Network to build personal credibility to get your first few sales

Shivakumar Ganesan Co Founded Exotel along with Ishwar Sridharan, Siddharth Ramesh and Vijay Sharma. Shivku has a bachelors degree in computer science from BITS Pilani and has worked with Yahoo and Flipkart . He built a C2C marketplace called Roopit in 2009 where individuals could buy and sell products. The USP of Roopit as compared to competitors like Quickr and OLX was it’s ability to seamlessly work across various platforms like the web, voice, SMS etc.  He needed a number where potential customers could call in or send a text to verify details of products they were interested in. Shivku wanted to ensure he missed no calls from potential customers. But solutions such as a dedicated call center weren’t cost efficient for a startup. So, he decided to build a system that would divert calls coming into his Roopit number to agents who worked from remote locations. He could access this data of calls from a centralised location and keep a close tab on how these business calls were being answered. This was the seed of idea for Exotel.

When Shivku shared the Exotel idea with some of his fellow entrepreneurs, there was a great response because other business owners were facing similar issues with managing business calls and were keen to try out Exotel.

On the one hand, he had a C2C marketplace slowly gaining  traction and on the other hand he had a technology play where people were ready to pay from day one. Since Shivku was a lot more comfortable with a tech product play, given his background, he chose to go ahead with Exotel.

Exotel is a business phone system that allows businesses to manage calls & SMS on the cloud. You can have a professional IVR recording, route calls to the right agents based on your customer input, and even design complex call flow logic to personalise the call center experience for your customers. All calls can be accessed through a web-based dashboard and can be recorded and monitored for quality. Agents can answer business calls on their mobile phones.

Shivku used to frequent startup events and was a well known person in the entrepreneurial circles. When he decided to go ahead with Exotel, he pitched the idea to people he’d met through these events. The first 20 customers were friends or acquaintances. Since the credibility part was taken care of, selling to known people was relatively easier .

Between the founding team, they made sure that they met at least 300 prospects within a few weeks and began selling  and the word started spreading in the community. So, the next set of customers came through word of mouth and references. Shivakumar proudly says that almost all the startups in India have used  Exotel at some point.

Shivakumar’s advice to startup founders – It is always easier to start selling into a network or community that you belong to. 50% of the first few sales is the product and remaining 50% is the face. Everyone knows that a new product will have hiccups but they will still buy from you because they know you and trust you. He also talks about experts being part of the team to add credibility, for eg, if you are a digital marketer for the Import/Export market but do not know anyone because you did not have the time to network, you should at least get a Co-Founder from the same space.

Exotel today has around  50 people with 2 offices and has around 600 active customers. They raised an angel round 2.5 years ago with Blume Ventures and Mumbai angels. They were part of Nasscom Emerge , VCCircle awards of being the top 10 startups. They were rated as one of the top 14 startups to watch out for in 2014 by ET, they were also featured in an international list curated by Amazon Kindle’s head of content as a promising startup.

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