India has been hit by the massive startup wave. The country houses over a whopping 10,000 startup companies, more than 1000 of which have received funding just last year. With India's IT sector enjoying a bit of a boom, the number of startups is set to grow up to 11500 this year. However, close to almost 78 percent of Indian startups fail. Thus, it is essential to at times guide startup founders, and who better to do this job than those who once stood in the shoes of similar founders.
On February 19, 2020, AWS in partnership with YourStory organised the AWS Startup CXO Mixer in Jaipur. The top startup founders, venture capitalists, angel investors and AWS officials took to the stage, shared their stories and gave tips about the best practices on building a successful business. From technology to build a startup to growth hacks, to content marketing, to what VCs look for in a startup, absolutely everything was discussed in this discourse.
Opening Keynote: The impact of AWS on startups
"Why do startups choose AWS? Because they trust us. We stick with them from an early-stage till their IPO and help them grow and build," said the AWS speaker, in his introductory keynote.
He spoke about the large depth of services that AWS offers. The predominant reason, according to him, was because of the trust that not just AWS but Amazon has built over the years.
"We offer almost 200 services. From a startup standpoint, in 2005 you had to spend almost half a million dollars to create a product, and most of that amount went into infrastructure and maintenance costs that came with it. But in 2010, the cost came down to $50,000 from $500,000 mainly because of cloud and AWS. Currently, this cost stands at just $5,000. This has not just directly helped startups, but also VCs because now they can invest in 100 companies instead of just one," he said.
He also noted that this has helped decrease the risks involved for VCs by segregating their investments into different companies instead of putting all their eggs in one basket.
How technology and business are intertwined
MyTeam11's Head of Product and Strategy, Nitish Bugalia next took to the stage and revealed how a failure led his organisation to work with AWS. According to him, failures are essential, but what is more important is to learn and recover from them quickly.
"The idea is to fail fast and learn fast. AWS as a cloud-based platform gives you the flexibility and opportunity to fail fast, learn fast with minimal to no costs because they provide a credit system," he said.
Nitish then shared his story about how MyTeam11's infrastructure was not previously based on leveraging microservices patterns and cloud. This design led to a major disaster for the company during one of IPL season's biggest games, when their app went down for 45 minutes, which led to a major loss of almost half a million dollars in revenue.
"It is important to learn from your failures. That's when we reached out to AWS and they were very generous. They understood the timelines. They sat down with us, gave us a lot of plans, a lot of their architectural overview, a lot of help in terms of what we could do in such a short span of time to potentially reach to the next level," explained Nitish.
He revealed that MyTeam11 started collecting user feedback through chat boxes, social media feedback, marketing data to improve their product. Hence, through technology, they were better able to understand their customers and create a simple yet a lot better product.
"It is very important to continue to reinvent yourself. Talk to your core customers, find out what is your strategy and build on that," said Jagrati Shringi, Co-founder, CTO and CMO of Voylla.
She insisted that it is important for any startup to cater to the needs of its core customers. For instance, even Amazon initially began business as an online bookstore, but later expanded to cover all facets of e-commerce.
She revealed that Voylla's case was contrasting, and even though they initially started as an online fashion store for apparel as well as jewellery, they decided to focus on and cater to solely their core customers and pivoted to become an online fashion jewellery store.
Jagrati further discussed how most startups fail because of the founders' stubbornness to solely stick to one idea or concept that might not be working for them.
Another major growth hacking tip she shared was to simply hire the best talent available, even if it means the hiring process takes longer. She also stated that founders need to invest in the team they build; they need to stay humble and connected with their team.
How to hire the best talent
"Offering generous ESOPs is a boon to every young startup. ESOPs is a fantastic way to not just share the fruit of labour but it also helps in retaining people because they can then enjoy the fruits of their own labour," explained Nishant Patni, Founder of Hello English by Culture Alley.
Patni discussed how most startups are not at a stage where they are willing to extra cash, thus allocating ESOPs instead of more cash allows employees to enjoy a potentially larger gain of their hard work in the future.
Nishant then went on to deliver four essential tips that he believes are necessary for every startup to succeed. He called offering ESOPs his first tip. The second tip is to create a culture that is robust and rewards hard work, while maintaining a fun culture. The third tip is to set a culture where you give more responsibility to your staff, so they take pride in closing a deal. The fourth and final tip is to just allow people to learn by creating an enriching cultural environment. All this helps startups attract the best talent.
Content for scaling customer acquisition
"Content marketing is a marketing programme that involves creating, publishing, and distributing content for your target audience with the goal of attracting new customers," said Archit Singh, Enterprise Account Manager - APAC, HubSpot.
Singh stated that content marketing is an essential tool for a startup to build its reach. He argued that content marketing gives three times more yield than paid ads and also helps in closing more deals. "47 percent of buyers look at least five pieces of content on your website before engaging with your sales guy," he said.
Archit said that content is king, and irrespective of financial restraints or getting into the hassles of paid ads, quality content can instead grab more eyeballs. "The idea is that you don't need to have a big wallet to see results with content marketing programmes.”
Archit's HubSpot colleague, Gaurang Pathak, who is an Inbound Growth Specialist then took over to explain three steps to create great content. "Step one is that you should always prioritise your content based on traffic potential, customer need and ease of creation. In step two, you should determine the content format, whether it will consist videos, FAQs or data reports, etc. Finally, in step three, you need to create an editorial calendar so that you know what needs to be executed consistently. Thus, rather than focusing on volume, you should focus on the quality and consistency of your content,” he said.
Entrepreneurs in attendance received a code with which they could get a free 30-minute consultation directly from HubSpot on how to grow their business.
"I just want to give you three tips, not about pitches or market opportunities but about how to approach it. Tip one - fundraising is a sales process and you should know your investors. Tip two - know what the investors are looking for. Tip three - know how to reach out to people," said Ganapathy Venugopal, Co-founder and CEO, Axilor Ventures.
Venugopal explained to startup founders that they need to understand that pitches for raising funds should not be treated like a simple Q&A session but instead like a sales process where they learn to sell their product idea to investors.
He further stated that entrepreneurs should try to empathise with investors and figure out what they want out of investing in their business. According to him, investors are usually looking for multiple returns from the amount they invest. Thus, entrepreneurs should be smart and only accept a deal if they feel confident that they can provide the yields that the investor is looking for.
He also urged founders to know how to reach out to people. “In case of investors, your approach matters a lot, and investors should always be approached through credible channels,” he said.
Reverse pitch: VCs take the stage
At AWS Startup CXO Mixer, the tables were turned and instead of entrepreneurs, VCs took the stage to share their valuable knowledge and experience with founders.
Nischaiy Pradhan, Founding Partner, Favcy has previously been in an entrepreneur's shoes as well. Thus, he has experience both as a founder and now as a VC. He revealed that he focuses on turning a minimum viable product into a maximum viable product.
"Your startup idea should address an unserved need, it is something that you've created, and you can own the market with. Similarly, you should have a good understanding of what your market is, where you are going to serve that unserved need with your product," he said.
Nishchay also told founders that they should be aware of what the market situation is and if there are other players, and only then settle on the business model.
Sandro Stephen, Regional Head of North India Operations, Indian Angel Network (IAN) was the final speaker at the event.
"One common problem that we face, which is also quite natural is that we see about 8000 companies coming to us every year and we don't even invest in 1000 of them. What we offer is not just the money, but the network that we hold. We have so many partnerships in place that support the companies we invest in," he said.
IAN is a group of angel investors who fund early-stage startups. They have over 500 members from across 11 countries and invested in several companies such as PregBuddy, SuperProfs, among others.
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