Sramana: When did you bring a production version of your SaaS product to the marketplace?
Girish Rowjee: By 2009 we had the product completely rewritten for the web and had everything in place to support a SaaS model. We offered a free trial for companies that were interested in our product. We wanted people to evaluate the software without any barriers. Our offerings were also very inexpensive. Our lowest priced plan was 10 rupees per employee per month. We had a more comprehensive plan available for 20 rupees per employee.
We had to find an inexpensive way to host our web application in order to allow us to deliver our product at such low price points. Amazon was the only option left. Indian cloud operators could not after that price point.
Sramana: How did you acquire customers at this point?
Girish Rowjee: We did not believe that it was necessary to put feet on the ground for a SaaS business. We wanted people to come online and find us. We did some Google AdWords campaigns. We figured that if people liked what they saw, then they would buy from us. That turned out to be a bad move.
After that failed, we started running a lot of experiments. We did banner ads, pop-ups, and did everything we could to get people to evaluate the product online. We spent almost a year and a half running those experiments.
By 2011 we had a few things converge which helped us overcome that barrier. First, cloud computing became widely accepted and was talked about a lot in the press. Second, we dropped our online-only sales model and put in an actual sales force.
Sramana: It seems that selling your solution with salespeople would not be a profitable model.
Girish Rowjee: Initially it was not a winning model in terms of revenue. However, the customers we were able to find started getting us more customers via word of mouth. We also still had our legacy on-premise business. We were doing 400,000 pay slips monthly with that business. The SaaS business generated 60 lakhs, which would represent 20% of total revenue.
Sramana: Growing organically with revenue is the only way to do it if you don’t have access to huge investments.
Girish Rowjee: There are no other options. We fueled our growth by investing our profits. By 2012 we knew how many salespeople we would need and we had turned that sales force into a profitable model. By March of 2013 we had 1,250 clients and we were doing 2.3 crore of revenue from the SaaS business. We had 8 crore in total business. Today we have a sales team of 28 people with about 3,000 customers. We are still doing online sales, and we have about 45 clients from online sales. Those clients are coming from outside of India. We have several clients in the Middle East.
Sramana: What kind of growth rate do you anticipate over the next five years?
Girish Rowjee: I am guessing that in 12 to 18 months we will double our SaaS revenue. I think we are close to hitting the hockey stick. Smartphones are making it easier for people to access the Internet. Smartphones are the future in India. I am bringing on almost 90 new clients a month now in India. We have 2,000 clients now. I think our available market is 3 million companies. I think we could have 20,000 businesses using our application within three years. On average, we get 200 to 300 rupees per month.
Sramana: I love stories like yours. Congratulations on your success.