So You Have A Globally Innovative Idea And Even A Prototype. What To Do Next If You Are In India?
I was trained at IIT Kharagpur in Computer Science. Honed my skills at leading global tech companies — Apple, Polaroid, Adobe. Learnt fund raising at one of the fastest growing Silicon Valley startups. By the time I started my venture to build a world class internet enabled video management system, I felt I had leading edge tech skills, exposure in engineering and product management, 18 months of global sales under my belt ($1.5 mi quota) and 2 years in a tech startup raising over $5 mi from investors across the world.
Yet, I failed miserably in my tech venture. We built a great product — it was bleeding edge and we demonstrated it at Las Vegas where industry leaders said they have not seen something like this ever before. There was an interest from top 3 video management companies to partner with us. We used the latest and greatest in technology — front-end, frameworks, back-end, latest streaming engine and a product totally tuned to the domain. Yet, it failed. Miserably (and I lost over a million of dollars of capital).
Why? Because we were operating in a market that was NOT READY for the innovation we had come up with. We did not factor the “buying behaviour” of Indian customers and our thesis of “Go Local to Go Global” bombed spectacularly. We tried to switch to global markets but without the deep resources and a founder who could shift base to US, we had no chance to succeed in enterprise level sales from remote location.
And finally, because we did not have luck on our side. By the time we launched the product, the sub-par banking stress had hit the US economy hard and enterprises were trying to recover rather than invest in new products / platforms. Our timing turned out to be really bad — for nearly two years, the whole world was up in uncertainty and there was no chance for our startup to pick up traction either with customers or investors. We got burnt in the sub-par crisis.
But the primary reason was that we made some big mistakes as above. Why am I sharing this today? Because last week, I was approached by a startup founder to seek my inputs of his absolutely “innovative” idea for buyer behaviour profiling based on psychological metrics and models (Marketrics.ai, the founder kindly gave me permission to name them), and it reminded me of my own confidence (maybe even arrogance) to build world class tech products from India before the time was right.
So this startup wants to build a psychological persona of the visitor using the click-thru pattern and hot-spots from an online visit. They have a team of psychology professionals building models for profiling based on latest psychometric research and a team of software developers translating the same into software tools. The founder has seen the utility of this approach applied to HR domain and the literature survey indicates strong affinity for the same in sales to understand and use buyer journeys to improve sales processes.
What will the profiling be used for? Improving targeting & marketing automation could be one thought that comes to mind right away. So the product idea extends to linking the psychometric profile data to FB, Google audience data and tools for targeting “matching” audiences, tools to recommend images “suitable” for the target etc etc.
Who is the biggest advertiser on digital platforms? eCommerce companies who have to “buy” traffic to sell their inventory. At present they mostly target by demographics, geography or engagement profiling (past purchases, past visits, products considered). Imagine the scenario where an eCommerce startup automatically get visitors to their website classified into buyers with strong intent, likely buyers, casual browsers, ad-hoc traffic etc and a tool could put up appropriate messaging while they were visiting the eCom store and/or send them engaging follow-on messaging post visit — salivating for an eCom revenue manager, isn’t it!
So the startup started looking out for eCom businesses that it could partner with to test its new technology and solution. And approached me to help connect them to few folks in my networks. But eCom companies don’t want to take chances with their limited bandwidth on an idea that ain’t proven so far. They are not sure if the profiling will work, the target interaction will work or if the campaigns will work. Lots of unknowns.
Here is the challenge when you design a new innovative product with multiple / lend-to-end workflows (takes longer time to design, higher cost) and narrows the target field for an innovation that could have had a larger appeal without the end-to-end marketing use-case. When we built our internet video management product, the first folks to notice were TV channels. But they wanted an online workflow which motivated us to build the entire 9-yards at one go — ingestion, editing, cataloguing, cut/join, playlist, analytics .. the engineering became challenging and costly and kept narrowing the user base all the time. When TV channels pulled back, due to the external financial challenges, our startup went bust.
Innovation in the real world gets consumed in stages. Multiple small steps make up a giant leap and once in a while, a true disruptive shift comes along (iPhone was the last BIG shift and that too was fairly limited by current standards).
What should global scale innovators based in India do? Here are my 5 key suggestions / recommendations:
- If the idea is truly disruptive, initial products can be sub-optimal in terms of breadth of features but 10X better than existing capabilities in the same dimension. So, pick a “small bite” of the final product / solution as the initial MVP — something that will immediately add value to your target customer. In this case, even basic persona-based traffic analysis can be a first step giving online managers a viewpoint on whether their traffic is aligned to their ICP / targets or not.
- If you are working on a “blue ocean” type idea, then consider if a product-led-engine is better suited for your business or sales-led-engine is better. In this case, being a broad horizontal solution that can potentially serve a large number of existing users, a free-trial based PLG model seems best suited.
- Pick a geography that is usually an early adopter to new, disruptive technologies. A late adopter geography may have an early adopter customer but it’s a low probability option. Goto the pond where the big fish are playing.
- Find a key influencer in the business domain who can certify to the innovation / disruption of the idea / solution and hail it as the next “sliced bread”. In this case, some of the top SEO / Analytics influencers perhaps should be targeted.
- Talk to your initial adopters and figure out what product extensions will help them use the initial insights your technology / solution provides in their day to day business workflows. Build product extensions that speak to this. It could even be an integration to an existing dominant product / solution. In this case, Google Analytics could be a useful integration; Heat-map technology could be another.
What do you think? Would love to see the wisdom from the readers.
ps — I am doing my “Giving it Back” sessions with B2B SaaS / Innovative Tech startup founders to listen to stories and share my insights , feedback and ideas to help as possible. If you would like to speak with me, book a session using this link.