Sramana: In the early days of your company, your primary method of sales was through referrals. How did you go from a referral sales model to a more formal sales model?
Girish Rowjee: We had a lot of growing pains. We had to create new sales, but we also had to service our existing customers. When 2000 hit, we really had a hard time due to the fallout of the dot-com bust. We really did not have many sales that year. In 2001 we had another crisis when our entire development team left. Since the fear of Y2K had subsided, there was a boom in the market and programmers were in strong demand.
We took that as an opportunity to change the platform of the technology to Java. We had been a Microsoft shop up to that point, but the licensing fees were getting too expensive for us. Moving to an open source platform offered us significant savings. By 2003 we had completely rewritten our payroll product based on Java. Payroll was our flagship product because all Indian companies wanted to automate that process before doing anything else with HR.
Sramana: What was your price point for selling this payroll solution to Indian corporations?
Girish Rowjee: We had two versions. One version was for smaller companies and the other version was for larger corporations. The contracts were in the regions of 2,000 to 3,000 lakhs. That would get them a license and implementation.
We then opened offices in Mumbai and a small operation in Chennai in 2007. Our primary customers were IT companies because they were the only ones that were capable of buying software. We then developed a sales strategy to target the IT companies in each city. That focus gave us a good boost.
Sramana: Were you selling only to large IT companies?
Girish Rowjee: We sold to all sizes of IT companies. Our clients typically had between 500 and 2,000 employees. They had enough employees to justify the purchase price of our product.
Sramana: This brings us up to 2007. What happened that year?
Girish Rowjee: Initially we thought sales were not growing because we had some capability issues. We wanted to reevaluate our business because we did not feel we were getting enough return on our effort. We knew we wanted to sell software in India, and we knew that most Indian companies were not buying our solution. We did have 250 large customers in the country, but we were unable to scale the business. We were profitable and comfortable, but not growing fast enough.
Application services were just starting to come online. We felt that price was a constraint for smaller companies. We started looking at the ESP module, and we saw that people were offering software online in the U.S. We decided to conduct an experiment and see if we could offer that type of service in India. We then had to build out a data center and ensure we had the correct security. We purchased a server and leased space in a data center. We offered our application to small companies, and we realized that we were going to get good traction. SaaS was not a buzzword at the time, so we did not get good reception from everyone, but we did find plenty of people who were interested in that model.