NASSCOM PRODUCT FORUM
BLUE SHIRTS Blue Shirts are a new cadre of volunteers who are being invited to help elevate the profile of the software product industry in India. The success of Blue Shirts as entrepreneurs has given them a public platform that can be used to tackle the challenges faced by the industry today. Being a Blue Shirt is both a recognition of their achievements and a responsibility bestowed upon them. It provides a platform where a consolidated message regarding the importance of a vibrant product ecosystem can be communicated and challenges can be addressed collectively.
Vivek Wadhwa is a Visiting Scholar, School of Information, UC-Berkeley; Director of Research, Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization, and Exec in Residence, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University; Senior Research Associate, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School; Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Halle Institute of Global Learning, Emory University; and faculty member and advisor at Singularity University. He is also an advisor to several startup companies, a columnist for The Washington Post and Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Prior to joining academia in 2005, Wadhwa founded two software companies.
N.R.K. Raman is Director Trimax IT Infrastructure & Servies Ltd, Advisory Board Member Miles Software Solutions Private Limited, Chairman, Advisory Board Atyati Technologies, Advisory Board Member Tyfone, Inc., MD & CEOOracle Financial Services Software Ltd, Raman has been with the IT industry for over 30 years and finds his association with i-flex since its inception to be his most challenging and cherished memory.
Kunal Bahl founded Jasper in the year 2000. An engineer from University of Pennsylvania, with a business degree from The Wharton School and an executive marketing program at Kellogg School of Management, Kunal has a variety of entrepreneurial experiences. Prior experiences also included product management and business development with Microsoft’s emerging markets group, and at Deloitte Consulting as a consultant in the company’s telecom practice in New York and Pennsylvania.
More Details at: http://emerge.nasscom.in/
M R RANGASWAMI
M.R. co-founded Sand Hill Group LLC, and has been a strategic advisor to several fast-growing companies. He has held global VP marketing positions at Baan Company, Avalon Software, and Oracle Corporation. M.R. was profiled on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and has been named in Forbes’ “Midas 100 List” as one of the most influential investors in technology. He holds an MBA from Kent State University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Madras.
Sridhar Vembu is the founder and CEO of ZOHO Corporation. He co-founded AdventNet in 1996, and has been CEO since 2000. Prior to AdventNet, Sridhar worked as a wireless systems engineer at Qualcomm, Inc. Sridhar obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and PhD in Electrical Engineering from Princeton University.
Naveen Tewari is the founder of InMobi and the man in charge of it all. Naveen worked with McKinsey & Company and later with Charles River Ventures (CRV). Naveen is the Founder and Chairman of India School Fund (ISF), which has been formed to set up schools in rural India. Naveen obtained his Bachelors degree from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IIT) and has a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Harvard Business School (HBS).
THE BLUE SHIRT PLEDGE Vivek Wadhwa
The importance of recognizing and therefore nurturing a strong product ecosystem often discounted due to the perception that large organizations create more job opportunities and avenues for innovation.
A strong and vibrant software product ecosystem is essential for the sustained growth and evolution of the software industry and I pledge my support the Blue Shirt initiative to help overcome the challenges facing the environment. M.R. Rangaswami
We are at an opportune juncture for the Indian technology industry to leapfrog from largely focusing on services to building successful products. The underlying infrastructure necessary for setting up a functioning organization has moved from being large and expensive to becoming granular and inexpensive through the introduction of cloud architecture.
Kauffman Foundation has done extensive research on job creation. What this showed was that startups aren’t just an important contributor to job growth: they’re the only thing. Without startups, there would be no net job growth in the U.S. economy. From 1977 to 2005, existing companies were net job destroyers, losing 1 million net jobs per year. In contrast, new businesses in their first year added an average of 3 million jobs annually. As we delve deeper into the statistics of job creation by company age and percentage of jobs startups create within the first 5 years of their existence, the revelations are a lot more startling. So we can’t count on behemoths to create employment: we need the entrepreneurs. And there is an important lesson here for the states and cities that offer huge incentives to large organizations to locate their operations there. The regions should, instead, be focusing on creating more startups, not providing life support to technology behemoths. While the data mentioned above is taken from a the US, the point it conveys is universal and should be taken by the Indian industry and government seriously.
However, this shift alone will not miraculously cause an influx of new products. We need a vibrant ecosystem that encourages product creation and sustenance. This ecosystem is different from the one needed by the services industry. Apart from talent, it needs mentors, angel investors and venture capitalists who understand the local conditions, attorneys specialized in dealing with product law, people who understand what role real estate plays and how that can be used to gain stake, and list goes on. It is also important remember that in the pursuit of creating such an environment, trying to mimic the ecosystem that has worked in other areas of the world should be avoided. India is different from these countries due to a variety of socioeconomic and political reasons and it comes with a unique set of challenges that the ecosystem should be capable of overcoming.
