Rahul Lakhani and Ankur Nandu have strangely similar backgrounds. They both hail from Mumbai, have pursued Computer Science majors in the US, studying in Georgia Tech, Atlanta and Carnegie Mellon respectively, worked in Google and Cisco Systems in Silicon Valley and finally came together at ISB Hyderabad while pursuing their MBA. They had worked together in several MBA classes and instantly connected over their entrepreneurial ambitions. The duo then went through the startup incubation program at ISB’s Wadhwani Center for Entrepreneurship Development.
Yes, you guessed it right. They have co-founded a startup, Canvasss which is a marketing software aiming to help businesses in four areas, viz., lead generation, lead nurturing, marketing communication, and marketing automation. Marketers can run campaigns from a single dashboard with campaign options including email marketing, SMS marketing, referral programs, drip marketing, social share campaigns, customer feedback etc.
Edited excerpts from our conversation with Rahul:
Marketing plus technology – it was irresistible to startup
Having spent a considerable amount of time in Silicon Valley, both Ankur and I have been exposed to the entrepreneurial ecosystem from a close vantage point. We knew that starting up would give us the flexibility and agility needed to make a larger impact in a shorter amount of time. Entrepreneurship gave us a way to push ourselves beyond our limits and have a direct impact on our success and failure. A corporate job would never provide that kind of satisfaction to us. The opportunity to start something right out of business school in a field which combined our interest in marketing & technology was irresistible and it resulted in Canvass.
We noticed an ever-increasing barrage of marketing communication from businesses that was untargeted, haphazard, and poorly executed. Poorly targeted email marketing and outdated websites are commonplace. There had to be a better way for businesses to run marketing. We started out trying to solve these challenges from a data analytics point of view. On interviewing tens of prospects, we realized that most businesses are struggling with the very basics of online marketing – things like email marketing and website landing pages. We then pieced together our product based on a continuous cycle of customer feedback. Every business is now trying to figure out its online marketing strategy so we are well positioned to capitalize on this growing trend.
Another marketing software? What’s different?
It’s a marketing operating system on steroids. There are ready templates and marketing workflows which help businesses save time and money in launching and tracking their marketing activities. A robust analytical engine helps businesses discover their most engaged leads and their best brand ambassadors.
There are companies providing standalone CRM, email marketing, referral program, feedback solutions, social media solutions, landing page tools, etc. However, these solutions are disjointed and do not talk well with each other. Since Canvass is an integrated marketing software, you get a complete view into a prospects engagement with all your campaigns and not just a partial view like other tools. Also, typical CRM systems are very good at maintaining lead records and data. However, Canvass goes much beyond data maintenance and actually helps you engage with clients in a personalized and timely manner. Some western counterparts include Infusionsoft, Marketo, Pardot, Hubspot etc.
We have a robust product roadmap to improve the marketing suite in the near future. Our clients love the fact that they can achieve so much from a single dashboard. The feedback we are receiving is driving our product roadmap. We want to fundamentally change the way businesses run marketing. Every business can and must harness the power of online marketing without struggling with technology issues or coordination delays in working with web developers. We want to be to marketing what Tally has become to accounting.
Selling a B2B product in India
The software is offered as a SaaS tool with a recurring subscription fee based on number of lead records uploaded and features desired. There is a trial period offered to clients. We are offering a comprehensive 30-day ‘Marketing Success Program’ up front, which includes brainstorming, education, training, campaign setup, and data cleanup. Service partners are a key stakeholder for us as we work with them to deliver an end to end solution to the client.
B2B selling in India comes with several challenges. We had to make several adjustments to our business model to account for very long sales cycles, lack of education about online marketing among businesses and payment issues. Most of these issues can and are being addressed successfully with tweaks to our model.
Our clients tend to expect customized services from us, which we do not provide as we are a pure product company. We have launched a fantastic partner program for agencies, consultants, web developers who deliver the customized services that our clients ask for.
Since we started by focusing on India, our acquisition efforts have been tailored to Indian B2B lead generation strategies. Referrals, cold calling, and inbound marketing have served us well so far. We have worked with more than 25 clients until now and many more are piloting the software right now. A majority of our clients come from industries like real estate, education, healthcare services, technology, manufacturing, and ecommerce.
Businesses with long sales cycles, both B2C and B2B, are our ideal client. Our target market comprises of several tens of thousands of SMBs which are looking to establish online presence and generate new revenue from online channels. This is just India. We are also exploring high potential markets in the rest of Asia, which takes our target market to several hundred thousand businesses.