Overcome the difficulties that your customer will have in realizing the entire value of your product
Shridhar Shukla Co-Founded kPoint along with Sunil Gaitonde and Atul Narkhede. Shridhar did his graduation from IIT Bombay and went to do his PhD from North Carolina State University, USA. After that he went into teaching. His Co-Founder Sunil did his graduation from IIT Kharagpur and went to do his PhD in Iowa State University, USA but chose to work and was part of start-ups that were eventually acquired by Cisco and by Intel. Atul Narkhede, the third Co-Founder, is a much younger alum of IIT Bombay and conceived the idea of kPoint. Atul did his MS in UNC, Chapel Hill, USA. The three of them incubated kPoint.
kPoint was incubated at GS Lab, which was also founded by Sunil and Shridhar in August 2003.
At GS Lab, their philosophy is to invest heavily in R&D and re-investing the profits into Intellectual Property development and giving life to each IP in the best manner possible. One such IP was kPoint and they spun it into a separate company. Prior to GS Lab, Shridhar was at Persistent Systems as a Director and COO.
They have a discovery-based approach to incubate new ideas and products by researching the market and also doing deep dive discussions on if they are facing similar problems and then they get into R&D. Not all of the successful R&D initiatives make it to being a company. Shridhar recollects a couple of initiatives which they gave up because of their experiences with the market at that point in time. The first one was a Digital Rights Management product which came into existence in 2004 and realized that in the bipolar world of monopolistic Microsoft and open source Linux, there was not much room for their product. The second one was an Authentication Services for Carrier Networks. They concluded that it will be difficult to sell to carriers as a single product company. They finally decided to build something to solve one of their own problems. They had their engineers calling customers at nights from multiple locations and had a need to share their applications on the web. They found out that there was no Indian company doing a similar product and built their platform to enable their employees with communication services that are typically available only in the office – a sophisticated IP PBX. They sold a few licenses too and then realized that their initial strategy of selling in the Indian market was not very satisfying because customers were brand conscious and expected even wiring services from them! Hence they stopped selling the product. They pivoted the technology and added web meeting functionality and applied that to two verticals – Education and the Enterprises and went with enthusiasm into the market. To their dismay, they found that the Education sector buyers in 2005 were not sufficiently techno-savvy and the web meeting offering had very high competition coming up with Webex, GoToMeeting, Adobe and Microsoft getting well entrenched. They did not want to fight it out with 4800 pound guerrillas and there came the fourth pivot.
Atul, the CTO, had the epiphany that everyone talks about doing web meetings but there is no one who addresses what happens to the meeting after it gets over. They finally realized they had a winner and developed a platform that produces video-based recordings with a variety of bells and whistles. They added online cloud-based video authoring and searchable videos and the prospects began loving it. They made sure that the entire thing was on cloud and Shridhar recollects that when their team began showing the cloud based authoring, the customers immediately saw the value proposition because their content developer will take a long time to develop such a solution and they found it easy to search and began evaluating the platform seriously.
On the first sets of prosepcts, Shridhar talks about him going after the people who the Management team knew in the past or to people where they could establish a relationship. They demonstrated the on-demand video streaming platform which also had the capability for easy authoring of searchable videos. Shridhar and team spoke only about the recording option and did not stress on the web conferencing part because they knew that they will get knocked out if they begin speaking on what people perceive as a commodity offering and positioned this platform as a great way to author content. They did not have any sales objections on the product or questions about being a start-up but had to answer tough questions about the security of the platform, ready integrations, and ruggedness to suit enterprises. The team began showing earlier use cases of the other customers using the platform and began convincing prospective customers.
Shridhar talks about his experience in closing business with a Top 3 IT services vendor who were one of his early customers. He took his technology into the company through a common contact who consulted there and was able to suggest ways of cutting costs using kPoint. This company wanted to train their globally dispersed team on a continuous basis but the trainers for the core banking product were available only once a quarter and the company had a limitation of the engineers getting certified before they could support and hence this created a business challenge. So they understood the pain point and demonstrated how their recorded video could be converted into an online video training certification program that can certify the other engineers without having to depend on the availability of the trainers with the 10 to 15 hours of video based training content being made available with no authoring effort. This attracted the global Academy of the company and now they have 100,000 users in the company and they were able to beat their primary competitors and large video platform vendors because of their unique technology.
Shridhar also talks about a few other technology companies which he lost first and eventually is winning them back one after the other. While their first large customer was entrepreneurial in nature, there was another similar large company that did lots of due diligence and finally said that they will do it themselves. His sales team started analyzing companies more deeply and mapped them in the qualifying process in order to save the selling time and focused more on the entrepreneurial, early-adopter type of companies to sell faster.
On the outreach, they tried both partner-driven and direct sales model. Direct Sales worked for them better because Indian buyers need engagement and also need to be educated on what to do with the product. They hired sales people in multiple locations within India as it is not as expensive in India as in the US or Europe, but Shridhar says that this model will be too expensive in overseas markets. Shridhar says that kPoint is ready for signing up channel partners now. Partners always want the OEM to generate a pull and kPoint is able to demonstrate that in the market today. kPoint will soon embark on digital marketing for their SaaS based offerings and their offerings to the rest of the world will be inbound Marketing and outbound sales.
Shridhar’s advice to early stage entrepreneurs – it is very important for you to spend a lot of time with your prospects and understand the value and should deliver it fully. Value is defined as what the customer perceives and not what you think that you can deliver. Sales will happen fast when the customers try to match their expectations on value vs. what you offer and how it matches. Startup founders always run the risk of drinking too much of their own Cool-Aide. Shridhar explains this with a kPoint experience. The value one of their prospects saw was the ease of creation of video based content. When the customer got convinced that it is the right platform, she also simultaneously wondered how her people can create content. The prospect did not seek kPoint’s help because they believed it was their own problem. Shridhar and team now offer an add-on solution in their platform that will help them to create the content and win deals.
kPoint(http://kpoint.com/), now has 30+ employees and has 50+ unique enterprise customers with over 200,000 enterprise business users and 10,000 hours of videos posted on the cloud. They have been the finalists in the SIIA – Codie awards for two years in a row. They have also won multiple awards that include Nasscom Emerge 50 of 2015, Top 50 companies for InTech 50, Startup Beacon at Zinnov Awards 2014, TiE50 2014 Finalist and a few global e-learning awards. kPoint are still bootstrapped.