One of the early birds in the SaaS (software-as-a-service) space, Sahil Parikh, Chief Trailblazer, DeskAway (an offering from Synage, the company he founded) and author SaaS Edge (Tata McGraw Hill, 2011), shares his thoughts on SaaS and its evolution in India. In the leadup to the NASSCOM EMERGEOUT Conclave at Delhi on August 12, in which Cloud is going to occupy the discussions, YourStory presents this exclusive chat (on email with Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, chief evagelist) with Sahil. Perhaps Sahil’s thought leadership might help entrepreneurs get a demystified account of what SaaS is and how it benefits businesses from many angles.
YourStory: Thank you Sahil, for your time for YourStory. What are the myths about SaaS existing today in India in your opinion?
Sahil Parikh: There are quite a few myths but they are fading as we move along. The most common ones that I think that are prevalent (and I have also mentioned these in the book The SaaS Edge) are the following:
Loss of Control: "I lose control of my systems and data if I use a SaaS service."
Security: "My data is more secure in our in-house servers."
Threat to IT: "My IT guys will lose their jobs if we use someone else's service."
Myths that will soon become meaningless:
SaaS is new and hyped
SaaS is expensive in the long run
SaaS is not feature-rich
Again, this is very temporary. As more and more businesses use SaaS and as long as we have conferences like this to talk about SaaS/Cloud the shift is inevitable.
YS: It requires an activist mindset to swim against the tide in starting a company five years ago when SaaS was not kindly looked upon. What motivated you to still take the plunge?
Sahil: I had two options which were very uninteresting – running the web design/dev business or building and selling software products on a CD. Then I had the future of the software industry stare at me in my face – look, like it or not everything is moving to web-based. Obviously, I took the latter.
SaaS was not at all popular in India. So, I decided we just concentrate on acquiring customers in the US, which was at least 3–5 years ahead of the curve.
YS: What are the enabling environment factors for a startup entrepreneur in SaaS compared to when you started?
Sahil: Oh, the current scenario is so different than what it was back in 2006-2007. I would be very excited to be a SaaS entrepreneur right now all over again :-)a. The ecosystem has matured. People understand SaaS and its benefits. Google, Facebook, Apple, Evernote, Dropbox has made this possible.
b. Developers here understand what it is working in a product company today than 5 years back. At that time it was jump, jump, and jump with 20% increments for each jump.
c. Twitter has made the world smaller so everyone can share notes. I see a lot of "what do I measure in SaaS" and "SaaS analytics" articles floating around. This makes it easy for an entrepreneur to learn from the best people and companies as he builds his company.
d. Many more conferences, meet ups and live events around Cloud/SaaS.
e. The technology stack has matured and with Cloud hosting you can spin up servers and deploy code in seconds. Time to market and do something has shrunk.
YS: Can you please explain your offerings?
Sahil: We have two offerings current at Synage.
a. DeskAway: Our SaaS app that helps small businesses and teams organize, manage and track their work and projects from a central location.
b. SaaS Consulting: Helping businesses with launching a SaaS service – pricing, freemium, analytics, marketing etc and all the questions that go into building a successful product.
YS: SaaS model vs. desktop software. What are the benefits of the SaaS model?
Sahil: Don't even get me started. The benefits of the SaaS model for the customer are:
a. Use the service immediately.
b. No installations, downloads, deployments.
c. No need to backup data as the SaaS vendor does it on their end
d. Pay by monthly or yearly subscriptions
e. Cancel anytime
f. Try it before you buy it.
g. Access to free updates
h. Since cancellation is easy and you pay on a month to month basis this puts the SaaS vendor at risk – it is important for the vendor to focus on customer experience and regular updates to the software or risk losing business altogether.
i. SaaS is platform independent - doesn't matter if you use a Mac, Win or Linux.
YS: What should NASSCOM do to encourage SaaS in India?
Sahil: I think one of the biggest drawbacks with SaaS in India is Payments. We don't have the facility to do recurring billing (which is at the heart of what a SaaS business should do). Somehow NASSCOM should bring awareness to this issue with the RBI or whoever is concerned. I get weekly emails from entrepreneurs as to how they should be charging their Indian customers since month to month recurring billing is not an option at this time.Other than that, Nasscom should invite non-technical people at their conferences as SaaS/Cloud is more about them than just technical folks. Its these people who will be making decisions on whether or not to adopt SaaS/Cloud within their businesses.
YS: In what ways would the Delhi EMERGEOUT conclave help entrepreneurs?
Sahil: Help them become better SaaS entrepreneurs and think beyond services. In addition, it is always good to know what others are doing and become aware of the possibilities and opportunities in this space.
YS: What are the three tips you would give for a startup entrepreneur in the SaaS space?
a. Build the product but know how to market it
b. Never price down your product
c. Measure key SaaS metrics from the start. This will tell you fast you need to paddle.
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