Businesses should build for a need, not for a want - panel on Innovation and Impact at Scale


The importance of finding the right product market fit at the right time, having a global perspective from an early stage, and ensuring that your customers go on to become advocates for your brand were some of the key takeaways from a panel discussion on ‘Innovation and Impact at Scale’ on Day 2 at TechSparks 2018.

Panellists included KT Prasad, Country Director - India, Zendesk; Prabhakar Jayakumar, Country Director - India, Digital Ocean; Pankaj Mitra, Director & India Head, Cisco Investments; Krishnachytanya Ayyagari (KC), Program Manager, Google Cloud; VeerChand Bothra, Chief Entrepreneur and Evangelist, Netcore; Kuppulakshmi Krishnamoorthy, Chief Evangelist, Zoho and Madhurima Agarwal, Senior Manager, NetApp Excellerator. The panel was moderated by Vishal Krishna, Business Editor, YourStory.

Vishal kicked off the discussion by asking the panellists what innovation meant to them and their respective organisations. According to Pankaj, innovation is what enables companies to do their core work better, and also do well in new markets and get new customers.

Prasad described innovation using a simple analogy. “Bread has already been invented, as has the knife. Now slicing that bread would be considered innovation. Finding a unique proposition to add value in something already existing is innovation.”

Kuppulakshmi said, “For us at Zoho, innovation defines usefulness in the coolest, smartest form, which arrives at the right time and can be sustained.”

“Are they making things faster better or cheaper? That’s how we look at innovation. Is their solution going to clock in more revenue for themselves and NetApp,” said Madhurima.

Do your own thing, but pay attention to others

Prabhakar reiterated it was important for startups with an idea to focus on building for a need, rather than for a want. “As entrepreneurs, you are passionate about your idea, married to the idea even. But listen to a lot of people – investors, friends and colleagues. If it doesn’t resonate with potential customers it’s an alarm bell.” He added another word of caution, which was not to get too caught up with buzzwords in tech and do something just because that’s in vogue.

KC elaborated on how businesses could effectively reach customers and know whether they are approaching the right person at right time. “Your click stream on your website can be a good indicator of where your market lies. Deal with data, understand internal logs, public website data and then go for customers rather than approach it in an ad hoc manner,” said KC.

Have clarity right from the beginning

Prabhakar said that at the minimum viable product (MVP) stage itself, businesses should choose a technology architecture which can scale as the organisation grows, and factor in aspects such as security. Otherwise, going back and redoing processes can be a huge challenge.

Pankaj advised startups to take a decision right at the beginning on whether they wanted to tap global markets or only focus on India, which is a massive emerging market, but not as mature for certain sectors. If they do decide to go global, they should then tie up with a partner who can help them fast.

Prabhakar also spoke about the importance of a cultural fit. “Build the right culture and team as you scale, look for a global market and at your solution from a global perspective,” he said.

Prasad spoke about the importance of inclusive hiring and advised startups to focus more on ensuring a cultural fit when building a team. “While technology can be taught, the belief in the idea and product needs to be same within the team,” he said.

On whether startups should pivot if they are not profitable, Pankaj said while it depended on the stage of the company, the primary role of a startup was to find repeatable monetisation, and that it was important for startups to be flexible and agile.

Make your customers your loyal advocates

Prasad’s advice on how to scale sustainably was, “While startups should spend on customer acquisition, most successful startups don’t forget to spend on customers they have already acquired. Take care of them and they will go on to become your loyalists. Most successful companies also invest in employee happiness. Finally, you need to ensure that you are investing in a scalable technology platform.”

According to Veer, while customers are the primary stakeholder businesses, it was important that they also create an impact across all stakeholders in the ecosystem. “The impact is creating value for customers, then employees and then shareholders, ultimately creating value for society as a whole.”

Prabhakar added to this. “Our customers advocate for our brand. Creating advocates who can do the talking for your brand on your behalf -- that’s impact.”

According to Prasad, since India is largely process-driven, when pitching about a product or idea it is easy to get caught up in the concept of its relevance. Instead, he says, startups should focus on whether the product or idea is adding value to customers, understand that and articulate it in their conversations. 

He also advised startups to take failures in the right spirit and view them as learnings. As parents, we are always afraid that our children will fall. But they need to fall to learn to walk. “It’s the same with technology. Failures go faster than success, and teach you not to repeat mistakes,” he said.

Drive collaboration across the ecosystem

Veer shared that when he started out, there was no structured support system for startups. “Being a product person, I can understand the business side of things but needed someone who knew the tech side well. Having a co-founder, having an advisory board, made a huge difference,” he said.

Madhurima said that at NetApp Excellerator, they evaluate how a startup’s offering can solve a customer pain point from NetApp’s perspective and based on that, they invite select startups to come on board as alliance partners, and collaborate with the NetApp sales team for joint RFPs and client pitches.

Adding to the thread of collaboration, KC said, “There is value in working together. Collaboration is important for the ecosystem. We all should ideally collaborate to improve the quality of startups.”