SaaS Tools Aimed At Startups

I just got back home after the unpluggd event here in Bangalore. Checked out some really cool demos. I want to highlight some that are trying to solve problems that startups run into and can’t afford expensive solutions. Here are a few such cool SaaS based offerings (in no particular order):

  • interviewstreet.com – if you are looking to hire programmers this is a cool SaaS company that helps automate testing the programming aptitude of your applicants. Customers: Facebook, Google, Flipkart, etc
  • 99tests.com – crowdsourced QA testing for startups. Customers: Flipkart, etc
  • freshdesk.com – SaaS customer support system started by ex-Zoho guys. Customers: 30+
  • unbxd.com – search tool for ecomerce sites. Customers: 6
  • recruiterbox.com – SaaS based company for startups to manage the job application process end to end. Customers: 50+
  • Exotel.in – SaaS based unified voice SMS solutions. Customers: 8

All these companies made a compelling case about solving real issues that startups face, in a cost effective fashion. Most of them have a free one month trial or freemium offer. If you are a startup and want to help your fellow entrepreneurs, please try out some of these tools. 

I have added these companies under the Tools section of EntrepreneursToolBox. If you are a startup and use any other such cool tools/products created by entrepreneurs in your ecosystem, please drop me a note or leave a comment. I will collate all the feedback and do a more detailed post if enough responses/interest in this topic.

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Startup Competitions – How Do They Help?

Recently, I had the chance to be one of the judges at a startup competition. After the event, I was thinking through whether these competitions are helpful to the participating startups and if so how. Overall, my conclusion is that these competitions are indeed helpful but the startups need to be strategic about picking the right competitions and not overdoing it by entering too many of these. Here’s my reasoning.

How startup competitions help

  • Free marketing – This is self explanatory. For a cash strapped startup, getting free publicity through the right competition could be hugely helpful. To pick an example from my Boston days, the MIT 100K competition has led to the creation of about 150 companies over the years including successful ones like Akamai Technologies. The startups in this competition get reasonable amount of recognition/free marketing through various media circles.
  • Exposure to investors and mentors – Through these competitions, a startup can also get exposure to investors and mentors in a lower risk setting. If an investor gets exposure to your startup through the competition and likes you he/she will most probably follow-up to take the conversation forward. Also, through these competitions a startup could meet experienced entrepreneurs who could mentor your startup to success. 
  • Firming up the business plan and pitch – The structure around these competitions forces you to think through your business plan and helps you shape it better. Also, your pitching skills (either the short elevator pitch or longer version) will definitely get exercised and refined through the various stages of these competitions. 
  • Answering tough questions – If the competition has the right set of judges, the startup will be asked some tough questions around their business plan. This would be a great way for the startup to prepare for answering such questions and thereby refining their business plan in a lower risk environment. 

Things to watch out for

  • Picking the right competitions – I think this is something that startups don’t necessarily think about. I would encourage the startups to think whether the competition serves the above mentioned benefits (and anything else specific to your company). In addition, is the competition in the right domain/industry for your startup (e.g. consumer startups vs enterprise vs medical technology, etc.)
  • Over exposure – This is one thing that I find a common issue. When I look at some of the competitions over the past year that I have judged or attended, I see some startups that have entered almost all the competitions (and some have not won any of them). So much so, that someone called a startup a “professional competitor”. This might be ok if you are winning these competitions. For example, I know a startup in the US that won every business plan competition they entered and ended up using that as seed money. But, if you entered a couple and didn’t win, its obviously not the end of the world. After all, I’m assuming your goal is to build a successful startup and not necessarily winning competitions. Please think about this. If anything, entering too many competitions might hurt your chances of getting funded by an investor (if raising outside capital is in your plans) since they would wonder why so many other investors who looked at the company through these competitions not invest.
  • Premature exposure – This is also something to watch out for. If your business plan is very premature and you will not be able to do a good job pitching/answering questions, you are better of refining your pitch before entering a competition. After all, the saying that “First impression is the best impression” is very true for startups as well. You want to put your best foot forward in these competitions and for that you need to be really well prepared.

