Is it possible to build a million dollar SaaS company in India?

By Manohar Chapalamadugu|8th Sep 2015
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Tech is booming in India right now, with SaaS (Software as a Service) companies in particular on the rise, thanks to the widespread growth of cloud computing. There is a lot of opportunity, but sometimes it can feel like the boom is focussed on big investments and high valuations rather than products that are already profitable. Is it possible to build a million dollar SaaS company in India right now, or are Indian startups simply chasing a mirage?

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Image credit "ShutterStock"

As long as you have a truly innovative idea and a dedicated team willing to bootstrap your growth, the answer is yes, it’s entirely possible. How do I know? I do, because with Agile CRM, a SaaS app for combined sales and marketing automation, we recently went from zero to a million in less than a year. While some of the specifics of our approach won’t work for everyone, in my opinion, many India-based SaaS companies in the B2B or B2C space could greatly benefit from following a similar overall approach. In fact, we did the same thing with ClickDesk, our first SaaS product. These are the core points that applied to both of our success stories:

Start with a serious problem

When it comes to picking the right idea for a SaaS startup in India, problems are a good thing. Maybe you’ve already heard a thousand times on your startup journey that your SaaS idea should solve a particular issue. But I can’t emphasise enough that the problem in question should be a really big problem that could take a lifetime to solve, or may not even be totally solvable at all; that’s where the excitement, the potential usefulness and profit come into play.

In fact, our very idea for Agile CRM developed organically out of the experience we had scaling ClickDesk much more quickly than we could have anticipated. We needed a way to keep leads and customers engaged at every stage in the user lifecycle, from lead capture through conversions, onboarding and retention.

We couldn’t find an affordable and effective CRM with marketing automation, so our development team just went ahead and built one. It wasn’t as simple as it sounds, of course, but our emphasis on solving the big-picture problem (combining sales and marketing in one SaaS app in order to plug data leaks, save time and accelerate growth) has helped us reach a steady stream of leads. This is because so many other SMBs in a wide variety of verticals have faced the same challenges as ClickDesk and, guess what? They are now on the hunt for a combined sales and marketing automation platform.

Find a big market

The bigger the market, the bigger your financial potential. It’s relatively easy to find a small niche where a SaaS app might be useful to a few hundred monthly users, but even if you’re successful with a small app like that, it’s hardly going to pay the bills. Why not dream big when you’re starting your SaaS company?

Get to know your local tech community in your city in India, the problems they’re facing and possibilities for innovation. Then start to think on bigger scales (all of India) and a global scale (would your product be useful to companies in other places? Or to remote workforces?). A competitive market with lots of new startups is actually a good thing; a sign of high demand for new thinking. Just make sure that your big idea is unique. In our case with Agile CRM, sales and marketing were already multi-billion dollar industries, but when we saw forecasts that CMOs were expected to surpass CIOs in spending, we knew we were on the right track.

Build a community

With over 1,000 UserVoice requests for new features and enhancements, we’ve built a truly engaged community with Agile CRM, not just a bunch of customers. If your users are eager to help you continually improve your SaaS product, you’re on the right track towards establishing a million-dollar business that will be here to stay.

Since we went into open beta in March 2014, many of what have become essential features of Agile, including telephony and gamification, have come along in direct response to user feedback. Those users are now our loyal customers.

Take the slow-growth approach

Avoid one-hit wonders. Having just one big feature or one major revenue day is not the way to a million-dollar SaaS company, as the SaaS business model depends on monthly subscriptions and upgrades. Work towards establishing a steady (and consistently growing) MRR stream. It takes a big investment of time and energy to grow slowly and steadily, but this is essential for sustainable growth. Luckily, long hours are easy when you’re dedicated to building an awesome SaaS product. The excitement from India’s tech boom is an ideal environment to establish an energised product team that shares your view of a major market opportunity.

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Agile CRM had simple beginnings. It started as just a few internal tools for ClickDesk that we built using our then-current CRM’s API. Only when we started to create multiple sales and marketing automation features did we realise that we should go ahead and make a visual drag-and-drop campaign designer for sales and marketing automation. And voila, Agile CRM was born. We’ve continued the slow-growth approach, adding advanced telephony integration, a sales gamification tool set, email and link tracking, web forms, social media monitoring, and so much more.

We didn’t start out flashy; we started out to create something that would be indispensable to smaller businesses that want to sell and market like the Fortune 500. And that in turn has led to repeatable business, possibly the most essential factor young SaaS companies should consider when starting to scale. You will stand out from other SaaS companies in India if you take the time to establish repeatable business. Just make sure you love what you’re doing--I certainly do--and get ready for a wild ride full of unexpected hurdles and challenges.