Across Land, Sea and the Internet: One Startup’s Journey Into India


Shown above – Emerge App Core Team

This guest column is authored by Benjamin Yee, Founder & CEO, EMERGE App

Breaching the world’s third largest economy after China and the United States in terms of PPP is never easy. There were a million questions running through our minds when we decided to work with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of SMBs in India survive and thrive through improving their business processes.

The first thought after that meeting was: Yes! We’re going to India!

The second: Oh God, how do we do it?

In this article, I would like to share our considerations for moving into the Indian SMB Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) industry, why we think it’s the most significant move in our company’s history thus far, and how we plan to go about to become one of the major players in the Indian market.

Considering India

India has been on our minds for quite some time now. After releasing our software – EMERGE App – just 3 months ago, we noticed a large number of Indian businesses needing order processing and inventory management software.

Furthermore, their needs were rather specific: integration into Flipkart, Amazon, Paytm, Snapdeal, Jabong and others, affordably priced, flexible and powerful computing to handle large quantities of products for export to the rest of India and the world.

Luckily for us, our product met most of these challenges. At that point, we were still establishing ourselves in the US/Europe market as the SaaS adoption rates were higher compared to everywhere else, but when India bucked the trend, we sat up and took notice.

We tested with some simple experiments in advertising, researching on possible competitors and understanding the average Indian SMB owner. We spoke to a lot of businesses and understood how is it like to transact in cash-dependent Indian cities, as well as the situation in the rural areas.

People have been willing to share with us their pains and problems, and we now have a clearer picture of how to a typical Indian trading and distribution company struggles to survive in a very cut throat world. We realised that going into India was not just a strategic move, but an essential one to bring real solutions to real businesses on the ground.

Taking the first steps

Our first step was to find a team member in India. Someone with an in depth knowledge of the SaaS landscape. It was then we met Raviraj Hedge, our VP of Growth who is based in Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India, and greatly aided us in the transition into the Indian market. We also set him up in a co-working space, so it helps that he’s close to many startups and small businesses.

We also did lots of ground work with Indian businesses before we entered the Indian market. We talked extensively to them over mediums such as Internet forums like Reddit, popular platforms such as Quora and Facebook groups, and the good old telephone in the form of Skype and other messaging platforms.

As mentioned, there was a lot of initial traction and interest in our app. The initial users from India were very responsive and adaptive, and evidently they really loved our app. This has validated our entry into India, and has kept us going even when things seem overwhelming and chaotic.

We operated on a freemium model instead of the more popular timed free trial model. This was because we believe Indian customers would go for paid subscription if they see value. Hence, the team decided that instead of going for the 14 or 30 day free trial, we gave our first user per company completely free forever. It allows business to better explore and appreciate our product comprehensively. This was a game changer for us as many businesses became active users without any hesitation.

We sought after low-cost advertising strategies, such as looking for press coverage. Without any marketing spend, we have received over 500 sign ups, and are seeing 20% week on week growth.

Due to our business model and aggressively searching for people to talk to, journalists and news platforms were very interested to talk to us. In the short time we’ve been active in India, we’ve been featured in a few tech media portals. We take that as a good sign and response that people recognise that there’s a need for a solution such as ours in India.

The (future) game plan

Future plans in India, you ask? Of course we have one. We want to show our value to more businesses in the Indian subcontinent. We want to work with partners to further bring value to the convenience store round the corner in need of an inventory management solution or the store along the highway with a lot of fruit to sell.

We’re working hard on the integration for our e-commerce customers, and also building an offline version of our product that traditional retail stores can use to better manage their daily administrative duties. We look forward to become a part of the Indian ecosystem, and help in its growth.

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