Those are my quick thoughts on this very important topic for startups as they consider entering various competitions. Would love to hear your perspectives on this.

Note: Published by yourstory.in here

Career Move to India

You probably read the Economic Times article titled “50% of US green card holders plan to return home”. It might not be 50%, but based on the number of inquiries I get from friends wanting to move back, it does feel like a good number who want to move back and be part of the vibrant Indian economic growth story. I was reading Shyam Kamadolli’s blog about “India as a career move” and having gone through this process and also helping out a handful of friends move back to India, wanted to share some thoughts. The comments pertain to people who want to move back and find a job in either an MNC, startup or VC (three areas I’m familiar with). Most people focus on the move alone and miss out on focusing to find the best opportunity possible while moving. The following points (in no particular order) are to help you focus on finding the best opportunity possible while living out your dream of moving back to India:

  • Shortlist cities – Once you decide on the move shortlist the list of cities that you want to live/work in. If you have family, please talk to the rest of the family (particularly spouse) and get consensus on the top 2-3 cities you want to live/work in. It’s important you zoom in on these cities to help focus on finding great opportunities in those cities (sounds obvious but most people who move back are initially open to anywhere in India and this makes it tougher to find good opportunities)
  • Make a few trips to India – Once you are sure you want to move, budget at least a year to find the right opportunity and make the move. Start out that year with a trip to India to visit your target cities and meet potential employers. In the middle of that year, you could make another trip with family and hopefully close on the right opportunity. And by the end of the year, you could make the move. People with kids would have to plan this around academic years. But note that December holidays in the US coincides with holidays in India as well and so, this is probably not the best time to try and close job offers.
  • Target industry and create list of potential employers – Many people, especially on the business side, are agnostic to industry while making the move. But, employers want people with relevant background in their industry. And so, look at your resume and figure out which industries fit you the best (background and interest). Also, if you are looking for VC or startup opportunities (which is what I get pinged most about), it is important to identify the top 10 to 15 firms that you want to talk to. (e.g. if you are interested in e-commerce startups, figure out which are the top 10 to 15 e-commerce startups in India that you want to work for. You could use blogs – many listed under EntrepreneurToolBox – as well as talk to experts in that target sector to shortlist the companies you want to talk to)
  • Tap your social network – Once you shortlist the cities and firms you want to work for, look at your Facebook (try BranchOut app) and LinkedIn contacts closely to find out ways to network into relevant people in the companies you want to work for. 
  • Informational interviews – Once you find relevant first/second level contacts in your target firms, instead of straight away asking for a job in your first conversation, have a more open-ended informational interview with them over the phone. Share with them your intent to move and that you are talking to a short list of firms to learn more and see if it would be a mutual fit. Once you develop comfort that this is the right firm for you and develop rapport with the person, you could take the conversation to the next level and mention about your upcoming trip to India and to see if the person can help set up meetings/interviews for you.

Now for a few items to watch out for:

  • Family not in sync – one of the best pieces of advice I got when I initially thought about moving back to India was from the legendary Indian entrepreneur, Desh Deshpande. He asked me where my wife wanted to live and raise children and advised me to figure this out beyond any doubt before planning my next step. It turned out to be very sound advice which I would like to “pass it on”
  • Industry and Role switch – as mentioned earlier, top companies are very picky on who they hire. They want you to be an expert in the industry and/or role before hiring you. And so, if you are planning to make a move to India (new geography, especially if you haven’t worked here recently), try making only one of industry or role switch. For e.g. if you work as an engineering manager in a semiconductor company and want to move to India and want to become a marketing manager in an internet startup, it will be very tough (both to find a job and to do well in it). In this case, the person has to decide what’s more important, the role or the industry switch and take one step at a time. Goes without saying that if you are already an expert in industry and role and only making the move to India, you stand the best chance to find and do well in that job.

Those are some of the quick points that I could think off. Would love to hear from others who have made similar moves on what worked or didn’t for them.