Disrupting limitless possibilities: key takeaways from SAP Startup Social, the largest corporate startup accelerator summit in India

Inspired conversations, transformative collaboration and a wealth of ecosystem connections marked SAP Startup Social, SAP Labs India’s flagship day-long event for the startup ecosystem in India.

Like every year, SAP, the global leader in enterprise software , hosted its annual flagship summit, SAP Startup Social – the largest corporate startup accelerator-driven summit in India at the Leela Palace in Bengaluru on the 27th of November 2019. Past editions have featured luminaries such as Binny Bansal, Nandan Nilekani, Peter Vesterbacka, Jitendra Gupta, Rajiv Srivastava, among others. This year, too, saw spectacular participation from the ecosystem, with over 900 ecosystem participants, over 30 investors in attendance and a fantastic speaker line-up that included Ravi Gururaj- President, TiE Bangalore, Abhinay Choudhari, Co-founder of BigBasket, and Yamini Bhat, Co-Founder and CEO of Vymo, to name a few.

The focused themes for this edition of SAP Startup Social were ‘scaling up through effective synergies with the enterprise world’ and ‘design-led innovation for the world’. The premise of this edition of the event would be to showcase some of the best CIOs from India Inc in dialogue with the best enterprise startups in India.

Creating disruptive innovation through collaboration

Opening the event with the inaugural address was Sindhu Gangadharan, SVP & MD of SAP Labs India - an experienced technologist, a path-breaking global leader – who drummed up enthusiasm from the audience as she welcomed the gathering and urged the ecosystem to leverage the event to connect, converse and collaborate to bring about innovative disruption for the good of all.

Quoting a NASSCOM 2019 report, Sindhu spoke about how she was excited about the Indian startup ecosystem which saw over 1,300 startups added in 2019, bringing the number of tech startups in India to over 8,900 which was an extremely positive trajectory of growth. Including the addition of seven unicorns this year till August, at 24, India now has the third-highest number of Unicorns in a single country in the world, she added.

Speaking about how SAP is taking a collaborative approach towards driving innovation Sindhu said, “SAP Startup Accelerator aims to be a platform of joint collaboration, joint innovation and joint go-to-market. Startups that participate in the accelerator program benefit from connections with the best teams and product owners within SAP to advance their solutions based on a direct engagement model, get access to SAP’s vast customer base and SAP solutions and platforms.”

They also get co-innovation opportunities, aligned with customer requirements, and guidance with the development and integration of startup solutions with SAP and collaboration with complementary accelerators and funds to shape the future of a Digital Supply Chain, Asset Management, Digital Manufacturing and Industry 4.0,” she added. Sindhu concluded by inviting startups to continue to power future disruption as she ended on a quote by Alan Kay saying, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

Women in leadership

Speaking at the panel on ‘Women in Leadership’ together with Maansi Sanghi, CMO of Lavelle Networks, Jasmine Gorimar of Mahindra Rise and Yamini Bhat of Vymo, moderated by Tanvi Dubey, Editor at YourStory, Sindhu urged startup founders to focus on what truly drove them. Speaking about the importance of collaborating with startups and their future in the Indian economy and the role of SAP in collaborating for disruption, she added, “SAP Startup Social gives startups the platform to explore over 25 industries and a growing customer base to present their products.” Jasmine spoke about how it was important to understand the fabric of what you’re made of to do disruptive work, while adding that Mahindra Rise followed a ‘shark tank’ approach towards collaboration where they invite startups to solve business challenges for disruption. Yamini added that her growth hack was to have ‘zero tolerance for ambiguity’ and urged founders to address any form of ambiguity right from the start. “Also, finding investors and employees who are convinced about your product and story, is half the battle won,” she concluded.

SaaS: Creating a trillion dollar economy

Home to more than 500 SaaS startups, India SaaS ecosystem is certainly sassy and is the next big hope for the software product exports market, currently pegged at $7 billion and is expected to achieve a growth trajectory of 10X over the next five years. The SaaS products coming out of India are truly global with a phenomenal pace of adoption by enterprise customers, thus enabling these companies to achieve scale.

