Founders should go out and sell
Suresh Sambandam is the Founder and CEO of OrangeScape, a rare breed of company in India that specializes in building technology platform software. OrangeScape offers two platforms – Visual PaaS – a cloud application development platform and KiSSFLOW a workflow-as-a-Service platform. OrangeScape has marque enterprise customers include the likes of Unilever, Citibank, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and its KiSSFLOW is #1 in the workflow / SaaS BPM space with 9000+ customers across 108 countries. A truly global product built right here in Chennai.
Suresh recollects about his early days of selling when OrangeScape developed its first platform for building applications. They had an alpha product and decided to get real customers to start using the product to validate that they are doing the right things and especially one that customers will pay for. One of the things they decided was not to go after international or big markets but to go after local customers in their city in India (Chennai) who were under their nose. Luckily the local market had a good automobile industry ecosystem with large and midsized companies. The breakthrough came with one of the large auto parts manufacturing group – Rane Group of companies with 1000+ crores of revenue. By then, OrangeScape had hired Ramesh as VP Sales assuming that tech founders can’t sell. Ramesh had set-up a meeting with Rane’s then CIO Mr Ravindran who had finance background but has taken over additional responsibility as a CIO and was also a forward looking person. The CIO had been contemplating automating his HR processes for a while and had also come out fresh from a discussion on the same topic that morning.
Ramesh was the big head of Sales and Suresh was the tech sales support – demo guy. When Suresh showed the demo of the product on how easy it is for anyone to create any application to automate the business process of any department, Mr. Ravindran reached out to his desk and took a fairly elaborate employee onboarding form running into pages. The CIO asked them to come back in few days with the automated application.
Ramesh & Suresh went back to theier office and created a new employee on-boarding application based on the spec given by the CIO. They went back to Rane office around 330pm in the afternoon. Ramesh called the CIO. The CIO asked if there was any issues in understanding the process. Ramesh told him that we are at the gate and wanted to check if we can come for the demo of the app. He was pleasantly surprised when the entire demo was shown that fast. This convinced him that anyone can create an application in no time which resonated with the initial sales pitch Suresh had given and was bought into the product and the speed with which Suresh responded. This is what Suresh calls as “WoW Moment” he created with his prospect and got a nice size deal of around USD 25K in the Indian market way back in 2004 for a new product that had no reference customers. This became a reference customer later and based on that Orangescape acquired 50 of the top 100 companies in india within the next three years.
Suresh has a few points that he conveys as advice to founders. He suggests that founders begin selling even when the first version of the product is ready so that they would know that they are on the right track. He also says that there is no escape for founders to avoid selling just because they are a technology founder, they should get on their foot and begin selling. The timing and being responsive to the prospect need to be fast to give a WoW factor and one does not have to sell cheap because this is a startup and the product is not ready. Suresh recollects meeting multiple startup founders that he advices where he found that almost all of them sell at a lower price to get their initial sets of customers. His final thought is that even in India it is possible to get top dollars. He says that when they can get 25K USD for the first sale way back in 2004 by demonstrating value and maintained the price thereafter with all the other customers in India, any startup founder with conviction and sticking to their guns will help them get the right price for their product