Reach out to the senior person and align  your product to their goals

Farooq Adam Co-Founded Shopsense along with Harsh Shah – both were alumnus of IIT Bombay. Farooq did both his bachelor and basters in Civil Engineering from IIT Bombay. His masters thesis was later published as a book. He got placed with a consulting company in NY in Big Data and Analytics where he met  his co-founder harsh who he recruited in 2009 – his junior in IIT B. The entrepreneurial bug bit them and they decided to build a product. They decided to focus on the retail industry as that was their forte and decided to make the product out of India.

They were ideating on what to do and did a prototype of their product (an InStore engine – Recommendation engine based on who the users are) but did not know what to do because talking to customers and taking the right feedback was a bit scary to a tech entrepreneur. They thought the best way to analyse the customers would be to walk into a retail store and talk to people to find out if this product made sense. It began raining and they had to find a shelter fast and there were many boutique woman stores and they thought it will be odd with two men walking in because they did not have proper questions to ask and found the nearest men store and just ran into that. They were lucky to find one of the store staff there to be a management trainee of a big brand who was part of the marketing team. They spoke about his product about enhancing user experience and this person asked them to wait for 30 minutes and said that he will connect them to the head of customer support who was supposed to come to the store and connected them. There were some marketing initiatives going on in and the Head of Marketing also came in and they began showing the prototype with passion and this got them a meeting at the prospects office.

Farooq recollects the subsequent week when they go to Makers Chambers in Mumbai with an iPad prototype and Slides of what the product can do for them. A senior stakeholder who was supposed to see the demo was very curt in talking and said that he does not like anything in iPad because it is too small and wanted to close the meeting then but Harsh jumped in and said that he can do the same product in large screen and the they were asked to do a prototype and the prospect said that he can give a go ahead if he liked the design.

There began the hunt for a person who was good in design and that is how they found the third cofounder Sreeraman Mohan Girija. Sreeraman is also an IIT Bombay alumni and comes in with lots of design background. He jumped in on-board and designed a prototype and the team was ready to show it to the prospect. Farooq quotes one thing that they learnt early on in their career. He calls this Big Paper Trick which means that a large print-out would impress a prospect instead of showing the same output on a screen and showed the printout and got the go ahead to do a free pilot.  Farooq says that getting pilots is an easy way to penetrate accounts because prospects know that they are not going to spend any money and will give you a chance unless you talk utterly foolish and this successful pilot gave them their first paid client.

They got a team in place and began trying to raise funds. They wanted to get some quick work to pay the bills and they recollected the conversation they had with one of their seniors in Future Group and went there and showed the design printouts. Their senior liked it and eventually showed it to Vivek Biyani who heads Digital of FutureGroup. They were called into discuss a new initiative called BigBazaarDirect in the next couple of weeks and met the entire senior team. They understood the vision of this initiative which was to take ecommerce to the masses.  Today’s problem is that ecommerce is popular in Tier 1 and Tier 2 scenario but Future Group wanted to take it to Tier 3 and to Tier 4 cities by having their sales people take a tablet and go door to door to sell directly like an insurance agent. The team had a bigger problem because they had to build a design based on the users perspective and also had to compete with the existing large design vendors. The process that they were taken through was intimidating.

Farooq talks about the day when they had to meet Kishore Biyani to sell their idea. It was a nerve cracking day and they began explaining their design through the printout and through iPad. KB listened for two minutes and he liked it so much and took over the idea and began telling them how to implement this design idea based on their goals and gave them the go ahead which landed them a large deal and gave them the confidence of dealing and closing deals with very senior buyers which they still continue in every single new client acquisition.

Farooq’s advice to startup founders – In the US he found that employees are empowered and are given independence to take decisions but that is not the case with employees in India as it is very top driven where the Founder/CEO normally likes it and takes decisions. it will be a waste of time if one tries to go bottom up in the hierarchy to reach to senior people. The quickest way to sell is to go right at the top and they take a decision fast because they pay the cheque. Very few independent organizations allow people to take decisions outside the budgets – discretionary spend power and especially when you are selling something in the B2B context  in india and middle east, it makes sense to go to the top management and not to IT department. Businesses run the use cases of how the products are to be bought. Farooq says that he has been very successful to write simple emails on Linkedin and reaches out to the senior people and they respond. The networks effect on Linkedin is so powerful and with a strong network, you can reach anyone.

Shopsense( is around 30 people today. They have raised an Institutional funding round from  Kae Capital and Angel Money from Powai Lake Ventures. They work with over 13 brands and are present in almost 70 stores spread over India and Dubai. They won the IBM India Smart Camp award and also were featured in YourStory as one of the promising startups of both 2014 as well as 2015. They had national coverage in Times of India, HT and ET. They were also featured in CNBC Young Turks and in several segments on NDTV Prime.

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