India today, stands as the fastest growing and the third largest startup hub in world with an anticipated growth of 40% by the end of 2015. With over 3 to 4 startups taking birth every day, the country has emerged as one of the major tech hot-beds at the global level.
However, despite the proliferation of a myriad startups in the ecosystem, the actual base is still miles away from maturity and thus, has a long way to go. So, here are some insights straight from Ambarish Gupta, CEO & Co-Founder of Knowlarity Communications, a cloud telephony company which replaces traditional communication hardware system with cloud based telephony solutions for small and large businesses, into the fundamentals of scaling up a startup.
1. What led to the conception of Knowlarity as an idea?
Our main aim was to revolutionise the way small and medium-sized companies communicate and solve their complex business problems through business phone systems. We built a strong technology to replace the traditional PBX with the latest cloud technology to help every business owner improve their productivity. We wanted to deliver quality telephony experience leveraging cloud based technologies thereby focusing on innovation, and provide comprehensive solution to our business and target industries. Our vision was to build a lasting world-class cloud telephony company that helps businesses grow- and that’s how Knowlarity was born.
2. What problems are you solving with Knowlarity? What solutions do you provide to address those problems?
Knowlarity solves business problems by making telephony intelligent and reliable in real time over cloud for start-ups, SMEs and Enterprises. Right now, small businesses invariably experience a massive communication deficit due to their inability to spend money on telecommunication equipment and manpower. Big businesses have an unfair advantage over small ones because of a massive technology deficit. We hope to plug this deficit with cloud-based communication technology. Cloud telephony is fast disrupting conventional telephony systems with their pay-as-you-go business model. Since cloud is basically a managed service, our users are freed from the day-to-day management of non core-activities, allowing them to concentrate on their business.
3.What according to you are the major challenges, startups in India face?
Culture – More often than not, an entrepreneur needs to be prepared to face failures and unprecedented hardship. However, culturally we are not groomed to fail and failure is frowned upon. A startup failing has to be OK, as failures often teach an entrepreneur what to do and what not to do.
Mentoring – Having a brilliant idea is different from making that idea a business success. For a startup, it is very important to have mentors who have been through a similar process of starting or have business experience. A great mentor is often what separates success from failure by providing valuable inputs.
Policies – Government is the single largest enabler for the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Government’s role in ease of doing business and helping companies start is vital to ensuring success. The latest World Bank Ease of Doing Business (out of 189 economies) ranks India at an abysmal 142 where starting a business rank for the country is even lower at 158. For startups to thrive and succeed, the government has a lot to do and understand the importance of entrepreneurship in economic development.
Hiring – For a startup, it is particularly difficult to attract and hire talent and skilled workers. A startup often cannot match the salaries drawn at larger companies nor is a job at a startup seen as a steady one. This means startups face severe hiring challenges and at times have to settle for the next best option.
Funding – Funding challenge is not merely limited to seed rounds, but is also vital for Series A and B rounds. For a startup looking to scale, it is still very hard to raise rounds to scale as the number of investors that write big cheques in India, are very limited in number.
4. Can you list down three major areas to focus on, for growth hacking?
Offer Something for Free– People love free, which is why giving something away to new users is a quick and easy way to increase your fan base.
Set Up a Referral Program– There are a handful of companies that take advantage of a referral program to grow their business, and for one reason: it works! Businesses ranging in form and function have used referral programs in the past, and to much success.
Go With Exclusivity– People always want to feel like they’re a part of something that’s special, which is why exclusive invitations or offers work extraordinarily well as growth hacking strategy.
Try Platform Hacking– Capitalising on the success of another platform or business is a great way to grow your own. Try to find a way to work with other relevant platforms, businesses, products, or services.
5. How big is your team? What key attributes should every startup you look for in a candidate before hiring him/her? How important do you think retaining an employee is?
We are currently 517 member strong team- a mix of sales, technology, marketing and customer care.
When hiring for a new company, it’s more important to find someone who actually learned from their last job than someone with a stellar resume.
