay too much attention to the hoop around fundraising. It is a means to an end. It is like saying that your father gave some pocket money for you to spend. Also just because you gained pocket money doesn’t mean you don’t have to make it to the newspapers. For instance, if you bought an Xbox to get into the newspaper, your father would still ask you what you do with your pocket money. You even might get scolded so it's better not to focus on raising funds.
A.14 I think it's a very individual thing, to be honest. Culture always comes on top. However, it is again a personal choice. Some like to have an authoritarian culture while others might say more consensus-driven culture. Someone will turn around and say I am going to delegate, and everybody else does it.
See everybody is a CEO of their own business. Historically, the type of founders that have successful ventures has been built by equals and not by senior engineers. By equals, I mean CEO heads the company, Chief Sales Officer is the final authority for sales, CTO is the final authority on technology, etc. If this is not the way to do it then there is no way to do it.
I think, if I were to go back and change anything then that would be equality in terms of thought process. The ability to come up to the table and own what you’re delivering is extremely important. This fosters the culture of ownership, otherwise, you will always have a culture of “it’s my monkey, it’s his monkey”.
I would very consciously say that see who are the people you achieve. The CTOs, CMOs, COOs, etc. They need to be better in their function and not in general management. It is better if you are surrounded by aces of their own domain.
You have to be the common thread as CEO. I think the CEO’s job is to thread things together and set things together. Somebody very aptly told me that each person or each leader in your team should be like a ray of sun. If they all fall parallel on Earth, they would end up burning it. The CEO's job is to be a concave mirror so that he/she can hone these guys and point them in one direction. If everyone is running fast, your job is to align them together moving forward, otherwise, everything will burn.
A.15 I don’t have a book or a series. However, if I really want to put a structure, I think there are a few things. I would recommend something called the pyramid principle. This you can use for communication. When you go down that path, you understand how logical it is. How simple it makes communication.
The second I would recommend is being able to structure your thoughts better. Do a bit of research on Google. You’ll come up with hundreds and thousands of case study formats or case study frameworks. The more you go down that path, the more your brain will start getting attuned to looking at everything.
A.16 If you study the pyramid principle, you will see that humans by nature look at the peak first and not at the base. You don’t cover the peak in one go, you break it into several parts. It’s a very simple analogy. It says whenever you need to communicate, break everything down into relevant parts.
Once you have done that you will actually have four parts that you need to communicate. There is a beginning, a preamble, a body, and a tail. For each part, you should not have entire paragraphs. You should just have key headings. It will enable them to make a visual picture. Let’s say the part is how to take notes. Now, you have a visual image of what I am going to talk about already.
The second image is how to remember those notes. Now, the visual image will be that these notes are written. Whenever I am stuck and thinking about what I am supposed to be saying, I look for visual cues and get feedback from the listeners. However, there are many better ways of doing this. In reality, the pyramid principle is just a starting point to break a communication into four points and then you break it into four more, and so on. You start from the main topic then you break it up and then you break it up more.
A.17 I would say active listening is one of the biggest things. We miss out when I say active listening is when I am listening to you. Instead, active listening is when I listen to you and recapitulate. Two things happen because of this. One is that there is no misunderstanding and second you’re really actively listening. One additional thing would be that you give your brain more time to sort your own thoughts and be able to do something.
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