Engage with potential customers as early as possible
Krish Subramanian, Co-founded Chargebee along with K P Saravanan, Rajaraman and Thiagarajan. Krish comes with an IT background and had worked with a startup in the beginning of his career, and then with TCS and CTS. The other co- founders each had around 10 to 14 years’ experience each and had been the part of Zoho’s cloud application development team for almost 6 to 7 years.
Since the founding team had an engineering background, their initial focus was aimed at performance monitoring & load testing, which are both useful for SaaS companies, as a possible market to get into and then they stumbled upon billing and payments which is again, a crucial component for subscription based businesses.
The team understood the importance of recurring billing as a common need across all the SaaS products and wanted to build something relevant for the rapidly growing space. Most SaaS companies need a billing module that can track the journey of trial subscribers as they experience the product and become paying customers. Then, administering customer downgrades, upgrades and a complex range of problems, like managing customer’s lifecycle, card payments, invoice based payments, planning discounts and coupons e.t.c was a need that ChargeBee identified and developed a solution for subscription based companies to plug and play, and manage their complex use cases.
Recurring billing gets fairly complex because it needs a lot of security, scalability and domain aspects to align well. The level of in-depth domain knowledge that the founding team had garnered, gave them the defensibility because it is not possible for everyone to go and build something as robust as this from scratch. They Initially tried to focus on the domestic market, while they were building the product, because they thought they could meet prospects and close sales faster. When they began researching into the customers process of processing billing, the founding team learnt that the Indian market is highly regulated especially for payment on cards for repeat payments. They realised that their solution is globally relevant and start focusing on international markets, while continuing to engage with regulators and ecosystem players in Indian market to work through the challenges. The go-to-market strategy changed once they decided to go global and integrated with lots of payment gateways to make the solution available.
They engaged with their prospects on multiple online platforms like Quora, Hacker news to name a couple and also in multiple payment gateway forums. They began understanding the issues that the customers on these forums were facing and began responding to the relevant questions on how ChargeBee could help solve their problems and ended up recruiting their early adoptors.
The prospects, at least wanted to give the new product a try because they liked the genuine and helpful responses. The team worked closely with the first few customers and began building features around what the customers wanted and did all that they could do to keep the customers happy. They learnt so much from the initial set of customers who came in as they gave useful feedback on what the market wanted and the feature roadmap was built around the same.
Krish’s advice to startup founders – Don’t wait for the product to be completely ready to begin engagement with potential customers. Many founders do not consider talking to prospects as an important activity to pursue, until their product achieves a level of maturity, which is a big mistake. Begin reaching out to prospects early enough in multiple different ways like engaging with them in industry forums, participating in conversations and make an effort to become a domain expert even when you don’t have the full fledged product, in terms of understanding the problems of the customers and bring that feedback right into the product.
Today ChargeBee(www.chargebee.com) provides solutions on top of 30 plus payment gateways in 40 countries and has around 500 plus customers. They have been funded by angel investors and Accel partners to the tune of 1.2mn$ USD