Three Indian entrepreneurs share how their visit to Silicon Valley was an important milestone in their startup journey. Meet Agrima, Locobuzz and Prozo
At the start of 2017, Agrima InfoTech was living any startup’s dream. It had two well-appreciated and in-demand products in its kitty – a dedicated food vision API Recipe Book, the first Indian app to be listed on the Google PlayStore Editor's Choice list and also named one of the five most innovative apps on Play Store in the 'Best of 2016' list. This also meant that they were doing the work of two startups. With two amazing products on hand, streamlining resources, processes, and the growth map had become a challenge.
“We didn’t know if we should focus only on one of the products so that it could grow to its full potential,” says Anoop Balakrishnan, Co-founder and CEO. The bigger challenge was making inroads into the global market. Collaborating with Indian companies to test and use their food vision API, they realised, “would just not be enough”.
They answer, they believed, lay in Silicon Valley, which they had visited earlier. That’s when they had learnt about NASSCOM 10,000 Startups InnoTrek– an invite-only delegation of Indian startups who get a chance to visit Silicon Valley to learn and connect with the world's most successful technology ecosystem.
After being selected for the 2017 edition of NASSCOM 10,000 Startups InnoTrek, Anoop and two Agrima co-founders, Nikhil Dharman and Arun Ravi, flew to San Francisco as part of the 4th cohort of InnoTrek. The comprehensive week-long programme consisted of talks, workshops, expert round-tables, corporate visits, networking sessions with successful US entrepreneurs, and campus visits.
When the cohort visited the Google Launchpad space in San Francisco, Anoop met the divison’s head, Josh Yellen, a meeting that helped Agrima get selected for the Google LaunchPad programme. Says Anoop, “We had a great conversation with Josh Allen and we also got a chance to showcase the potential of our product. We had applied to Google LaunchPad earlier, but didn’t get through. So he suggested we try again. So, we reapplied with references from mentors we met through the NASSCOM 10,000 Startups InnoTrek programme, and this time we got selected.”
Today, Anoop’s team is working with Samsung to integrate their Vision Recognition API in the company’s smart refrigerator. They are also collaborating with Walmart to create an app which can give customers a host of details about the wine when they scan the bottle.
Anoop sums up, “The global exposure is the best thing that happened to us. In our quest to bring on board global clientele, we made our product competitive and attractive. We learnt it the hard way. The big global brands are uncompromising about features such as security and robustness of the platform. We worked hard to meet their standards, which is a good thing because we are learning as we grow and vice-versa.”
Shubhi Agrawal, Co-founder of LocoBuzz, feels the same way. She believes that global exposure is a game-changer for Indian startups serious about long-term growth. LocoBuzz is a fast-growing startup that provides ORM and social media data analytics for some of India’s biggest companies across sectors, including some in the Fortune 500 list. Being bootstrapped, spend on brand visibility is not a priority. Most of their clients come through referrals or through networking at events and conferences across the country. Shubhi says, “This limits the speed with which we can expand, especially into the international market where we see a big opportunity for growth.”
That’s where NASSCOM 10,000 Startups InnoTrek made perfect sense. “InnoTrek seemed like a great opportunity to do a dipstick survey in the Western markets and get first-hand feedback from industry leaders in the Valley,” explains Shubhi.
“It was amazing,” she says of her experience. “We made friends with entrepreneurs from different verticals and conversations with them helped us learn a lot about their products, technologies and challenges, and in turn assess our own startup journey. We got to know several advisors and entrepreneurs who provided ample insights on what a startup should look at before expanding into the US market and have expressed willingness to contribute to our growth story.”
Telling us why these conversations and connections really do matter, Shubhi says, “Often we see that the problem statement we address resonates with the brands participating in the event, which in turn triggers productive conversations.” The connections they made through the InnoTrek programme have translated into talks with larger companies and Shubhi says they are hopeful of positive outcomes.
Another success story that emerged from flying to Silicon Valley is that of edutech startup, Prozo. According to co-founder Lt Cdr (Dr) Ashvini Jakhar, seeing the global tech ecosystem from close quarters and networking with tech entrepreneurs helped them deep-dive into how to build a SaaS startup from scratch. Prozo is B2B e-commerce company that supplies print books in bulk to booksellers and distributors across India through a multilingual app called Bookz. They also publish K-8 books under a private label, Prozo Publishing, besides operating a end-to-end technology integrated franchise bookstore under the brand, Bookz.
Ashvini says, “The most important learning for me was to not wait for the perfect product and go to market as soon as we had a first version of the product ready. It is a long cycle to convert SaaS customers, and there is nothing called a ‘first-version perfect product’”.
The other big advantage of the programme is that founders get to spend a lot of time with fellow founders, which makes way for productive conversations and moves beyond being just a superficial networking opportunity, says Ashvini. “One of the founders with whom I interacted helped me with hiring in technology, and another one got me a good business lead.”
Since the NASSCOM 10,000 Startups InnoTrek programme is organised to coincide with TiECon, it also gives startups the option to be part of the world’s largest technology anchored conference. “Through TiECon and InnoTrek, I had some great interactions with the likes of Jyoti Bansal -- Founder, App Dynamics (recently acquired by Cisco), Naren Gupta -- Co-founder, Nexus Ventures, Tim Draper -- Founder at Draper Associates/DFJ/Draper University and teams at Google and Microsoft accelerators to name just a few,” adds the Prozo co-founder.
Ashvini believes that NASSCOM 10,000 Startups InnoTrek has the right mix of learning and networking opportunities, both within the domestic and global startup ecosystems and is perfect for startups to get a much-needed boost in their journey.
The NASSCOM 10,000 Startups InnoTrek journey doesn’t end with the cohort flying back from San Francisco. Shubi says, “The NASSCOM team continues to keep in touch and has introduced us to potential business leads. Through participation in various NASSCOM events, we have also been able to create more visibility. Even a year after our InnoTrek participation, they continue to help us grow. NASSCOM is like a great buddy that any startup can ask for.”
The fifth edition of NASSCOM 10,000 Startups InnoTrek will be held from April 29 to May 5, 2018. The shortlisted tech startups will get to be a part of a week-long immersive programme, which will give them the opportunity to engage and interact with global giants such as Tesla, Google, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft and Amazon on their campuses, and gain disruptive knowledge from top entrepreneurs as well product leaders from these brands. It will also give participants a chance to learn the ropes on how to scale up globally and form alliances for competitive advantage.