Do they want to practice? Hiring an employee that’s committed to working hard doesn’t just mean finding someone that will stay late, come early or send emails on the weekend just to impress you. It means finding someone that is able to focus on the building blocks, getting simple but often boring fundamentals of business right.
Do they fit the culture? When hiring new employees, you need to find individuals that fit your culture and will be passionate about building a loyal client base.
Have they learned anything? Until a business has grown to have defined departments that require specific skills and roles, I recommend paying more attention to candidates’ ability to learn than prior work experience.
Finding the best employees for your startup will take some time. To build the team that you want to grow with a company, make sure you take a step back from resumes and candidates’ pre-determined interview responses to look for individuals that will fit your company culture and are eager to learn new tasks in an emerging field.
6.What major challenges do startups in our country face on their way to raising investment? Can you give piece of advice on the subject in general?
While there is a lot of money available for the angel and seed rounds, thanks to the product revolution India is going through – still there is a bottleneck at series A level. This leads to a lot of mortality at such levels.
We are also a young nation where startup ecosystem is under development. This leads to many founders spending a lot of their time in solving problems that are already solved. I think as the ecosystem matures, these problems will resolve by themselves.
7.What marketing strategy have you adopted for your product? What are the key areas every marketer should be clear about while designing a marketing plan?
We provide the most comprehensive cloud-based communication tools for start-ups, professionals, and SME clients. Besides telephony, we provide IVR and cloud conferencing. The latest SuperReceptionist mobile app has received a good response from our existing customers, making it easier for them to carry their business wherever they go.
Marketing plans are a great way for a business to ensure it makes well-informed decisions throughout its growth. They help organisations understand where they’re at before deciding where they want to get and what methods they will use to achieve this. Ideas expressed by everyone in the business can be structured to create a coherent, detailed plan of action.
Startups need to keep their marketing plans simple.
One reason for this is that creating and executing a comprehensive marketing plan requires more time and organization than startups have available. Startups also depend on their ability to be agile when pursuing specific opportunities—this means that it makes little sense for them to invest their time in creating a full-blown marketing plan. As the company grows, adds customers, and builds its marketing and sales team, it should then develop a more comprehensive marketing plan.
A startup’s marketing plan should include a MAT
As startups need to keep their marketing plans simple, Guy Kawasaki suggests, in The Art of the Start, that startups develop an MAT (Milestones, Assumptions, Tasks). The MAT provides enough structure to organize the necessary activities among the team and keep everyone focused on the same objectives. It also provides a framework for engaging the team in discussing key assumptions about the business, and reaching a consensus on the company’s overall view. Additional benefits of the MAT are that it is quick to create, action-oriented, and easy to change.
8. What will be your three tips on keeping a company’s culture healthy?
Learn to communicate
The backbone of relationships, personal or professional, is communication. Employees will perform better when they receive constructive feedback and when their managers are clear and honest about their expectations. If you make transparency and feedback a pillar of your business, your employees will reciprocate.
Find people who are different from you
To build an amazing team, you must find people with complementary skills. But what isn’t so obvious is how complementary skills also come with different personalities, communication techniques, interests and expectations. It is your job to create, navigate and sustain an environment for these differences not only to coexist but also to flourish.
Nobody knows everything. That’s why it’s important to have a strong team to help support you. When you feel that you are in over your head, appreciate that you are in the process of experiencing growth. Lean on your team members to fill in the gaps and help you get your head back above water. You will soon find yourself stronger and better prepared for the rough waters ahead.
9. What according to you are the three essential qualities, every successful company embodies?
Necessity: When brainstorming your startup, ask yourself not just if you see an opportunity for your idea, but is there a real need for it.
Passion: Without passion, you’ll not want to work late into the night. Without passion, the first obstacle you face will seem more like a mountain than a molehill. And, without passion, investors, customers, employees—everyone—will see that there’s no reason to invest in your company, when you’re not even doing so.
Stubborn determination: Stubborn determination doesn’t mean betting the farm each and every time you face a challenge, but it does mean you make decisions with that same passion and conviction you felt when you first launched your company.
10.When do you see India at par with Silicon Valley?
We are headed in that direction but have a long way to go.