The ABCs of successful SaaS startups

The first SaaS track of the day delved into how a SaaS-driven economy is the future of India as an ecosystem with Ravi Gururaj, President - TiE Bangalore speaking about the ABCs that SaaS startups need to get right to succeed.

The Art of SaaS includes the soft skills needed to be successful as a company such as customer delight and experience.

The Business of SaaS is all about getting the product-market fit right and working out a repeatable model or a path to scale-up and profitability through a funding model, team, technology and timing.

The Calculus of SaaS, is where Ravi asked founders to be completely metrics-driven adding, “if you’re not doing with math, you’re not doing right.”

Achieving 10X scale through a founder storytelling approach

Prasanna Krishnamurthy, the Co-founder of Upekkha, is a SaaS champion and shared his perspectives on what SaaS startups need to look out for to achieve 10X scale through a founder story-telling approach.

Speaking about how Value Saas Companies are going to be the category leaders of the subscription economy, he said, “It is crucial to know your market and game plan. A foolproof game plan is your first step towards scaling to be a category winner once you hit the 1 million mark. Speaking about getting to the first million in ARR. Prasanna has the below pointers for founders:

  1. Work on the startup: Be aware of the landscape, think about category design and thought leadership, create strategic partnerships, and build operational functionality.
  2. Work on the business structure: Build a SaaS flywheel metric and tracking system, Hire a SaaS-oriented CFO and get a good legal structuring in place with a company secretary and a due diligence checklist.
  3. Work on the people: Transition from being a founder to a CEO, align your management team, grow your mid-management, and align your objectives and key results with the organisation.
Mukesh Gupta, Leader Indus @ SAP and author of ‘Your Startup Mentor’ spoke about how selling as we know it doesn’t work anymore, saying, ”Enterprise buying isn’t the same anymore either, with the B2B buying becoming more complex than ever before.”

Quoting the Gartner B2B buying journey, he told founders that they should no longer sell, but rather lead buyers in their buying process. Mukesh advised a positive sales spiral for B2B sales of surprising with insight, inspiring with vision, motivating customers to act, positioning yourself correctly, leading the buying process, executing the vision, and repeating.

Product Management: Leading the change

Steve Jobs once said, he is more proud of the 95 ideas out of 100 he said no to than the ones he created. This sub-theme explores the challenges of creating sound product strategies for enterprise and consumer markets while having to deftly manage pulls and tugs from several interdependent organisations including sales, marketing, engineering and design. Pinkesh Shah, the co-founder of Institute of Product Leadership (IPL)– one of its kind academic initiatives in the country today focussing on the relevance of Product Management as a practice – helped the audience unravel the changing paradigm of product management in India and what needed to be done to emerge as a Product Nation in his keynote. He prescribed the following actions:

Action 1: India needs to have product people based out of more cities in India including tier II cities, as there’s a very high and unequal concentration of product managers in Bengaluru.

Action 2: India needs more age diversity across product managers, particularly more representation of ages beyond the 30-40 years’ gap

Action 3: With 87 percent male representation in the project management space, India needs more diversity to make products that are more inclusive.

Action 4: India needs to be customer-obsessed, design-inspired, technology-powered and not a shadow of the west.

During a fireside chat with Hari Vasudev, Country Head & Vice President - Technology at Walmart Labs India, and RamKumar Narayan, VP technology and Managing Site Director R&D, VMWare Product First Mindset, Hari advised founders to ‘Immerse yourself in the market space’, saying, “It’s not about individual customers but the market space as a whole.” RamKumar Narayan added that founders ‘must have a strong point of view but the willingness to rethink it’ and that ‘Creating a mindset for culture for innovation and an open space for debate is important for creating products.’

