Sramana Mitra: Same thing about MVPs. Are you looking for early customers that are international customers that they have built an MVP around?
Sandeep Singhal: Yes. There are two ways to do this. You can work with the Indian arms of global customers. You can work with them in the Indian market but have a clear understanding of how Indian operations are aligned with global operations. The Indian operations are very India-centric. It’s hard to take what you’ve built for the Indian client to the global market.
If you are looking to go down the path of working with an Indian multinational with the idea of using them as a stepping stone to go global, it’s very important to understand their global operations, and working with the India team to get that input is critical. The second approach is to look at what the incumbents are doing and where the gaps are and building a better product against that.
If you’re building an MVP in that case, it’s important to get a few early customers. Preferably, get them involved even during the problem definition stage. If not, get them in early on. As a SaaS company, getting some traction in global markets is very important.
Sramana Mitra: What key SaaS trend are you particularly interested in right now? Where do you see opportunities? If you were to tell people, “I want to invest in a company that aligns with this trend.” What are those trends?
Sandeep Singhal: Clearly, productivity tools remain an important part of the SaaS solution. There’s a big opportunity in SaaS tools that are data-driven. Analytics-driven platforms are a key thing. From a market perspective, there are opportunities across the board. We’ve seen opportunities in the infrastructure play with SaaS. We have companies called Druva and Postman.
I think the more important things on my mind is figuring out what the gap is in any of these markets. It varies. Particularly if you are doing something out of India, that becomes even more important because you’re working in a market that’s removed from the global market.
Sramana Mitra: That’s what we tell everybody. This is 2016. The Internet has been around for more than 20 years. Smartphones have been around for 10 years. You cannot just assume that you have an open runway now. You have to really be granular about finding where the gaps are.
Sandeep Singhal: It’s really the micro-level understanding of where the gaps are and making sure that what you’re building fills that in a much better way.
Sramana Mitra: Tell us a little bit about your portfolio. What have you invested in? Specifically, why? Let’s do a couple of case studies. When did the entrepreneur come to you? At what stage and with what metrics? What convinced you to invest? What can our entrepreneurs learn from your process of evaluating their funding-worthiness?
Sandeep Singhal: I’ll mention this company called Postman. Postman is providing an open source tool for API management. The company was started by Abhinav Asthana. This is an interesting example of working with global corporation in India, discovering a need, and building a solution around that.
Abhinav had done an internship at Yahoo! in India. While he was working with them, he realized that just managing the API’s within the Yahoo! development environment was painful and complex. He saw an opportunity there. He said, “This is a problem that a lot of developers would be facing.” He built this tool and did it open source. When he came to us, it was the seed stage.
My colleague Samir in the Bangalore office met with him and really liked him. The interesting thing was he had 650,000 and 500,000 downloads of his product when he met with us. This had been completely bootstrapped. The first thing was the fact that he had identified a clear need. This was a need that he had not just seen himself but validated by building a product that half a million people had downloaded. That gave us confidence that he understood that problem well enough.
The second thing is his ability to take care of all aspects of the business. He did the coding. He did the customer support. He was the marketing guy. When we looked at him in the context of a global market, we would place him amongst the top even in the Valley. That was the key driver.
We invested and have subsequently helped him build out his team and get the product more enterprise-friendly. I would say that from the start, there was really the comfort that Abhinav was a global entrepreneur; that he was plugged into a global ecosystem, and understood its needs by interacting with global customers and taking feedback.