Why strong frameworks, motivated employees & simplified hierarchies are key to scale for SaaS platforms
India's Software as a Service (SaaS) industry is a success story that the world knows about. According to a report by SaaSBOOMi and McKinsey, the global SaaS market is expected to cross the $500-billion mark in revenue by 2025, while growing at an annual rate of 18-20 percent.
Employing more than 40,000 professionals, the sector has a pride of place in the Indian economy, given its contribution to the growth trajectory. The SaaS industry boasts of over 1,000 funded startups, with 10 of them being unicorns.
The increasing pace of digital transformations and the COVID-19 pandemic have only helped the industry to ramp up its reach to international shores. Estimated to rake in $50-70 billion in annual revenues by 2030, the SaaS sector is rife with possibilities both for India and the world.
To understand frameworks and strategies powering some of India’s most successful SaaS players, YourStory in association with AWS, organised a CTO roundtable where leading stakeholders spoke about scaling globally, how to optimise hiring practices, create effective organisational structures and more.
Robust frameworks crucial to scaling ahead
The first part of the roundtable saw panellists from varied startups share best practices and learnings from architecting for global markets and the discussion was moderated by Akshay Patel, SaaS Business Architect - SaaS Factory / AWS SaaS Boost, AWS.
The discussion featured Kiran Darisi, Co-Founder and VP of Engineering, Freshworks; Krishnan Sarangapani, Vice President, Technology, Chargebee; Ankit Jain, VP - Product & Engineering, Wingify; Baskar Subramanian, Co-founder, Amagi Media Labs; and Manisha Raisinghani, Co-founder & CTO, LogiNext as speakers.
The discussion kicked off with the panellists talking extensively about data localisation and how data residency requirements have shaped their growth journeys.
Chargebee's Krishnan Sarangapani said that how a startup architects a solution depends on the use case and market it is targeting. “You need to have a framework approach, to keep an eye on growth problems while starting out," he added. He also said that a focus area that is often ignored by startups when they are launching operations is data security and privacy. “Investing in security can yield a lot of results in the long run. At the same time, data localisation and requirements like GDPR compliance and invest heavily in audit and compliance.”
However, Wingify Ankit Jain had a word of advice. "Entrepreneurs should take care not to overinvest. They should scale when it is required, but take care to not over engineer. Once you find a product-market fit, you have to choose what makes sense for your target audience and then go forward," explained.
Agreeing with Ankit, LogiNext's Manisha Raisinghani said that it was important to get the basics right while building a global product. She also believed that when dealing with data residency issues while building any new product or module, it didn't hurt to get a second opinion. “I feel there are more communities and resources available today to help you. Like with AWS, you tell them that you have a problem and a solutions architect is available to help you out,” she added.
While figuring out the best way to comply with local data localisation requirements, the panellists deep-dived into whether the issue pertained to a policy one or was related to coding infrastructure.
Krishnan said that factors like price, local taxation and invoices actually fall into the product category, where there are specific product verticals to look at each of these tasks.
Explaining how Chargebee looks at these tasks, he said that the startup spends a lot of time reviewing the regulatory requirements for its clients based in countries like the US and Australia and assessing the templates that should be used. “In case, a specific regulation like GDPR is applicable, we also change the contractual language of the sales agreements. For other things, you start as a policy, build a framework around it and then audits can look through any inadvertent lapses in the framework.”
Motivated and curious employees make productive teams
The second section of the roundtable discussion focussed on the strategies that SaaS platforms leverage when hiring and retaining talent and how they cultivate the interest of the developers in their team. Moderated by Siddhartha Ahluwalia, Venture Capital and Startup Business Development Manager, South at AWS, the panel had Vishwastam Shukla, Chief Technology Officer, HackerEarth; Gourav Sharma, Vice President - Engineering, FirstHive; Pankaj Risbood, Chief Technology Officer, Zendrive; Chinmay Jindal, Co-Founder, StoryXpress; and Kapil Mohan, Engineering Leader, Safe Security as speakers.
Zendrive's Pankaj Risbood stressed on keeping team members informed about the value they are creating and how it is helping the customer. “There might also be scenarios when you are just doing stuff that needs to be done. In such times, it is important that the team members understand why the grunt work is critical for the success of the product. Percolating this sense of purpose across the organisation is what can help one keep teams excited and motivated,” he explained.
Concurring with Pankaj, HackerEarth's Vishwastam Shukla advised that CTOs should encourage initiatives taken by budding engineers and developers to explore new technologies. “Rather than outrightly saying no, you should say yes and then ask them why we need a solution like that. That's how you reason it out with them. This way either they see your reason for not going ahead with a project, or you get convinced about the project's value.”
He also stressed on the importance of putting together teams that inspire each other, ensuring that the organisational culture is fun-loving and empathetic and if the leaders have earned the trust of the employees to keep employees motivated.
Joining the chorus of encouraging developers to explore new technologies, Safe Security's Kapil Mohan said, "For instance, we stress a lot on AWS certifications. It's an open certification programme, where developers can sign up for certifications. It helps them get a structured mastery in a particular area."
On the other hand, StoryExpress' Chinmay Jindal advised recruiters to move beyond traditional hiring platforms and explore alternative forums to recruit talent. "We have found some of the most talented people on platforms like Quora and Discord and, while participating in gaming sessions, who are super enthusiastic about video engineering. These are places where normal recruiters won't look into."
The panellists closed the discussion by dwelling on the importance of making engineers interact with clients, so that they can understand the seriousness of the problem and their pain points.
The do’s and don’ts for effective scaling
The third section of the roundtable discussion focussed on how companies design an organisation to scale, while exploring global markets and was moderated by Sathish Hariharan, Solutions Architect - Startup Ecosystem, AWS.
The panellists who spoke during the discussion were Mohan Kumar Krishnan, Co-Founder, Shopalyst; Vikranth Ramanolla, Co-founder and CTO, DataWeave; Jebu Ittiachen, Chief Architect, VP Engineering, Freight Tiger; Giridhar Yasa, Chief Technology Officer, Lendingkart; Anil Kumar Senior Vice President and Head of Engineering, Exotel.
Talking about how Shopalyst plans to scale, Mohan Kumar Krishnan dwelled on the need for founders to trust capable individuals with day-to-day responsibilities for its growth. “You didn't start the company to punish yourself with responsibilities after you've been successful,” he said.
Talking about the importance of clearly delineated Key Result Areas (KRAs), Exotel's Anil Kumar said, "There might be some KRAs that might diametrically clash with each other. For instance, there might be a reliability or availability aspect of a SaaS service and you have a delivery timeline on your head. And, if the same person tries to wear the two hats and tries to decide what's more important, it won't always result in the best possible outcomes."
For Lendingkart's Giridhar Yasa, the mantra for effective scaling is keeping it simple as simple scales when it comes to engineering organisations. He said that simplicity along with being aligned on what needs to be done, it becomes easier to figure out other things.