India for India: innovating for the aspirations of the domestic economy

The promise of a five trillion economy is as exciting and intriguing as it sounds. The sheer demographics, combined with the mobile and internet penetration and the digital push from the government, is providing a win-win scenario for home-grown businesses to re-imagine their existing business models and create tailor-made solutions which could meet the aspirations of the domestic economy. This is the genesis of a vibrant local economy. The final topic for the day featured a keynote by Ankit Singh, Volunteer in-residence, iSpirt, who focussed on how the Indian ecosystem is creating a local market or addressing the pain points of the local economy.

The panel discussion that followed, titled ‘Building for the next Billion’, saw Nikunj Parashar, Founder of Sagar Defence; Manusheel Gupta, Founder of Seeta.in; Anand Madangopal, founder of Cardiac Design Labs and Radhakrishna Arvapally, Founder of ThingTronic, in conversation with Niyam Bhushan - design guru, UX rockstar and the founder of 'Design Revolution from India.' The panel delved into the journey of each of the founders and how are they trying to solve some of the complex pain points of India.

Nikunj Parashar, whose startup Sagar Defence is pioneering innovations with its unmanned autonomous ocean robot said, “If you want to solve for the next billion you need to find a livelihood problem or a survival problem.” Manusheel Gupta of Seeta.in the social spreadsheet powered by 1 million developers, added, “The best way to beat the bigger players is by leveraging India’s culture to master the vertical and put a culture lense on it.” Anand of Cardiac Design Labs, added, “When you want to take something for the masses, you have to be better than the biggest. There’s no need to reinvent - take what’s there and simplify it or improve it.” Radhakrishna Arvapally of ThingTronic stressed on the importance of keeping it simple when it came to reaching India, saying, “Pick up a simple problem and think of an easy solution. There is no need to complicate it.” Nodding in agreement, Kushagra Sinha of Jiny.io added that it was important to design keeping the consumer in mind and no one else. ”You don’t go to the next billion without asking them what they want. Design for the East and not for the shadow of the west,” he concluded.

Designing with Emptiness

Design guru, Niyam Bhushan who has helped and mentored over 200 startups and also worked with top global, international, and prestigious clients and enterprises to bring about world-class design, and design-thinking based innovation spoke on the importance of design and how design can be a startup’s Achilles heel, adding that it was not important for founders to be designers, but crucial that they understood concepts of design, as he left the audience with three design-thinking hacks:

1. Empty your mind and adopt a fresh, beginner’s mindset.

2. SCAMPER: Substitute, Combine) Adapt) Modify ) Put to another use, Eliminate and Reverse.

3. Never be obsessed with features and properties that could distract from the bigger picture.

Finally, Subhendu Mukherjee, Principal at the Tenth Floor gave the audience a hands-on expert talk on how data becomes the cornerstone of everything that we do and how Product Managers need to leverage in creative ways to create a wow product experience.

UnMasking: A unique pitch format for the first time in India

With most of the presentations done for the day, the stage was set for the eagerly -awaited startup pitch sessions, this time with unmasking – a unique way of pitching through storytelling to try and find out the change-makers. Five masked contestants coded in red, blue, green, yellow and pink masks were challenged to tell their stories with minute-long knock-out pitches across four rounds and four topics (Heroes, impact, sacrifices and achievements, and weaknesses) with one elimination taking place each round. At the end of the session, Mohit Kanoria an SAP grown intrapreneur emerged successful and went on to win coverage by YourStory for his startup, Inversationand a full month at SAP Startup Studio.

The evening ended on a fireside chat between Abhinay Choudhari, Co-founder, BigBasket, and Sumeet Shetty of SAP. who spoke about how he converted personal experiences into insights for his work. Speaking on the opportunities of the online grocery market, which while at $1.2 billion currently according to market reports was poised to grow at 50 percent over the next few years, he said, “Organised retail is a small fraction of the overall retail landscape in India and online retail even smaller at sub-1percent of the market. There is obviously tremendous upside available, and we look forward to continuing to innovate to solve problems of the market at scale.”


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