111 down, 889 to go…

First 100 customersWe believe that we are providing a easy, stress-free way to get rid of accounting and taxes in India; and more than 100 customers agree with us now! This is an important milestone for us because other than making us look better financially, it also validates our accounting software. With Tally around, we have often felt like underdogs, but the journey from 0 to 100 customers has taught us that companies are not built in a day. We have learnt to enjoy the way business unfolds at this stage. I share below my experiences in this short journey.

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The start…

Dec’ 2009. There was nothing. No software, No systems, No cash.

The advent of VAT brought in a need for small businesses to finalize accounts every month, and that was the problem we tried to solve. Small Businesses were left chasing part-time accountants to keep up deadlines. As advised by Morpheus, We wanted to validate our assertions with the customers before we built anything.

Our team had me, two bookkeepers and few sales guys. We started off by asking a few good people whom we knew already if we could help them do their accounting at their doorstep. We sensed that this service was more of a must-have for a small business and quickly had a handful of customers availing our service. My Entrepreneurial Optimism, made me overlook logic and sense. I started overspending on acquiring more customers.

By April’ 2010, We had over 100 customers. but little did I realize that  having more customers is nice, but not easy. We were too focussed on Sales now and totally forgot the customer experience. Lightning struck. We stopped selling any further. Customers were leaving us briskly.

The First Lesson..Choose your customer

If we don’t identify the right market fit, we end up getting the wrong customer. eventually they don’t enjoy the experience and hence leave. rightly.

The mistake we did was to think every businesses needed us, and to consider us a replacement to Tally. The truth was that we were more of an entry level accounting software and was more appropriately a replacement to a part-time accountant. We started validating our leads against the market fit and slowly realized that we were landing up with a set of customers, who were excited enough to buy our product and more importantly enjoy the experience of using it 🙂

Second Lesson…Get the metrics in early.

By now, we had less than 60 customers and had shoestring sales budgets. In my quest to make the cash flow better, I totally forgot to measure the metrics. I burnt some dear cash now experimenting with some marketing efforts and had no clue what worked. I started measuring metrics only starting Aug’ 2010.  My metrics added some logical reasoning to decisions I took after August.

Third Lesson…Don’t hire a President – Sales

It was too early for me to delegate the sales function before creating a good Sales Machine. I considered myself an accountant and thought I’m better delivering accounting support. It was a mistake. As long as the startup hasn’t found a well greased sales machine, It should run on the founders fuel. It helps us conserve cash for hiring some smart resources later.

Few more learnings…

  1. Selling a SaaS product is better done with “feet on street”  in India
  2. Customers have not been happy about a Transaction Based Pricing.
  3. To Remember. There are still customers without a computer.

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