Sell by showing your genuineness as a founder to your customers
Kantanu Kundu Co-Founded A2ZApps. He was an ECE graduate from REC Kurukshetra. He began his career as a consultant and came to Mumbai and learnt java in 1999. He was recruited by a company in the US and landed with a Business Visa and worked there for a period of six months. During that period, he consulted for People Soft CRM that they were trying to make it web enabled. He began thinking about starting something on his own but did not have the capital to invest and moved into SalesForce in 2002 and worked there for four years. He was lucky to see Salesforce grow fast and go into an IPO and found that SalesForce wanted to make a generic platform Force.com to be able to work with multiple companies who have interest in sales. His thought immediately went into doing something similar and he began spending time in thinking of what to do. He realized that the platform should not be restricted only to the sales function but wanted this platform to be generic to be adopted by a larger market. He made some money because of the IPO and came back to India to start. He started a consulting company initially to make some money but his heart wanted him to build a platform product. The experience of being a part of the early team at SalesForce.com helped and he took almost two years’ time to come up with his MVP. His idea was to create a market for the product they built and he went after multiple industries because this is a platform for multiple departments and he wanted to reach out to companies in multiple industries to check how the platform and the price were perceived. He took inspiration from Microsoft which did something great 30 years ago and wanted to take baby steps to become like MS. He cites an analogy with Microsoft which started as an O/S that allows people to talk to hardware and then to people. Then MS built the productivity applications for the people and came up with languages like .Net. Kantanu also started as a platform for people to build apps. He then began building industry agnostic productivity apps and work automation apps which allow people to sign up to the sales automation, lead management, people management apps. Customers began signing in and the game began. Kantanu talks about his first big customer which was a Business School. The sale was challenging because it was not a corporate. He met the director of the institute and sold the concept of not having to do multiple applications from scratch when the non-technical users can drag and drop and build applications and got the go ahead. Kantanu then hired a tele-sales person who can get appointments for him and this helped him get good meetings. The second customer was a training institute with seven centres in Delhi who he spoke with on the phone. The institute was doing the apps in-house and had lots of legacy applications. They had an inclination of doing the entire new apps development in-house when Kantanu understood their needs and committed to doing the entire app development in seven days without having to invest in hardware and software. He did a couple of phone meetings and went to meet them to live up to his words on the phone. He met the Founder of the institute and he was able to understand the benefits from a business point of view that it was easy to buy than building it from scratch and gave the go ahead. The third customer was another B-School with a Wi-Fi campus and he began speaking with a person who reported to the Director. This person was handling academics and she was convinced and gave an appointment to meet with the top management. Kantanu talks about this deal as being special because he had to drive a long distance and also wait for the meeting and met the top management and sold the concept of cloud technologies. The person got sold but wanted a total buy-in and invited all the faculty to a conference room and kantanu spent the next two hours and demonstrated how cloud can be used in their campus to their students and enable a two way dialogue. After convincing the faculty , he met the Director and said that he can help improve campus, student engagement by keeping everything online and enable a two way student-teacher feedback and got the go ahead the same day. He said that this is the only instance where he was able to close the deal in just one day because he was able to convince one layer after the other to get to meet the other decision makers and influencers and finally could get the deal. He spends time with industry and masters the industry and expands into others and now has Retail, Media, Education and has built many applications for these industries also. Kantanu didn't have any sales background and his subject knowledge gave him the confidence to sell to anyone. He knew that customers always look at a new company as another software firm and he wanted to take out that perception. He did not go after the larger companies because he knew that he will not be a fit in his startup days but realized that his background will be a perfect fit with the smaller ones and began focussing on them. His segmentation worked well for him because all Mid-Sized organizations will not have a great in house team and also can not afford a good and experienced outsourcing vendor because of the cost. His platform to go to market immediately at a small cost worked like magic with the mid-sized companies. Kantanu says that he was able to sell because the buyers saw the passion and genuineness in him as a founder. He did not claim that his product can solve everything but said that with his product they can solve several things and listed them out. After getting many clients, he is now able to go and say that his platform product (now he calls it a 'Super App') can solve a lot more problems. He has been using all possible channels of outreach such as Tele Sales, Outside Sales, getting listed in directories to get his leads. He also figured out over six years that retail is one industry where customers are excited to use technology as they can not ramp up their business without IT. He has opened up another vertical – Retail where he has built components for CRM, Back-end Automation, theme-driven e-commerce store, Marketplace and many other apps which the people can access from their mobile phones and other devices. He is currently helping retail and e-commerce clients under a new brand- MobifyStore. Kantanu’s suggestion to early stage entrepreneurs - Don’t get defocussed. Stick on to the idea that is with you and make the internal changes to suit the market . Once you are convinced, all you have to do is to figure out how you can be different in selling and you will be able to identify the right people to buy your products. One should also be very close to their customers. A2ZApps is Today a 25 member company having offices in Palo Alto, Mumbai and Calcutta. They also have one of the largest media houses in India as a client where they have automated many aspects of that company with A2Zapps. Kantanu is looking at selling into the US market and is bettering the model to sell on the phone and online. They were poster boys with multiple media houses talking about them due their innovation and early entry into Cloud. They got Indira Innovation award in 2009 and he was elected as national committee member of CII headed by industry heads. They also won the Asia’s 100 award and Tata NEN as one of the top 30 startups. They were very recently selected as one of India's hottest startups and featured on NDTV Profit show. They are happily bootstrapping now.
Interested in reading other 164 interviews? Click here