Now let’s talk about innovation. While there are some large organizations where innovation is encouraged and is successful, ground breaking innovation has been lacking in large organizations who hire the best talent. Would these companies be better served by releasing their most brilliant developers into the wild and arming them with seed financing to start companies? (They could negotiate partial ownership and right of first refusal on acquisition.) We would certainly get more innovation this way.
Simply put, if we are serious about taking Indian technology industry to the next level, we need to focus all of our energy on helping entrepreneurs. Provide them with the incentives (tax breaks and seed financing); education; and infrastructure. And gear public policy—like patent-protection laws—toward the startups. Let’s not bet on the companies that are too big to fail or too clumsy to innovate.
Sridhar Vembu The environment for product startups as it exists today has numerous challenges facing a person with a great idea. I have personally been through most of them through the course of my journey. However, the challenge that is close to my heart is the reluctance of high potential talent to join indian product companies. We have to compete with established global product companies, and given the traditional mindset of seeking security in your job, they are very attractive options to our young graduates. The concept of stake and the pay out potential it represents is still of a mystery among the students of top schools. More importantly, students and young professionals dont seem to appreciate the exposure and unique experience associated with working in smaller organizations. These benefits however, dont seem to be well known.
Our journey starting late eighties / early nineties was hugely challenging and daunting as there was no major Indian product success story or model to follow at that time. Some of these challenges were getting the right domain expertise, understanding the target segment, defining market requirements and roadmap for the product, creating product factory, securing the first reference sites, establishing the brand and many many more. But as i-flex has proved over time, none of these are insurmountable. We realized that there is a long gestation period for any product to be out in the market and there are no readymade specifications as its often a new idea, completely untested and unproven. So one of the things that we did well was to get real life validation of the ‘business problem’ and the ‘solution requirements’ that we had conceptualized. In the process, we put in effort identifying ‘friendly’ pilot customer, a top class marquee name, whom we signed up in a ’partnership’ model. In the partnership approach, we had quality inputs to the business requirements, real life use cases, validation of technology prototypes at early stages, beta testing and credible first reference site for our product. The pilot customer in turn benefited from a solution fit for purpose, advantages of being early user of the product besides commercial, other benefits of the partnership arrangement.
All of this points to a role that is the need of the hour. A group of successful entrepreneurs who have have been there and done that; who can share best practices and war stories. We need them to talk about the salient points of what led to their failures as much as their successes. I am glad to introduce the Blue Shirts and wish them all the best as they take on the role of change agents, influencers and mentors in creating a thriving software product ecosystem in India.
I think the need to get credible reference sites, marquee customers which can help establish a product brand is of utmost importance for emerging software companies and there are a number of ways to do this, one of which is mentioned above. The challenge that we have been grappling with as a part of SnapDeal has to deal with the current setup for making online payments in India. Ease of payments online are a key driver for e-commerce in a developed market and is a significant factor for the success of new product in this space. As of now, the process is making payments is cumbersome and the main challenges facing us are: a. Consumer Education b. Credible validation of data protection c. One click checkout I envision we can resolve these problems through some specific and concrete steps. We need to encourage banks, payment networks to educate our consumers about the simplicity and advantages of choosing online payment. The internet industry can play a big role in the education process as well. Getting external agencies to certify companies for appropriate validation processes will instil confidence among regulators and the consumers and can go a long way in increasing the size of the market. One click checkout has been an on going issue for a while now. As this requires e-commerce companies to store credit card information, I believe we should start by allowing some companies which have been screened and certified to go ahead with this feature. One click checkout was the key driver for Amazon’s growth and success and proves that it can be done.
In our case, we developed a strategy to train our recruits and not focus on high profile universities. We even started recruiting youngsters after their 12th and provided extensive training and inducted them into our organization. We created the ZOHO university. We adopted a novel approach that worked well for us. However, there are steps that can be taken for the betterment of the industry in general.
Naveen Tewari One of the challenges facing a product company starting in India is identifying the right market. It was a big challenge for us and we decided to go with developing markets. Here are some reasons Firstly, there are over two billion people in China and India, a billion in Africa and another billion in the rest of the developing regions. So you’re talking about a 4 billion population that will have the mobile phone as their first screen, and in the majority of cases, as the only screen. If that’s the case, and if we have a significant share of that market, we will build a large business. Also, the competition in that market was just non-existent. We could have tried and gotten into the U.S. market, but there was more competition. Lack of infrastructure in terms of land lines, PC access, etc. has meant that mobiles in developing economies were adopted very rapidly and the evolution of users moving to 3G was also very quick. All these factors have favored us. A classical growth strategy is to go West and then move East. We said we’re going to reverse that. We went East and we have now moved to the West. However, identifying the right market and executing the right strategy after identifying is still a significant challenge and can be overcome through the right mentorship and guidance.